Book Review: Body Mind Mastery by Dan Millman

Book  Review: Body Mind Mastery by Dan Millman

I was gifted an interesting book called Body Mind Mastery  from one of my good friends from work recently, so I decided to spend a weekend to give it a good read. The author is Dan Millman, who is a former world-champion athlete (gymnastics I believe) and gymnastics coach at Stanford and UC Berkeley. The book was surprisingly very spiritual and tied in a lot of Eastern philosophies into the book which was interesting. Although I already knew many of the concepts within the book, I could see how it could be an extremely valuable resource for anyone looking to start the cultivation of their mental game in conjunction with some kind of physical performance. Here are my takeaways:

Natural Laws

“The essence of talent is not so much a presence of certain qualities but rather an absence  of the mental, physical, and emotional obstructions most adults experience.”

Just as how water cuts through rock over time, we must also adhere to the laws of nature. Millman calls this nonresistance, and explains that stress and tension occur when the mind resists what is. Body mind masters actually use less effort to create greater results, and accept and use the conditions around them to the best of their abilities. Accommodation is another tool I’m sure all of us know in which demand takes the form of progressive overload.  Progress is mechanical – if you practice something overtime, with attention and commitment to improve, you will become better but many people question this process (Instead of saying “Can I?” say “How can I?”)

Awareness and Preparation

Awareness of a problem is the beginning of the solution, and we must always strive to have awareness of the totality of our mind and body. This is a philosophical concept, but it’s a very powerful one. It calls upon you to “notice” things in your life and things about yourself. Don’t just go through motions mindlessly, but be conscious of your movements, actions, and thoughts. Preparation is also extremely underutilized and is the foundation of your future success. Champions form the habit of doing what most people find boring or uncomfortable.

The term “difficulty” has meaning only in relation to preparation.

Talent: Mental, Physical, and Emotional

Mental talent is the skill of being focused completely in the present moment. Many of us become lost in thought and our minds become distracted in performing at our maximum potential. We all began life as “movement masters” – that’s how we learned how to walk. You’ll never see a baby falling while learning to walk and thinking, “I’m such a klutz!” The baby is completely immersed in the present moment in learning how to stand up and keep it’s balance to move forward. Another mental strength is the ability to expand your self-concept and what you believe you can achieve for yourself. Always believe you are capable of great things, envision specific successes, give constructive criticism back to yourself, and never fear failure.

We develop emotional talent not by relying on motivation all the time but by applying our will no matter how we feel. It’s natural for our emotions to take control of us in certain situations, but this is where discipline comes in. You have much more control over your behavior than you do over your thoughts of emotions, so paradoxically the best way to master your emotions is to let them be, stay relaxed, and focus on constructive action.

As for physical talent, this is achieved through a partnership between ambition and hard work. Millman says that “if there is a cosmic instruction manual, the first rule is surely that we each receive a body. Its the only thing we are guaranteed to keep for a lifetime.” No matter what your physical circumstances are, the body is an ideal, highly visible medium for transformation in which we can easily see the results of progress.

Physical talent is composed of four primary qualities, each of which begins with the letter S: strength, suppleness, stamina, and sensitivity. When we call someone talented, we are pointing to these four key elements.

Millman also stated that relaxation was the best single indicator or your well-being. Your degree of relaxation across the three centers – physical, mental, and emotional – precisely reflects your alignment with the natural laws. I thought this concept was interesting. He continued by stating that strength should be measured based on effective strength, where your muscle groups act in complementary tension-relaxation (relaxing the proper muscle groups while consciously tensing others). Having too much tension could actually produce less strength and force, as opposed to relaxing irrelevant muscle groups and purposefully contracting the needed muscle groups.

Tools for Training and Competition

Learning how to learn is more important than simply learning. You could continuously practice a movement incorrectly and get better and better at doing it incorrectly. We have to have the awareness and tools (slow motion training, imitation, mental envisioning) to properly improve our skills over time. Then you need to practice consistently and a lot, but know when to take a break from practicing in a given session (stop when you can’t repeat the correct pattern anymore).

In learning any new skill, remember the formula PSP: First precision, then speed, then power. Each flows from the next their proper order. If you want power and speed, then practice precision in slow motion. Slow done to speed up.

Competition can be an important experience because it can become a form of moving meditation in which all of your attention is focused in the present moment. However, Millman states that it’s more important to gauge yourself on day-to-day improvement rather than a winner-loser mentality. We need to measure ourselves by our own standard of excellence and at the end of the day, find joy in the process of training, learning, and striving toward the heights of our potential. He also encourages us to view physical training/athletics as a long-term game – always question where the activity you are engaging in is contributing beneficially to your physical and psychological well-being and will it develop heightened capacity of your daily life.

Athletes practice athletics; poets practice poetry; musicians practice music. Body mind masters practice everything and create a ceremony out of every moment.

 

Advertisements

Book Review: Originals by Adam Grant

Book Review: Originals by Adam Grant

11 Inspiring Lessons from Originals by Adam Grant

Originals – How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant is a wonderful inspiring book. Adam Grant has done an excellent job in communicating succinctly that creativity is something which is within the grasp of all of us. Yes there are some deja vu moments (“I’ve seen this before”) but as Adam Grant suggests we should look for vu jade moments (“I’ve never experienced this before”) as well. Originality is an act of creative destruction. Here are the 11 lessons I gleaned from the book. 

Question the default – In an interesting study in a call center they found that people who use Firefox and chrome browsers are more productive at work and are less likely to leave compared to IE and Safari users. This is because they took initiative and chose to change the default which is usually Internet Explorer. Rejecting the default is the starting point of curiosity which is a key to creativity. Vuja de is when we see things in a fresh perspective and only when we do that we can question the default. Another example sighted is Donna Dubinsky who stood up to Steve Jobs many times and still managed to get promoted. The example sighted here was in 1985 when Steve Jobs wanted to eliminate Apple’s warehouses and instead apply the Just in Time philosophy. Donna felt this wouldn’t work and stood up to Steve jobs requesting for 30 days to come up with an alternative plan which she did successfully. The greatest presidents are the ones who challenged the status quo – for example Abraham Lincoln agonized over 6 months whether he should sign the emancipation proclamation before doing it. I like this line which said, “He was one of you and yet he became Abraham Lincoln.”

Don’t leave your day job – This is an interesting suggestion since most people think they have to leave everything they are doing now to pursue any entrepreneurial options. There are numerous examples sighted actually saying that past masters actually continued in their day jobs before they established themselves in their field. Pierre Omidyar worked in his day job even after founding eBay and only made it full time nine months after the company’s first auction launched. Larry Page tried to sell Google in 1997 and we wouldn’t know what would have happened if that had come through.

T.S. Eliot is an interesting study as he had to overcome some limitations physically which led to his isolation resulting in his deep love of literature. Eliot worked as a school teacher and to earn extra money he wrote book reviews and lectured at evening courses. Despite writing world renowned poems he remained in the publishing firm Faber and Faber till the end of his career. Being in a publishing firm gave him stability. In a study sighted in the book, entrepreneurs who kept their day job actually did better than those who went all in.  The key lesson here is to embrace danger in one domain whiling being careful in the other domain or part of your life. Stability in one area of your life can enable you take risks in another area.

Protect your downside – Again we think of entrepreneurs as being wild risk takers but what the research has found is that all successful entrepreneurs protect their downside. Taking calculated risks is the key which means you have enough oxygen canisters in case you fail. A great example is Bill Gates who took a leave of absence from Harvard to work with Paul Allen and didn’t just quit straight which showcases the protection of the downside. Richard Branson put it nicely when he said “It is only by being bold that you get anywhere. If you are a risk-taker, then the art is to protect the downside.” 

Have some interesting hobbies – A lot of the Noble prize winners were excellent in other domains like painting and they had the wonderful quality of openness which is being able to experience something without any strings attached. Charles Darwin was an active hiker in his youth which ties into his love of nature, Galileo was into inventing things and drawing and Einstein’s hobbies included hiking, sailing, biking and of course playing his violin.

Defensive pessimism – This is an interesting suggestion and the example provided here was Babble founder Rufus Griscom. When he was pitching investors for Babble, he started the presentation with “ the 5 reasons why you shouldn’t invest in this business”. This is totally counter intuitive but this is an excellent form of powerless communication. When others have to think hard to come up with things on why something should not be done it actually makes it positive from their point of view and it obviously worked big time for Rufus.  Leading with weakness disarms the audience.

Keep adding to your body of work – This suggestion is simple but vital. All the greats we know like Shakespeare, Picasso, and Mozart produced a great amount of work and we remember only a few. For example in a span of decades Shakespeare produced so many plays but we only remember a few and Einstein had more than 248 publications but many of them didn’t have impact. The lesson here is to do a large volume of work to have a higher chance of producing original work. I think this again proves the Pareto principle as 80% of your work could be ignored but it is the minority 20% that will get you all the credit. 

Put yourself out of business – “Kill the company” is a term credited to Lisa Bodell. The main aim of this strategy is to discuss how your company can be put of business and make detailed points on how this could happen. Then come up with answers on how that should be prevented. This is an excellent method to ensure you never go out of business.

Parenting Skills – I liked the section on parenting in the book. One of the examples provided is that a majority of the baseball players who stole second base were not first born. They were born later and though their ability was not too different from the first born, their propensity to risk was far higher. Another key for raising great children is to ensure they have positive role models – for example, Gandhi was the role model for Martin Luther King. For Elon Musk, reading the Lord of the Rings shaped his world view. Having kids read about heroes, real or fiction, helps them see great possibilities. One more suggestion I liked was if we see our child doing something wrong, rather than telling them directly to stop doing it we can instead say “By doing this you are going to hurt your sister. You don’t want to hurt her do you?” This generally generates a combination of empathy and guilt which results in reducing the negative action.

Don’t play devil’s advocate – Most of the time a lot of organizations make someone play devil’s advocate but this doesn’t work all the time. The better way is to genuinely find someone who doesn’t agree with what is being done and then have them play devil’s advocate. This actually ensures authenticity and fosters a more open communication. (Instead of pretending to be “for” something, find someone who actually is)

Become a procrastinator – This was interesting as all of us have heard things like procrastination is the thief of time or even as some say procrastination is the thief of life. However Martin Luther King prepared for his famous speech only 4 days before the actual event and he kept his close confidants working on it even the night before the speech. Apparently the original speech didn’t have the line “I have a dream” and he actually improvised on it when his favorite gospel singer Mahalia Jackson yelled “tell them about the dream Martin” and he uttered it only on the 11th minute of his speech. The point is sometimes we work better when we are closer to the deadline than planning it endlessly and we should improvise when needed. Another example is Abraham Lincoln who was preparing his Gettysburg speech even on the day it was going to be delivered.  In this section the Zeigarnik effect is mentioned which was named after the Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik and it basically says that we have a better memory of incomplete items than the ones which are completed.

Power without Status – The example of the CIA analyst Carmen Medina is mentioned in this section. Basically she said the way information was being transmitted was not good enough within the organization and there has to be a way to enable information flow through the internet. Her proposal was rejected multiple times and she was constantly receiving opposition to drop her proposal due to her lack of status and power in the organization. The best part is that she never gave up and she spoke up again for an online system after she decided to relocate to the information/security division of the organization and gain status/power/followers that way. Finally, Intellipedia which is an internal Wikipedia within the CIA was formed and this was because she learned how to eventually convey her ideas by gaining status and merit within the organization.  Upon her retirement from CIA she received the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal.

First Principle Thinking: The Power of Thinking for Yourself

I recently came across a video that explained how Elon Musk has used a concept called First Principle Thinking in his life to become the bold and revolutionary entrepreneur that he is today. In essence, First Principle Thinking is looking at the world and circumstances through reality and truths, rather than through our own mental models of how we THINK the world is. This is a topic I’ve been struggling lately with in my life, and I have often referred to this as wanting to “see it” or “see things clearly.” Many of us go through our day-to-day lives with a mental model that was shaped and influenced externally. We go through certain motions and thoughts everyday and accept them as truths, but we’ve never stopped to question them. Have you ever stopped and thought, “Is this really how the world works?” Here’s an article I found that explains this concept of First Principle Thinking well:

—–

Bill Thurston was a pioneer in the field of mathematics. He was particularly known for his contributions to low-dimensional topology, 3-manifolds, and foliation theory—concepts that sound foreign to number-challenged mortals like you and me.

In 1982, Thurston was awarded the Fields Medal, which is often considered the highest honor a mathematician can receive. One reason Thurston was able to contribute valuable insights to his field of mathematics was that he utilized a different set of mental models than his peers.

In a paper he wrote for the American Mathematical Society—which, no joke, I found to be a fascinating read—Thurston explains his approach to solving difficult problems.

“My mathematical education was rather independent and idiosyncratic, where for a number of years I learned things on my own, developing personal mental models for how to think about mathematics. This has often been a big advantage for me in thinking about mathematics, because it’s easy to pick up later the standard mental models shared by groups of mathematicians. This means that some concepts that I use freely and naturally in my personal thinking are foreign to most mathematicians I talk to.”

—Bill Thurston

Self-taught mental models—or, in simple terms, figuring things out for yourself—seem to be a favorite weapon of brilliant minds. (Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, also relied heavily on personal mental models.) In many cases, it is the unique point-of-view afforded by self-directed learning and deep thought that enables someone to unleash an idea of minor genius.

How can you go about developing a unique view of the world?

First Principles Thinking

Elon Musk is perhaps the boldest entrepreneur on the planet right now. After helping revolutionize online payments as the founder of PayPal, Musk now runs three companies: Tesla Motors (electric cars), SpaceX (space exploration and tourism), and Solar City (solar energy).

In a fantastic interview with Kevin Rose, Musk explains one of the core philosophies that has guided him during his bold entrepreneurial ventures.

“I think it is important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. [When reasoning by analogy] we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done or it is like what other people are doing — slight iterations on a theme.

First principles is kind of a physics way of looking at the world. You boil things down to the most fundamental truths and say, “What are we sure is true?” … and then reason up from there.

Somebody could say, “Battery packs are really expensive and that’s just the way they will always be… Historically, it has cost $600 per kilowatt hour. It’s not going to be much better than that in the future.”

With first principles, you say, “What are the material constituents of the batteries? What is the stock market value of the material constituents?”

It’s got cobalt, nickel, aluminum, carbon, some polymers for separation and a seal can. Break that down on a material basis and say, “If we bought that on the London Metal Exchange what would each of those things cost?”

It’s like $80 per kilowatt hour. So clearly you just need to think of clever ways to take those materials and combine them into the shape of a battery cell and you can have batteries that are much, much cheaper than anyone realizes.”

—Elon Musk

Reasoning by first principles is one of the best ways to develop mental models that are rare and useful. Put another way, forcing yourself to look at the fundamental facts of a situation can help you develop your own perspective on how to solve problems rather than defaulting to the way the rest of the world thinks.

First Principles in Daily Life

This methodology extends beyond problems in science and business. Here are a few example of how we live everyday life by analogy and my attempt to uncover the first principles instead.

“Eating healthy and losing weight is hard work. Plus, I have to give up certain foods.”

First principles: What are we sure is true about eating healthy and losing weight? To eat healthy, you need to eat more whole foods to get a good balance of macronutrients and micronutrients. To lose weight, you need fewer overall calories each week. Is it possible to achieve those two things without it being “hard work” or requiring you to “give up certain foods?” Yes, you could hire a meal preparation service to deliver finished meals to you each week.

“Writers have poor career prospects and don’t make a lot of money.”

First principles: What is the core function of a writer? To create and share information. What is required to have a prosperous and fruitful career? To provide value that a company or a group of customers are willing to pay for. Can writers use their skill of creating and sharing information to provide value? Yes, they can. Are there writers already using this skill to provide value and make a very good living? Yes, there are writers doing that already. In other words, whether an individual writer has a successful career has more to do with how they choose to package their writing skills than whether or not the skill of writing itself is valuable.

“You have to be a risk-taker if you want to be a successful entrepreneur.”

First principles: What do you need to be an entrepreneur? You need something to sell and a way to get paid. Ok, you need something to sell. Does it have to be a risky product or service? Not at all. Many people buy “normal” products and services like bow ties and lawn maintenance and car insurance. But what about leaving it all behind and starting your own venture? Isn’t that risky even if you sell something boring? There is no rule that says you have to start as a full-time entrepreneur. In fact, that’s one of the great things about entrepreneurship: there are no rules. Keep your day job and work on nights and weekends. Or, save up a big emergency fund before jumping in.

We often live life by analogy and simply assume that what has been true before must be true in the future. Instead, break your problems down to their first principles and you may see very different solutions emerge.

Top 10 Quotes from the Entrepreneurship Bible “Zero to One”

The below was taken from a Medium article which quickly goes over the top 10 quotes from PayPal founder Peter Thiel’s book, Zero to One:
————————

1. “Zero to One moments in Business happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network.”

Every time somebody comes to me and says, “I’m creating a social-network for_____!” I just smile and carry on. Facebook has been done. Twitter has been done. We have to look for the next big thing. Such blockchain, quantum computers, and artificial intelligence. If someone told me they were building “HAL” from “2000: Space Odyssey.” I would sell my house and get on board.

2. “The best entrepreneurs know this: every great business is built around a secret that’s hidden from the outside. A great company is a conspiracy to change the world; when you share your secret, the recipient becomes a fellow conspirator.”

The first thing that comes to mind is Coca-Cola’s hidden recipe. Despite all the Coca-Coal competitors none of them taste quite right. Another example would be Google’s search algorithm. What would Google be if they made their search algorithm public domain? Google is an interesting case study, as they have an ultra top-secret search algorithm on one hand, and an open-source OS system (Android) on the other hand. Personally, I think the notion that businesses that “need” secrecy is a bygone notion.

3. “All failed companies are the same: they failed to escape competition.”

When people think about building a great startup, most of the people are terrified of the competition. In that the competition might steal your great ideas. The normal response on forums is that it’s almost impossible to steal an idea and have better execution. What people should really be worried about is not just the direct competition. But outpacing all other competitors and gaining a monopoly in that space.

4. “Monopoly is the condition of every successful business.”

This is a terrifying statement. But let’s look at the largest companies based on market cap: Apple, Google, and Microsoft. All monopoly platforms in their own right. Apple has dominated the mobile market, Google has dominated the search market, and Microsoft dominated the desktop OS market. I wonder if there is enough space for indie developers to survive in a monopoly environment.

5. “Every culture has a myth of decline from some golden age, and almost all peoples throughout history have been pessimists. Even today pessimism still dominates huge parts of the world. An indefinite pessimist looks out onto a bleak future, but he has no idea what to do about it.”

What do we do when we observe our down downfall and do nothing about it? As a collective we’re witnessing excessive amounts of pollution, corruption from the politicians that are supposed to represent us, an overall implementation of backward policies. Is banning computers from the classroom, the best way to prepare students for the digital world?

6. “By the time a student gets to college, he’s spent a decade curating a bewilderingly diverse resume to prepare for a completely unknowable future. Come what may, he’s ready — for nothing in particular.”

After graduating University with a History major. I’m a bit disillusioned by the academic experience. What in the world am I supposed to do with a History major. Sure I’m better at writing for it. University or school should let students have to freedom to choose their own specialty, rather than building super-generalists. I mean thanks for the Algebra classes? What I would liked to have done was skip chemistry and take more journalism classes.

7. “In a world of scarce resources, globalization without new technology is unsustainable.”

The world’s resources are finite. While global modernization would increase the overall living standards of people. It would also increase the general populations energy consumption. With our current technology, global advancement will be our end. The only way to go forth is to develop scalable technology. Technology such as Google’s search engine can be scaled almost infinitely with a limited amount of resources.

8. “Most of a tech company’s value will come at least 10 to 15 years in the future.”

I’m not going to rent a car when there are taxis. I’m not going to build a taxi company when there is Uber. And I’m not going build an Uber when there are self driving cars. I really like how Peter Theil emphasizes on the future value of companies instead of the current value. While buying a pictures sharing app (Instagram) for $1 billion might seem crazy, Facebook saw the startup’s future potential. What will the next 10 years look like? We’re are terrible at predicting the future.

9. “Madness is rare in individuals — but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule”

We only seem to realize the madness of our own situation when a foreigner comes to visit. Like how we think that working from 9AM to 9PM is the norm. Sure the “official” time office-hours ends is 5PM. But if you leave the office earlier. You’ll get fired. We have accepted this insanity, due the intense competition for a few open job positions. We have become submissive sheeple.

10. “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

We’ll close with the most famous quote. In the case of our startup. One truth that very few people agree with: Most people think that saving the entire article is the best way to save articles. We believe articles should be save through their favorite passages. Most people think that they read the entire article. Statistically, people only read a few key sentences out of an article. Most of us just skim through the headlines. Most people think that comments should be placed at the end of the content. We believe that comments should happen over the text itself, and static text with highlighted contextual comments make awesome content. We are the few people who believe in the potential of cloud synced web/mobile highlighters.

Living by Intention

What is a well-lived life? This philosophical question has been floating around my mind for the past few weeks. Is their a meaning to life or is it all just purposeless as we momentarily burst in and out existence? I think the answer to this question is subjective for everyone, just in the same way how choosing what religion to believe in (or not to believe in) is a matter of what personally aligns with who you are and what brings you peace of mind. In my opinion, a well-lived life is living by intention – meaning that the 24 hours we all have in a given day are used exactly in the way we want to. Some might say it’s a lofty goal and too idealistic, but I would argue that this is the purpose of human life. After all, isn’t the ends to all means happiness

I work in the world of finance, which seems to be the epitome of the “9-5” cubicle life where everyone is a miserable, white-collar worker that is stuck in the rat race. For the most part it’s true. Almost everyday I hear people around me complain about being miserable and being stuck in this seemingly endless cycle of giving most of their time to tasks they don’t like doing. That’s not living by intention. But what I’ve learned over the years is that success/happiness comes from a state of mind. I’ve talked to many successful people in my company who make 7-figure salaries and usually they’ve gotten there because of their mindsets. They actually like their work and their goal is to do good work. Their day-to-day lives are intentional for the most part and they feel their potential actualized through their work and what they do everyday. You see this in every field, where the most successful people don’t even feel like they’re doing work. Jerry Seinfeld even said, “I’ve never had a job.”

I respect and envy a lot of successful entrepreneurs that I follow, because they’ve achieved a life in which the line between work and play is almost nonexistent. And it’s not all about the money, it’s about seeing the bigger picture in life. Time is the ultimate resource we have and it’s finite. A lot of people including myself forget to see that work is a means to an end. It’s to live the life you want to live. Whether you’re doing the work you love or you’re working hard to make enough money to live a certain lifestyle, the goal of it all is to maximize the time in your life being happy.