Experimenting with standing desks, online courses, and hypnagogic naps

Troy Shu
6 min readApr 24, 2020

I hope everyone has been doing well during these unprecedented times.

I spend a lot of time learning about how to improve my experience in life. As a result, I wanted to introduce a new writing experiment I cooked up to share more of what I’ve learned. The series will be short, somewhat regular (monthly?) updates on life-improving ideas or tactics my wife and I have recently learned about or experienced and are trying out ourselves.

I strongly believe that the right seed of information at the right time can be life-changing, as long as you’re curious, open, and action-oriented. Our hope is that at least one seed in this series will become a new tree and eventually a forest of new possibilities for you.

Here are the ideas we’ve been toying with over the past month:

my makeshift standing desk
  • 🖥 Standing desks. Sitting all-day is bad for your health. I don’t know about all the longer-term cancer and heart disease stuff but I do know that it messes up my lower-back and posture: I see and feel that first hand now. In the first few weeks of working from home, because I sat so much I actually felt a kind of lower back pain that I haven’t felt in ages (I have and use a standing desk at the office). Sitting causes tight hip flexors which pulls on your lower back, and I had injured my lower back a while ago so I definitely felt pain this time. I decided to get a monitor and set up my own standing desk at home (see photo above).
  • 🌻 The Power of Now. My former coworkers at Squarespace got me this book because I had the Kindle version and always wanted a physical copy to reference (such a sweet gift!). Carol’s been reading it and has had some moments of insight about how attachment to what the author calls “form” causes suffering in her own life.
  • 🤴 How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer. I’ve never read Montaigne before. I’m enjoying reading him and find his style philosophy refreshing, entertaining, and thought-provoking. And what better question to try and answer than “how to live”? Except he never answers that question directly. In contrast to other kinds of philosophy, Montaigne doesn’t tell you how you should live. He just observes and studies life’s experiences through his own stories and adds his own flavor of insight, producing gems like “Even on the most exalted throne in the world we are only sitting on our own bottom.”
  • 🏄‍♂️ Living in Flow: The Science of Synchronicity and How Your Choices Shape Your World. A great book about living more authentically and how intention coupled with action produces meaningful outcomes. I’ve already put some of the tactics in this book into practice (namely “LORRAX”: listen, open, reflect, release, act, repeat) and have seen first-hand how it helps me turn initially challenging situations or emotions into opportunities. The book gets a bit too speculative and “woo woo” sometimes which loses me for a little, but I’ve already learned at least one tactic to authentic living that I’ll take away for the rest of my life.
  • 🧠 Learning How to Learn Coursera course. I’ve heard a lot about this course over the years and finally had some time to take it. Learning is the ultimate meta-skill so I was looking forward to it: getting better at learning means accelerating your development. It only took a few hours, speeding through the videos and skipping some of the less interesting topics. Takeaways I was reminded of include the importance of practicing recall, even just taking a moment after reading something to recall something you learned, and the importance of using both focused and diffuse-mode thinking. Which brings me to…
  • 🌁 More diffuse-mode thinking. Diffuse-mode thinking happens when you let your mind wander and make connections “all over” the brain. Whereas focused-mode thinking occurs when you’re focused on a specific idea or problem. Both modes of thinking are required for optimal creativity and learning but I definitely spend way more time in focused-mode. I wrote a little about my “most important question” practice which engages the subconscious and diffuse-mode thinking to help me solve problems. I’ve also started experimenting with hypnagogic naps like Thomas Edison and Salvador Dali used to do to harness diffuse-mode thinking for insight. I’ve seen some interesting results so far.
  • Did you know that when I worked at a hedge fund, I used to meditate at my desk after lunch? People who walked by my desk thought I was taking a nap. At the end of the year, my team gave out bogus awards to various people as a joke. I got the “Sleeping Beauty Award”.
  • 😊 Science of Well-Being Coursera course. Speed through this one. Still, it’s a great review of the well-being practices we all know and love — like a gratitude journal, spending time with people, and spending money on experiences over things — and why they work.
  • This prompted me to buy some Jackbox Games and now I host a fun virtual game night with friends and family every Friday night. Mafia / Secret Hitler in space, anyone (the game’s called Push the Button)?
  • 🍳 Carol and I have basically been cooking every meal and trying out new recipes. Cooking and learning its principles serves as one of our creative outlets and it’s healthier and less expensive. I think we’ll be cooking a lot more meals ourselves and being more self-sufficient after this pandemic is over. Here’s Carol’s favorite easy bread recipe. Also, did you know that growing your own scallions is super easy and only requires water? Look it up.
  • 🧘‍♀️ Carol started meditating with me regularly in the mornings. We use Sam Harris’s Waking Up app which I’ve happily paid for over the past few years. I know I’ve already talked about this app a lot on this blog but it’s the best meditation app I’ve tried. Sam’s guided meditations are relaxing and easy to follow while containing nuggets of insight about consciousness and how we experience life. He also has a lot of other thought-provoking content on his app, like guided loving-kindness meditations and a lecture on why he thinks we don’t have free will.
  • 🏋️‍♀️ Peloton app for home workouts. I really miss the gym and all the equipment. I also missed the boat on buying dumbells, kettlebells, even sandbags before everything sold out. So, I’ve resorted to bodyweight workouts. I had built a sort of ritual with going to the gym but now that I can’t, I found myself reluctant about doing body workouts at home. Then my co-worker introduced me to the Peloton app, which is offering a 90-day free trial! Catchy music and a person guiding and yelling at you is definitely motivational (I see why “social fitness” like Crossfit and Orange Theory are so popular). They have a good amount of bodyweight workouts, and while I’m likely losing a lot of strength (oh well) the Peloton bodyweight workouts are decently intense and only require a yoga mat.
  • 🤯 The High Existence podcast is one of my favorite podcasts because it’s focused on self-improvement but through a more “thoughtful” lens. Some favorite episodes this time:
  • Learning The Ultimate Meta-Skill and Bending Reality (HEx Dialogues #3). This one’s all about getting better at learning. It has similar concepts to the Learning how to Learn Coursera course, but one takeaway that sticks with me is to have a balance of “consumption, production, and stillness” time in my life. Learning requires consuming information, but it also requires putting it into practice and producing. Lastly, periods of stillness, not even meditation or napping but sitting in silence and staring out the window, induce diffused-mode thinking, which as we learned complements focused-mode thinking for better learning and creativity.
  • On Engineering Your Own Luck and Surfing Serendipity with Eric James (HEx Podcast #31). The interviewee shares some pretty awesome stories about how he manufactured his own luck to meet Elon Musk and Richard Branson, and how he got his photography featured in National Geographic. The takeaways are: set ambitious goals, live authentically, put yourself out there and don’t be afraid of rejection, be open to the potential opportunities that come your way, and then take bold action.

Have you been experimenting with interesting ways to improve your life? Or just have questions or comments? Reach out!

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Originally published at making my own luck.