The only thing we can really control

“We control our reasoned choice and all acts that depend on that moral will. What’s not under our control are the body and any of its parts, our possessions, parents, siblings, children, or country – anything with which we might associate.”

Epictetus, Discourses, 1.22.10

I’ve heard it said that the only thing in this world we can truly control is our effort. But thinking about it, we can go one level higher than that.

The only thing in this world we can control is our choices.

You can choose to put in as much effort as possible. You can choose not to be offended by something.

Likewise; not losing your temper, being in a good mood, crushing your addictions, and making a success of your relationships are also choices.

This is great news. Make the choice.


The best way to help other people…

…is to help yourself first. To get your shit together. To be a person worth modelling. To take responsibility for every aspect of your life.

Then lead.


Attention, trust, and scarcity

On the 19th November 2016 Casey Neistat – YouTube supremo and godfather of the vlog – ceased uploading daily videos to his then 2.8m subscribers. YouTube-land went into complete meltdown. Reddit went into meltdown. Hell, even The Washington Post wrote about it.

Neistat had been uploading one video of his life every single day for 18 months. But something curious happened when he stopped. His subscriber and video view count started growing even faster than it was when he was uploading daily*.

But if we think about it it’s not actually strange. Economists love to talk about supply and demand. When the supply is low demand is high. Absence and presence. Up and down. As Robert Greene writes in The 48 Laws of Power: “The more you are seen and heard from, the more your value degrades. You become a habit”.

The trick that Neistat managed to pull of to perfection was knowing exactly when to stop. To make himself a scarce resource. Greene again: “At the right moment you must learn to withdraw yourself before they unconsciously push you away.”

The thing with scarcity, though, is that demand will only go up if the product is great to begin with. Nobody is going to miss your mediocre (crap) work if you haven’t taken the effort to earn trust by reliably showing up in the first place and generously providing value.

*He’s since resumed making videos, but on a much more sporadic basis, and his subscriber count currently stands at 11.6m.


Filling the mug

I have one of those awful gimmicky oversized mugs that I like to fill with coffee. Thing is, I’m really sensitive to caffeine, and consuming too much takes me on an express ride to the insane-side of jittery.

But here’s the thing: filling the mug all the way to the top is a choice – not a requirement. But what about all that untapped potential of a mug half empty? Shouldn’t I eke out every last drop of possibility?

Yes. But also no.

Just because we have a spare thirty minutes at night doesn’t mean we should fill it with something…anything. Probably best to just sit still and be.

Just because we have some extra space after a meal to ram a desert in, doesn’t mean we should.

Just because that Ferrari does 200+mph top speed doesn’t mean we should travel that fast on the road.

Just because…


Choosing your customers

My co-workers and I enjoyed a rather strange piece of cake and cup of coffee yesterday at work. No, the cake wasn’t seasoned with pepper. And no, the coffee wasn’t made with a splash of petrol. They weren’t even paid for by the boss.

The strange thing is that they were bought for us by a thoughtful customer.

The treats* came with an accompanying note, which I’m going to paraphrase:

Sorry for messing you around so much with all the changes I’ve made to my order. I’ve returned the items once more, and I’ve included something extra for you and your very accommodating team for taking up so much time. Thanks once again.

How often does that ever happen? And more to the point; how can we make it happen more often?

Sure, we can go well out of our way to provide Zappos-level customer service to everyone that crosses our paths – arseholes included. But I wonder how many businesses actually choose their customers?

Wouldn’t it be best to actually define the audience we seek to serve before we begin? If we choose a thoughtful, empathetic audience then surely we can increase the chances of us being able to delight and be delighted in return every day?

Sounds like a good place to start.

*We actually received a £10 note with the customer’s returned items and decided to buy coffee and cake with it


Taking delight in the little things

Recently, my mate gave me a present. It’s a brass ruler by Traveller’s Company. It’s made in Japan using traditional metalworking techniques, and naturally, the brass oxidises over time, which creates a patina all of your own, like a well-worn pair of shoes.

It’s proper geeky and I love it.

I spent a good ten minutes just revelling in the detail; holding it up to the light and seeing how the light reflects differently off the tilted side and from the inscribed scale. I spent time being charmed by its simplicity.

In short: I was present, which is delightful. I wasn’t distracted by my iPhone, by a social media feed pumping my brain full of dopamine with each new post. I wasn’t thinking about what I have to do at work tomorrow, or where I’m going to find the time to pick up my Amazon package from some godforsaken . No, I was in the moment, and it was delightful.

Rather than downing your morning coffee on the train, instead take the time to savour it. Your phone notifications can wait. Or it can be deeply appreciating the guitar solo of your favourite track. It could be savouring the occasion when that hot girl smiled at you. It could be that moment you put on new socks or the 15 minutes spent absorbed in the spec sheet of that new sports car.

It’s amazing how many opportunities we have each day to be delighted (and present) like this if only we let ourselves.


A different kind of mindfulness

Watching a guy on the train this morning have a small coughing fit without covering his mouth, I realised how easy it is for humans to spew their germs, infections and shit all over the place for everyone to catch.

In fact, it’s easier than easy. As I saw this morning it can be completely involuntary.

And so it goes each and every time we moan, bitch about someone behind their back, call people names, spread lies, vitriol and hate. It’s easy.

With the same amount of effort we could share a compliment, an idea to solve a problem, a story, a piece of much-needed advice.

Imagine how great the world could be if we defaulted to mindful.


The two types of action

There are only ever two types of action: destructive and constructive.

You can build a relationship or neglect one.

You can write a blog post or you can troll someone else’s.

You can stuff your face with junk food or you can eat healthily.

You can take up a new hobby in your spare time or you can watch shit on TV.

Constructive action is always harder. Constructive action is always worthwhile.