Youtube Comments

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Note to self: Don’t waste one more minute of your life reading Youtube comments.

I think that’s where all the repressed anger of the world is released.

When people talk about the vile pit of hatred and ad hominem arguments that is the comment section, they usually blame it on the anonymity and impersonal nature of the Internet. I’m sure that’s partly true—people use words that they would never dare to speak out loud and insult people in ways they could never get away with in a face-to-face conversation.

But there’s more to it. Such repulsive vitriol and utter contempt for the feelings of others doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s hiding inside people, pent up by years of suppression, only to erupt as caustic tirades of hurtful words. That’s because people never learn how to have a healthy outlet for their emotions. With all the obsession with “positive thinking” and being polite, we’re taught that negative emotions are unacceptable. But just because we ignore our emotions doesn’t mean they’re going to go away. It just means they’re going to find another, often unhealthy, way out.

As kids, we aren’t allowed to express anger. We learn that it’s not acceptable and repress it deep into our subconscious. We never learn that—just like any other emotion—anger can be healthy when expressed in a productive way. Until we remove this taboo on being open and honest about our feelings, we’ll never be able to live in harmony.

I’ll end with a powerful quote from TK Coleman about how to harness your anger for creative productivity:

All emotions are forms of energy and are therefore capable of being assimilated into the creative process. Instead of attempting to “purify yourself” of anger, explore the possibility of channeling it along productive lines.

Frustration, when bottled up and suppressed, corrupts the soul. But when redirected away from what is unwanted towards what is wanted, it becomes a most powerful constructive force.

The same fire which can burn a house can also be harnessed to cook a meal.

Like the forces of nature, our emotional energy can flow in more than one direction and serve many ends.

The next time your emotional fires are stoked, look at it as an opportunity to harness the activity of Spirit.

In the same way you might use a burning candle to light a dead one, actively seek out ways to transfer the spark of those emotions towards an area in your life that needs to be ignited.

We are not left to choose between resenting our moods or being stuck with them. What we call negative feelings can function as our greatest allies in manifesting the life we desire when we learn to work with them and not against them.

Solving the Paradox of Choice

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Have you ever gone to pick up a tube of toothpaste and been staggered by the wall of possibilities before you? You just wanted simple mint toothpaste, and now you have to worry about all sorts of ailments you never imagined your teeth could get. After pondering your options for a few minutes wondering what tartar is and whether you should be more worried about that or cavities, and if fluoride really does cause dementia, you finally just select the one right in front of you. Why should such a simple task be so complicated?

Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as “The Paradox of Choice.” Although many brands act like there’s no such thing as too many options, studies show that consumers tend to feel overwhelmed by an excess of choice that makes them feel like they don’t have enough time or information to make the best decision. This may lead them to feel unsatisfied with their decisions, or to forgo making them altogether.

Some people blame the paradox on Capitalism. I don’t follow politics, but I’ve heard rumors that certain politicians think that central planning could solve this—assuming that a few people who are far removed from consumers and have no competition or incentive to make the best choices could somehow figure out what it is that people need. We’ve seen how that turns out.

The great thing about the (not-really) free market is that when there is a problem, there is also an incentive to solve it. It’s fascinating to see the creative ways that businesses are relieving choice paralysis.

Apple is my favorite example of a company that has understood this principle for a long time. Instead of taking the popular approach of constantly “improving” their products by adding more features and more variety, they chose to stick with a few products that they could make the highest quality. This is one of the main reasons that I bought a Macbook. Even though I probably could have gotten more quality (and a touch screen) for the same price, the challenge of sorting through all the options and the dissatisfaction from always wondering if I could have found a better deal was not worth it to me.

Another intriguing solution to the Paradox of Choice is the subscription box business model that has recently exploded. These services deliver boxes of things like makeup, razors, or gourmet food to monthly subscribers. When I first learned about this phenomenon, I wondered why so many people would want to entrust their choices to others. What if the subscription sends them something they don’t like? At first I wondered if this was an outgrowth of consumerism, where people feel like they always need to accumulate more and more stuff in order to be happy. But I don’t think that’s always true.

Now that I work for a company with a subscription box service of artisan-made products from around the world, I’ve had to think more deeply about what makes the business model so successful. Along with the convenience of home-delivery and the excitement of receiving a box full of surprises, I think the main value addition of subscription services is that they absolve the customer of the dilemma of making a choice and forever wondering if they could have found something better. It’s saying, “we’re experts on these products, and we’re confident that this is the best product for you.” Of course, the model only works if the company has strong credibility with its customers. If a brand can establish that level of trust, then it has the opportunity to provide exceptional value.

So we have subscription services succeeding where central planners never could. Isn’t that exciting?

On Creativity

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I’m that person. That girl who takes dozens of pictures of every sunset, every pretty view, just so I can find the perfect one to post on Instagram along with some inspirational quote.

It turns out, a lot of people don’t like that person. News has been trending recently about a camera that supposedly “prevents cliche pictures” dubbed “Camera Restricta.” This camera uses GPS tracking to find out how many pictures have been taken at your location. When it decides that number is too high, it will block the shutter from opening again until you move to a new location. The video describes it as “a disobedient tool for taking unique photographs”—the idea is that it forces you to be original, to photograph places no one has ever gone before.

Sounds like a great idea, right? Considering how viral the video has gone, a lot of people seem to think so. The world doesn’t need any more pictures of Buckingham Palace or the Eiffel Tower, right?

Wrong.

Think about it. Are any two pictures ever exactly the same? They may look similar, but nobody has ever stood in exactly that spot at that precise time, under that exact lighting and with those particular clouds. Even more importantly, the person who takes the picture has never been in those specific circumstances or that state of mind. Sometimes a picture serves to capture an experience more than anything else. Not to mention that you might want to take a picture of a person who has never been there before. When you think about it that way, every picture is unique.

This invention and its popularity illustrate everything that is wrong with the way we think about creativity.

There’s this idea that nothing is worth doing unless it’s completely unlike anything that has ever existed. They say pop music is unoriginal because most songs use the same 4 chords. You know what? Those chords resonate with us for a reason, and they also allow for a huge variety of melodies and harmonies. They say movies that recycle plot lines are ripoffs. Really? Maybe that’s because there are reoccurring themes in the human condition. These ideas set nearly impossible standards for originality, implying that creativity is only accessible to the select few who are able to escape the crowds and be struck by some sort of divine inspiration. It’s enough to discourage anyone from attempting anything new.

Thankfully, that’s not how creativity works. It doesn’t happen without influence. More often than not, the best creations come from normal people making changes to something that already exists. We’re all building with the same materials.

The video series Everything is a Remix demonstrates how so many of the great masterpieces of film, music, and technology are nothing more than novel combinations of preexisting work. Star Wars draws heavily on elements from numerous other films. Led Zeppelin took many of their lyrics and melodies from Blues songs. 74 out of 100 of the highest grossing films have been either sequels or remakes of earlier films or adaptations of stories from other sources. Even the inventions that have changed the world, like the personal computer or the industrial assembly line, were discovered by combining and transforming other ideas. Thus, the three foundational elements of creativity: copy, transform, combine.

Anyone can be creative. When you create things, you’re creative. To be human is to have that potential. There’s no magic to it—it’s simply a matter of making the effort to learn about what has made a difference in the past and then building on that by making connections and putting things into a new context. I believe that creations shouldn’t be judged by some ridiculous standard of “originality,” but rather by their meaningfulness and influence.

That’s why it’s okay to start a blog, even if you feel like all your ideas have been said before by someone else. Maybe you’ll be able to phrase things in a better way or reach someone who would never have been exposed to those ideas otherwise. Or maybe you’ll simply develop the skills and credibility you’ll need in the future when you do come up with a great idea.

So don’t feel guilty about taking the millionth picture of a palm tree with the sun hitting it just right. Just make it meaningful.

How to Meditate

To me, meditation feels like SEO. You read about these simple steps that will bring you a never-ending list of benefits—but when you implement them, there’s no way to tell if you’re doing it right, and you have to wait indefinitely to see the results. Sometimes it seems like it’s not worth the effort, but all the cool people are doing it, (cool=people I respect) and I desperately want those results that all the science is proving.

I’ve tried it using Headspace, I’ve tried using guided meditation audio from Youtube (the kind with the tinkling nature sounds) and all sorts of other ways. It’s frustrating when you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, and you’re not even sure where you’re supposed to be going.

Whenever I’ve asked for advice on how to meditate, I usually get an answer like this: “You just do it. That’s how Steve Jobs was able to be so creative. Just sit there for 20 minutes and clear your mind. And don’t stress yourself out over it.” So I can just sit cross-legged on my floor for 20 minutes every night and become the next Steve Jobs?

I appreciate the effort, guys, but I need more detailed instructions.

Finally, something clicked from one of the books I’m reading. The book describes meditation as a way to train your mind to acknowledge stimuli and impulses without responding to them. You feel an itch. You acknowledge the itch, but you don’t scratch it.

It’s the ‘it itches, I must scratch’ reaction that is at the root of most of our suffering. But you can just notice that it itches and not have to do anything about it. You can realize that you are having a conditioned reaction to a sensation. You don’t have to take it personally. You don’t have to react to it.

If you learn once that you don’t have to react that way, you’re free of it. You prove to yourself that you won’t die and you won’t go crazy and parts of your body won’t fall off. You can just be there and be perfectly fine. Then something hurts and you can sit through that. It just becomes interesting. You’re not resisting it anymore. It’s just kind of fascinating how it hurts there and pretty soon it hurts here and then it doesn’t hurt at all.

Eventually, it all beings to quiet down.

I think that’s what freedom is. The freedom that gives you the power and peace and compassion to be the kind of person you want to become. Imagine possessing that.

Maybe everybody else already understood this and I somehow missed the memo. Nevertheless, I’m glad to be on the right track now—and we’ll see what kind of mental traffic increases this gives me.

Live with Unorthodox Curiosity

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It means admitting that you don’t know it all, that maybe you don’t even understand the beliefs you proclaim as your identity. It’s an intellectual humility that frees you from the ego-driven power struggle of feigning knowledge you don’t have. It’s an acceptance of ignorance that requires self-confidence rooted deeper than your reputation.

It’s that burning itch to relinquish your ignorance and then fill that emptiness with knowledge. It’s the thirst you have to quench with answers to questions you never even knew existed. The passion to scrutinize your beliefs down to their very foundations and abandon those that don’t hold water.

It’s that faint spark of doubt in the back of your mind that authorities tried to smother in order to control you—a doubt that questions the virtues of obedience and duty. It means fanning that spark into a flame of curiosity that will shed light on the mysteries obscured by shadows of faith.

It’s the fire that drives you to relentlessly pursue truth no matter the cost, to overcome the obstacles of stigma and popular disapproval.

It’s the empathy that inspires you to listen, truly listen, with a desire to understand rather than simply confirm your preconceptions. It’s a compassion for others as well as yourself that waits to judge until you fully comprehend the emotions and their reasons.

It’s a willingness to depart from the trodden path of orthodoxy, to follow the light shining through the forest that will lead you into the sunshine of freedom and enlightenment.