Happy Super Bowl Sunday! Sorry for not posting in a while.
The past few weeks have been hectic. Most of our household caught a virus, work spilled over onto weekends, and we invested a bunch of time in Lunar New Year celebrations — happy year of the rat!
On the running front, I’m behind. I’m still preparing for the Big Sur International Marathon this April. Cold weather and viral infections have thrown a wrench in my training schedule. I’m getting back on track.
On the reading front, I recently enjoyed Sandworm by Andy Greenberg. It is a frightening narrative connecting some of the world’s most devastating cyber attacks and attempts to attribute the attacks to the people behind them. Hint: Eastern European nation state.
I’m also in the middle of reading Jock Willink’s new book titled Leadership Strategy and Tactics. It’s a bit of a rehashing of the principles explained in Extreme Ownership which was also co-authored by Willink. The leadership principle from these books I am thinking most about is “Decentralized Command”.
I’m also really enjoying by Scribd subscription which gives me on demand access to millions of eBooks and audiobooks. If you use my link to sign up for a free 1-month trial, I can also get a free month of Scribd. If you do, thanks for your support!
Via Scribd I discovered “Snapshots” which are like 5-10 minute summaries of great non-fiction books. My favorite one is a summary of the book titled The Productivity Project. The ideas in this book build on David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
On the writing front, I haven’t done much at all. In fact, I feel a daily pang of regret that I haven’t posted here or continued my work-blog. I still think about and see rampant gaps in communications. There is a lot going on, a lot more than is talked about. Every week I tell myself to write more, and then I allow other things to get in the way. Brutal truth!
Thanks for reading! See you next week. Please follow or subscribe. I love to read and respond to your comments, too.
Hi I’m Torrey, this is my blog where I document my experiences as a runner , a reader, a writer and a thinker. It’s been four weeks since my last post, and I owe you guys an update. Sorry!
In this update:
Running to Work in California Summer Heat
Reading A Guide to the Good Life
Writing and Publishing the 22nd edition of Torrey’s Weekly Report
Thinking about Reducing Friction for Healthy Habits
Running to work in California Summer Heat
This month, I resumed running to work. I decided to alternate between biking and running. My bike route goes along the beach while my run route goes through LAX. I would much rather run along the beach but it’s 6 miles extra and it takes too long. So, LAX it is!
According to Strava I traveled 11.21 miles on foot. According to Actifit I took 20,148 steps to get there.
The last time I did this run was March. There is a huge difference between March weather and June weather. June is hot and my island shorter-distance route doesn’t have much of a coastal breeze.
Reading A Guide to the Good Life
Since my last update I’ve been reading a couple books. I’ll share some notes from one of them I’m enjoying.
The book is called A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine. I’m just getting started with this book, but I like the concepts so far. First, Irvine covers a psychology concept called hedonistic adaption. To understand this concept imagine someone craving a fancy, new car. Once the car is brought home, happiness from the new car quickly fades and a new, often more expensive, desire sets in. The mind adapts to material pleasure and then seeks out some new pleasure. Hence, hedonistic adaptation, it makes us all miserable. The same idea applies to personal achievements like running a marathon.
The solution is to want what we already have. The way to do this is to remind yourself daily that you can lose everything you have, including your home, your relationships and your life. Visualizing loss of what we hold dear is a forcing function for counteracting hedonistic adaptation. It helps us not take things for granted. Stoic practitioners are known for creating daily (or more frequent), morbid reminders that say something like “you are going to die”. Talk about sense of urgency!
The second interesting concept is internalization of goals as a mechanism for focusing on things inside our Circle of Influence. I’ve talked about the Circle of Influence before in How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others. The idea here is about setting goals where you have 100% control of the outcome.
For example, let’s say you are runner entering a 5K race. Your goal could be to earn a top 3 finish. This is an external goal, because you cannot control the outcome. You cannot control the weather, the other runners, and a hundred other variables. If you realize you have fallen far behind the top three, you will get discouraged knowing your goal slips out of reach.
An internalized goal would be to run the race to the best of your ability, to give it your all. You would be un-phased by your competition, and you’ll likely earn a better overall finishing rank because you won’t be discouraged. I call this idea Compete Against Yourself.
There are many chapters left to get through, and you can see I’ve already learned a lot from this great book. Shout to to Derik Sivers and Tim Ferriss who recommended this book during a podcast on the Tim Ferriss Show.
Writing and Publishing the 22nd edition of Torrey’s Weekly Report
This week I published the 22nd edition of Torrey’s Weekly Report, the weekly blog where I share knowledge and exciting news with my peers and colleagues.
I have settled on a sustainable and consistent schedule of publishing bi-weekly (once every two weeks). This schedule is working well (except for the obvious conflict with the blog’s name).
This week I shared a technology update, some SQL knowledge I recently gained, and a book review. I’m excited to publish report #23 in two weeks!
Thinking about Reducing Friction for Healthy Habits
I’ve been thinking about reducing friction for healthy habits, and increasing friction for unhealthy habits.
For example this month I started keeping a gym bag at work at all times. The bag contains a towel, change of clothes, shower shoes, extra shoes, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. Having the bag ready each day, even though I may not need it, reduces friction. There’s less planning required to do one of my bike or run commutes. I can decide to do so any day of the week and there’s less reasons to say no. I’ve reduced friction between me and the healthy habit.
Similarly I’ve implemented a practice of having drinking water in front of me at all times, even if I’m not thirsty or I don’t think I need it. Doing this has dramatically increased the amount of water I drink. Because I’ve removed the friction, the healthy habit becomes super easy.
The same thing works in reverse. You can insert friction to curb unhealthy habits. Hiding the TV remote in your closet or trashing the chocolate chip cookies creates friction and makes it harder to maintain those habits. Spending way too much time on social media? Delete the app from your phone every day and reinstall it when you really need it.
This is a weekly blog where I share updates and document my journey. I focus on four areas: fitness, reading, writing and thinking. In the past, for the fitness category, I have written mostly about running. I am beginning to focus on cycling this week. After a month-and-half of talking about it, I rode my bike to work, finally!
This week I had a great conversation with a coworker about preparing for a half marathon. I’m no expert, but I wanted to share some of the ideas with you.
Q: How long did it take you to prepare for the half marathon?
A: It took me 4 months to ramp up to half marathon distance. In training before the race I ran a maximum of 11 miles. This was a mistake, because mile 12 and 13 were the most challenging 2 miles of the whole race. Lesson learned: train the full distance.
Q: Do you have any other advice for someone considering training for a half marathon or a marathon?
A: Talk to your family early. Carving out a few hours per week for training means taking time from somewhere else. You family is your support team and they may need to do extra work to support you. Be up front about the time commitment, and look for ways to get everyone involved. They will meet you at the finish line!
Back on the Bike!
It’s been over a year since I last sat in the saddle. I talked about biking to work for over a month, and other stuff kept getting in the way. This week I finally hopped on my bike! There were some hiccups (as expected) which turned the 90-minute ride into a learning experiences.
When I ran to work I travelled very light. I was able to do this leaving my laptop and my gym bag under my desk. It just required some extra planning ahead. On a bicycle you have the luxury of storage! So you pack everything up and jump on the bike in the spur of the moment.
I have 2 Nashbar saddle bags that clip on to the back of my bike. I filled one with clothes, towel, and other essentials. In the other bag I shoved in my whole laptop bag. I did this because I was worried about damaging the laptop, and wanted extra protection. This added a lot of extra weight. I think a better strategy is to wear a backpack or leave the laptop at the office the night before.
I rode my usual running route. For the first 5 miles I was fighting traffic lights and rush-hour traffic. I think for next time I will seek out a more bike-friendly road (with a bike lane). Some drivers just get too close for comfort.
The last 12-ish miles were sublime. I was right on the beach from Manhattan Beach to Marina Del Rey. And from the marina to the office it’s along a dedicated bike path.
What Went Wrong and What I Learned
Several learning opportunities arose from this trip. I’ll go into more detail below. First, here’s a short list of what went wrong:
Rush hour traffic and no bike lane
Saddle bag fell off
Forgot to turn on fitness tracker
Forgot to pack shower shoes
The first five miles of my route were packed with traffic lights and heavy traffic. I can experiment a bit here to look for an alternative road that has bike lanes. Wide pickup trucks were too close for comfort. Lesson learned: seek dedicated bike lanes.
I packed too heavy. Around mile 13-14, I accidentally kicked my starboard bag and it fell off completely. Luckily this was the bag with clothes. I could experiment with this to find a better way to attach it, or switch to front-wheel bags. Lesson learned: pack light.
Unintentional braking is tricky to explain. I took a break during the ride, and when I parked my bike I inserted a wedge into the front brake handle to freeze the front wheel. Then, I put two earbuds in my ears to make a phone call. I kept the earbuds in when I resumed my ride, listening to a podcast.
About a mile down the road I thought: why am I struggling so much? Then I heard the brake noise. And then the thought: What the heck is wrong with my front brake? … Stupid me had forgotten to remove the wedge I had stuck in the front brake handle. Laughable! Lesson learned: double check your brakes for an enjoyable ride.
After I crested the final hill in front of the office, I coasted in towards the front door. I slowly stepped off my bike and question popped in my head: how far did I go and how long did it take? Only then I realized I had forgotten to enable Strava to track the activity. I also have a bike computer hiding somewhere which could measure speed and distance. Time to dig that out. Lesson learned: double check you started your fitness tracker.
When I went to shower off I found that I had everything I needed, except for shower shoes. Oops! This is not ideal for many reasons which I won’t get into. I have done something similar once where I forgot my towel. I think the no-towel situation is worse, maybe. Lesson learned: double check you packed shower shoes and a towel.
I realized that I really enjoy trying new things, and then looking for ways to make it more fun and convenient, through experimentation and iteration. I’ve had a lot of fun writing about this experience. Lesson learned: try new things and constantly experiment.
I’ve been enjoying a book I did not expect to get into. It is called Street Smarts by Jim Rogers. The dude has a lot of interesting stories from living in Manhattan, working on Wall Street, and moving his family to Singapore.
I’m also reading a little Mouse Book called The Blue Hotel by Stephen Crane. Crane is a a Civil War era writer who died from tuberculosis at the age of 28. Despite his short life he produced well known literary works including his well-known novel The Red Badge of Courage. He was an innovative writer in his time.
It’s been a very busy week. I did a little bit of writing. I did not publish anything since last weekend’s Weekly Update #15.
I stopped thinking and started doing. There were plenty of reasons to not take the bike-commute plunge. I had already put it off for a month (I first mentioned the idea in Weekly Update – #13 – April 14th, 2019). I was congested with a head cold all week. The week was unusually over-scheduled. The weather was not great. The bike needed air in its tires and chain maintenance.
BUT, all that aside, it is done! And I want to make it a weekly routine.
What have you been thinking about doing for a while? When are you going to take the leap?
It’s been about a month since I last posted an update. One of my readers reached out to ask what’s going on. This is really, really cool, and I appreciate the nudge. One of the main reasons I started sharing updates is to create accountability. Accountability for three habits that are important but often slip: Fitness, Reading, and Writing. So the nudge is really useful. Thanks Antin!
Nope! Haven’t done any serious running since the LA Marathon (which I finished in around 5 hours 45 minutes). Because, excuses! There has a lot of other stuff going on but that’s not a good excuse. I have learned a lesson many times: being active has a positive impact on everything else. It’s good for the brain. And long solitude runs are great for deep thinking.
At times like this it’s useful to remember your “why”. I want health and wellness to to live a long, robust life, and to have plenty of energy for family and everything else. So, it doesn’t really make sense to slow down and lapse back into old habits. I need to maintain the training habits and set new goals.
I’m really wanting to hop on the bike for some commutes along the beach, like I talked about. Let’s do it!
I’m slowly making my way through Richard Feynman’s QED: A Strange Theory of Light and Matter. I haven’t been reading much of anything else, forcing myself to get through this set of physics lectures.
I did just buy a book I’m looking forward to reading in the future. It’s a biography of JRR Tolkien by Henry Carpenter. The biographer gained access to all of Tolkien’s notes and interviewed many friends and family. Should be an interesting read!
I have been putting a lot of energy into Torrey’s Weekly Report, my work blog. It had gone dormant for a while, and we brought it back to life. In the past two weeks we published the 17th and 18th editions.
I’m happy that TWR is back up and running. What helped is shifting the schedule from Monday to Wednesday distribution. Now I don’t have conflicts with weekend activities and I have more time during the week to ready the next edition.
I’m not happy about the lack of public content. For months I wanted to share content from Torrey’s Weekly Report on Medium.com. I need to establish a process for this.
This week was yet another exciting week. It is unusual receive several days of rainhere. While we stayed safe and dry, the team still accomplished a lot.Reminder: You are part of my team.
Health & Fitness
I have relearned the same lesson many times. Health and fitness underpins everything else. To be the best you in mind and body you have to eat right and move your body. For couch potatoes and desk jockeys, making positive changes in the health & fitness area yields 10X results every other area. Negative changes compound in the wrong direction; garbage in garbage out.
This week I have not done any long, 10+ miles runs but I’ve done some short “active recovery” runs. I’m resting in preparation for my first ever half marathon race, The Pasadena Half Marathon. Early tomorrow morning I will embark on this 3 hour run, and it’s going to be so much fun. I’ll show you guys some pictures next week.
This week my blog Torrey’s Weekly Report hit a new milestone of 70 subscribers. I take time to thank every single subscriber, because what matters more than the number is the engagement and the overall impact. This is also why I don’t spam anyone or forcibly subscribe anyone. The blog achieves nothing if no one bothers to read it. The best way to make an impact is to grow a highly engaged readership.
I didn’t realize it when I started, but the blog has a potential to tear down silos. It is a blog available only internally to my company (~20,000 employees), and it is becoming a platform for sharing useful information far and wide.
In large organizations, silos naturally form in the hierarchical command structure. Information needs to be “cascaded down” but it doesn’t, it gets stuck. There’s this great parable called Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars by Patrick Lencioni if you’re interested in these kind of problems and solutions. Basically, the organization loses effectiveness because people don’t openly communicate, share information, and collaborate across imaginary boundaries. Silos.
Anyway! Torrey’s Weekly Report is a way to tear down silos. Every week, fresh and timely information goes out to a growing list of leaders in many levels of the organization. Multiple business units and roles, from support agents to recruiters to vice presidents have subscribed.
What would even cooler than seeing the blog grow would be this. Seeing someone else get inspired, seeing another blog spring up, documenting happenings in another corner of the global enterprise. Sign me up! I’ll read it.
My morning 20 pages reading habit is going strong. I finished up two books I bought last year.
I don’t usually read fiction, and The Battles of Tolkien isn’t entirely fiction. It talks a lot about mythical warriors and battles from many human cultures. And it draws connections between the Lord of The Rings universe’s history and these ancient human myths. For example, metallurgy and sorcery are common themes as shown by the evil anti-hero Sauron in LOTR.
I’m trying to finish up a book called On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Again since I’m not at all excited about reading or writing fiction, this one is taking me forever to slog through. But it does hold some good general writing tips and references other good writing books like Strunk & White.
Lastly, I started a new book that’s been sitting on my kindle for a while. It’s called The 50th Law by Robert Greene and 50 Cent. So far it talks a lot about overcoming fear and about self-management. Robert Greene is great at finding examples from history to explain his points.
Elon Musk, during a recent interview, described corporations as cybernetic collectives of people and machines. Corporations vary in size and market cap. Why are some corporations more effective than others? I think Communication is a huge part of it.
For example, Amazon.com’s unique communication style. Meetings begin with carefully prepared 6 page memos, read silently by attendees before beginning discussion.
How do most people in corporations communicate? In many cases, they communicate by sending lots of email messages. So, writing more effective emails makes you more effective and helps the rest of the team, too. Your job as a writer of emails is to save the reader’s time.
Five practical tips for being an effective emailer:
Name your target
Just get out with it
Write shorter emails
Make a phone call
Avoid detective games
1. Name your target
When you’re making a request, you must have a person or person(s) in mind who can fulfill your request. Don’t be shy, name them. These people are your target.
Try not to make requests to “somebody” or “anybody” because you will end up with a response from “nobody”. Highlight or tag (@name) the name of your target to grab their attention.
2. Just get out with it
Just get out with it. State your request first and provide detailed context later. People are lazy readers, they can read the first sentence and decide whether to continue reading.
It feels unnatural to skip the build up, but do it anyway. The reader can dig into the meat if they want. Take it to the next level by making the request very succinct.
3. Write shorter emails
Write shorter emails. Try to get it done in 3 sentences or less. Most people are lazy readers, they’re not going to carefully read your wall of text. So, you’re wasting keystrokes typing all of it.
4. Make a phone call
When there is a lot of back and forth, stop using email and make a phone call. Exchanging paragraphs of text back and forth may be a signal a 10 minute phone or in-person conversation would be more effective.
5. Avoid Detective Games
If you’re referencing a document or web site or anything, hyperlink directly to what you’re talking about. Or include a screenshot/image. Better yet, draw a red box around the part of the image you’re talking about.
Don’t make me (the reader), play a game of figuring out what you’re referencing. Save me as many clicks as possible by giving me a hyperlink. Doing this makes it easier for me to understand and reply. We both get better results.
This week I reflected on a powerful metaphor told by actor Will Smith. I found this years ago, and I occasionally come back to it. It helps me avoid losing momentum. For convenience, I’ve transcribed his monologue here.
“You don’t try to build a wall. You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say I’m gonna build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s even been built. You don’t start there. You say ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid. There will not be one brick on the face of the earth that’s gonna be laid better than this brick that I’m gonna lay in this next 10 minutes’. And you do that every single day and soon you have a wall.”
During childhood, Smith and his brother built a brick wall. The task was done in after-school hours and took weeks if not months.
The wall metaphor is powerful for a few reasons:
• Breaking down impossible goals into manageable pieces.
• Building habits and creating momentum.
Breaking down impossible goals into manageable pieces
When you set out to achieve something great, the first reaction is ‘stop, that’s impossible’. You want to build a wall but you’ve never touched a brick in your life.
For you, in that moment, it is impossible. There’s no proof you can do it because you’ve never done it before. Breaking down challenges into small pieces helps overcome this. Which brick will you lay today?
The project starts at 0. No forward movement. Through sheer will you push it forward. You get the ball rolling. You lay the first brick.
Building habits and creating momentum
When you first start a new craft or hobby, it sucks. The first few reps go in the trash. You don’t have much to show for the effort. But, you do have something. You have momentum. And if you stop, you do lose something. You lose momentum.
Momentum is subtle. It’s hard to see it when you have it and when you don’t. To see it you have to look into the past and measure your performance. You have to look at your half-finished brick wall and admire the straight lines, the consistency.
I’ve experienced this first hand with writing and with running. I hit a stride and I’m raising the bar week after week. Then some curveball flies and knocks me off course. I stop writing/running.
Weeks go by. I come back and look at what I did just before stopping. I am amazed by what I had done. And I ask myself: why did I stop? Then I start the cycle again, regaining momentum. After taking a long break, the next brick is never laid to the previous standard.
My high school band teacher used to say: “skipping a day of practice is like losing a week of practice.” He understood momentum.
Do you hope to be outstanding? Do you hope to stand out? Hope is not enough. Hope will not cause a sack of outstanding to land in your lap. Hope is not a strategy.
To stand out you must craft, do work, create. Artists and entrepreneurs. Hackers and painters. Creators reshape their world to match their dreams. The rest of us let the world reshape our dreams.
Lots of people have ideas. Ideas are cheap. Few people execute on ideas. The graveyard is the richest place on earth. It’s filled with unwritten books, unbuilt companies, unsong songs, unshipped products.
Many conversations go like this:
“I had an idea and I worked on an app.”
“Is it on the App Store? Can I use it?”
“No, I never took it that far”
No excuses. Ship it. Publishit. Build a portfolio of work. Take a risk to put your imperfect creation out there. You will experience a fear of criticism. There is a tiny group of fans to cheer you on. To overcome this fear realize almost no one knows who you are and even fewer know about your work.
Become a creator now, and thousands of hours later you will find acclaim. Until then you will crave real feedback. There is no overnight success. People are rewarded in public for what they’ve practiced for years in private.
Creators are stand out. Outstanding creators crave feedback. Document what you’re doing. Ask for comments. Appreciate every bit of feedback. And engage with anyone who generously gives you their attention.
Do deep work. Create work that evokes emotions. If no one feels emotional connection to your work, no one cares that it exists (besides you). Experience the joy of human connection, connect with people through your work. What makes it all worth it? The joy of human connection.
Then you will stand out…
“I do not choose to be a common man.
It is my right to be uncommon … if I can.
I seek opportunity … not security.
I do not wish to be a kept citizen,
Humbled and dulled by having the State look after me.
I want to take the calculated risk,
To dream and to build. To fail and to succeed.
I refuse to barter incentive for a dole;
I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence;
The thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of Utopia.
I will not trade freedom for beneficence
Nor my dignity for a handout
I will never cower before any master
Nor bend to any threat.
It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid;
To think and act for myself,
To enjoy the benefit of my creations
And to face the world boldly and say:
This, I have done.”
Simon Sinek’s recent talks delve into his concept of infinite and finite games, infinite and finite players. I liken the concept to Native American war-chiefs who, before declaring war, debated the consequences on the tribe’s next seven generations. The tribes play an infinite game. They do not play for sport. They do not look for small short term gains.
The finite player plays to beat the other guys. They treat relationships like transactions. They sacrifice future stability for short-term, opportunistic gains. Ready, fire, aim. It’s a short term, opportunistic play, and the cost is paid by future generations.
People with a strong spiritual practice, who believe in a higher power, tend to be infinite players. You have your karma, or your pearly gates. These spiritual concepts change your perspective. You care more about your fellow man, and you care more about creating a better world for your children’s children’s children.
The lesson is:
Play an infinite game, focus on the long term. Don’t get distracted by short-term opportunistic gains.