There are two kinds of lazy

Lazy, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary means “disinclined to activity or exertion”.
There are two kinds of lazy. One is the good kind, and another is the bad* kind.
The good kind of lazy
Sometimes you find yourself being caught up with some menial labour. It can be therapeutic sometimes. It doesn’t have to be a waste of time. But then you think that having more free time doesn’t hurt. So you think about a way of getting something done without spending that much resources (i.e. time, energy) on it. You’re not inclined to get things done in a laborious manner if it can be done more efficiently. By definition you’re lazy, but in a good way.

It could be designing an automated or semi-automated system that takes out some or all of the grunt work involved. This doesn’t have to be as complicated as it sounds.

If you have extra money, it could be paying someone to do it while you can use the saved time for something else (privileged Southeast Asians can be very thankful for their domestic helpers). It could be buying an expensive but time-saving devices like a dishwasher or a washer-cum-dryer.

It could be re-evaluating the need to do something and testing your hypothesis by not doing that thing for a few days or weeks and see whether the quality of life of the stakeholder(s) (you and anyone involved) stays the same or decreases or maybe even improves.

As we can see, this kind of lazy is not that lazy after all. It follows this observation by Peter Drucker in his book the Effective Executive: “The more physical work you want to eliminate, the more mental work you must do.” Efficiency often looks effortless and elegant but in fact it comes from hours of thinking and iteration.
The bad kind of lazy
When we’re lazy in a bad way, we’re not inclined to activity and exertion that is mental or intellectual in nature. I believe everyone suffers from this in one form or another with a varying degrees. Everyone has probably thought of a way to change it. Everyone has probably failed to change it.
Maybe using a concept as an analogy can help us understand it a little bit better. I choose the concept of inertia (“everything inside you will fight improvement”). Who would have guessed that our thinking is subjected to Newton’s First Law.
David Wong from Cracked.com wrote this:

“The human mind is a miracle, and you will never see it spring more beautifully into action than when it is fighting against evidence that it needs to change. Your psyche is equipped with layer after layer of defense mechanisms designed to shoot down anything that might keep things from staying exactly where they are — ask any addict.So even now, some of you reading this are feeling your brain bombard you with knee-jerk reasons to reject it. From experience, I can say that these seem to come in the form of …”

Then he went on to list down the defensive things our fragile ego does to protect us from the assault of external forces that actually can do you good. (Question: why do you listen to sad songs when you’re sad? Aren’t you better off if you get out of the sadness, which can be done better by not listening to sad songs?)

Read the rest of the article (http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-harsh-truths-that-will-make-you-better-person/)

My point is the bad kind of lazy is this inertia that manifests itself in the ego (or is it the other way round?) which resists changes and external forces. I suspect it’s manifested not in just your unwillingness to study today for the exam that is happening next week. I suspect this kind of lazy is more sinister than that. With a great risk of over-simplifying things, I shall list down the suspected manifestations of lazy and some bad things in which lazy may play a part, all of which I’ve been guilty for.

  • Unwillingness to start something obviously beneficial in one’s life e.g. regular exercise/healthy eating, accompanied with creation of excuses (e.g. no time) or unwillingness to replace habits that may be not bring long term benefits… like, uh… watching a lot of series…
  • Unwillingness to complete things you start (*having a guilt attack now*) because of various unspoken or admitted, valid or invalid reasons e.g. “Life gets in the way”, “My job doesn’t allow me to do it and it’s not my top priority”, “I need to sleep”. This point is so personal it hurts. Ha. Further reading: the War of Art by Steven Pressfield
  • Unwillingness to change or minimize the damage of one’s bad trait e.g. bad temper or tardiness because of 1) the laziness to empathize with the other party who suffers due to your shortcomings or 2) if this is caused by “because others have done this unto me” kind of sentiment, the laziness to reject that invalid sentiment. In both cases I strongly suspect it’s because of laziness to fight our impulses.
  • (Often unconscious) unwillingness to stop talking in the conversation, arguably due to the unrealized laziness to realize the importance of being a decent listener in a social setting. Or the inability to give good response to what the other party says due to laziness to think of a decent response. (Is “I’m not a good conversationalist” or “I’m shy and awkward” a valid reason? Maybe, if you haven’t been living around talking humans, it is)
  • Voicing ignorant opinions in public (in conversation as well as social media) without qualifying words to indicate one’s uncertainty or even worse, with conviction, due to the laziness to do the work required to have an opinion (https://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2013/04/the-work-required-to-have-an-opinion/)
  • Related to the previous point, prejudice and discrimination against others. This is a huge, complex issue with a lot of factors coming into play (evolutionary, socio-cultural, historical, education, etc). Let me state the context first to minimize the risk of voicing an ignorant opinion in public: I’m talking about prejudice and discrimination against others in the modern, information-era world, where people can find out about things if people want to.
    Prejudice (“an unfair feeling of dislike for a person or group because of race, sex, religion, etc”) and discrimination (“the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people”) can be caused by upbringing where parents inform you that certain groups have certain qualities with anecdotes that back their opinions, unfortunate personal observation or experiences which may not be statistically sound (“All men are jerks”, “Foreign women just want your money”?), the media, etc. There are many instances of laziness in generalizing, jumping absurdly far to conclusion, forming opinions with so many fallacies as if the list of fallacies is treated as the guideline to forming opinions. I suspect that this is all caused by the laziness to understand the other side (just like the personal trait-related laziness); one may be too lazy to educate oneself about others by having enough direct interactions with members of the other group, traveling overseas to see different ways of life, by reading articles or books about other cultures, or maybe about evolutionary science to understand how similar to each other we actually are (and how did I get here from talking about being lazy?)
It seems like we can sum up the bad kind of laziness as the disinclination to exertion of reasoning and empathy to overcome the less savoury part of our human nature.
The disinclination to activity or exertion, both in the good way and the bad way, often makes a person. And the peculiar distribution of the disinclination among our species (e.g. the fact that some industrialists take efficiency to the next level while many people don’t think about it. Or the fact that some people overcome their personal demons to become great while most don’t) makes our modern civilization.
(*Note: What is “good”? What is “bad”? In a very simplistic manner, I’ll take “good” and “bad” here as how those words mean to me. “Good” things have potential long term benefit for an individual and the society and “bad” things are the opposite. It’s a poor definition but let’s save that for another philosophical discussion one day.)
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Why podcasts are awesome, and which ones you should listen to

I was quite skeptical about listening to podcasts as I liked listening to music better than people talking. The idea of listening to podcast was something I heard at my internship at an insurance company, where self-help/salesmanship genre is very vital in developing their sales force. I remember that one of the top salesmen said that his boss advised him to listen to talks by Brian Tracy in the car, because why should he listen to music? He’s a salesman not a musician. The reason was absurd to me. He said he doesn’t necessarily pay attention to every word said by Brian Tracy, but it probably affects his subconscious.
Two years later, I discovered Tim Ferriss’ podcasts as he posted a new episode with one of my favourite bloggers, Maria Popova (brainpickings.org). I listened to that episode and instantly got hooked. There’s so much information and insight in that one episode. Now I’d go “Why would anyone not listen to podcast?” and the answer is often “I would lose focus if it’s just audio.” You’ll get used to it, and it’ll be worth it.
I downloaded one podcast app on Android but that one isn’t as good as the one that I’m using right now which is Podcast Addict. I started listening to podcast when commuting, and realized that was one of the life tweaks I made this year.
Why I love listening to podcasts (or maybe audiobooks)
  1. It’s my best discovery in utilization of time so far
    Commuting takes time. You’ll be on your smartphone scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. That is if the train or the bus is not jam packed and you can hardly move let alone hold a phone in front of you without taking other people’s space. Listening to quality podcast is like reading a book where you get quality information (as opposed to the info on your news feed) without having to stare on the phone and get distracted from things you should be watching.
  2. You can do it while doing tasks that can’t be done simultaneously with reading
    When you’re walking or cleaning your house or showering or doing menial labour or using a computer software for a work that doesn’t involve words (like 3D CAD), you can listen to podcast and they don’t interfere with each other due to the different parts of brain used to process the two activities.
  3. Listening gives you a different experience from reading or watching a movie
    When reading an interview, sometimes you miss the tone of speech that gives nuances to things that people say, or gives a hint of the interviewee’s personality like the intensity and conviction in the answers he/she gives.
    When it’s a narrative, you probably miss the visual representation of the story, but it gives you the space to imagine. When the narrator is particularly good, it’s a whole new experience.
    If you’re an audio kind of learner, you’ll remember things better when it’s narrated rather than written.
  4. These podcasters often have good public speaking skills you can learn from
    Some podcasters rely only on their voice to capture and sustain audience’s attention. Good content matters but delivery quality is particularly crucial when you don’t have visual crutches.
  5. It’s one way to learn foreign languages
    Listening is one of the main parts of learning a language and you can find many language learning podcast. Even if during your commute you don’t focus to listen to every single word and try to transcribe it, you’ll get accustomed to the way the language is spoken by a native speaker and it helps in the long term if you listen to it regularly.
  6. The contents are good if you find the right ones and sometimes they’re only available in the audio format if not transcribed.
Here are a few of my favourite podcasts, and my personal favourite episodes of each podcasts for those who are not sure where to start:
  1. The Tim Ferriss Show
    Tim Ferriss started his podcast as a fun project before he got serious and now he has more than 100 episodes. He has an impressive list of guests from various domains of expertise: Rick Rubin, Peter Thiel, General Stanley McChrystal, Jamie Foxx, Tony Robbins among others. common theme is to deconstruct how the top performers achieve what they’ve achieved; their habits, routines, the book they read, etc. He asks specific questions and he doesn’t waste the audience’s time by cracking jokes the audience don’t want to hear (which other podcasters do).
    Favourite episodes: Jocko Willink, Jamie Foxx, Naval Ravikant.
  2. Jocko Podcast
    When Jocko Willink appeared as a guest on Tim Ferriss’ podcast and Joe Rogan’s podcast, both hosts suggested eagerly that he start his own podcast. He did, despite barely knowing how to navigate the interwebz (this is how he refers to the internet), and the result has so far been awesome.
    During the first half of each episode Jocko discusses a book, usually on military and war, and how some passages are related to life, business, or his own experiences in Iraq. During the second half, he and Echo Charles answer “questions from the interwebz”, usually about general life advice and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (Jocko is a black belt, training in Dean Lister’s gym in San Diego). I’m not sure which I like more, the book discussion or the Q&A. Both will widen your perspective and motivate you like nothing else (especially Jocko’s answer to the last question of the Q&A).
    Listen to this podcast with an open mind, because otherwise probably you would find it too intense. Follow his Twitter too.
    Favourite episodes: Episode 5, Episode 6, Episode 13, Episode 23.
  3. Hardcore History with Dan Carlin
    Dan Carlin is an amateur historian and an excellent narrator. According to Tim Ferriss, he did a research before starting his podcast and asked people about their favourite podcasts, and found that Dan Carlin’s always gets mentioned in the top 5. His episodes are as long as 4 hours and they look daunting at first, but give one episode a try, and you’ll understand why.
    I look for an historian’s opinion on his podcast and found one on Quora. They may not be pleased about his academic rigour, but no one can dispute his narrating prowess.
    Favourite episodes: Wrath of the Khans I – V (no longer free, but worth buying), Blueprint for Armageddon I – VI (on World War I)
  4. The Joe Rogan Experience
    Joe Rogan is the ex-host of Fear Factor, a UFC color commentator, a stand-up comedian, a Taekwondo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, a fitness enthusiast, a psychoactive experimentation advocate, a hunter, and a few other things. He reads books and watches documentaries. These make him a very interesting and funny podcast host. His guests are quite diverse, although there are a considerable number of stand-comedians and fighters among them. He has had Neil deGrasse Tyson, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, Buck Angel, Ronda Rousey, and Steve Maxwell among his many guests (almost 800 episodes in 6 years, with some repeat guests).
    Favourite episodes: Miesha Tate, Buck Angel, Steve Maxwell
  5. Common Sense with Dan Carlin
    Besides Hardcore History, Mr Carlin has a political podcast. I like how he asks good (and polemical) questions, tries to view the problem in a non-partisan manner (he likens himself as an observer from outer space, although sometimes he admits to disliking some public figures), and explains terms and policies to enlighten others about what’s going on.
  6. Martyrmade Podcast
    I found out about this podcast from Jocko Willink’s tweet that recommended this podcast if you like Hardcore History. I was skeptical. Who can narrate as well as Dan Carlin? Daryl Cooper has a different style and is clearly highly dedicated in his research. He tries to understand the problem from all perspectives he can think of, and I really appreciate that. But what I admire the most is his guts in choosing the extremely difficult and controversial topic for the first few episodes: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    Favourite episodes: Fear and Loathing in New Jerusalem series
  7. On Being
    Krista Tippett asks profound questions: “What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?” The podcast is has a spiritual theme nuanced with each of the diverse guests. I listened to one particularly eye-opening episode featuring two Jesuit Vatican astrophysicists talking about their Catholic faiths and the science they devote their lives for, and how they reconcile the two seemingly incompatible continua.
    Favourite episodes: Indigo Girls, Brother Guy Consolmagno and Father George Coyne.
  8. Inside Quest
    Tom Bilyeu, the co-founder of the second fastest-growing U.S. company, Quest Nutrition, hosts a show that features top-level people in various fields too, with a different style, different set of guests, and shorter duration.
    Favourite episodes: Firas Zahabi, 10 Things Tom Bilyeu Learned from IQ This Year, Carol Dweck.
  9. Slowed down foreign language podcasts: Slow German with Annik Rubens and Slow Chinese (满足中文)
    I’m learning these two languages and have pledged to listen to at least one episode of each every day just to expose myself to these languages spoken at a pace where I can catch the words.
  10. Recently I have just subscribed to a few other podcasts and listened to a few of their episodes, which so far have been great too:
    1. The Freakonomics Radio
    2. The Engineering Commons
    3. The Tony Robbins Podcast
    4. Philosophize This
I hope this list gets you jumping into the rabbit hole I wish I had entered earlier. Have fun!

The starter kit to get your act together

From what I’ve read and heard, and from years of interaction with other humans, I think it’s fair to conclude that everyone has experienced these scenarios:
  1. Crossroad moment: you need to choose one out of two or more possibilities and you don’t know which one will be a better choice.
  2. Rock bottom period: you’ve screwed up in one area and the realisation that you’ve screwed up makes you sad and angry with yourself but instead of picking up, you screw up in other areas. And you feel worse and worse. It’s like nothing is going right in your life at this moment.
  3. Uncomfortable comfortable period: you’re doing fine in every aspect of your life including career, finances, health, relationships, etc, but something’s not quite right. You feel like you should make some changes (big or small) but you don’t know what, how, when, and why.

Although the three scenarios above sound undesirable, I feel that they’re necessary. They’re the moments that will change you for the better 1) if you want them to change you 2) if you know how to ensure that the direction of change is a positive one.

There’s one problem: we’re thrown to life without one comprehensive guidebook that will tell you what exactly to do in every scenario, like an equipment operating manual.
Thankfully, we are living in an age where we can look very, very far back and in that long period of time, a lot of other people have figured things out and written guide books for us (e.g. religious and philosophical texts in the olden days, and self-help books in the 20th and 21st centuries). This age is particularly a convenient one where the inefficiency (in terms of cost, time, and physical distance) in information transmission has been dramatically reduced through the Internet.
There’s one problem: there are guide books, not just one. This is a form of inefficiency in itself, albeit a good one. The good thing is that we have choices. The not-so-easy (but not bad) thing is we have to make a decision (and end up in another scenario #1, when you want to get through it).
The decision-making is inevitable, so why not do it. In writing this, I’d like to help others cut short their crossroad moment in deciding where to look for guidance (not which guide books). After all discovery is an essential part of life, and it’s huge fun, if you know where to start.
This info in this starter kit is free. The items listed may not be. The items are mostly sources of information, and they do two things: 1) enhance the tool you already have, that is your own mind 2) open up possibilities whether in the form of hyperlinks (literal or figurative) which you can follow for further discoveries, or in the form of your enhanced mind being able to understand more things. An enhanced mind gets you through the three scenarios more easily.
So here’s to start:
BOOKS
  1. Mindset by Carol Dweck
    In this book, Dweck proposed that there are two mindsets namely the growth and fixed mindsets. Adopting a growth mindset is more beneficial in most aspects in life. More than this basic premise, this book serves as a ruthless, yet constructive mirror for you to reflect on, and for you to work on the areas you need to work on.
  2. The Four-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss
    You might not like this book. Tim was fairly young when he wrote this book and probably that explained his rather flippant tone in the book. Anyway, to me personally, a lot of the suggestions in that book are pretty much things I wouldn’t try. But a good book makes you think. And that book made me ponder for 6 months whether I like Tim or not. In the appendix, there is a list of recommended books. I went to read those. And then I started listening to his podcast. And then I decided, that my first not-so-positive reaction to the book was because of my ego. This book challenges your ego and your assumptions about life, work and society. And those challenges are good.
    Tim is, like what this article hopes to be but way more so, a gateway drug to many good learning opportunities. He recommends great books, he interviews top-level people in various fields, he asks great questions, he wrote good books that are gateways to other good stuff too.
  3. Poor Charlie’s Almanack: the Wit and Wisdom of Charlie Munger by Peter D. Kaufman 
    Warren Buffett’s partner is much less well-known and that’s a plus point because knowing his works and wisdom will make you a cool hipster among the wisdom-nerds. Well, that’s totally besides the point. This book is intimidating because it’s thick and of a dimension that’s not suitable for leisure reading, but it’s more than worth it. The wisdom in this book is not the fluffy kind. It’s very much rooted to reality, good ethics, and self-made intellect.
PODCASTS
  1. The Tim Ferriss Show
    Tim Ferriss interviews top-level people in various fields. You feel like you hang out with smart people as you listen to the episodes of this podcast, and I guess… that can make you smarter in the long run.
  2. Inside Quest
    Tom Bilyeu, the co-founder of the second fastest-growing U.S. company, Quest Nutrition, hosts a show that features top-level people in various fields too, with a different style, different set of guests, and shorter duration.
  3. Jocko Podcast
    Jocko Willink is a retired US Navy SEAL and a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt who co-founded a business consulting company and co-wrote a great book on leadership with his ex-teammate. In each episode he would discuss a book, usually related to war, and answers “questions from the interwebz” with his co-host Echo Charles. Jocko is really good with words; he knows how to choose and say the words that will move you. His podcast, like the other two recommended podcasts, is motivational but not the cheesy kind at all because of the presence of real substances. Word of warning though: you should listen to this podcast with an open mind especially if you claim to be a liberal.

BLOGS

  1. Farnam Street Blog
    Shane Parrish has a simple goal: to help readers go to bed each night smarter than when they woke up by giving tools, ideas, and frameworks for thinking. Shane feels that he’s not smart enough to figure all of this out himself so he tries to master the best of what other people have already figured out by reading a lot and “making friends with the eminent dead” (he borrowed Charlie Munger’s term, which is borrowed from Benjamin Franklin, which is possibly borrowed from Lucius Annaeus Seneca) which means learning from the wise men and women in the olden days. Shane quotes a lot from books and adds his own concise writing to weave the quotes together. His articles are of the right length and he often uses pleasant point form. He recommends a lot of books and hosts his own podcast.
  2. Barking Up the Wrong Tree
    Eric Barker “brings you science-based answers and expert insight on how to be awesome at life” in nice, reader-friendly point form and summary at the end of every article.
  3. Seth Godin’s blog
    Seth is THE marketing guru. He writes a lot about marketing but don’t let his apparent specialisation fool you. His wisdom transcends the world of marketing and his free, concise, insightful daily newsletter is always refreshing and thought-provoking.
These are the nine items (out of so many others I am tempted to recommend) that I feel deserve to be in the starter kit for their time-insensitive relevance and flexibility, that is, you could be of any profession and reading or listening to them in year 2084 and I’m quite optimistic they’ll still be relevant. That is because of the common denominators that are focused on: focus on materialistic reality, continuous improvement and deep understanding of human nature as an individual and in the society. These things have hardly changed in the last 20,000 years despite other changes in terms of technology and lifestyle.
We’ve got thousand of years of our predecessors’ wisdom to use against our life challenges, and when we have a starting point, we shall overcome.