How Habits Control Our Lives

Our habits are a boon and a curse.

A boon because we don't have to reinvent the wheel every time. We can rely on the routine we've built for ourselves: the same actions, performed in the same order, produce the same results. We can't put everything into question every morning, can we?

A curse because they imprison us. Once they're in place – for years, sometimes decades – they are extremely difficult to transform. We do what we do because we don't know how to do otherwise.

A habit does not require mental energy. By performing the same actions everyday ans following the same automatisms, we put part of our life on autopilot in order to be available for the rest. But when we want to change – stop smoking, start exercising, stop biting our nails – the effort required to implement this change consumes energy that suddenly becomes unavailable elsewhere. Everything else becomes that much more difficult.

We are the sum of our habits.

Many traits that we think are part of our identity are actually habits that we could change. What psychologists call "the declarative" ("I am like this, I like that, I hate this and that, I always do such and such thing, etc") is often an excuse to justify a way of doing things that we don't have the energy to change.

And a small dose of fatality can be reassuring sometimes. It's easier to say "I am like that" than to try to do something about it.

This link between identity and habit is very well described by James Clear in Atomic Habits. Our culture level today depends our reading habits over the past decade. Our health today is the result of our eating and sports habits over the past ten years. Our finances, the consequence our work habits and savings of the last ten years.

And the person we will become in ten years is the result of the habits we put in place today.

But what I find fascinating (and what has become a source of steady progress in my life) is acknowledging how little we know about the genesis of our habits.

Most of the time, we don't know where our habits come from or how they were born. The older they are, the less we know. And since they control such a large part of our life, it means that, most of the time, we have no clue why we do things. Worse: when we're asked the question, we start making up stories, fabricating excuses : "Well you know, I am like that", mixing murky stories about our past with new beliefs and opinions about society... Everything rather than admitting that we don't know.

Think about it: why do you eat three times a day? Where does your relationship with work, success and failure come from? How did your addictions start? Your passions ? Why do you listen to this music, watch these shows, trust this group over this one?

Where does it all come from? From your parents? From school ? From television? From Work ?

And above all: if you don't know how or why these habits have taken hold, how do you know if they are really good for you?

Three Elecro Musicians I follow on Youtube

A few years ago, I started using electronic music to add sound to my films. I am the proud owner of a Prophet Rev 2 synthesizer, a Digitakt, and an Eventide Space pedal. I don't have time to play as much as I'd like but when I can, it's always fun times.

I'll share some music soon but meanwhile, here are 3 musicians I follow on Youtube and who helped navigate electronic music production.

First, Cuckoo.

He lives in Oslo, plays the piano and is known for his technical mastery. If you buy a new synth or a new effect pedal, chances are Cuckoo has made a 2 hour long tutorial on the subject where he explains everything from A to Z.

He is also a great musician who improvises a lot. His particularity: in addition to a gentle eccentricity, he shows his face with a mirror placed next to his instruments. Like in this video where he jams with a pocket operator:

Next, Ricky Tinez.

What struck me about Ricky at first was that he' In a good way: relaxed, calm, "chill". He lives in Los Angeles and travels for his DJ sets (House, Techno). In his videos, he creates music from scratch with sometimes unexpected gear.

I love how he shares his creative process without filter: hesitations, backtracking, but also some bold choices that he doesn't look back on:

Finally, Andrew Huang.

He might be the most famous of the bunch – although his desire to grow his brand can sometimes be felt in the choice of subjects and formats. You can tell that the view count matters. But he's a passionate multi-instrumentalist who can explain both musical concepts and technology. He provides great value for those who want to get better at making music.

He often invites other music producers for contests. It's always interesting to see how different creators tackle the same subject:

PS : I almost forgot Yuri Wong who makes music on OP1 from film dialogues! Check it out:

Lockdown Drawing and Timelapse

Let’s say that when I’m too busy, I’ll just post some old stuff. Like this drawing I made during lockdown. Not super cheerful but it went with the times:

Dessin de confinement
The villagers didn’t like it too much when Martin walked around the cemetery at night because is scared the hell out of everyone.

And the 30 second timelapse (thanks to Procreate):

Why I Love this Meme

Chat et sieste
Me: « Let’s take a quick 20 minute nap, it’ll do me good. » Also me, 1h60 later:

For 3 reasons :

  1. I love the cat’s face,
  2. The caption makes me laugh,
  3. The link between the image and the caption is perfect.

I think this is the existential definition of a meme.

Majorelle and his Buddies in Morocco

When in Marrakech, I found myself at an exhibition called A Moroccan Winter, showing paintings by Majorelle and his contemporaries. I was blown away.

It's always a bit cliché to speak about light and darkness in painting but, in this case, it's what really gave me pause. I don't expect it to have the same impact on screen but take a look at this:

Eugène Girardet - Campement Nomade Biskra
Eugene Girardet - Campement Nomade Biskra

What I find striking, when in front of the actual canvas, is the luminosity of the mountains in the background. It's what draws the eye and gives the painting this photographic look: despite the precision and the contrast of the group in the foreground, all these people are n the shadow while the mountain is beaming in the distance. The ancestor of HDRI.

Same here: I find it quite bold to paint the main subjects completely in the shadow, as Étienne Girardet did. Shadow that we only really see because of the sun spot in the lower left corner:

Etienne Dinet- Sous le Burnous
Etienne Dinet - Sous le Burnous

(But it's called "Sous le Burnous", "under the coat", so I guess it makes sense.)

He voluntarily reduced his color palette to represent the absence of light and, in an almost negligible portion of the canvas, revealed the fire of the sun.

Then, of course, there is Majorelle: shadow is no longer the absence of light but is embeded in the subject itself. All the way. This one really struck a chord with me:

Jacques Majorelle - Harmonie en noir
Jacques Majorelle - Harmonie en Noir

Choukrane guys, choukrane.

PS: And this guy was looking at me. He looked away just when I took the picture.

Anonyme - Buste d'homme

10 less stupid resolutions for 2023

Not so much resolutions as general principles that I've discovered and explored in the past years:

  1. Gain clarity
    Without clarity, each decision, big or small, is commanded by our irrational fears, or subconsicous anxieties and ends up leading us in the wrong direction. Clarity should be the first thing we seek. Before a career. Before love. Before brushing out teeth. But here's the catch (22): to realize the importance of clarity, you already need to have some. That's the paradox. Unless...
  2. Really want it
    It seems simple, almost childish, but it works. Call it what you will: faith, grace, resilience. If you really want to grow, gain wisdom, become a better person, you'll find a way. It might not be visible just yet or – even worse – it might not be the path you had in mind. But you have to want it. Like: really really want it. Then no paradox, no excuse and nobody will be able to stand in your way. That's real faith.
  3. "Where?" before "How?"
    "How?" is the question everbody is obsessed with. "How can I do this? How can I get there?". To the point where we don't end up where we want, but where we can. We let the "hows?" learnt at school, at work or on TV be our only compas, instead of asking the only question that matters: "Where?". "Where do I really want to go? And Why?". The wrong direction, even when reached really fast or really efficiently, is still the wrong direction.
  4. Growth before value
    Where you are now doesn't matter. Whether you're at the bottom of a pit, on top of a mountain, or mid-slope somewhere: it's temporary. What matters is your growth rate (the "derivative", engineers would say): are you going up or going down? Are you growing or shrinking? By changing your inner slope only by a few degrees, you change both who you are and where you're headed. It might not be visible right away but it's the only way to make a difference on the long run.
  5. The solution is always inside
    The problems we have are a function of who we are. If  some genie made all of our problems disappear tonight by a snap of a finger, we'd be happy for a day and then, in less than a week, we'd recreate the same problems over again – or very similar ones. So don't blame your outide circumstances: they have nothing to do with it. Look for the cause within. That's the real source. The inner slope wich pulls you up or pushes you down.
  6. Problems before solutions
    In the corporate world, we're told one should never come to their boss with a problem without offering a solution. In life, this is foolish. Spotting a problem is the first step towards solving it. It's called clarity. Once the obstacle is exposed in all its glory, mecanisms will set themselves in motion to find a solution. It's denial that makes calamity of a so long life.
  7. Get to know yourself
    Since you don't get one at birth, you should invest in writing your own instruction manual. Observe yourself. Embrace introspection. How does anger spark in you? Or jalousy? Or fear? What deep cause motivates your actions? Which irrational fear controls your pulsions? Identifying intern mecanisms allows to free yourself from them and eventually become more deliberate in just about everything.
  8. Beware of thoughts
    Nothing really important is ever intellectual. Thinking might be fun, social, or productive, but the pillars of one's life should never rest on some logical reasoning. Our brain makes up new problems when it can't find any. By nature, thoughts are never at peace. So you should let this machine do its thing without paying too much attention while you look for balance elsewhere. In this regard, thoughts are a bit like TV: they only become harmful when you think they tell the truth.
  9. Beware of numbers
    Numbers are the same: they're never where they're supposed to be. Choloesterol is too high, salary too low, temperatures too cold, interest rates too expensive. By essence, numbers are made to quantify what is missing and what is too much, and thus represent a neverending source of insatisfaction and unbalance. Better to focus on what cannot be measured: the joy of seing someone we like, the pleasure of an activity we love, the beauty of the sky.
  10. Live in the present
    It's an overused cliché but it's also the key to the safe. Only the present exists. Past is another word for memory – often selective and filled with regret. The future is another word for imagination – often skewed by the anxiety of the day. Not living in the present means living in your head. To be prisonner of your thoughts, opinions, memories. Why not, after all? But every now and then, it's always nice to take a walk in the "here and now". To keep in touch with the world, with others, and with yourslef.

Happy 2023.

A Walk in the Medina

Found these on my phone. They were taken a few days ago on another continent.

Les chiens Beldi font la sieste
Beldi dogs napping in pack.
Malgré mon nouveau système, me suis encore perdu dans les Souks
Despite my infallible system, I got lost in the Souks again.
Pause sur la terrasse de la Fnaque Berbère (sic)
Tea time on the terrasse of the "Fnaque berbère" (a French pun of sorts)

Huberman / Willink : Motivation is useless

(Disclaimer: I listened to the podcast in english, wrote this post in french, then relied heavily on Google Translate to translate it back into english. So the original terms might have been lost in translation, sorry about that.)

Huberman is an American neuroscientist whose podcast has become extremely famous in the United States. He shares tips on well-being and productivity based on his knowledge of the brain. I listen to it from time to time, usually while driving.

Today he had a conversation with Jocko Willink (pretty much unknown in France): a former Navy Seals officer turned author and consultant. They talked about motivation, discipline, how to reach your potential, go beyond your limits, etc. A very interesting podcast. Here are some of the main ideas I took away from it:

Don't rely on motivation. Jocko Willink, who gets up every morning at 4AM to exercise (sometimes for five to six hours if you count Brazilian jiu jitsu) explains that motivation is a poor basis for action. He says (I'm summarizing and paraphrasing here):

Motivation comes and goes. Happiness comes and goes. If you rely on this to act, you won’t do anything.

He continues (still paraphrasing): “In the morning, I don't think a bunch. I don't weigh the pros and cons. I do what I have to do. Discipline is what matters.“

Words expected from a military officer, you might say.

But on many levels, this reminded me of what Rob Burbea (not a military man) says about impermanence in Seing That Frees, which I'm reading now. If you pay attention to your sensations moment to moment, he says, you realize that they are constantly changing, regardless of your circumstances. Yo go from joy to sadness, from confidence to anguish, without anyone – neither oneself, nor others, nor the situation – being necessarily responsible for it. It's the nature of things. (Although it's always easier to blame the outside world.)

Jocko Willink takes the example of walking in full gear through the desert. The first 20 minutes - regardless of training, habit, fitness - are always tough. You’re going to have a bad time. But passed a certain threshold, it becomes mechanical and you can keep walking for hours. Hence the importance of not relying solely on immediate perception for motivation.

Energy is the source of action. But not caloric energy, says Huberman. He speaks about mental energy which is related to the balance of different hormones and neurotransmitters in the system. This balance depends more on activity – sleep, exercise, rhythm, etc. – than on what we eat (calories). This implies the following paradox:

Exercise creates energy.

The idea that exercise « burns » the energy we accumulate through food is misleading. It is true at the caloric level, but fatigue, inattention and difficulty concentrating are rarely due to a lack of caloric energy. ("Have at least one good meal every 24 hours and you'll be fine," says Huberman). They are due to a lack of mental energy which, on the contrary, can benefit from fasting, intense exercise, regular sleep and rest schedules, etc.

I was so convinced by their arguments that when I got home, I dug out my bike from the cellar, pumped up the tires, and went for a ride. Then buried it back in the pile.