You can only control the process

I copied this from this webpage.

Sports is inherently complex.

There are many variables that affect the outcome of the game. Most of these variables are not within the control of players or the coach. There are too many plays, statistics and countermoves for a person to remember them all. To try and control all of them would be sheer madness.

But after speaking with psychiatry professor Lionel Rosen, Nick Saban realised that the average play in football lasts just seven seconds.

It’s impossible to read and execute every play to perfection for the entire game. But seven seconds? Anyone can do that. Execute, rest, repeat and you eventually have a game.

Excellence is a matter of steps. Excelling at the first thing, then the second, and then the next. The process is about staying in the present and laying siege to the obstacle in front of you. It’s about not getting distracted by anything else that comes your way.

Saban’s teams have done that — and then some. They started by winning games. Now, they are winning championships.

My 2019 Goals

I wish I was better.

A better dad. A better husband. Better at praying and seeking God. A better worker, eater, reader, friend. Better helping around the house and sticking to our family budget. Better at listening and empathizing. Better at keeping my word.

I want to be a better version of myself. I think we all do, whether we admit it or not. It’s part of what makes us human.

But where does this feeling come from?

I think we know, deep down, that we’re capable of a little bit more. That we’re not leaving it all on the court, so to speak. That what we have to show for ourselves at the end of each day doesn’t tell the whole story about the passions and ambitions inside of us.

The problem is, we lack those last drops of self-discipline—that evasive “last-mile” effort needed to make any real progress. We start exercising, but give up. We eat better, but only for a few days. We reach out to friends, but quit when things get complicated.

That’s me. I’m notoriously bad at goals and New Year’s Resolutions. I didn’t make any in 2018 because I knew I’d fail.

But I’m done with that. I’m capable of so much more than my 2018. So this year, I’m starting from ground zero. I’m making 2019 about the fundamentals, because I’m still bad at those.

I have three goals for Q1 2019. Come April, I’ll evaluate my progress and decide what to do for Q2.

  1. Jog for 30 minutes every weekday.
  2. Read one book per month.
  3. Get lunch with a friend once per week.

This post is my way of keeping myself accountable. I also want to challenge others to do this with me—DM me on Twitter if you’re interested.

Hartshorne on God

From what I understand, Charles Hartshorne broke the first ground on synthesizing Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy into some kind of digestible theology.

The following selection comes from his book Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes (1984).

In Plato’s Republic one finds the proposition: God, being perfect, cannot change (not for the better, since “perfect” means that there can be no better; not for the worse, since ability to change for the worse, to decay, degenerate, or become corrupt, is a weakness, an imperfection). The argument may seem cogent, but it is so only if two assumptions are valid: that it is possible to conceive of a meaning for “perfect” that excludes change in any and every respect and that we must conceive God as perfect in just this sense.

Charles Hartshorne

I’ve been more or less obsessed with process philosophy/theology lately. I’ll explain why in a later post.

College as consumer good

I had the top comment on a Gary Vaynerchuk LinkedIn post last week. Sparked some good discussion. Thought I’d share here.

“Today, college is about an ‘experience,’ not an education. It wasn’t always this way, but we’re here now. This means the problem is much deeper than finding other ways to educate yourself and become ’employable.’ It’s about addressing people’s deep-set need to enjoy their life and not miss out on ‘milestone’ experiences (like college). We literally go into lifetimes of debt in order to not feel bad about ourselves — to not feel we missed out on an experience that, frankly, many college graduates would give up if they could go back in time.”

To put this more simply, I think college is a consumer good for most kids. Not 100% a consumer good, but more than 50%.

Lots of kids go mostly because they want the experience, and not to become employable or learn real things (beyond “life lessons”).

A test for this theory might be to compare time spent studying with grade trends at major universities. Especially easy-to-get-into state institutions.

This isn’t (necessarily) about the cost of college, the quality of college education, or whether college is a worthwhile investment. I’m simply saying that many kids go just to have an experience. Whether it’s worth the cost is something everyone should decide for themselves. But making a good decision in this regard requires us to be honest with ourselves about our (and our kids’) motives and about what actually goes on at college.

I love my college experience. It shaped me socially, professionally and spiritually in ways well worth the cost, in my opinion. But is that necessarily true for everyone who goes? For even the majority of students?

Those are fair and important questions to ask.

DBH on Religion

I transcribed the below from this video. I like this. It’s a different way of thinking about religion and God—one I find more compatible with my common observations of things.

“I never take any religion as a closed system of propositions, every one of which is true, or true in the same way. I think of all religions as cultural artifacts that express truths, or fail to express them, in ways determined as much by cultural history as by anything else.

It’s not the case, by the way, that after you move away from the basic affirmation that God is the basic absolute that you immediately run into irreconcilable differences. There are all sorts of realms of experience — devotional experience, mystical experience — and other affirmations about moral life where you find commonality of experience and concept.

But we’re talking about the human experience of the infinite source of all that is. There’s no way that could be reducible to a single set of internally consistent propositions that exclude all other approaches. These approaches are going to be mythological, spiritual, philosophical, ethical. They’re going to contradict each other in some details and affirm one another in others. Among the traditions that are serious traditions — not the kind of religion you might make up in order to sell a product — they can all converge upon the same truths, with all the fallibility that every human approach to truth exhibits. In the same way that different schools in the sciences are going to diverge from one another.

Ideally, at some point, there is a theoretical breakthrough that will reconcile the differences, or show that one theoretical path was sterile. In a sense, that’s true also of religious experience, but it’s not going to be in the realm of empirical investigations.

But yes, many religions can be true, in the sense that they are speaking of the truth in the best way the cultural traditions to which they belong allows them to do so, while at the same time differing from one another on specific affirmations which may be right or wrong.”

Percy on present-ness

How did it happen that now he could see everything so clearly. Something had given him leave to live in the present. Not once in his entire life had he come to rest in the quiet center of himself but had forever cast himself from some dark past he could not remember to a future that did not exist. Not once had he been present for his life. So his life had passed like a dream. Is it possible for people to miss their lives the way one can miss a plane?

Walker Percy, The Second Coming

A concise definition of Austrian Economics

I’ve copied these 10 points from Steve Horwitz’s valuable post on this subject. They succinctly define the tenets of Austrian economics.

  1. Only individuals choose.
  2. The study of the market order is fundamentally about exchange behavior and the institutions within which exchanges take place.
  3. The “facts” of the social sciences are what people believe and think.
  4. Utility and costs are subjective.
  5. The price system economizes on the information that people need to process in making their decisions.
  6. Private property in the means of production is a necessary condition for rational economic calculation.
  7. The competitive market is a process of entrepreneurial discovery.
  8. Money is non-neutral.
  9. The capital structure consists of heterogeneous goods that have multi-specific uses that must be aligned.
  10. Social institutions often are the result of human action, but not of human design.

On their own, these points might seem somewhat vague and obvious. But they’re worded carefully here—it’s what’s implied when we take them as fact that gets interesting.

For more on Austrian economics, read this.

What is God?

There’s enough here to ponder for a lifetime, if you take what he’s saying seriously. From the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Best to begin, following Thomas Aquinas, by saying what God is not. God is not the biggest being in the universe, or outside of the universe. God is not a discrete entity, like you or me, or a cloud or an atom or a quark, or (if one can put it this way) the universe itself as a whole. Nor is God the clockmaker, winding up time and matter and letting them run their course on their own.

God is the eternal and immaterial fullness of being and life that is the condition of there being anything at all. Infinitely rich and inexhaustibly beautiful, God is being itself, and as such, goodness and truth. Singular and simple, God lacks nothing yet, out of boundless and inexplicable love, creates what is other than himself, that which is not God. Distinct from God, what is not God — which is to say, everything: creation — is nevertheless bound to God, dependent at every moment and in every respect. Yet this dependence is not debilitating but enabling. It is the source of power and identity and, for living creatures, agency and, for rational creatures, freedom. To be is to depend on God for everything, and to acknowledge and celebrate this dependence is to be alive, fully alive, transparent to the source and end and empowering life that fills and moves all living things.

Brad East (channeling David Bentley Hart)

Einstein on God

I’m not an atheist, and I don’t think I can call my self a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.

Albert Einstein

My new piece on optimism

I got published today at Be Yourself (a Medium publication). Topic is optimism—why it’s good for us, why it’s good for those around us.

That is, why our optimism is good for those around us. And not just good, but necessary if we want the best for those we love.

I’m an optimist. I have to be—I see no other way to be functional, given what’s happened in my life and what I see day in and day out. It’s like eating healthy or working out, and arguably more important than both of those things for people who care about whole-person (not just physical) well-being.

I’d appreciate your thoughts, either here or on Medium. Are you an optimist? Why or why not? How has your choice either way in this regard impacted your life?

Some scattered thoughts on materialism

Materialism is a belief in material possessions as the primary—even only—key to happiness, and even to spiritual growth. Materialism is typically not explicit or conscious (thanks to barely-enduring stigmas), but it most often manifests in our deep psyches as we think about how to pursue this kind of spiritual progress.

Or you might simply say materialism is the preoccupation with material things versus intellectual or spiritual things as the highest and best use of our energies, even in regard to achieving spiritual progress.

Material goods are, of course, necessary to survive. Even the Bible itself is rife with allusions to material goods as something to be enjoyed. It uses material abundance as an analogy for the wealth we’re to find in Christ.

“In my Father’s house are many mansions.”

John 14:2

But materialism (as I defined above) is most definitely bad, so I think materialism in practice is typically very subtle. To move from enjoying material goods to believing in material goods is hard to catch, and it’s something to which we all fall prey from time to time—perhaps more now in America than ever before.

Even gift-giving can be a subtle form of materialism. I do think most people have good intentions when buying things for others—that most don’t believe so much that a gift itself brings happiness, but that the act of giving is what makes the recipient—or the giver—happy. But even this is a subtle form of materialism.

What does materialism replace? If we believe in material goods as the key to happiness now, what did we believe before? Or what else could we possibly believe?

I don’t think materialism is an idol. I just think it powerfully weakens our psyches—especially our ability to be robust and resilient.

Like any vice, materialism happens on two extremes – on either side of a healthy and balanced view of material possessions. On one end is the view that material goods are all important. On the other is the view that material goods don’t matter. Both lead to an unhealthy excess, the latter in an ironic way — no regard for the needs of others, no realization of your excess.

(In other words, minimalism is a form of materialism, because it implies that the solution lies in some optimal arrangement of the material.)

What I learned from my brother

I shared this note on Facebook yesterday.

It seems to have encouraged lots of people, so thought I’d share it here.

I hesitated to publish this anywhere, at first. I wrote it for myself—to get my thoughts on paper. I hadn’t been able to do that in regards to my brother until last week.

But I want people to remember Matt. And there’s no point in hiding the hard truths. Unfortunately, we all lose we people love, at some point or other—sometimes in terrible ways. What’s important isn’t that we avoid these things, but learn how to put it all into some workable perspective.

Here’s a quote to go along with the note:

There is, of course, some comfort to be derived from the thought that everything that occurs at the level of secondary causality – in nature or history – is governed not only by a transcendent providence but by a universal teleology that makes every instance of pain and loss an indispensable moment in a grand scheme whose ultimate synthesis will justify all things. But one should consider the price at which the comfort is purchased: it requires us to believe in and love a God whose good ends will be realized not only in spite of – but entirely by way of – every cruelty, every fortuitous misery, every catastrophe, every betrayal, every sin the world has ever known; it requires us to believe in the eternal spiritual necessity of a child dying an agonizing death from diphtheria, of a young mother ravaged by cancer, of tens of thousands of Asians swallowed in an instant by the sea, of millions murdered in death camps and gulags and forced famines (and so on). It is a strange thing indeed to seek peace in a universe rendered morally intelligible at the cost of a God rendered morally loathsome.

Now we are able to rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that he will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes; and that, rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, he will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes – and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away and he that sits upon the throne will say, ‘Behold, I make all things new.

David Bentley Hart

How many people have seen a ghost?

That headline is one of the questions covered in the newest installment in my Survey Says series on Medium.

I also cover time-travel, the spirit-world, visions, and belief in aliens.

Suffice it to say, this was a pretty fun survey. I’m surprised by some of the findings (25% of people have seen a ghost?), but not by the overall takeaway—that we’re a lot more superstitious than we let on.

Sure, it’s 2018. Technology is fast-improving. More of us are educated. We know more about the physical world than ever before.

But for better or worse, we often seem relatively unmoved by the most earth-shattering scientific discoveries — even ones with profound potential to enhance the quality of our own lives. Instead, we often cling to superstitious beliefs instead—because, I think, they can be easier to understand (and even easier to believe) than many “scientific” explanations for confusing things.

Anyways, click the link above to read more about my findings. Hope you enjoy!

Focus on YOU, not the UNKNOWN

We worry so much about the unknown.

About things that have never happened before, and aren’t likely to happen at all.

It’s why we spend so much on insurance. Home insurance, health insurance, car insurance, renters insurance. Disability insurance, life insurance, travel insurance, pet insurance. Even oven, microwave & fridge insurance.

Bottom line: We spend a LOT of time and a LOT of money worrying about what MIGHT happen in the future.

But at the end of the day, these things aren’t what makes the difference. What we CAN’T CONTROL might be scary, but it’s what we CAN control that has the biggest impact on our health & happiness. BY FAR.

Things like whether we exercise. Whether we go to church. Whether we slow down and take breaks. Whether we eat right, sleep enough, and stop drinking so much.

Because when you’re healthy, things make more sense. Lower stress, better decisions. And yes, while the big unknowns (cancer, a house fire, stolen identity) are scary, they aren’t what you’ll look back and regret. And ultimately, there’s really nothing you can do to protect yourself entirely. The big, bad things are going to happen, whether you like it or not.

But your daily decisions, on the other hand, are totally up to you.

I’m convinced that if we spent just 10% as much time investing in OURSELVES as we do staving off the unknown, we’d be a lot happier and healthier.

So here’s my idea: Find $200.

Review your monthly expenses on things like insurance, retirement & investment accounts. Find a way to save $200 before the end of 2018.

Then take that $200 and go buy a gym membership. Or take a dance class with your spouse. Or take a cooking class. Or a wine class. Or a Spanish class. Or just take a day off and explore museums downtown.

So many of us have so much, but I promise — it will never be enough. You’ll never “get ahead” on account of your income. You’ll never feel fulfilled by the numbers on your paystub.

What’s important is to be healthy. And I think most of us are better equipped to pursue this kind of health than we’re led to believe.

The best way to prepare for the future is to become a better, more confident person now. Not throw more money at unlikely possibilities that won’t make whatever might happen any easier, in the end.

Our Revealing Perceptions on Gender & Vice

Which gender is more likely to cheat on their spouse? To overreact? To watch pornography? To tell a lie?

These are age-old debates, of course. And we can’t answer these questions for  sure without some pretty massive empirical studies.

But ultimately, I don’t think it’s just the truth that we’re interested in. I think we’re equally as intrigued by what each gender thinks about the other—how men and women think differently about the other sex, and what that means about how we relate to each other.

That’s the subject of this week’s survey—the first in my new Survey Says series, where I use surveys & polls to reveal what we really think about big, important issues (like gender).

Methodology Notes: This survey was fielded online to a random sample of American adults. It’s controlled for age and gender, to roughly match the US general population. More on my methodology here.

Here’s how it worked.

I asked 228 American adults a host of demographic questions: age, religious affiliation, gender, race, and political views. I followed those questions with a list of 20 questions on gender & vice. Each one began like this:

  • In your opinion, which gender is more likely…

And each one ended with something like this:

  • to go broke?
  • to have anxiety?
  • to overreact?
  • to view pornography?

20 “vices” like that. You get the picture.

Finally, the answer options for these questions included:

  • a male
  • a female
  • both genders equally likely

Now, a more entrepreneurial analyst might have said to leave off the third option and force respondents to pick either male or female. That way, we’re sure to get interesting findings.

But I decided this wouldn’t be fair. “Both genders equally likely” is a totally fair opinion—it’s not required someone believe one gender is more likely than the other for every one of these vices. So while forcing respondents to pick either male or female might have yielded more “scandalous” findings, it’s simply not a responsible way to ask that question.

And besides, I find the third answer option as interesting as the other two. It’s the “easy way out,” sure, but given the media’s inflammatory rhetoric surrounding gender in recent years, seeing that become the most popular answer option could put a damper on that unnecessarily divisive perspective.

Two quick notes.

  1. I’m titling this report Gender & Vice, but close readers will note that not every item in this instrument is a “vice.” Namely, I asked which gender is more likely to donate a kidney (obviously not a vice) and help a stranger to serve as foils for flatliners (that is, a quality control).
  2. My sample size here is a bit small. That’s for two reasons. First, this is my first post in this series, and I want to be sure my approach is sound and well-received before dropping more funds into this project. Second, I noticed some clear trends emerging after about 150 responses that I doubt would change, no matter how many respondents I added. I’ll explain more on this later.

Next, some key findings.

Some interesting findings here.

By and large, respondents were most likely to pick “both genders equally likely” across all the vices. This option outsized the sum of male plus female answers for every vice included in the survey except for to have anxiety, to overreact, to kiss and tell, to watch pornography, and to get lost.

In addition, comparing the answers of male respondents with female respondents reveals some interesting—even funny—differences in how each gender perceives the other. While I was tempted to say males appear to be more self-deprecating than females (they were more likely to pick themselves for many of these vices), it’s possible I inadvertently picked vices that males are more likely to see in themselves (I am a male, after all), and that females would be just as likely to pick themselves for other vices I didn’t include here. After all, females were more likely to pick themselves for a few of these vices.

Finally, there are some “groups” of vices here that definitely trend one gender over the other. For example, males were chosen significantly more often than females for vices having to do with relationships and sex (i.e. viewing pornography). Females were chosen significantly more often than males for vices having to do with emotions (i.e. overreacting and having anxiety). I’ll dive into this below.

Some detailed findings.

I know, I know—I’m long-winded. The charts below are what you really came here to see. So have at it!

To make these easier to view, I’ve separated these topline findings into three different charts—one that shows vices that skew neither male nor female, another that shows vices that skew male, and another that shows vices that skew female.

Figure 1: Vices that Skew Neither Male nor Female
These vices showed no large differences between the genders (again, this is what gender was chosen as more likely by the aggregate of all respondents—it has nothing to do, yet, with the genders of the survey respondents).
Figure 2: Vices that Skew Male
Here, we see those vices that respondents were more likely to say males were more likely to do. For some of these, both genders equally likely is by far the most popular answer, though males are still significantly more likely to be chosen than females.

Again, this is the aggregate answers of all respondents, and has nothing to do (yet) with the respondents’ genders.

Figure 3: Vices that Skew Female
Here, you’ll notice the list is a bit smaller. Simply put, respondents as a whole are less likely to answer that females are more likely to do these vices. But the first two rows above show some large, and definitely significant, differences in favor of females.

Cutting the data by gender.

At the beginning of the survey, I asked the following question:

  • With which of the following genders do you identify?

Answer options were male and female. By design (I controlled for gender), the survey sample is roughly half male (47.8%), half female (52.2%). When cutting the data by respondent gender, each segment has more than 100 responses.

This segmentation is what excited me most about this survey. Frankly, I’m not terribly surprised by anything shown in the graphs above. But what follows in the graphs below is definitely interesting.

Note that I’ve only included graphs where there are big differences between males’ and females’ answers. If you don’t see one of the questions in this section, it’s because males and females agree with each other (therefore, the difference between the two genders’ answers is not worth pointing out).

As you view the charts below, remember that each question began identically: In your opinion, which gender is more likely…

And note that the Y-axis is respondents’ genders, and the legend (at bottom) are respondents’ answers.

Both genders think males are more likely to curse in front of their kids. Males are significantly more likely than females to think this.
This is, to me, the most interesting graph in this set. While more than half of both genders think both genders are equally likely to give up their kidney, each gender is significantly more likely to choose their own gender when asked this question.
While both genders are likely to say females are more likely than males to have anxiety, females are far more likely to pick their own gender for this question. Indeed, this is one of just two questions where the majority of at least one gender picked either male or female, and not both genders equally likely.
Approximately the same percent of each gender says males are more likely to be annoying. But males are significantly more likely than females to say that females are more likely to be annoying.
Both genders are considerably more likely to pick their own gender as the one more likely to overeat. Interesting…
Males are far more likely to pick themselves as more likely to cheat in school. Note that almost no females selected their own gender for this one.
Females are significantly less likely to pick males as more likely to help a stranger. Even males are just as likely to pick females as to pick themselves.
While both genders are equally likely to pick males as more likely to tell a lie, males are far more likely than females to say females are more likely to lie. Almost no females, on the other hand, are likely to pick their own gender here.
Males are far more likely to pick their own gender as the one more likely to spend all day watching TV. In other words, might we say men are admittedly lazier than women? I wish I’d asked about laziness.
While males are definitely seen as the gender more likely to cheat on their partner, males are considerably more likely than females to pick females here.

In conclusion…

As I said before, I don’t find any of the topline figures too surprising, and even the cut by gender isn’t a paradigm shifter. I’m not surprised that more of these vices skew male (which, again, may have to do with the kinds of vices I picked). I’m not surprised that both genders equally likely is, by far, the most frequently selected option.

That last point is, indeed, the major finding here—we’re less “gendered” in our perspective of things than I think many social commentators would have us believe. All but a small handful of these vices (plus the two virtues) are seen equally applicable to both males and females.

But remember—this is a survey. It’s people’s stated answers to questions, and doesn’t necessarily reflect subconscious beliefs that influence the way they act in the real world.

For example, I run willingness to pay surveys for companies all the time. A consistent finding is that survey respondents exhibit a higher willingness to pay in a survey than they exhibit in real life (than, that is, their willingness to actually take out their wallet).

When surveying about contentious issues (like gender), these subconscious beliefs are especially important to keep in mind. Many of us are conditioned from a young age to say or think certain things (like, for example, that men and women are equal), and we’ll reflect that training in a survey. But whether we’ve actually internalized these ideals such that we behave in accord with them is a different question—one to keep in mind whenever you’re looking at data like this.

(^That’s me being honest about the value of survey data like this—definitely valuable, but not the final word. Always pair your interpretation of survey data with your intuition and “secondary” research about the topic at hand.)