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Natural Pauses

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Appreciate natural pauses.”

What are natural pauses?

Pausing is an essential (and subtle) life skill. By pausing, you’re creating space for awareness and connecting with yourself, for love and play and gratitude and beauty, for reflection and accessing your resources. You can think of it as a micro-meditation.

Think of an impulse, for instance. Much of the time, they are invisible. An impulse arises and we immediately act on it. Sometimes it works for us, other times against us. Pausing after the impulse arises creates a space between stimulus and response to ask yourself:

Do I want to act on this impulse?

Every impulse is an opportunity to practice the skill of pausing.

Natural pauses are pauses that arise naturally when engaged in an activity or when transitioning between activities.

Let’s say you’re browsing the Internet and a page takes too long to load. By default, we tend to think of it as an annoyance. Instead, learn to see and appreciate the opportunity, and make the most of it.

Breathe, connect with yourself, smile, and, for a moment, contemplate all the gifts and miracles that you’re taking for granted: technological wonders like the Internet and your computer and language, the biological wonders that are your BodyMind and all life forms, the beautiful interconnectedness of the world, the cosmic ocean and the universe of the very small, etc. Take a moment to find your way back to wonder.

By creating pauses and taking advantage of natural pauses, you’re creating space to take in the beauty of the world.


Artful Learning

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is Artful Learning?”

“The phrase The Art of Learning has become so ubiquitous that people tune it out – it has become (or maybe it has always been) a what I call verbal empty [<link; short read], a string of words that sound good but don’t change behavior in any way.

The Art of Learning means thinking of learning as an art.
Artful Learning means doing learning as an art.

The Deliberate-Practice System

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

How can I optimize deliberate practice?

There are two aspects to deliberate practice:

Skill-Specific Practice
The Deliberate-Practice System

The former varies with every skill; the latter stays the same regardless of skill.

Gain clarity on and endlessly optimize the deliberate-practice system.” 

What are the components of the deliberate practice system?

I’ve identified the following:

Deconstructing Skills

Every skills is a bundle of sub-skills. To deliberately and efficiently practice a skill, you need to identify its highest-leverage sub-skills – the fundamentals. Practice the fundamentals until they become second nature.

Identifying Principles

Principles are essentially mental models. They are meaningful, abstract patterns that are transferable across disciplines.

The Practice Loop (Scott H. Young)

Repeatedly performing a skill with the intention of improving it. Deliberate practice is a feedback loop. The purpose of the loop is two-fold:

– identifying and fixing weaknesses
– identifying and internalizing quality


The most efficient way to practice is by having access to a coach. In the absence of a coach, you need to become your own coach. In this process, writing is invaluable. It helps you gain clarity on your practice, it allows you to track progress, and it helps you gain self-knowledge.

Self-knowledge? Are you still talking about deliberate practice?

All practices, regardless of form, converge on the same Path: The Path of Wisdom and Mastery.”

Project Linguistics

The creation of language was the first singularity for humans. It changed everything. Life after language was unimaginable to those on the far side before it. (Kevin Kelly)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

I’ve spent most of my life taking language for granted. As for most of us, it was invisible.

What changed that?

The catalyst was Viktor Frankl’s beautiful book Man’s Search for Meaning. That book had a profound impact on my life. It led to me to ask one of the big questions of my life:

What is meaning?

On a winding path, the question led me to language. In a moment of insight, I realized that we use language to shape our subjective reality. Jason Silva puts it beautifully:

The words you use to map reality affect your experience of reality. Words do not just describe; words are generative.

Language is for us like water to the fish, and just like water to the fish, invisible. At that moment, for the first time in my life, I saw the water.

Language and meaning are tools. We can metaphorically think of them as an instrument. Much like a cellist uses the cello to create music, people play the instrument of language to create worlds and experiences. 

People play the instrument of language. I also play with the instrument itself. I play a meta-game [<link; short read].

I’ve been playing the meta-game on my own for several years now. But recently, while reading the Wikipedia article about affixes, I discovered… linguistics.

There’s a whole field of study about language!

It wasn’t on my mental map until then. Well, I did know what linguistics was, but I hadn’t connected it with my interests. 

I started reading an introduction to linguistics and… I fell in love. Learning about the nuances and intricacies of language made me appreciate this beautiful instrument of ours more and more. Linguistics has also given me a new set of conceptual tools to play with and, more importantly, a new lens through which to look at language. Once you learn about morphemes, the structural components of words (the object of study for the branch of linguistics called morphology), the world of words will never be the same.

In the linguistics book I’m reading, there’s a fun example about the morphemes that make up the longest word in English:


– establish
dis-establish – to reverse the action of establishing
– disestablish-ment – result of disestablishing
– disestablishment-arian – supporter of disestablishment
– disestablishmentarian-ism – practice of disestablishmentarians
anti-disestablishmentarianism – opposition to disestablishmentarianism
– antidisestablishmentarianism-ist – someone who opposes disestablishmentarianism

What’s next?

Linguistics marks the next stage of my exploration of meaning, and the next level of my meta-game. I call it Project Linguistics.”

Funny Examples

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I make learning more fun?”

“What are you studying?”

“I want to get better at editing, so I’m studying punctuation. As part of my learning process, I’m writing a handbook [<link; short read] on the subject.”

“You’re giving a lot of examples to explain the rules, I imagine.”


One way you can make it more fun is by using funny examples.

Make it a habit to make all your examples funny from now on. You can thus practice humor at the same time.”

The Art of Asking Questions 4

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How do you deliberately practice questioning?”

“I have a system for it. I’ve even created my own terminology.

The system has several components:

  • QuestionCollecting (QCollecting)
  • QuestionGeneration (QGeneration)
  • QuestionEvaluation (QEvaluation)
  • QuestionOptimization [<link; very short read] (QOptimization)
  • QuestionTemplating [<link; medium read] (QTemplating)

QCollecting is exactly what it sounds like. I collect questions to use as tools and to learn from them. Key to this process is collecting not only good questions but also bad ones – they help you identify error patterns.

QGeneration and QEvaluation are complementary practices.

QGeneration is the practice of generating multiple alternative questions. One component of it is a practice I call QStorming [<link; short read], which is essentially BrainStorming with questions. You start with a central point of focus (QFocus), which can be a theme or a problem you’re trying to solve, and you generate questions based on that focus.

QEvaluation is the practice of narrowing down the generated questions to discover the best ones. Another aspect of it is a practice I call QAnalysis: deconstructing questions with the purpose of learning from them.

QOptimization is the practice of optimizing questions. Taking a bad question and turning it into a good question. Taking a good question and turning it into an optimal question – or set of questions.

QTemplating is the practice of turning repeated question patterns (QPatterns) into question templates (QTemplates). This means, whenever you notice multiple questions with the same structure, keeping the fixed part of the questions and replacing the changing part with variables:

How can you optimize Learning?
How can you optimize Writing?
How can you optimize x? (QTemplate)

What ties everything together is a practice I call Meta-Questioning: the process of asking questions about asking questions – I call this type of questions Meta-Questions [<link; short read] (MQ).

Can you ask a better question? (MQ)
Can you ask a bigger question? (MQ)
Can you ask a x question? (MQTemplate)
Can you ask this question better? (MQ)

Antifragility as skill

Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better. (Nassim Taleb)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“If we think of antifragility as a skill, what are its subskills?”

“A tentative list looks like this:

Recovery – the capacity to recover balance in the moment and gain access to your inner resources. Recovery is the most important subskill. It’s an enabler – it allows the other skills to function. 

Perception – the capacity to optimally direct attention and to find the empowering meaning in anything.

Learning – the capacity to optimally learn from shocks. It’s a matter of mindset and method.

Creativity – the capacity to spot creative possibilities and turn shocks into creative inspiration.

Preparedness – the capacity to always be prepared for shocks so that they never take you by surprise.

Adaptability – the capacity to use obstacles as stepping-stones, to improvise and constantly readjust to your surroundings.”

Compressing Wisdom

Since writing is very hard and rewriting is comparatively easy and rather fun, I always write my scripts all the way through as fast as I can, the first day, if possible, putting in crap jokes and pattern dialogue—“Homer, I don’t want you to do that.” “Then I won’t do it.” Then the next day, when I get up, the script’s been written. It’s lousy, but it’s a script. The hard part is done. It’s like a crappy little elf has snuck into my office and badly done all my work for me, and then left with a tip of his crappy hat. All I have to do from that point on is fix it. So I’ve taken a very hard job, writing, and turned it into an easy one, rewriting, overnight. I advise all writers to do their scripts and other writing this way. (John Swartzwelder [<link; Wikipedia])

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“The idea in this quote has a beautiful actionable kernel.

What is your process for extracting it?”

“I follow a two-stage process.

The first stage is Paraphrasing/Editing. I seek to express the idea as a directive [<link; article by Derek Sivers] in as few words as possible.

Writing is hard; rewriting comparatively easy and fun.

Finish writing as fast as you can. It will be lousy, but the hard part is done. All you have to do from that point on is fix it.

You thus take a hard job, writing, and turn it into an easy one, rewriting.

The second stage is Tweet Writing. I seek to capture the essence of the idea as a tweet/aphorism.

Write fast.
Rewrite slowly.

The most important aspect of note-taking

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is the most important aspect of note-taking?”

Processing the information.

There are two types of note-taking:

Passive note-taking – saving information by copy/pasting it; effortless, and low value.

Active note-taking – processing information before saving it; effortful, and high value.”

“I noticed I have a tendency toward passive note-taking.”

“We all do. The path of least resistance is our default. An important aspect of the growth process is countering this tendency. The best way to counter it is by putting systems in place.

In the case of the note-taking process, you can insert an intermediary step, a mandatory processing stage.”

“So passive note-taking has two stages: A => B
Active note-taking has three stages: A => P => B”


Just like in passive note-taking, you copy/paste the information in the processing area. 
Unlike passive note-taking, the information leaves the area only after you’ve processed it.”

“What is the output of processing?”

Think of processing as an opportunity to practice multiple skills in a short time-framelife-stacking [<link; medium read] style. 

You can practice editing/proofreading. Copy the text as is, and look at it with the editing eye. Do a structural and stylistic analysis, and think of ways to improve it.

You can practice meta-thinking [<link; short read]. Do a meaning analysis, deconstruct the meaning and identify the units of meaning –  models, metaphors, mental operations, underlying assumptions.

You can practice writing. Express the information in your own words (paraphrasing) and in as few words as possible (brevity). Start developing and integrating the ideas by asking questions (questioning) and connecting them with your prior knowledge and experiences.”

What makes a good book?

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What makes a good book?”

A good book is an impactful book.

The value of a book is the practical value you derive from it, measured by the impact it has on your life.

An unimpactful book has little value regardless of how good the book.”

“What about the experiential value of a book?”

“Think of an average past experience. 

Average here has a double meaning. It means both ‘common’, and ‘lackluster’. 

What if you’d never had that experience?
Would you have lost anything?

The book-as-experience, absent impact, is replaceable with any other average experience.

An impactful book is irreplaceable.”