My Lecture as a Guest Presenter at Rutgers University

My sister is going to be starting college next month. Over this summer she and I have had conversations about college, which has made the topic top of mind for me. The other day my mind went on a journey:

Shirrie is going to college… I wonder what her upper level business courses are going to be like…. I wonder what her entrepreneurship class will be like… they will probably have cool guest lecturers… the professor will probably ask them if they know someone who should present…. Shirrie will probably volunteer me… the professor will love that idea… What would I present???

Apparently I have some assumption about my sister’s college path: 1) She will be a business major and be taking entrepreneurship classes. 2) She thinks that I am suitable to give lectures and 3) She would want to hear me speak in front of her peers.

speaking

So I did what anyone would do, I wrote a lecture. Here it is:

[Generic College Lecture Introduction]

I believe that there are specific non-technical skills that are foundational life skill that should be formally taught, but rarely are taught. In my experience, these “soft” skills will allow you to better execute everything that you do in life.

I have put together a list of four of those skills that I see as important. I will walk you through each one of them, let you know how it has affected me personally, and provide some next steps in developing these skills now. All of these skills are something that you can practice and get better at.

Comfort with discomfort

Mindfulness

Focus

Discipline

 

Comfort with discomfort

Discomfort is your body’s way of telling you that you are at nearing the edge of your capacity. A good example is physical discomfort while working out; that is your body saying that you are close to the edge of your physical strength. And that is specifically where you need to be to improve. Similarly with all other areas in your life, discomfort is a signal that you are at the edge of capacity. To grow is to push that capacity. And to do that you need to be spending time in your zone of discomfort. The goal should be to become aware when you experience discomfort, and then to actively work through that discomfort and put yourself into similar situations until you not longer feel the discomfort- effectively increasing your capacity in that area. Once you start thinking about discomfort as a signal for potential growth, you will start becoming more comfortable with discomfort, which will put you in a better position to grow and learn.

I personally found discomfort in confrontation. When I finally realized that my discomfort and avoidance of confrontation was hindering my ability to manage and lead, I took steps to put myself in more confrontational situations so that I could build out that skill set. And I believe that it has allowed me to become a better leader and in general build more meaningful relationships.

I have two suggestions to get started today. 1) Start asking for a discount every time you buy something. You might be amazed at how much discomfort you will feel… and how much money you will save. 2) Draw a square on your forehead with a dry erase marker. If anyone asks you why you have a square, do not give them a reason. If that doesn’t make you uncomfortable- then you might have this skill on lock down already.

Mindfulness

The way that I think of it, mindfulness is the ability to recognize what your mind is thinking about and how your body feels. It does not mean you should be someone who never looses focus, just that you should be aware when you do lose focus. And you should be able to recognize the physical signals that your body has and try to understand what that means about your mental state. The benefit of mindfulness is that you can shift your focus on what you want to be doing instead of letting you mind wander.

For me, there were two benefits to a more mindful experience. Firstly, I became much less anxious. My mind wanderings usually took the avenue of worrying about things that I could not control. Being able to notice and stop that greatly reduced the overall amount of anxiety in my life. Secondly, I have been able to notice things about my mood by paying attention to my body. For example, I sometimes get nervous before meetings. And usually when that happens I start sweating profusely in my armpits. I never really noticed that I was nervous, or that I was sweating, and I would sometimes babble through the meetings. Now when I notice profuse armpit sweat, I try to notice if I am nervous. If I feel that I am nervous (sometimes it is just caffeine), then I will over prepare for the meeting, and the meeting goes much more smoothly.

I recommend starting with a mindfulness app. I took me about 8 weeks of daily practice to be able to notice my mind and body. Once I acquired the skill- I no longer needed the daily practice to continue to notice. I used the app called “Headspace” that has the first 10 sessions for free.

Focus

Google, Apple, & Facebook are actively trying to distract you on a regular basis. Every time they are able to grab your attention, they are able to capitalize on your interaction. They have some of the smartest people in the world working for them, and they do a pretty good job at distracting. You need to understand that you cannot compete with their attention grabbing skills, and you need to take them out of the equation. It takes time and space to be able to focus, and it takes focus to get real work done.

I have found that I need about 4 hours of uninterrupted focus to get real work done. To do that, I set aside time where I disable phone, email, texts, and any pop up on my computer. I carve out the time I need. Then I also make sure that I am in an environment that is conducive for work. I do not work well from home; if I need to get real work done, I go to the office. I carve out the space for myself.

Do this: put together a group of work, and get it done like you normally would. Time how long it takes you. Then put together another group of work and go to the library. Turn off your phone and disable all notifications on your computer. Make plans with friends for 4 hours later, and let someone know where you will be in case of emergencies. Time how long it takes you. My bet is that you get more done in less time.

Discipline

It is common understanding that you need disciple to reach goals. You want to run a marathon? You will need the discipline to run regularly. I agree with that. But I find that many people equate discipline with the ability to constantly overcome hardship. And I do not agree with that. Discipline is the ability to take something hard and make it easy. And once it is easy, you can do it all the time.

Taking something hard and making it easy is a two-step process. Step one is to remove the ability for your future self to make a decision by employing support, accountability, social pressure, and goals. Step two is structure the activity so that it creates a habit.

Lets go back to the marathon example, and assume you want to run in the mornings. Step one is to make sure that you wake up every morning to run. Ideally you find a running buddy that has already been doing this for years, that you look up to, that you would feel embarrassed if you did not show up. Then you sign up for a specific marathon that gives you just enough time to get ready. You tell everyone you know. And you place a bet for a significant amount of money that you will run the marathon under a certain time, and if you don’t, all that money will be donated to the Nazi party. You have just successfully removed your future self’s ability to decide to not wake up. (I pretty much did the above except for the Nazi part).

Step two is to structure the runs in a way where they develop in a habit. You mind is something that you can program. Create a routine every morning before you run, run at the same time every day, and reward yourself somehow at the end of every run. Maybe your pre-run routine will be putting on your running clothes, eating a granola bar, and stretching in your house. Then you run every day at 6am. And after the run, you treat yourself to a smoothie. What you are doing is you are programing your mind to 1) have a specific routine for the run and 2) enjoy running. In the future, all you will need to do is put on your running clothes, each a granola bar and stretch, and you will suddenly feel like you really want to run. It becomes easy. Soon you are running every morning and enjoying it- and it seems like you are disciplined.

 

There you go. Four skills that I believe will make a meaningful impact on your life. Start practicing the skills of Comfort with discomfort, Mindfulness, Focus, and Discipline and I believe you will be able to better execute on your different life goals.

 

I guess I just have to wait a few years until Shirrie gets to her upper level entrepreneurship class, and her professor asks the class for guest presenters, and Shirrie volunteers me. At least I will already have the lecture ready.

My Lecture as a Guest Presenter at Rutgers University

Hello Mr. Sikh

I work in a co-working space in the city, meaning that many people have office on my floor and we share common areas. If you want it to be, it can be a social environment. I mostly keep to myself, but sometimes random people say hi to me.

Today  a random guy started a conversation with me. We were both making teas. He looks at me and says, “You are with that shaving company.” After I confirmed he said, “too bad I will never be your customer.” This man was a Sikh.

–Traditional Sikhs grow out their hair and beards, usually wrapped and tied into their head garment called a Dastar. So my fellow tea drinker would never buy shaving products because he has never cut his hair or shaved his face. —

Portrait of a sikh businessman drinking coffee and smiling
What do you do if you are looking for an image of a Sikh business man drinking tea? Just type that into Google and Voila.

I wanted to keep the momentum of our conversation going, so I told him that I am from an Orthodox Jewish community and know many people that have grown out their beards for religious reasons.

Then he said the following:

“In the 80’s I was a technology salesman in Mississippi and I told people that I was a Hasidic Jew to explain my beard. It was easier than explaining what a Sikh was.”

It never occurred to me that someone would describe themselves as a religious Jew in order to make a situation easier to explain. Growing up in South Carolina, I was almost always the only Jew among friends, explaining why Jews do one thing or another or wear one thing or another. I can only imagine what Mississippi was like in the 80’s.

My new friend finished filling up his tea before I finished mine. He walked away while I was still laughing. I did not get the chance to introduce myself or say goodbye.

If you are reading this Mr. Sikh, my name is Aviv. It was nice to meet you. Thank you for making my day today.

Hello Mr. Sikh

To tell or not to tell?

There are two differing ideas that I have read about concerning whether or not to tell others about your plans and goals.

One theory is that if you tell others what you want to do, you will feel social pressure to get it done. You will commit to the work because you can already feel the embarrassment of not being able to succeed. Tim Ferriss, who I am a fan of, endorses this type of commitment. He makes the point that the more you commit to the goal upfront, the harder it becomes to quit. With weight loss, for example, he points out some websites that will publish photos of you without a shirt on that you upload before you start if you do not hit your goal weight.

The other theory is that when you tell someone your goal, you already feel a sense of accomplishment. You feel like you already have done what you want to do, maybe the other person is a little impressed by what you are setting out to do. And because you have already felt the satisfaction, you are no longer motivated to put in the work. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman went so far with this principle that he would not allow himself to fantasize about reaching a goal, because he felt it would deter him. More recently, Derek Sivers recorded a TED Talk about it.

My experience between the two has shifted over time. The first method used to work for me, but it is now almost completely ineffective. A great example of it not working is the blog post I wrote where I asked ALL my readers to hold me accountable to hit the goals. Goals reached = 0. Social pressure doesn’t really work on me, mostly because I don’t really care what anyone else thinks of me. There are other types of pressure that might work, but in most cases there is an inverse relationship with pressure and enjoyment. The more pressure the less enjoyment I experience.

tread.jpg

I think that the second theory hits the nail on the head. When I tell someone about what I want to get done, I immediately feel good. And I think that it negatively affects my motivation. But in my experience this rule does not apply to everyone. For example, we have some work goals that we are trying to implement. Everyone that is instrumental in getting the work done needs to know about the goal, obviously. But telling someone outside of the project is a mistake, in my opinion.

I told someone the goal the other day. “What a great goal! What a great plan!” they said. I felt pretty good. Look at me, doing cool things. But nothing got done yet. I had to shake the feeling, and start putting in the time to get the work done.

I choose theory #2.

To tell or not to tell?

What makes you happy?

I have been thinking about what makes me happy, with the goal of doing more of whatever that is. Not what I think makes me happy, but what actually makes me happy.

A good example is working out. I thought working out made me happy, but it doesn’t really make me happy. It just makes me feel not bad. Playing basketball makes me happy. It takes up all of my mental and physical capacity (I am still learning the game). Afterwards I almost always feel refreshed- sometimes I also feel like throwing up- but still refreshed.

How did I decide what actually makes me happy? I tried to observe after which indicators I am most happy. I found two: after I laugh uncontrollably and after I am completely engaged in an activity.

Laughing:

This is pretty much exclusively spending time with family and friends. The more comfortable I am, the more likely I am to laugh. My daughter has elicited more laughter from me than anyone I can remember. Waking up at 6 am has never been as fun as it is now.

IMG_0142.JPG

 

Super Engagement:

This happens a lot when I am learning something new about a topic that I enjoy. I already mentioned basketball- which I think of as learning the sport. Reading a good biography is another one. There is something about reading a story about a real person (that did something awesome) that grabs all of my attention. This also sometimes happens to me at work, but only when I am working on something new and difficult. It specifically has to be something that I have almost never done before. It happens more often than not when I write.

So what did I learn? If I want to be happy I should spend more time with family and friends, play more basketball, and do things that force me to learn something new.

When I was going through the exercise, I started thinking about what causes me the most unhappiness. It was much less difficult to come up with this list. My cell phone and emails are the largest source of my unhappiness. Followed by over eating- which leaves me unhappy for a minimum 36 hours. And finally not seeing the sun in a 24 hour period.

There is something to say about stopping and thinking about these things. The clarity helps me with understanding myself and crafting a happier routine. I don’t think I am going to be able to get rid of my cell phone anytime soon, but hey, a boy can dream.

What makes you happy?

45 Boxes

45. That is the number of boxes that Lorraine and I have to pack up our entire lives. We are moving at the end of the week, to an apartment slightly bigger than the one we are in now. We are staying in the city; actually, we are just moving across the street. I can see the new apartment from the window that I am sitting by in our current apartment.

12759382214_6f355dceef_b

I like to think that I have a nomadic spirit inside of me. The idea of moving does not bother me much. I do not feel too attached to anything or anyplace. When a good friend of mine told me that we has considering moving to San Francisco for a job, but felt attached to NYC, I could not understand what he meant. NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, Tel Aviv— all the same to me.

Or at least that is how I felt a few years ago. I am much more attached to NYC than I thought I would be. There are many fond memories that I have here. We have been in this apartment for three years now. We went through career changes in this apartment, went through a pregnancy in this apartment, and started raising our first child in this apartment. It has also been nice to be in relative close proximity to family: Lorraine’s family is in Brooklyn and my family is a short flight away.

I am getting more attached to things as well. Whereas before I would throw away items indiscriminately, I am now holding on to items for their sentimental value. A book from my mother, a painting from a date night, a piece of Judaica from my father, a juicer from my grandmother; all now have more value to me regardless of their utility.

So as everything I have goes into 45 boxes, I am reminded of the fun times, tougher times, and all the times in between that we have had in the apartment. Hopefully by the time we move out the new apartment those 45 boxes will turn into… at least 46 boxes (lets not get out of control here). More items that will reflect more great memories with family and friends.

45 Boxes

What if everyone dies?

There is an idea in stoic thought called “negative visualization”. I have come across it in a few books, articles, and podcasts recently. The idea is that you play out worst-case situations in your mind for everything.

The idea is not completely new to me. In business, the concept of worst-case situations modeling is pretty common. You want to see what happens to an investment if the s**t hits the fan so that you can understand your risk and perhaps hedge against it.

5aa3f-mr2bmagoo2bmanhole0002

 

 

I didn’t think much about applying this concept to other areas of my life. I have been doing just that over the past two months, and I am pretty happy with the results. Here are some ways in which I have found negative visualization to be positive.

  • When I play out the worst cast scenarios, it removes some of the emotional fear of the outcome and allows me to think more clearly about how I would cope with such a situation. So for example, you might have a fear of losing your job. But if you think through exactly what would happen if you lost your job, what you would do to cut costs, and how you would get back on your feet then you might realize that it is not so scary. Once I can think clearly about an action, I can then assess the risks with a clear mind.
  • I am also better prepared for whatever might happen. I am not taken by surprise when something does not work out well, because I have thought about it working out poorly. And because I am less emotional, I can better deal with the situation.
  • I wrote in a previous post that I was dealing with the repercussion of stress as a product of not meeting my own high expectations. How do you have big goals and low expectations at the same time? That was my dilemma. I think negative visualization helps. You can still have goals that you are striving for, but by playing out the worst-case situation in your mind regularly you lower the expectation and allow the goal itself to be a fun. I have found that lower expectations = less negative stress = a greater likelihood of actually hitting your goals.
  • It helps me appreciate what I have. Thinking about the worst case is a tool to make the current situation seem great in comparison. The process makes me pay more attention to what is most important in my life, and be attentive when those important things are happening. Spending time with my daughter is top of the list right now, and I make it a point to make sure that I am able to spend time with her on a daily basis.

Negative visualization is not all unicorns and butterflies though. Sometimes my thoughts get pretty dark when I am thinking about my own personal life and often I end up in tears. But I think that is part of the process to better appreciate, prepare, and enjoy life.

What if everyone dies?

Would you help Jack off the horse?

Last week my cousin Jack got married. It was great to be part of the wedding and share in the great memory. Another memory in a lifetime of memories with Jack. Jack and I have some pretty fun stories, some of which I would like to share.

4 years old:

Purim is a Jewish holiday where people dress up in costume. When Jack and I were four years old, our mothers decided to dress us up in matching costumes for Purim. I guess Mickey and Minnie Mouse were the only costumes left at the store. I ended up being Minnie.

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-9-30-08-pm

13 years old:

When we were in elementary school, Jack and I went to a sleep away camp for a month. We were a little sheltered at the time and we got picked on a lot. They used to ask me “If Jack helped you on a horse, would you help Jack off the horse?” Then they would laugh. “Of course I would help Jack off the horse.” More laughter. We didn’t understand that we were being made fun of… If you ask me now, I would have the same answer.  I would still help Jack off the horse.

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-9-31-12-pm

College:

Our Senior year of college Jack and I lived together.  Jack and I both had mopeds that we would ride to school, and sometimes in the winter one of the mopeds would not start. So we would both ride on one moped. There was this big hill leading up to our classes, and the moped couldn’t make it up with both of us. So one of us would jump off and run beside the moped as the other rode. We had matching jeans jackets. Living with Jack was awesome.

1909709_545735185269_6775_n

“Adults”:

Jack and I both went back to Myrtle Beach to work with our respective family businesses. We would hang out regularly, and started doing outdoor workouts – flipping tires, pulling trucks, etc…. We signed up for a military obstacle course race before they were really a thing. Jack got dehydrated half way through the race, and I ended up carrying him on my shoulders over the finish line.

3261_652645790568_7686396_n

Jack and I lived in the same city for the first 24 years of our life. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to build such a close relationship with my cousin who is more like a brother.

 

Would you help Jack off the horse?