Obsessing about the middle

There are a few great quotes that serve as reminders about the importance of planning without getting too attached to our plans.

The one that has stuck with me over the years for when I find myself getting attached to some random plan too far out is – “When you’re at the beginning, don’t obsess about the middle, because the middle is going to be different once you get there.”

Plans are helpful. But, the best thing we can do today to make our plans come true is to do the next right thing.

Here’s to that.

Marcus and perspective

I’ve been listening to Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. The one word that I’ll remember the book by is “perspective.”

“Keep perspective” seems to be the one piece of advice Marcus reflects on the most. He does this by constantly reminding himself of death.

In doing so, he reflects on the futility of chasing fame and sensory pleasures. And, he doesn’t seem to tire of reminding himself of his place in the world – that of an evolutionary speck – in these reflections.

Marcus Aurelius was probably the most powerful person in the world at the time. So, the nature of these notes are all the more impressive given the immense power he held. He clearly passed his stoic examinations with flying colors.

As I listened to him and reflected on the week that went by, I realized how sorely I missed keeping perspective.

More work to do, I have.

Signals and interpretation

We were cracking up earlier about a recent time when I sent my wife a signal that I was annoyed.

In the absence of any verbal communication, she however perceived this action as a sweet gesture.

It was a great example of how an intended message can be completely misinterpreted. This happened between two people who’ve spent most of the past fifteen years in really close proximity.

Is there any reason to be surprised when someone we don’t know that well misunderstands our intent during the course of a normal day?

The lesson I took away from this was about resetting my expectations about the effectiveness of communication. Perhaps I’d make more progress if I started by assuming that both the intent and the message would be misinterpreted.

And, perhaps I ought instead to be surprised if the misinterpretation doesn’t happen.

Out of balance

I went through a few days with a more erratic routine than usual. There was a lot to do. Prioritizing getting this done meant more erratic meals, less hydration, and less sleep.

While that can work for a day or two, stretched over the course of a week meant I was feeling out of balance by the end of it.

I was reflecting on the results of this. And, I found a long list of stuff that could have been avoided – e.g., a couple of conversations where I was more emotional about something that happened than usual, absent mindedly leaving a credit card in a store an hour away, and a boil near the corner of my eye (lack of hydration).

I have no regrets about these mishaps. There’s no point regretting an outcome when you were all in on the process. I was doing what I thought was right. Being out of balance makes me appreciate just how smooth things are (relatively) when things are normal.

So, here’s to getting back to balance.

The start of the weekend

The moment that marks the start of the weekend of late is the moment I turn off my phone.

Over the past few weekends, I’ve picked up the phone a few times each day. But, I’ve been attempting to hold myself accountable to turn it off and leave it in the cupboard when I’m not using it.

As a result, the number of pick ups have gone down significantly.

It has made a marked difference to my weekends. I hope to keep this up.

Becoming disciplined

Becoming disciplined/consistent about following through on commitments we make to ourselves and others doesn’t mean we ever get over the temptation to make an excuse. There is almost always an extenuating circumstance.

It just means we consistently prioritize a) saying no to commitments that don’t matter and b) finding ways to show up – especially on days when we don’t feel like it.

It is fascinating how similar this is to courage. We don’t ever get to the point where fear doesn’t exist (if we manage to keep our sanity at least). We just learn to not let it get in the way of taking action.

Mastering Aikido

“How long will it take me to master Aikido?” a prospective student asks. 

“How long do you expect to live?” is the only respectable response. 

Ultimately, practice is the path of mastery. If you stay on it long enough, you’ll find it to be a vivid place, with its ups and downs, is challenges and comforts, its surprises, disappointments, and unconditional joys. You’ll take your share of bumps and bruises while traveling – bruises of the ego as well as of the body, mind and spirit – but it might well turn out to be the most reliable thing in your life. Then, too, it might eventually make you a winner in your chosen field, if that’s what you’re looking for, and then people will refer to you as a master. But that’s not really the point. 

What is mastery? At the heart of it, mastery is practice. Mastery is staying on the path.” | Mastery by George Leonard


(H/T: James Clear’s newsletter)

Noahpinion on carbon removal

Four years ago, I spent a few months learning about the climate crisis. I shared a few posts about what I was learning and a synthesis of possible approaches to solve the problem.

Every time I did so, I’d invariably have someone ask the question – “But, what about China? Aren’t they making this problem significantly worse?” Or it would be – “What about the coal powered electricity in India?”

There was definitely a perception of unfairness. It is understandable.

Noah Smith, a writer who shares notes on Economics on Noahpinion, articulated the response I would have loved to share in his post – “Carbon removal is how we make climate change fair.”

Climate change is not fair.

In fact, it is one of the most insanely unfair things that has ever happened. For many decades, industrialized nations — Europe, the U.S, Japan, and a few others — belched carbon dioxide willy-nilly into the atmosphere as they pursued their programs of economic development (and war).

Cumulative co2 treemap

Indeed, only recently did all of Asia — a region of 4.5 billion people — catching up to North America, a region with one-ninth its population, in terms of total cumulative CO2 emissions.

That wasn’t fair. But here’s where it gets grossly, ridiculously unjust. Developing countries now out-emit developed ones by a huge margin. Compare annual emissions for Asia, North America, and Europe:

China alone emits almost twice as much carbon as the United States (and no, it isn’t because the U.S. outsourced its emissions). Every year the disparity increases. India is catching up. Other developing countries are seeing rapid increases as well.

This means that the burden of reducing greenhouse emissions must, mathematically, fall mostly on developing countries like China, India, and the countries of Southeast Asia. This is not a moral judgement. It is not a political judgement. It is merely physics and arithmetic. The climate does not care about per capita emissions. And historical emissions are already over and done. Which means that if we want to stop pumping carbon into the air and destroying the planet, developing countries are going to have to make the biggest changes.

It’s a burden they don’t deserve. Conversations with people from China or India about the necessity of developing-country emissions reductions can get quite tortured. It’s a painful and shameful thing for a rich-country person such as myself to tell a person from a poor, rapidly industrializing country that they’re going to have to pay for my ancestors’ irresponsible lifestyles. It is a fact that understandably tends to make people from those countries angry and indignant. And yet it is a fact. There is simply no other way the planet will be saved.

Of course, there are things rich countries can do to ease that burden. One thing, which to our credit we have done, is to push down the price of green energy technologies — solar, wind, batteries, and so on — until developing countries can industrialize using these technologies instead of fossil fuels and save money in the process. These cost drops are why India is canceling coal plants at breakneck speed (though China, sadly, is still building more coal).

Still, not every piece of the transition to zero carbon will be costlessly solved by magical inventions. Steel, cement, and various other industrial processes will be costly to replace, as will current systems of agriculture. Developing countries will have to pay those costs, unless rich countries agree to heavily subsidize their transitions with cash payments (which seems politically difficult and complex). So while cheap green energy will ameliorate the unfairness of the climate fight, it will not eliminate it.

And this brings me to the topic of carbon removal.

More in his post.

If you do read the rest of the post, it is important to note here Noah is a techno-optimist and believes that we’ll be able to bring down the price of Carbon capture. While that is not an unreasonable assumption, it is definitely not guaranteed. But, that doesn’t change the fact that it is a critical avenue for us to pursue.

Process and spot

I was reminded of this story about golfer Rory McIlroy recently.

In 2014, golfer Rory McIlroy was having the tournament of his life at the British Open championship. So, reporters asked him, “Do you have ‘secret thoughts’ that are helping you play so well?” Rory confessed that indeed he had two specific words that he was repeating to himself. But, he said, he wasn’t going to say anything until the championship was over.

He won – at age 25!

When reporters asked him again, he said – “I just thought ‘Process’ and ‘Spot.” He explained that “process” meant to him the consistent, repeated sequence of thoughts and actions that he performed before every swing.

Then he would pick a “spot” on the green he wanted to roll over. So, he focused not on the hole but on rolling the ball over the spot.

By thinking “process” and “spot,” Rory detached himself from the outcome of each individual shot and just focused on making good decisions and good swings.

Of course Rory wanted to win the British Open. But, he knew that to over-obsess about this ultimate object would be focusing on the wrong target.

When we lose our temper

When we loses our temper and/or say something unkind or unconstructive, three things tend to be true:

(1) Losing our temper diminished the long term value of our message.

(2) Our reasons for being upset were not completely wrong.

(3) Our reasons for being upset were not completely right.

I’ve been thinking about these ideas of late and attempting to internalize them. When I do remember them, I respond more constructively than I would have otherwise.

More reminders to self needed.