Aim Higher

If my goal for the day is to run two miles, I feel exhausted by the time I finish. If my goal is to run four miles, I don’t feel exhausted at two.

This reveals to me that it’s all about the mindset. Obviously I’m physically doing the same amount of exercise by the time I finish two, so I believe that the difference is in my expectation.

My brain is constantly looking for an excuse to stop pain. If it is convinced that the pain will not stop at 2 then it’ll do whatever necessary to cope. And it copes by telling itself that this pain is normal. But if it knows I will stop soon, it will stop trying to cope.

Lesson: whatever your goal is, always aim a few notches above it because it’ll give you the mindset of a person who sees the original goal as normal.

Be Mindful of the Invisible Reward

Sometimes we don’t experience the result of being diligent as a reward. This is unfortunate because it means we have poor incentives to do what’s best for us.

What do I mean?

Well, take driving for example.

Let’s say you drive completely safe — no unnecessary lane changes, no speeding etc.

So what is the reward for doing that? The reward is that nothing bad happens. Your life goes on as it always has, which is something you already take for granted.

From an intellectual perspective you can see the value of driving safe, but still the result of driving safe doesn’t feel like a reward. It takes a good amount of imagination to be able to see the alternate scenario where you weren’t as careful.

So What is the Solution?

I have two solutions: set up your own incentive and/or make being diligent as convenient as possible.

If you want to be diligent with driving safe, maybe throw your phone in the back seat so it doesn’t distract you. If you want to be diligent with working out, maybe get a work-out buddy. With eating healthy, get rid of all the junk food in your house.

You get the idea.

Sometimes it is very hard to find a solution like that. In that case you just have to keep thinking about it and eventually something will come up.

Instead of thinking this as a problem, think of it as an opportunity.

If you’re competing with other people, say in a sport or in the job market, this is an easy way to set yourself apart. All you have to do is be mindful of the invisible rewards of being diligent. By doing this you will run into less mistakes and inconveniences in the long run.

The fact that we live in a reality where these poor incentives exist means that there are opportunities for clever entrepreneurs to fill in the gap of making it more convenient to do the right thing.

Hey, maybe you could be one of those cool entrepreneurs, so get to solving some problems.

A Year of Blogging

Today, I just realized that I’ve been writing on my blog for over a year.

Writing publicly was something I had wanted to do for years, but it took me some time to get over the fear of being judged over it.

It’s remarkable how much I’ve grown as a result of this endeavor. A year ago I would have been deadly afraid of putting my thoughts and work out for anyone to see.

I used to be paralyzed by perfectionism. Now, I feel good every time I ship something out to the world, even when I know it’s far from perfect.

Well, at least this is the case when it comes to writing. I still can’t imagine shipping something in audio or video form.

At some point I’ll have to tackle that.

Finding Advice That’s Effective

You’re not going to make much progress by listening to big-picture advice from Tim Ferris or Seth Godin. There’s certainly a time for that advice, but not until you’ve had some success. That’s because you need to start doing things before you try to improve them. So just do work first.

If you are going to look for advice, look for people who are not too far removed from your position. Maybe even search for people who are in your level and who are learning out loud.

Reach out to them.

Advice is so much more valuable and effective if it comes from someone that’s right above your level of success, not someone who is miles above you and who gives out general advice that can be applied to everyone. What you want is advice that can only apply to you.

Book Review: Reach Out by Molly Beck

I got this book after seeing Zak Slayback show it on an Instagram post. I decided to read it because I wanted to know a bit more about how to create and cultivate relationships.

This book gave me solid advice on effective email etiquette, but perhaps more importantly it made me realize how many opportunities I’ve been leaving on the table by not reaching out regularly. I always felt it should be a rare thing to reach out, especially when it came to people you had no connection with.

I was shocked when I read that Molly advocated reaching out to 5 new people a week! Then I thought about it and realized, “why wouldn’t you?” Why not make it a routine to reach out? I could see nothing but upside if you do that.

Here are some of the benefits if you do it regularly:

  • You will increase your network
  • You will become a killer email composer, and a more effective communicator overall.
  • You will get less hung up if someone doesn’t respond or if you get rejected after making an ask.
  • You will make other people feel good, since every email should include a compliment and a gift. (a gift could be a book recommendation, an invitation to an event, some sort of e-favor etc.)

There are four types of reach outs (or ROs):

  • The Re-RO: Reaching Out to someone you already know from the past or is on the edge of your network. This one has the highest response rate.
  • The Follow-up RO: Reaching Out to someone you have met in passing in real life and want to build a deeper connection to
  • The Borrowed Connection RO: Reaching Out to a friend of a friend who has suggested you two should know each other
  • The Cool RO: Reaching Out to someone who you have no direct connection to at this time, formally known as the cold email. This one has the lowest response rate.

The thought of reaching out is very scary, especially when it comes to meeting someone person-to-person. Looks like it’s about time to face my fear though. Wish me luck.


Favorite Quote:

“You have to reach out to get noticed. You have to volunteer to stand in the spotlight. You have to raise your hand. You have to send the first email. You still might fail to be noticed if you do these things, but you definitely won’t be noticed if you wait for somebody else to reach out to you. So what are you waiting for? Reach out!”

Christians and Me

Here's something that has happened a few times: I meet someone who is exceptionally friendly and helpful to me, then later on I find out that they are a devout Christian. 

By devout Christian I mean people that genuinely think about God every day, which you can see through the conversations they have or the stuff they post online. They go to church every Sunday and listen to nothing but Christian music.

Even though I'm an atheist, I think that I've grown to have a bias towards Christians. In many ways I feel "safer" around them. For example, I feel more comfortable talking to them than I do talking to atheists.

Perhaps because I feel less judged, or because they don't seem to worry about small stuff. 

It’s probably also because I hold a lot of the same values that they do: I'm not judgmental, I don't like swearing, I don't like tattoos and drugs, I strongly believe in the importance of tradition and having a nuclear family, and more.

The important thing I'm missing is the belief in God. 

It's too bad I don't see myself ever changing in that respect. 

This leads me to a tragic predicament, which is that I love hardcore Christians but because I'm an atheist,  I don't think a close friendship or relationship is possible. 

Pursuing a Goal vs Pursuing an Identity

I don’t want to run an ultramarathon, I want to be the type of person that runs ultramarathons.

I don’t want to make a lot of money, I want to be the type of person who is competent and has valuable skills.

I don’t want to get married and have kids, I want to be the type of person whom girls would like to marry and have kids with.

If you focus on changing your identity through small habits, it’s more likely that you will get what you want.

Podcasts > School

Podcasts > School

I remember when I discovered podcasts as a medium. One summer day in 2009, I found that the iTunes store had a category called podcasts. It was content that I could download for free! I thought that was amazing.

I was very excited by the possibilities. Podcasts were a window to anything I wanted to learn. It was not limited by a place, time or a generic set of subjects. It was a medium that truly gave me the freedom to learn.

Notice that I made this discovery during the summer, when I had time to explore. 

First, I listened to podcasts about comedy and unsolved mysteries (ghosts, aliens, Big Foot, Mothman etc.). My favorite two podcasts were Comedy Death Ray (now called Comedy Bang! Bang!) and one called Universe of Mystery. Then I slowly moved towards more intellectual stuff like The Joe Rogan Experience, Stefan Molyneux’s Freedomain Radio and Dan Carlin’s Common Sense.

This was happening while I was juggling school. At the time I thought of school as a necessary burden, but now I realize how useless it was in terms of shaping my future for the better. I would echo George Bernard Shaw's experience when he said,

From a very early age, I've had to interrupt my education to go to school.

Flashforward 9 years since I found the magical world of podcasts. Now, almost everything I've learned that has made a tangible impact in my life has come from them.

To show you what I mean, here are just a few life-altering things that happened because of podcasts:

  • It was a conversation between Joe Rogan and Stefan Molyneux that made me realize the extent to which my childhood experiences have governed my behavior. This lead to a long road of understanding my past so that I could better control who I could become.
  • It was hearing countless of call-in-shows on Freedomain Radio that taught me how to think critically and how to acquire self knowledge. It is also why I’ve become a big proponent of peaceful parenting.
  • It was through a couple of Tom Wood’s interviews  that I first learned about online affiliate marketing. I immediately wanted to try it and so I taught myself how to build a website. With his many episodes, Tom Woods ignited the entrepreneurial spirit in me.
  • It was the great conversations between Isaac Morehouse and TK Coleman in Isaac's podcast that taught me the importance of having my own public blog, as well as the courage to actually write in it. And that's just one of the many ways they've impacted me.
  • When I first heard of it, I was very skeptical about the idea of unschooling. But after I listened to a few episodes of Exploring Unschooling with Pam Laricchia, it finally clicked in me that it just might be the best way to raise children. I've been learning about it through her podcast ever since. 
  • It was this conversation between Derek Magill and Isaac Morehouse that gave me the idea to make a website for my running club for free in order to gain experience and build my portfolio. It was a great success and now I’m using it to create more opportunities for myself.

These are clear learning moments I can point to that have broadened my horizons. I think it's safe to say that most of the meaningful knowledge I've acquired has come from the podcasts that I've listened to, not from school. When you compare the amount of time I've spent listening to podcasts to the 15,000+ hours which school had me for, plus a few years in college, this should bring some alarm. 

Maybe other people were different. Maybe they actually learned some meaningful things in school, but even then I think there remains a problem. And that problem is that schools are inherently inefficient at cultivating meaningful learning.

Perhaps I'll elaborate on this in a future post.

7 WordPress Plugins Every Site Should Have

Lately, I've been finding myself creating new wordpress websites - three in the past month, to be exact. As a result, I've gotten an idea of what plugins are necessary in order for it to survive and thrive. 

First, what are plugins? Basically, plugins are to your site what apps are to your phone. Plugins are pieces of software that you can add on top of wordpress so that your site can do more of what you want it to do. 

The following are all the plugins I would install immediately after setting up the site. 

First I will list all of the "essential" plugins, then the ones that are very useful but depending on what you are trying to do with your site.

Essential Plugins

WordFencethis is a very important plugin, as it has to do with security. It constantly checks your website for malware and hacking attempts. 

UpdraftPlusAt any moment, something could go wrong with your site - you could get hacked, your server crashes, you accidentally delete important code etc. When that happens having a recent backup of your website is extremely important, and that's what UpdraftPlus does. It backs up your website periodically.

Auto Terms of Service & Privacy Policy this is a fast way for you to create terms of service and privacy policy pages. Usually you want to have these to cover yourself from legal trouble. 

Yoast SEO this plugin is very important because it helps you determine how your site looks on google. It also allows you to determine what picture and text you want to show when you link a certain page on social media. 

Google Analytics this plugin helps you see how visitors find and use your website. For example, it shows you what people googled to find your website. 

WP Super Cache I honestly don't know how this plugin works but it somehow makes your site load faster.

Really Simple SSLif you look up on your browser, next to this url you should see a green lock and the word "secure." This is an SSL certificate and it helps users determine whether they should feel safe entering their information on a form. Even though your site may have the certificate, sometimes it may say it's "not secure" and scare away users. This plugin is a way to make sure that doesn't happen. 

Optional

Tidio Live Chat - live chat is a great way to engage customers. This one not only does that but it also keeps track of who visits your website and allows you to contact them as they are visiting. That's a pretty cool feature if you ask me. 

Facebook Live Chat don't let the name fool you; this plugin is a lot more than a live chat. It has things like floating share buttons and a scroll to the top button (you can see them on this site currently). This is a great plugin for a local store because it has a floating "store location" button that, when you click it, a map pops up. It also has floating testimonials, among many other things.

Any page builder - page builders are amazing tools; they let you quickly and effortlessly build highly customized pages. I like to use Thrive Architect which is not free, but there are others that have good, free versions such as Elementor and Brizy

In Response to Jordan Peterson’s Parenting Advice (Rebuttal)

In Response to Jordan Peterson’s Parenting Advice (Rebuttal)

I have many concerns with Jordan B. Peterson's advice on parenting. Going into his book, I already knew that my views on the matter differed, but I didn't expect it to be by such a wide margin.

Full disclosure: I have little experience with children. However, studying how one can best raise children has been a focus of mine for more than 5 years. I partly pursue this because it's a great form of self-therapy and partly because I want to eventually use what I learn to be the best parent I can be (if I ever become one).

It's also worth noting that I was once a child and I've spent a lot of time trying to make sense of that time. Because of this, I think I can bring a special, though by no means complete, perspective on the subject. 

Introduction

In his book, particularly chapter 5, JBP promotes the use of behaviorism on children. To be clear, this is a parenting style that is already the norm. Everyone I know was raised with this method, including me. Most parents do use rewards and punishments to get children to behave and to "teach" them to stay out of danger. Under threat, they are made to say please and thank you, share with others, be quiet in public etc. Almost all schools use rewards and punishments too. 

With this method, the reason why children do the actions you wish to see does not matter. What matters is that they appear to emulate good behavior. 

What Peterson seems to be going for is a refinement of behaviorism, but I think that's a very low bar to aim for. Aim higher, Peterson! I think there is an even better method altogether, a method that exists outside the paradigm of manipulation. I'm talking about parenting with Nonviolent Communication (or NVC). In short, this is a method that views the parent/child relationship as a partnership rather than a perpetual fight for dominance. Kind of like any truly healthy relationship. With this method, it is understood that connection, rather than manipulation, is the best path to get our needs met in the long-term. 

Side note: I'd also refer to this approach as peaceful parenting, attachment parenting, or parenting with an unschooling philosophy.

JPB's Perspective Vs NVC

In chapter 5, JBP presents many false dichotomies of how you can treat children:

  • You can chastise them, or overlook unwanted behavior
  • You can discipline them, or neglect them
  • You can control them, or let them live a life of chaos
  • Be strict, or be permissive
  • Dominate them, or be dominated

I don't think he's aware that these are false dichotomies. It's likely that he, like most other people, just doesn't know that there are other possibilities. I think this is because he has been blinded by the language that our society uses. His religious beliefs probably also have something to do with it. After all, his convictions align well with the idea of original sin and "spare the rod, spoil the child."

JBP generally sees people through the lens of good and bad. He says everyone has the potential of being bad and extends that ability to children, saying that it is naive and dangerous to not see them this way. Well, call me naive if you want but I don't see anybody that way. Not because I think it's impossible for people to do evil things, but because I think it's counterproductive to see people through that lens. This is especially true for people with whom you want to be in a long-term relationship with. I'd say that such moralistic judgments can only impede the possibility of getting our needs met.

Marshall B. Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication wrote:

"It is my belief that all such analyses of other human beings are tragic expressions of our own needs. They are tragic because when we express our values and needs in this form, we increase defensiveness and resistance among the very people whose behaviors are of concern to us."

I would echo Rosenberg's statement because I've personally experienced it both as a child and as an adult. I think the logic of it is pretty much universal; just think of the last time you felt your whole character being judged. Think of when you were called bad, annoying, inconsiderate etc. Did it make you want to understand and accommodate the person more, or less?

Another thing is that, since children are both defenseless and reliant on you for information, they might start to believe in the negative, one-dimensional labels that you put on them, making it harder for them to grow out of the very habits you don't like. 

Instead of jumping the gun on moralistic judgments, what if you directly expressed what you felt and needed? Isn't that more likely to get results? Granted, using NVC will not always get you the result that you desire, but my point is that making moralistic judgments will never do you any better. 

Throughout this chapter and several other talks, Peterson uses many uncharitable labels on children. He has called them names like "little monsters," "rats," "devils," "brats," "blighters," and "varmint." To me, this is horrifying. He probably doesn't say those words to them directly, but there's no doubt that it shapes his attitude towards them. 

That is what Rosenberg would call "life-alienating language." It is a language which instills the idea that the other is less than human and therefore less deserving of empathy and compassion. It gives us the green light to implement behaviorism on kids as if they were no different than rats.

In the chapter, when JBP was trying to get a child to eat, he likened it to a war. When I read this, it reminded me of George Lakeloff and Mark Johnson's book, Metaphors We Live By. In it, they argued that the metaphors we use determine how we live our lives. There's a relevant passage where they talk about arguments, which I think could also apply to our interactions with children:

It is important to see that we don't just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can actually win or lose arguments. We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We attack his positions and we defend our own. We gain and lose ground. We plan and use strategies. If we find a position indefensible, we can abandon it and take a new line of attack. Many of the things we do in arguing are partially structured by the concept of war. Though there is no physical battle, there is a verbal battle, and the structure of an argument—attack, defense, counter-attack, etc.—reflects this. It is in this sense that the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor is one that we live by in this culture; it structures the actions we perform in arguing.
Try to imagine a culture where arguments are not viewed in terms of war, where no one wins or loses, where there is no sense of attacking or defending, gaining or losing ground. Imagine a culture where an argument is viewed as a dance, the participants are seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way. In such a culture, people would view arguments differently, experience them differently, carry them out differently, and talk about them differently.

Imagine how much more fruitful every debate would be if we did that.

Just like the "argument is war" metaphor, I believe thinking of a child as an opponent whom you must dominate causes unnecessary friction and stagnates progress. It prevents us from discovering amazing possibilities in parenting.

Now, it is true that because of the immense power disparity of the relationship, parents can just ignore this mombo jumbo and force a child to do pretty much anything on command (unless they have a very strong-willed child, that is). Other than it being morally reprehensible to abuse such power, I want to warn people that it is likely to cause many long-term consequences. Consequences which JBP does not address. 

The Dangers of Behaviorism

Jordan Peterson was very good at showing the potential horrors of permissive parenting (something I'm not advocating for, it's just the only alternative that he offers) but he didn't present any potential horrors of behaviorism. So I think I'll do that.

Here are some of the negative consequences that can come out of behaviorism. For more detailed explanations, plus the evidence to back them up, I'd recommend Alfie Kohn's books, Punished by Rewards and Unconditional Parenting.

It neglects intrinsic motivation. Behaviorism is like a trainer lifting your arm while you hold a dumbbell and calling it exercise. Since they are being made to do things under threat of punishment or promise of reward, children are denied the opportunity to have their actions be their own. What do you think will happen when the external motivation isn't there anymore? Do you think the child will still behave? I don't think so. With behaviorism, children never truly learn discipline or to be good. (Can a person who is forced to "be good" actually be good anyway?) They simply haven't utilized their internal motivation when they do those things.

I wrote something that exemplifies this in a post called The Problem With Making Kids Say “Thank You”

It makes them reliant on behaviorism. Sometimes when you coerce a child to behave a certain way it does end up sticking, but it comes at the cost of making them dependent on external pressure. You can see this in people who promise themselves a treat if they do something good or go down a path of self-loathing if they fail.  They are conditioned to need external motivation to be good or to have discipline. 

Coercing them may make them hate the very thing you want them to do. I think this is self-explanatory. 

Depression. One of the most important requirements for happiness is a sense of autonomy. With behaviorism, children grow up to act based on pressure rather than a real sense of choice. We need the ability to choose our own actions and goals. When your behavior is being controlled by your parents and school, you are being denied the opportunity to pursue your own goals let alone ever find out what they are. If children are raised on behaviorism, their joy comes from other people's approval. And even then, it's a short-lived kind of joy.

I know Peterson doesn't think happiness is a worthwhile goal, but it's also worth noting that depression impedes people from reaching even a goal that Peterson would approve of, so he shouldn't perpetuate it if he can help it. 

It forces them to prioritize appeasing authority over learning about and conquering reality. Under behaviorism, kids have no reason to care about the behavior you want them to do, but they have all the reason care about getting the reward and avoiding the punishment. When they are made to suffer for misbehaving, they don't learn that such behavior is wrong or dangerous, rather they learn that displeasing the parent is wrong or dangerous. Therefore, they learn to conduct themselves based on the ones who hold the hammer rather than reality. Sometimes it only makes them become more sneaky so as to not get caught.

It erodes the relationship. As you can see from the previous point, it encourages children to be dishonest with the parent. This is where I believe the "rebellious teenage years" come from. When the parent is a source of what's making them suffer, they become another entity that should be avoided. This means that the parents will have less of an influence on their children's lives. Especially when they grow older and the power of rewards and punishments doesn't hold the same effect anymore. 

It teaches them to repress their emotions. In chapter 2, Jordan wonders why people care more for others than they do for themselves. I think this is at least partially the answer. Thanks to behaviorism, they are taught that their own emotions and needs are not a priority over the people who hold power. They are taught that their own emotions and needs are to be repressed if they want to live harmoniously with a parent. 

I can easily see this leading to collectivism, which ironically is what Jordan is trying to steer people away from.


I know these things can happen because I've experienced them. I was actually one of those defiant children who refused any type of manipulation. Each attempt at controlling me resulted in resistance, which then caused more drastic methods to control me, which resulted in more resistance. I eventually became numb to any type of reward and punishment coming both from my parents and schools. In the process, my relationship with my parents deteriorated and they lost any real influence they had on me. William Glasser nailed my experience when he wrote:

The vast majority of unhappiness [in the parent-child relationship] is the result of well-intentioned parents trying to make children do what they don’t want to do….  Few of us [parents] are prepared to accept that it is our attempts to control that destroys the only thing we have with our children that gives us some [influence] over them, our relationship.

Today, I have a strong drive to be polite and well liked. I'm also on my way to becoming successful by my own standards. I can assure you this didn't come from other people trying to force me to be like this. In reality, I always had a strong need for my values to be intrinsic. I remember having that need back then, though I couldn't have articulated it.

The idea that a parent might interpret the way children express their needs as "malicious" is extremely unfortunate.

I'm barely starting to trust the fact that I have in me the need and ability to become a good human being; that I don't need external control to lead a life of meaning and discipline. This trust in myself could have been instilled in me way earlier if it wasn't for behaviorism.

I know what would have worked better. I know for a fact that my parents would have gotten more of what they wanted out of me if they started from a place of trust and respect rather than fear for my future. I know it's impossible to prove a counterfactual, but after learning about myself and recollecting what was going on inside my head back then, I can say that more compassion and empathy in place of "tough love" would have set me up for a better life, not to mention a better relationship with my parents. 

Some Resources

There is so much great content out there that can enlighten us on different ways to handle situations without behaviorism. Here are just some of them to get you started.

This is a great conference talk by Roslyn Ross, where she explains why behaviorism leads to collectivism and some solutions:

I'd also recommend Roslyn's blog

Unruffled by Janet Lansbury. This is a podcast where Landsbury answers questions about specific situations. In there, you can find a peaceful solution to every situation Jordan Peterson gave an example of: how to deal with children that don't want to sleep/eat or when they hit etc.

Here's a pertinent episode: Stop Making Mealtime A Challenge. I think you'd be interested in comparing it to Jordan Peterson's forceful approach. 

Lastly, I highly recommend Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. This book gives you a better way of getting what you want without using rewards and threats, which, in my opinion, is not very effective in the first place. 

Peaceful alternatives are out there. Using rewards and punishments necessarily limits our ability to find better solutions. Even Jordan Peterson would agree that restrictions lead to creativity, so let's follow this wisdom and restrict our ability to approach kids with behaviorism. If you do this I think you'd be surprised by the possibilities. 

P.S. If you want to hear other counterpoints to Jordan's parenting approach I 'd like to direct you to this episode of The Voluntary Life. Jake Desyllas has great points that I just can't fit in this post.