Minimalist WebSite/Blog Design

One of my fundamental beliefs about mental health is that “doing” things is better than “thinking”. Creating a website that’s designed with thinking less in mind is a little like sharing a drink with someone and trying to talk them out of being an alcoholic. Incessantly reading other people’s thoughts is one of the hallmarks of an over-thinker. You read and read and read, always in search of a different angle or new answer to questions you’ve been pondering your whole life.

So, I asked myself what types of structural things on websites promote more thinking and how can I change that. Anyone whose ever spent more than 5 minutes on the ol’ interwebs has probably traveled down the rat hole of link surfing. So my first order of business is going to be to limit the number of in-article links. Hopefully you will only follow them if the need is urgent.

It’s also been my experience that the longer a post becomes the more likely it is to contain more than one primary point or idea. When that happens your brain begins to connect more and more ideas with your existing stash of ideas and they have, as James Altucher calls it, idea sex. More ideas are birthed and before long you are thinking too damn much and not doing. So my intent is to make posts as short and concise as possible. I doubt I will be able to prevent your mind from wandering but I don’t want to be an enabler either.

The last piece of the puzzle is a minimalist design and clean user interface. Distractions cause thinking. I will try to provide a clean site with very little in the way of bells and whistles to send that pea brain of yours into stimulative shock.

I’d like for this site to be like a smooth sip of tea, something that coddles the soul. I don’t want it to be jolting like a shot of Jaegermeister. Get the point and move on with your life.

On the search for happiness

As you walk the trail of life you will constantly look up to see the next mountaintop to scale, the next river to ford, or the next plain to cross. There is no end to this quest. There will always be another distant thing at which you are grasping, slightly out of your reach.

Happiness is not a destination. Happiness is a byproduct.

Humans evolved to survive and reproduce, not to be constantly happy. Happiness is the drip meted out to you any time you do something your body deems pleasureful. It is the drug used to stimulate you and condition you to keep seeking those things that allow you to survive and reproduce. If happiness were a destination and you could somehow “find” that one thing then you would perish shortly thereafter. If eating chocolate ice cream brought perpetual happiness then those people who found it would simply stop doing anything else. They would die and eventually the gene for the feeling of perpetual happiness would evolve itself out of human biology.

Happiness should never be a goal. You should not expect nor want to experience it all the time. It is a fleeting feeling, transient, and momentary. As soon as it is gone you will wonder what happened to it. If you become addicted to chasing it then not only will you fail in that quest – you’ll spend your few moments of happiness trying to figure out how to hold on to it, not let it go, or prolong it. Those thoughts will destroy your ability to experience that happiness in the moment. You will be doomed to a life of seeking that which you cannot have by virtue of your fear of losing it or your belief that somehow you should own it forever.

No, happiness is a byproduct of living a life based on your values. Living authentically. Making your own meaning. If your self reflection is clear, your intent pure, and your aim is to do rather than to seek then and only then will you be rewarded with moments of pure happiness.

Release the expectation to be happy all the time and it will find you. Release the need to be happy all the time and it will find you.  When it finds you it will be a surprise and one that you will be able to enjoy in the moment. You will allow it to come and go as it pleases without attempting to hold on. That will make it all the sweeter.

There is no happiness to be found at the top of a mountain, or the other side of a river, or the distant side of a plain. Happiness can be found in each footstep between here and there, if only you weren’t looking for it.

This is the first post in a series that I am going to create that is intended to be advice I would offer my twenty-something self were I able to go back in time and have those conversations.

Doing that leads to thinking

It’s not enough to just do. In order to lead a more fulfilling life you have to do things that keep your mind engaged and require conscious effort. Doing that is mindless will inevitably lead you back into your head into a world of thinking.

Take walking for instance. Getting out and walking can be good for your physical and mental health. I’ve walked literally thousands of miles and as much as I enjoy it I have to be very careful not to allow my body to put one foot in front of the other sub-consciously. When that happens it’s very easy for your mind to take over and start thinking yourself into the abyss. I combat this by trying to walk on hiking trails (requires consciously focusing on the path so as not to trip and bust your ass) or on new trails with interesting scenery and wildlife to process. Walking familiar sidewalks and paths usually doesn’t provide me with what I need to clear my mind and simply do.

Here are some things that you should be careful about:

  • Watching a TV show or movie – can lead to thinking or fantasizing about your life being “different” without actually taking action towards that.
  • Reading non-fiction and allowing thoughts about one book to generate connections and thoughts about other books – this can lead to believing that reading and thinking are a replacement for actual action. Self help books are the worst in this regard.
  • Any activity that you can do without much conscious effort – though tasks like these are necessary you must be careful to be mindful when doing them. Washing dishes, folding laundry, or taking out the trash are all things we do mindlessly. With a little effort and focus you can turn those mundane tasks into smalls wins. Challenge yourself to do those things more efficiently, try Kaizen.

Kaizen: Small Steps, Continuous Improvement

Kaizen is the Japanese word for “improvement” or “change for the better”. The aim of the practice of Kaizen is pretty simple, to eliminate waste in processes and continuously improve things in small (or large for that matter) and incremental ways. The idea is that this will ultimately lead to longer term efficiencies and better methods of operating.

  1. Do something
  2. Realize that something involved with doing that is inefficient or difficult
  3. Make changes to your process or actions
  4. Do something again, albeit slightly differently

One of the biggest sources of resistance for most people when they attempt to do something is the sheer magnitude and time involved with the task. Telling yourself you are going to repaint the entire interior of your house will probably immediately cause untold amounts of anxiety. In the spirit of Kaizen, break that huge project down into it’s component sub-parts and begin taking small steps in the general direction of your goal. Paint one room or one wall. Figure out what worked and what didn’t. Did you have the right brush  or roller nap? Did you have the proper drop cloth? Was your ladder too big or small? If changes need to be made then make them and move onto the next room or wall. Before you know it you will become more efficient and your large project will be completed.

Related Links:

More on Kaizen from Wikipedia

Book: One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way

Thinking and Importance

In the words of Nobel Prize winner Danny Kahneman:

“Nothing is quite as important as you think it is while you’re thinking about it, so the mere act of thinking about something makes it more important than it’s going to be. So you’re thinking, “How much happier would I be living in California?” Well no, you won’t be a lot happier. “How much happier would I be if my income increased by 30%,” you think a lot. No, it wouldn’t. So just about everything that people think about, they exaggerate its importance.

Now, Mr. Kahneman made a name for himself in the fields of judgment and decision making and behavioral economics so he knows a thing or two about thinking.

This artificial level of importance placed on something by virtue of thinking about it is one more reason why you should do more and think less. The things you think about are never quite as important as you believe them to be. How many times have you done something that you had anxiety about and said, “ah, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be”? The doing wasn’t the bad part, it was the thinking that created the anxiety.

Related Book: Thinking, Fast and Slow


Learning can be a crutch that enables inaction

I love golf. If you’ve never played golf you may not realize just how difficult it is to swing a golf club consistently and strike the ball consistently over time. Sometimes you can go an entire round and not feel like you swung the same way twice. It can be maddening. Mastering the sport takes as much mental energy as physical athleticism.

Learning about the golf swing is relatively easy. There are millions of online articles, illustrations, and videos to show you everything there is to know about the perfect golf swing. The problem is that this type of learning is thinking and not doing. Watching golf videos makes you feel like your making progress towards a better golf swing but you’re not. Reading about the perfect grip or take away conjures up images in your head that you can be that guy that dominates your local muni course. But those are simply thoughts, some might even say delusions. You will never become an excellent golfer, or excellent anything for that matter, by only thinking about it.

Visualization is okay. Simply thinking is not. Thinking and thinking and thinking about being a better golfer without getting out on the range and doing focused, deliberate practice is going to lead to more misery. So learn what you can from all that stuff but be damn sure you get out into the physical world and start doing it. Don’t let the plethora of information out there about what you want to accomplish assist you in thinking your way to inaction.

Putt the Damn Ball

I’m going to give you a little advice. There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.

-Ty Webb, Caddyshack

I’ve told this story in one form or another for years. I enjoy playing golf. I’ve been playing since I was about 6 years old. As far back as I can remember I have been a pretty decent putter (at least until recently). I’ve discovered something about putting that is counter-intuitive and makes no sense to most people who ask me about it. You don’t need to think about the putt too much, if at all.

When you watch professional golfers read a putt they will walk around the putt, look at it from all angles, squat down and cup their hands over their eyes to remove shadows, ask their caddy to give an opinion, and use any other number of methods to get an accurate read. That might be okay in pro golf where every stroke could mean hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. They may be able to even read it accurately and actually hit the ball on the intended line with the intended speed. The problem is, most of us amateurs don’t have those skills.

No amount of reading the green is going to help you if you have the yips or an inconsistent stroke that couldn’t hit it online anyways. Furthermore, if you are holding up the pace of play so that you can be absolutely sure you have the read down only to hit a putt 10 feet short and 5 feet offline – well your playing partners and the people behind you secretly hate you and you are detracting from everyone’s enjoyment of the game.

Take a deep breath. Look at the putt from one angle. Trust your body to read the green and make the appropriate stroke. Then just putt the damn ball! If you learn to stop over-thinking the putt the likelihood of you relaxing and hitting a better one will be higher. You’ll be amazed when the quality of your putting improves with less time spent thinking about it. Trust your instincts. Your body knows what to do.

Just be the ball, be the ball, be the ball. You’re not being the ball Danny.

The Golden Rule says “Do” unto others

DO unto others as you would have them DO unto you.

It really doesn’t get much simpler than that. It doesn’t say “think” about others the way you would want them to “think” about you. If it did we’d all be in a world of hurt (all you sicko pervs out there take note). It matters not what you think, it matters how you act.

I realize the golden rule is written about 1000 different ways depending upon the culture, religion, or language being used but the essence is always the same: the ethic of reciprocity is such that you should treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.

Actions speak louder than thoughts.

Thinking about Thinking vs. Thinking about Doing

If only I could follow my own advice…I sometimes wax philosophical about thinking less. How is that even possible? I mean, don’t you have to think in order to do? Yes.

It is okay to think about doing. If you are going to clean out the glove box of your car it is okay to “think” about bringing a trash can with you, “think” about the type of cleaner and paper towels you will need to complete the job, and “think” about anything else related to the doing of that task. Thinking as it relates to the physical realm and the act of doing is perfectly acceptable.

It is not okay to think about the thinking. You cannot think about whether or not the task is meaningful. You cannot think about your existential crisis and how your search for meaning is set back by completing the task. You cannot think about whether or not you’re capable of doing the task up to some mythical public standard. In short, you cannot let your thoughts beget other thoughts about thoughts. You have to get out of your head. If your thought is not about something that can be seen, touched, smelled, heard, or tasted then you are thinking about thinking. Stop.

Talk Less. Do More.

Talking is usually the spewing forth of thoughts. Most of the time when we are talking we are trying to make sense of some thought or idea. Because we’ve been unable to make sense of this inside our own heads we begin pulling other people into the mix by talking about it. While this can be mildly therapeutic if done sensibly it frequently leads to more thinking and “co-rumination”.

Co-rumination is when your thoughts have led to your own personal rumination and you’ve drawn your friends or family into the rumination with you by talking about it incessantly. Now all of you are ruminating and possibly creating a negative feedback loop where negative thoughts lead to more negative thoughts lead to confirmation bias and blah blah blah, more misery.

Many people will probably think I am an idiot for saying not to talk about your problems. After all talking is supposed to make us feel better. The problem is that many times it does not. If you’re going to talk you need to talk to someone who will be forceful with you in getting you out of your head (a good friend) and not someone who will exacerbate the issues by just agreeing with you all the time, “I know right?”

The next time you get the urge to talk to someone about some painful thought of yours just stop, and instead, ask them if they’d like to play a game or take a walk or something else in the physical world. Talk less. Do more.