Dirty little hacks – how I trick my monkey mind to get stuff done on time

Whoever said “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”, has most probably never had a job at all. Even doing the most awesome stuff, with the most amazing colleagues by your side, there’s always going to be angry customers to deal with, unpopular decisions to be made, or difficult conversations to engage in. Loving the job you’re doing makes these things even harder, because you care A LOT.
At the same time, there’s nothing to stop you from procrastinating on the hard things when working remotely. This combined with my perfectionist tendencies, makes me often get stuck and avoid that burdensome problem for ages, only to find out it’s already the end of the day, and I’ve hardly done anything productive at all. In a result-only work environment you can only fool yourself for so long.
Luckily, with the help of a few great books and blogs I’m slowly learning to overcome that resistance and do stuff on time even if I totally don’t feel like it. Usually the things I totally don’t feel like doing are also the things worth doing the most, so there’s great value in mastering that skill. Some of the dirty tricks I learned are obvious, some other ones are absurd or silly, but all helped me already in this or other way. If you’re having a hard time getting down to work, you might want to give them a try as well.

1. Start in the middle

Ever tried to write an email or article and spent an hour wondering where to start? Sometimes crafting that one perfect first paragraph is so hard I’d end up tweaking and rewriting it for ages, and give up altogether in the end.
You simply can’t write a perfect opening without knowing what will follow next. And as much as I tried to organise the whole essays in my head, I could never predict what would follow before actually writing it all down. Often it would turn out that adding every new sentence broke the logical flow of the whole, so I’d rewrite everything again without ever moving forward.
What I learned is that it’s much easier to solve a puzzle if you have all the pieces laid out in front of you. Right now I start doing the easiest parts first, write down all I know as a stream of consciousness, and only start outlining the structure once I know how much the whole piece is going to cover. Writing titles and intros had never been easier than this.

2. Write down 20 ideas instead of 10

This one is from James Altucher, and it’s one of the best creativity tricks I’ve ever tried. It doesn’t just apply to blog post ideas or titles, I try it in all areas of professional and personal life.
If I have no clue where to start with any project, it usually means I’m waiting for the perfect answer to fall down on me all at once. Of course, that perfect solution never comes by itself – it’s a result of trying different things and building on whatever works.
If I can’t come up with 10 ideas for something, setting the bar at 20 means some of them will be absurdly, ridiculously bad. Accepting that fact is often enough to get me unstuck, try more creative answers, and eventually come up with one that makes sense.

3. Pretend you’re not actually doing it

Okay, this one is actually quite embarrassing. The main idea is: if you can’t force yourself to do something, trick your monkey brain into believing you’re actually doing something else. It sounds too silly to be true, and I wish I needn’t resort to that kind of hacks, but it helped me more times than I would like to admit.
Examples? When stuck on a difficult problem at work, I would often try escalating it to a colleague. Before I send it away, I summarise everything I know in an informal, internal note. In 90% cases, by the time I’m finished writing that note I already know what I should do to solve this, and do all by myself what seemed impossible at first.
Writing my blog posts in WordPress editor sometimes felt too stressful, so I moved on to a private notebook in Evernote. Then I realised having that notebook named “blog” still puts a lot of pressure on me, so I started a new one called “Cosmos” to get rid of all references to blogging. Here I can pretend I write it all just for myself, and that these notes will never be seen by anyone but me. Many of them won’t, but that’s totally okay.
Working on other personal projects I also use the same trick. When I had no idea what to write in my WordCamp presentation, I started by setting up a whole demo store, with lots of photos from the Hubble Space Telescope, weird product descriptions and a few silly puns. I only used the site to take a few screenshots which I could have obtained in much easier way, but doing fun stuff like this got me really going, and before I even realised I had half of the presentation done.

4. Set a timer and block everything off

This is the hardcore way for tasks that have no easy parts and can’t be turned into something fun (where is the fun part of doing a tax report?). I found it recommended on the zen habits blog, and decided to give it a try, as doing my taxes surely requires some Zen master skills. This is the simplest exercise ever, even though it can be quite uncomfortable at times.
When I need to do something I’d rather not to, I set 10 minutes on my timer. For these 10 minutes I’m only allowed to do that one task – or stare blankly at it. Applications like Focus can help block off the digital distractions, but the best results come when I don’t allow myself any kind of break (and believe me, the urge to go and grab a glass of water is usually strong!).
Once these 10 minutes are over, I can take a break, bring that glass of water at last, procrastinate a little bit again, until I’m ready for another try. After the third cycle staring at the screen can get really boring, and I end up doing the work I am supposed to. If I’m lucky, I might find myself still doing it even after the time has passed.
Encouraged by success with the most dreadful things, I recently started applying this technique to everyday work. I still haven’t found the interval that makes me most productive though. 10 minutes is usually too little to get anything meaningful done. 25 is too much to avoid distractions.

5. Create a false sense of urgency

A wise man called Parkinson once found that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Due to working from home and having no serious obligations, I know this better than anyone else. Sometimes I catch myself at 8pm after more than 10h of work, only to realise my results for that day are quite far from exceptional.
But there’s a flip side to the coin – if work fills up all available time, having less time means that you’ll do it faster, if only there’s a good reason to do so. My experience with working from touristy places has proven this correct. If I’m not travelling, meeting a friend in the evening is a perfect motivation as well. (However, I still need to get better in catching up with my friends. If you haven’t heard from me in ages, it’s not you, it’s me!).
When I’m working on something just for myself (like this blog post), I usually make up a deadline, even if it’s all fake. I push an early draft to WordPress editor and schedule the publish date on the next morning. If I don’t get it fixed on time, it will be published as it is and automatically posted to my Facebook. I had to reschedule a post once or twice, but that’s a great way to actually finish what I’ve started.

6. Keep track of your time

I’m not organised enough to do this manually, but luckily there’s a lot of apps that will do this for you. I use RescueTime on my laptop, and Moment on the phone. Both apps have all the features I need included in the free versions.
The day I installed RescueTime was a revelation to me. I only started tracking time in the afternoon, but still I was so shocked to see the report telling I’d spend more time on internal company blogs and Slack than doing the actual work. I’m proud to say this hasn’t happened again since I have this app installed.

7. Meditate

I can’t emphasise enough how much meditation has helped me with everything I do. It’s like discovering a secret superpower I never knew I had. Whenever I find myself stuck, upset, or complaining about the hard task in front of me, meditation helps me observe my thoughts and feelings from a certain distance. 15 minutes is often enough to break the thought pattern that felt overwhelming at first, and have all that feelings diminish, or disappear completely.

***

Remote work requires a certain set of skills, like pushing myself into doing stuff when I don’t feel like it. I had no idea how difficult it would be for me at first. The skills I learned along the way are now invaluable for my personal projects as well. With audacious ideas, little experience, and lots of self-doubt, the only way to finish what I started is to trick myself into it.

I’m out of office… And not coming back!

Working remotely was something I’ve dreamed of for a long time. It got me most fascinated when I used to live in Korea. Having to sit in the office without anything to do, I would read books about design and dream of packing my stuff and going somewhere far away, where meaning is the king.

When my dream finally came true, it felt freaking overwhelming at first. Like all the walls, floor and ceiling around me suddenly disappeared, and I was in a free fall. Some days, I would forget to eat lunch because I was so stressed about the stuff I have to do. Some days, I thought they’ll all figure out I’m too emotionally unstable to ever be in charge of my schedule.

But month after month after month I slowly caught the vibe and started taking advantage of the amazing lifestyle my job made possible. My first attempt at working while travelling was way too ambitious, but at least I had a great time and learned a lot.

The things I learned then were not wasted. Travelling together with my boyfriend, we’ve worked from Canada, US, Mexico, Portugal, Italy, States again and France during the last few months. Usually we’d take a few days off for hiking or sightseeing and stay for another week or two trying to live like a local. We love travelling and working like this, and we love coming back home once we’re tired.

Of course, its not just puppies and sunshine. It’s easy to fall in love with the idea of working and travelling, especially when you see pictures like this:

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Library of Hotel de Ville in Paris. It’s very old, absolutely beautiful, and feels like a sauna.

As beautiful, inspiring and Instagram-worthy this may look, it’s doesn’t tell the whole story. Inside it was extremely hot, they had terrible WiFi, a very complex registration process to even get in, so by the time I got to my full working speed they started closing when I was right in the middle of complex troubleshooting over live chat. I’ve literally continued the chat on my way out, carrying my laptop over to the elevator, security booth, and finally finished it 15 minutes later in the parking lot.

Working from everywhere is a beautiful concept, but without planing for that “everywhere” the stress would eat me. Where am I going? Will I be able to charge my laptop there? Is the wifi good enough? If not, can my mobile data handle live chat / audio / video calls? Is it comfortable to sit there for several hours? Is it possible to buy a drink or food there?

I never had to think about those things when working in an office job, but I can’t really say I’d have outstanding results back then. At home I’m often distracted, and then work overtime to catch up. Working remotely from cafes, libraries, parks or museums is the best way for me to stay truly productive. Nothing motivates me to get my stuff done as much as the library closing in 10 minutes, or the laptop battery running out.

And that’s probably the best thing about remote work. It doesn’t matter how long you sit in the office, it only matters if stuff gets done in the end. You don’t need to spend endless hours on meetings, try to impress certain people, or play office politics games, your results will speak for themselves. The trust and freedom in a fully remote job can be quite overwhelming at times, but I don’t feel like ever coming back to the office again. Neither do any of my friends who’ve tried it.

If it sounds like you’d thrive in a remote job, come work with us, we’re always hiring. You don’t need technical background to apply. This is not a sponsored post, and we’re not getting any referral bonus for any folks we’d recommend. I just truly believe this is an awesome company to work for 🙂

Perfect is the enemy of done

My boyfriend and I rent a cubicle in the coworking office nearby. To feel more at home, he’s hung a few things on the cubicle wall – including a picture I made on a painting class last year. It was my first painting on canvas ever, and while it might look pleasant from a certain distance, a closer glance reveals all kinds of rookie mistakes, including some very unfortunate trees.
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This could have been a really nice landscape painting…

It’s not easy to concentrate on my work with this painting hanging always there in front of my eyes. Perhaps I can take it back home and fix it? Sometimes I feel quite ashamed to have it hung in a prominent place in the office, visible to people I don’t know.
Yet Artur says he truly likes this picture, despite all of its flaws. If I am to take it down, he says, I’d better bring another one I feel more comfortable with.
I’m still yet to start painting that another one. A blank canvas or sheet of paper are extremely scary. Almost as scary as a canvas that’s filled in not well enough.
The same fear paralyses me when it comes to blogging. I’d love to write about the big, scary, important stuff and never seem to find the right words for it that don’t sound trivial. Then I come across a perfect version of the blog post I’ve tried to write for months, and immediately give up. (You should totally read that post by the way. This is precisely the thing I would write if I was skilled and experienced enough).
A drive for perfection can sometimes be an advantage, especially at work. It pushes me to dig really deep into certain topics, far beyond what most people would do. This lets me understand the big picture and root cause of every problem, and find a solution that’s good both for short and long term.
On the other hand, the time I take to find that one perfect solution would be sufficient to find two good enough ones. I don’t know what is balance between quality and quantity. I take too long to solve each problem, and then work overtime to avoid being a burden to my colleagues. After all, they have to deal with all the customers I didn’t have time to reach to.
It’s easier to spend an hour researching a topic, than to risk sending a solution that’s simply not right. It’s easier to write or paint nothing, than to write or paint stuff I might not be so proud of. It’s easier to spend the entire life reading about the awesome stuff people do, than to try something new and suck at it.
I find it extremely hard to feel comfortable around things I did imperfectly, and it’s a creativity killer. You can’t start anything new without making a few mistakes along the way. If everything you do has to be perfect, you will never get anything meaningful done. Most probably, the fear of making mistakes will let you only do stuff that’s easy, boring and repetitive.
I love how Leo Babauta of ZenHabits put this into words:
Uncertainty, and the fear and discomfort that arises from uncertainty, will always be there, unless you’re doing something you absolutely know how to do (like watching TV, checking Facebook or playing games).
I guess I should keep the painting on our cubicle wall for now. Maybe one day it will make me feel proud of how much I’ve learned. Especially to feel comfortable with my own imperfections.

Not everyone can be a programmer. But everyone should learn how to code.

Programming is trendy. Every month I see a new ad of some course that will supposedly turn me into a developer. Some of them claim they can teach everyone to code in as little as 6 weeks. Others last a whole year or more, but will only collect any money once you finally land your first coding job.
Some of my friends complain that such courses do a great harm. They sell a false hope that everyone can be a programmer, even though most participants will never get there. And what’s even worse, you can’t get all the needed expertise over the course of just 6 weeks – the most you can get is a false sense of overconfidence.
If you’re feeling the same and think that code produced by those people is a true disaster, think again. The alternative is a world where hardly anyone ever tried coding at all.
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Writing bad code is not a disaster. It’s the necessary first step towards writing some good one. (Source: ART, DESIGN, CODE).

I’m not here to say everyone can be a good programmer. Most people wouldn’t even enjoy working as one in the first place! Still, I do believe everyone should learn how to code, or should at least give it a try. It has become one of the most important skills you can learn, like reading, writing, googling, and basic math.
Just like with coding, most books, articles, and blogs people have written are simply awful. I’m sure you’ve read at least one terrible book, and it was probably written by someone who makes a living this way. So why do we force every single kid to learn how to write? Do we really need more Twilight fan fiction in the world, or blogs about Justin Bieber?
We don’t teach kids to write in hope they become the next Shakespeare. If that was the goal, we’d just focus on the top 5% that show greatest potential and give up on the rest. Instead, we’re giving them an important tool to create the world they live in, structure their thinking, share their arguments in an organised way, and to communicate with the rest of that world. In that sense, coding is no different.
Even the most basic coding course will give you something invaluable – a glimpse of insight into how computers works, and of how their language translates into ours. With our lives becoming more and more dependent on technology, this is a critical skill to have. I have no idea what our jobs will be like in another 30 years, but I can guarantee that computers will play a huge role in the most of them. Understanding that role, and making advantage of it, will make a crucial difference between an average teacher, scientist, or marketer, and a great one – even if they produce really bad code, or no code at all.
I don’t expect anyone to learn programming in one day – even one year might not be enough. However, if you never try it, you’ll never know if it could be something for you. If it wasn’t for one random painting class at a company meetup, I’d never have known that painting gives me so much joy, bought a large heap of painting supplies, or learned the difference between oil and acrylic in practice. I’ll probably never become a professional painter, and neither will most people attending that class, but I’m happy I had that one chance to try.
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My favorite painting so far in acrylic on canvas. I still have a lot to learn, but this won’t stop me from trying!

Now if someone wants to try coding, I want to give them the same chance. If there’s just one person inspired by our class to explore programming on their own, this is a reason good enough to teach it.

Houston, we all have a big problem here

Okay, this is quite embarrassing. For more time than I’d like to admit I thought that Houston was the name of some really smart guy at NASA. It took me the while to realize there’s actually a whole space center in Houston, and soon after that I got a chance to go there and see it myself. As much as I enjoyed all the tours, exhibitions, and seeing it all from the inside, it was actually a very heartbreaking experience.
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Looking pro at the Mission Control, as if this whole Houston was an old friend of mine

It totally blows my mind how they sent folks to the Moon and back with the sixties’ technology. The onboard computer on Apollo 11 had 64kB memory, and even this was mostly read-only. At the Mission Control where they did the heavy math, all available machines combined had less than 9MB memory in total. They also occupied the whole base level of the whole building.
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Mission Control as seen from the front row. Some very important folks used to sit there, like several US presidents or the Queen of England.

Somehow, with all technology constraints they had, they managed to calculate the correct flight trajectory, fire all engines precisely when needed, make sure the spaceship stays on its course, monitor its status and astronauts’ health, and lift off the Lunar Module in just the right time with just the right speed to return it safely back to Earth.
***
Imagine what humans could do if they had a thousand times more powerful machines? Hey, let’s dream big – what about a million times more powerful ones?
***
I happen to have one in my pocket, and the closest it got to a Moon landing was taking a selfie with an astronaut (who never had a chance to go to the Moon either). There, here it is:
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My phone’s rocket science at work. The astronaut on this photo is Michael McCulley, and he’s as cool as the guys who flew to the Moon. He just had the bad luck of being born a little bit too late.

48 years after the famous Apollo mission, it still remains the humanity’s greatest achievement in space exploration.
48 years is more than it took to get from the first airplane ever to sending men into space.
Let that sink with you for a moment.
Since the Apollo program, we’ve taken baby steps back into space, but nowhere near where we used to be back then.
***
There was an exhibition at NASA about their upcoming mission to Mars. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen in this decade, and most probably not in the next one either. With all my enthusiasm for Mars exploration, I was still quite underimpressed.
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Testing Mars rovers and robots at NASA training center. The SpaceX Dragon capsule hasn’t arrived there yet.

Of course, I don’t blame anyone at NASA. They’re desperately underfunded. Someone somewhere must have decided the billions of tax dollars carelessly burned by spaceships in the atmosphere could be used for more virtuous purposes, like healthcare or education. Or killer spy drones.
I know I shouldn’t be surprised. That’s what governments do. They prefer to spend money on stuff that will most likely get them elected again to the office. Once the Soviet Union developed sufficiently good missiles, military importance of space exploration decreased a lot – and so did the funding.
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The retired Saturn V rocket. Nothing more powerful has been built so far.

I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but it hit me really hard while I was walking among the artefacts of the past NASA glory. Why would taxpayers choose spending on army over science in the first place?
Is the return on investment in science working so slow, that we fail to notice all the benefits we’re getting?
Do we really feel more secure by pouring more and more money into the military?
I dream of a world where all nations would invest at least as much in science as they do in their armies. Imagine where we could be in just 10 or 20 years? Or what our phones would be capable of with all that rocket science?
Houston, we must have gone terribly wrong at some point. Where do we go now and what do we do to fix it?

5 books to read if you’re losing faith in humanity

Even if you’re the most optimistic person in the world, following world news can recently feel quite overwhelming. It seems that technical progress has far outpaced our mental growth, and the four-year-olds in us are not yet ready for the inventions of modern civilization.

If you slowly get to believe that humanity is screwed, or caught yourself looking for a safe hideaway on a remote pacific island, here are a few books that might help.

Steven Pinker – The Better Angels of Our Nature

betterangelsThis massive volume was put together by a psychology professor at Harvard. He makes a very brave and counter-intuitive argument that we’re much more peaceful and better off than at any time in human history – and backs it up with an incredible amount of data.

With painstaking attention to details Pinker analyzes the violent habits of our ancestors, the emotions driving us towards and away from violence, and the slow processes that made the Earth a more peaceful place throughout the course of human history.

Even though the tone of the book is strongly optimistic, it’s far from all kinds of New Agey mumbo-jumbo. What brought us to this peaceful point is not a cosmic fate, but complex social processes that can be still reversed if we let them so. Still, seeing where we’re coming from and how much progress we’ve made so far is a refreshing and much needed revelation that puts our current challenges in perspective. Perhaps we’re not that screwed after all.

Good quotes:

It’s not just that there are two sides to every dispute. It’s that each side sincerely believes its version of the story, namely that it is an innocent and long-suffering victim and the other side a malevolent and treacherous sadist. And each side has assembled a historical narrative and database of facts consistent with its sincere belief.

Our species was born into the dilemma because our ultimate interests are distinct, because our vulnerable bodies make us sitting ducks for exploitation, and because the enticements to being the exploiter rather than the exploited will sentence all sides to punishing conflict. Unilateral pacifism is a losing strategy, and joint peace is out of everyone’s reach. These maddening contingencies are inherent in the mathematical structure of the payoffs, and in that sense they are in the nature of reality. It is no wonder that the ancient Greeks blamed their wars on the caprice of the gods, or that the Hebrews and Christians appealed to a moralistic deity who might jigger the payoffs in the next world and thereby change the perceived incentive structure in this one.

Chris Hadfield – An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

astronautsguideAs soon as you leave Earth’s atmosphere, you enter a place that’s absolutely hostile to life. Surviving in such extreme conditions requires a certain set of skills acquired in the long and stressful process of astronaut training.

Even though the problems they usually deal with in outer space are quite otherworldly, the tools and techniques of the astronauts can help face our challenges back on Earth. In his book Hadfield explains how you can never be too prepared for any event, how to contribute positively to your team goals even if the situation seems quite hopeless, how to savor little joys of life, and how to stay calm and avoid panic when everything around is trying to kill you.

A solid piece of advice, served on a beautiful plate of the vast, indifferent Cosmos.

Good quotes:

My dad could be a stern taskmaster and on principle didn’t believe children should complain, but he also disapproved of whining because he understood that it is contagious and destructive. Comparing notes on how unfair of difficult or ridiculous something is does promote bonding – and sometimes that’s why griping continues, because it’s reinforcing an us-against-the-world feeling. Very quickly, though, the warmth of unity morphs to the sourness of resentment, which makes hardships seem even more intolerable and doesn’t help get the job done. Whining is the antithesis of expeditionary behaviour, which is all about rallying the troops around a common goal.

The fact is that even the least eventful day in space is the stuff of dreams. In some ways, of course, it’s the improbability of being there at all that makes the experience so transcendent. But fundamentally, life off Earth is in two important respects not at all unworldly: You can choose to focus on the surprises and pleasures, or the frustrations. And you choose to appreciate the smallest scraps of experience, the everyday moment, or to value only the grandest, most stirring ones. Ultimately, the real question is whether you want to be happy.

Ryan Holiday – Obstacle is the Way

obstacleSome people seem to be invincible, coming stronger and wiser from all the challenges life has thrown in their way. Some other ones break down as soon as the first possible thing goes wrong. The difference between them, Ryan Holiday says after ancient stoics, lies not in any external circumstances, but rather their own attitude towards life.

To illustrate the point, the book describes the stories of a few dozen people who objectively had every possible reason to give up. Instead of wondering why they had to face such unfair difficulties, all of them treated the conditions they found themselves in as a unique opportunity. Poverty, severe illness, depression, economic crisis, physical disabilities, discrimination, these all can be turned into an advantage, should you choose to look at them this way.

The tone of the book may lean a bit towards pathos, but its contents makes it certainly worth reading.

Good quotes:

You don’t convince people by challenging their longest and most firmly held opinions. You find common ground and work from there. Or you look for leverage to make them
listen. Or you create an alternative with so much support from other people that the opposition voluntarily abandons its views and joins your camp.

Where one person sees a crisis, another one can see opportunity. Where one is blinded by success, another sees reality with ruthless objectivity. Where one loses control of emotions, another can remain calm. Desperation, despair, fear, powerlessness – these reactions are functions of our perceptions. You must realise: Nothing makes us feel this way; we choose to give in to such feelings. Or, like Rockefeller, not to.

Dalai Lama – The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World

artofhappinessPoor village kid at the age of two, leader of a nation at the age of fifteen, refugee running for his life at the age of twenty four. Despite all of the terrible things the Chinese government has done to him and his people, Dalai Lama has never ceased to believe in the underlying goodness in every human being.

In an interview conducted by Howard Cutler, an American psychiatrist, Dalai Lama’s spiritual wisdom gets intertwined with a modern scientific point of view. Combined together, they form a powerful analysis on how social isolation leads to unhappiness in most of the Western world, how most of the violence and hatred comes from adopting an us-versus-them mentality, how a positive attitude can be practiced and nourished, and how radical empathy and focus on our interconnectedness could help us make the world a better place.

You don’t have to be a Buddhist or religious at all for this book to bring you some comfort and hope.

Good quotes:

The difference in one’s vision of human nature can mean the difference between living in a world filled with fellow human beings who are perceived as hostile, violence, and dangerous, or as essentially kind, helpful, and gentle. A deep awareness of the essential goodness of human beings can give us courage and hope. On the individual level as well, such a vision of our basic nature can help promote a greater sense of well-being and connectedness with others. Even if the objective facts, historical and scientific, did not conclusively support either of the two views, from a practical point of view, it is still in our best interest to embrace a more positive view of the human nature. After all, we humans have a tendency to make real what we choose to believe, somewhat in the manner of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Optimist does not mean that you are blind to the actual reality of the situation. It means that you always maintain a positive spirit so that you remain motivated to seek a solution to any given problem. And it means that you recognise that any given situation has many different aspects – optimism involves looking at the situation not only from the standpoint of the problem itself, not only recognising the negative aspects, but also seeking out some positive aspect, some potential benefit, actively looking at the same situation in terms of the potential positive outcomes.

Carl Sagan – The Demon-Haunted World

demon-haunted_worldFor the whole human history we have been struggling to make sense out of our existence and the mysterious forces driving our fate. Our minds are hardly trustworthy and the search for understanding can easily lead us into bullshit or superstition. Luckily, with the combined effort of many such great minds over the course of the time we have the most powerful tool in our hands – the scientific method. It is this force of untapped imagination combined with rigorous skepticism that flies us to the Moon and beyond.

We live in a society fully dependent on science and technology, where nearly no one has even a basic understanding of science and technology. If we don’t put our superstitions behind and start making informed, fact-based decisions, the future for our grandchildren looks very bleak. In fact, there might be no future at all.

Over twenty years after this book has been written, it doesn’t seem that we’ve made much progress on this. Yet as long as there’s a natural-born scientist in every single child, there’s still hope we will figure our way. Sagan has some excellent ideas where to start.

Good quotes:

If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.

The business of scepticism is to be dangerous. Scepticism challenges established institutions. If we teach everybody, including, say, high school students, habits of sceptical thought, they will probably not restrict their scepticism to UFOs, aspirin commercials and 35,000-year-old channellees. Maybe they’ll start asking awkward questions about economic, or social, or political, or religious institutions. Perhaps they’ll challenge the opinions of those in power. Then where would we be?

Getting back to the basics

Last year brought many changes for me, and most of them were simply amazing. I have the freedom I’ve always dreamed of – to do something I care about, whenever I want, wherever I want, and the way I want it. After so many years of working the Korean way, this freedom feels truly overwhelming. It’s like trying your best to focus and get down to work in a room where there’s no walls, no floor and no ceiling, and you’re in a constant state of a free fall.

It turns out freedom takes a while to get accustomed to it, and brings a whole lot of inconvenient questions. If there’s nothing you must do, and nothing you can’t do, how come you hardly get out of bed before 10? Why don’t you exercise if you have the most flexible schedule of all people on Earth? How come you hardly actually leave the house, unless you’re leaving the country?

For the last two weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want out of this year. I came up with an awesome mini-bucketlist with lots of cool, Instagram-worthy things to check off. But the more I thought about this, the more I realized I need to focus on just a few key things, and find my new normal in a life that’s not normal at all. Here are my top priorities for 2017.

Get back to workout, no matter what

There was a time in my life when I was in the gym at least 4 times a week. It was also a time when I led a perfectly regular and distraction-free life. I didn’t even have to think about cooking or cleaning!
The luxury didn’t last long. Once I decided to apply for Automattic, I had two jobs at one point and completely gave up on anything but working, eating and sleeping. Since then, every time I plant a tiny seed for any habit, I go for a trip, break my routine, and forget everything I’ve learned. It’s high time to admit that never is the perfect time to start working out, and to look for a routine that can be followed everywhere, even in a trailer park.
By the end of January I want to exercise at least 3 times a week. The hard part will be to keep it consistently throughout the year, no matter where I am at the time.

Learn to cook well

It’s not like I can’t cook at all, I’m just very far from efficient.
I love cooking for my brothers who are grateful for everything that has food in it, but everyone else on the planet could probably find at least a few things for me to improve. In the kitchen I am so slow and clumsy that it usually becomes too painful to watch, and someone volunteers to save me from this suffering (and also from learning and gaining experience). My biggest pain point is food shopping and planning – I go for the least healthy option when I am hungry, and don’t feel like buying any food when I’m not.
It doesn’t help that I have a boyfriend who cooks much better than me. Or that I got terribly spoiled by a year of living out of company canteen, without even having to use a pot or frying pan once.
I have no ambitions to become a Master Chef, but knowing at least 7 healthy signature meals that I can make efficiently and plan in advance would be a giant leap from where I am now.

Write more on my blog

Once in two weeks would be a good start. Once a week would be super-amazing.
There are so many things I care about in life, and I’m scared to death to write about these things. When I’m emotionally involved in a topic, I tend to drift towards pathos and self-righteousness – and this is driving me nuts.
I used to complain I have nothing more to write about once I returned from Korea. This was such a good lie I actually got to believe it myself. In fact, I’d love to write about Cosmos, human nature, education, challenges facing humanity, love, death, the meaning of it all, mindfulness, leaving an impact, happiness and stuff, but it’s incredibly hard to speak of these things as they are. I always feel I either sound like a stoned cosmic fairy, or a know-it-all judgmental asshole.
Not many things in life make me as vulnerable as writing about stuff I deeply care about. This is precisely why I should keep going. Getting my thoughts out on the Internet gives me clarity that’s hard to achieve otherwise.

Read (and understand!) Feynmann’s Lectures on Physics

As much as I’m in love with the Cosmos, I have only basic understanding of how it works. It’s quite embarrassing, but I hardly know any math beyond high school level (and I graduated as a Bachelor of Engineering!). Well, it’s so embarrassing I’ve never actually admitted this until now.
I tried reading the Lectures on Physics a few years ago, but gave up somewhere around chapter 10. I really enjoyed the book until differential equations in three dimensions appeared out of nowhere and hit me hard in the face.
If I am to write about Cosmos, I must stop pretending I have an idea what I’m talking about, and actually start to have that idea. If that means re-learning the whole university math course from scratch, so it shall be, I guess.

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Items on this list are not as interesting or sexy as traveling around Iceland and Thailand, passing an open-water diver’s license, or even learning Spanish. But that’s precisely what I need now, to keep doing the basic stuff no matter how chaotic my life would get. Once I learn to ride the waves, there’s nothing that can stop me on my way to adventure.