🦊 Quick Brown Fox #4

Hi friends,

Welcome to the fourth edition of Quick Brown Fox! To be honest, I’m pretty relieved to be publishing this one. It may sound strange, but reaching #4 is actually a big milestone for me. To understand what makes this one special, we have to take a quick trip down memory lane…

Back in 2015, I was writing a newsletter called Laugh & Learn. I was doing a bunch of teaching at the time, and for each newsletter I’d collect and share curated links that I hoped would be useful to students. The feedback I’d gotten so far was overwhelmingly positive. There was a problem, though — each edition would take ages for me to compile. I spent way too much time editing, tweaking, and polishing each and every word. I found the process really overwhelming, and just couldn’t keep it up.

The third edition was the last one I ever sent.

Fast forward to a few months ago, when I started writing Quick Brown Fox — I promised myself that this time, I would write more freely, and not stress about being perfect. Although I had good momentum, I also had this irrational fear that somehow I’d never make it past the third newsletter. The inner critic in my head came alive, and taunted me that I’m probably going to give up again, just like I did with my last newsletter. The longer I waited to publish #4, the louder this voice got…

Yet, here we are. I made it! 🎉💪🏽🦊 The Quick Brown Fox has officially jumped over the scary dog.

I’m happy I overcame this obstacle, but it made me wonder about the power of that ‘inner critic’. Even though I knew the fear was pretty baseless, the thoughts would still appear every so often. Turns out, these kind of thoughts are quite common. You may have had run-ins with an inner critic of your own, lingering on your mind from time to time. Sometimes, it may even be someone else’s voice (family, friend, or arch nemesis, perhaps?) playing in your head.

If we know these thoughts are baseless, why do they hold so much power? It’s worth taking a moment to consider the heightened influence even a single one of these negative thoughts can have on our lives.

Negative thoughts have significantly more power, weight, and longevity than positive ones.

When a negative thought penetrates our mind (born from a hurtful event, critical feedback, embarrassment, etc.), it can linger for days, weeks or more. Often, it can become a constant distraction. Worse, it can be debilitating, compromising our ability to function.

By contrast, positive thoughts are fleeting. We typically enjoy a compliment, happy moment, or joyful exchange briefly... and then quickly move on. So, even if we have the same count of positive/negative thoughts, the imbalance of weight causes negativity to hold far more staying power. For some, this effect is so powerful that they start to believe they're a negative person. In reality, their perception of their own thoughts is distorted due to the magnified impact of negativity.

So how do you counteract negative thoughts?

  • Pay closer attention to yourself via regular check-ins. Ideally, this is a daily activity, such as journaling. To begin with, just notice and log — don’t judge or analyze too much.

  • Once you have a significant amount of “data”, take a moment analyze it and notice any trends. Are you in a “down period” right now? How often do these happen in a month? In a year? Start to make correlations between these periods and events in your life — this can help you identify the sources of negativity in your life.

  • Celebrate the positives. A regular gratefulness practice is an excellent way to highlight moments and feelings of positivity in your life. Sit with these, and absorb them to their fullest. Give them the time to take up space in your mind.

  • Make time for emptiness. Take some time to just sit, watch the leaves in the wind, and get bored. When your mind is constantly overwhelmed with inputs (social media, TV, etc.), you have no time to process anything. Every single thought that comes in gets the same (lack of) attention — there’s no prioritization whatsoever. It’s like having a CEO meet with anyone and everyone that walks through the company doors. The time and energy of your mind is a precious resource. Protect it!

Processing is the step that allows you to filter and apply weights to your thoughts, before they capture your full attention (and then linger). We need a layer that allows us to look at thoughts as they happen, and then choose which ones hold power over us. It takes time and effort to build this layer.

Meditation is the most effective tool I know of to create a mindful processing layer for your thoughts. With regular practice, you’ll be able to give more power to the contextual side of your brain, and less to the reactive (often emotionally-driven) side.

But this isn't just about processing thoughts. Once you start observing your thoughts, processing them, and thinking contextually rather than emotionally... your behavior will change drastically. Your interactions with others will benefit from these changes, and you’ll naturally attract more positivity.

Change your thoughts, and you’ll change your life.

(Side Note: I’ve been thinking about writing a guide to meditation, based on my learnings from practicing for the past three years. If think you might find this useful, reply and let me know!)

I’m happy to report that I’ve been doing a bunch more drawing lately! I’m now finalizing my first blog post featuring a couple of shiny new illustrations — look out for it in the next newsletter. In the meantime, I wanted to share a quick story about an interaction I had the other day that filled me with joy.

Savor The Journey

I had a few minutes to kill before a haircut, so I popped into the Apple store next door to play with the iPads (as one does...). I started sketching some characters and shapes, when suddenly I noticed a little girl next to me was drawing too. She was observing me, and trying to draw the same shapes. I didn't want to intrude, but decided to take a leap and ask her a question.

“Excuse me, do you like drawing?”

She immediately smiled, and nodded vigorously.

“Can I show you some cool tricks?”

She nodded again. I showed her a few tricks with the Procreate app, like how to draw a ‘perfect’ circle by using the shape alignment tools, and how to fill shapes with color instantly. She was amazed, and then did it herself, to her immense satisfaction.

She then pointed at a little cone I had drawn and said, “This one is cool! How did you make it into 3D?”

She was pointing at shading. I briefly explained how light and shadow can give a shape form, which can be far more informative than its outline. Her curiosity was peaked. Off she went, shading away. I left for my haircut. This simple interaction, which lasted no more than five minutes, left me full of joy. Just seeing that smile on her face made my day.

When she responded that she likes drawing, she said it so earnestly. She was so genuinely excited, and expressed it without filter. It felt like a rare sight to see someone embody their excitement so openly. Typically, when adults talk about their hobbies, they do so with a tinge of embarrassment.

Why are we like this?

Fear. We worry that our peers will judge our hobbies (“Serious people should be doing serious work”). Or, the flip side of that fear: We worry that our peers may be experts, who will then judge us for not being serious enough about our hobby! The simple act of enjoying a hobby comes with so many overwhelming social burdens. It’s no surprise so many adults don’t even bother having them at all.

Most children, on the other hand, have not yet had to learn these kinds of social reinforcements. They express and enjoy who they are, without fear.

We should be more like kids.

I’ll leave you with this stunning thread I found on the relatively unknown work of Lighting teams on animated feature films. I must admit that, even as an animation nerd, I hadn’t fully grasped the scale of impact of their work. You can literally feel the emotion added in each shot.

That’s all for this edition! Thanks for reading, and as always feel free to reply directly to this email with any thoughts or reactions. See you at #5!