Stimulating Neuroactivity with Electricity

Transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS, is an interesting idea. Groups are studying how electrical currents affect cognitive ability and control over fine motor skills. For years, the military has applied the technology to various tasks. I wonder how long it might be until we have “reading hats.” I wouldn’t mind working through Bavinck or Vos with an extra jolt.

Read more: Does Zapping Your Brain Actually Help You Learn Faster?


Piles, Of

The Task of Decluttering by Organizing Papers

I have a paper problem. Historically, I’ve exhibited the tendencies of a pack rat. That’s probably just a way to word things in order to deny that I am a pack rat. I’m trying to get better. I just read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I enjoyed the book. While there seems to be an implicit animism at work in the book, Kondo prompts the reader to think more critically about the “things” in his or her life. One constant in my life seems to be piles of paper. Kondo offers a practical strategy for dealing with these:

Papers are organized into only three categories: needs attention, should be saved (contractual documents), and should be saved (others). The point is to keep all papers in one category in the same container or folder and to purposely refrain from subdividing them any further by content. In other words, you only need three containers or folders. Don’t forget that the “needs attention” box ought to be empty. If there are papers in it, be aware that this means you have left things undone in your life that require your attention. Although I have never managed to completely empty my “needs attention” box, this is the goal to which we should aspire.

I’ve invested in a good double-sided scanner and an Evernote premium account. I scan everything and attempt to shred everything for which I don’t need originals or hard copies. This works well for reducing the paper clutter. Now I have to deal with the problem of unorganized notes cluttering up my Evernote inbox!

18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently

Here’s another article on creativity. You see these popping up everyday, but this one stuck out as it’s two years old and was the impetus for a forthcoming book.

Creativity works in mysterious and often paradoxical ways. Creative thinking is a stable, defining characteristic in some personalities, but it may also change based on situation and context.

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Commonplace Book

The Commonplace Book

Several years ago, Steven Berlin Johnson gave an address titled, “The Glass Box and the Commonplace Book” in which he discussed two different paths for the future of text. One was the glass box, the concept that a text is something of a museum piece. It’s meant to be looked at, but not touched or manipulated. The other path was the commonplace book:

Scholars, amateur scientists, aspiring men of letters—just about anyone with intellectual ambition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was likely to keep a commonplace book. In its most customary form, “commonplacing,” as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations. It was a kind of solitary version of the original web logs: an archive of interesting tidbits that one encountered during one’s textual browsing. The great minds of the period—Milton, Bacon, Locke—were zealous believers in the memory-enhancing powers of the commonplace book. There is a distinct self-help quality to the early descriptions of commonplacing’s virtues: in the words of one advocate, maintaining the books enabled one to “lay up a fund of knowledge, from which we may at all times select what is useful in the several pursuits of life.”

I love the idea of a commonplace book as a tool for idea formation. I’ve hacked together a similar system myself using physical notebooks and Evernote. As I’ve mentioned, creativity occurs by collecting seemingly disparate material and searching for connection. Keeping a commonplace book is a time-tested method for organizing thoughts and stimulating ideas.

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Subscribe to the Commonplace podcast.

Headphones and smartphone

Send Audio from the Web to Your Own Personal Podcast Using Huffduffer

Have you ever stumbled across a piece of audio online that you’d like to listen to later? Perhaps a friend messaged a podcast episode or news report to you, but you weren’t in a position to listen to it at the moment. You need Huffduffer.

Huffduffer lets you bookmark an audio file and thereby send it to a personalized podcast feed. All you need to do is subscribe to your personalized feed using your podcast app of choice. Whatever you bookmark will automagically arrive on your device.

I’ve been using this service for years. It’s great for those one-off podcast episodes you want to hear, but don’t want to subscribe to the entire feed. Or perhaps it’s a lecture posted with no accompanying feed. Whatever the case, Huffduffer solves the problem.

About a year ago, I learned of Huffduff video, does the same thing, but strips the audio from YouTube videos. Say you found a riveting video interview, but you’d rather listen to it while out on your long run. Just open the YouTube video, and hit the bookmarklet. It will extract the audio and allow you to add it to your Huffduffer feed. Brilliant.

Duhigg, The Power of Habit

The Habit Loop: How to Hack Your Behavior

As the saying goes, human beings are creatures of habit. Charles Duhigg describes “the habit loop” in his intriguing book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. He identifies three essential components of any loop. There must be a cue that triggers a particular behavior, an actual routine that is performed, and then a reward that reinforces the behavior and makes it worthwhile. For any behavior to become a habit—something that sticks—it must contain all three elements of the habit loop.

The Habit Loop

Habits are powerful tools in our everyday lives, because they allow us to accomplish tasks without spending valuable cognitive energy or exhausting our self-control. In Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human StrengthRoy Baumeister and John Tierney argue that humans possess something akin to a willpower reserve. We only have so much energy on hand. When it’s gone we need to recharge. The good news is that willpower is also like a muscle. With repeated stress, we can gain strength and endurance through adaptation.

Duhigg builds upon similar research with a discussion of “keystone habits.” Interestingly, some small and basic habits can trigger a chain reaction that leads to massive behavioral change. He recounts a study in which subjects were asked to take one day out of each week and record everything they ate during that day. They weren’t asked to do anything else. However, researchers found that this simple activity led to significant behavioral change throughout the week and subsequent weight loss. This one little activity had a ripple effect throughout people’s lives that led them to make other health-conscious decisions such as eating less, eating better, and exercising. Another interesting keystone habit is making the bed in the morning, something the military has long known. Just making the bed in the morning can make you more productive throughout the day. Once these habits become part of our daily lives, we effectively go on autopilot, and our willpower is conserved for other activities.

You can already see how harnessing your habits can be a desirable skill. Adopting new habits—especially those of the keystone variety—can lead to greater personal effectiveness. That’s the positive side of things. What about the negative? What can we do about our existing bad habits?

This is where Duhigg’s book becomes really interesting. He argues that it’s possible to hack existing habits by interrupting their existing loops. You can use the same cue and reward but replace the routine. I’ve done this with my morning routine. Previously, when my alarm went off, I’d hit the snooze three or four times, then I’d get out of bed and scan RSS feeds, Twitter, and process emails. This proved to be a terrible way to start the day. It short circuited my mind and promoted a short attention span. So I interrupted the habit loop. Now when the alarm sounds, I get out of bed, change into my workout clothes, and head downstairs immediately to begin writing in my journal. I then get everything to together and jump on the bike trainer in the basement, or head to the gym for a swim, run, and/or weight lifting session.

I think you’ll be interested in Duhigg’s findings. He’s written a more detailed description of how habits work on his website. Read it and then dive into the book.

Flowstate Screenshot

Writing in Flow

Yesterday I came across a new writing app called Flowstate. It is a minimalistic word processor with a twist. If you stop typing before the set timer is completed, it erases everything you wrote. It may sound torturous—and perhaps it is. The basic idea is to induce a state of flow by forcing you to concentrate and write from a deeper place without overthinking during the initial writing process.

Several months ago, I read a book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on the psychological phenomena he calls “flow.” It was thoroughly fascinating. I fondly remember my days of coding when I would get “in the zone” with my work. It seemed as if time ceased to have any meaningful significance. I was absorbed in the work, thoroughly enjoying it. Sometimes after several hours I would snap out of it only to realize how much I accomplished in what seemed to be a few moments. Occasionally, I’ll experience a similar phenomena in writing, but those moments are less frequent than when coding. Any assistance in getting to that state while writing would be warmly welcomed.

Flowstate is billed as the “most dangerous app.” It’s hyperbole, of course, but there’s a grain of truth to it. The software is a writing and note-taking tool, and it’s a super clean, minimal, and beautiful way to jot down your thoughts, especially on mobile.

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8 Things Every Person Should Do After 8pm

This article has some great tips for winding yourself down at night. I’ve been tweaking my morning routine lately to great effect. But this is a helpful reminder that many gains can be made in the evening as well.

Morning routines are all the buzz these days. Everyone has one, good or bad. Few people have considered a night routine. If you don’t have a night routine, you are missing out on the most rewarding and meaningful part of your day.

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The Akrasia Effect: Why We Make Plans but Don’t Follow Through

Procrastination is a perpetual problem for many. But why?

Humans are prolific procrastinators. It’s easy to make plans and throw dates on your calendar, and yet it’s practically inevitable that you’ll let some deadlines fly by with reckless abandon. Our brains simply prefer instant rewards to long-term payoffs.

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You Don’t Need More Free Time

AMERICANS work some of the longest hours in the Western world, and many struggle to achieve a healthy balance between work and life. As a result, there is an understandable tendency to assume that the problem we face is one of quantity: We simply do not have enough free time.

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Colossians 1:28–29

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.


No Uncertain Sound
Lamentations, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah: A 12-Week Study