"Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well-ordered mind than a man's ability to stop just where he is and pass time in his own company." -Seneca
Many people run to and fro in a mad rush to distract and entertain themselves to death. Sitting and thinking, being still and quiet with one's own thoughts, is largely uncomfortable if you've never done it before.

If you have never taken the time to sit quietly and think and work through what it is you believe and why you believe it, then the first time you try to do so, you will have a veritable storm of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings to process and deal with.

I think the first response to this line of reasoning might be, "oh yeah, I've done that before." If you've done it once upon a time, or one day long ago, or even one day last week, it's been too long. Sit and think, today.



"Additional knowledge of the minutiae of daily business can be useless, even actually toxic." -Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan
Oftentimes we think that by gathering more and more information that we become more knowledgeable and capable of living well and making good decisions, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

I guess this quote hinges on exactly what you define as "minutiae." If you're gathering important, high-level, non-minutiae information, then that could be a good thing.

Unless you're avoiding taking action.

What amuses me is the widely-accepted idea that somehow "being informed" about what's happening in the world makes us more equipped to handle the onslaught of events outside of our control. That because we know the latest news, we're more equipped to deal with the ever-present threat of a nuclear apocalypse.

Even on a micro level, being informed about what has happened in no way equips you to know what will happen in the future. One day, a change in legislation seems like a certainty. The next, the legislation has failed to pass, and no change has taken place. The next, it's back on the table. When will it end? Nobody knows.

Being tied to the ups and downs of the day-to-day minutiae is undoubtedly taxing and I would agree with Taleb: toxic.

Photo: (Mick Baker)rooster, via Flickr Creative Commons

As you think about stepping outside of your comfort zone, just remember: even if the haters aren’t screaming at you from the sidelines, your brain can be your own worst enemy, generating more than enough reasons to not try something risky. It’s called the resistance. The question you have to ask is: what are the reasons why you WANT to do something new? And which reasons are more important: those for, or those against?

So get out there and make your dreams come true, and remember: the most effective way to silence the haters is to succeed despite the resistance.

Read the full column on Singletracks.com

Photo: Aaron Chamberlain

"The question each of us has to ask is simple (but difficult): what can I become quite good at that's really difficult for a computer to do one day soon? How can I become so resilient, so human and such a linchpin that shifts in technology won't be able to catch up?" -Seth Godin
Computers and robots have replaced so many jobs that frankly, they could be coming for all of us. If we are not asking ourselves these questions, we could be in danger of being replaced by a machine.

Just because your job has never been under threat in the past doesn't mean that it won't come under fire in the future. I mean, AI is already writing basic news stories. WRITING!! How long will it be until AI is writing ever increasingly complex news stories? Where will the thousands of reporters who type ho-hum news and regurgitate press release go then? What will they do?

Are the journalists preparing for that eventuality? Not likely. They (we) are happy where they are, so happy with the status quo that they are blind to the change happening all around them.

This applies to everyone, though. Everybody thinks that their job is immune to technological outsourcing... until it isn't anymore.

So what can you add to the equation that a machine will never be able to contribute?

Photo: Steve Jurvetson, via Flickr Creative Commons

"The many speak highly of you, but have you really any grounds for satisfaction with yourself if you are the kind of person the many understand?" -Seneca
I think the core of Seneca's point here is that if you dilute your message so far that the many understand it, then you have diluted it to the point that it is so watered down that it lacks any meaning whatsoever.

Seneca's discussion of crowds and their many ills in this passage brings to mind this line from a very different source:
"You can either fit in or stand out, not both." -Seth Godin, Linchpin
In Seneca's address to Lucilius, it seems like this is what Lucilius is trying to do--stand out and fit in, which is an absurdity and an impossibility.

The choice is clear: stand out.
Make a ruckus.

Be willing for some people to not understand you and what you are about in exchange for connecting ever more deeply with the people who do understand. Who do get it. Who are your tribe.

As Seneca said earlier in the passage:
"Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you are capable of improving." 
The first step in freeing your mind is to ask questions.

The moment we move from simply reading and ingesting the information that is given to us, accepting it word for word, and we start to ask, "is what I'm reading or hearing true? Is it correct?" we have taken a massive leap towards the goal of being a free and independent thinker.

But some people that think they are free thinkers may not be as critical as they believe. They may not know what they do not know. They may, instead, ask questions about some things, but not about others.

The person who questions one party in a conversation or debate and not the other has already chosen his side.

I'm personally resolving to ask more questions. To think more deeply. To seek more truth. Hopefully along the way, I'll find some answers, too. But even if I don't, it seems to me that the asking of questions is still intrinsically valuable and important.

Photo by Benjamin Reay via Flickr Creative Commons

If there is one thing that can be said that applies to the entire human race, it is that we are all different. We look different from one another, we act differently, we live differently, we make different choices, and we think differently.

If you are not willing to be wrong about your beliefs and preconceptions, you have failed as a thinker and, even worse, as a human being.

A key part of being human is to acknowledge your own fallibility, to acknowledge that we don't know everything, and that we are oftentimes, simply, wrong.

We don't know everything, and even when we do decide that we believe something, we must also consider the multitude of people that believe the opposite of what we do, and that many of those people are not unintelligent cattle simply following a charismatic leader. Many of them are also intelligent and critical thinkers who have happened to decide that the evidence points in a different direction than you think it does.

That said, it's difficult to live a life not mired in depression and inactivity if you are constantly in a state of questioning even the most basic of your beliefs. At some point, once you've examined the evidence (as much evidence as possible), you must make some decisions about the nature of the world around you. Personally, I also think you must arrive at a metaphysical framework for the world that you believe in, to keep your mind from spinning out of control

The stronger and more well-considered the position you hold is, of course the more difficult it would be for some outside source to change your mind at some point in the future. However, if you are not even willing to change your opinion no matter how convincing the argument to the contrary is, your failure as a human being is complete. Because we are all different.

Photo by Hansel and Regrettal, via Flickr Creative Commons