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The Language of Play

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

How can I practice Play?

To practice is to remember to practice. One aspect of the practice is to make Play more present in your mind. One way to do that is through language, by using words and phrases evocative of Play. I call the collection of all such words and phrases the Language of Play.

There are two aspects to it: 

– using existing words and phrases – identifying such words and phrases from your play history and using them more often
– creating words and phrases – playing with language to create words and phrases that remind you to play; we might call this languageplay

One type of such languageplay for instance involves substitution of various words with the word ‘play’.

eg 

pay => play
Paypal => Playpal (reddy2go [<link])

work => play
workout => playout

Another one involves adding ‘playful’ before various words:

eg
Playful Awareness
Playful Learning

This a an instance of what I call Generative Play – playing with coming up with new ways to play.

Parallel Reading

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is parallel reading?”

“By parallel reading, I mean reading from multiple books at the same time during a reading session. By contrast, sequential reading is reading from one book at a time.”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“There are two benefits: variety and creative serendipity – it increases the likelihood of connecting ideas you wouldn’t have otherwise.”

“Can you give more details on how it works?”

“Let’s take the idea as the information unit. You’re basically reading from idea to idea. If you read optimally, you skim through unuseful ideas and read only the useful ones. So in optimal reading, you proceed from one useful idea to another.

In sequential reading, you proceed from one useful idea to another within the same book. In parallel reading, you likewise proceed from one useful idea to another, but across different books. You read from one book until you find a useful idea. You process the idea, and then you change to a different book, repeating the process until a pomodoro passes.”

“So if, say, during a pomodoro of sequential reading you go through 10 ideas, during a pomodoro of parallel reading you go through 10 ideas from 10 different books.”

“Precisely.”

How I made the local graph usable in Obsidian

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

As you know, I use Obsidian [<link] as one of the two components of my PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) system.

What’s the other component?

The CommonBook [<link], the digital commonplace book I created with my brother. I use it to store my quotes collection [<link].

One of the beautiful features of Obsidian is that you can see your notes as a graph.

Obsidian’s global graph view

You can see them as a graph globally (all notes) or locally (all notes connected with the selected note).

I especially like the local graph feature, but I wasn’t using it much.

Why?

I like to keep the local graph at depth 2 to see more connections.

At depth 1, you see only the notes directly connected with the selected note – level 1 notes.
At depth 2, you also see the notes directly connected with level 1 notes – level 2 notes.

The problem was, I was seeing so much noise that the local graph became unusable.

How did you solve the problem?

“I identified the most important categories of notes. For me, they fall into two categories:

  • Highest-Leverage Notes. I look at all my notes through the 80/20 filter. 20% percent are the most important, highest-leverage notes. I started tagging those notes (I use the tag #hl – highest-leverage).
  • Onlyness Notes. Onlyness means that which you and only you can do. I started tagging the notes that fall into this category (I use the tag #onlyness). Onlyness notes are inspiring and remind me of what I should focus more on.

In the local graph, I created color groups for those two tags, and I filtered the local graph to see only the notes containing those tags:

tag:#hl OR tag:#onlyness

The result is beautiful and extremely useful:

My filtered local graph

Now every time I select a note, every single node on the local graph is meaningful and powerful.

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

Writing/Journaling

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.”

On Meditation and Meaning

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

There are two aspects to the practice of meditation. One is about the mechanics of the practice – what to do, and how. The other aspect is about meaning. You can make the practice more powerful by making it meaningful.

How can I make meditation meaningful?

You’re essentially imbuing it with meaning and connecting it with your values. You’re weaving a personal story around it. Here’s a glimpse of my own personal story:

Meditation is Mental Training. You mind requires training just like your body does. On the Path of Mastery, meditation is a fundamental aspect of that training.

Meditation is Self-Awareness and Self-Knowledge. Meditation is a playful exploration of your inner world, and through that, a fundamental means of learning about yourself.

Meditation is Ritual. Meditation is a gateway into the universe of The Sacred.

Meditation is Self-Love. Meditation is a profound act of Self-Care and Self-Love, thus an expression of Love. The practice of meditation is the practice of Love.

Meditation is Peace and Joy. There’s a quote I love by Thich Nhat Hanh:

If you feel happy, peaceful, and joyful, you are practicing correctly. (Thick Nhat Hanh)

Meditation is the practice of coming home to yourself – a sacred Homecoming. Peace and Joy are the sign that you’ve arrived.

You can get inspiration from my story and shape your own.

The Templating Game

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

What do you mean by the templating [<link; medium read] game?

I mean playing with linguistic templates

One way to play is by creating templates. Whenever you notice a meaningful, recurring linguistic pattern, you turn it into a template. That is, you take the variable part of the pattern and turn it into a variable.

‘Variables’ as in those used in math?

Precisely.

For instance, here’s a familiar linguistic pattern: 

The art of living
The art of design
The art of donkey riding

‘The art of’ doesn’t change, but what comes after, does. So we can turn it into a template: 

The art of x

Another way to play is by taking a (general) template and generating (specific) instances.

For instance: 

Every x is an opportunity.

Every obstacle is an opportunity.
Every unwanted thought is an opportunity.
Every Monday is an opportunity.

And another way to play is by coming up with new ways to play with templates. I call this the game-making game.

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.”

“Yes.”

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)

On Leverage and Clarity

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What are the highest-leverage things you could reflect – and incrementally make progress – on?”

“I need to give it some thought.”

“Having to think about it every time signals inefficiency. It means there’s room for optimization.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“Gain clarity on it once, and make the insight persistent.

Make an open list of the highest-leverage things you could reflect on. I call it the HL List. You can call it any way you want.

In the (inevitable) moments when you lack a clear focus, check the list and resume a path that feels most appealing in the moment.”

The Pause

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. (Viktor Frankl)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space only if you create it. This is a practice. Brian Johnson calls it Response-ability. I call it Creating Space.”

“How do you create space?”

“There’s a quote I love by Josh Waitzkin:

The small things are the big things.

It’s such a beautiful and critical principle, and most people think they can wait around for the big moments to turn it on. But if you don’t cultivate “turning it on” as a way of life in the little moments – and there are hundreds of times more little moments than big – then there’s no chance in the big moments.

This quote expresses a key aspect of the practice – and of Mastery more generally:

Practice in the little moments of life. Practice when you don’t need it so that you are prepared when you do need it.

You create space by pausing. I call this aspect of the practice, The Pause. What this means is creating brief micro-pauses throughout the day. Think of them as metaphoric ‘break-points’.

To practice is to remember to practice. The more often you do it, the more often you’ll remember to do it. It’s a positive feedback loop.

Surround yourself with reminders.

Put written reminders in various places in your environment.

Turn things in the environment and experiences into reminders. (Anchoring)

For instance, a great thing to anchor pausing to is the transitional space/time between activities.”

“What do you fill the pauses with?”

“Start by practicing only The Pause.

Pause, breathe, and smile.

Stay with it as long as you need until you deeply internalize it. Think of it as the seed. Once the seed has been planted, you can grow it into the next stage of the practice.”