Review: Raise Your Game

Raise Your Game is written by Alan Stein, and it’s the sort of performance principle laden book I read when I get an itch to study being effective.

I liked it. It is more brief than many of the other books of its type, but it manages to use this brevity well. Anecdotes and examples in practice from both business and sports, particularly basketball in the latter case, help to illustrate the points very well.

I have a limited knowledge of basketball, just enough to know that when you throw the ball into the hoop it is not called a touchdown. It is not necessary to know much about people or just because many of the anecdotes does not mean that you will need to be intimately familiar with it.

The approach that Stein takes is to look at the various skills that individual members of the team, leaders of the team, and everyone in general on a team need to have. Personally, when I look at my own experience and successful and unsuccessful endeavors, I find that all of the methods and practices can be applied by anyone, but certain ones are more important for certain stages of life.

One of the strong points of the book is that it includes plenty of exercises that anyone can apply. This isn’t the sort of book where you will learn theory but not get enough help begin practicing it.

Another selling point is that Stein is able to use examples from some of the most well-known figures in modern business and sports. In many cases, he has had interviews or other personal connections with them, and the result is that you get a feel for whether the advice given is authentic or not. I believe it is authentic. If you know people who are successful from the context of your own personal life, listening to this book can help you to identify some of the traits that helped make them successful.

This may sound somewhat limiting. If you already know successful people, why can’t you just figure out what they’re doing right?

These notions are difficult and hard to understand without the right perspective, and Stein is a great communicator. It helps to understand things if you can put words to them, and Stein manages to be approachable, interesting, and most of all clear. Many of the concepts that he talks about are familiar to me from the likes of Stephen Covey, but where Stein excels is in making every lesson immediately comprehensible. You won’t get lost in navel-gazing over what he means by technical jargon, because he rarely uses any.

I listened to the audiobook, which Stein narrates himself. He does so with a clear voice and an inflection that helps drive the point home. One does miss out on infographics from the book (they are available online, but it is not necessarily convenient to go and look them up), but I didn’t feel lost without them.

I think perhaps the best testament that I can give to this book is that it manages to communicate great ideas very efficiently. This is where many writers run into issues.

It is easy to have great ideas, but it is not always easy to make them clear and to convey them in a way that respects the reader’s time.

Raise Your Game (Amazon affiliate link) manages to do this very effectively, and I highly recommend it.

Reflections on Aphorisms #22

Aphorism 36

It’s much harder to write a book review for a book you’ve read than for a book you haven’t read.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

I chose this aphorism because of Taleb’s trademark acerbic style and its clear, bold point. It’s also relevant to a lot of what I do in my life, since I have been a reviewer for years.

I don’t believe in simplicity. Or, rather, I am skeptical about it. There may actually be simple things in the universe, but I have rarely found them. Even something whose significance to us is relatively straightforward may itself be quite complex.

Take, for example, a pure chemical element. It still has all sorts of qualities and traits, and the process of purifying it is not simple. Just because it can be classified neatly does not mean that we understand everything about it immediately; only through exploration have we come to the knowledge that we have, and it is deeper than any immediate explanation can convey.

When someone writes about something and evaluates it, they are trying to answer a very difficult question.

In the American education system, evaluation is considered to be the highest level of achievement, and the deepest level of the depth of knowledge breakdown. To actually assesse the quality of something requires clear communication skills, enough experience to draw a comparison, and the guts to speak earnestly.

I’m frequently struck by the inauthenticity of others’ praise. Often when I see something reviewed, I can the trademarks of someone who has no idea what they are talking about. Such a person is not evaluating anything, as they do not really have an opinion and cannot draw a meaningful conclusion.

What I have found is that once you develop an opinion that’s actually meaningful it becomes difficult to communicate.

I do not know how many reviews I have written in my life, but it’s probably around five hundred or so, in various places and fields.

Even with that much experience, I often struggle to make my opinions meaningful to the reader. It is also difficult to explain who the target market of a particular product or book is. Hyperbolic praise, that is, saying that something is tremendous, is much easier than nuanced discussion of merits and virtue.

Tak literary awards. I would be lying if I said that I never want to win an award for something that I write. However, I think that awards are a poor metric for whether or not I will like a book. This doesn’t that awards are bad. We do celebrate things for the sake of their quality. Rather, it would be like trying to describe a whole day with a single word. You may be able to get the gist and say that something is great if it is great, but simply giving it an award does not explain why it is great. Preferences are diverse enough that it’s too simple a premise.

I think Taleb’s point here is profound, because we have entered an age where we live in a society of so-called experts. We need specialists to help us make decisions, and that’s a testament to the near-infinite opportunity we have grown to as a society. People have more knowledge than I do in all sorts of fields, so I do not let this bother me.

The problem is that experts require training, time, and practice to do their work well. Much of our exposure to writing comes in the form of what could be charitably described as inexpert. For whatever reason, whether it’s a lack of self-awareness, apathy, or just failure in the short-term due to one reason or another, a lot of writing is bad. At the very least, it may hold limited value for its target audience.

I think reviews are particularly prone to this. This is one of the reasons why we often encourage people give numbers alongside their reviews, a practice that I personally despise except in certain cases, where a number can help communicate factors that are difficult to express in words and permits a comparison between different things of the same sort (like restaurants).

I think there’s also a hidden meaning to this quote. It’s often easier to make decisions with less knowledge. We fall victim to analysis paralysis. We have trouble describing what is familiar to us precisely because it is familiar to us. There are significant difficulties that arise when we cannot put our words in an order that describes our experiences. However, the process is actually very similar to evaluating something.

One of the reasons why we read memoirs is that they provide us with a vision of someone else’s life, one in which they often explain what helped meaning and significance to them. A good memoir is written by someone who would also be able to write good reviews. The reverse may not be true.

I think that a lot of life’s meaning is to be found in evaluation. Those people who learn to do it well have provided themselves with a tool to improve everything.

My life

As I mentioned earlier, I have written many reviews. At first, my interest was more commercial. I was a game reviewer and I got free games if I reviewed them (plus commission, though I was never good at driving traffic). Since I had more time than money, this was a good arrangement for me.

Now I’ve grown to see it as more of an art. I enjoy writing reviews, even though they are no longer particularly profitable endeavor for me, because they are a representation of meaning. I’d say that it’s judging things that makes it worth doing, but judgment is not really the purpose of a review. I don’t try to express my superiority over other people. I am successful enough to do away with envy.

Rather, I’d describe it this way: When I review something, I have a chance to test it against the universe. There’s an opportunity to go in and really see what makes something tick, but there’s also an ability to ask if it’s worth it. When I write about game design, I often separate my reviews from my analysis.

That’s because these are two entirely different things. Something with flaws may still be sublimely right in one or two ways, and be worthwhile to analyze. However, whether or not it is worth spending time on is the point of an evaluation. Do the flaws, on balance, get covered over by the merits?

In many ways, I think that it’s a sort of proto-wisdom. Evaluation and analysis are both prerequisites for creating something meaningful. They’re independent from this process only in the sense that the creative act comes after analysis and evaluation.

Resolution

Evaluate ceaselessly.

Judge for merit, not for preference.

Don’t get lost in analysis what does valuation would be more proper.

Aphorism 37

It is far better to render Beings in your care competent than to protect them.

Jordan Peterson, from 12 Rules for Life

Interpretation

I did an in-depth breakdown of each chapter of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, and it had a transformative effect on me (Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which is available for free to Kindle Unlimited members through that link, was also significant in my life, though I read it later). I came to new appreciation for the buance of existence, and many pieces of advice contained between its covers were life changing.

This quote comes from the chapter on Jordan Peterson’s second rule, which states that you should treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping. The question of comfort versus protection is one that is the pivotal issue of my generation.

I can speak from first-hand experience can I see countless instances of my generation being unprepared for reality. We have this tendency to view it as a dirty and dangerous thing, because life is dirty and dangerous. However, our stigma against hard truth has left us unprepared for being. We reject the risks of living entirely because we do not know what it means to triumph.

Many of the actions we have been trained to take in our daily lives are those would shelter us. This has an anodyne effect. Like the Buddha as a child, our faces are turned away from anything that could causes suffering.

But suffering is part of life. Without it, it’s impossible to appreciate virtue and choose right action. We will suffer the consequences of living without introspection, but not even have the wherewithal to understand what we are going through. Suffering is the guide that leads us to self improvement, and what motivates us to make a better world.

I think that we have a tendency to think of ourselves incorrectly. I do not mean self-deception, though there is certainly much of that our everyday lives. Rather, I mean that we have limits to our perception. We believe ourselves to be competent, collected, wise, strong, and heroic. However, we ignore the shadow, Jung’s hidden subconscious, because we want to ignore our complexity and vulnerability.

In many of our lives we walk around with untreated battle wounds. Ignorant of the source of our perdition, we view ourselves as impervious agents of the will or as driftwood on the sea of existence. We do not realize that the truth is somewhere in the middle. Potential is counterbalanced by limitation. We don’t just get to be a victim of the universe or to be the hero that saves the world. We need to accept that we need help in our moments of weakness, and selfless sacrifice in our moments of strength.

My Life

As a teacher, I found myself trying to do what’s best for my students. Often, as an English teacher, I would have them read books that challenge them. One of the tendencies that I have found results from being over-sheltered is an inability to distinguish between good and evil. Take the book To Kill a Mockingbird as an example.

My students often have an aversion to the book. Sometimes, this is because they do not wish to read anything which they are assigned to read, out of what could be uncharitably described as laziness, but it is also because they see unpleasant things in it and they do not understand why they would have to see evil face to face.

This causes discomfort, but I have never had a student complain that it was not meaningful after they have read the novel.

In my life, I have definitely been too self-certain on many occasions. Overconfidence has been a great adversary of mine. It is also responsible for more money wasted on things I have broken and do not know how to fix and I would care to admit; this is evidently a common masculine trait in this day and age. However, I think that I have a particular tendency towards learned helplessness, and it is certainly not unique to me out of my generation.

I find that when difficulties arise I prefer to work around them rather than over them. This tendency doesn’t do me any favors in the long run.

I think of all of Peterson’s 12 rules this one may have had the largest immediate impact on me.

When I entered teaching I had what Jung might describe as a martyrdom complex.

Despite cautions from my instructors in college and from my various mentors in practice, I viewed my job as sacrificing everything for my students. There is no problem with sacrifice, but I carried it to an extreme. I would work 12 hour days, then come in on weekends. Eventually, I had reached a point where I was less effective because of my devotion, simply due to exhaustion. I became bitter and resented the weight of my task. The overexertion led me to make mistakes, which led to more overexertion. My response was to push harder, and strive to put in more effort.

By the time this reached its peak, I had almost resigned from my job. I do not know what would have happened if I’d given up then, but I am not optimistic. Fortunately, those around me were supportive and helped me understand where I had gone wrong.

I had forgotten the need for self-care. The consequence of this was that I had instead embarked on a path of self-destruction.

Resolution

Accept my limitations.

Foster in others the skills they require for Independence.

Remember that self-deception is not the only thing that bars self-knowledge.

I Need a New Belt

I’ve fallen off of posting for a while, but I’m still planning to continue uploading my short story collection up here.

Today, however, I had another great weight loss milestone. I was wearing pants that I have to wear a belt with, and throughout the day I noticed that my belt was a little loose despite being configured as tightly as possible.

Long story short, my belt is no longer doing a great job of keeping my pants up, though I discovered this at home and not by having a tragic wardrobe malfunction in public.

I guess getting a new belt can be added to my list of things to do this weekend. I’m a little happy about this because I’ve been worried about not having as much gym time as I would normally get this last week and a half.

My next big focus has to be on getting rid of some of this belly fat. I’ve made really good losses elsewhere, but I’m not as concerned about them for health reasons and otherwise.

I’m thinking that some good core exercises will help, but I’m a little bit of a procrastinator, so I’ll start tomorrow.

Getting more disciplined with exercise overall is a good idea. I’m pretty disciplined (though not perfect, by any means) with my diet, but my exercise routine is anything but.

Diet Milestones (Again)

One of the things that I worry about as I diet is that I could forget the reasons why I went on a diet in the first place and what the weight loss has brought me.

Just this week, I had two things happen to me that I hope to remember if I ever get the temptation to ease up and fall off the wagon.

First, I was stretching out one of my legs and I reached down to grab my ankle/calf region and felt nothing but muscle and bone. Admittedly, I never had a whole lot of fat around my ankles, but feeling that as opposed to having the little wiggling and jiggling I was used to was really sort of a “I did it!” moment.

The other thing that happened to me is that I was getting ready in the morning and I put on a belt (I typically wear business casual attire, with my shirt untucked: needing a belt at all is simply a consequence of losing enough weight that my old pants don’t fit me as well anymore), only to find that I was adjusting it to the smallest possible size.

The particular belt I had is one that I got just a few weeks into my diet, when I discovered that I had already become too small for my other belts.

I guess I’m going to need to replace it soon.

I’ve been a little put off recently by the lack of any visible weight loss, especially in my belly area, but apparently I’m still dropping some pounds, and that’s a good feeling.

Reflections on Weight Loss

As of this week, I’ve hit my original goal weight when I started dieting. I’ve still got some distance left to go before I’m at an ideal weight, but I’m a lot healthier and happier than I was before I got here, so that’s a good plus.

A few things I’ve noticed that I want to quickly reflect on before I forget them on this are:

  1. I’ve gotten a lot more deliberate in what I eat. No more sides at restaurants unless they’re something I actually want.
  2. Letting myself have an occasional indulgence as part of a planned, regular occurrence (AKA cheat day) makes it a lot easier to resist those temptations during the rest of the time, since I’m not developing a “Woe is me, I can’t have donuts” complex.
  3. It’s required me to change the way I view my actions. No more blaming the junk food for my choice to eat it. Developing the ability to resist temptation is important, and one of the reasons my prior efforts have failed.

I think it’s a little telling that despite the fact that I eat less, and generally a little more austere fare than what I ate before I went on my diet, I’m still pretty happy with what I’m eating.

In fact, I think I might actually rate my overall satisfaction from the food I eat as higher than I would have before my diet. There are a few things that go into that, of course, since I’m not getting as much carbohydrate-induced spikes in hunger, but I think some of it is getting rid of the things I used to eat just to have something to eat.

Now that I just eat primarily protein and greens, with fresh fruit as an added element, I find meals more enjoyable than I used to because they don’t have any associated feelings of overindulgence (and guilt) or potential pain down the road in the form of indigestion.

The Importance of Reading

Since beginning a voyage of self-improvement in March, I’ve read 200 articles and at least 10 books just for the sake of reading more.

I spend at least one hour every day dedicated solely to reading, and I spend a fair amount of time reading stuff written by people who are wrong disagree with the beliefs that I hold.

And I’ve noticed a few positive trends in my life.

Continue reading “The Importance of Reading”

The Writer as Stoic

Stoicism is an important philosophy in the founding tenets of the Western world; it is frequently tied into Christianity owing to the religion’s nature as part of a Roman tradition (albeit one that grew to outstrip the political entity that eventually adopted it).

Stoicism involves the pursuit of morality and virtue above all else (which certainly helps explain its appeal to Christian scholars who saw a link between it and the teachings of their faith, leading it to be preserved for centuries with a great deal of fervor as a sort of secular proof of the rightness of a moral life).

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Overcoming the Self

I looked at the scale, and I knew intuitively that my weight was going to kill me. I had been having problems sleeping because I couldn’t get comfortable. I was dealing with minor, but persistent, pains that were impacting my life choices. I wasn’t happy with how I looked.

I knew something had to change.

Of course, I’d try changing before, so what made this time different?

Well, for starters I was reaping the full consequences of my actions. Homer Simpson-esque jokes about pitying my future self were less amusing when I found myself as the butt of the experience.

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Enjoying the Simple Things

Tonight as I try to get some writing done, I figured that I should write something a little more personal and introspective, since I’m doing most of my stuff for Loreshaper Games over at steemit.

As I’ve gotten more disciplined in how I live my life, I’ve found that it’s important to make time for the simple things. Increasing the amount of moderation with which I have lived my life has made the everyday things more significant and more meaningful.

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Life is Short: Leave Virtue As Your Legacy

The other day I was driving home from an outing when I nearly got into a car accident because a massive van tried to enter my lane and did not stop when I honked. I was, fortunately, able to swerve into another lane, but I had a huge rush of adrenaline (as one is prone to do when nearly in an accident).

As I pulled up to the next red light, a thought popped into my mind:

“Life is short, leave virtue as your legacy.”

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