Intentional: How to Live, Love, Work and Play Meaningfully
By: David Amerland Gener: Non-fiction, smartbook
Live your life the way you want to. Manage stress better. Be more resilient and enjoy meaningful relationships and better health. We all want that. Such life leads to better choices, better jobs, loving romantic partners, more rewarding careers and decisions that are fully aligned with our aims.
What stops us from getting all that is the complexity of our brain and the complicated way in which the external world comes together. The misalignment between the internal states we experience and the external circumstances we encounter often leads to confusion, a lack of clarity in our thinking and actions that are not consistent with our professed values.
Intentional is a game plan. It helps us connect the pieces of our mind to the pieces of our life. It shows us how to map what we feel to what has caused those feelings, understand what affects us and what effects it has on us and determine what we want, why we want it and what we need to do to get it.
When we know what to do, we know how to behave. When we know how to behave we know how to act. When we know how to act, we know how to live. Our actions, each day, become our lives. Drawn from the latest research from the fields of neuroscience, behavioural and social psychology and evolutionary anthropology, Intentional shows you how to add meaning to your actions and lead a meaningful, happier, more fulfilling life on your terms.
Because all this is serious I can afford to be flippant, though as you will see even my flippancy has a very serious intent. So, I will add here that the one ‘rule’ we all need to keep in mind is that favourite of William S. Burroughs’ from his Naked Lunch “Nothing is true; everything is permitted”. Burrough, of course, borrowed this from Vladimir Bartol, who used it in his novel Alamut. Bartol, himself borrowed it, and slightly changed it in the process, from the teachings of Hassan-i Sabbah who was the founder of the Order of the Assassins, historically known as the Nizari Assassins. The tale, writings and doctrine of the Order was incorporated in the storyline of the popular video game Assassin’s Creed which is where I first came across it and filed it away for future reference which brings us to here and now. You reading what I’ve written.
What do we, what can we learn from this? That life is circuitous but the circuit has polygonal junctures with cultural jumps and bends that require an open mind and a thirst for cultural learning in order for the metaphorical dots to connect? Or, that nothing is truly original, that everything is borrowed from somewhere else and made to fit the moment and its time?
Both, I’d argue. If you are truly living and if you truly feel alive you are aware of both context and history. Moment and time. Alamut was written as an implied rebuke to Mussolini’s fascism. Naked Lunch is a chronicle of the messiness of life and its often unplanned trajectory where the brain makes sense of basically senseless moments of existence. This book is about learning to behave in ways that help you get more out of your life.
Hello, my name is Emily and thank you for giving me some of your time.
Was writing your first love?
Writing was something I have always needed to do. I’m not sure I explain this adequately except as an almost physical need. From as far back as I can remember I have needed to write. Initially thoughts and ideas I was hoping would end up as works of fiction some day and then, later, as I got older as ideas and theories about how the observable world works, from my point of view.
As my career started to take shape and evolve I started with non-fiction, science-based pieces for newspapers and magazines, then a stint as a science correspondent for The European and then a string of non-fiction books that focus on subjects that are of direct value to businesses. My latest work is more personal in terms of its focus but seeing how business and life are made up of people this is the right way to evolve.
On days that I don’t write I find that my brain malfunctions. I am irritable and distracted and tend to be impatient so writing is the fundamental means through which I organize my thoughts, experiences and ideas.
Where do you like to write?
I write virtually anywhere. There is no place or ritual that gets me in the mood to write. In the past, I wrote thoughts, ideas, snippets that could be turned into articles on trains and coaches and even, for a brief time, in corporate meetings when the inevitable PowerPoint pie chart would appear and someone in a suit would try to explain just how great a business is doing.
Technology has fed my tendency to be unfettered and free. I can write anywhere there is an internet connection and I have a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone. I need the internet because all my writing is in the cloud. I can access it from anywhere.
Is writing everything you thought it would be?
No. Writing has turned out to be way more than I thought it would be. For me, initially, it was a personal need. I started reading when I was very young. I was fortunate to have adults around me who were interested enough in reading to me, initially, and in helping me read faster than my reading grade at school would have me read, but busy enough to not care what I read. The house I grew up in was full of books, none of them geared to a child. So I read adult themes, violent noirs, whodunnits, and classics such as Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The Volga Boatman which have decidedly adult themes. I read Crime and Punishment when I was nine. My brain learned to see information about the world as a narrative, from a very young age. We now know this is how we curate and maintain our sense of self and our place in the world.
Writing for me, initially, was about just that. Through my writing I was establishing my identity and credentials in terms of beliefs and ideas. As my career blossomed I learnt that my writing reaches more people than I would have thought possible and has way greater impact. It has made me aware of my responsibility to my readers, many of whom I will not even be aware of.
I am thrilled by my reach and its impact, obviously. On some days I am terrified. In many ways success in writing is an unwritten contract between a writer and their readers. The writer is obliged to deliver on the perceived premise of that contract. If you think of what I have just written in the sentence before you will realize the terrifying nature of that endeavor. It is also exhilarating at times. The world changes because people’s behavior changes. Behavior is reflective of deeper beliefs and ideas and these beliefs and ideas are formed by the brain’s wiring processing stimuli from the outside world. A book, once read, changes the brain’s wiring which means a writer of any sort, fiction or non-fiction, has the terrifying power to change the way their readers think and to affect the way they see the world.
As with all such power the Spiderman syndrome kicks in. As writers we all hold a lot of responsibility.
How do you form your story ideas?
Writing, both fiction and non-fiction, answers specific questions about the world. Fiction writing has the added dimension in that it allows us to explore possible scenarios which further enrich our internal, cognitive modelling and thus help shape our values. Non-fiction writing can certainly do that too, but its more immediate value lies in the utility of the answers it provides to seemingly obvious questions.
Intentional: How to Live, Love, Work and Play Meaningfully, for example, helps us understand how to behave in every situation we encounter so that we make decisions that lead to positive outcomes. Each book I write these days is focused on a seemingly simple question like that. I say “seemingly” because if it were truly simple it wouldn’t require 200 plus pages to answer and three years of research and writing to create.
Do you keep notes during the day? (In case something inspires you or, if you had a lively conversation and thought, “Hey that would be great in a book.”)
Inspiration can come from virtually anywhere, at any moment. Useful material may pop-up across our horizon in the most importune of times. It is important then, for every writer, to be able to capture, categorize and safely store it. To do this I use two really handy tools. If it’s a book I am writing I use a notebook I create specifically for it in Evernote. All my research, thoughts, ideas and items of information I come across are placed in that. Evernote has a cloud-based app so my research is with me wherever there is an internet connection and a device to access it. The tag feature in Evernote allows me to handily categorize everything I store in the notebook so it can be accessed quickly.
For items that have a more temporary nature or I am uncertain about I use Google Notes. Again, that’s a cloud-based app that lives in all of my devices and is always up to date.
Using these two apps I am able to always curate what I need and find it easily and quickly and that, in turn, has made my writing better.
Do you write in one sitting or in bursts?
In an ideal world I’d sit down and write for ten hours a day and every word would make perfect sense. In practice I found that I can definitely write ten hours a day but every word I write after the two-three hour mark exists in the ambiguous probability cloud of force writing. So the quality of my writing goes down.
So, as a personal strategy, I write in bursts of two-three hours at a time and then go and do something else, replenish my mental reserves and come back to my writing afterwards. The result is that I write punchier, easier-to-understand sentences and paragraphs.
When my brain is tired I find that I write drier, more academically-inclined copy.
What was the last book you read? Did it live up to your expectations?
I read a biography of Lord Byron by Fiona MacCarthy. I have been enamored by Byron’s poetry since I was at school. His life and the continued study it gives itself to and the revelations that are slowly coming to life are a constant source of fascination to me.
I try and choose the books I read as carefully as I can, mostly because if I pick a bad book and I get disappointed and abandon it I will have put in an investment of time which I will never get back. In this case the book was awesome and I was more than delighted with my choice.
What are some of your most difficult parts to write?
Every book, fiction and non-fiction alike has parts. In fiction we have scenes that convey some of the drama afflicting the characters, drive the plot forward and draw the reader deeper into the story. In non-fiction we have passages that paint mental images of complex concepts that need to be understood quickly, so that points can be made and the reader can get what they need in order to solve some mental or practical issue they face.
In writing Intentional I was faced, repeatedly, with the challenge of quickly explaining complex biochemical processes that drive our internal world and explaining the role of specific neurotransmitters in these processes. These were the passages I had to return to time and again to rewrite so that the words would flow more easily and the complexity could be presented more simply.
I think, for non-fiction writers, this is the greatest challenge. Write something that has the cadence and engagement of fiction-writing while presenting facts and ideas and building any speculative concepts necessary on them. It can be a little nightmarish at times and it makes writing, as a job, pretty hard.
Did this book follow your original plan? Or did it turn into something completely different?
Before I start writing I have done extensive research and planning. That’s a process that can take anything up to eighteen months from start to finish and sometimes involve more words than the ones contained in the final book. Mainly, that’s because the proposition and manuscript treatment of a non-fiction book are, essentially, a very detailed sales document that helps editors decide whether they want to take a chance on it and champion it at their editorial meeting or not.
So, by the time I start to actually write I have pretty much everything mapped out. Having said that there are always deviations from the script, so to speak. Something comes up, a new piece of research, some detail that hadn’t appeared before, a new thought that now needs to be addressed. These are elements that affect the book’s structure as they build on what will come and affect what has gone before.
I find that, invariably, these are the elements that add that extra spice into each book and also make the journey of writing it a truly enjoyable one for a writer.
Was it hard to stay motivated during your writing process? What were some of your go-to strategies to stay on point?
This is an interesting question because, obviously, the idea for the book initially comes from me, as its writer and by the time I have a contract in place it means I have convinced my agent, her assistant, an editor and their colleagues that the book has merit. So, theoretically I should have no motivational issues to overcome.
Life doesn’t work that way of course. Most writers, myself included, face two distinct points of, shall we say, demotivated states of mind and interestingly enough both are explainable by neuroscience and, as I have shown in Intentional, can be overcome once they are understood. The first one is at the very beginning. While I find the process of writing notes and ideas, putting the research together, planning the book outline and writing the sales document of it which is the treatment, exciting, once I get a contract I am terrified of starting.
At that point a few things conspire in my brain to produce that initial reluctance to start a book I have fought hard for to get accepted: first, fear of failure. While everything is theoretical and can go either way I can flat-out throw all my energy behind it. But the moment we get the greenlight I have to now produce a body of work which professional people believe in and it has to deliver. It has to work as well as my agent promised it would, for instance, and sell as well as the publisher expects it to and I am the one, working alone, in my home, surrounded by all my insecurities, fears and worries, who has to produce it.
Before I even start to write a book I know that the book itself represents a sizeable amount of work. At the very beginning all I can see is a colossal mountain I have to climb to get not just to the top but also come down the other side of it. Having done the hard slog of getting to its feet, so to speak, I am reluctant to start the climb because all I can think about is the hard work it will take.
This is almost the exact opposite of the planning fallacy proposed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in 1979 where they first proposed that in the planning phase of a project we use estimates of task completion times more optimistic than those encountered in similar projects in the past. This is my 18th book. Clearly I understand that I can bring a book to completion, but at this stage all I seem to focus on is the task difficulty which Steven J Kachelmeier in a 2005 paper showed that it can lead to either overestimation or underestimation of the effort involved.
I know how my brain works and why I feel that way so I keep a journal where I detail my words-per-day progress when I write and my thoughts and ideas and I use it to give myself a pep-talk of sorts so that I can convince myself I can write. I find that using the third person narrative there so that I act as my own personal psychologist and coach is tremendously effective. Again, psychologists call this “distancing” and it allows us to switch perspective inside our head so that we better see the size of the issues we face from the outsider looking in.
Fans of The Matrix, will be familiar with that scene from the original film where Trinity, running from the Agents, jumps through a window, tumbles down a flight of steps and waits, at the bottom, petrified for an Agent to follow and kill her (because they are virtually invincible). She says to herself as she waits “Get up Trinity. Get up!” – and she does. Well, that is exactly what the distancing effect is and it is attended by specific neurochemical changes in the mind and attendant neurobiological changes in the body which have us take action when we’d just rather freeze in fear.
The second point of demotivation lies when I am about halfway through the writing. By then I am mentally tired, psychologically uncertain, worried that my choices as a writer will lead to a bad book and painfully aware that I have as much writing ahead of me as I have put behind me. This is like the middle for a marathon race for a runner. Runners have specific techniques which help get their “second wind” when they feel tired and depleted. I have mine.
When I am halfway through a book and I feel tired and depleted and just want to stop because I doubt my ability to even complete it, let alone produce something of real value for my readers, I share a lot of what I find and how I feel even in my social media accounts.
The reactions of those who follow me, their ideas, responses and thoughts are usually enough to draw me out of my personal blue funk and make me focus again on what I am doing.
So, there. This happens every time, with every book.
Do you have a playlist for this book? Or any song that helped you develop a particular scene?
I always listen to music when I write. Classical music when I am editing passages or working very late, at night. Imagine Dragons, The Scorpions, Taylor Swift or Lindsey Stirling, when I write. For this particular book I listened to The Scorpions, a lot and everything they recorded.
Lastly, what is one key piece of advice you would give to anyone wishing to go down the writing path?
The usual piece of advice is believe in yourself and your own dream and go for it and this certainly stands true here. But it’s not enough and the way we trot this phrase out for everything means it has become a way for us to avoid saying something of true meaning and real value.
It is actually meaning and value that make things matter. It is no different to writing and writers. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from, how you write or what you write. Ask yourself does it have true meaning? Is it going to be of real value to the reader? Remember, that even the lightest of fiction is entertaining and engaging and, as such, it has value to its readers.
If your answers to these two questions are a resounding, convincing “yes” and “yes” then you just need to get your head down, take a deep breath and write. No one else can do that but you and you can only do it when you fully serve your readers.
Thank you for your time today :)
Reach David via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- David Amerland will be awarding a $25 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.