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Ian O'Byrne

We are like chameleons, we take our hue and the color of our moral character, from those who are around us. - John Locke In issue of TL;DR Newsletter: #identity


Ian O'Byrne

Control your controllables

3 min read

In his studies on flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi presented insight into this highly focused mental state and tranquility.

We have all experienced times when instead of being buffeted by anonymous forces, we [feel] in control of our actions, masters of our own fate. On the rare occasions that it happens, we feel a sense of exhilaration, a deep sense of enjoyment.

Stephen Covey expands on this by positing that people filter experiences before they reach our consciousness. In between stimulus and response, we have the freedom to choose how we'll respond to each situation we're presented in life. 

Covey expands on this by indicating that people are generally proactive or reactive. Much of this focus relies on their locus of control.

  • Proactive people recognize that they're responsible for how they respond to outside stimuli. They have an internal locus of control. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their state. They believe that their situation and existence is a product of personal choice and decisions derived from their values and virtues.
  • Reactive people believe their condition is a product of their physical and social environments. They have an external locus of control. Their moods and actions are determined by the moods and actions of others or the things that happen to them. They allow the actions of others to determine and control their situation and existence.

We have a choice about how we choose to focus our time and energy. We have a circle of concern, or things that garner attention in our daily lives. These include our health, friends, family, the environment. We also have a circle of control, or things that we have actual, direct control over. These include what we eat, the friends that we choose, where we live. 

Stephen Covey indicates that the circle of control exists within the circle of control, but describes this as a circle of influence. Proactive people focus their time and energy on elements in this space as they can actually change these things. The more you act on decisions made in the circle of control, the more this circle of influence expands.

Put simply, by shifting attention from the cirlce of control to the circle of concern, you're losing the freedom to choose how you'll respond to situations in life. You're allowing events outside of your control your moods and happiness.

Focus on the things you can control in life. Remove constraints, complications, and negativity from your life. Strengthen and expand your circle of influence.

Control your controllables.


Image Credit

Figure from James Clear

Ian O'Byrne

Exercise on learning from the view from above

On the final day of Stoic Week 2016, we are asked to consider our relationships with others and society in general. The handbook and daily prompts for the week are available here.

The reflection for this day is from Meditations, 2.3 from Marcus Aurelius:

The works of the gods are full of providence. The works of Fortune are not independent of Nature or the spinning and weaving together of the threads governed by Providence. All things flow from that world: and further factors are necessity and the benefit of the whole universe, of which you are a part. Now every part of nature benefits from that which is brought by the nature of the Whole and all which preserves that nature: and the order of the universe is preserved equally by the changes in the elements and changes in their compounds.

In this I believe that Marcus Aurelius is reminding us of our connection to nature, but also identifying a possibility for us to not be over attached to perspectives and actions outside of our own.

As indicated in previous posts, we have a lot that we can learn from our partners, friends, and colleagues. We can also learn from nature and our environment. The challenge is that we need to focus on our own goals and direction in life while striving for a life filled with virtue.

To remain focused on events in your locus of control, the following activity known as "the view from above" is recommended. This is a guided meditation that is aimed at focusing on the bigger picture in life and understanding your role in the world.

The audio recording above is a recording from Donald Robertson. Alternatively, you can read the script for the guided meditation here. Alternatively you can review the following video here.

Ian O'Byrne

Stoic reflections on life as a project and role models

3 min read

Thank you to friends Doug Belshaw and Eylan Ezekiel for pointing me to the events for Stoic Week 2016. This year's theme is on "stoicism and love." You can review the handbook for the week's materials here. 

The website is full of materials if you're interested in exporing stoicism and possible impacts on your life. I was most intrigued by the self-assessment they provide as you begin this journey. I'll share more on this later.

I start my day with a period of meditation, exercise, and then some reading and journaling. The events of stoic week 2016 will consist of a daily meditation and some written reflections throughout the day.

The iniitial prompt for today is the following:

From Maximus [I have learnt the importance of these things]: to be master of oneself and not carried this way and that; to be cheerful under all circumstances, including illness; a character with a harmonious blend of gentleness and dignity; readiness to tackle the task in hand without complaint; the confidence everyone had that whatever he said he meant and whatever he did was not done with bad intent; never to be astonished or panic-stricken, and never to be hurried or to hang back or be at a loss or downcast or cringing or on the other hand angry or suspicious; to be ready to help or forgive, and to be truthful; to give the impression of someone whose character is naturally upright rather than having undergone correction; the fact that no-one could have thought that Maximus looked down on him, or could have presumed to suppose that he was better than Maximus; and to have great personal charm. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 1.14

The intent of this prompt from the organizers of Stoic Week is to have us consider our life as an ongoing project, and the journey of ethical self-development. 

For me this is an important element of my life as I try to understand, or at least make room for the thoughts and habits that make me who I am. Meditation has helped me to quiet (at times) much of the noise of self-doubt and anxiety. By resetting each morning through meditation and reflection, I try to learn more about myself and who I would like to be.

Learning is a fundamental part of my philosophy and action. Through the aquistion of new knowledge I believe that we can understand and hopefully "change" most anything in our lives. 


Image Credit

Ian O'Byrne

I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside of me. - Abe Lincoln

2 min read

Dehypnotizing ourselves.

Since our birth, we're hypnotized to some extent in believeing ideas that we believe to be true about ourselves. These ideas may come from parents, sibliings, friends, teachers, etc. We co-construct this narrative with others about ourselves using some of our own thinking and intution. An even larger portion of this comes from those outside forces that seem to forget how much influence they really have on us.

These forces are like a form of hypnosis as we believe what we want to believe, or see what we want to see about oursleves. The real truth is that in many ways, we're blieveing what others want to see in us.

When we see someone getting hypnotized, we sit in the theater and watch as the subject easily enters a tranclike state. We laugh and sit on the edge of our seats as we see the hypnotized person easily lift heavy objects, withstand pain or degradation, or easily accomplish things they would never in their right minds try to accomplish. 

Once you believe something is true, you act as if it were true. No matter what facts or opinions you recieve, you hold steadfast to your beliefs. 

In this same belief system, what could you do if you considered that you were not aware of the real potential or truth about yourself. What if you really were hypnotized all of this time by those around you that help you co-construct this narrative? 

Perhaps you're currently hypnotized by incorrect beliefes, concepts, and values that interfere with your true potential and identity.

When you finally wake up...what will you do?

Ian O'Byrne

Thinking about Bots and Frictionless Interactions

3 min read

In an earlier post I wrote a bit about bots and the potential future for education. This past week I listened to Ben Thompson push back a bit about the opportunities for bots, AI, and the user experience.

In light of this, I think there are ways that we should frame this look at "bots" and extend it a bit as we think about the possible future for education.

The name "bots" might be confusing to use as there are mulitple instances of "bots" already present online. An example of this include the fleet of bots that comprise most of the traffic on Twitter. 

Bots (in this instance) also may include varying levels of artificial intelligence (AI).

What is powerful about the thinking about bots in this instance include the following.

First, there is a tremendous amount of contextual information that exists with the bot. You'll need to sign up for, or agree to permissions with the bot. So, with these permissions, it has the potential to collect a ton of contextual information. It'll know who you are, payment info, location, peers, etc. 

Second, the structure provides opportunities for lightweight interactions with very little friction.

With this new environment, think of it as a platform built on top of another platform. Think about it as the inclusion of a web browser on top of Windows, Mac OS, LInux, or your operating system. As Ben mentions in the podcast, the perfect example is found in WeChat in other markets.

If you connect these elements together, an example is shown in the opportunity to purchase flowers.

If you want to order flowers, you need to go to the webpage, create an account, enter your credit card information, select where you're sending it, enter billing and shipping addresses, etc. 

If you do this in the bot, you'd indicate that you want to order flowers. The bot for that service would take over like that digital concierge idea I posited earlier. The bot would already have a bunch of this contextual information. It would have billing, your current location, friends, etc. It can tell you to go to a nearby shop and look at, or order the flowers. It can handle everything for you and send flowers to your mother. Since it has your information, and may have her address through your address book, it can handle this without you doing anything.


Ian O'Byrne

Death ends a life, not a relationship. - Mitch Albom

2 min read

It is interesting to watch our considerations of death and the changes brought about by the influx of technology and social networks.

In an earlier post I wrote a bit about my own use of social networks and technology to understand how and when celebrities die. I've been struck by the loss of life of someone close to me.

My Wife worked in retail for a number of years. She managed a store and as a result became quite close to a number of the women that worked in her store, and served as assistant managers.

When we became pregnant with our first son, I was attending UConn for my doctoral work and she was working in a mall near the campus. I would often stop off at the store on the way home to visit and make sure she was fine. After our son was born, I would drive in to the store with him to see her...or pick him up there on the way home. 

She became close to one of her colleagues in particular. She would greet me and hug me whenever we saw each other. She became close to my Wife even after they stopped working together. Through the use of social networks, they routinely shared, commented, and liked content on each other's walls.

On one regular day, my Wife called me and informed me that the friend and former colleague had passed. It was totally unexpected and as a result we were unsure if it even occurred. 

Slowly in drips and drabs friends posted their condolences on her Facebook wall. This was followed by others that were learning and questioning about the details. Finally a family member somehow obtained access to her Facebook account and posted a short notice that she indeed had passed.

Over the coming days and weeks, her Facebook wall became a memorial and celebration of her life. To this day her Facebook wall is still active as loved ones routinely carry on dialogue with her after her passing. They share jokes, and music videos that she would have loved. The space provides room to reminisce and remember. 

Ian O'Byrne

April 7, 2016

2 min read

The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say when one ends, and where the other begins? - Edgar Allan Poe

As our world become increasingly digitized, and social networks link friends across the spaces and lines of our lives, an interesting pheonomenon is occurring as people die.

My Mother passed way too early at the age of 30. This event set forth a chain of events in my own life in which I'm cognizant of my own mortality, and to some extent live for the day. I don't actually live each day to the fullest because there is also this fear that at any point life will/could fall apart. These two elements keep me in a constant state of neurosis...but I digress. 

This has also brought about this need that I have to be remembered. As an angry adolescent, I wanted to be remembered after I die. Not just by friends and family, but I also wanted others to know me, or my work, or my name. Because my Mother may have been a blip on the radar, I wanted to be remembered and be (somewhat) immortalized. 

I don't think it's a case of vanity, although I'm sure there is a subtle dose of that..but I think it's also a need to earn something back for my Mother and the time she lost.

Because of the time period in which she died, there is relatively little documenting her life. A handful of scattered, yellowed photos. A half dozen lost home videos that can only be viewed on machines that don't exist. 

Looking and listening for a story unremembered is like the daily riutal of an archeologist. 

Ian O'Byrne

January 21, 2016

2 min read

How to stop overscheduling yourself and goal-setting

This is a post from FastCompany that I was directed to by yesterday's post about scheduling as a maker, and not a manager.

The guidance they offer in terms of scheduling goes in the same vein as a "hell yes or no" philosophy in terms of goal setting...and agreeing to collaborations.

The elements are:

  • Establish your priorities. Make your priorities about values (e.g., freedom, career growth, family, money, etc.) and copmaring that to committments (activities/events). If they don't pair up...don't do it.
  • Share those priorities. Communicate goals with those that matter in your circles. Family/friends won't fault you for working late when you're chasing promotion.
  • Don't say yes right away. Slow down and think. It's not your responsibility to make those around you happy.
  • Use a printed, monthly calendar. Paper calendars allow you to write in the margins, create unimposing "to-do" lists.
  • Schedule in your personal time. Schedule in a "me party."


From this list I'll think about the paper calendar idea. I've seen colleagues use the paper "to-do" list, or journaling. Not sure if I could/would do that.

I think I need to take point #3 to heart. Don't say yes immediately...and it's not my responsibility to make others happy.

Also, need to establish priorities and communicate those with the inner circle. But...I think those are pretty much established. Need to look at shorter term (yearly, quarterly) goals.

Ian O'Byrne

January 6, 2016

2 min read

Listened to Tim Ferriss interview with Derek Sivers this morning while exercising and it made a big difference for me. I'll listen to this one a second time in a week.

Some of the big takeaways for me include:

  • Kurt Vonnegut quote - We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.

  • Replying to requests with either "Hell Yeah, or No."
  • Developing a "now" page on my website to indicate stuff I'm currently working on in that time period.
  • The "most successful email" reply to customers after they subscribe/pay for a product. I'll fold this into my system as I build up classes.

In the interview Derek describes how he started up CD Baby as a side project...but it was really a means to "scratch other people's itches." He saw an opportunity to do something (e.g., sell his own music online). He then had requests from friends to help them sell their music. He did this for free for awhile and then decided to start charging. He went in to a local music store and asked how much they charged to sell your own music and modified that formula. He also thought about how much it would cost for his time.

Taking this formula, I would need to think about how much people would usually pay for a course...what is my time worth...what is my hourly many hours are in each course...and then set the price at that.

In my courses, I'll most likely break it down to being about 40 hours per course. If that's five'll break down to about 8 hours per module. This includes content the student consumes (videos, text, images, etc.), work done by the student, assessments, etc. I'll need to figure out the hourly price breakdown.

I'll give away the first class on "how/why to start a website" for free...just get people to sign up for a newsletter and get their email address.