Borsalino Test #21: Current favorite questions

Current favorite questions

How can I become a calmer and more compassionate decision-maker?

Who is a calm, compassionate decision-maker

A calm decision-maker optimizes the pace of decision-making. When choices are easily reversible and inconsequential, decision-makers move fast to spare mental capacity. Conversely, when the stakes are high and they can’t take it back, they take their time and pull the trigger at the very last minute. 

Empathy and compassion are not to be confused with each other. Empathy is the act of coming to experience the world as you think someone else’s does. Empathy often causes us to choose sides, to choose whom to empathize with. 

Empathy guides us to treat others as we treat ourselves and hence expands our selfish concerns to encompass others. Compassion, instead, is characterized by feelings of warmth and care for the other, as well as a  motivation to improve their well-being. Compassion is feeling for and not feeling with the other.

Why this matters to me

I want each decision to remove obstacles ahead so that my future turns out easier than my present. However, I often rush to make decisions. Emotions often get in the way. Sometimes, even anxious. I often feel the pressure to pull the trigger sooner than I could, and I regret rushing into decisions when they are irreversible.

Empathy often requires me to choose sides, to choose whom to empathize with. If you are struggling with a moral decision and find yourself trying to feel someone else’s pain or pleasure, you should stop. This empathic engagement can lead to bad decisions and bad outcomes. 

How can I create more than I consume?

What does it mean to create more than I consume

There’s so much I could do to fill all the hours in my day. Sometimes I would binge-watch a great show like ‘Succession’. Or I would order a bunch of food and check my UberEats app at regular intervals until it arrives at my doorstep. I would spend countless hours scrolling on my phone, at the mercy of the Twitter algorithm. And yet, I would still be scratching less than 1% of countless entertainment options at my disposal. 

If I project this pattern across the next week, month, and year I would slowly begin to fall into a trap of endless consumption and inactivity. And that scares me. Look, life is meant to be lived and enjoyed to the fullest. But my hunch is that it’s not its ultimate purpose. What’s the purpose, then?

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously stated that “the purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” Quite cynical, but an interesting perspective. 

Does that mean I would be condemned to unhappiness? Probably not. According to this view, the purpose of life is to add more arsenal to my realm of knowledge and skills. That way you can put them to good use and contribute threads to the fabric of society. Happiness simply becomes a byproduct of that journey.

Why this matters to me

The substantial issue with too much consumption is that it leaves me feeling utterly empty inside. Ironically, the more I fill my time with shows, my belly with tacos and my brain with dopamine, the more I feel a sense of void.

I start to feel stuck, not knowing where to go in life. I witness agency over my habits deteriorating. I become numb to my own emotions. Eventually, this loss in energy suppresses my willingness to create something out of my own hands, and bring it to the world.

Too much consumption leads to a life of escapism. Instead of learning how to sit with my own emotions or exploring what’s inside of me, I seek an escape that would make me look away. 

I believe art is the most beautiful form of human expression. Whether it be through prose, science, technology, innovation, visual arts, or entrepreneurship. The sheer act of living in a state of wonder and creation is what makes us human. 

When I focus on one activity and become fully absorbed by it, my heart rate slows and my breath deepens. This immersive nature of being creative helps me control what thoughts you pay attention to. In a way, creative work transforms into a form of meditation.

But what makes it all worthwhile? The sense of accomplishment I feel by the end of it. Even if no one else checks out my work, it’ll help to watch myself from afar and earn a sense of self-appreciation. This form of artistic process helps me understand myself better. 

In her book, ‘Big Magic’, Elizabeth Gilbert writes that ‘a creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.’ I love that, and I couldn’t agree more.

What would it look like if I were truly present in each moment?

What does it mean to be present

Between me and you, I don’t really know what it means to be present. Lots of people who have wrestled with this define being present as being fully conscious of the moment and free from any internal dialogue. 

Presence is often associated with feelings of stillness and peace. I would assume flow state is one permutation of presence. Sensations seem sharper. Your back is straighter. Breaths are even, and the stomach is not too full or too light. No external perturbations. You are aligned with yourself. 

Being able to summon this state of the mind takes time. We all experienced presence from time to time. But this is certainly not something we are able to recreate with ease or regularity. It takes practice. If you’ve ever tried meditation, I bet you can relate to the image of the mind as this feces-throwing chimp, never satiated with a revisitation of the past, or speculations of the future. It’s the default mode.  

The mind also narrates the present moment and tries to make sense of it. When we can’t make sense of what’s going on, the mind represses, distracts or fixates. These strategies are designed to protect and support us—being able to recall the past and plan for the future can help us survive. It’s this process that prevents us from being truly in the present.

Why this matters to me

If I could run a Monte Carlo simulation of my life at the present moment, I would probably be shocked by the number of opportunities wasted to be fully present. If depression has its center of gravity in the past, and anxiety in the future, my mind is constantly pulled in both directions by forces that just feel too strong to be fought. I hate that. 

An untrained mind, however, can color and shape our reality in ways that are not resourceful. The stories my mind tells myself, are the ones I end up buying into, and which shape my own sense of identity. My own self-narrative judges, comments, complains and disapproves. Thoughts bubble up ceaselessly. In this permanently distracted state, I experience only a fraction of reality. 

But I am not my thoughts. I am not what I hear the voice of my brain cells. When I start making an effort to be fully present, it shoves worry to the back of my mind. It doesn’t get rid of it completely, but it is a way to stand up to worry and not allow it to steal away the enjoyment of the moment.

Somehow, I feel truly present when the plane is about to take off, and I look outside through my window. When I read silently on a couch with other people around me, when we don’t mind being quiet because that’s just another way to connect. 

Being present does not imply that you stop thinking ahead and you always live in the moment. It’s rather a posture towards intentionality. It’s about carving out the time to spend with someone meaningful. Or doing something meaningful to yourself. You pay attention to the details, and you stop worrying about what’s next. You form clearer memories. And ultimately trust yourself more.