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Deep Work by Cal Newport

Big Idea: 

Deep Work – activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit – is economically valuable, rare in today’s knowledge economy and leads to a meaningful life.

Context:

Cal Newport is a young computer science professor at Georgetown University who has published more than 60 peer reviewed papers and 5 best selling books, all while raising a family and not working past 5:30pm and weekends. He doesn’t use social media.

My Personal Story:

Last year my MacBook was stolen so I had to work at a nearby internet cafe. I hated going there because it was full of obnoxious teens playing video games. So I would do all my thinking on pen and paper and only go there if I had to. I discovered that I only needed 1 hour online/day to complete my job. Without a computer I was more productive.

When feeling overwhelmed with distraction I usually ditch my phone and work at a riverside cafe. This matches a study Cal cites about attention restoration theory – that sending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate.

Deep Work gives me a persuasive argument (backed by academic studies) to disconnect from the internet and routinize deep work.

Exercise 1:

Feel the power of deep work. 

Schedule two 60 minute sessions to complete an activity that supports your most important professional goal. This activity should be challenging but achievable so you lose track of time. No internet or phones allowed! A countdown timer helps, whether its a stop watch or Focus Timer app. How much progress did you make? How do you feel once you’re done?

Exercise 2

Integrate deep work into your schedule and support it with routines and rituals. 

Cal writes: “The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.”

The most useful tactic I took from this book was the idea of fixed schedule productivity: fixing a firm goal of not working past a certain time OR certain number of hours, and then working backwards to schedule deep work.

Employ fixed schedule productivity to your working week. Pick a daily shutdown time and stick to it. For Cal, that’s 5:30pm on weekdays, and no work on weekends. Then schedule your deep work within your time constraints. This habit also gives your conscious brain time to rest and your unconscious mind time to sort through your most professional challenges. Most athletes, authors and scientists cannot do more than 4 hours of deep work/day. As Nietzsche said: “It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.”

Exercise 3

Now further train your attention muscle by working out 1) your ability to concentrate and 2) your desire for distraction. 

Cal suggests a 1-month social media fast and scheduling every minute of your day but this is probably too much for most people. 

Instead I recommend scheduling your daily “connected time” for one week. This connected time includes texting apps, social media and internet. I went with 11:30am-12pm so I could respond to text messages and 5-7pm so I could respond to work emails. I also allowed myself 8pm+ to be connected online. 

Online research related to your deep work is allowable – but you should open and close your browser after finishing the task.

This is more about adhering to your connected times rather than the amount of time itself. So if your work requires you to be online every few hours than schedule those blocks in but stick to them.

Cal also recommends committing to a shallow work budget of 25% or less of total work time.

Shallow work is “non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted, that tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.” 

To identify shallow work ask “how long would it take (in months) to train a part recent college graduate with no specialized training in my field to complete this task?”  You should focus on the tasks that would take longer.

For 5 working days schedule your daily connected time. Take note of how much time you’re spending doing deep work vs. shallow work. What routines would help you tilt the balance more towards deep work?

Quote:

“To leave the distracted masses to join the focused few, I’m arguing, is a transformative experience. The deep life, of course, is not for everybody. It requires hard work and drastic changes to your habits.

For many, there’s a comfort in the artificial busyness of rapid e-mail messaging and social media posturing, while the deep life demands that you leave much of that behind. There’s also an uneasiness that surrounds any effort to produce the best things you’re capable of producing, as this forces you to confront the possibility that your best is not (yet) that good. It’s safer to comment on our culture than to step into the Rooseveltian ring and attempt to wrestle it into something better.

But if you’re willing to sidestep these comforts and fears, and instead struggle to deploy your mind to its fullest capacity to create things that matter, then you’ll discover, as others have before you, that depth generates a life rich with productivity and meaning.”

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Blog Book Trainer

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

Big Idea: 

In order to be creative you need habits that prepare you to be creative.

Context:

Twyla Tharp is one of America’s greatest choreographers who since 1965 has created more than 130 dances for her company, the New York City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, London’s Royal Ballet and American Ballet Theatre.  She has created pieces to the music of everyone from Mozart, Bach and Beethoven to Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel.

Exercise 1

Every artist has a ritual that impels them to get started on their creative task.  This automatic sequence replaces doubt and fear with comfort and routine. For Tharp, it’s getting into a cab each morning for stretching and weight training.  For a chef, it could be tending his garden. For a composer, it might be playing a Bach fugue. For a basketball player, it’s bouncing the ball 3 times before a free throw.

Identify one trigger – whether an action, surrounding, or feeling – that warms you up for your best creative work, and stick with it for one week.  Create your own mini-routine of self-reliance, and Pavlovian dog response to start creating.

Exercise 2

Tharp also believes that distractions are just as much an obstacle to creativity as fear.  She suggests subtracting dependence on creative crutches to increase creative independence, creating a protective bubble that forces you to rely on your own ability.

Take one week off distractions such as mirrors, clocks, newspapers, speaking, the internet.  That’s right. Don’t look at a mirror, a watch, a newspaper, for one week.  Subtract this clutter for one week to add more creative room.

Exercise 3

To find an idea, scratch. Dig through everything to find something.  Tharp advocates scratching for ideas through: one’s memory, environment, reading, conversation, nature, culture, mentors and heroes.  Ideas are everywhere; we just need to find them. Remember the unshakeable rule that you don’t have a really good idea until you combine two little ideas.

To get started, find the tiniest microcell of an idea that gets you going.   Scratch smaller when stuck; don’t write about the town, but rather the upper left-hand brick on the Opera house.

All good ideas open up possibilities, turn you on and keep you moving forward. A bad idea closes doors and confines.

Remember Freud’s quote: “when inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it.”

If you run out of ideas, break routine.  Travel to a different city. Read a magazine you never looked at before. Scratch in a different place. Look for new combination of ideas: metaphors.  

When presenting an idea to others, ask yourself if your idea generates forward or backward momentum.  Does the idea move people to action and create more possibilities?  Or the opposite?  Present your idea in its most generative form.

Exercise 4:

Creativity is an at of defiance.  You’re challenging the status quo and questioning accepted truths and principles.  You’re asking 3 universal questions that mock conventional wisdom: 1) why do I have to obey the rules? 2) why can’t I be different? 3) why can’t I do it my way?

Pick a fight with the 1 routine or ritual of the world.  

Quote:

“The one thing that creative souls around the world have in common is that they all have to practice to maintain their skills. Art is a vast democracy of habit.”

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Blog Book Trainer

The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist

Big Idea:

Prosperity flows from sufficiency – the recognition of enough. When you engage from a sense of your wholeness – rather than a desperate longing to be complete – you feel naturally called to share the resources that flow through your life to serve your highest commitments.

Context:

Lynne Twist has spent five decades working in philanthropy, raising hundreds of millions of dollars to end world hunger. In The Soul of Money, she shares her experiences working with the world’s wealthiest and poorest people, and how to live fulfilling lives, both rich and poor must overcome the 3 myths of today’s toxic money culture: “there is not enough, “more is better,” and “that’s just the way it is.”

My Personal Story:

As a Princeton graduate, I have never made more than six figures. Most of my classmates make 10 times my income. Although I’ve helped thousands of people with my business, I feel like I’ve never “made it” financially. I read this book to overcome this scarcity mindset. As Lynn says, “When we buy into the premise that more is better, we can never arrive.”

Exercise 1

A core message of the book is you are enough.

Lynn repeatedly stresses: what you appreciate appreciates.

“When we let go of trying to get more of what we don’t really need, we free up an enormous amount of energy that has been tied up in the chase. We can refocus and reallocate that energy and attention toward appreciating what we already have, what’s already there, and making a difference with that. Not just noticing it, but making a difference with what we already have. When you make a difference with what you have, it expands.”

Pick one of your highest commitments. What can you do right now, with what you have, to serve that commitment? 

“In that new way of seeing, the flow of resources in our lives, rather than being something that is constantly escaping our grasp or diminishing, instead becomes a flood of nourishment and something we have the privilege of being trustees of for the moment. Our relationship with money ceases to be an expression of fear and becomes an expression of exciting possibility.”

Exercise 2

“If you want a clear picture of your priorities in life, who you are and what you care about, look at your checkbook, your credit-card bills, and bank statement.”

What values does your monthly budget express? Does your money flow to your highest values and commitments?  If not, what 1 expenditure can you subtract, add to, or replace?

“Once we began to align our money decisions with these deeper core values and our highest commitments, we experienced a dramatic shift, not only in what we did with our money but also in how we felt about money, about our life, and about ourselves. Eventually, we came to know ourselves not for what we had or owned, but for what we gave; not for what we accumulated, but for what we allocated.”

Quote:

“I suggest that if you are willing to let go, let go of the chase to acquire or accumulate always more and let go of that way of perceiving the world, then you can take all that energy and attention and invest it in what you have. When you do that you will find unimagined treasures, and heath of surprising and even stunning depth and diversity.”

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Blog Salsa

The Guy’s Guide to Salsa Shoes

I still remember my first salsa lesson in Medellin, Colombia. I remember the music and struggling to copy the instructor’s footwork. I knew then, in that cramped, sweaty hostel, that I’d be dancing salsa for life.

It has been 3 years. After 1 year in Colombia, I’ve continued salsa-ing weekly in the US and Asia, where I split my time.

I have a strange, accompanying obsession. Salsa shoes for men. Yup, I get eye-rolls from friends every time, so I thought I’d bring the conversation here. Maybe there are some fellow salsa shoe nerds out there.

Here’s what I’ve been looking for: what’s the best-looking, best-performing, most comfortable and versatile salsa dance shoe out there?

Style: What shoe looks good?

Performance: What shoe helps me dance better?

Comfort: What shoe could I wear for hours – and NOT wreck my feet and back?

Versatility: What shoe could double as both a salsa and going out shoe? (I HATE having to bring an extra pair of dance shoes)

Just so you know where I am coming from: I am a former Division 1 collegiate tennis player with lingering back and ankle problems. I grew up playing tennis on hard-courts 3 hours a day, and this continued through my mid-20s.

I’m not really a “shoes guy,” so a lot of this is new territory for me. But as an athlete, I’ve always wanted the best equipment – why not for salsa?

What Do the Pros Wear?

Review of Salsa Shoes for Men – Pros and Cons

And the Winner Is…

Do It Yourself (DIY) Solutions

Recommended Salsa Shoes for Men 

After 3 Years Dancing, My Wishlist for the Perfect Salsa and Bachata Shoe


What Do the Pros Wear?

My first stage of research was to see what the best dancers were wearing – this included my dance instructors, local dancers I looked up to, and what I could find online.

Ataca and El Tiguere

I look up to these two bachateros the most for their style, technique, and sense of fun.  It seems like they prefer bright, shiny loafers – Jose Bottas before and Taygras now. They look fly but I don’t have the confidence to wear shiny stuff on the dance floor. At least not yet.

Daniel

Daniel and Desiree’s bachata videos were the first ones I found on Youtube. Back then I thought sensual bachata was bachata. To quote my friend: “That’s not dancing, they’re just having sex on the dance floor.” And Daniel – girls love him and guys try to be him – even in those tight pants! He mostly wears what look like jazz shoes. Sometimes he’ll wear running shoes or cross trainers.

Rodolfo Montano Castro 

Love watching this guy dance, especially in the liquor store! His feet move like they’re hitting the drum. He always seems to wear well-worn sneakers with thin soles. For bachata, a little grip is okay because the guy doesn’t turn much – if at all – in Dominican style.  If you watch Joan Soriano’s music videos, lots of guys are just wearing sneakers or even just sandals.

Terry

Who needs shoes?! This whirling dervish sometimes dances on his bare feet. He might tape them up. Or just wear Birkenstocks! In more formal situations it looks like he wears latin or jazz shoes. Just goes to show that “tone is in your fingers.” Just like how Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix could rock any guitar, a great dancer can be amazing with the simplest of shoes – or no shoes at all.

p.s. I saw Terry and Cecile at a salsa festival in Vietnam. One of my favorite moments was watching them dance outside, under the moonlight, with no audience. Just jamming and improvising, not a word spoken. They are incredible artists and while Terry gets most of the attention, I think Cecile is just as amazing.

Adolpho Indochea

One of my Colombian Salsa teachers – and still my salsa idol – was a world salsa champion and he looked up to Adolpho for style and choreography. So of course I had to see this guy dance! Youtube him. He is spectacularly precise. Even when social dancing, Adolpho seems to prefer the traditional latin dance shoe.

Salsa Teachers & The Best Guy Dancers in Each City

My teachers in Colombia recommended dance sneakers because they are more comfortable than latin dance shoes, but similarly force you onto the balls of your feet and are easy to spin in. I review them below. But most top dancers I’ve seen wear sneakers, loafers, or running shoes when social dancing. I’ve seen a few wear jazz shoes or latin dance shoes, but they are in the minority.

I’ve noticed most guys go for comfort over performance, unless they’re on stage performing – then they might wear dance shoes.

So to sum up, while each dancer has his own style, there do seem to be some commonalities on what makes a great salsa and bachata shoe:

  • Light weight
  • Clean, snug fit, not clunky
  • Thin sole to feel the ground
  • Flexible sole to simulate your natural foot
  • Eye-catchingly stylish – whether overstated or understated – to express that dancer’s attitude
  • Comfortable

Review of Salsa Shoes for Men – Pros and Cons

Salsa Sneakers – Dance Sneakers

These were recommended by my first dance studio in Medellin. Shout out to DanceFree!

Dance sneakers are lightweight and durable like a normal sneaker but have a split sole – one for the balls of your feet and one for your heel. The outsole is smooth which makes these shoes easy to spin in. The split sole also literally makes the shoe more flexible.

It took me a while to get used to the feeling of a split sole and the way it forces you to dance on the balls of your feet. I am assuming most newbies will feel the same way. These are great value practice shoes and you can also wear them out social dancing. The con is that even though they’re designed to be a durable, outdoor shoe, you can’t really wear them “out.” I’ve worn them to dinner, the bar, etc, multiple times before dancing and I find I have to pay attention where I’m walking – especially with steps.

Men’s Dance Sneaker

Cost: $50-70 USD

Latin Dance Shoes (with Heels)

Now I know what girls have to deal with! ;). I bought a pair when I was in Taiwan. They are dressy, and the suede soles make them the easiest to spin in. Your shines will be on point. Many instructors have told me that the latin heel also improves your dance form. Wear these and you make a statement that you’re a serious dancer.

I remember being excited to try them at a social in Taipei. These are definitely shoes you need to bring with you. You don’t want to scuff up the suede bottoms or wear a high heel shoe to the sports bar.

The problem is they are quite uncomfortable, even after they are broken in. Your toes scrunch at the bottom and now I know why girls are SO EXCITED to take off their high heels after a long night out. You’ll feel the same way. I think these shoes are the best for performances or even short periods of social dancing. But they lack versatility – you’ll never wear these outside the dance floor.

Men’s Latin Dance Shoe

Cost: $60-70 USD

Jazz Shoes

I didn’t even know jazz shoes existed until I took a salsa class where the instructor was wearing jazz boots. Jazz shoes were his favorite because they were light, cheap, and felt like a shoe sock. I bought a pair of split sole jazz shoes and agree that they are the ultimate practice shoe. They give the closest feel to dancing without shoes. It’s much easier to do shines, spins and Dominican bachata wearing these shoes. The only problem is you can’t wear them outside the dance floor. The suede soles will get dirty or ripped up and I don’t even want to think about what would happen in the rain.

Men’s Jazz Shoe

Cost: $20-30 USD

Running Shoes

These are super comfortable, lightweight, durable and provide a lot of support. You could walk – and dance – all day in these. Plus you can rock well-known brands. I spent my first 6 months learning salsa with a pair of Nike Pegasus running shoes. However spinning is a problem. You can but you’re going to risk messing up your ankles and knees because of their grip. Running shoes tend to have bottoms that grip the surface, whether that’s asphalt or dirt roads. Also, the trade off to cushion and comfort is a thicker sole, which makes you feel further from the ground. Some running shoes like New Balances and Asics are a bit wider and clunkier too.

Running ShoeRunning Shoe Sole

Men’s Running Shoe Nike | Asics

Cost: $60-140 USD

Sneakers 

These are my favorite shoes to wear out social dancing. They are light and fit the foot like a classic dance shoe. Plus, they’re fashionable and matchable. In other words, they offer the most versatility, and you don’t need to bring another pair of shoes with you. Many have smooth synthetic soles ideal for spinning on multiple dance floor surfaces. I found my Converse shoes a bit tiring because of their thicker, heavier sole, but later found a Vietnamese brand with a thinner outsole that sold for $25/pair. They got scuffed up quickly but at that price point I was okay.

The downside to this type of shoe is that they don’t offer much support. Many also have sticky rubber bottoms, which makes sense given their skateboard, tennis or basketball origins. They are also casual shoes – you can’t wear these to formal events.

Many dancers have told me Toms are the best because they are lightweight and spin well.

Through internet research, I found a Brazilian brand – Taygras – originally made for soccer and capoeira, but since adapted for dancing. I ordered a pair. The souls are super flexible and you can feel the dance floor. Perhaps the best part is that they look like casual, everyday shoes. I expect to wear these for many years to practice.

Sneakers Toms | Taygras

Cost: $20-80 USD

Formal Dress Shoes

I have searched far and wide for formal black/brown dress shoes that I could dance in. This would solve a number of problems: 1) I wouldn’t have to bring an extra pair of shoes to work 2) if a dress shoe is comfortable to dance in for hours, I’d probably love to wear them to work. What guy would turn down stylish comfort?

The problem is that I find most dress shoes to be incredibly stiff, heavy, and literally, hard to dance in. The dressier the shoe, the stiffer the sole. Some of these have leather or even suede bottoms that make it easy to spin, but I found my feet tiring out quickly (unless I was drunk!). They also tend to have sharper, stiffer leather around the ankle, so I would inevitably cut up my ankles.

I’ve gone through 2-3 dress shoes, and this is the closest I’ve found – a leather mocassin with a flexible outsole.

I’ve also discovered dance brands GFranco and Jose Botta online. These brands outfit many top latin dancers and a dressy loafer seems to hit the sweet spot between formal style and function. I honestly don’t feel like my salsa or bachata is good enough to justify a purchase yet, but when I do, I will report back here. I’m leaning towards Jose Botta because you can wear his shoes for work and play too.

Formal Dress Shoes Jose Botta

Cost: $40-140 USD

And The Winner Is…

For practice: jazz shoes.

Practice is usually at home or in a studio with a smooth floor. At $20-30, jazz shoes are the best value option in my opinion. The only issue is you have to bring them with you. If you’re too lazy to bring an extra pair of shoes, I’d go with running shoes or sneakers. However, I wouldn’t wear these if you’re practicing a lot of spins.

For social dancing: sneakers

In my opinion, sneakers are the most versatile shoe. They look good before, during, and after dancing – and you don’t have to bring an extra pair out with you. You might not be able to pull off those double spins, or show off your fancy footwork, but these have served me well. If you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of performance for comfort, running shoes with smooth outsoles make a nice backup.

For formal dance nights: dress shoes

As long as they fit well and are broken in, these are your best bet. Latin dancer shoes would work too but you have to buy and bring an extra pair to the event. You probably already have a preferred dress shoe with a leather bottom.

Do It Yourself (DIY) Solutions

I want to mention a couple DIY solutions I’ve seen:

  • Talcum Powder – sprinkle on the floor and rub on your soles so they are less sticky
  • Dance Socks – these look goofy, but hey, I would trade looks for less injuries
  • Suede Dance Soles – take your favorite shoes and put a suede sole on ‘em
  • Sanded Down Soles – hire a cobbler to smooth out your soles on your most comfortable pair of shoes

Hot Dance Tip: Know Your Dance Floor Surfaces

After a month practicing in my jazz shoes, I was excited to wear them out social dancing. However I found that the suede bottoms didn’t work in 2 out of the 3 social venues I dance at weekly.

I realized that the dance floor is just as important as your shoes. Before you invest in a pair of salsa shoes, I’d observe what other top dancers are wearing at that venue.

In my opinion, plastic synthetic is the most versatile shoe outsole, followed by leather, suede and rubber. A smooth, synthetic outsole can be used on all dance floors: wood, ceramic, vinyl, linoleum and carpet.

Recommended Salsa Shoes for Men  

My good friend and the Bachata Champion of Vietnam recommends Toms for their versatility and performance. I will buy a pair and report back here soon.

I am most excited about trying Taygras! They look great and have a flexible, smooth sole made for dancers. Plus, I like the ethics* of the company.

* Did you know 20 BILLION shoes are made every year and 90% of them go un-recycled? Let’s just say it: the leather industry is destructive to animals, leather workers and the environment. I want a shoe that LASTS long, causes minimal harm, and that can be recycled if possible. Taygras use 100% recyclable materials.

It seems like Jose Botta had the same problem a decade ago and designed some great shoes. Ataca and El Tiguere have endorsed his shoes for their functionality and performance. They’re on the expensive side, but I will try when I am good enough to rock them!

GFranco has some slick looking dance shoes, but like Jose Bottas they are on the expensive side. I will try and report back here. The only thing is the company explicitly says that its shoes aren’t meant for daily, outside wear.

After 3 Years Dancing, My Wishlist for the Perfect Salsa and Bachata Shoe

This is what I want:

  • Stylish, easy to match
  • Lightweight – a heavy shoe makes mastering new footwork and shines even harder
  • Hugs shape of your foot – they don’t feel clunky
  • Thin sole to “feel” and get off the ground immediately – quick to react
  • Encourages me to dance on the balls of my feet
  • Cushion and flexibility that gives energy
  • Smooth outsole to make spinning easy on many different surfaces
  • Versatile outsole that you can wear outside in different weather
  • Can double as a work and play shoe
  • < $100 so they don’t break the bank

Has anyone found the holy grail? What are your favorite shoes for salsa and bachata. Tell me in the comments so I can continue this crazy journey…