How I met Merlin Mann by following my Intuition

Have you ever put pressure on yourself to do something you feel you should do, but don’t actually want to do?

Too often we hold expectations of ourselves to do something that we don’t actually want to do in the first place. Often this arises from obligations we’ve made in the past, inaccurate perceptions of what we should do in the present, or a combination of both.

The secret is, even when travelling (in fact, probably especially when you’re travelling), that you need to listen carefully to your intuition, to your heart. Some people would call this their gut or their intuition, but since emotion arises out of the heart, I’m going to refer to this as your heart for the purposes of this article. What does your heart tell you about where you should go? Only when you can learn to listen to your heart, as well as your head, will you be a truly balanced person.

A Hilariously Distinguished Lecture

What can happen when you start listening to your heart/intuition more?

I’ll share an example.

Last month, I took a spur of the moment trip to Madison. I wouldn’t have normally gone to Madison on short notice, but a good friend told me that Merlin Mann, hilarious productivity speaker extraordinaire, would be speaking at UW Madison as part of their Distinguished Lecturer Series.

And a distinguished lecture it certainly was..
An absolutely hilarious distinguished lecture.

Admission was free, and there were only a few hundred people in the theater which had a capacity of 1,200 people. (However, it’s worth noting that failure to reach even half of the capacity was probably due to the fact that an apparently popular band called Death Mouse was performing in Madison that night.) But those who decided to go to the Death Mouse concert instead of Merlin’s talk really missed out.

I’d seen videos of Merlin’s talks before, but this was the first time I’d seen him in person. And maybe I’m biased, but the talk was more hilarious and enlightening than any Death Mouse concert could ever be. Not only did we learn a lot more, but we laughed a heck of a lot, too.

Positive Reinforcement or Negative Reinforcement?

Going down to Madison again reinforced an idea that I’ve been playing around with for a while now, which is that excitement is the best motivation. Now, in “modern” western society, motivation seems to stem primarily from fear. Some popular fears include: fear that you’re not going to make enough money, fear that you’re going to be hopelessly lonely if you travel solo, or even the fear that your email is so incredibly overflowing that you’ll never be able to handle it.

When these types of fears are used to spur action, that’s called negative-reinforcement. And while dealing with these fears certainly spurs growth, there are far more effective (not to mention healthier) methods of motivation.

In my experience, different kinds of positive reinforcement are much more effective and lead you to take more action. Paying attention to what you’re actually excited about, paying attention to what you really profoundly care about, choosing to grow these aspects of your life, and acting on them are incredible motivators. Consciously deciding to do these things is one of the most profound decisions you can make in your life, and it will have untold positive ripple-effects.

Merlin’s talk addressed the role of fear, too; as well as the role of self-management and the difference between intelligent behavior and unintelligent behavior when dealing with communication channels like twitter, email, and even phone. In a nutshell, his talk focused on how to use your time and attention truly intelligently; and with the plethora of inboxes we have in our lives today, his message has come at just the right time.

How I met Merlin Mann and a Surprise

Coming down to Madison on the spur of the moment wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine, either. It took a fair amount of arranging and planning, but I knew intuitively that this was something I had to come and see.

And even before I arrived, I had a strange feeling that I’d end up having a good conversation with Merlin. I had no evidence for this, but it turns out that a small group of us got to talk to Merlin for about 2 hours after his talk. And having followed his work for a few years now, as well as being a huge fan a podcast he helps create called You Look Nice Today, it was a fantastic experience to be able to have a long candid conversation with him; and I was really thankful. (i.e. as excited as a Japanese schoolgirl at a Cosplay convention. It was pretty ridiculous.)

Imagine that you got to sit down and have a 2 hour conversation with your favorite author… or movie star… or whatever.

It was like that (except that Merlin is much more genuine than most movie stars). And I’m very thankful that he took the time to talk to our small group of remaining people after his talk. He gave a few people enlightening advice on their careers, gave us some interesting insights on the podcast, and seemed open to talking about anything.

It was a delight to say the least, and if one is happening near you, I highly recommend you see one of Merlin’s talks. They’re quite hilarious, especially if Merlin thinks he’s having a stroke (you’ll know what I mean when you see him); but more importantly, they’ll give you a totally new way of thinking about your work.

Below, I’ve attached Merlin’s Time & Attention talk from earlier this year. (The talk he gave at Madison isn’t online yet.) The talk below is over an hour, so you probably not finish it in one sitting. But I warn you, once you start watching it, you may have trouble stopping.

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