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Your brain is not your friend: Lessons from Ponto

Joe Rogan Podcasts. Headspace. Journaling before bed. Fostering more gratitude. Life hacks. Ketogenic dieting….F*** I’M ANXIOUS I NEED TO MEDITATE MORE. This is the mental conversation many of us live on a daily basis. It’s never-ending. It’s self-critical. And simply put, it’s exhausting. Unsurprisingly, this is what transpires in a world where on average us Millenials get an avg 3.72 hours of screen time every day, and that’s just on our phones. Scrolling through a feed...swiping right...swiping left...endlessly staring at other peoples’ lives on Instagram that we wish we were living, rather than taking the time to figure out how to best live the one and only life we have that is our own. While some would be more willing to admit than others that this is the exact saga they live on a day to day basis, it’s this psychopathic “mind in a million places” dissatisfaction that led me to start my own company, Ponto, back in June of 2018.

For better or for worse, taking on starting a company while working full time in a high-pressure job at Google, my anxiety definitely got much worse before it got better. But had I not listened to my anxiety, I’d be far less professionally satisfied than I am now and still walking around the anxious mess my early in career life quickly coded me to be. And don’t worry, I’m still a mess, just less of a mess. I digress…

Over the past 2.5 years, I’ve learned more about myself in a shorter period of time than ever before. And this has happened while balancing a dual identity life of working full time, deepening my remote co-founder relationship with Joey, and managing a team of 15 or so contractors from Dongguan, China to Latvia to Portugal to Los Angeles. While my life has become increasingly hectic, I weirdly enough have become less anxious. And it was all the result of listening to my anxiety for the first time in my life to understand what it was telling me, rather than forever fighting it and walking around a headcase all day every day.

My new year’s resolution for 2018 when I started was to get out of my own way, and throughout 2019/2020, I think I accomplished that in many ways. All the while I have noticed common themes in how I hinder myself, that I thought it’d be useful to write down to intermittently remind myself of. I had always planned to one day share them, so here they are. It’s nothing fancy. But you may find them helpful as you try to get closer to whatever it means to live an increasingly full life for yourself. So without further adieu, here they are:

  1. Follow...not your brain: Crudely put, our brains are total f**ks. They don’t shut up. They tell us we want one thing, and then completely flop on a moment's notice to wanting the complete opposite. Brains are a beautiful tool to help us articulate thoughts, come up with new ideas, and stay organized, but our incessant mental chatter is an awful compass in creating any semblance of conviction in working towards what we want. A funny way to think about this is, imagine if the voice in your head as a person. They’d be the most deplorable, negative, and unbearable mother f’er you’ve ever encountered. From telling us we’re not good looking enough, we’re not smart enough, to all the other bullying our brains impose on us. It’s crazy that such an obvious concept is so not obvious to the majority of people. That negative voice in your head is as powerful as you make it. So heed it less and listen to your gut more. Since founding Ponto, I can say my gut has been right about 90% of the time while my brain probably gets a meager 5-10%...if that.

  2. Mental barriers are as big as you make them: At every inflection point and decision I have had to make since starting a company, the difficulty in making a decision is as difficult as I make it. While that’s a very simple concept, we all let our brains build walls and fences around everything it is we wish to achieve. From asking that girl/guy out to speaking up in that meeting, to simply being honest with yourself about what it is you really want. Be good to yourself and don’t make life harder than it already is. From hiring a really high quality but seemingly pricey fashion designer to signing a relatively permanent partnership agreement with partners overseas, I have driven myself up many a wall in making decisions for Ponto. Yet each and every time I finally broke down the wall and trusted myself to make the decision my gut told me was right, there was predominantly relief and enjoyment on the other side. Breathe easy. Big decisions typically look small in hindsight.

  3. Take every life experience as a gift: Simply put, don’t fight what already happened. Instead, find a way to foster a glass half full mentality and take every life situation as life-giving you a gift. From getting rejected by your dream job, to a personal or professional relationship not working out like you had rehearsed in your head, life’s too short to resist the hard stuff that has already happened. Conversely, if you were to fully assess all the amazing things that have happened in your life, you’d realize very few of them could have taken place without the things that you’d been aspiring for along the way but never came to fruition.

  4. Life is like a game of Tetris, not a game of chess: From the outside looking in, many people’s lives look like the product of perfectly calculated decisions and risk-taking. We often conclude that life is about making all the right decisions and minimizing the wrong ones. While game theory and playing out a risk/reward analysis of every single possible outcome in a given situation made for a highly interesting college Economics curriculum, how often are the myriad of scenarios that you play out in your head actually what happens?...Well pretty much never. Instead, life is a sequence of utter bull shit and randomness. Cells crashing into other cells, and really it comes down to a game of reactionary chaos control, quite similar to Tetris. As the pieces fall, be strategic in how you adapt your life around what’s inevitable, but quit faulting yourself for how the pieces fell. Life is like a box of chocolates...it’s really f’ing random.

  5. The best things happen slow, and the worst things happen fast: Let life happen at the natural rate at which it should, and don’t let your anxiety drive you to think that certain things should be happening quicker than they are.

If things are progressing nicely with someone you’ve been flirting with, let the good conversations roll and let the laughs keep coming. Don’t let your brain talk you into thinking it’s something you must slap a label on because your insecure of what isn’t yet. If you’re struggling through all the fears that naturally arise in starting your own gig, don’t let your anxieties get the best of you and make impulsive decisions you’ll regret. Fear and our brain’s constant need to try to control for what hasn’t played out yet drive most of us to do some pretty nonsensical stuff. Rest easy knowing you’re on the exact path you’re supposed to be on, and your life is happening at the exact pace that it should be.

Breathe padawan. Patience is everything.

In conclusion, your brain is like that friend you have to spend time with because they’re lifelong next of kin, but you know you can only tolerate them in VERY small doses. They’re abrasive, are always driving you up a wall with every possible scenario that could happen in life, and they don’t shut the hell up when you need them to most. All things considered, they’re pretty exquisite when it comes to planning, not forgetting things, and staying organized. Use your brain tool when you need it, but know when it’s time to huck it in a drawer.

My 20’s have very much been devoted to figuring out how to navigate the world with this large cranial mass atop my shoulders. In certain situations, it can be a useful tool, but 99% of the time it’s what makes life difficult. I encourage you to monitor how you talk to yourself, as you’ll be very quick to realize how much of a problem our brains really are. That said, get excited by the possibility of what else you could amass for yourself in working towards a better relationship with your noggin. You’ve gotten this far as the psycho you will soon realize you are. Imagine what’s possible if you sort your head out!