April Coffee Talk: Mind, Body, Business & Books (#32)

This month brings a special depth over breadth Cawfee Tawk edition. I am in the final week of book draft writing and Momentum launching mode, which means that my article reading has fallen by the wayside! However, ever faithful to my inky Sunday New York Times, I found several spot-on Pivot Method pointers in its pages this month. I have extracted the best of what you need to know below so that you can be a coffee-talking badass. Bold emphasis mine.

See you Monday when doors open for MomentumAnd join me Tuesday, April 14 at 12pm ET for a live Google Hangout on How to Dismantle Momentum's 3 Biggest Barriers (add to your calendar by clicking here). Woo!


From Growing Up on ‘Mad Men’: A Conversation With Matthew Weiner and Kiernan Shipka:

Interviewer, Philip Galanes: What’s your emotional state, on the eve of the final episodes?

Kiernan Shipka: I’ve been on the show for more of my life than I haven’t. It hasn’t settled in yet that it’s over. It feels more like we’re on hiatus. I’m so grateful that the new episodes are coming.

Matthew Weiner: I’m dying for people to see them. But when I moved out of my office in December, I was shocked by how sad I was, about the passage of time and the mortal aspect of completing something that was so important to me. Plus, the scattering of all these talented people.

PG: Are people cruel enough to say “What’s next?” yet?

MW: Every day! My kids ask me now as a joke.

Just when I thought "there's an app for that" couldn't get any weirder. Meet Karen, a semi-twisted Her-style life coach in your phone . . . that is actually a theater experiment. From An App that Knows You All Too Well:

Thinking about a life coach but not ready to commit to the real thing? App stores offer lots of electronic alternatives that can be downloaded to your iPhone or Android device. There’s Success Wizard, which promises to “help you plan, focus and achieve real and lasting results.” LiveHappy, brim-full of exercises from the California psychologist who wrote “The How of Happiness.” Niggle, for people who want “a pocket sized coaching buddy on call 24/7.” And soon, from the British art group Blast Theory, an entirely different approach: Karen, a mock life-coach app that develops boundary issues and leaves its users feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

Karen is a fictional coach in a software-driven experiential art piece. Part story, part game, designed to be played over a period of days, it offers a deliberately unsettling experience that’s intended to make us question the way we bare ourselves to a digital device.

. . . Unlike most real life-coaching apps, this one displays video rather than text — a tactic that makes it easy to forget the distinction between what’s digital and what’s human. When you open the app, Karen (played by Claire Cage, an actress who has appeared on the British TV series “Coronation Street” and “Being Human”) starts speaking to you directly, asking a series of questions.

. . . Early on, during the getting-to-know-you phase, Karen looks into the camera and says, “If you share with me, I can help you find out things about yourself you might not even realize.” That, of course, is the promise of life-coaching apps — and in this case at least, it turns out to be true. Users won’t know how much Karen has learned about them until they reach the end of the experience, at which point they’ll be invited to purchase (for $3.99) an extensive — not to say invasive — psychological profile compiled by the app itself.

Karen can be played strictly for fun. But if you wish to engage on a deeper level, the question it aims to provoke is somewhat subtler: Where do we draw the line between our devices and ourselves?

From An Upbeat Emotion that is Surprisingly Good for You

Dark moods are bad for your health. Scientists have known for decades that a wide variety of unpleasant emotions, like shame, depression and anxiety, are linked to greater rates of ills like heart disease, inflammation, cancer and premature death. Conversely, positive feelings have been shown to be good for you.

Far less is known, however, about the health benefits of specific upbeat moods — whether contentment, say, might promote good health more robustly than joy or pride does. A new study singles out one surprising emotion as a potent medicine: awe. And happily, awe seems to be much easier to come by than many might expect, even for the busy and stressed-out.


From Learning to See Data:

(On Big Data) "We need some way to capture the gestalt, to develop an instinct for what’s important.”

And so it is in many fields, whether predicting climate, flagging potential terrorists or making economic forecasts. The information is all there, great expanding mountain ranges of it. What’s lacking is the tracker’s instinct for picking up a trail, the human gut feeling for where to start looking to find patterns and meaning. But can such creative instincts really be trained systematically? And even if they could, wouldn’t it take years to do so?

The answers are yes and no, at least when it comes to some advanced skills. And that should give analysts drowning in data some cause for optimism.

Scientists working in a little-known branch of psychology called perceptual learning have shown that it is possible to fast-forward a person’s gut instincts both in physical fields, like flying an airplane, and more academic ones, like deciphering advanced chemical notation. The idea is to train specific visual skills, usually with computer-game-like modules that require split-second decisions. Over time, a person develops a “good eye” for the material, and with it an ability to extract meaningful patterns instantaneously.

Perceptual learning is such an elementary skill that people forget they have it. It’s what we use as children to make distinctions between similar-looking letters, like U and V, long before we can read. It’s the skill needed to distinguish an A sharp from a B flat (both the notation and the note), or between friendly insurgents and hostiles in a fast-paced video game. By the time we move on to sentences and melodies and more cerebral gaming — “chunking” the information into larger blocks — we’ve forgotten how hard it was to learn all those subtle distinctions in the first place.

The perceptual skills themselves are still there, however, and still trainable. We use them anytime we try to learn new material: say, different software for work, or differences in native trees and plants after moving across the country. Once our eyes — or other senses — have mastered these subtle perceptual differences, we can focus on putting the knowledge to work.

THE beauty of such learning is that it is automatic; there’s no thinking involved. “We don’t just see, we look; we don’t just hear, we listen,” wrote the field’s founder, Eleanor J. Gibson, in 1969. “Perceptual learning is self-regulated, in the sense that modification occurs without the necessity of external reinforcement. It is stimulus-oriented, with the goal of extracting and reducing” the information needed.

That comment is so packed with meaning that it helps to slow down the tape. Perceptual learning is active. Our eyes (or other senses) are searching for the right clues. Automatically, no extra effort is required. We have to pay attention, of course, but there’s no need to turn the system on or tune it. It’s self-correcting — it tunes itself. The brain works to find the most meaningful sights or sounds and filter out the rest.

. . . The most important question when dealing with reams of digital data is not whether perceptual skills will be centrally important. The question is when, and in what domain, analysts will be able to build a reliable catalog of digital patterns that provide meaningful “clues” to the underlying reality, whether it’s the effect of a genetic glitch, a low-pressure zone or a drop in the yen.

. . . Digital instinct-building is likely to become crucial, a discipline where people with computational and science chops will have to grow their visual sixth sense, like sea captains who can read the sky or guides who can find trails in the Mojave.

“One thing I try to argue is that it’s not just about bigger machines to crunch more data, and it’s not even about pattern recognition,” Mr. Kohn, the painter, said in a phone interview. “It’s about frameworks of recognition; how you choose to look, rather than what you’re trying to see. Scientists often think of visual images like graphs as the end result of their analysis. I try to get them to think visually from the beginning.”


From The Rise of High-Speed Networking (on Silicon Valley execs networking at car races . . . though I read it as a great feather in the cap of what career momentum feels like!):

When you get past the noise and the smell, the unbearable heat, the G-force, the surprising physical exertion and, always, the constant threat of injury or death — auto racing, like much else, comes down to math. There is an optimal path around a racetrack, a geometric arc of least resistance. It is the driver’s job to find this sweet spot of physics and stick to it, lap after lap, as consistently as a microprocessor crunching through an algorithm.

For tech people — who are accustomed to finding and manipulating hidden math — hitting the arc can be a moment of particular pleasure. “When you’re really in the zone in a racecar, it’s almost meditative,” said Jeff Huber, who has been driving racecars for more than a decade. “You’re working on this pursuit of perfection, of getting the braking point just right, the braking pressure just right, finding the limit of adhesion when you’re going around the corner. There’s this balance that you’re feeling and managing all the time, of just barely being in control, right at that perfect limit.


Hilarious and awesome! From Elisa Doucette:

"KINDLR, the dating app for book lovers, was an April Fools prank from GoodReads… or was it? What better way to test an audience than to announce something 'as a joke,' then see what the reaction is. Regardless of whether GoodReads or someone else jumps on the bandwagon, I’d totally swipe right on some bookshelves I’ve seen on some very eligible bachelors’ sites and GoodReads accounts."

Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian, on how to find the time for reading:

“Becoming more efficient” is part of the problem. Thinking of time as a resource to be maximised means you approach it instrumentally, judging any given moment as well spent only in so far as it advances progress toward some goal. Immersive reading, by contrast, depends on being willing to risk inefficiency, goallessness, even time-wasting. Try to slot it in as a to-do list item and you’ll manage only goal-focused reading – useful, sometimes, but not the most fulfilling kind.

“The future comes at us like empty bottles along an unstoppable and nearly infinite conveyor belt,” writes Gary Eberle in his book Sacred Time, and “we feel a pressure to fill these different-sized bottles (days, hours, minutes) as they pass, for if they get by without being filled, we will have wasted them.” No mind-set could be worse for losing yourself in a book.

So what does work? Perhaps surprisingly, scheduling regular times for reading. You’d think this might fuel the efficiency mind-set, but in fact, Eberle notes, such ritualistic behaviour helps us “step outside time’s flow” into “soul time”. (You can use space ritualistically, too: read in the same chair, on the same park bench.) You could limit distractions by reading only physical books, or on single-purpose e-readers. “Carry a book with you at all times” can actually work, too – providing you dip in often enough, so that reading becomes the default state from which you temporarily surface to take care of business, before dropping back down.

On a really good day, it no longer feels as if you’re “making time to read”, but just reading, and making time for everything else.


From What’s More Important to You: the Initial Rush of Prose or the Self-Editing and Revision That Come After ItCheryl Strayed, author of Wild, says: 

Each is essential in such equal measure that it’s impossible to separate them in order to single one out. Like a great mental seesaw, every thought in one direction is immediately counterbalanced by a thought in the other. I write to find what I have to say. I edit to figure out how to say it right. There would be nothing to revise if the initial prose didn’t exist. Without revision my work would be too ridiculous to bear, a pile of almost-good pages I’d rather burn than publish. The truest thing I can say about either one of them is, like the mother who loves her offspring beyond measure, I dislike them both equally.

I’m haunted always by the thought that the act of writing is itself absurd. Filling an empty page or computer screen with words can strike me as inane work that ought to have more to show for itself by the end of the day. How many bookshelves does a carpenter build that don’t ultimately become bookshelves in the actual world? I’d guess none. How many paragraphs does a writer write that go to the invisible, forgotten place where deleted paragraphs go? In my own work — including the work I did in the course of writing this very column — I’d estimate it approaches a 50-50 split.

Yet once a piece of writing exists, the idea of taking it all apart and putting it together differently often feels even more insurmountable than creating it did. When my editor sent me a long letter in response to the first draft of my book “Wild,” it took me a week to so much as remove it from the envelope in which it came. Reading about what was good, bad, beautiful and horrible about my book meant I’d have to do what I call diving back in, a phrase that accurately describes the profound immersion into the deep, dark river of language and story one experiences when revising a long work.

Pro Tip: How to Save Kindle Notes and Highlights into Evernote:

1. Access your Kindle by logging in to your account.

2. Use the web clipper to clip and capture the article. This will send the contents of your book notes or highlights directly into Evernote.

3. Notes are easily accessible through Evernote’s powerful search. If you can’t recall specifically, try search terms like the title of the book, name of the author, or the subject matter of your research to hone in on your notes faster.

Tip: Clicking on ‘Read more at location’ from Evernote will take you to the specific passage to read on the Kindle for Mac or PC.

Just for Fun

This is too cute! I feel a little bad watching . . . but the pizza slice moment is just too hilarious not to share. Fritz Learns to Catch: [youtube id="6w2UxDdhZPk"]

That's it for now . . . see you on Momentum Monday!! SQUEE!