Vast Experiences Update #1

Welcome to Vast Experiences, the place where you can be yourself and can expand your horizons.  I’m Eike Zeller. I just started a new routine around building Vast Experiences. You can read more about it here. I would like to share my progress in a daily post.   

Playful Ideas

This morning I brainstormed a list of things you can to gain more perspective and get ultimately more out of your life. I wrote about some of these mantras already a few years ago here. I will put together a new post about it soon. Here is the list I have a come up with so far:  

Be curious, Seek to understand, Be childlike, Surround yourself with different people, Live in different places, Explore your ideas, Explore your environment, Meditate, Read broadly, Surprise yourself, Improvise, Be generous, Be kind, Ask why, Explore your body, Learn to detach, Create art, Be grateful, Embarrass yourself, Have deep conversations, Challenge yourself, Play, Be active and take responsibility, Be vulnerable, Participate, Include others, Empower others, Be open, Bring joy, Live in the now, Join and create communities and places to belong

Growing Methods

I’m reading quite a lot but sometimes I have trouble retaining a lot of information from the books. I just read this article on Farnam Street that outlines techniques to improve your understanding of the books you read. I’m going to try out some of them with the next book on my reading list: Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking by Douglas Hofstadter. Speaking of books, Springer Nature is currently offering over 400 textbooks of several disciplines as free eBooks

Creative Experiments

I’d love to use Vast Experiences to showcase world views of diverse people in the form of Zoom interviews. The aim of the interview series is to highlight the uniqueness of the human condition and explore if we all want the same deep down. Let me know if you like to be interviewed or know someone with an interesting perspective by emailing eike@vastexperiences.com

Connected Discussions

This afternoon I had a meeting with Olga Dziemidowicz from Art by Olga who painted the beautiful background of Vast Experiences’ social media profiles. The painting is called expand your horizons which is fitting very well to Vast Experiences’ mission. Olga walked me through her artistic process when she paints.

Curious Conclusions

We are in isolation for 4 weeks here in Australia and the impact on people seems to grow. The Early Work Crew got pretty emotional this morning. It was pretty moving to see how we all look out for each other. I’m incredibly grateful that we create places where we don’t have to be afraid to be vulnerable and where we can empower each other through this challenging time. If you are facing challenges because of COVID-19, remember none of this is your fault. All of us are in this together and we will come out of this together. I hope you enjoyed what you read here. See you tomorrow.  

Places to Belong

Join the Vast Experiences Community

Only if we can see the world in different ways, we will see how it really is. 
Only if we can see ourselves in different ways, we will see who we really
are.
 

Structuring Value

“Expand your Horizons”​ by Olga Dziemidowicz of art-by-olga.com

One of my favorite activities is to create spaces and experiences we humans can be our true selves, flourish and gain new perspectives to see themselves and the world around us in new ways. All of us walk around perceiving our own versions of reality. Essentially, there are 7.8 billion humans ways to experience the same world. In other words there are 7.8 billion different worlds existing in our heads. I think it’s an exceedingly beautiful thing to imagine that there all of these versions existing in our minds. Not only that, but there are also 7.8 billion versions of you as seen by every human on this planet. Of course, your own version of the world and of yourself is the most important one to you but all other 7,799,999,999 are valid. There is an enormous value to expand your horizon and explore the different versions of you.

My mission with Vast Experiences is to make these different versions of the world and of you accessible to you. These are two mantras that are very close to my heart:

Only if we can see the world in different ways, we will see how it really is. 
Only if we can see ourselves in different ways, we will see who we really are. 

One of the best ways to gain a new perspective is to have deep and honest interactions with other humans. At Vast Experiences I’m exploring different approaches to foster these interactions human connections.

On Value

I love helping people to add more value to their lives and have been pondering over what the best way to do this would look like. Yesterday, I had an interesting idea. What if I focus on what is adding value to my life and share it with others. What adds value to my life? 

Play: I’m a pretty playful person. I enjoy setting myself little challenges and toy around with others.

Growth: I’m a pretty curious person. I enjoy getting a better understanding of the world and people and things in it. 

Creating: I’m a pretty inventive person. I enjoy coming up with ideas and turning them into reality.

People, People, People: I’m a pretty social person. I enjoy creating spaces we connect in meaningful ways and belong.

Ironically these are all pretty great ingredients to gain a new perspective. The circle completes itself. Whoa! I shouldn’t be surprised. 

How can we put these into practise?

When I was a kid I used to play lots with Lego. What may sound unusual for some is that my parents spent hours with me sorting my legos into lots of boxes with little compartments. The pieces were sorted by shape and color so that when I wanted to build something I could easily find the right pieces. If you have things structured it’s easier to work. Great insight.

Science

Structure comes in very handy when performing scientific experiments. The scientific method is probably one of the most important things I learned in uni. First, you come up with an idea that forms your hypothesis, then you design a method for your experiment to test your hypothesis. You run the experiment and get results and you discuss the results to form some conclusions and put them in context for further research. Then you publish and repeat the process. The usual order of a scientific paper is: 

  • Idea/Hypothesis: Definition of what is to be tested.
  • Method: Research and selection of ways to carry out experiments. 
  • Experiment/Results: This where the discoveries are made.
  • Discussion: Putting the results into context.
  • Conclusion: Summing up findings and propose new investigations.

Improv

Here is an interesting stretch. When I played improv comedy in Chicago we learned the most popular long-form improv format called Harold. The legend goes something like this: Del Close, the founding father of long-form improv wanted his students to play as freely as possible. However, his students ask him for some structure to play along and he gave them the Harold format. A Harold is structured in the following way:

  • Opening: The 8 players in the Harold team ask the audience for a word and then create an opening based on the word that will define the theme for the show. 
  • 1st Beat: 3 scenes that create 3 independent worlds based on the theme of the show.
  • Group game with all 8 players
  • 2nd Beat: 3 scenes that explore each world based on the theme of the show. This is usually where are discoveries happen.
  • Group game with all 8 players
  • 3rd Beat: 3 scenes where the different worlds overlap and get put into context. It often ends with a conclusion relating to the theme of the show.

While I was in Chicago taking a five-week improv intensive, it dawned on me how similar the structure of the Harold is to a scientific paper. 

  • Opening – Idea/Hypothesis: Definition of what will be explored.
  • 1st Beat – Method: Selecting and setting up the environment to make discoveries.
  • 2nd Beat – Experiment/Results: Using the environment to make discoveries.
  • 3rd Beat – Discussion/Conclusion: Putting discoveries into context for further exploration.

Whoa! I shouldn’t be surprised. This is probably how our brains have learned to think in these kinds of stories for millennia. 

Getting back it to the original question. How do we put play, growing, creating and people this into practise? 

What we if map them onto the Harold/scientific method:

  • Opening – Playful Ideas 
  • 1st Beat – Growing Methods
  • 2nd Beat – Creative Experiments 
  • 3rd Beat – Connected Discussions 

Now that looks like some interesting building blocks. You can tell I played with a lot of Lego as a kid 🙂

How do I fit these blocks to my day?

My friend Haley Johnson, recently published her work ethic in a Linked post. She breaks up her day into 90 min deep work chunks, where you only focus on a single or few tasks without any distractions. I got inspired to create my own schedule.

  • 6:15 AM: Wake up and shower
  • 6:30 AM: Meditate
  • 7 AM – 9 AM: Deep work session 1 with the Early Work Crew
  • 9 – 9:30 AM: Breakfast
  • 9:30 – 11 AM: Deep work session 2
  • 11 – 12 PM: Curiosity Walk or Cycle and lunch
  • 12 – 1:30 PM: Deep work session 3
  • 1:30 – 3 PM: Meetings and admin
  • 3 PM – 4:30 PM: Summarising my findings of the day and publishing them 

Finally, I can insert my building blocks into the structure:

  • 6:15 AM: Wake up and shower
  • 6:30 AM: Meditate
  • 7 AM – 9 AM: Deep work session 1 (Playful Ideas) with the Early Work Crew
  • 9 – 9:30 AM: Breakfast
  • 9:30 – 11 AM: Deep work session 2 (Growing Methods)
  • 11 – 12 PM: Curiosity Walk or Cycle and lunch
  • 12 – 1:30 PM: Deep work session 3 (Creative Experiments)
  • 1:30 – 3 PM: Meetings and admin (Connected Discussions)
  • 3 PM – 4:30 PM: Summarising my findings of the day and publishing them 

I thought it would be cool to experiment with this format for the next few months and I will see where it will take me. I will keep you updated on my findings on Vast Experiences. Here is the one for the first day.

Wow, that was a lot. Thanks for reading. Let me know if any of this resonates with you.

This article was originally published on Vast Experiences. Stay in the loop and sign up for the Vast Experiences newsletter here.

Ideas Anonymous #5

Last night we had Ideas Anonymous number 5. Olga Dziemidowicz from Art by Olga, Noon van der Silk from Braneshop and Paulina Kabaczuk joined in to share their ideas. Some of the ideas we talked about were:

  • Making art more accessible through interactive videos and live streams.   
  • New ways to inspire people to live their lives to their full potential.
  • An interview series to create a showcase people’s unique perspective and inspiring new ways to look at the world.

At the end of the session we committed to produce some content to progress on our ideas, so hopefully we will be able to share at next Ideas Anonymous on Wed, April 29th. We need new ideas and social connections more than ever during this time of physical distance. Sign up here.

Some of us just started an Early Work Crew where we do 90 min of deep work from 7 am on weekdays. It’s complementing Ideas Anonymous quite nicely because it provides some structured time to work on our ideas. If you are interested read this post and join the crew on Monday morning

Have a wonderful day. Stay connected.

How to do meaningful work…

All of us have ideas on how to create a more meaningful world for ourselves and others, yet only a few of our ideas get developed and implemented. We are often distracted with a lot of things that turn out not to be very meaningful. Developing a ritual to stay focused can be hard. 

I got inspired by Haley Johnson’s excellent post on remote work and Cal Newport’s book Deep Work to create more structure around my work. I found it tricky to get into a new routine when you are only accountable to yourself. So I thought why don’t we support each other via Zoom to stay on track. Together with some friends I recently started an Early Work Crew. We meet at weekdays at 7 am on Zoom to do 90 min of undistracted meaningful work. Here is us having some banter after finishing our work session. Thanks so much Noon, Marina and Asama for trialing the first few sessions. 

How does it work?

Each of us decides what the most meaningful task is they would like to work on. At 7 am we sign on to a joined Zoom call and type the task into the chat. Then we start working on this task for 90 min. At 8:30 am we stop working and check in with the others on the Zoom call. At 9 pm we all leave the Zoom call, having done already a significant piece of work and achieved a head start into our day.

Why does it work?

Clarity: Only focus on what is most meaningful to you. Early in the morning your mind is usually still free of all of the things that come up during the day.

Certainty: It’s a daily ritual of 90 mins of undistracted deep work. The time limit will allow you to make the most of your time while the consistency will enable you to form a habit. 

Community: Working alongside a group of peers that are also creating a more meaningful world will keep you motivated and accountable.

Directions

Here are some directions to keep things structured

  1. Before each session, decide on the most meaningful task you would like to work on.
  2. Join the Zoom session a bit before 7am for a start at 7 am sharp and add the task you will be working on into the Zoom chat. If you are late you will have to wait until the next day.
  3. Work for 90 min on the task without any distractions (stay muted and don’t have conversations with the others during that time.)
  4. At 8:30 am, unmute yourself and share progress, plans for the day and banter with the others 🙂
  5. At 9 am, everyone leaves the Zoom session. You can stay in touch with the others via the Vast Experiences early-work-crew Slack channel by following this link.

Tips

Here are some tips we discovered:

  • The night before make a plan on what you want to work on and how you will spend the 90 min of deep work wisely. 
  • Don’t check your email before you start working.
  • Find yourself a space, where you won’t be interrupted or disturbed during the work session.
  • If you are in a noisy environment invest in some noise-canceling headphones. 
  • Arrange everything so that you won’t need to be available for anyone during the work session and switch all of your devices to “Do not disturb”.
  • If you work better with music check out Brain.fm and play a track that allows you to focus. 
  • Meditate before you start working to put your mind into the right mood. I usually listen to a guided meditation on Headspace for 20min before commencing work.
  • Put the early work session into your calendar so that you actively block out time for it. 
  • I can highly recommend Cal Newport Deep Work to get a better understanding of why structured deep work will lead to more productivity. 
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Join the fun

I hope this inspired you to structure your work in more meaningful ways. Start your own Early Work Crew or to join ours by following this link.

Behave

I just finished Behave by Robert Sapolsky. It’s one of these books everyone should read. The book basically outlines what causes us to behave in certain ways. The book is very comprehensive looking at how the brain works from a neuroscience perspective, then looks into the influence of hormones, over to habits and events change our brains (neuroplasticity), over to behaviors learned during our upbringing, to influence of our genes and epigenetics, to influences shaped by our cultures centuries and millennia before. It’s fascinating exposé explaining the multifaceted reasons why we are who we are 🙂 Getting a more thorough understanding of people’s behavior seems important especially during times of crisis that leads us to fight over the last remaining toilet paper and simultaneously brings out compassion in the most beautiful ways.