Jordan B. Peterson’s books are at the top of my shelf, just next to G.K Chesterton and C.S Lewis.
They call him controversial. They call him dangerous. Mainstream press (or should say “presstytutes”?) line up in forming all kinds of tactics aimed at discrediting him.
They really don’t like what he has to say.
And the reason is simple.
That’s because we already reached the times of which Orwell spoke in his famous quote:
“The further a societydrifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.”
Dr. Peterson’s “12 rules for life” is a treasure chest of great lessons. Some are new and some are the ones, we always knew yet needed to be reminded of.
I could write long essays on how they resonate with me & how they helped me in some of the toughest moments of my life. But that’s story for another time.
There is one common theme, that is at the core of Jordan B. Peterson’s writings.
His relentless pursuit of the Truth.
Since writing my thesis (more than a decade ago) on methods of influence and manipulation and their ethical aspect, this is the theme that I can relate to on deeply personal level.
So for those of you who do not know Peterson’s writings really well I highly recommend that you disregard everything you heard about him in media, just grab his “12 lessons for life” and start reading it.
But for start if you are not up for such a big leap, a brand new opportunity has arrived. Official channel of Jordan B. Peterson just posted a well animated video which illustrates some of his essential ideas.
The animations are brilliant and on the point, much like Dr. Peterson’s lectures themselves.
I would not recommend to treat the video as a ‘ersatz’ to the proper thing which are his books.
But surely it is a great, short & crisp introduction to what he has to say.
And to start understanding why it is so damn important.
There is that house on top of the hill in southern Poland. It towers above the village, yet it remains hidden in the embrace of the forest. The branches of nearby trees stretch above its roof, as if nature is crawling back in, to reclaim the land that once belonged to it.
Although this scenery seems like from a gothic story this house brings the emotions which I will always associate with peace, harmony and respite. My family owns this place, it has become our holiday retreat, and for me personally; a sanctuary.
Each day, just at sun dawn I would run into the woods behind the house, climb up the hill, off the beaten path and sit on the grass. I would close my eyes. And breathe.
This is how I remind myself of what is real. This is how I remind myself of those grim times when the urban life has entangled me and brought me down to the brink of depression. When I was burned out, when toxic work environment and “startup way of life” got me immersed in pointless masquerades. I remember, those times well, when I got lost in the crowd of new humans, and almost lost view of the reality.
In this age of abundance of information the most scarce resource is the Truth
“Quid est veritas?” – asks Pilate. What is truth? he ponders, while the Truth stands right before him. I can’t help but to think, that today it is the same for us.
What is truth? What is real? As we delve deeper into the flashy distractions of modern “culture” and entertainment we lose the sense of what is real. Those things that make us human, that define human experience, that rawness of reality is something I have to rediscover deep in the woods. Those precious moments can be seen and heard only in silence.
Chop wood, plant trees, cut grass, gather mushrooms, shoot a bow, take my kids for a hike through the woods, teach them to walk in silence and show them how to observe the wildlife. Drink some coffee with friends from the village; old-fashioned people who value work of their hands, who toil in the fields, who have not yet been immersed in the noise of the Metropolis.
I see the dichotomy, the growing rift between those people and the ones whom I met when living in Big Cities such as Berlin, Paris or Dubai. It is almost as if there are two species living in parallel worlds.
There is the homo sapiens, and there is this new human. The first one is of the old world, the latter is of the Brave New World. The new human is not taught to create but to consume. The new human trades elusive goals of long term effort for pleasures of immediate gratification.
Nurtured by fabricated food, educated by video entertainment, kept in darkness through constant exposure to blinding lights. A new human thrives when facing a screen and navigates effortlessly through digital jungle yet remains helpless and lost when confronted with real life. The new human is stripped of his identity, cut from his roots, detached from his legacy, even from biology.
The new human unlike the old one is not forged by constant values, but constantly morphs with ever changing trends and fashions.
The history of a new human is not written in stone, not even in paper but in wikipedia. The new human does not belong nor rely on a family, his sense of safety comes from an omnipresent embrace of the welfare state.
Family and marriage are redefined, blurred are the axioms, nothing is normal and everything is normal. You can’t observe reality for what it is, because you would become guilty of a mortal sin of being judgemental. When everything is questioned, nothing is real.
But the Truth, has this one miraculous property that It always emerges, eventually. And it leaves naked, those who try to suppress it.
All these thoughts ran through my mind as I was listening to the wind hustling through the tree branches, touching the moss, smelling the soil, cherishing the view of the bright blue sky above. How foolish I was to ever lose sight of it? I myself, came so dangerously close to becoming new human. Thankfully, I was given that time of blessed silence so I could see what is real and what has a meaning. I could step back and breathe again.
As C.S Lewis observed:
If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.
Note: Burning pages is my attempt to capture some elusive thoughts and observations before they turn to ash. Call it a journal if you want.
A decade of experience in project & product management in various organisations taught me a true value of the ability to maintain focus. Sometimes the hard way. Now in the times of work from home, cutting off distractions might be even more changeling than one would think. With tons of tasks at hand, tough questions from developers and stakeholders, messages on slack spamming every minute, urgent emails, kids yelling in the background and that annoying fly buzzing in the room , a simple task of replying to an email can become a bloodied struggle with oneself. Not to even mention of how one could attempt to write software specifications.
How do I get through such days and make the most out of them? Firstly I kill that f**ing fly. And then I apply a few simple rules, that not only help to keep my sanity in check, but also allow me to get the job done.
1. Prioritise & execute
Multitasking is a myth.
Don’t believe me? Try a simple exercise (credit to my Dad) – write on a blackboard in a row numbers from 1 to 10 in arabic numerals, and then in roman signs. Then do the same but with instead of going with one row till the end, switch between arabic and roman after each sign. See which method will take you more time…
That’s right. Unlike what some say about the art of management – switching through various tasks makes you actually LESS efficient. So what you need to learn first is to be able to pick up ONE thing at a time. Ideally the most important one. And get it though till the end (or at least a measurable milestone). Then another. And so on.
The method of Prioritising and Executing has been described at length in an amazing book “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. If you ever think of becoming a manager or about picking up on any leadership role – read it please.
2. Put the music on. Keep it on the loop.
I get it – apparently there are people who need silence to maintain focus. I guess those people have a luxury of having silence in their surroundings in first place. I am not one of them – so good headphones and good music are key to my performance.
There is a music for sports, music to sing to, songs for dancing with your wife, there is also a music you need to focus ON. Such music is not recommended at all.
You need the RIGHT kind of music, if you want to stay productive. The music that is not intrusive, that is repetitive so it gets you in the rhythm , that enhances clarity of mind. “De gustibus non-disptandum est” so I imagine such tunes will be different for different people. For myself, one of the tracks that kept me through a lot of usability diagrams and helped through producing some complex documentation was this one.
So find your tune. This will be a soundtrack for you life achievements. So better make it good.
3. Stay fit to keep the mind sharp.
Balance between your body and mind is paramount, not just to stay productive, but in the long run to simply stay alive. Lack of physical activity, wrong diet & not managing stress are slow killers.
So make sure you do exercise on a daily basis, ideally somewhere on fresh air. You will sweat some toxins out of your body and get bit more oxygen to that precious brain of yours.
Oh and if you happen to do martial arts, here is a bonus tip: throwing few kicks at boxing bag is an awesome way of acting out on those passive-aggressive e-mails you are getting from one of THESE clients…
4. Get breaks
Speaking of balance. Remember to rest. Ideally every 45-60 minutes, take a deep breath, switch your mind to something else. Change place. Walk a bit, stretch arms.
Let your mind take a break. It will gratify you by staying sharp.
Do not look at any screen. Do not check your phone. Especially not that Facebook feed…
5. Treat social media as poison for your mind (which they are).
Social media are designed to keep you in a dopamine-seeking cue-reward loop. All those developers behind every major social media platform are using their extraordinary skills and brainpower for ultimately, one single purpose.
To make a f***ing lab rat out of you.
With the same data-based cue-reward mechanisms, which are used to train animals those applications are to tame you and teach you to scroll/hit likes/post videos so that you can get that that neurological candy in a form of like/comment/new content.
And then come back for more. Know, that those apps are good at it.
So just do not give them any chance. Before hitting that “play video” button, before checking that notification you got – remember you are about to sip a bit of poison. And before you know it, you will drink from the whole bottle bottom up. This will cloud your mind, drain your energy and get you away from your goal.
Do not let them distract you. Stay focused. Get the job done. Chase your dreams.