How to deal with long reply times or no answer

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Ease of communication and hyper-connectivity comes with a myriad of advantages as well as disadvantages. As good as it can be at times, I am probably leaning towards it having dragged along as many new problems as it solved along the way. Not that we shouldn’t have it, but we need to adapt to both the strains and expectations it puts on both us and others. In the Utopian scenario all this connectivity just helps us communicate more, developing closer and deeper relations with others, but in my opinion it really ends up doing the almost opposite. The ease of communication detracts from the quality of the message.

Have you ever tried writing Christmas cards? (If not – then please do. They will make a lasting impression on your recipients unlike anything ever sent or written electronically. But more on that in a later post.) The thing with cards and letters written by hand is that they are really hard to write. You have to think about what you will write. Perhaps even make a draft before putting it permanently on the intended card or paper. With electronic communication you can always just send a message more, back paddle a bit, if your recipient misunderstands you or explain a bit deeper, which all reduces the effort that goes into the text in the first place.

But wasn’t this post about reply-times? How are they related to effort? We’ll get there. Be patient my friend.

The obvious conclusion at this point would be that I’m trying to say that reply-times are related to effort – but that is not the case actually. I think they carry a history together, but it is not the end point of this blog post, we will get to that.

People are generally quite good at recognizing effort and feel a somewhat internal responsibility to acknowledge it. People will generally have a harder time ignoring something that a lot of effort went into as opposed to something that clearly hadn’t had any effort. If you gift something you have made yourself to someone, then taking aside the quality and aesthetic properties of the item, people will have a harder time turning down a gift that you clearly have put a lot of effort into as opposed to something you clearly just developed with two strokes of a very big hammer. Even if both are turned down, you can be pretty sure that the “effort-heavy” one was making the recipient think harder about turning it down.

Now as said earlier the point here is not that long reply-times or no answer at all is directly related to effort of electronic communication, but I do think that the ease of communication has made us feel less of a strain when not replying or replying late to something. The world quickly moves on.

But then how do we as individuals actually deal with this perceived long response times and perhaps even no response at all? For all my life I have been somewhat bad at managing this. I have gotten a lot better, but still catch myself getting a bit to wound up for unimportant reasons.

First of all there as I see it 3 categories of people each deserving their own distinct approach. Friends, business contacts, and prospects. Friends is pretty obvious as to whom it includes. Business contacts contains all people that you for one reason or the other are “forced” to be in contact with, so it doesn’t have to be business related. Prospects cover people you would like to be/come in contact or closer contact with, both personally and business wise.

Common for all is that you need to start by taking responsibility for the contact/interaction and realize that the problem resides with you. You are the one getting angry, you are the one thinking up scenarios as to why the other party isn’t answering. You are the one with the problem – not them. Handling these late replies and no replies then differs for each of the 3 categories as we will get to. But start by taking responsibility for the anger and problem, by doing so you are in control.

As a general rule people treat you the way you “let” them. This of course is more relevant to friends and “business contacts” as these two categories generally involve more rapport between you. Being super assertive and dominant with people whom you are trying to get in contact with, might not be the best strategy of the line. But what I’m trying to say is that if you always have been the type of person who has just smiled and let it pass without any confrontation each time friends has stepped over your line, then they will “learn” this behavior and inadvertently know that if they find themselves in a situation where it is between stepping a bit on your toes and another who clearly states his or her boundaries, then you are most likely to draw the short straw. If you hate it when people don’t answer your texts within a day then let them know! Don’t expect people to sit waiting to write you back every 5-10 min. But within 24h most people, not counting vacations, illness, family trouble etc. should have had a chance to write a text, maybe just saying “Sorry, super busy – will get back to you in a few days.”

But then how do we handle friends that keeps crossing these lines and ignore our texts/calls/whatever? If you have already confronted them as written above, then take the hard consideration as to whether you would like to keep them in your life. They can be super busy people so perhaps you need to order your friendship around that and only see them a few times a year, but in the end YOU need to decide whether the value they bring to your life outweighs the negatives of them willfully or not bringing conflict into your relationship. This of course is a balancing act. As said earlier don’t be the 10 yo child that can’t handle a few hours of delay on a reply. Or you could be – of course you make the rules in your life, but if you then end up with no real friends around you then perhaps the problem isn’t as much with them as with you.

Now “business contacts”. This is a bit different as you don’t necessarily have the same amount of control about whether to have them in your life or not. The point about people treating you as you allow them to do applies. But as well as you not being in as much control about leaving them, they will also know that they probably can get away with quite a lot more than otherwise if your business together relies on the fact that you communicate. So again. Don’t be a 10 yo child! Communicate with respect and write in neutral but form language that their late responses of total lack of responses is not to your liking and that it has the consequence of x,y,z to your relationship or business. If you out anger into it, they will most likely respond with anger. Don’t try to force people into something, convey objectively and explain your point.

Finally prospects. Here your expectations should be really low. As a rule of thumb expect no answer at all. If you do not know people and have close relations to them, then don’t expect anything. They can have a thousand other close relations to cater to so why should they potentially risk any of those just to answer you. So don’t expect anything. But wrapping up the point from earlier, a minimal amount of effort put into the inquiry will most likely help. Write something that is clearly personal and aimed at them but without trying too hard. Give them an easy way out and be precise in what you try to accomplish with your message. This as said in the beginning of this paragraph by no means ensures an timely or even an answer at all, but it should increase your chances.

Happy communicating, and remember to always think the best of the other party. No one is by default mean or aiming to hurt you. They can have a thousand struggles in their life you know nothing about, so don’t judge them.

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Stop worrying – get to the confirmed objective facts

Boat beachThere are numerous articles and blog-post that promises to help you get rid of worry. This won’t be one. Try as you might you’ll never get to a point where you’re free of worry in your life. You will probably have periods with more and periods with less, but avoid it altogether won’t happen. What’s way more interesting and important is how to deal with it once it arrives.

Worry is closely related to anxiety and stress. They are all fear based feelings, that try to tell you that something is wrong in an attempt to protect yourself from whatever it is that causes them. They are totally natural and occurs to everyone whether people admit it or not.

As they are natural feelings, there is no real reason to try to get totally rid of them. What you need is a better way to handle them once they arrive. Today we will focus on worry even though as said earlier; worry is closely related to anxiety and stress and can in some instances it can be hard to know one from the other. But as this advice will work with all of them, there is no real reason to really pinpoint which of the feelings you have.

Worry has a lot to do with control. When you are in total control you aren’t worried. If you had an exam where you knew all the questions in advance and could prepare so intensely that you knew all answers by heart – then you wouldn’t worry. Your brain would probably then try to worry about whether those actually was all the question, try to come up with potential “unknowns” that could hamper with the end result. But if we keep all what-if’s out of the question; you wouldn’t be worried at an exam where you knew you all questions and all answers. You would be in total control.

Seeing worry from this angle starts to point to a solution, or precaution that can help in situations of worry. You just have to be in control, then there is nothing to worry about. Well yes, thank you! I’ll just lock myself into a room where I’m able to control all the variables and live from there. NOT really viable.

What we need to do is take a stoic look at “events”. The stoics made this really good distinction between event. They divided them into 3 groups. Event over which you have total control, events over which you have some but not total control, and events over which you have no control.

The first and the last are the easiest and are the ones you should spend the least time on. If you have total control, then just make it the way you want. If you have no control, then do not worry because your worry won’t change anything.

Going back to the example with the exam. You are probably not worried whether you will show up or not to the exam. You decide to go or you decide not to go. Then that is out of the question. The cynic will probably then see any number of things that could go wrong on the way there. Again, some of those you will have control over, some of them you won’t. If you are worried about getting late, then go really early and spend the extra time waiting at the destination. Being hit by lightning on the way there is not something you can control, so don’t worry about it. These are of course simple examples but, they should be adequate to bring home the point.

Then we arrive at the last one; events over which you have some but not full control. This is where most energy is spent. The final grade of your exam is a good example of this. You can push it in either direction by more or less preparation, but you cannot control it fully. Even in the example of having all questions and answers in advance, you still can’t control the final grade from the censor.

But what you need to do to control your worry, is get to the confirmed objective facts. And the words “confirmed” and “objective” is there for a reason. “If I go talk to that girl and she rejects me, the whole world will laugh at me and my life will be over.” or “If I don’t get straight A’s in all my exams my life will be over.” – That could be felt as very strong facts inside yourself, but to an outside person or even when having the experience somewhat at a distance, it’s totally obvious that those are not “confirmed objective” facts. They are strong feelings, yes. But facts – no.

I love doing this on paper. If I’m very worried about something I start by writing whatever it is that I am worried about on the top of a piece of paper. Then I test my hypothesis.

“If I can’t X then Y will happen, which will be an absolute disaster.”

Then I start by saying am I absolutely certain that Y will happen. Can anything else be the outcome of this? If not, then I start to look at what it will actually mean to me if Y happens. Is it as big of a disaster as I have in my mind. It could mean a minor or major setback, but total disaster?

Then I just work my way through and test all the hypothesis and all my conclusions. The funny part about this is that even just the act of doing this calms me down. I am back in control, I am not contemplating all outcomes and can decide which of them I find most attractive or least disastrous. As said in the beginning worry almost always stems from a feeling of loss of control. Getting this control back, or even just working on getting it back can seriously dampen if not totally rid yourself of worry.

Try it for yourself. The next time you are really worried by something. Write it down and objectively test all your hypothesis and conclusions. I bet you’ll feel the worry lessen almost immediately.

“A guide to the good life” – and notes

*Notes on the book towards the end

As mentioned before I can’t really remember when I was first introduced to stoicism, but I think some of the first stoic texts I read was from Seneca. Shortly after being introduced to stoicism I stumbled upon A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joyand if I remember correctly I probably bough it together with Letters from a Stoic.

First time I read “A guide to the good life” I liked it, but for some reason not much more than that. It was a good book with good practical advice, but somehow it did not really have the impact I had expected. Too high expectations? – Perhaps.

In the following years I read and re-read a lot of stoic books. Loved Meditations, Ryan Holiday’s book on stoicism and as mentioned above “Letters from a Stoic”. But did not re-read “A guide to the good life” because of my first impressions of it. Then hearing a guest on Tim Ferriss’ podcast praise it, I finally re-read it.

And I am very glad I did. Because this time it really hit something inside of me, it really resonated and I absolutely loved it. It’s really full of practical applications of stoic principles and very actionable. It spend a little too much time on philosophical discussion of stoic principles, but as the author is a philosopher this is not unexpected – even though it seems somewhat going against the exact principles of stoic philosophers; philosophy should be practical applicable in everyday life. But those passages are easily overshadowed by the majority of content that is really top notch.

As I have mentioned in this post: Read and remember – make it stick I always underline passages that resonate with me or perhaps I find worthy of some more digging. Then actually starting with this book, I waited a few days and then went through my highlights writing down notes for most of them.

They are probably very subjective to my head and understanding, but if someone might find them useful they will come below. So as final comment I will highly recommend the book to anyone interested in stoic philosophy and interested in practical advice on how to live like a stoic or perhaps just implement some of their advice.

And now the notes:


 

Notes on “A guide to the good life”

To be virtuous is to live in accordance with nature – if we do this well we live a good life according to the Stoics.

We are social creatures and therefore have duties to our fellow men. Honor friends, parents and countrymen.

Stoic tranquility is the absence of  negative thoughts and the pretense of positive ones.

Unlike Cynicism Stoicism does not require adoption of ascetic lifestyle. We can enjoy money, luxury etc. but should do so while being willing to give it all up. We should not cling to these things.

The obstacle is the way. Hardship and set-backs build character like strength training builds muscle and hormesis builds up our immune system.

Negative visualization. All we have is on loan from “fortune” – cherish it, enjoy it but be prepared to lose it.

Memento mori. Reflect upon each day as if it was your last. Don’t take anything for granted – in an instant it can be gone.

Reflect and be grateful upon the people and things you have in your life and contemplate how sad it would be to lose them. This counteracts hedonic adaptation.

A stoic will not spend all his time thinking about catastrophes and visualizing all things being taken away from him, but a few times a day or week, spend some time contemplating loss of things dear to him in order to make him value them higher.

To practice negative visualization is to contemplate the impermanence of the world around us.

There will be – or already has been! – a last time in your life that you brush your teeth, cut your hair, drive a car, mow the lawn or go for a run. There will be a last time you hear rain or see snow falling, smell newly baked bread or feel the warmth of your child or spouse fall in sleep in your arms. Or a last time you make love. You will someday eat your last meal and soon thereafter you will take your last breath.

Learn to want the things that are easy to obtain or better yet, the things you already have.

Trichotomy of control; things we have full control over, things we have some control over, and things we have no control over. Do not worry over things that you have no control over.

We should periodically cause ourselves to experience discomfort – cold exposure, hunger etc. This rehearses the “what if” and further more builds character and self confidence.

The more pleasures a man captures, the more masters he will have to serve. We must learn to resist pleasures – else we spend our lives twitching in each pleasurable way.

Avoid high expectations – both of people, events and things. Having high expectations set you up for disappointment.

Take responsibility for your reactions to events, a stranger might cut you off in traffic, a colleague may say something insulting – what you can control is your reaction. If you don’t feel insulted – then you weren’t.

In the morning, rather than lazily lying in bed, we need to get up and get to work on the thing that we were created to do. The first resistance of pleasure starts with getting out of bed first thing upon waking.

Avoid melancholy people and negative people – they will upset your tranquility.

Don’t be insulted by things that are objectively right – being bald and then being told that you are bald is not an insult – it is just a fact.

Grief: Grieving for a short period of time is OK. But then move on. If you grieve the loss of a child then after a period get on with your life. Be happy that you had that child in your life in the period you had. And your child most definitely did not want you to suffer so why go against the will of your own child and become a sad and unhappy person?

Anger: Should a stoic that has seen his wife and children be raped and murdered not do anything about it. Indeed he should – but he should remain as calm as possible while doing it. Success in doing so will make for a much better and thoughtful revenge than just resorting to outright anger.

If we seek social status we are at the mercy of other people trying to have them see us in as positive a light as possible. Our goal should be to become indifferent to other peoples opinion of us.

Realize that many other people, perhaps even your closest friend do not want you to succeed. By doing so they may see themselves as being put down, because if you can succeed then why can’t they.

Acknowledge that the exposure to luxury might lose us our ability to enjoy the simple things in life.

Eat to live instead of live to eat. Eat to nourish the body and fill its basic needs not to gain pleasure.

If a stoic finds himself well of, then he should enjoy his wealth but never cling to it. He should contemplate losing it all again. If he clings to his wealth and new lifestyle then he becomes a slave to it. Because then suddenly he might fear losing his high income and therefore becomes limited in his freedom.

Stoics not being afraid of public ridicule, exile or even death often held and stood up for unpopular beliefs. People today often go out of their way to steer clear of trouble, where as the stoics would ask whether a life where nothing is worth dying for is worth living?

A man is as wretched as he convinces himself he is.

The stoics was convinced that what stand between ourselves and happiness is not the government or the society we live in, but the lack of a life philosophy.

Never categorize yourself as a victim. Always take responsibility.

Thanks to hedonic adaptation a pursuit of novel things will always leave us in want and unhappy. We should instead use negative visualization to learn to want the things we have.

On the shortness of life – Seneca

I can’t really remember whether this actually was the first philosophical text I read out of own will. It’s at the very least among the first and the one that lead me down the path of stoicism. You may already know this essay by Seneca. But if you don’t, you should seriously consider spending the 30-45min reading it in its entirety.

Just to give you a little taste of what Seneca says in this essay, I will give you a few quotes that really struck me when I read it.

It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.

And along the same lines:

Consider how much of your time was taken up with a moneylender, how much with a mistress, how much with a patron, how much with a client, how much in wrangling with your wife, how much in punishing your slaves, how much in rushing about the city on social duties. Add the diseases which we have caused by our own acts, add, too, the time that has lain idle and unused; you will see that you have fewer years to your credit than you count.

My suggestion would be that if you do not want to read the entire essay, then read part 1 and part 3. That’s where the above quotes are from and that’s in my opinion the most easily digested and actionable of the entire essay. I read it here for the second time in the morning and it was a sure kick in the butt for me to get shit done.

You can find the entire essay here: On the shortness of life but as the formatting is really horrible, I would suggest that you save it to Instapaper or some other readability app.

If you enjoy what you read, I would strongly suggest to purchase Letters from a Stoic. That was exactly what I did after the first time I encountered “On the shortness of life”. The essay really resonated with me and I had to read some more from this Seneca – and I wasn’t disappointed!

I actually think I am in the midst of reading Letters from a stoic for the third time. I remember having it with me on my month of solo travel in Myanmar, where I really loved it and especially its style with short easy to read chapters. But I may very well have read it once before that.

All is to say; I can honestly can’t recommend that book enough. If you like what you read in “On the shortness of life” you’ll love the book.