Mental defaults.

I send out a newsletter every Monday at 9:00 AM Eastern Time. To get my writing in your mailbox each Monday, subscribe to the mailing list. Much obliged.

I’m working harder this year to refine my mindset, reading and applying knowledge that I believe will help me get mentally stronger.

The list of my “top mindset books read in 2022” is as follows. (I’ve read more, but I’ll categorize these as the cream of the crop.)

  • Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman
  • Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute
  • The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel
  • The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer
  • Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shuryu Suzuki

It’s not enough to just read a book. Here’s what I do with each one:

  1. Take detailed notes and highlight memorable quotations.
  2. Review notes for a few days to ‘imprint’ the takeaways into my memory.
  3. Make a list of active projects that I can apply each learning to.
  4. Make a list of reflections for the past 6-12 months.
  5. With each book absorbed, think through how my ‘mental toolbox’ can change to incorporate new perspectives.
  6. Repeat the notes review process (steps 2+3+4) each month. Schedule this in my calendar so that I don’t forget.

The key to all this is intentionality. If you read without the intention to retain or apply new knowledge, it becomes useless after a few days.

This is what ails people who don’t believe in reading books. They treat books like disposable TV shows, which they are, if no effort is made to retain the key points.

Reading books is incredible ROI if done right, with the proper intentions.

All the time we spend scheduling meetups with people with average ability, only to glean one semi-usable insight after several hours of conversation? We could have gotten that, and much more, from a book in the same amount of time.

It helps that I’m introverted. I don’t socialize for the sake of it. I’d much rather be reading — or watching Netflix, if I’m being honest — than seeking socialization. The great thing about getting older is that you stop trying to be someone you’re not; most of the time, at least.

And here’s where the curveball comes in. Despite my seemingly well-designed framework of learning from books, I still find myself defaulting back to ‘mental defaults’ from time to time.

For example, I’m actively training my mind to not be affected by the musings of random people on the internet whose opinions hold very little weight. All five of my recommended reads touch on this subject in some shape or form. Following my own framework of applied knowledge and reflection, I should be immune to the online bullshit.

Some of those people have become recently critical of my “work” — as I’m creating content publicly — and I should not care. I should let it slide off my back, like water from a wet toad. (Is that even a saying? Spur of the moment thing. Sorry.)

The other day I went for a morning run and couldn’t shake the online criticism from my mind. Here I was, enjoying the great outdoors, getting incrementally better as a runner each day…and I was thinking about some stupid comment that ultimately meant nothing to me.

Or at least, is number 1,987 on the things James Should Give a Fuck About.

My first reaction:

Shit, I’m falling back to my old behaviors. I should be stronger than this. This is exactly what I’m subjecting myself to — systematic reading, knowledge and reflection — to avoid.

My second reaction, developed through countless trial and error attempts:

Don’t worry about it. You’re worried about it now, but that’s because you’ve behaved this way for decades. You are a product of your environment and circumstances. You’ve been defensive-minded for most of your life. Don’t kill yourself over it.

It’s better not to hide this thought. Rather, lean into this thought and think about why you’re feeling the way you do right now.

Why do I feel this way? The world, and people in the world, have a right to their opinions. I can’t go around attempting to control the narrative about them, and about me. That’s dishonest. If they have a criticism, that’s their right. They can do their thing; I can do mine.

Remember that criticism can be constructive. Can I analyze the feedback with a clear head and process the things that are actually valid? To pretend criticism doesn’t exist is lying to myself. What can I take away from their negativity? Even if something is negative, it can still be valid.

The important thing is to not lash out publicly at critics. There are content creators with much better positions than I do, much bigger platforms, that are being attacked every day. Sometimes people overreact and then it’s over for them in an instant. This is the tip of the iceberg in my journey.

Besides, if I’m freaking out about this now, what does it say about my long-term viability as a creative or creator? If I get a bigger platform over time, due to my own hard work, am I going to shrivel up and die when there are ten times as much haters, or critics, of my work? I intend to play the long game.

No, let this be a learning moment for me. I need to embrace the anxiety and come through. I’m also responding the way I am right now because I have a lizard brain, and all humans have lizard brains, and it’s defaulting to a ‘fight or flight’ mentality.

No, discretion is best. Discretion is the better part of valor. Let this be an instructive moment.

All of these thoughts completed before my run was complete.

And that’s the real power of books — they put wise voices in your head, to assist you in dealing with your personal demons and natural defaults.

Take care of yourself, and be well.


To get my writing in your mailbox every Monday, subscribe to the mailing list. Much obliged.


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