Studying without fighting my monkey mind

skittish birds in Hawaii

Usually when I plan to study I’ll say something to myself like: “I have 2 hours to learn about assembly instructions… No Problem! Go!”

Then, inevitably, the 2 hours pass and I’ve learned 30%-50% of what I had intended.
Apparently I still don’t know that I will lose focus and get distracted. Then that leads to getting worried that I haven’t learned it in time, frustration, stress…

Lately I gave up and said Fuck It, if I get distracted then I get distracted. I’ll just build it into the time. So now when I have a study session with dense and difficult material and I feel my mind wandering or needing a break, I don’t fight it. For instance, 3 minutes ago I was studying assembly code to understand base pointers and stack pointers. It was getting foggy and unclear, so I walked around, got some water and let myself play by writing this.

I have been doing this for the past two weeks or so and it’s a significantly better way for me to study. I assumed I would learn more slowly this way, but it really feels like the same pace with much less stress. Instead of beating myself up for getting distracted, trying to force myself to focus and getting distracted anyway, now I just roll with it. Happily, this idea reminded me of Derek’s excellent post about a 2 minute difference.

I watch my mind begin to get distracted, and if it feels like I can’t pull it back to focus, I indulge the distraction and follow it for a bit. Then after 10 or 15 minutes of that, I bring myself back to the work. I have been a meditator in the Shambhala lineage for about 12 years, but somehow this idea of relaxing into my mind during study has only just occurred to me.

be well,


“A beautiful country is a dream-like illusion…”

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

“A beautiful country is a dream-like illusion. It is senseless to cling to it. Unless the inner forces of negative emotions are conquered, strife with outer enemies will never end.”

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche said this when the Chinese invaded, murdered people, and he was forced to flee Tibet. I’ll try to contemplate this one today and tomorrow.

I’m feeling heartbroken about the United States election.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

if I had the flu today…

When I get stressed due to overloading myself with projects and commitments, I end up using this quick filter to figure out what’s really important to me. I ask myself: if I was really sick today, what would I do?

Today, I am looking at…
1. a phone tonight call at 8pm that I’m unprepared for
2. an Android project that is a bit past due
3. two sets of discrete math linear algebra assignments due today
4. a C programming assignment due tomorrow

I asked myself: “Ok, if I had the flu today, which of these could I postpone or simply not do? Are any of them crucial?”

1 . The phone call: I can postpone that to next Sunday. We had planned this call a bit ago, but she’s an understanding person and will help out.

2. The android project: I have an A in this class, so I can afford to skip this one assignment, but the concept we’re working on (Fragments) is crucial to every other app I’ll build. So, I do need to make time this week to really understand Fragments, but that doesn’t mean I have to do it today.

3. Two sets of discrete math linear algebra assignments: same thing as above. I’m doing well in this class, and we’re allowed to drop 3 assignments. This would be costly since I’d be dropping 2 of my 3, and I must understand the concepts going forward, but they aren’t crucial today, so they can wait.

4. The C programming assignment: This is due tomorrow and feels like the most important and urgent. I’m halfway done already, and I don’t want it hanging over my head after tomorrow.
I’ll likely have trouble with some of the logic in the 23 methods we’re writing, so getting as much done ahead of the due date is a wise idea. So, of all my projects, this is the only one that I would work on today even if I was sick.

So! Thankfully, I’m not actually sick and I can still apply this thinking and get myself down to just one priority: the C programming assignment.

So why did I just spend 15 minutes writing this post instead of C code… 😃
My ideas only become clear to me when I can write them out.
be well,

You Need Someone Else to Point Out Your Skills

(a photo from my trip to Belize)

I have been writing some resumes and cover letters for myself lately. Then I asked my wife to write one for me and I was surprised by the skills she listed. “Those aren’t skills,” I thought.

Then I was hanging out with a close friend who is unhappy with his current career. We started talking about what he’d like to do next and he said he had lost so many skills that he wasn’t even viable at the moment. I started to tell him that he knows everyone in the city, remembers everybody, actually keeps up with what everyone is doing, volunteers his time to help at the seemingly hundreds of events he attends, and is trusted by diverse people all over this city. He said: “that’s not a skill.”

This made me realize that is takes someone outside of yourself, who is close to you, to point out the skills you have that you are blind to. Maybe these skills are so intuitive to you that you assume everyone has them. Or maybe you don’t even realize they are useful to other people.

Be well.