HomePostsMar 06, 2021

Cards to Live By

One day last November, I tried to build a morning ritual I could stick to. Nothing crazy, just a handful of things I wanted to do each day like drink a big glass of water, stretch, meditate, take vitamins, acting like an adult. One of the things on that list was to review a list of phrases I wanted to keep in mind throughout the day.

Index cards with mantras

I would read each card, let it sit with me for a few seconds, put a little dot on it if it resonated and then move onto the next.

It ended up being an important mental exercise during the isolated, cold, and wet holiday season. I would find myself just running through them as one more thing to get through, then pause, remember why I'm spending the time, and start over. When parenting or meditating or just trying to exist in the world during an uncertain time, one of these phrases would often bubble up and provide some calm.

In the hopes of inspiring someone else to do the same, I thought I'd share the phrases here, along with where they came from and what they mean to me. You can see these in presentation form here.

This is not an emergency

I've heard this both in parent coaching and in a great article about being on-call:

Real emergencies are life and death situations. This is not an emergency.

There are very few actual emergencies in life. Treating an email or stressed out kid or a work deliverable as a real emergency does no good.

Take a breath.

Life is an unending series of complications

This could be read as pessimistic but it's simply an acknowledgement of how things actually are and how things must be. Everyday we face problems of varying magnitudes. From a ripped grocery bag handle to an unlucky financial event to a death of someone close to you. Lamenting each problem that comes up is just unnecessary suffering.

Here is Sam Harris with a brief audio clip.

This too shall pass.
Let it.

A reminder that everything good and bad, hard and easy, uncomfortable and pleasurable, comes to an end. This is not a rephrasing of "life is short," it's a prompt to stay present through the good stuff and stay positive through the rest.

Drop back and notice what you notice

What are the contents of your experience right now? What are you aware of in this moment? Sounds, sensations in your body, thoughts, and your visual field are all part of your consciousness in this moment. Spend a few moments becoming aware of everything that is happening there in this moment. This is the act of living in the present.

This might be the last time

Everything you do with the people you love has a last time. There is a last time your kids will ask you to push them on a swing. A last time they want to ride on your shoulders. A last time they'll imagine something and draw it. A last time you have a beer or a cup of coffee with your dad. And you'll never know it's the last time while you're doing it.

Being aware of this is a powerful way to stay present and give yourself to these moments that will, undoubtedly, feel precious looking back.

Wait But Why has a great way to visualize this.

Get to kindness

The worst decisions in life are made and executed while angry, particularly parenting decisions. I take away screen time and then realize I shot myself in the foot when it's time to cook dinner. I take bedtime reading away and realize that I took something away that I love too.

The best decisions are made when I can take my emotions out of it. I show kindness when my kids are acting out and they pay that kindness forward later that day. A big part of this is recognizing when I'm not feeling kind and taking a minute to take a deep breath and just get there first.

Stand up for a bit
Drink a glass of water

Inactivity, in any position, is hard on your body. Stand up and march for a bit to wake up, reduce pain, and change perspective.

And sometimes you're just dehydrated. A glass of water never hurt. Try that first before anything else.

Go for a walk

Bring the dog. It cures so many things.

Prioritize first, then act

I'm a maniacal list maker. It's something I have to mitigate and keep under control regularly. The issue comes when its time to get a single thing done (the only number of things that can be done at one time) and I see the list of everything else.

What is the most important things to get done today? What's the second? Great, that's the list for the day. Move everything else into a backlog that's hidden until the first two are done.

Index cards with mantras

Enable others

A reminder to live up to my moniker: Josh Can Help. You can never go wrong by giving someone else a leg up in some way. Whether it's feedback or work, offer what you have to help others achieve and it will always pay returns.

Once again, you can see these in presentation form here.

Here are cards that I have used previously:

One team,
One score,

I cribbed this from Auth0's values but it applies to much more than work:

Team success always outweighs individual accomplishments, and we celebrate both.

I think about this in the context of my marriage (her accomplishments are mine and vice versa), our family (our kids' success is ours as well), our neighborhood, our school ... everywhere. Putting the success of the people around you at the same level as, or higher than, your own pays dividends.

Your current habits
deliver your current results

This came from a great interview of James Clear by Sam Harris (my notes here) and it's so simple but so easy to forget. Everything about our life, good or bad, is due mostly to what we do in response to stimuli over and over. Basing changes in your life on "trying harder" is not a strategy for success. Change your habits, change your life.

Observe the thought and let it pass.
Where does it go?

Take a minute to ask yourself: what is a thought? When you are lost in thought, what is that experience? What are you aware of during that time?

Meditating snowman

For me, thoughts are images combined with lots of words, typically in my voice. This slideshow can be mesmerizing but I can also become aware of it, see it for what it is (images and words), and it kind of just .... melts away. This is my reminder that this exercise is possible. More thoughts from me on mindfulness here.

Begin again,
in this moment

No matter what you're doing or where you are mentally, you can start over right now. You can put the phone down and plug in. You can pick that project back up. You can re-commit to what you're doing right now, even if you've been distracted for the last 5, 10, or 30 minutes. Regardless of how much time you have left, regardless of how much time you already spent distracted.

Apply the sunk cost fallacy to time and don't let poor past performance ruin what's possible next.

There is no such thing as free will

Everything you think and do is a product of countless external influences, the condition of your experience at the time, and a life of experiences leading up to this moment. This moment is the effect of myriad causes outside of your control. How is it possible to look back and regret anything?

Here's an essay that goes into more detail about this.
More thoughts from me on mindfulness here.

Boredom is a lack of attention

The next time you're bored, pay attention to that feeling. What is happening in your body and mind when you're bored? I find that it's often when I'm doing one thing but want to do another and can't. Or maybe I keep doing something (scrolling through Twitter, for instance) because I'm avoiding thoughts about something else. The boredom is always less about what I'm actually doing than where my head is currently located.

The kids are never wrong

I read this in Astrid the Unstoppable and it rang so clear and true. How could a child be wrong about how they feel? How could they be wrong in sharing their experience? How could they be wrong when expressing themselves?

It's too easy to fall into the trap of gaslighting your kids, protecting your ego at their expense. You're the adult; act like it.

We don’t have to take responsibility for how someone feels

Because someone is having a bad reaction to you or something you did does not make you directly responsible for that reaction. You might have triggered anger or sadness or anxiety in someone but they have their own responsibility for containing and dealing with emotions that arise.

Taking ownership for your own actions does not directly correlate to fixing how someone feels. You do not choose or control how someone will react to what you do. People have been shot for driving too slow.

Solve problems together

Letting other people - children, teammates, partners - find solutions for a shared problem gives them ownership over the outcome and experience solving problems. Handing a solution to someone might be the fastest way to alleviate the immediate pain that the problem is causing but it's not always the best overall outcome.

Oh and ... you're not so amazing that you always have the best solution.

Let them help

Kids learn by doing and need our guidance to know what to do around the house. Chores, work, repairs, anything new should involve any kid that is interested in it It might take longer and require cleanup but the kids will benefit.

Aim for simplicity

Less words.

Less features.

Less UI.


Share work early

Don't be scared to get your words or code or anything else out there into the world, particularly with people you're collaborting with. Sell your idea before you get attached. Get feedback as early as possible.

What is the job to be done?

What is the one thing that your creation needs to do? If it's a blog post, what is the main thing that you're teaching or announcing? If it's an app, what's the one thing that users need to achieve using it? Put your goal into words and come back to them regularly so you don't miss the mark or do too much.

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