A light in the darkness


For years the priests had copied the words. As each scroll wore out they’d make a new one, copying the words they knew meant hope:

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.

But what did they mean and where was this hope? Centuries passed. Where was the God of the old stories? Were they even true?

Two hundred, three hundred years went by. A foreign power invaded and looked as if they were there to stay. Darkness stole over the land, hope faded. Nothing from God. Radio silence.

The bureaucracy of these invaders turned the land upside down. Everyone had to travel to their ancestors village to register so the state could tax them. One young couple, among others made homeless by politics, set off.

They cover a distance equal to the journey from Newcastle to London, on foot. (A donkey is a later addition to the story.) Walking from village to village or sleeping in the open, the days are hot but the nights bitter. And she’s pregnant.

Arriving at their destination, the inn is full but there’s a cow shed. The innkeeper’s not heartless but what can he do, the woman is about to give birth. She goes into labour. We don’t know who delivers the baby — her husband or the village midwife perhaps. It’s cold and refugees from the displacement fill every room. They wrap the baby in some cloth and lay him in the feeding trough to keep him warm.

To the puzzlement of both parents some shepherds interrupt them. They’ve come looking for a new baby on the strength of a light they’ve seen out on the hills. The shepherds kneel by the small child then go away, wondering.

Someone takes pity on the little family and invites them into a home in the village. A bit later some Persian astrologers also come to the house in search of the child. Led there, they say, by a new light in the sky. They leave money and embalming spices when they go. His mother wonders what this all means.

The parents faith requires them to take the child on another long journey. They have to take him to the temple so they can perform a ritual to dedicate him to God. An elderly priest, who sees the child, says he will be a great leader and save his people. But this will have serious consequences for his parents. ‘A sword will pierce your heart’, is how he describes it to the child’s mother.

Back home, with a toddler now, life refuses to leave them alone. They have to flee, again, because the local king has heard of their son. People have been whispering about a child who will be king, and he is paranoid. “Kill the child” he orders.

But the family have gone. In their rage, and fearful of displeasing their employer, the soldiers slaughter all the baby boys in the village.

So God comes to His world. A light in the darkness. Not to a palace, not to a clean, sterile hospital. In the dirt of village life, among the poor of a conquered country.

Much later, someone remembers the old prophecy:

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.

When the child grew, He said this about Himself – “I am the light of the world”.

They killed Him for this claim.

But it’s the kind of light you can’t extinguish with nails.

Happy Christmas.

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Finished eating? Wash your bowl.

It’s the idea that you take care of the right things in the moment. Not later. Not tomorrow.

No, right now.

When you finish eating, you wash your bowl right away. When you finish writing on your computer, you close all your application windows. When you’re done working for the day, you clear your desk.

If you’ve been with us for a while you will notice that it’s very similar to our popular Clearing To Neutral habit. It’s when you clear things and set things up for next time, so you make it easy for your future-self to get started. This minimizes friction which makes it harder for procrastination to kick in.

Clearing to Neutral is a hipster version of your parents telling you to put one toy away before you get another one out. Still good advice though.

The next time you’re about to finish something, just say “wash your bowl”. It’s catchy, easy to remember and it can act like a trigger to initiate your Clearing to Neutral habit.

Read the whole thing over at Asian efficiency

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Could ‘Do What You Love’ be the worst advice?

Picture credit: Jessica

Miya Tokumitsu looks at the popularity of ‘Do What You Love’ as career and life advice and has some hard questions:

There’s little doubt that “do what you love” (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time. The problem is that it leads not to salvation, but to the devaluation of actual work, including the very work it pretends to elevate?— and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers.

Do What You Love can distract us from the real business of earning a living wage and, worse, become a tool for exploitation:

According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.

Do What You Love excludes those who, for whatever reason, cannot follow their heart:

One consequence of this isolation is the division that DWYL creates among workers, largely along class lines. Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished). Those in the lovable work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce.

For those forced into unlovable work, it’s a different story. Under the DWYL credo, labor that is done out of motives or needs other than love (which is, in fact, most labor) is not only demeaned but erased.

Hop across to read the whole article for some robust challenges to the way DWYL has become a tool for those who wish to exploit people working for love.

Her conclusion:

In masking the very exploitative mechanisms of labor that it fuels, DWYL is, in fact, the perfect ideological tool of capitalism. It shunts aside the labor of others and disguises our own labor to ourselves. It hides the fact that if we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.

And if we did that, more of us could get around to doing what it is we really love.

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Immediate rewards better than long term goals

Autumn Leaves

In a fascinating article on motivations for exercise, Jane Brody looks at some research into helping people maintain their motivation to exercise, a subject close to my heart:

Though it seems counterintuitive, studies have shown that people whose goals are weight loss and better health tend to spend the least amount of time exercising. That is true even for older adults, a study of 335 men and women ages 60 to 95 showed.

Rather, immediate rewards that enhance daily life — more energy, a better mood, less stress and more opportunity to connect with friends and family — offer far more motivation, Dr. Segar and others have found.

Instead of seeing exercise as a kind of self-punishment for past failure, why not see it as part of the way you take care of yourself:

Citing a “paradox of self-care,” Dr. Segar wrote, “The more energy you give to caring for yourself, the more energy you have for everything else.” She suggests viewing physical activity as a power source for everything else you want to accomplish. “What sustains us, we sustain,” she wrote.

Read the rest of the article here

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Not the only way

Edward Bear, bumping

Whatever you’re facing at the moment, I guarantee there’s another way. If only you could stop bumping for a moment and think of it…

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Mistakes are the fertile ground for success


Ed Catmull on how Pixar movies develop and the development of their ‘Brains Trust’.

Candor could not be more crucial to our creative process. Why? Because early on, all of our movies suck. That’s a blunt assessment, I know, but I choose that phrasing because saying it in a softer way fails to convey how bad the first versions really are. I’m not trying to be modest or self-effacing. Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so—to go, as I say, “from suck to not-suck.”

All development is a work of constantly returning to your work and making it better slowly – just as all writing is rewriting.

Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers in the power of bracing, candid feedback and the iterative process—reworking, reworking, and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its through line or a hollow character finds its soul.

You need to be wrong as fast as you can, quoting Andrew Stanton, Catmull notes:

In a battle, if you’re faced with two hills and you’re unsure which one to attack, he says, the right course of action is to hurry up and choose. If you find out it’s the wrong hill, turn around and attack the other one.

Perhaps we can create our own ‘Brains Trust’ from the people we know and love:

You don’t have to work at Pixar to create a Braintrust. Every creative person can draft into service those around them who exhibit the right mixture of intelligence, insight, and grace. “You can and should make your own solution group,” says Andrew, who has made a point of doing this on a smaller scale, separate from the official Braintrust, on each of his films. “Here are the qualifications: The people you choose must (a) make you think smarter and (b) put lots of solutions on the table in a short amount of time. I don’t care who it is, the janitor or the intern or one of your most-trusted lieutenants: If they can help you do that, they should be at the table.”

Believe me, you don’t want to be at a company where there is more candor in the hallways than in the rooms where fundamental ideas or policy are being hashed out. The best inoculation against this fate? Seek out people who are willing to level with you, and when you find them, hold them close.

Read the whole thing here

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Goals which work

Diane often has the experience of being trapped in her house. She has no problem with getting to work and then getting back home to fix dinner, but after dinner and on the weekend she finds herself sitting around the house, itching to get away, to do something. By the time she climbs into bed at night the itch is still there, and another day wasted in fretting and wondering why she doesn’t do something.

Greg ‘s love life is a series of relationships that seemed like good ideas at the time, but invariably turned out unsatisfying  Soon he realises that the relationship is over, but he seems unable to do anything about ending it. Instead, he remains tangled, wondering how he got into the mess in the first place.

Terry is an expert on why things went wrong. He has a job he hates, a run-down house he ignores, and a relationship with his wife that is a big disappointment to him. He ponders his situation often. Just ask him and he’ll explain why he’s in the fix he’s in. He can even tell you why he hasn’t been able to do anything about it during the last fifteen years. And, if pressed, he’ll concede that knowing why hasn’t made him any happier

Read more: http://eg.nlpco.com/home/2-1/#ixzz3WLXNo1Cd

Learn more about how Diane, Greg and Terry can help themselves out of these situations by creating well-formed outcomes.

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How success can lead to failure

Greg McKeown:

Why don’t successful people and organizations automatically become very successful? One important explanation is due to what I call “the clarity paradox,” which can be summed up in four predictable phases:

Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success.
Phase 2: When we have success, it leads to more options and opportunities.
Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts.
Phase 4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.

Curiously, and overstating the point in order to make it, success is a catalyst for failure.

Learn more about this and what to do about it from The Disciplined Pursuit Of Less

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Keep a notebook











My favourite pocket notebooks, at the moment, are Field Notes.

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The Power Of Saying, NO.

This year finds me saying no more often. Here’s a great reminder from Tim Harford of why  “No” could be your best friend.

Adopt a rule that no new task can be deferred: if accepted, it must be the new priority. Last come, first served. The immediate consequence is that no project may be taken on unless it’s worth dropping everything to work on it.

Head over to The Undercover Economist to read The Power of Saying No.

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