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Why We Read, Changing the Narrative, Smelling with Your Body, & Managing your Inbox

Resource: C.S. Lewis on Why We Read
Description: C.S. Lewis on the preciousness of knowledge and the power of books


Seeing the world through your eyes alone is not enough. Our picture of reality becomes fuller as we learn to see the world through the eyes of others as well. Books allow us to see through one another’s eyes.

Through books, we get to experience live through other people while still retaining a sense of our own individuality.

We can be a thousand people living a thousand lives. All we need to do is read.

Books are the only way you can be someone else while simultaneously becoming more fully yourself.


“Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realize it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a dog.”

“Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”

Resource: Change the Narrative, Change Your Destiny: How James Baldwin Read His Way Out of Harlem and into Literary Greatness
Description: Baldwin on how reading affected his upbringing and on how books shape our sense of possibility

If you can read, you can think. If you can think, you can imagine and invent. To read is to reinvent yourself. It’s to affirm your capacity to shape not only your world, but yourself.

Don’t let other people define who you are and how you’ll be treated. Create the self of your own choosing and train others how to treat you.

If you’re playing someone else’s game without knowing that’s what you’re doing, you’ll never win. Recognize the games you’re playing, learn the rules, and then use this knowledge to opt out and play your own games.

Reading is a way of escaping your cultural limitations. Through reading you can go beyond just having cultural/genetic ancestors and you can have “mythical ancestors” — people from the past and people from other worlds entirely who become your allies, teachers, mentors, and friends.


“I used to tell my mother, when I was little, “When I grow up I’m going to do this or do that. I’m going to be a great writer and buy you this and buy you that.” And she would say, very calmly, very dryly, “It’s more than a notion.” That kind of dry understatement which characterizes so much of black speech in America is my key to something, only I didn’t know it then.” -James Balwdin

“I was very young, and the assumptions of the people by whom I was surrounded, who now were white people, were so fatally different that I was really in trouble. I was in danger of thinking myself out of existence, because … an unknown helpless black boy, wandering around the way I did and thinking the way I thought, was obviously a dangerous kind of freak. Obviously, you say what you think, and there is no way to hide what you think. People look at you with great wonder and great hostility, and I got scared because I could see that I wouldn’t be able to function in this world or even in this language, and I went away. But I began to think in French. I began to understand the English language better than I ever had before; I began to understand the English language which I came out of, the language that produced Ray Charles or Bessie Smith or which produced all the poets who produced me. A kind of reconciliation began which could not have happened if I had not stepped out of the English language.” -James Balwdin

“If you’re born into that situation, the nature of the trap is with your not even knowing it, acquiescing. You’ve been taught that you’re inferior so you act as though you’re inferior. And on the level that is very difficult to get at, you really believe it. And, of course, all the things you do to prove you’re not inferior only really prove you are. They boomerang… You’re playing the game according to somebody else’s rules, and you can’t win until you understand the rules and step out of that particular game, which is not, after all, worth playing.” -James Balwdin

“Once people know what they know, they make the unconscious assumption that they were born knowing what they know, and forget that they had to learn everything they know.” -James Balwdin

“You’ve got to tell the world how to treat you. If the world tells you how you are going to be treated, you are in trouble.” -James Balwdin

“To learn by such passive osmosis is to acquiesce to the world’s terms of how we are to be treated. To read is to be exposed to other possible versions of ourselves, beyond those bequeathed to us by our direct cultural ancestors and instead borrowed, at will, from what Mead called our “mythical ancestors”. In championing this notion, Baldwin is echoing Seneca — one of his own mythical ancestors, perhaps — who argued two thousand years earlier that reading allows us to be adopted into the “households of the noblest intellects” and raised by parents of our own choosing, becoming persons of our own creation.” -Maria Popova

Resource: You smell with your body, not just your nose | Jennifer Pluznick
Description: Surprising scientific facts about smelling


We have the ability to smell over 1 trillion difference scents/odors.

We detect the presence of scents/odors through olfactory receptors.

Olfactory receptors are found in other areas of our body besides the nose. For instance, we have olfactory receptors in our liver and our kidney. That is, we “smell” or pick up odors and scents with our whole body.

One of the ways our bodies use olfactory receptors is by identifying chemicals that will be useful towards a certain function. For instance, your liver might be able to “sniff out” something like coffee because of the association between coffee consumption and improved concentration.

There’s still much research to be done, but the implications of seeing our sense of smell as something that isn’t entirely tied to the nose are intriguing and profound.

Resource: Getting Things Done by David Allen


Your in-box is not a storage box. Keep your inbox flowing. Things should move in and out of your inbox regularly and rhythmically. The key that allows you to do this is the clarification process.

When you clarify an item in your in-box, you are deciding what it is, what to do with it, what doing looks like, and when it needs to be done.

Work with one item at a time. Resist the temptation to grab several items from your inbox. Give each item the thought and treatment it deserves.

Treat everything in your inbox equally. If you notice a major item in the #2 slot and a minor item in the next up slot, work with the minor item first and the major item second. Clarification is about processing things. It’s not about acting on them just yet. Just because something comes first in the clarification process doesn’t mean it will come first in the action process. Trust your system Everything will eventually get covered one by one.

Don’t ever put anything back into your inbox. Once you take something out of your inbox, go ahead and clarify it and then organize it.


“ASSUMING THAT YOU have collected everything that has your attention, your job now is to actually get to the bottom of “in.” Getting “in” to empty doesn’t mean actually doing all the actions and projects that you’ve captured. It just means identifying each item and deciding what it is, what it means, and what you’re going to do with it. “

“When I coach people through this process, it invariably becomes a dance back and forth between the simple decision-making stage of processing the open loops and the trickier task of figuring out the best way to enter these decisions in their particular organization systems. “

“Processing guidelines: The best way to learn this model is by doing. But there are a few basic rules to follow: Process the top item first, process one item at a time, never put anything back into “in.”

“Process does not mean “spend time on.” “

“Even if the second item down is a personal note to you from the head of your country and the top item is a piece of junk mail, you’ve got to process the junk mail first! That’s an exaggeration to make a point, but the principle is an important one: everything gets processed equally. The verb process does not mean “spend time on.” It just means “decide what the thing is and what action is required, and then dispatch it accordingly.” You’re going to get to the bottom of the tray as soon as you can anyway, and you don’t want to avoid dealing with anything in there. “

“Emergency Scanning Is Not Clarifying Most people get to their in-tray or their e-mail and look for the most urgent, most fun, easiest, or most interesting stuff to deal with first. “Emergency scanning” is fine and necessary sometimes (I do it regularly, too). Maybe you’ve just come back from an off-site meeting and have to be on a long conference call in fifteen minutes. So you check to make sure there are no land mines about to explode and to see if your client has e-mailed back to you OK’ing the big proposal. But that’s not processing your in-tray; it’s emergency scanning. When you’re in processing mode, you must get into the habit of starting at one end and just cranking through items one at a time, in order. As soon as you break that rule and process only what you feel like processing, in whatever order, you’ll invariably begin to leave things unprocessed. Then you will no longer have a functioning funnel, and it will back up all over your desk and office and e-mail “in” repositories. Many people live in this emergency-scanning mode, always distracted by what’s coming into “in,” and not feeling comfortable if they’re not constantly skimming the contents on their computer or mobile devices. Were they to trust “in” would be totally dealt with every day or two, they wouldn’t be so driven by this need for incessant checking. “

“The in-tray is a processing station, not a storage bin. “

“One Item at a Time You may find you have a tendency, while processing your in-tray, to pick something up, not know exactly what you want to do about it, and then let your eyes wander to another item farther down the stack and get engaged with it. That item may be more attractive to you because you know right away what to do with it—and you don’t feel like thinking about what’s in your hand. This is dangerous territory. What’s in your hand is likely to land on a “hmph” stack on the side of your desk because you become distracted by something easier, more important, or more interesting below it. “

“Thinking about the stuff you’ve accumulated usually does not happen naturally, of its own accord. You must apply conscious effort to get yourself to think, like getting yourself to exercise or clean house.”

“Most people also want to take a whole stack of things out of the in-tray at once, put it right in front of them, and try to crank through it all, immediately. Although I empathize with the desire to deal with a big chunk, I constantly remind people to put back everything but the one item on top. The focus on just one thing forces the requisite attention and decision making to get through all your stuff. And if you get interrupted (which is likely), you won’t have countless parts of “in” scattered around outside the tray and out of control again. “

“There’s a one-way path out of “in.” This is actually what was meant by the old admonition to “handle things once,” though handling things just once is in fact a bad idea. If you did that, you’d never have a list, because you would finish everything as soon as you saw it. You’d also be highly ineffective and inefficient, since most things you deal with are not to be acted upon the first time you become aware of them. Where the advice does hold is in eliminating the bad habit of continually picking things up out of “in,” not deciding what they mean or what you’re going to do about them, and then just leaving them there. A better admonition would be, “The first time you pick something up from your in-tray, decide what to do about it and where it goes. Never put it back in ‘in.’” The cognitive scientists have now proven the reality of “decision fatigue”—that every decision you make, little or big, diminishes a limited amount of your brain power. Deciding to “not decide” about an e-mail or anything else is another one of those decisions, which drains your psychological fuel tank. “

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