Human Creativity Will Prosper in the AGI Era

As the competition for AI application dominance heats up among tech companies, there is much speculation around the implications of machine-learning on the future of humanity—particularly artistic expression like literature and music.

While automation may very well kill off the editing job that I currently hold (addendum: formerly held), I have faith that my other disciplines – DJing and writing – will stand the test of time.

My confidence in this belief comes from their human, storytelling element that cannot be replicated by machines—these means of communication rely on feeling (instinct, environmental feedback) to create content that panders to and resonates with an audience, as opposed to the learned data used by AI.

Rudimental Machine Learning Applications

Lately, ChatGPT is a buzzword on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Many have it on their radar as a threat to the future of writing. However, in my opinion, unless you draft wills for a living or are a stenographer, you don’t have much cause for alarm. But we’ll get to that.

Granted, you’re at least vaguely familiar with artificial intelligence (AI). Even if you’ve somehow never heard the term, chances are high you use it routinely in your daily life.

Take for example Apple Maps rerouting you on your drive home to avoid traffic backups, or the use of facial recognition to unlock your devices. If you’re still in the dark ages and don’t own a smartphone, you’ve encountered AI used by credit card companies to track purchases you make, and create a fraud alert if a given expenditure seems to not fit the pattern of your past purchase behaviors (price, time.

These are instances of machine learning (ML), in which algorithms compile and store data. The algorithms are then used to make predictions for future outcomes through inference based on past patterns of preferences.

ChatGPT, in particular, is a type of natural language processing (NLP), a factitious linguistics tool that allows machines to read and interpret syntax. The technology takes text written by humans and translates it into computer inputs.

As with other forms of machine learning, NLP analyzes a backlog of stored data to draw inferences through pattern recognition—the data is leveraged to “learn,” i.e., improve performance of a given task. And from what we’ve seen so far, the results are pretty eye-popping.

It’s impressive how ChatGPT can generate plausible prose, relevant and well-structured, without any understanding of the world — without overt goals, explicitly represented facts, or the other things we might have thought were necessary to generate intelligent-sounding prose.

Steven Pinker, Will ChatGPT Replace Human Writers?

While adept at the function they were constructed to serve, these applications are certainly not without their flaws. And though the technology will surely continue to improve, resulting in less errors, there is reason to believe these automatons will never reach 100% proficiency—a welcomed relief for many current job holders in various data analysis industries.

Here’s more of author Steven Pinker’s take on the matter:

Pushback will come from the forehead-slapping blunders, like the “fact” that crushed glass is gaining popularity as a dietary supplement or that nine women can make a baby in one month. As the systems are improved by human feedback, there will be fewer of these clangers. But given the infinite possibilities, they’ll still be there.

Nonetheless, there are doubtless many kinds of boilerplates that could be produced by an LLM as easily as a human, and that might be a good thing—perhaps we shouldn’t be paying the billable hours of an expensive lawyer to craft a will or divorce agreement that could be automatically generated.

Steven Pinker, Will ChatGPT Replace Human Writers?

Therefore, at least according to Pinker, because of the vast swath of (unverified) data in the digital realm – and thus endless possibilities of erroneous combinations – machine-learning technologies will never reach total accuracy.

Lack of information online about a given subject also could spell trouble for AI, as it may source fallacious information in order to generate sufficient content. For example, if you were to have it write an artist bio but there was minimal information about you online, some of the “facts” it came back with could be inaccurate.

While maybe not so much for data entry – as Pinker alluded to – these issues bode well for those holding positions in data analysis, as humans will likely need to be the final curator of machine-learned “creative” output.

But beyond individuals in those type of roles, the technology that creatives and intellectuals would be wise to be concerned about – instead of mere AI – is artificial general intelligence (AIG), which has the additional trait of unpredictability.

AIG: AI Reimagined (2.0)

AI applications are designed to perform only a specific task, and improve upon their performance. This task specificity is what separates the rudimental technology from AIG, a form of machine-learning in which bots have “a mind of their own.”

An AGI can do anything, whereas an AI can only do the narrow thing that it’s supposed to do. Like a better chat bot is one that replies in good English, replies to the question you ask, can look things up for you, doesn’t say anything politically incorrect, etc.

Making a better one of these means amputating more of the possibilities of what it would otherwise do. Like, in the case of chat bots, saying the wrong thing or not answering your question…

…With an AGI or artificial person, their thinking is unpredictable. We’re expecting them to produce ideas that nobody predicted they would produce, which are good explanations—and that’s what people can do.

David Deutsch on The Tim Ferris Show

While this may seem like a doomsday scenario for human thinking and artistry alike, fear not: Beyond the ability to produce the unpredictable, people can also do imagination. In other words, come up with the inconceivable.

AI doesn’t have the capacity for imagination that humans do. It must still follow reason to arrive at conclusions—any novel solution developed relies on logic or past experience (learned data) to be “creative.”

Imagination: Human Creativity’s X Factor

“Humans create knowledge through creativity, and what you’re basically saying is that the narrow AI is not allowed to be creative—it has to solve a specific problem.

True creativity means you can hold any idea in your head; it’s unbounded.

Naval Ranikant

Surely, AIG can be creative in the sense it can come up with something novel—a solution, and explanation. But, as mentioned, it is always through inference. A factitious thing does not have the capacity for imagination, i.e., imaginative creativity.

Human creativity doesn’t need to rely on rational thinking. Maybe so if you’re referring to the creation of knowledge. But in the broad sense, human creativity results through imagination—the ability to manifest mental imagery you have not yet experienced through the senses.

On the other hand, creativity refers to the capacity to make something real using original ideas, which is why some consider machine algorithms to be “creative.”

For humans, imagination is a prerequisite for creativity—creating requires using an imagined thing to spark an idea that can tangibly produce something. In contrast, machine learning’s “inspiration” in formulating new ideas comes from its pre-existing pool of knowledge, i.e., reasoning.

Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.

Albert Einstein

Imagination is constructing unfounded ideas based on near nothingness. Though novel ideas may seem to come out of thin air, people often draw inspiration from past experiences, much like how machines rely on learned data. But in the case of humans, it can be subconscious and instinctual.

However, for people, the spark that yields insight or fresh ideas also can come through a sense of wonder. In those moments of awe we are fully present, allowing a genuine connection between experiencer and the novel experience which often brings a new perspective and insight, i.e., the eureka moment.

Knowledge vs. Intuition (Insight)

Explanations are derived from knowledge or experience, but insight comes when in tune with the natural order of the universe, passively taking stock of your experience instead of trying to shape it or define it.

Insight is contingent on the way we take in and process information instead of on our existing trove of knowledge. We must objectively use our senses and instinct in order to gain insight. AI lacks the capacity to generate insight or intuitive understanding because it has no sensory ability—it must process new info as “fact,” instead of using instinct to gauge authenticity.

Human insight comes from environmental cues, both external and internal. In either instance, it arrives via feeling, or more accurately, sensing—not by thinking.

In the case of external cues, full immersion in your surrounding world – primarily through seeing and hearing – generates understanding that can inspire imagination and creativity.

On the other hand, internal sensory cues rely on internal feeling, i.e., intuition, to bring insight. Intuition is the feeling derived from objectively monitoring your internal state, and is another critical quality for making compelling art that people possess which AGI doesn’t.

There’s a different thing that man has that the machines don’t. It’s an intuitiveness. And intuition and prediction are two different things.


Thinking is what separates humans from animals, but feeling (intuition) is what distinguishes us from the machines.

Sensation is also often what we as humans use to gauge our own reaction to something. Hence the prevalence of the saying, “how does that make you feel?” instead of “what do you think about that?” or “what does that make you think?”

Authenticity in Creative Endeavors (Art)

“There’s artistry, then there’s manufacturing. And I think that’s where the line is for a lot of people—when it just feels like manufactured music instead of someone’s artistic output.”

Though it may become more difficult as machine-learning technologies improve, but you can get a pretty good read on the authenticity of something, i.e., machine or human-crafted, by gauging your internal reaction to it.

And while authenticity isn’t likely a strong criterion for hard data, it certainly is for the arts.

The demand for authenticity is even stronger for intellectual products like stories and editorials: The awareness that there’s a real human you can connect it to changes its status and its acceptability.

Steven Pinker, Will ChatGPT Replace Human Writers?

And also changes its relatability, albeit maybe on more of an intuitive level. The authenticity of art is determined by your feeling, and is what makes something relatable—how does something move you if it doesn’t seem genuine?

I was listening to a recent episode of the DIY Musician’s Podcast, in which the hosts were discussing a similar matter. It wasn’t totally analogous because they were referring to music formulated by a collective (artist, producer, brand strategists, etc.) instead of an individual or band – as opposed to art created by AI – but it still gets at this idea of authenticity and relatability:

I think I like to perceive that a song comes from an individual’s perspective and sensibilities. But if it’s a good song and it moves me, what does it matter [how many people contributed to it]?

It will be interesting to see AI’s ability to replicate human authenticity in the future. I don’t think it will be difficult for people to distinguish the two, especially if listening to their instincts regarding how it makes them feel.

Beyond using our own reactions to something to orient us on our feelings, humans also have the distinct advantage of the capacity to use perception as a compass to gauge others’ feelings.

As most of us know, humans are often irrational creatures, a key attribute that gives us in the arts the upper hand over the machines in terms of job security—using empathy, we can leverage the human trait of emotionality.

External Sensory Feedback: The Human Element (Feeling)

With the prevalence of Spotify and YouTube, or even dating back to Pandora radio, many people argue that DJing is dead. However, while these platforms do a decent, consistent job curating a playlist by relying on algorithms utilizing user-generated feedback, they can’t pick up on subconscious sensory cues from users (or audience members).

Thus, AI synthesis of content doesn’t typically tell a captivating story or have the ability to capture the mood of a live setting. In other words, they don’t have the capacity to move people or create a social bond.

Sure, AI can take user-generated feedback or use pattern recognition of past preferences to make recommendations, but it lacks the ability to make decisions relying on internal instinct (as mentioned), or by taking cues from sensory perceptions in its external environment—paying attention to a feeling.

Machine algorithms can use user feedback in the form of hard data to improve, but it can’t interpret subconscious sensory information. It doesn’t have the ability to read body language, or decipher surprise, joy, admiration, or disapproval.

There’s a whole like university of science between what’s been played and what you’re hearing.

If I’m hearing something, and not paying attention to how I’m feeling, then for me, I don’t know what I’m listening to—that’s my GPS of understanding. Everything’s cataloged by and categorized by the feeling of it. If I can’t see how I feel about it, then I don’t even know what it is—it’s just music.


Though it is somewhat scientific, I would argue it’s more a university of wonder than science—instinctive feeling is something that still cannot be explained by scientific reasoning.

And for the sake of human prosperity, I’m cautiously optimistic that it won’t ever be.

– CC


Mindsets: The Power of Belief

In a previous post, I addressed the advantages of mindfulness meditation over a focused (mantra) meditation, and how it brings your thoughts and tendencies into your awareness. Thus, you gain the ability to perceive them as a manifestation of the mind, instead of as part of the self.

However, my intention was not to condemn all types of mental formations, because there are positive, negative and neutral conditions. The crucial distinction to make is between being conscious of your mental constructs and believing in or identifying with them, subconsciously—the danger lies in oblivion or suppression.

There is much less harm in belief when you are able to view it as an entity separate from the self—in fact, positive mindsets can be beneficial, so long as they don’t become delusional.

A mindset can be defined as a core belief, assumption, or outlook (attitude). They have far-reaching effects on all sorts of facets of your life, including wellbeing, stress management, biological responses to food, and healing—even the quality of your life.

The Belief Effect

The human body has an uncanny ability to heal itself. And while the mind is a part of the body, it unfortunately doesn’t have quite the capacity to reverse disease as the body. However, it does play a considerable role in the body’s regeneration faculties.

The placebo effect has been well-documented. Some studies exist showing particular medical conditions can be cured even when the patient is well-aware they’re taking a placebo. This finding is a testament to the tremendous power of the mind, and also demonstrates that we don’t need to believe in an external intervention in order to realize the benefits of positivity.

Social context shapes our mindsets, and our (conscious) beliefs trigger our (subconscious) physiology to produce outcomes. However, we can take conventional wisdom out of the equation and still influence our mental and physical processes to achieve a result, desired or otherwise.

The belief effect is what occurs when a physiological outcome is generated from a mindset, sans placebo. It’s essentially the placebo effect without the succedaneum—the attitudes we’ve been conditioned to believe by society, e.g., “30 minutes of cardio five times per week” or “stress is bad.”

Using the belief effect model mentioned above (social context > mindsets > physiological response), we must perpend the secondary mechanism – by which our outlook influences our physiology – independent of the first (conventional wisdom).

Look for example at a study conducted by psychological researched Alia Crum, unofficially dubbed “The Milkshake Study.” In the experiment, participants consumed a shake at two different time intervals, and were told the two had different nutrient profiles, while in reality, they were the exact same shake.

Subjects were led to believe that one was nutrient-dense (high fat, high sugar) while the other was low-calorie. The hypothesis of the researchers leading up to the study was that, under the assumption the participants thought they were eating healthy, their bodies would have a better metabolic response to the “sensishake.”

A chocolate and vanilla milkshake side-by-side on a ledge in front of a baby blue wooden wall

Their logic was if you think you’re eating healthy, the body will response as such. However, the results contradicted that hypothesis, with the low-calorie shake leaving subjects feeling less satiated than the caloric-dense one.

Counterintuitively, the body’s ghrelin levels, also known as the hunger hormone, dropped more profoundly when participants believed they had consumed the indulgent shake. Lower levels of ghrelin are associated with faster metabolism and an increased fat burning ability.

This astounding finding demonstrates that, regarding belief, the most crucial factor dictating our health is whether you possess the mindset that you are getting enough—be it nutrients, exercise, sleep, whatever.

Indulgence Mindset (Reprogramming the Subconscious)

Based on the above evidence, if we can let our societal-conditioned attitudes fall by the wayside, we are able to influence outcomes solely with our core beliefs. This is an immensely powerful tool, but it can be both beneficial and detrimental.

To obtain the benefits, we merely need to hold the mindset that our lifestyle choices are satisfactory and in line with our ideals. But, when we don’t see our conduct as up to snuff, the disconnect can has physiological ramifications.

For example, if you’re regularly exercising or eating healthy, but you believe it not to be sufficient (even if it falls within the realm of what doctors consider “healthy”), the benefits realized may not be as extensive as if you had a favorable impression of the regimen.

To make matters worse, if you believe exercise and a healthy diet will benefit your physique and mental wellbeing, but you’re not getting any physical activity or eating cleanly, the effects can be that much more catastrophic.

Therefore, just as positive thinking can influence outcomes, so too can negative thinking. This phenomenon is known as the nocebo effect.

I was listening to a podcast discussion with qigong practitioner Robert Peng, in which he described a time in his college dorm when he was goofing around with a stick of incense, and acted like he was going to burn his roommate. He turned off the lights and instead of being a major asshole, held a different, unlit stick against the man’s arms.

When he turned the lights back on, the tormentee had a burn-like mark on his arm. That’s the stupendous power of the mind in action—or, more specifically, the power of psychological stress and fear.

Worry and Stress: The End All, Be All (Nocebo Effect)

We already demonstrated that worry can modulate your physiological responses indirectly via your mindset, but it can also influence it directly. Worry or emotional stress is the precursor to physical stress, i.e., the fight-or-flight response.

Stress is a silent killer, and will undermine all environmental and supplemental measures you take to combat poor wellbeing, mental decline and physical degeneration. It has a direct inverse correlation with immune function, circulation, metabolism and almost all other physiological processes. When elevated for a prolonged period, stress even has the ability to change your DNA.

The moral of the story is that, regardless of your conduct, the more you ruminate on it, the more stress you’re subjecting yourself to, and the less impactful your positive lifestyle choices will be. Similarly, the worse the outcome of your perceived bad decisions will be.

Rear view of someone peering out a window at city lights at night wearing a hoodie that says "changing mindsets"

Enjoying life, not regretting your choices (but learning from the “bad ones”) and the ability to feel nurtured will always have a positive auxiliary effect on your actual decisions, independent of social context.

Beyond rudimental outlook, visualization can also play an essential role in health.


In his book, Spontaneous Healing, doctor Andrew Weil tells the story of a man who was able to reverse an autoimmune disease – in which his immune system was attacking his red blood cells and platelets – primarily through guided imagery.

The man began to visualize one particular type of white blood cell (T cells) as motorcycle cops escorting the red cells and platelets in sidecars through the blood stream, keeping them safe from the other white cells that were causing the attack. Eventually, he was able to send his condition into remission using little more than the mental imagery as a central intervention.

However, you don’t need to use guided imagery to this degree in order to get the benefits of visualization. Using autosuggestion or simply sending compassionate energy with your awareness to your body and mind can prove fruitful in many instances.

‘Where the Mind Goes, the Qi Flows’

This tai chi maxim has both literal and figurative meanings:

In the literal, it means that where you focus your mind internally is where your Qi (energy) will flow and condense. Be mindful of your dan tian, and the Qi will begin to gather there.

The same principle applies in the figurative sense—where you focus your attention in the physical world is where you life energy will flow, and often becomes what manifests as your reality.

Up to this point I’ve been discussing mindsets strictly in terms of health. But, in both the contexts of healing/physiological function and your life circumstance, it’s about more than purely where you focus your attention. Just as critical is the outlook you’re giving your attention to—the affect of your mind.

Loving, nurturing energy is what we must transmit to obtain our desired outcomes.

This passage from breathwork coach Sage Rader craftfully encapsulates the notion:

Rename your pain; in your description lies your affirmation.

You can breathe all you want into [the pain], but the same breath with a different thought is a different breath. It doesn’t matter how you breathe, it matters how you breathe and think—how you feel about the pain.

Can I breathe the opposite of sad? Can I breathe kindness?

Sage Rader

Though he is applying this principle to the literal, internal sense described above, it also is a metaphor for the figurative. Sentiment is just as powerful a determinant on your external existence as it is on your physiology or ability to alleviate physical pain.

If anything should be clear by now, it’s that the two – internal and external – are not mutually exclusive; what you believe determines how you live, and how you live influences your mental formations.

While the believe effect can be used to realize an outcome independent of social context, it usually still corresponds to an action, e.g., eating a nutrient-dense milkshake, or getting 45 minutes of cardio daily. Thus, the physical and the mental must be used in conjunction to grasp the benefits you seek, especially regarding creating your desired external experience.

Your External World Reflects the Internal

If you believe your life is in shambles, chances are good that it is. And while mindset certainly influences quality of life, changing your outlook alone probably won’t be sufficient to modify your external environment for the better.

Though it likely will get you on the right track and motivate you to act, at some point you will need doing to change that perception. In fact, failing to take action may make your perception worse.

A tile tablet containing a quote from Lao Tzu suspended in front of a wall filled with vines

It’s a fallacy to believe whatever you’re (not) doing that is creating the pain in your life can be swept under the rug and your circumstance will improve based on “good vibes only,” i.e., a positive outlook. I’ve written about it before, but beating your suffering into submission like a game of whack-a-mole isn’t doing you any favors.

Proponents of guided imagery insist that you can trick the mind into manifesting your ideal life merely by imagining you have already attained it—a process known as affirmation.

And while there is some validity to the mind’s inability to distinguish reality from imagination, positive self-affirmation is merely the sun that shines on the seed of your reality. For it to grow, you will need to water it, i.e., take an action. Too much sun (self-conceptualization) without water likely will cause it to wither and die.

However, first you can pick the seed, and feed it the sunlight of your positive outlook. Using autosuggestion or the belief effect puts the wheels in motion to physically manifest your desired outcome, making it that much easier to begin filling up the watering can.

Escaping (US) Americanisms

The USA is largely a goal-oriented society that values results more than the struggle or process to attain them. This is somewhat of a departure from many of the other cultures I’ve been blessed to live amongst.

In light of this, much of our time as Americans is spent planning for and envisioning the future. As a result, unfortunately we often are fooled into believing that certain conditions need to be met to be truly happy—if I could just have x amount of money, land that dream job, etc, I would feel complete.

However, as most of us know, when those arbitrary milestones are met, we don’t end up feeling accomplished, at least not long-term. There is almost always a desire for more—bigger and better is the American way.

In contrast, what I’ve realized by observing other cultures is that, in general, they are happy because they’re living in the moment. Individuals can find contentment in the process, rather than chasing after a desired outcome—being present to your situation, no matter how difficult, and fulfillment through a solid day’s work.

‘A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind’

I’ve mentioned briefly in the past that mind wandering is the human brain’s default mode, but haven’t really delved into the mechanisms behind it.

This condition results when the default mode network (DMN) is active, the brain’s preferential state, in which it’s not engaging in any particular task. DMN processes include thinking (daydreaming), remembering the past, and planning for the future.

In contrast, the task positive network (TPN) is active when we are immersed in a singular undertaking, i.e., in a meditative state. Any object of focus in the internal or external environment can trigger this brain state—reading, bird-watching, brushing your teeth, breath meditation, etc. The sole prerequisite is that one partakes in these activities with the whole of their attention.

When functioning, the TPN silences mental chatter, allowing internal peace and helping us be more present. It can be likened to the rest-and-digest (parasympathetic) branch of the central nervous system, in contrast to the flight-or-flight (sympathetic) component that works in tandem with the DMN.

The DMN tends to be the natural condition of the mind—research suggests that, on average, humans spend 47% of their waking hours lost in thought. Unfortunately, these finding also show this tendency has ramifications on emotional wellbeing.

A study by Harvard University researchers published in the magazine Science, revealed that, “How often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.”

The researchers estimated that 4.6% of an individual’s happiness can be attributed to their undertaking, whereas their mental presence accounts for nearly 11%. The gold nugget here is that we have greater emotional affliction when the mind is disengaged than when it is focused, regardless of the object of attention.

Escapism is mental distraction from the typical demands of life. And while it often takes the form of entertainment, daydreaming and even “busy work” in some instances can also be viewed as a type of escapism if used to shirk your innate duties.

Generally speaking, USA-ans are fooled into believing the more they can cram into a day, the more accomplished and fulfilled they will feel, which, based on the above evidence, is hokum. It’s really about doing more with less—tackling the truly crucial things, and making them count by dedicating all of your energy to them.

Productivity Mindset

Often, the productivity mindset is synonymous with the DMN’s wandering, monkey mind. When concerned solely with efficiency, chances are, ironically, you’re multitasking like a mofo. And even if you’re hyper-focused on a singular undertaking, it doesn’t mean your fully immersed in (present to) it, i.e., in the flow state.

Intense and exclusive concentration prevents awareness of the other aspects of your present experience, which is what the flow state (or wu wei) is all about—effortless action in conjunction with all the components of your environment.

Even while living in Latin America, I was beholden to the American custom of productivity. Each day, I set out to work x number of hours editing, or filled my to-do list with things I thought would bring me closer to my desired outcome—the now-turbid vision I had nearly lost all sight of.

The ironic thing is that I thought staying busy was making me feel accomplished, and giving me a sense of purpose. But in reality, it was a way for me to avoid confronting my strife and examining why I felt incomplete.

I was “working” on the things that were my daily concerns (material comforts), instead of focusing on the ultimate concern—living by my morals and building that which gives me a sense of purpose.

A woman with additional arms photoshopped, holding various household cooking and cleaning utensils

My issue with the productivity mindset was that I began to trick myself into believing I was cultivating the self, largely because I was staying occupied. But in truth, I was diverging further from the path I set out on; the one with roadblocks I didn’t used to mind overcoming, instead of trying to escape from.

When times are challenging, action only improves the situation when it is deliberate—and the path of least resistance is found through stillness and looking inside (reflecting). Multitasking and running around like a chicken with your head cut off will not provide a sense of life improving, a sense of control, or satisfaction.

Nor will envisioning all the conditions of your life arranged in such a way that makes you feel whole. The process and pursuit of a vision consumes the vast majority of life—reaching the finish line is only a sliver of existence.

That’s why it’s so crucial to enjoy the journey and be present to it. Daydreaming your life away will almost certainly bring discontentment, even if you are progressing towards your objective.

As mindfulness meditation expert Sam Harris once said, “Even if we’re guarding our time to do the things that are most important to us, we can spend all of that time regretting the past, or anxiously expecting the future, basically just dancing over the present and never making contact with it.”

The Joy of the Present Moment

A few years back, I stayed several days in the home of a tight-knit family a couple hours north of Oaxaca city. What was most astounding to me was how much joy each family member had, despite how many chores that had that day or how rough their living situation appeared (to an American).

They were thrilled to just be in each other’s company, taking each moment at a time.

Each day I get to witness it is a blessing. A constant reminder to slow down, become aware of my present environment, and be grateful for whatever I have. Which sometimes, is just being witness to the awe of life and the cosmos.

– CC

Distraction: When is it Advantageous?

For much of my *professional* life, I’ve been easily swayed by distraction—not just getting down to business, whatever the undertaking may be, but also merely staying on task. I think this is a common struggle in the digital age, as the onslaught of stimuli and noise we’re faced with continues to grow.

For a long time, I viewed distraction as something to be dealt with and phased out. But recently I’ve gained the perspective that often, it can be leveraged to work in our advantage.

Distraction can provide the opportunity to give ourselves a break from the task and allow our subconscious to work through the venture or issue. It can also bring inspiration, as well as fresh eyes and a new perspective for approaching the project.

It really is a matter of context—knowing in which instances to avoid distraction and in which settings to welcome it.

Being Distracted Just Enough to Take Your Head out of It

Humans are over-thinking creatures by nature. As intermediaries in the creative process (the channel), this tendency can quickly get in the way and distort the message between the source and the medium. It can make the work come off as contrived instead of authentic and raw; like adding noise to a clean channel.

For example, we may put too much emphasis on a certain component of the art, like the voice in a piece of music, potentially making it a grandiose performance that seems inorganic, because it is.

In a recent interview on the Tim Ferriss Show, legendary record producer Rick Rubin described this very phenomenon happening when working with singer Neil Diamond. Rubin suggested the musician also play guitar while recording the song.

The outcome was that he was distracted just enough by holding down the chord changes that he could let his true voice shine through, delivering a genuine performance instead of an ostentatious one.

In a similar way, I realized that when I freestyle rap, I come up with more authentic bars than if I were to sit down and write rhymes on paper. Instead of thinking things out, the message just flows organically off the tip of the tongue. Both my cadence and lyrical content come out as more genuine.

Maybe my heart opens easier because my brain is just distracted enough by having to keep time with the beat? Who knows.

This is one hack the artist can use to bypass our over-thinking monkey mind. Now let’s consider another process that uses distraction to achieve a similar result.

Seeing the Forest For the Trees

Probably the most palmary benefit of distraction is new outlooks, which often pave the way for a fresh, groundbreaking approach to the particular undertaking.

Distractions often allow us to see the forest for the trees, and sometimes even offer an insight that was right there on the cusp but hadn’t been thought of because of our vantage point.

When you spend hours on end immersed in a project, it is easy to become bogged down and perhaps lose sight of your initial intention or the idea you were trying to convey. Your vantage point shrinks when meticulously engrossed in something—literally and figuratively.

In both senses, taking a step back from the situation (expanding your focus) detaches you from any emotions that may have crept up, and allows you to get a more clear, objective picture of what’s happening. Thus, you can view the world (or project) with fresh eyes, seeing more opportunities or avenues to be approached.

Quitting While You’re Ahead

Much in the same manner, knowing when to call it quits for the time being is advantageous. This way, you prevent the thesis of your creative output from becoming convoluted.

Too many consecutive hours (or minutes) fixated on a project can result in getting caught up in the finer details that in the end may not even make a significant difference in the quality of the work or how it is received.

You can end up tinkering with elements that really encapsulate your thesis – either from a technical or cerebral standpoint – and somewhere along the way may be unable to get them back.

The key is being fully present to and immersed in the work when engaging with it, and then leaving it be when not focusing on it. One benefit of this approach is that it becomes easier to tap into your inner-spirit and channel your creative juices.

Another advantage of entirely disengaging is you allow your mind to keep it on the back burner, potentially providing insights that wouldn’t have come when tightly fixated on the undertaking.

Subconsciously Working Through a Project

I think in general, to stew over a problem is not the way to solve a problem. I think to hold the problems lightly…

Record Producer Rick Rubin

For me, I know ah-ha moments often arrive when the issue I had been ruminating over was seemingly the furthest thing from my attention. This suggests that even when you are not actively pursuing a project, it is still an object of your mind, though it may be on a different level—the subconscious.

I often used to ruminate on things I couldn’t remember which I had deemed critical, racking my brain trying to conjure them back. However, the mind knows what is important. If it deserves to be in your awareness, it will bring it back.

This principle parallels the practice of letting your subconscious marinate on your ideas. Often, if the issue is something significant, the mind will find a way to resolve it, so long as you can get out of your own way and stop overanalyzing it.

You can also use distraction subconsciously in a different way—by playing off related subject matter to spark your creative juices.

Gathering Insight and Inspiration Through Distraction

When you switch from create to consume mode, but still focus on closely-related content, you may very well be opening the tap of creativity to let it flow.

A man sitting at a desk taking notes with his right hand while holding his smartphone with the left

Seth Godin, Chuck Close and other esteemed creatives have said things along the lines of “inspiration is for amateurs,” and “there’s no such thing as writer’s block.”

What these authority figures are insinuating is that procrastination or hesitation is simply fear of bad execution. Professionals simply show up and do the work, having faith in the process. In the words of Seth, “Anxiety is experiencing failure in advance.”

While inspiration shouldn’t be a prerequisite to create, there is certainly something to be said for using similar material to inspire, refine and tailor your art. The most seminal works by the prominent figures in your chosen discipline can be used as a blueprint for what worked in the past. However, I’m not advising copying them.

Instead, they can be used to determine where you have leverage and in what ways you can bring a fresh approach to the craft, which may help you break through the noise. View these reference points not as something that allows you to think outside the box of the genre, but defines it, and reveals where opportunity exists for original endeavors.

The caveat is just because something worked well in the past – especially someone else’s work – doesn’t mean it will work for you, or work again, even for them. The stories they told that resonated with others were based on their experiences, their view of world—your devoir as an artists it to make art that is true to you.

However, those works broke through for a reason—something about it resonated with people on a personal level. Maybe it spoke to their identity, or was something they wanted to express about themselves but just didn’t know how.

This defining characteristic is what needs to be leveraged. If you really put the whole of your attention into consuming and digesting the piece but don’t have a motive, you should be able to gain insight into what it is about it that speaks to you on a soul level (how it is unique) and use that to your benefit.

And although you don’t want to carbon-copy that, the idea is to try and replicate its essence in a new way that is distinct to you.

The Wrap on Distraction

Escapism has long gotten a bad wrap, especially in a goal-oriented society that values productivity above all else. Though in excess, it often becomes a crutch to prevent dealing with reality, distraction does have its place in the creative process.

Art is not something that should be rushed. Using these techniques to refresh, refine and expand your creative endeavors should not be frowned upon, as they can allow you to better your craft—quality over quantity.

– CC

Mindfulness: Kill Your Thoughts or Let Them Pass?

From the point of view of mindfulness, the logic is not to care about any of the interesting changes and experiences that come as a result of practicing in this way, because the underlying goal is to be more and more equanimous with changes.

So it’s not to grasp at what’s pleasant or interesting and not to push what’s unpleasant or boring or otherwise not engaging away. What you want is just a kind of “sky-like mind” that allows everything to appear, and you’re not clinging to anything or reacting to anything.

Sam Harris, Using Meditation to Focus, View Consciousness & Expand Your Mind

A wise neighbor and confidant once told me a juicy tidbit about directing your energy—he said, “Whatever you allow to become the object of your mind will manifest.”

Therefore, it’s best to strike negative thoughts or attachments from your mind when they arise to not give them power over you or control your destiny.

It’s often true that in the case of sickness and disease, what the mind habitually thinks, the body will manifest—belief is a powerful tool. But I’m not sure how beneficial mindsets are when applied to clinging to material stimulations, favorable past experiences and future outcomes.

On paper this seems like a logical, sound approach, but I believe most times it’s just sticking a band-aid on the underlying issues—if we don’t address the root cause of what we are grappling with, how are we to fix the problem?

Controlled vs Non-Structured Meditation

There are many benefits of concentrative meditation, including better focus, stress-reduction, and improved memory, sleep and wellbeing.

A deliberate meditation practice, like a manta or object-focused meditation, takes a dualistic approach to awareness—subject and object, actor and observer.

The practitioner focuses on one particular aspect of their experience and tries to consciously control it, instead of objectively feeling or looking at the entirety of their present experience. In this instance, they envision the self and the object of their awareness as separate entities in which the object being viewed is distinct from the subject that is doing the viewing (you).

It’s the sense that there’s kind of a rider on the horse of consciousness as opposed to just consciousness and its contents.

Dr. Sam Harris

However, though there are numerous cognitive and emotional benefits with this type of meditation, there is always a motive, an object of focus. In light of that, this deliberate awareness can inhibit the cultivation of mindfulness, i.e., total immersion in one’s present experience.

Concentration (or focus) can happen on its own. For example, consider one being fully engulfed in a movie, so much so that they are oblivious to anything else going on in their immediate surrounding environment.

In contrast, mindfulness and concentration are a packaged deal—wherever mindfulness is, concentration is also.

Though cultivating your concentration ability can improve mindfulness, and it then becomes much easier to recognize your mind wandering and shut it down, redirecting your mental comings and goings isn’t doing you many favors beyond improving your focus.

Suppressing Your Thoughts

For a long time I held the belief that the best way to combat mental afflictions like difficult emotions or clinging to things or ideas, and the daydreaming resulting from that suffering, was to strike it from your awareness.

When you notice it, bring your focus back to the desired mental formation (samskara) – be it an object, thought or feeling – in order to absolve yourself of the painful mental state.

In the particular case of painful emotions, I would try to supplant them with more pleasant ones. By doing this, you disrupt your brain’s tendency to have those conditioned responses—or so goes the logic.

Thought this likely will improve your ability to focus, the practice engages just as much impulsivity as the responses you seek to change do—it just tips the scales in the other direction, grasping for favorable reflexes instead.

The goal here is the avoidance of pain, and in order to prevent it, you become just as reactive; there is no buffer between the stimulus and the response, no attempt to resolve it. So ultimately, those same negative mental formations still have their fangs in you despite the adaptation.

photo of a lobotomized man rubbing his temples, with an illustration above his head of paper airplanes swirling around his brain

However, an approach where ones takes time to digest the stimulus before their reaction puts the organism (O) at the center, with them acting as an intermediary between the stimulus (S) and the response (R), instead of the impulsive ‘S’ => ‘R’ model. In my view, this SOR theory is likened with mindfulness.

Since you are merely bypassing your negative mental formations in favor of pleasant ones with the SR approach, no momentous healing or improvement can take place. You are subjectively focusing on one aspect of your experience and trying to consciously control it, instead of objectively feeling and looking at the entirely of your experience and just letting it unfold as you would with mindfulness.

Despite the fact that you are conscious of them, often these fixations on adaptation begin to have thrall over your mental processes and conduct, just as much as the initial mental formation. It simply takes the form of aversion instead of attachment.

Sometimes, the objects of our consciousness become something very strong. And they continue to weigh heavily on us, so that our way of speaking, thinking and acting are conditioned by it.

Thich Nhat Hahn

And the best way to lift that weight is to lean into it instead of just trying to drop it.

Letting Thoughts Arise, Just Be, and Dissolve

The idea here is that, when you notice a negative emotion or your thoughts drifting, don’t try to avoid it. Instead of getting frustrated or judgmental and purging the thought, emotion or image from your mind, embrace it. See it through, and bring your focus back to sensation when it has passed.

Though difficult at first, the fact that you’ve succeeded in making your negative thoughts and emotions the object of your mindfulness means your self-awareness has already improved, and the grasp those afflictions have on you is loosening.

If you just are willing to pay 100% attention to it, a couple of things happen.

One, is your resistance to feeling it goes away, by definition, because now your goal is to just pay attention to it. And you recognize that so much of the suffering associated with the pain was born of the resistance to feeling it.

Dr. Sam Harris

Though in this context, he is speaking of physical pain, the process applies to mental turmoil as well. And in the case of mental affliction, in addition to the realization you very likely had been overdramatizing the issue, you can gain insight into where it initially stemmed from.

The S-O-R technique will undoubtedly serve to resolve the conflict, though it may take practice. Material attachments to things like sweets, nicotine, or alcohol are more easily broken than longing for past circumstances or clinging to future outcomes by employing dopamine fasting, or sensory deprivation.

Breaking these addictions – which often arise from being discontent – is something that will come with time. But when pining for the happy times in the past or romanticizing the future, just diverting your attention from this daydreaming isn’t going to cut it.

When I find my mind gravitating towards a scheduled vacation five months from now, I meditate on my mind and reflect—what is lacking in my current experience that has me craving more or living for the future (or past), and what can I do to manifest it?

The answer usually comes fairly effortlessly for me when I let these thoughts and emotions arise and just be with them. With practice, it should eventually become just as easy for you to use mindfulness to stop running from yourself towards things, the future or past.

– CC

Exteroception vs Interoception: Getting Out of Your Head

Most people have an interoceptive bias—they’re focused more on what’s going on internally [mentally] than on what’s happening externally.

I think that this is an issue because we hear so often about the need to do a meditation practice that allows us to focus inward and that we’re getting yanked around by all the stressors of life, etc, etc.

And we are, we’re getting yanked around by all the stressors and demands of life. But as we do that, we tend to be very focused on what’s happening with us.”

Andrew Huberman, The Science of Meditation

With the rise to prominence of vanity-inflating and anxiety-inducing social media channels, I find this claim spot-on—self absorption is at an all-time high.

However, self-obsession and mental affliction isn’t a product of inward mindfulness meditation. Instead, they result from identifying with your thoughts or external constructs without the proper training.

A bias towards interoception doesn’t inherently constitute a high aptitude for self-awareness, i.e., keen interpretation of sensations, impulses, thoughts or feelings—being stuck in your head differs from the capacity to examine your mind and its contents.

Self-awareness is dependent on mindfulness (the ability to stay present), and the capacity for “watching your thoughts pass,” which, ironically, is refined through mindfulness meditation focused on the breath or body.

Therefore, self-contentment and self-actualization can be realized, but the mind needs to be disciplined in order to attain them, by way of self-awareness instead of self-involvement.

Interoception vs Exteroception

Interoception is the perception of what’s going on at the level of your skin or a deeper internal level. In contrast, exteroception is everything more external than skin level.

In Huberman Lab episode I pulled that introductory quote from, neuroscientist Andrew Huberman says that a good benchmark for gauging interoceptive awareness is if you can detect your heartbeat and rate without needing to physically take your pulse using your hand.

Well, I used to not be able to do that worth a lick, and I certainly was in my own head most of the time. That’s why I believe an interceptive bias and the tendency towards being consumed by your thoughts should be viewed as distinct entities.

When we meditate on our mind, or do an externally-focused practice, we dissociate from our internal world and our sensory perceptions. Thus, we are unable to tap into our self-awareness and gather context of ourself in relation to the surrounding environment.

Taking this into consideration, interception at large is not synonymous with self-awareness. Again, insights into yourself arrive when you are conscious of and focused on your body or breath, i.e., practicing mindfulness meditation in contrast to focused on your thoughts.

The realizations can be basic, like the recognition of your breathing, body or posture, or more astounding, like the understanding of your thought patterns.

In the quote above, Huberman alludes to the belief that the majority of us should engage in exteroceptive-focused meditation, as we generally are internal-looking.

But in my experience, ironically, an internally-focused practice – so long as it is not centered on the mind – lends itself to better immersion in the present external environment, and makes us less susceptible to being pulled around or influenced by those externals stressors (distractions) we mentally expound upon.

If you’re more dissociative – somebody who’s more focused on events outside your body – and you want to gain more interoceptive awareness and more “feeling state,” you want to do a practice that’s third eye or breathing-focused.

Andrew Huberman

Personally, I don’t believe dissociation to encompass being caught up in the external environment. Dissociation results when there is a disconnect or lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions, and identity. Thus, it is more synonymous with being consumed by your fears, worries, or regrets than it is exteroceptive awareness.

Again, there is a more clear-cut divergence between body or breath interoception and mind interoception than between exteroception and general interoception—ruminating on your thoughts removes you from the present, irrespective of if your focus is the external or internal environment.

Consciousness encompasses experiences, feelings (sensations) and perceptions in your environment, body or mind, regardless of if you are cognizant of them. In contrast, awareness is “knowledge or perception of a situation (internal or external) or fact,” or it can be likened to attention.

However, while attention (focus) can only be applied to one or a few things, awareness is a lot more inclusive. It can be focused or unfocused on a particular object or activity, or arrive as insights and understanding. In short, awareness is recognition.

Awareness is awareness, and if you can cultivate it on one level, you can apply it to any other—refined interoception lends itself to exteroceptive capacity. However, cultivating self-awareness – recognizing and regulating thoughts, impulses and actions – is an internal process.

Thus, body or breath mindfulness meditation affords us better understanding of ourselves and our relationship with (how we fit into) the world around us—in a word, better self-awareness.

In contrast, though our default mode generally is to be internally-focused – but more specifically, in our own heads – this tendency doesn’t necessarily translate into improved self-awareness or wellbeing—in fact, it’s quite the opposite.

The Mind: The Interoception Spectrum No-Man’s Land

I’m perceiving things, remembering things, and anticipating things all the time about the future. But by focusing my attention on the one organ for which I have no sensation – that is, my brain – thoughts, feelings (emotions), and memories start to grow in their prominence in my awareness and in my perception.

Andrew Huberman

Based on this statement, Huberman doesn’t discern between perceiving thoughts and being present to – i.e., mindful of – them. For example, I could be highly focused on my thoughts, in which they are tremendously vivid. However, they could come in the form of past memories or expectations of future occurrences.

In this instance, I am not being mindful of the mind. While I may be conscious of and attentive to them, I’m basically letting my thoughts run amuk, without the capacity to understand the underlying patterns and regulate them accordingly—an ability known as metacognition, i.e., self-awareness.

This can be a dangerous game. Though being attentive to the mind is technically interoception, applying attention to your cognitive processes opens the door for racing thoughts. There is a clear distinction in the interoceptive spectrum between feeling (sensing) and thinking (or feeling emotions).

It’s very clear that for people who do that typical third eye meditation for 13 minutes a day, if they do that too close to when they want to go to sleep, they have a hard time falling asleep, which makes perfect sense because they are becoming more interoceptively aware—they are ramping up their level of focus.

Andrew Huberman

Well, they are focusing on their thoughts, so this outcome does make perfect sense.

In contrast, had they “ramped up” focus on their breath or body – on their sensations instead of thoughts – they would have calmed down the nervous system. Therefore, intense focus doesn’t inherently equate to alertness (sympathetic nervous system arousal).

Again, ruminating on your mental formations by meditating on the third eye, especially without proper training, is more dissociation than it is interoception, as Huberman even himself alluded to. This is evident because – as mentioned – you can be fixed on your thoughts without being present, i.e., mindful.

This same principle applies to exteroception; when you focus on the surrounding environment, you may forget entirely that you have a body. You can quickly get swept up in external stimuli.

Even if you don’t and can keep paying half a mind to your breath or posture, your attention is still divided between two points of emphasis, and you won’t receive the benefits you would have had you kept your entire focus on your body.

However, when you bring your full attention to the body and make it the object of your mind, you can’t help but be mindful, remaining in the present—you are aware of your breathe or body, which are only available in the present.

A woman sits at a desk with eyes closed and clasped hands over her lips in deep reflection

In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “when body and mind are together, you are established in the present moment.”

Since focusing on your thoughts is an entirely different practice than on your sensory perceptions, though both internal awareness, the two have different outcomes on the body and the mind. Breath or body awareness brings healing and insight, while mind focus often brings negative emotions like discontentment, worry, or fear—primarily because we’re not living in the present.

Mind-wandering appears to be the human brain’s default mode,” a trait that does not lend itself to wellbeing or self-awareness. Mind-wandering is merely not being present, which includes dissociation by way of third-eye meditation.

The study linked above showed a negative correlation between daydreaming (being in the past or the future instead of the present) and mood, regardless of if the participant found the activity they were doing to be pleasant or not.

Fortunately, we can improve both our self-awareness and our mood by constantly bringing our focus back to the present moment through body or breath mindfulness.


The act of refocusing has been proven to benefit all sorts of mental processes, including concentration and emotion. It allows you to adapt default conditioned responses to internal or eternal stimuli by rewiring cognitive connections.

For example, when you bring your attention back to your breath after realizing your mind was wandering, or you let go of feelings of anger when something had triggered you, in both instances you weaken the association between your brain and the stimulus.

This restructuring of neurons is known as neuroplasticity. The process involves weakening synaptic connections between neural pathways, through which impulses are sent after being triggered by a given stimulus.

Through functional neuroplasticity, these connections are adapted to create new default responses (physical and emotional reactions) to those same triggers. When you refocus your attention or release the emotion that had consumed you, you lessen these conditioned inclinations and make the brain malleable enough to begin replacing them with more favorable ones.

Ironically, though recognizing and refocusing your attention or your emotions is a cognitive process, it becomes much easier when you have sharpened your self-awareness through mindfulness of bodily sensations.

Of course, it may be difficult to not get frustrated when you notice your mind wandering, especially when just starting out. However, with each realization, your ability to recognize these tendencies is improved.

Rather than think about your ability to focus, think about your ability to refocus, and the more number of times you have to refocus, the better training you’re getting.

Andrew Huberman

…and the better your self-awareness is becoming.

Wrapping Up

Our thoughts can swallow us whole when we identify with them, or just as quickly if we try to resist them. The perception of our mental formations can have devastating effects on us if we view them from an improper vantage point, or even merely take a dualistic approach, i.e., subject and object, as so many rudimentary meditators do.

Attempting to suppress thoughts can paradoxically ramify our sense of self or self-involvement. However, instead of meditating on the mind, bringing awareness to the breath or the body allows us to be far enough removed from our mental impressions to see them as “emerging objects in consciousness” distinct from the self.

When we put all of our perception into our thoughts, we see how disorganized, how wandering they are and, in fact, how random and intrusive those can be.”

Andrew Huberman

And when we become mindful of them, we gain insight into what is causing them, and hopefully the motivation to do something about those afflictions.

– CC

Mindfulness of… Cleaning?

Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something

We can cook our breakfast mindfully and continue to produce the energy of mindfulness, concentration and insight.

We do not have to go to a temple, to a meditation center in order to generate these three kinds of energies.

You don’t have to set aside time to practice mindfulness—you practice while you brush your teeth or take a shower, do the dishes. And you are fully alive in these moments. This is the art of living.

Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Suffering Retreat Day 1

Many think that you need to use traditional meditation practices in order to cultivate mindfulness. However, this is not entirely the case—at least, it doesn’t require meditation in the conventional sense.

Any activity can be carried out mindfully – and as a meditation – and can serve to sharpen your awareness and concentration abilities when you make it your singular focus.

Further, you can enjoy activities you dread (chores) simply by your total immersion in them, following the breath, and relaxing the body.

A “Meditative State”

Meditation is defined as a “deep concentration on a singular activity.” The pastime can be anything—walking, cooking, even simply breathing.

Mindfulness is a very related – but distinct – concept. It can be viewed as full immersion in the moment. It is a mental state obtained by bringing one’s attention to the present, while being conscious of and accepting one’s thoughts, feelings, and sensory perceptions.

This ability is strengthen through meditation. When I use the term mindfulness, you many envision an image of someone sitting with their eyes closed, face relaxed and hands in their lap.

But as I alluded to, ‘meditation’ doesn’t require you sitting in the lotus position (cross-legged) with the back of your hands resting upright on your knees. You can cultivate your mindfulness capacity by bringing your attention to your breath and body, and concentrating on a sole undertaking, releasing other thoughts from your mind.

When you are fully present and engaged (mindfully engaged) with a singular activity, it can dramatically impact your ability to focus, be present, and your capacity for insight.

The fundamental mindfulness exercises generally produce straightforward insights, like awareness that you have a body, period, or that you’re holding tension in a particular area—insights into the body.

The more profound insight that comes with a more developed practice are those into the tendencies of your mind and its formations (it’s attachments, impulses, feelings and afflictions).

“Insight is the fruit of mindfulness and concentration. It is by ignorance the we suffer. But when we begin to touch the insight, the insight touching our true nature, there’s no longer any fear—there’s compassion, there’s acceptance, tolerance.” 

Mindfulness, Concentration and Insight

Thay describes the process of mindfulness (breathing, consumption, walking) as composed of three components, or as he refers to them, three energies.

Wherever mindfulness is, concentration is also. When you are mindful of your in breath, you are concentrated on your in breath. When you are mindful of your tea, you concentrate on the tea.

First come mindfulness and concentration. Then insight arrives, which can be viewed as the byproduct of mindful and meditative (focused) states, practiced together.

Mindful breathing or walking brings you back to the present. And when you’re established in the present, you are aware of what’s going on. Thus, you recognize things as they are, i.e., obtain insight.

As I mentioned, your first recognitions will be regarding your body—your posture, tense areas, etc.

But as you further develop your consciousness-spectating ability through routine practice, you’ll begin to see the inner-workings of your mind and its shortcomings, leading you down the path towards self-actualization—if you’re so inclined as to follow it.

Mindfulness of Something: Reaching Self-Actualization

According to the practice, everything you do in your life should be done mindfully. And if you do it mindfully – like walking or driving or cooking – you are truly alive.

The practice of living mindfully helps you to look more deeply at everything as it presents itself in the present moment.

Thich Nhat Hanh

As noted, this type of insight, and ultimately, self-realization, doesn’t require a traditional meditation practice to be attained. You simply need to practice and deploy mindfulness and concentration as you conduct your daily activities, and pass from one to the next.

I think this is the main distinction between traditional Chinese Qigong and Buddhist meditations styles. Taoist Qigong meditation typically involves some form of dedicated practice—either one incorporating movement (Dao Yin) or simply Taoist breathing techniques (Tuna).

And while the movement component is beneficial, in terms of opening up Qi blockages in the body and improving mobility and mental wellbeing in general, it is distinct from mindfulness meditation in the traditional Buddhist view. Meaning, it is not a necessary means for releasing tension or ultimately, cultivating self-actualization.

I often get more profound tension release, insight, and awareness from just mindful breathing or walking than I do when trying to be mindful during dedicated Qigong practice on a particular day.

A barefoot person taking a step is shown from the thighs down

Maybe it has to do with intention, but if I’m not looking forward to practicing for whatever reason that day, it’s much easier for my mind to wander. However, I can typically steady it eventually and release it into my body and focus solely on the breath if I’ve cultivated sufficient present-moment focus through mindful walking or mindful cleaning that day.

I think contrary to many, I often don’t find it difficult to deploy body awareness while doing chores or going about my daily routine. It’s just easy for me to transition effortlessly between mindful walking or breathing will sitting the the following activity while staying aware of my body and the mind.

Ironically, I have a more challenging time being mindful when I’m engaging in pleasurable activities—likely because of the concomitant dopamine release, i.e., the “molecule of more.”

Staying Mindful During Pleasurable Sensory Experiences

Thay uses an excellent analogy between eating chocolate and mindful breathing in one of his’ Dharma talks. To indulge in the chocolate mindfully is to let it melt on your tongue, feel it move slowly down your throat, and taste all of the flavor nuances as it osmoses into your being.

Well, he surmises that a good practitioner can get these joyful sensations (and insight and eventually self-realization) from elementary mindful walking or breathing as well; enjoying each breathe or each step as much as every luscious bite of cacao—with the added benefit of not having to worry about excessive consumption.

This intrigues me on a number of levels.

The first being that other Buddhist practitioners I’ve heard address the subject of eating discuss not putting emphasis on or attaching to taste.

The other idea I like is the excessive consumption aspect. As someone who had been going through a long stretch of progressively worse and worse attachment, it was encouraging to hear that my material longing can be replaced by simply enjoyment of each mindful breath or step in the present.

Maybe the reason Thay believes in the enjoyment of pleasurable impulses received by the sensory perceptions is because he’s not clinging to the experience produced by the stimulus—he’s alright with indulging in the pleasurable ones so long as that indulgence doesn’t become a fixation.

For the record, these fixations don’t just manifest as pleasant experiences. They can also arrive in the form of unfavorable or dreadful ones. Like cleaning the apartment, for example.

Finding Joy in Mindfulness of Dreaded Activities

When you wash the dishes, if you know how to breathe and smile and produce the energy of mindfulness, concentration and insight, washing dishes becomes a very pleasant thing.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Returning to the chocolate analogy, something else encouraging for me is to know that activities traditionally thought of as unfavorable, like doing the dishes or dusting countertops can be pleasurable when done mindfully.

There is hard data to support the mood-boosting effects of mindfulness during unpleasant activities. A study in the journal Science titled “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind” found that a person’s awareness during a given activity had more influence on their happiness in that moment than the activity itself.

Somewhat surprisingly, regardless of if they were thinking unpleasant or happy thoughts, if their mind was elsewhere instead of engaged in the activity, they were more likely to report feeling unhappy at that time.

Embodying this practice and belief has also helped me eliminate the tendency to procrastinate.

As a side note, I’ve discussed it before but another way to kill procrastination tendencies is to consider the sense of accomplishment you feel when crossing things off your to-do list.

Distractions also provide an avenue for procrastination and are a coping mechanism for unfavorable tasks, in addition to just preventing us from being mindful. When we are swayed by distraction, we forget that we have a body.

I’ve received many insights about myself through mindful consumption and living, but probably the most significant about the external world is how the sensory stimulation so prevalent in our society serves a purpose—to prevent us from living and consuming mindfully, and generating insight.

The sheer nimiety of clutter we face in many daily circumstances – whether mindless entertainment, anticipating salivary stimulation (namely sugar or excitotoxins) or endless push notifications of “breaking news” on our devices – is a calculated means of stopping us from connecting with each other, our inner-voice, and generating meaningful insight.

Insights into human nature – like how we’re all connected – or into our own personal true nature; i.e., discovering our calling or pinpointing what’s preventing us from seeing it.

Whatever it is that keeps us running from the present and is vying for and winning the battle over our consciousness is what we need to renounce.

Large scale automation is also partially to blame for our inability to practice mindfulness. Because so many of our daily tasks are now delegated to machines (like driving, for example) it is very easy for the mind to wonder, instead of staying conscious of the task at hand.

I can’t genuinely say if this absent-mindedness is a goal of automation – as with keeping us wrapped up in distraction – or just a byproduct, but regardless, that’s what transpires, at least for me.

However, by deploying mindfulness and focusing our attention on solely the activity we are currently engaged in, we can come back to the present, and hear the voice within (our intuition)—the inner compass that tells us what we need and subtly nudges us in the right direction towards self-realization.

Wrapping Up

If I need a mechanism – some kind of practice – to produce Qi, I can’t do it with pure awareness, then’s there’s probably too many distortions on the nature to apply it to the mind to allow that quality to grow from inside.

Damo Mitchell, Hidden Intention in Qigong Practice – Part 3

These “distortions” are expectations, longings, emotions and judgements that come from the distractions I discussed previously. But by bringing our awareness back to the present – to the body or the breath – we become conscious of these distortions.

We all have distortions. However, some people are more aware of and better at letting go of them than others. The key is to not judge yourself for having them.

Through mindfulness they will come into your consciousness, which is a great start. And with enough practice their grasp on you will begin to loosen, eventually fading away entirely.

No doubt, there are detrimental physical (and mental) health effects that can be attributed to laying on the couch all day. And they probably outweigh the benefits gained through laid-out mindful breathing.

However, the point is, peace and joy, healing, insight, and potentially even self-attainment can arrive be being present, aware of your body, and following your breath.

Now, take the power back!

– CC

Breaking Bad Habits by Strengthen Good Ones

The road to vitality and self-attainment is paved with a lot of surrender. Very often, it takes the form of bad habits.

And though this post is part of series on identifying and following your higher purpose, these strategies can be useful for anyone interested in ridding themselves of bad habits or adopting beneficial ones.

You can either use a desire for ascension as motivation for breaking bad habits, or first change your behavioral patterns and then your true calling will be revealed to you when you have less afflictions occupying you mental space. Regardless, it’s imperative to eliminate what is deterring from your presence in the here and now.

Anchoring with Linchpin Habits

You can use linchpin habits to strengthen the likelihood you will take on good habits or cut out negative ones, and create entire new, beneficial routines. These actions serve as a foundation habit on which many others are built.

Linchpin habits are habits that when practiced (or dismissed), make others easier to engage in or avoid (bad habits)—the type of habit that has a ripple effect on other conducts.

For the sake of this topic, let’s use vitality as an example. In order to be fully lucid, engaged, adaptive and jovial during the day, I want to ensure I wake up well rested. I enjoy getting eight-plus hours of quality sleep, mainly because of how I think and feel the following day.

It also provides the benefit of the ability to be opportunistic in whatever situation may arise. As you may have also experienced, I feel like I can take on the world and whatever circumstances life may throw at me when I’m well-rested, and thus fully adaptable.

The intention of vitality in waking life means that I have better impulse control over nighttime behaviors that prevent optimal shut-eye. I’ve touched on this before, but these include eating (especially animal protein), blue light exposure, and other forms of stimulation – like watching sports or tv – during the several hours before laying down for bed—basically, any activity that will induce cortisol (the stress hormone) production.

If I were still a drinker, alcohol consumption would absolutely be included here, because in additional to have a stimulating effect on yours truly, it dramatically reduces sleep quality for various different wavelength patterns of sleep.

What I strive for instead are things that will help me wind down, and create a smooth transition into quality sleep—serotonin and melatonin-evoking activities. These include self-massage, reading (on good, old-fashioned paper) and laughter.

Another example of a linchpin habit is exercising first thing in the morning, or at least during the early hours. By starting yourself off on the right foot, chances are you will be more likely to follow a pattern of subsequent healthy or productive habits throughout the day—this same principle applies to making your bed in the morning.

You can also use a different habit-sequencing practice to help free yourself of fixations, impulses, or bad habits you’re intent on removing—a technique know as replacement behaviors.

Replacement Behaviors

A replacement behavior is when you undertake a positive habit or behavior immediately following recognizing you indulged in a bad habit, in order to counteract the negative action or thought’s influence on the brain and the reinforcement of that tendency.

Behaviors rely on a set pattern of neuron firings. I’ll try to spare you the scientific jargon behind the mechanism, but essentially what you are doing by applying replacement behaviors is breaking the firing sequence of different brain neurons associated with a particular detrimental behavior.

This is know as long-term depression, but not the type you are probably imagining—this version doesn’t have much to do with mood (well, at least not on the surface).

For example, if neuron A and neuron B are active, but at a different intervals outside of the particular timeframe associated with the stimulus (behavior), long-term depression will weaken the bond between neuron A and neuron B, and thus the tendency to slip into the bad habit.

So, by engaging in a replacement behavior, you leverage the fact the neurons culpable for producing the bad habit were just active, and start to initiate other neurons that can somewhat dismantle the firing pattern linked to the unfavorable tendency. 

Instead of pinpointing your mental state or the occurrences that led to or triggered the adverse habit – which is proven effective but extremely tough to accomplish – you must apply your awareness in the period immediately following it, which the majority of people are conscious of—that moment of disbelief and disappointment.

This instant immediately after the unfavorable habit’s execution is your chance to slip in a different type of behavior—anything that’s out of sync with the unwelcome habit.

In a closed loop system – one action, one set of neural firings – leads to another, then another, triggering this domino effect of complimentary, associated behaviors. But, by changing the number of features in that loop, it disrupts its closed circuitry, and provides an open loop with a better opportunity to intervene.

By applying a replacement behavior, you begin to link the regrettable habit to the implementation of this other positive behavior. Neuroscience research suggests this practice seems to create enough of a cognitive mismatch in the brain that it becomes easier to recognize when you’re heading toward to bad habit. 

This method affords the opportunity to reconfigure neural connections linked to unfavorable habits in a fairly effortless way.

And so, when you use this technique, it removes the need to be conscious of your thoughts, impulses, and behavior immediately prior to the bad habit—something that’s very difficult to do. 

However, it can be accomplished by watching your awareness, an ability that can be developed through a dedicated, habitual mindfulness practice—mindful breathing, or walking.

Putting it into Practice

There are certainly other techniques you can use, but these two strategies I’ve found to be the most effective and effortless.

It really helps to just consider your soul purpose (if you’ve already discovered it), and reflect on if your habits are an embodiment of that, or if they are deterring you from aligning with or reaching it.

Stay dilligent out there!

Identity, the Self and Finding Your Higher Purpose

Too many things nowadays are outsourced—you are outsourcing maybe your happiness to outside circumstances.

Once you spend time with yourself, investigating, the inside (Self) comes.

Shi Heng Yi

Some people go their entire lives without satisfying their fulfilling, true purpose. While they may reach contentment, it may be they have become complacent, and settled for comfort—a life they convinced themself they want because it fills a commendable social role.

Though in some way, deep in their soul, the know they are lacking, and use distractions as a coping mechanism to avoid examining the issue head-on.

This post is the last in a three-part series on becoming refined (soul ascension) and how that provides you insight into your Devine-inspired true calling. It is also an excerpt from my upcoming e-Book, Conscious Consumption.

When you can tap into the Self, Devine inspiration will come. And when you follow and channel it, you will be fulfilled. You just need to surrender and assoil yourself of your afflictions, whatever they may be. Let go of (self) concepts, ideals and worldly attachments (obsessions), and judgement altogether.

(Self) Identification

More than anything else, self-identity – and being misaligned with it – is what had fucked me up in the past. Yes, I would get depressed because I wasn’t taking the actions I needed to bring myself into congruence with who I saw myself as. But therein laid the problem—conceptions of the self in the first place.

I view identifying with a self-concept to begin with as the real issue. Your heart knows who you are and what it is that fulfills you, but the role you convince yourself you must fill is a manifestation of the mind.

All the daily tasks you tell yourself you must accomplish to fulfill your ‘duty,’ deemed by the mind and likely also society, may be off-putting and unexciting because this identity is not a construct of your soul.

For example, there was a years-long stretch in which is told myself I wanted to be an electronic music producer. I can still remember the video that sparked that inspiration in me because it send chills throughout my being—it was a video of pop artist Mike Posner producing and singing over a cover versions of Beyonce’s ‘Halo.’

However, though for years I tried my hand at digital music production – and did indeed improve my skills – I never really found the drive to go full force and relentlessly pursue it.

Despite the inspiration I received when I first saw that video, that resonated on a core level (music has always been my true calling), a lot of my motivations were actually ego-driven instead of for the benefit of society—i.e., I wanted to “make it” and be a household name, rather than be of service to the world.

Even though I knew I would use whatever influence I was able to garner to spread positivity and compassion.

I think that’s why I would procrastinate and put off the measures I needed to align with – what I believed to be – my role or self-identity. However, though the soul had insight into what I actually needed to feel whole, it was the mind that made me discontented, depressed, and thus made me fixate on worldly, sensory stimulation to derive pleasure.

I just wasn’t on the right path, and these obsessions were preventing me from achieving mental clarity, and finding it.

When you can detach your spirit and consciousness from the thoughts and impulses of the mind, the true Self can be content, at peace with just being in any environment. And that’s when insight comes, or when you can really get to work examining.

Sitting with the Self

If you want to see what the quality of your life actually is, put down the drink, put down the computer, put down the smartphone, put down the book, put down the headphones, and just sit by yourself doing nothing.

Then you will know what the quality of your life actually is, because that’s what you’re always running away from—that’s why people when they try to meditate to sit down like, “I hate it, I can’t sit still.”

Why? Because your mind is eating you alive. Your life is unexamined, your mind is running in loops over things that it has not resolved, desires you have that have gone unmet, contradictions you’re living, or ways which you feel trapped.

Naval Ravikant

When I was in the worst throes of my addiction, sitting like this was almost something inconceivable. Sure, I was doing multiple hour-plus-long qigong sessions each day, but those practices mostly relied on at least some minimal movement, not absolute stillness.

There had been times in the past when I regularly practiced a 20-minute seated heartfulness meditation, but didn’t stick with. I remember feeling the benefits, and how it seemed to make my soul and body lighter, but I think my “unexamined mind” running in loops during the practice prevented me from achieving all of the substantial conscious mind-refinement.

However, when I started practicing zhan zhuang is when all that changed. Besides just the physical benefits I’ve discussed before on the blog – like bringing your awareness to areas in the body you hold tension – the impact on my awareness was profound.

Though not a seated meditation, the practice is stationary. It’s rough translation in english is “standing like a tree,” in which you ground your “roots” or feet and legs to the earth, with arms outstretched, as if embracing a tree trunk.

It’s widely-recommended to practice for at least 20 minutes at a time, but the less time you tell your mind you will practice, the less it will be likely to wander. I started with a five-minute session, which at first even was challenging.

Despite daily habitual qigong practice for nearly two years, just staying stationary while focusing the mind in the body was difficult—it wouldn’t be more than a minute before I would catch my mind drifting.

But as always, I used the breath to bring my focus back to the body. Deep, abdominal breathing, focusing on the in and out-breath brought my attention to the dan tian, or gravity center. Which in turn gave me insights into where blockages were within my body.

Physiological awareness brings self-awareness. By being conscious of the sensations occurring in the body, the mind becomes attuned to the here and now, rather than occupied by past or future occurrences or other abstractions disconnected with the present.

Balance, Recognition and Moderation

Your biases and your preferences and your emotional reactions will never lead you to a place of finding meaning in life. Only to a place of defending the development of the sense of self and avoiding any kind of higher purpose whatsoever.

But if you have free will and you can separate yourselves from the biases, the preferences and emotional reactions, you will gradually start to find some kind of purpose, because you will gravitate towards that which is more correct for you.

Damo Mitchell

Mind traffic means all sorts of thoughts and impulses. Whether material obsessions, expectations (hopes or worries) about the future, or regret or longing for the past, it’s any mental complexity that undermines your conscious presence.

Again, the mental inventory exercise outlined above is the best way I’ve found to detach from cognitive, emotive loops. It helps transform your subconscious intentions into your conscious intention, where these ruminations, instincts, impulses can then be worked with and brought to your attention—and finally, removed.

When disturbing thoughts and images come from your subconscious intention into your awareness (or conscious intention), it’s important not to bludgeon them and suppress them back into the subconscious—that’s what you’ve been doing in all instances in waking life.

Instead, become conscious of them, investigate them briefly, and let them pass freely. Pure attention is more about stepping back from your mind, using this kind of detached observing, than it is about focusing it. Thoughts, ideals and roles that you identify with can then be conjured into your awareness, and expelled, if you so wish.

You don’t have to kill them entirely; what you should seek is non-attachment. As quoted, just bringing them into your periphery will loosen the grip they have, and you can dissociate yourself from the things and ideals you currently identify and are infatuated with.

When you become aware of the thoughts and impulses swirling in your mind, you also become conscious of your future expectations and (pre)conceptions.

Freedom from identification and learned concepts also means liberation from expectations. And when you can forget about the future, aren’t shrouded by impulses 24/7, and just be open to the present experience, things and roles will fall into your lap. And they will be that much more fulfilling because they came naturally from the Devine above.

Then, it’s just a matter of recognizing the signs.

Channeling the Devine to Find Your Path

When you begin to live from the realization that you’ve been given the gift of giving the gifts you’ve been given, you can step into your role as a divine conduit. Then, all things are presented to you and you present them out, totally in harmony and engaged with heaven.

So, if the beyond calls you to do [it], you have to obey. And we don’t know why, we don’t need to know why exactly, we just need to know that it feels honest, and true, and that it fulfills us.

Deng Ming Dao

There are several ways to find what is true to you, and what will be most fulfilling.

First, you can try sitting alone with your thoughts, examining your mind – as described earlier – and see what comes about. Even if at first it’s not revealed to you, this practice will offer you other benefits.

Another method, which has served me well in the past, is to put your trust in signs from the Almighty.

For example, several years ago while laying in bed before dozing off, I was watching a YouTube video demonstrating Hoy Chi, a hands-on body-healing treatment vaguely similar to chiropractic adjustment and loosely-related to acupressure that opens up energy (Qi) blockages and thus improves physical health and vitality.

I was watching several videos on practice around that time because I had become attracted to holistic medicine, and was considering pursuit of a role as a holistic healer, i.e., physical therapist, body worker, herbalist, etc.

While the video was playing, the light bulbs on my ceiling fan flickered several times, something that had never happened before, and didn’t occur thereafter.

Sure, I could have chalked it up to mere coincidence, but that fact that I was strongly considering dedicating myself to alternative medicine at that point, I read it as more than happenstance—in my mind, there’s no doubt it was Devine intervention.

A similar incident happened years later, when I was awoke in the middle of the night. I typically wake up at least once in the early hours of the morning to relieve myself, but this time, audio was playing via the YouTube streaming app on my cell.

Though I often listen to lectures or audiobooks on it before drifting asleep, this time, instead of playback stopping at the end of the video, the player was shuffling randomly through my ‘favorites’ playlist.

This video that was playing when I woke was a tutorial on the basics of cranio-sacral therapy I had saved but not yet watched, another holistic healing modality I was intrigued by after first reading about it.

I probably wouldn’t have looked too far into this instance in itself, but considered what had occurred a few years prior with the hoy chi video, and the shared subject matter, in my mind, it was confirmation—my life’s purpose was to help heal.

You don’t need to believe in ‘God’ in the traditional sense in order to receive and heed signs from the universe.

When you know your soul’s purpose, your emotional attachments and linear behaviors fall by the wayside. When you are on the right path, it becomes easy to not fall victim to these impulses and things that don’t serve you.

However, the irony is that you must strip them away one-by-one in order to arrive at your Devine calling.

Stop distracting yourself, look around right where you are, and see what needs to be done. Not what do I want to do, but what is the work that needs to be done? It’s like, “what can I do today that would be of service?”

Look at the life [and opportunities] you were given, look at the people around you, look at the jobs, that present themselves to you and do that job simply and honorably, one day at a time, with a kind of humility.

And then finding that, of trying to be of service, and not really going for recognition, can sometimes lead to what people call success, although that wasn’t what you were aiming for—and it’s all the more beautiful when it’s not what you’re aiming for.

Dr. Anna Lembke

Mindful Intent, Vitality and Improvement

It doesn’t matter how many hours you lay in bed—what matters is how many hours of this laying part you are regenerating.

The more vital you feel, the better you ability to actively create something, create a life you enjoy living. But you can’t do that without the proper methods and character traits.

Shi Heng Yi

This quote is a metaphor suited for many circumstances. But basically, the takeaway it insinuates is that mindful intent is the most importance consideration/quality for optimizing performance and development with any skill, conduct or activity.

That means eliminating distractions, your fixations, and bad habits.

Using the Momentary Method as an Example

“The Three Treasures” or “Intentful Corrections” of qigong – body (or posture), breath, and mind (awareness) – can be used to encapsulate this philosophy.

The first two, body posture or movement and breathing are used to mobilize and send naturally-occurring healing resources throughout the body. This process becomes more efficient and has a more powerful benefit when you can harness the mind and release it into your body, i.e., bringing your awareness to the present, and your internal world.

“The Four Baskets” are comprised of these three along with self-applied massage, which when added to the mix, serves to direct the healing energy to the spots it is needed most.

Something else I’ve noticed with my own practice is that just directing the mind and the intention/breath to my inner world greatly heightens efficiency, and thus I can achieve the same improvements and benefits in much less time than if I had let myself be distracted by thoughts or external things in my environment.

The key is eliminating what is detracting from your full immersion in the experience, and thus preventing optimization. These distractions can manifest in the form of material attachments, worry about the future, expectations or clinging to past events, among others.

I’m dedicating another post in this series to attachments (impulses, fixations, and self-identity) so I won’t really talk specifics here.

While it’s difficult for many to remain in the present and not tread on the past or stress over the future, a habitual mindfulness meditation practice will help with that. However, your material attachments and fixations can be leveraged to develop habits that actually serve you.

Eliminating What Doesn’t Serve You (Distractions and Attachments)

Can you change your habits to read the kinds of books you think will serve you best in the long term, the foundational books?

Read what you love until you love to read. So, just fall in love with the idea of reading itself. It’s okay to read the junk stuff—just fall in love with reading. Eventually you’ll get bored of the simple stuff and go to the more interesting stuff. Now I’m reading for the long-term, but I’m not giving up too much of the short-term pleasure.

I love to read enough that I don’t watch tv or watch movies. People start talking to me about shows they’re watching on Netflix, and I just give them a blank look. I don’t watch shows on Netflix because they’re not interesting.

It’s far more interesting to me to go on a walk and be meditative, and I’ll be in a very happy place. Or to read a book, which will be intellectually-stimulating.

And so I think it just boils down to choosing the long-term over the short-term. And all the hacks – the good hacks – help make the long-term choice palatable. Or they help inspire you to keep your eye focused on the long term.

Entreprenuer and investor, Naval Ravikant

You have probably heard the saying, “if you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.”

Using this concept, you can adapt your lesser behaviors or to ones that offer you long-term benefits. The key is making slight changes to your activities that gradually result in significant progress.

The quote above by Naval Ravikant uses reading as an example. But it also mentions television, which I’ll use to exemplify this process.

Pretty much as far back as I can remember, I’ve watched 20-45 minutes of tv in bed before dozing off, streamed from my laptop. It was really my only form of mindless entertainment activity of the day, and I used it as a way to decompress.

The programming would range from sitcoms or dramas (always with some comedic element) to MLB baseball or NHL games, depending on the night. Even though I knew this habit was not really benefitting me (sensory stimulation before sleep and blue light exposure) it had become engrained, and I had great difficulty kicking it.

But,I begun to gradually ween myself off of it. I started instead streaming educational videos on YouTube, like lectures or tutorials, that I still found entertaining or inspiring.

Ideally, they would also contain some comedic value, as I knew laughter eases the stress response, tension and anxiety—Bruxism (teeth grinding) at night has been a long-term issue for me.

Some examples of specific content I would watch include lectures by the brilliant and hysterically-comedic neuroendocrinology professor Robert Sopalsky, or discussions and tutorials on qigong and tai chi practices and benefits by (the also humorous) internal arts practitioner and instructor Damo Mitchell.

Over time, I’ve been able to remove the visual stimulation component and blue light exposure altogether, and now most nights I opt for podcast listening or reading.

Occasionally, I’ll treat myself to an episode of the 70s television hit, “Kung Fu,” as this show, unlike most others, calms my flight-or-flight stress response, and the positive message conveyed in many of the episodes often leads to my self-growth.

This process uses mindful intent in the sense it creates a positive call to action for something you want to do, instead of something you’re not compelled to do, but feel you “should.” But, it’s not necessarily beneficial regarding eliminating distractions and improving your immersion.

However, one proven technique for cutting out behaviors or information that create inefficiencies, and thus don’t aid in your development or vitality is using the 80/20 principle.

Applying the Pareto Principle to Improve Vitality

Try to reduce the amount of linear behavior, linear movement that you are doing in this lifetime—meaning investigating something that ultimately comes to a hard stop.

What does this hard stop mean? It means that all the energy you have invested at one point is just going to vanish. This is kind of pointless.

Regulate and keep an eye on the amount of time and awareness you are allowing yourself to get lost out there. That means first of all, it’s important that you see it in yourself, which means you don’t turn the view out there and look out. The first thing to do is turn around and see yourself.

Shi Heng Yi

You may have very likely heard of the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 Rule, coined by management consultant Joseph M. Juran and based on the work of Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto.

Another moniker is the “law of the vital few.” In the context of productivity or improvement, it essentially means 80% of results are driven by 20% of effort.

One example is going back and forth between wording in a paragraph, or searching for and editing ‘the perfect quote.’ While these elements do bring value to the article, punctuation and wording aren’t the crucial components—the points being conveyed are, and they can probably be understood without the perfect grammar.

Elimination – Adopt a “Low-Information” diet

One technique under the 80/20 umbrella is ignoring things or (sensory) information that is irrelevant, time-consuming, and not useful. This includes news or television consumption in your free time, and even just over-consuming information or material in your work life or when you are trying to develop a skill or discipline.

Another instance from my blog writing is when I get inspiration from a lecture or podcast I’m listening to. I’ll begin frantically taking notes to use the inspirational passage as an intro quote or a thesis for an articles, and it’s easy for me to lose the forest for the trees.

Often, I’ll continue to type away rapidly even after extracting the critical kernel of insight, for the sake of not wanting to miss anything else significant. In the end though, this is largely wasted time, effort, and energy.

I would have been much better off had I quit when I got the enlightening tidbit, and went back to refining my own thoughts and sharpening the article—which, of course, would have resulted in better development of my writing and increased article output.

It would have also helped me elaborate on the insight, as I wouldn’t be taking in additional non-essential information.

You can also apply this elimination principle to learning in a broader sense, as consuming too much information (sensory stimulation) detracts from immersion in the material, and thus memory consolidation and recall later on.

But, I’ve touched on that plenty already.

Wrapping Up

Hopefully, you find these tactics useful for refining your practice, whatever it be. Applying mindful intent – through any method – will help you feel more vital and thus operate more efficiently in many facets of your life—mentally, energetically, and physically.

And whatever benefits arise out of that, are a byproduct. You have the freedom to use them at your discretion.