My 12 favourite problems

A few years ago, I started making a list of my principles.

Since then, whenever I read or hear something that aligns with my values (and makes me go HELL YEAH!), I add it to that list. Every once in a while, I merge the ones that are identical in nature and cross out what doesn’t resonate with me anymore.

I then use these principles as a compass to make big or small decisions around my career, relationships and other life areas. I even turn some of them into daily tasks to make sure I’m constantly reminded to follow them.

Recently, I came across a somewhat similar framework popularized by Richard Feynman that intrigued me to think more deeply about my priorities:

You have to keep a dozen of your favourite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will live in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say, "How did he do it? He must be a genius!"

What I take from Richard’s advice is—with so much to learn, read, explore—it’s crucial to intentionally choose what to focus on.

What do you choose to dedicate your attention to?

Because in reality, you only have so many hours, days, and years to concentrate on the things that you truly care about. And writing down these intentions in the form of questions is a good starting point to steer you attention in the right direction.

Although Feynman refers to them as "problems", other ways I prefer to label them are questions, intentions or aims.

For me, the process of coming up with these twelve questions was identical to doing an annual review, or a weekly reflection. Although this time, instead of looking back at the last week or the year prior, I dug deeper and searched through all my notes, bookmarks and highlights to find common themes for as long as I’ve been taking notes.

Similar to my list of life principles, the test I used to decide what makes it to this list was going deep within myself to see if I truly desire to find an answer to the question I'd written down.

This is what I came up with in no particular order:

  1. How can I add more presence, value and kindness in my interaction with others?
  2. What does it take to cultivate a growth and abundance mindset in everything I encounter?
  3. How can I contribute to building systems and organizations that empowers individuals to realize mastery and purpose?
  4. How can make what I learn from books, podcasts, articles (and other information sources) more actionable?
  5. How can I nurture relationships that empower both parties to contribute to each other’s growth?
  6. How can I make what I learn more easily accessible and digestible for others?
  7. How can I identify and eliminate habits and routines that limit my full potential? How do I define my full potential in the first place?
  8. How can I actively eliminate/outsource what I don't enjoy doing (or getting better at) so that I can focus more on activities that make me come alive to make the largest contribution?
  9. How do I balance between staying in my comfort zone and pushing past it?
  10. How can I optimize my rest and sleep so that I can operate at my highest capacity during the rest of my day?
  11. How can I focus more on creating for the purpose of learning and growing without letting my ego get in the way?
  12. How can I separate the voice in my head with who I actually am?

As you’re coming up with your own twelve questions, remember that you might never find concrete answers to some of your questions, and that’s alright. Also, your questions might change in shape and form as you review them over the years, but they’ll likely remain the same in principle.

They’re there to help guide what you give your time and attention to amidst all the distraction and impatience of our modern societies.

Freedom is the ability to consciously choose what we focus on. And after all, we become what we pay constant attention to.