Best of 2019: Stuff that expands and inspires
Updated: Jan 26
2019 was epic. On a personal and professional level it contained many highs (book and film release, creativity, travel, incredible people and events, personal evolution) and lows (mental overload, relentless loops, phases ending and uncertainty about the future). It was a year navigating the void. I know I'm not alone in having had that relation to it, it seemed to be fairly universal, at least amongst people I know.
But it was also a year of meeting so many incredible people and discovering so many transformational and expansive ideas, books, courses, and conversations that have inspired me on the journey, deepened my relationship with myself and 'reality', and helped me to look at the world each day through a fresh lens.
Below are 8 things I came across that have brought meaning, flow, creativity, productivity and inspiration into my life during the past year. Enjoy!
1. The War on Sensemaking: Daniel Schmachtenberger / Rebel Wisdom (August 2019)
One of the most powerful and fascinating conversations I watched in 2019 (perhaps ever) was the one between evolutionary philosopher, Daniel Schmachtenberger, and ex BBC journo turned content-creation renegade, David Fuller of Rebel Wisdom, about the war on sensemaking. I follow a lot of their work and these guys discuss topics like sensemaking and the meaning crisis often but I found this to be the most quietly provocative one yet. It's long, almost two hours, and is definitely worth the time. It's since spawned two more films in follow up (links below) one released only yesterday!
Daniel is an all-systems thinker and his skill comes from an ability to effortlessly weave fields such as psychology, politics, technology, semantics, and more, in graspable ways to help us better understand the inner workings of the world (beyond ideology) and what drives us. Every time I hear him speak I can feel myself being up-levelled at a cellular level.
A couple of highlights were around the damaged information ecology, trust, and the inherent risks when proxying our sense-making to others. Also the distinction between ‘truth' and ‘truthful’, how we optimise for truth and how we become aware of distortion (both intended and unintended).
I love that Daniel and Rebel Wisdom are committed to providing a doorway for us to up-level our knowledge and deep understanding of the landscape, which in turn leads to greater discernment, sense making and choice-making. As RW point out, "When our existing ways of thinking break down, it's the rebels and the renegades, those who dare to think differently, who need to reboot the system” and without good sensemaking, we cannot even begin to act in the world, so this is an essential piece of the puzzle. It excites me to think of the possibilities for all of us, individually and collectively, when so many incredible people have their intention on supporting conscious, sustainable evolution with these kinds of tools and discussion.
This conversation was next level. Definitely check it out.
And then they made parts 2 and 3:
War on Sensemaking II: Daniel Schmachtenberger (Dec 2019) goes deeper, with Daniel focusing on how information is weaponised by all sides and how to survive in an environment where nothing can be trusted.
Released yesterday, War on Sensemaking III, the Infinite Game: Jamie Wheal (Jan 2020) where Flow expert Jamie Wheal responds to Daniel, outlining what the 'Infinite Game' looks like, how we might up-level human consciousness and what a 'Game B' society might look like.
2. John Vervaeke: Awakening from the meaning crisis
I first discovered John Vervaeke via the Future Thinkers podcast and he also does a lot of interviews/conversations with Rebel Wisdom. John’s a thoughtful academic, mindfulness teacher and researcher, cognitive scientist, Qi-Gong student, live-wire and all sorts of other stuff. I don’t want to put this guy in a box–he's a genius. (Officially: John Vervaeke, PhD, an award-winning lecturer at the University of Toronto in the departments of psychology, cognitive science and Buddhist psychology)
John clearly cares about unlocking ways for us to shift out of the meaning crisis we’re living in, which is why he decided to do the aptly-called lecture series last year, "Awakening from the meaning crisis".
I’m VERY inspired not only by his ability to insightfully synthesise such vast ideas but also his commitment to the consistency of a weekly delivery. This was a 50-part series that he finished in late December 2019 comprised of a one-hour lecture released every Friday. It is cognitive science, deep history and philosophy at its best.
The series explores the foundations of the meta-crisis of our times and how we might address it as individuals and a society. I’m halfway through and feel like I’m learning more about history; the development of our cultural grammar over time and how it’s influencing our thought and behaviour; what mindfulness really is and why the current mindfulness revolution; mythology and how it relates to our lives, and so much more in these one-hour lectures than in the rest of my life! Over time this series will surely be recognised as a masterpiece and a pillar for understanding the nuance of the challenges we face and the evolutionary stage we’re living in. I’m addicted.
I found it funny that someone in the comments on one of the videos made a point suggesting John should be able to create emphasis without yelling. I actually really love how animated John is, it’s one of the highlights. He is unmistakably passionate about this subject matter and there is nothing rehearsed-sounding about his lectures. I adore John's aliveness. This is spontaneous and dynamic. John's not a monotone, overly-polished speaker, rather it's superbly engaging for the virtual audience (although I think he has a live one too) over the course of the series in what is an impressive synthesis of probably decades of research that John slowly unravels in progressive building-blocks over the course of 50 weeks. It’s absolutely brilliant. I quite recommend his video lectures vs audio as he gives visual cues often and gets busy on his whiteboard with some useful mapping and schemas of the ideas that do help land the cyclical relationships in the ideas presented.
Also on Spotify
3. Peak Exits and understanding the flow cycle
As an artist, consciousness-hacker and high-performance enthusiast I’m naturally into flow, how it works, the benefits, and how to optimise it. Flow is described as an optimal state of consciousness where we feel and perform at our best, we experience rapt attention and total absorption, time dilates, and self and self-consciousness disappear. Flow leads to creativity, leads to more flow. It can actually cut our path to mastery (the “10000 hours”) in half because we’re trading conscious processing for unconscious processing, which is more efficient. So, last year when I came across the cool workshop Flow for Creatives created by one of flow’s luminaries Steven Kotler, which merged natural bedmates flow and creativity, of course I couldn’t say no.
An easy 6 hours, chopped into bite-sized modules, for ways to hack mind, body and craft. So good! Basically covering it all with easy summaries on the science around flow, our brain on flow, brain states, neurochemistry and how that relates to the somatic address we experience (what we’re feeling in the body), great tips around motivation, flipping fear into flow, identifying your personal flow profile, and the flow cycle, which is what I wanted to talk about here.
A couple of the key ideas are:
- set 'clear goals’: what you want to achieve 'here and now' that will move you closer to the ‘big goals’. You might write this list the night before
- ‘hack the grind’: which revolves around blocking out your time in order to benefit from the natural stages in a flow cycle (struggle, release, flow, recovery) and
- ‘peak exits’, getting out while you’re excited.
Steven suggests 90-120min blocks are great in order to really get into something and also to start to move beyond the struggle/frustration phase. Ideally do a block first thing in the morning when willpower is the strongest. When it comes to 'peak exits', the idea is that by the time you notice you're excited about what you’re working on you will have pretty much depleted your essential neurochemicals, which is the perfect time to get out so you don’t burn out. This is the area where I’m starting to learn that I have been getting it all wrong: managing my neurochemistry. Then you move into a release phase (taking your mind off the problem through exercise/meditation etc) so that when you come back to it you hit flow faster.
Go slow to go fast, he says.
This is not news, great writers and artists have applied the peak exit technique for centuries (Hemingway would leave his writing mid sentence to be able to pick back up where he left off but with fresh zeal) but if you’re a bit like me and prone to locking onto something and having a hard time peeling away from it until it’s finished, then this is a super handy insight and has brought some nuance to how I view grit, resilience, and a commitment to create something.
If you’re interested in the workshop try this link. Looks like it’s streaming for free Jan 28-29 2020. Great!
If you want a cool productivity playlist on Spotify try this:
4. How Kafka can help us be creative and solve problems
Creativity involves a lot of networks in the brain and, despite popular belief, doesn’t align with the right brain: the whole brain is creative. It also tops the list of 21st Century skills so it is a good skill to be cultivating.
I read about some studies with scientists that essentially worked to prime groups for creativity. Our brains are wired for pattern recognition so in the study they would expose the groups to abstract ideas in order to get the brain to search laterally for meaning. The groups that were exposed to some type of paradox, absurdist or mind-bending material performed better at solving the problems given to them afterwards than the other group.
I think with the complexity of the issues facing us at this time, our ability to see connections between seemingly unrelated issues in order to find creative, innovative solutions as we reimagine global society and systems is a huge skill worth developing. Knowing there are ways to up-level in this way and become more creative is awesome.
Try reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis or contemplating Zen Koans and then getting into your creative problem solving or writing.
5. High Performance Planner
My favourite high performance guy, Brendon Burchard, designed this planner based on 20 years of his research on how to perform at our highest level, with balance, intention and purpose in mind. The planner provides super easy ways to track where you're at and where you’d like to be, and to help you move incrementally towards your goals. This is about high performance not peak performance, meaning it’s got to be sustainable.
Each planner lasts for 2 months so when they got released earlier in 2019 I bought more than a year’s worth. I knew I’d love it (it’s Brendon after all) plus I had some people in mind to give them to as gifts. Having stock on hand has been awesome.
The things I especially love about it are: there’s room to spread out (it’s about A4 sized); it helps me keep in mind both the priorities of the moment as well as the long-term projects I don’t have a place for in my current day; it reminds me of the tools and attitudes I want to bring with me when I approach my day or a task; I get reminders to both put the focus on others and put it on me/my goals . It’s a pretty cool planner. I’ve loved hearing the feedback from friends I’ve given one to plus that's also led to learning more about them and their relationship to productivity. Together we rise! You can buy them online.
6. Tim Urban’s Wait Not Why blog
Tim Urban has the coolest blog. I only just started reading it when someone put me onto his Elon Musk, Neuralink article from 2017, which is a hefty 40000 words and excellently informative and fun reading. The reason I discovered it was because I was in a group discussion that was getting into the complexity and dilemmas (ethical and existential) arising from the notion of having an interface embedded into our brain of the ’Neuralink’ type.
I’m deeply interested in this topic, e.g. how we use technology, how far can this go, our intentionality when creating, how we collectively train ourselves to make more ethical and conscious decisions that benefit ourselves and the whole, and so on. People were having pretty strong reactions against it (kind of understandable in this age of existentially powerful exponential tech) so a guy in the thread posted the article so people had an opportunity to get the full context leading to how this has evolved into a thing.
Tim Urban approaches this in a similar building-block style as John Vervaeke in his Awakening from the meaning crisis series. He calls the Neuralink, Elon's magical wizard hat. Awesome. And building to an understanding of the current technological landscape in relation to phases in our own cognitive development is fascinating. Getting under the hood of a next paradigm thinker like Elon Musk, equally so.
Through open access and a series of conversations with Elon and his team, Tim Urban has managed to craft his own theory on Elon’s mindset and business model that leads him to disrupt industry after industry in a bid to ensure a better chance of a good future. It is so fun going on that journey there with Tim, cute illustrations and all. I laughed, learned and expanded. Highly recommended the whole 4-part Elon Musk series, especially Neuralink and the brain's magical future.
7. Creating evolutionary music using vinyl created out of recycled ocean plastic
My friend Felipe collaborated with singer/songwriter Nick Mulvey to make this beautiful song, In the Anthropocene, a release that emerges from the zeitgeist in every way. It's water, evolution, consciousness, music, and transformation with a twist of up-cycling materials. Each of these uniquely-pressed vinyls sparkles with the spirit of a different way of living together on this planet, in harmony with each other and nature. It's inspired me to ensure I cover all these bases when I make music myself in the future. Can't wait for the full album of magic.
8. Autobiography of a yogi
This was on the reading list and sitting in my Kindle for ages but last year, travelling back from a holiday, I finally decided to start reading it on the plane. The timing was perfect (of course!) reminding me of the magic of the universe, how powerful we are, our innate potential and the importance of the spiritual renaissance. I loved it.
If I've missed any links or you're curious to know more about any of this let me know!
May 2020 bring us all more creativity, inspiration and insight.