Wednesday, December 19, 2012


A few days ago a friend asked me if I would be willing to put a friend of his in contact with the CEO of a company where his friend wanted to work. I said I would be glad to do so. My friend, who is a successul Internet entrepreneur, forwarded me an email from his friend with her resume and cover letter. I forwarded the email to the CEO of the company and cc'ed my friend. Within hours the CEO replied saying he had forwarded the information to the appropriate person. But a few hours later he sent us another email telling us that my friend's friend had already applied for a job in his company and that she had misaddressed her original cover letter to another company. This seemed like a particularly serious mistake given that she was applying for an administrative position in which attention to details was very important.

Not only had my friend's friend blown her chances of getting the job, even though she had an endorsement directly into the CEO, but she had embarrassed her friend who had gone out of his way to help her (by asking me to make the connection). Why did I tell this story to the boys? Cindy and I often give them a hard time when their school work, or anything else they do for that matter, has any typos or mistakes. The boys typical response is that an extra space, comma or letter is not a big deal. And it is probably true that in most circumstances a small error wont make a big difference (unless you are programming a spaceship for a Mars landing of course). Yet if we don't get into the habit of always proofreading and double-checking what we do, a mistake will at some point catch up to us - like it did for my friend's friend. I, for example, proofread every email I send (even if it is a silly one to a friend). And I am amazed at the number of emails that I get with typos and errors. Now, let me proofread this post before I embarras myself. I hope my spellchecker is working...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Routine Sex

Paco spoke to us about the power of routines - and how they get you to do stuff you would otherwise struggle with. For example, one of Paco's routines is to wake up at 6:15am ever weekday to do his piano practice. Since he has been doing this he no longer worries or struggles about practicing the piano. It simply happens "automatically" every morning... I mentioned I feel the same way about my swimming: when I swim with the masters team every monday, wednesday and friday from 12:30 to 1:30 it just happens. Otherwise, I stress about finding the time to exercise (and doing so properly).

We spoke about the importance of avoiding exemptions. I've found that unless I am "religious" about not missing a single workout it becomes a very slippery slope from missing one because of an important meeting to missing  most for all sort of "important" reasons. Being strict also reduces stress: no need to decide what justifies breaking the routine and what doesn't. Nothing does.

We then spoke about whether doing something as a routine rather than spontaneously takes any merit or value away from it. Is it less meaningful if you call your grandmother every Friday afternoon (as a routine) instead of when you think of her? What about if you want to make an act of kindness every day thus enter a routine of doing "something" every day at lunchtime? How about a routine of saying something nice to your significant other every morning after you wake up? I don't think making something a routine takes anything away from it. It sure makes it more likely that you will do it - which is what matters the most.

Now, don't ask me about the title please ;-)...

Monday, December 3, 2012


Nico made an intriguing observation this morning: after our car slows down and comes to a full stop our bodies move backwards instead of forward. Shouldn't our bodies move forward, due to inertia, as the car stops? Since we were in the car we conducted an experiment to validate Nico's observation. Sure enough: once the car stops, our bodies moves back, not forward. What is going on? After a second experiment we figured it out: As the car is slowing down our bodies do move forward (very gradually because I am a great driver who slows down gradually ;-). But, when the car stops completely, the negative acceleration that is moving our bodies forward disappears so our bodies move backwards to settle into their normal pose. What Nico perceives as backwards motion is just the "undoing" of the previous forward motion. But because the forward motion is so gradual he barely notices it.

We sometimes experience similar contradictory emotions: have you ever felt bad at the end of a great experience, such as a vacation? I have. The great experience makes us feel particularly good, but when it is over we return to our normal emotional state - which by comparison feels bad (even thought it felt just fine before the experience).

Two takeaways:

1) We are very sensitive to sudden changes, even if they are small. Try to perform activities that generate small but frequent positive feelings. These are better than infrequent ones that generate hugely positive experiences or those that are so gradual we can't appreciate.

2) When you have to go through a negative experience, do the opposite: go for one big sudden blow, rather than lots of little ones. Or, make it so gradual that you can't notice it.