Daily Insight

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#25 Pre-emptive disqualification

In the series of self-sabotaging behavior I’ve observed in myself and others: “pre-emptively disqualifying yourself”.

Before you even start, you’re depriving yourself already of any potential benefit of the exercise because you don’t know if you’ll get the EXACT benefit promised/desired by you.

“This exercise might have cured your neck pain, but I’ve always had neck problems, it won’t chage anything.”

“You might be able to write every day, but for me, in my situation, that would never be possible.”

This shows a lack of understanding of learning principles. Because with any exercise, program, diet, methodology, you’ll never get the exact same results as someone else, because you can never replicate the exact circumstances and actions of a person.

Instead, you do the exercise/program/diet/… within the framework of your own personal context/skills/past experience. Within that context, it will guide your learning process. But the outcome resulting from it is personal.

Variance is to be expected, and this is a good thing. Because this is how innovation happens: actions in different types of circumstances lead to slightly different results. Sometime that leads to disappointment, sometimes to real breakthroughs.

Getting different results, then, is not a reason to pre-emptively disqualify yourself, or to claim something doesn’t work. Because the true value doesn’t lie in getting the exact same results as someone else, but rather, to consciously set the general direction of our lives.

Every day, we have to make so many decisions that lead us down different future paths, so modeling someone and using their actions as a guiding principle will greatly increase the probability of you going in the direction you desire, and getting results in the same ballpark.

For example, I’ve been doing Dylan Werner’s yoga classes on Alo Moves (my go-to online yoga/fitness/meditation app) consistently for almost two years now. Even if I continue to follow his exact schedule for two more years, chances are, I still might not be able to do something like this:

After all, we have a different body structure, different gene disposition, different circumstances, and I’ll have to adapt his schedule to my personal capacity.

Still, if I follow his schedule I’ll definitely become much stronger and healthier than if I chose to model a couch potato, watch TV and eat fries and burgers all day. And that’s what it’s all about.

Modeling, in that point of view, are an effective way to accelerate your progress and lead your life in the direction you want, without you having to know exactly which results you’ll get.

In other words: when you let go of the need to predict exact future outcomes, you can stop pre-emptively disqualifying yourself, and start pro-actively setting the direction of your life.


#24 Put your actions where your mouth is

Here’s a useful insight from James Clear, author of Atomic Habits:

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.


Writing every day reaffirms my “I’m a writer” identity.

Sitting on the couch every day reaffirms my “I’m a couch potato” identity.

As a consequence: when you change your actions and your identity starts shifting to align with those actions.

And that’s how we get out of a rut.

(The opposite isn’t always true: changing your thoughts without changing your actions will rarely shift your identity. I can think of being a writer as much as I want, if I never put any words on paper, I’m not a writer. That’s one of the principle of cognitive dissonance: Actions overrule Thoughts.)

Here’s how to change your actions and your identity:

  1. First, you decide who you want to be (and what your new identity looks like).
    “I want to be a yogi: someone who regularly practices yoga and takes care of his mind and body.”
  2. Second you get clear on what that would look like in your daily life: which actions you’ll take that are different from the ones you’re taking right now.
    “Instead of watching TV before, my “yogi identity” would do a daily yoga session.
  3. Third, you gain enough leverage over yourself to go against your current habits, and take those different action for a prolonged period of time.
    This is where most resistance comes up, because my old “couch potato identity” is fighting my “yogi” identity — and through my past actions, the couch potato has received WAY more votes than the yogi.
    So you need perseverance at this stage. Remember, every time you take those new actions, you’re voting for your new identity and new habits are taking roots.
  4. At some point, you reach a tipping point productivity experts call “habit escape velocity“: you now have so much momentum that you’re out of the sphere of influence of your old habits, and your new habits (and new identity) can take root.

Which begs the question…

Where are you saying you want to be a certain way, but you’re voting for something else through your daily actions?

Lukas Van Vyve

Put your money (or your actions) where your mouth is.

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#23 For all the languages I’ve learned

For all the languages I’ve learned
trying in vain to put the inner and outer world into words
closely but not completely capturing the essence
I now realize the biggest insights reveal themselves
where words are worthless and feelings reign
where they are felt and lived, embodied,
refusing to be rationalized, categorized
or undergo the violent limitations of our words.

Maybe language learning is more about admitting that some languages are lived, not learned.

That some insights are felt, not expressed.

That sometimes words create distance from what we experience deep down, instead of offering the clarity we seek.

Accepting that may well be the biggest challenge of all.

There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.


#22 Actions Overrule Thoughts

One of the most potent drivers of change AND perpetuators of old habits is cognitive dissonance:

In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the perception of contradictory information, and the mental toll of it. Relevant items of information include a person’s actions, feelings, ideas, beliefs, values, and things in the environment. Cognitive dissonance is typically experienced as psychological stress when persons participate in an action that goes against one or more of those things.


What’s interesting about cognitive dissonance is that both “sides” of the dissonance are not equal:

If you think one thing, but you do something else, eventually you’ll start believing what you do, not what you think.

In other words: actions overrule thoughts.

  1. If I tell myself I can’t write a daily post (thought) and I don’t write a daily post (action), I perpetuate the belief.
  2. If I tell myself I can’t write a daily post (thought) but I gain enough courage and I actually do write a daily post (action), I will start shifting my belief towards the actions I’m taking. In other words: I’ll start believing I can write a daily post.
  3. If I tell myself I can write a daily post (thought), but I never actually write that daily post (action), then my belief will start shifting again, and I’ll start believing I can’t write a daily post.
  4. If I tell myself I can write a daily post (thought) and I do write a daily post (action), my belief grows stronger.

We usually start in the first scenario until we gain enough leverage over ourselves to change our actions. The moment we change our actions to actions that conflict with our thoughts/beliefs, we’re creating cognitive dissonance.

Then, if we follow through with our new actions, our beliefs start to change.

The big turning point is that moment where you start taking a different action.

Which begs the question:

  • How can we gain enough leverage over ourselves to go against our beliefs and change our actions for the better?
  • How can we make it so important to us to change (or so painful NOT to change) that we start taking different actions?

Identify your leverage points that jolt you into action, and you gain power over your beliefs and identity.


#21 Action Defies Excuses (day 20 update)

Day 20 of my daily publishing experiment. What I’ve learned (or remembered) so far:

  • Self-trust is built by taking action. On some days I woke up stressed out, thinking “I have no clue what I’ll post about today”. But then I start writing, and the post reveals itself on the page every single time. After experiencing that several times, the fear of posting (or not being able to write anything) is fading away. In other words: action defies excuses.
  • Starting to journal (Morning Pages) over 600 days ago led to an explosion in creativity. Starting to publish a daily insight is giving me a similar boost.
  • In the past, I leaned towards bigger, longer writing projects that required a lot of energy and thinking before I produced something “valuable”. I now see there’s power in consistently writing short posts about ideas and insights, no matter how insignificant and no matter how imperfect the writing. Because through the writing, I understand them better. I remember them better. And I’m confident that over time, from all these small insights, bigger ideas will emerge.

In short, a pattern I’ve observed many time in the past years is playing out again:

When I start defying my own excuses by taking action, no matter how small, my self-trust grows, my self-image shifts, and I become more of the person I want to be.

Which begs the question:

Where else am I frustrated, holding on to a static identity of the past that I could prove wrong by taking action?

#20 I’ve never tried that before, so…

In the series of unlikely life advice: a quote ascribed to Astrid Lindgren’s legendary character Pippi Longstocking.

I have never tried that before, so I think I should definitely be able to do that.


Only after reading this quote I realized how often we all hold the opposite belief: I have never tried that before, so I think I am not (and will never be) able to do that.

What a sad and disempowering belief.

Which begs the question…

Where are you disqualifying yourself before even trying it out first?

What would life be like if your default belief is that things you haven’t tried before are possible for you?

How would that change your decisions?

How much fear and frustration would you leave behind?

Might be worth journaling about.


#19 The first time feels funny, the fiftieth time you fly

In a podcast segment about practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu,Tim Ferris and Joshua Waitzkin discuss a principle for managing expectations they call:

“The first rep doesn’t count.”

Tim Ferris, Josh Waitzkin: https://tim.blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/148-josh-waitzkin.pdf

In other words: when performing a move for the first time, your body and mind need to get used to it. Gradually,you’ll get better – and the more aware you are of your body, the faster you’ll make progress – but judging someone on their first attempt doesn’t say much about their future potential.

This holds true for many skills in life, like starting a daily publishing habit.

Publishing a post or a video for the first time always feels funny (and often frightening). At this stage, judgment or feedback is futile. It’s all about jumping the hurdle of getting started

Publish five times, you’re ready to get some feedback (both from yourself and from others)…

Publish for the fiftieth time, and you’re well on your way to turn it into a habit… and fly.

So whenever I start something new, I manage my expectations by repeating to myself:

The first time feels funny. The fiftieth time I fly.

And for bonus points: What would it feel like the 500th time?

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#18 Practicing neglected skills – Reps hidden in plain sight

In his book The Art of Learning (and his podcast episodes with Tim Ferris), Josh Waitzkin, former chess player and martial artist, introduces the concept of “hidden reps” when learning something new:

I think that where the really potent, low-hanging fruit hanging in plain sight lie are in the thematic, are in breaking down the learning process into the core principles or themes you want to work on and doing reps of those. Those are just invisible to people in plain sight.

Josh Waitzkin on the Tim Ferris Podcast: https://tim.blog/2020/03/14/josh-waitzkin-transcript-412/

In other words, find “neglected skills“: situations you don’t often find yourself in and where you haven’t developed a lot of trust and confidence in your abilities yet.

Then isolate and practice them until you develop confidence and trust for that particular neglected skill.

For example, when working on his chess game, instead of practicing the “openings” like everybody else, Josh would isolate the “end games”(the final part of a chess match) and practice only these.

Most people wouldn’t think of doing that; they would always start at the opening (that’s where a chess match starts, after all) and practice the end game only as an afterthought, deep into their practice session when they had already spent all their energy on the opening.

By cutting out the opening entirely during practice sessions, Josh got a lot more “hidden reps” with the end game than his competitors, which led to a big competitive advantage.

This might seem obvious, but in my experience, it’s really quite counterintuitive not to start at the beginning when practicing a skill.

For example, when learning a new guitar piece, it feels strange not to start at the beginning but to pick out a difficult part and practice that over and over again. It’s not impossible, and many teachers will tell you to isolate difficult parts, but my (and many other students’) first instinct would always be to start at the top, over and over again.

Which begs the question:

Where else are we “starting from the top” over and over again, instead of finding and isolating the neglected skills?

Neglected skills and hidden reps examples

Some examples of how I’m trying to integrate this principle into my life:

  1. By the end of a yoga session, my muscles are so fatigued there are certain poses and moves I just can’t execute anymore with proper technique. Over the long run, this leads to an imbalance; I get good at the poses that appear early on in the session, and neglect the ones later in the session.
    To counteract this, I sometimes do separate sessions where I isolate those “neglected moves”. Suddenly, they become much easier, and I learn to execute them with proper technique.
  2. I’ve been writing and journaling every day for almost 2 years now. Those reps have trained me to get over the bump of the empty page, open the floodgates, and generate many ideas and insights.
  3. Out of all that writing and journaling, I barely ever created anything “publish-worthy”. Now I’m writing a daily blog post, which trains me to take the ideas I’m generating anyway, and turn them into something I can publish.
  4. Instead of publishing one long post a week – or once every couple of years like some book authors – where I’d only rarely experience that feeling and fear of “putting something out there”, I decided to publish something every day, even if it’s very short. Daily short form posts give me seven times more publishing practice than one long weekly post.
    I’m 15 days in and already notice I’m developing much more trust in myself that I’m capable of publishing something every day and there’s always something to write about. Even when I decide on a different schedule in the future, I’ll have much more experience in putting content out regularly than someone with a lower-frequency schedule.

In sum

Neglected skills are everywhere. No matter what you’re trying to learn or achieve, creating the circumstances where you can identify and isolate them, then put in the hidden reps, will pay big dividends.


#17 Humming my way to innovative insights

In his book “The Breakout Principle“, Harvard Medical School professor Herbert Benson asserts that most of our big epiphanies and insights are preceded by:

  1. A phase of strong mental and physical exertion
  2. A phase of relaxation, where you release the mind and let it roam freely.

Benson discovered that the phase of relaxation seems to be accompanied by the release of nitric oxide (NO), a powerful neurotransmitter.

Among other things, nitric oxide improves cellular oxygen uptake, is a vasodilator and muscle relaxer, and improves cardiovascular health.

Benson goes as far as saying nitric oxide may be “the biochemical foundation for the relaxation response” and the catalyst for the “breakout” (= the insight or epiphany).

When I read about Nitric Oxide in Benson’s book, I realized I had heard about Nitric Oxide in a different context (the Where Else Principle at work): pranayama, a yogic breathing practice. In his book The Illuminated Breath, Yoga teacher Dylan Werner mentions the same health benefits of nitric oxide, and adds that it’s made in the lining of the blood vessels, nasal cavity, and in the paranasal sinus.

He also mentions we can increase production of nitric oxide by breathing slowly through the nose (so there’s more air exchange in the sinuses and nasal cavity).

What’s more: a certain type of yogic breathing, bhramari pranayama or humming bee breath, can increase the production of nitric oxide fifteen fold because it increases the air vibration, and thus air exchange in the sinuses and nasal cavity.

That’s right: fifteen times more nitric oxide from a simple humming breath practice.

Seems like my daily bhramari pranayama practice is the perfect way to relax the body, the, mind, and create the perfect conditions for those new insights to emerge.

That’s why I am sculpting away, day by day, humming my way through life… and the insights always seem to follow.

Now I know why.

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#16 The insights have always been here

Creativity isn’t about inventing new concepts, thoughts, pieces of art or machines out of thin air.

It’s not even making new connections between unrelated concepts.

Creativity is exposing connections that have always been there but nobody has noticed before.

Again: the connections have always been there. The hard part is noticing them.

That requires presence. Slowing down. Taking a step back. Asking “Where have I seen this before?”. Trusting your mind for doing what it does best: recognizing patterns. Paying attention. Sometimes, paying no attention at all and letting the breakout principle work its magic.

This view of creativity can set you free from a lifetime of frustration
because once life becomes one big exploration
where every detour, every diversion, every event
no matter how unimportant or seemingly insignificant
holds the promise of a new insight
a new breakthrough, a connection to stumble upon…

And once the crushing pressure – invent something you must
disappears, turns to dust
replaced by curiosity and wanderlust
then you can slow down, enjoy the present moment, and trust
that everything you ever wanted to know, feel, see, hear
every insight or desire you hold dear
has always been here
hidden in plain view, underneath the world’s veneer.

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