Flow junkes

Action sports are often marketed with adrenaline up front. The athletes are adrenaline junkies, living in a rushed state. The Rise of Superman explains that it’s far from the truth:

But they are all flow junkies—the difference is critical. And chemical. The fight-or-flight response—a.k.a. the adrenaline rush—cocktails adrenaline, cortisol (the stress hormone), and norepinephrine. It’s an extreme stress response. The brain switches to reactive survival autopilot. Options are limited to three: fight, flee, or freeze. Flow is the opposite: a creative problem-solving state, options wide open.

It reminds me of Alex Honnold, likely the best free climber in the world. The 60 Minutes feature “The Ascent of Alex Honnold” has footage of one of his climbs with another climbing expert explaining what’s going on. It’s methodical. The climbs can take hours. Honnold says that if he’s feeling that fight or flight response then something’s wrong.

Instead, he’s in flow. You can be in that state for long periods of time. If you enter a flow state doing sports can it help in other aspects of your life? Maybe:

People report feeling extraordinarily creative the day after a flow state, suggesting that time spent in the zone trains the brain to consistently think outside the box.

That’s not entirely scientific but I’ll take it.

If you can get into a flow state then you can learn to ride that wave for some time after.

I don’t have a wing suit and a cliff handy every day, so I’ve been interested in other ways to get into flow states. Team sports and group fitness classes seem to be a step in the right direction. Sitting still might help also.

High level meditators can achieve brain wave activity similar to a creative session in a flow state. “High level” means many years of practice. Someday it’d be nice to have a flow switch. In the meantime, I’ll continue working on the hodgepodge recipe of workouts, meditation, and standing on one leg in just this particular way. Whatever it takes, flow is worth it.

Note for Sick in the Head

I wrote a post for Sick in the Head and still want to write more about how the top performers have similarity to the guests in Tools of Titans. In a 1984 interview with Garry Shandoing, Judd says this. 

Judd: This is the comedy interview program that talks serious about comedy.

This describes the book well. I read a few books about comedy last year. One thing was clear: making funny things takes serious work. Also, it’s a craft like others. There are people who grew up in the exact situation where things look like natural talent. For the rest of us, comedy can be learned. 

All the great stand-up comedians did a ton of stand-up. All the great writers did a ton of writing. Some did both.

It’s cool to see different perspectives. Some people think it’s good to turn over your entire act. Others are fine doing old bits knowing most of the audience hasn’t heard it. 

Momo book quote

I have a lot of book highlights. I highlight too much. I have a backlog of books that I finished reading in December and January that I want to write book notes for but have procrastinated on. Part of this micro blog goes along with the idea of taking the least action on something. If I can just post a highlight with rough thoughts on it, it’ll help build momentum to writing the full book notes post.

Here’s one from Momo.

True, they earned more money and could also spend more. But they had morose, exhausted, and even bitter faces with unfriendly eyes.

It’s a children’s book from the 70s but it resonates so well today with all the focus on productivity and work efficiency. People succeed at saving time in some task only to fill that new free time with some other task.

This reminds me, I need to write something about Cal Newport’s Deep Work. It’s been a year since I read it so it’d be a good time to review it because I probably changed my approach to things more based on that book than any other last year.

Welcome to the micro blog

This should be sort of hidden for right now. This is where the roughest things will go. I’ll put those one-off sketches here. Things like that. Single links and book notes posts.

I wanted to give myself a place to share daily without feeling like I’m spamming people. I have a Twitter account but it’s always been pretty focused on UX things I’m up to.

Shout out to Wally who I’ll give this link to.

These will probably be rough drafts of sections of larger posts that I’ll eventually write. Daily wisdom or something like that. So right now here are a few things to share.

Pause-button mentality — Precision Nutrition
Cool infographics here showing different dials for movement, nutrition, and wellness. Works toward building systems instead of sprinting toward things. It’s important to understand how the daily changes add up over time.

I’ve also started reading The Undoing Project. It’s about Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

Danny was a pessimist. Amos was not merely an optimist; Amos willed himself to be optimistic, because he had decided pessimism was stupid. When you are a pessimist and the bad thing happens, you live it twice, Amos liked to say. Once when you worry about it, and the second time when it happens.

I haven’t read Thinking, Fast and Slow but I’ll get to it this year.

Flow and Animal Chin

I heard about this book through The Joe Rogan Experience #873, where Steven Kotler was a guest. Rogan talked about playing pool and mentions a term called "stroke". Being in the zone. You're hitting shot after shot without thinking about it.

Once you realize you're in stroke, you're knocked out of it.

If you think about flow you'll get knocked out of it. Which could be frustrating if you're chasing flow. Especially trying to achieve flow at a desk. There's less physical activity to keep your focus away from deliberate thoughts.

In Sick in the Head, Kotler writes about The Search for Animal Chin, a 1987 skateboarding film with a bunch of legends. People were able to see the top level of the sport and practice the tricks on their own. One of the first steps to doing something is knowing it's possible in the first place.

Skate videos through the 80s and 90s let people see what was possible. Now it's a little easier to see top level performers.

Any smartphone or tablet computer opens these same possibilities up to everyone. Want some Animal Chin in your own life? Join an online community. Watch videos. Read stuff. Get smarter. Try stuff. Get into flow. Use flow to do something amazing. Post videos. Teach others how you did it. And repeat. That’s what action and adventure athletes did, that’s one of the main reasons they went so far so fast.

One of the chapters talks about Danny Way jumping over The Great Wall of China. Just a few taps and you can see it online.

If you're learning anything, YouTube probably has something useful to watch. When I was learning to draw1, I searched for artists drawing at comic conventions.

Some things don't make as much sense to watch in process, like writing2. But you can watch interviews with writers. Even long form ones from book tours. One of my favorites is a discussion between George RR Martin and Stephen King. I wrote more about it in an earlier post.

The internet connects so many people. You can see top performers and you can teach people out there who you're further along than. Take advantage of it.

While you're at it, check out Animal Chin in its entirety. No need to ask your buddy to mail a VHS tape across the country.

  1. I still am learning to draw, so I'll get back to this. ↩︎
  2. A couple years ago, James Somers made Draftback to replay Google Docs revision history. This did of what skateboard videos did. I watched some of it and an immediate takeaway was seeing him use a TK in place of someone's name. I learned it in seconds and still do that to this day. Using placeholders helps a lot for staying in the same context, which in turn helps you stay in flow. ↩︎

Journal Issue 12: Still making, showing, and learning

“In that really enthusiastic moment I decided I’d do a 1-hour photo walk every day. I’ve since decided that’s definitely unsustainable but I might be able to do 3-4 times a week. I’ll post every Sunday. Starting, like many goals, on January 1st.” — Me in my last post, definitely more than a few Sundays back

Bill Simmons categorizes some teams as the best of the bad teams. If all excuses for not writing are bad, then mine is at least a one of the better bad reasons. I’ve been moving. Which mostly means I’ve been packing and unpacking. The move itself was miraculously only a couple hours.

I’ve wanted this blog to be sustainable. I’ll probably need more structure. Here’s what I’ll try this week

1 update

1 book excerpt

1 link

1 photo set

1 drawing

You’re reading the update. It should be some kind of dispatch. Aka where I write about writing. Blog about blogging. Shoot about shooting.

Book excerpt

I’ll stop quoting Tools of Titans. Someday. A lot of tools work that I’ve started using. I finally tried one that didn’t quite work. It involves getting to sleep:

Have trouble getting to sleep? Try 10 minutes of Tetris. Recent research has demonstrated that Tetris—or Candy Crush Saga or Bejeweled—can help overwrite negative visualization, which has applications for addiction (such as overeating), preventing PTSD, and, in my case, onset insomnia.

The problem with 10 minutes of Tetris is it’s enough to remember how fun Tetris is. It snowballed quickly. After a few games, I bought the premium version. Then it was 2am. Then I was sleepy the next day.


I liked what Tim had to say in this reply when someone asked about giving advice:

  • Speak from experience
  • Detailed specifics
  • Suggested next action.

I gave some detailed specifics. My suggested next action based on my experience: pick a worse game.

Photoset: It’s my last week in East Village

I haven’t been posting but I have been writing drafts. I wrote this before my move while I was in the process of packing.

I’ve taken my goal down from doing a photo walk every day to taking my camera with me regularly. That seems to be working. I remind myself that posting some pictures from the week doesn’t mean I need to take hundreds each day. It’s hard for one photo to stand on its own. To think I’d be able to take a dozen or more good photos in a week is a little too ambitious.

It reminds me of some of career advice by Scott Adams (2007)

In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare.

That’s why I’ll be accompanying mediocre pictures with mediocre writing. Be like the traffic director. Work the intersection.

Oh yeah the pictures. Well a little more a do. Here are some things I have in mind for making this photo walking thing work:

I need a minimal workflow: I’ve stopped shooting RAW. Less thinking.

I’ll use Google Photos to edit: I stick my SD card in my MacBook, drag and drop to Photos, then move the files to an external hard drive. That’s enough backup for me right now.

(Disclaimer — I work at Google. Photos is one of my favorite digital products in the last few years.)

I’ll write in Ulysses and post with WordPress: I started using Ulysses a week or two ago. I’ve been using albums in Google Photos to sort out which ones I want to post.

I’ll edit on my iPhone and iPad: It’s fun.

And now, another photo story. I’ll start with 5 photos. Before leaving East Village, I was working through an East Village bucket list. There are plenty of better places by all sorts of measures. This isn’t representative of “real” New York. I’m a transplant. Here are places I like.

Boba Guys — I had a teammate at my old job and we’d get McDonald’s Frappes on Friday mornings. One tradition I miss. I took it back to work once and felt pure shame walking through the office with it. Never again. No domed lids and no big straws.“C’mon Frank.” But that was work. I can get them all I want when I’m at home.

I shot this blurry picture on one of the snow days before wiping the lens.

Cafe Matcha Wabi — Great matcha. Lots of shiba inu owners on the weekend.

Takahachi — I got a chirashi dinner for takeout here somewhere around once a month. I’ll usally go on runs where it’s once a week then I’ll cool off for a bit. Always reliable.

Sunny & Annie’s — My favorite deli. I went a few times through the years then probably weekly for the last couple months. Pho #1 on a wrap hits the spot in nearly every situation.

Oh yeah a drawing

I drew Jocko Willink and Michael Che earlier this week for a post about thinking positively about seemingly negative situations. It’s a book notes post for Sick in the Head.

I hadn’t drawn in a couple weeks so it did seem like the beginning stages of when a hobby ends. Drawing these made me remember how fun it is. Which is a weird thing to forget. It’s like bowling as an adult—always fun but then I forget about it after a day or two.

We’ll see where this goes.

Flow levels and entry points

Rise of Superman is about flow and action sports athletes. They achieve high levels of flow with regularity not seen in other fields. Steven Kotler explains how we can apply theirl techniques to reach flow in normal day to day work.

Why would you want to, anyway? For one, flow signals activities that go a long way toward happiness1.

In fact, when Csikszentmihalyi dove deeper into the data, he discovered that the happiest people on earth, the ones who felt their lives had the most meaning, were those who had the most peak experiences.

I’ve had after-dinner programming sessions where I look up and all of a sudden it’s 2am. Getting into flow at a desk takes a combination of things: a distraction-free workspace, headphones to block out noise, an interesting problem to work on, and on and on. Sometimes you get in flow, sometimes you end up scrolling through Twitter.

You can try that hit or miss approach or you can jump off a cliff with a wing suit on.

Different methods will get you to different levels of flow. I’m not planning on jumping off even a jungle gym anytime soon. What else can I try? It might just take picking a ball up.

Kotler points to traditional sports and includes a quote from Bill Russell:

“My premonitions would be consistently correct, and I always felt then that I not only knew all the Celtics by heart but all the opposing players, and that they all knew me. There have been many times in my career when I felt moved or joyful, but these were the moments when I had chills pulsing up and down my spine.”

You don’t have to be on the Cetics, either. This made me think of times when I’ve been in flow in the past few years. A pretty reliable method was playing basketball—poorly. Luckily there are plenty of other people at the same skill level.

When you’re running around the court you’re not usually consciously stopping and thinking about where on the court you need to go. Unless you’re setting a play up. Which is rare because, again, I don’t play at a high enough level.

I did a group rowing class recently would say I was in flow for parts of it. Particularly the end when it was timed for distance. At one point, the instructor was speaking to me directly and it took me about 15 seconds to realize she was even standing right next to me.

Being around a team or other people working toward the same goal helps you at least gets you out of your own head. I imagine this is part of why group cardio classes are popular.

Flow is worth searching for. I’ll start with looking for it at a local gym before jumping off ledges.

  1. I’ll probably read one of Csikszentmihalyi’s books next. His name pops up everywhere when learning about performance and happiness. ↩︎

Tools of Titans (of Comedy)

I started reading Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow when Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss came out. For a few days, I switched back and forth between them. A couple times, I’d forget which one I was reading because they’re both books of interviews. The comedians Apatow interviews are top performers, much like Ferriss’s guests.

There were some connections in what they do day to day. For my Tools of Titans notes, I wrote about something Ferriss does that relates to something Jerry Seinfeld does—I promise it’s not about writing an X on a calendar.

Writing notes for Sick in the Head gives me a chance to write about another connection between people in the two books. This one connects Jocko Willink and Michael Che

Jocko Willink has a chapter in Tools of Titans explaining why his response is “Good.” His response to what? Everything. It forces you to find the silver lining in things. Well, maybe the kevlar lining:

“Now. I don’t mean to say something clichéd. I’m not trying to sound like Mr. Smiley Positive Guy. That guy ignores the hard truth. That guy thinks a positive attitude will solve problems. It won’t. But neither will dwelling on the problem. No. Accept reality, but focus on the solution.”

There’s always a lesson in challenges.

Apatow interviews Michael Che in Sick in the Head. Che talks about his first night at the Comedy Cellar:

“So you know, Chappelle’s onstage. He’s killing for like forty-five minutes. Uncharacteristically gets offstage after like forty or forty-five minutes; everyone assumed he was going to be up there all night. So the next comedian to get onstage is Chris Rock. He gets onstage, and does like forty minutes. And the next comedian that gets onstage is me. I’m like, Fuck you.”

Do you remember this dunk? (YouTube link)

Maybe, and only as a reference to performing after someone else did something amazing. It was immediately  after Vince Carter’s 360 windmill in the 2000 NBA Dunk Contest—a legendary dunk1. Jerry Stackhouse’s 360 was fine but the crowd responded like he did a layup.

Che explains how he felt performing right after two legends:

“But you know what? It was good. And you know why? Because that crowd had seen ninety minutes of the best comedians in the world. I could not ruin their night. There was nothing I could say that was ever going to wipe that smile off those faces, man.”


  1. It’s the best in dunk contest history. If you can name a handful off the top of your head that were better, I’m either on your lawn or you need to get off mine. Whenever Kenny says the dunk contest is back he’s thinking about Vince Carter tearing down Oracle.

Make, Show, Learn Issue 11: How to increase your readership 2100%

The key is to start with 4 viewers.

I posted a few things last week:

Well, I mean I posted them here but also finally shared a couple somewhere else. (Twitter and Hacker News.) Readership went up 2100%. Something tells me (that something is called common sense) that isn’t sustainable.
It made me wonder, is this blog a “Yes” or a “HELL YEAH”? I first heard that prioritizing question in Anything You Want by Derek Sivers. He recently wrote this post: How to do what you love and make good money

People take “and” to mean one thing that takes care of both. It’s certainly possible, but the success rate isn’t so high. Another problem is that sometimes you start making money doing what you love and then stop loving it because of what it takes to make money.

Derek points out that it’s two separate things, so it’s worth treating them as two separate things:

For both of them, I prescribe the lifestyle of the happiest people I know:

  1. Have a well-paying job
  2. Seriously pursue your art for love, not money

Through this blog, I’m trying to satisfy #2. Derek explains some advantages of being able to work on your art without needing for it to sell.

You don’t need to worry if it doesn’t sell. You don’t need to please the marketplace. No need to compromise your art, or value it based on others’ opinions.

You’re just doing this for yourself — art for its own sake.

Not every post I’ve written has been a “HELL YEAH”. Definitely not in terms of quality. As far as value to me, I’ve learned to sit down and write and finish things. So it’s at least a “yes”. Which is great because that’s the right direction toward “HELL YEAH”.

Moving in the right direction

Some posts are very fun to write. Some can feel like slogs. The posts that I put together last week about reading and writing unfortunately were closer to the latter. I knew I’d be sharing them, so a lot of times I was wondering “will other people like this”? Which is a good way to ensure the answer is “no”.

I put together a post with some photos of food I ate in 2016. It was fun to go through that. I also read an annual recap of things I did in 2013, which was fun to look back on. I went further back to a post from 2008 just recapping a weekend with friends. Like many blogs from back then, mine was pretty much a public journal. I captured mundane day to day things that grow more interesting with time. For the sake of having captured what that time is really like1.

These personal blogs captured that time differently than social media does. It’s fun to check out a “This day 5 years ago” feature in social networks, but it’s different than the posts I used write.

I would write not really caring what other people thought. Similar to early social media when I didn’t worry about polluting feeds with my dumb writing. I knew nobody cared what I wrote. It’s freeing. Now I think people might care what I write. Which is silly because they’d have to read it in the first place, and that’s not happening yet.

I used to write small blurbs about pictures showing what I did during a week or a month.I had fun writing those things regularly over a few years. To move the creation of this blog to “HELL YEAH”, I should get back to having that kind of fun while writing.

Of course, I’ll need pictures. So I took a walk.


I brought my camera along. I can’t remember enjoying taking photos like this in a long time. Years probably. Even when I was first in New York I was still trying to take long exposures at night. You need gear. You need to set it up. I was happy with the results but it wasn’t exactly a process I learned to love.

Instead of hauling gear, this time I would just take my camera, put an audiobook on, walk around and take some pictures. Here are some things I saw.

Seeing these balloon guys reminded me that I won’t always see things like this. But I’ll never see them if I’m in my apartment all the time. Walking around will remind me of why I moved here in the first place.

If I ever think there isn’t anything to take pictures of, I’ll remind myself that I’m a moron. I live in the middle of Manhattan. I don’t subscribe to it being the center of the universe, but it’s certainly photogenic. If anything, you’ll always see new people.

Also, if I’m not feeling inspired, I can remind myself that I just need to put the camera over my head and pretend I’m accepting an Olympic medal. I don’t have to lug a piano around to do my art.

It’s too easy to think there won’t be anything interesting to shoot. As if it’s the city’s responsibility to provide something to take pictures of. It’s like that saying about being interesting to talk to by actually being interested in what the other person is talking about.

I also need to figure out what I’ll write to go along with pictures. This bagel is from Tompkins Square Bagels. They’ve got a new location that’s slowly becoming just as busy as the original.

Katz’s is less than a ten minute walk away. I’ll just have to pick out some default places to walk to and try my best there. I can rely on Katz’s for a couple more weeks then I’m moving up a couple dozen streets.

I’m guessing I thought the delivery guys getting ready was interesting. Down the road, this might be the kind of picture I’ll simply leave out.

I was considering using this for the main image at the top of the post. I shot it looking up at The New School.

As mentioned, I’ll be moving out of East Village soon. Meaning I’m trying to hit some of my favorite spots in the next couple weeks. Today we went to Minca for some ramen.

I’m reading through Momo right now. It’s about a town where a group of gray men come through and offer everyone the opportunity to save your time at a bank. You lose it today but sometime down the road you can use it. It’s a novel for children (by the same author as The Neverending Story) with a lot of good lessons about what’s important.

The photo above reminded me of a part where Momo finds a Barbie doll and one of the book’s gray men encourages her to play with it:

“You see?” the gray man went on. “It’s all very simple. You just have to keep buying more and more, and then you’ll never get bored. But maybe you think that the complete Barbiegirl will one day have everything and that she’ll become boring again? No, little girl, don’t worry! We have the perfect companion for Barbiegirl.”’

Dark and heavy.

On a lighter and lighter note, walking and shooting was fun I figure pretty healthy. In that really enthusiastic moment I decided I’d do a 1-hour photo walk every day. I’ve since decided that’s definitely unsustainable but I might be able to do 3-4 times a week. I’ll post every Sunday. Starting, like many goals, on January 1st.

January 1st-ish

You might notice the post date is January 2nd. I tried hopping on the wagon and fell off the other side immediately. It’s okay. I’ll be okay posting a day late or missing a week. Once it gets to two weeks missed, then I’ll worry.

If I’m burning out just to post on time, then I’m doing this for the wrong reason. It’s supposed to be a fun outlet. I want to stretch myself but I don’t want to add something stressful as a hobby.

These walks won’t be daily, but I’ll find out what I can do

Walking daily is healthy. Shooting daily would be good to get my reps in. These can work together. I enjoyed this post by Eric Kim: Walk Your Camera

Walking gives me a reason to shoot and shooting gives me a reason to walk. If I don’t feel like doing one then I can remind myself of the benefits of doing the other.

I’ll see how this goes. I’m still thinking through what exactly this format will be. I’ll be sure to share those thoughts soon. In any case, I hope you’ll follow along this year.

  1. I always think back to Facebook in college. I wish I had a screencast of using it for ten or so minutes back then. Just a regular daily activity but it’s hard to remember exactly what it was like. Before the news feed, did I just do some cycle of searching by people’s names? ↩︎