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August 2023

Post image for How to Become Wise

On Twitter the other day someone asked why he should continue to experiment with mindfulness meditation — specifically, what does it do for you when you’re not meditating?

Others and I gave the usual replies: you don’t get stuck in rumination as easily, you better appreciate the ordinary sensations that make up life, and it helps you suffer less over your pains and get less addicted to your pleasures. It seems to shift your natural inclination towards healthy behaviors, and away from unhealthy/self-defeating behaviors.

However, saying all that doesn’t clarify why mindfulness meditation might do those things. Does closely observing the flow of your experience just make you a better person somehow?

I would say… yes, probably. A wiser person, at least. Meditation makes you wise, and wisdom makes better ways of living feel more natural, and worse ways feel less natural.

But how? Reflecting later on how my response didn’t answer the poster’s real question, I thought of an analogy that might do a better job.

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Post image for How to Inherit a Fortune

Imagine you’re having a hard day, and you get home to find that someone has left dinner for you. It’s exactly what you wanted. Lasagne! Or maybe green curry, or tacos.

What good fortune. Some thoughtful person predicted that you might want a meal right right about now, and made sure you had one.

Of course, this thoughtful benefactor could be you, just earlier. Last night, your past self recognized the value a ready-made meal would have for tomorrow’s after-work self, so he left one for you in the fridge.

Now imagine that your past self didn’t only prepare a meal for you last night, but wrote a book a few years ago. Not only do you have dinner waiting for you, but you also receive royalty payments, enjoy increased clout in your industry, and have the skills and confidence to write more books. You’ve inherited much more than dinner from your forward-thinking past self.

Perhaps your past self earned a degree or certification, which got you the job that elevated you beyond paycheck-to-paycheck existence. Maybe she figured out WordPress one weekend, and started a restaurant review site that now has thousands of followers. Maybe she finally read T.S. Eliot’s poems after thinking about it for years, and it precipitated your first genuine spiritual connection with ordinary life, which you’ve felt all of your days since. Maybe she did all of those things.

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Post image for Atomic Accountability

People who know they’re serious procrastinators should always have a “nuclear option” at their disposal.

By that I mean a button, a switch, a no-turning-back phone call that will put into motion an unstoppable force capable of smashing through your usual hesitations when nothing else works. You definitely want one of these buttons, and it’s easy enough to set up.

If I can’t bring myself to get around to an important task, such as filing a tax thing or making a doctor’s appointment, I invoke my nuclear option: I give my best friend three hundred dollars in cash and tell her to spend it if I don’t prove to her that I’ve done the thing by a certain date and time.

This sets into motion several unstoppable forces that make the outcome inevitable:

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