Realised this because I left the house early to meet my engineering manager at Book Cafe. Actually, it might be more than just the environment. It was that schedule of getting up early, changing environment, doing something difficult, establishing human touch - all this contributed to what Andrew Huberman calls the "milieu of the brain".
I previously had the erroneous mental model that there is a strict boundary between the internal and external world. Whatever is outside doesn't matter so long as my internal game is strong. Which is true. If I am enlightened.
Problem is that my inner game isn't solid enough. So external factors like the environment, who I hang out with, my schedule all make or break my self-perception, and thus my performance.
Now that we got that out of the way, what are some external factors I have noticed to be helpful?
- Sunlight and breeze - like now, working outside Book Cafe with a light fan blowing, this is amazing
- Diversity of environment - for cost and convenience purposes, I used to favor a fixed working location day in and day out. My thought was that if I'm immersed enough in what I do, where I do it doesn't matter. Not true, at least not now. I'm not willing to die on this hill. Which is why I'm starting to see the appeal of remote work.
- Exercise - non-negotiable, but also non-controversial for me
- Do something hard early in the day - sets my psychology up to win. If not in the morning, I have to do something uncomfortable or risk failure daily. Otherwise, I feel too comfortable, which breeds lethargy.
- Quality face to face interaction - I am a people person. Not a wild socialite or raging extrovert, but the kind who prefers 1-1, small group interactions. Having slow conversations that play out on a human time-scale, not quick zoom calls that happens in internet time. Realised this when I speak to my colleagues in person after weeks of remote work, and I noticed how calm and connected I felt when I look them in the eyes and see how sunlight reflects off their face.
- Deep work hours - but generally, momentum. Getting real impactful work done.
- Quiet nights - learnt this the hard way. Night when I stay up watching YouTube or browsing Reddit/Twitter always end up with a lethargic and guilt-laden morning. Having a wind-down ritual tells my mind that the day is closing. By the way, I now see the value of performative rituals - symbolism matters because of the meaning our subconscious minds ascribes.