On “A Guide to the Good Life” by William Irvine

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As the week comes to a close, I finished up the last few chapters of “A Guide to the Good Life” by William Irvine. Irvine gives a broad introduction to Stoicism, and walks us through the basic

Negative Visualization

Negative Visualization is an easy way to get acquainted with the rules of Stoicism. It’s easy to incorporate into one’s daily life, as it is a common philosophy that many people hold today. Instead of visualizing the things we want, we are instructed as Stoics to imagine losing what we already have. This is supposed to help us practice gratefulness, and reduce the amount that we cling to desires and wants without truly appreciating what we have. This can easily be summed up in the common phrase “Well, it could be worse!” If we learn to practice the art of imagining that we could have less than what we have, Irvine argues that we will eventually restructure our brain to focus on what we have rather than what we do not have, and it will give us fortitude if we lose anything. It teaches us not to take anything for granted, and to be comfortable with the idea that we can lose anything at any given moment in time so that we are not as shocked or discouraged if we do lose something we value.

Trichotomy of Control

Marcus Aurelius initially created a dichotomy of control, but upon further interpretation, there seems to be another layer of control beneath the initial two. The original dichotomy of control as indicated by Aurelius is the things that we have the power to control and the things we do not have the power to control. Aurelius argues that we should not pursue things that we do not have the power to control, and only pursue things that we know we can control. However, there is a third element to this initial assessment – we find that in life there are things that we have some control, but not all. The idea is that we should pursue things we have some control over, so long as we ensure that our values are in the right place. For example, in a tennis match, I do not know what the outcome will be, but I have some control over whether I win or lose. The virtuous path is to be sure that my goal in playing the tennis match is not to win (which I cannot control) but to try my best (which I do have control over). This will ensure that we do not muddy up our thoughts with things that are up to fate to decide and will ensure that we keep a clear head as to the things we try to pursue.

Fatalism

Fatalism is the concept that we should regularly check in with ourselves to remind ourselves that we will one day be dead. This “stepped-back” approach allows us to truly evaluate our virtues at any given moment, and decide for ourselves whether any of this will matter to us in the long run, with the longest run being one in which we do not complete – we will be a mere memory in the near future, and we cannot do anything about it.

The art of Stoicism results in the attainment of genuine joy. We can choose to live with our grief, anger, and anxiety, or we can choose to take the necessary steps to overcome such feelings. In doing so, we will only have room for happiness.

 

 

How to Start Programming in C++ in Visual Studio

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As you start getting familiar with programming in C++, you may find yourself wanting a more robust environment where you can play with code and run programs. Some programmers prefer using a text editor like Brackets or Atom to develop, testing their code through the command prompt. However, you may be looking for something a little more user-friendly, with enhanced features like a debugger, and an ability to see your file hierarchy – which is especially useful for larger projects. For many, this results in using an IDE (Integrated Development Environment). What’s cool about IDE’s is that you can run, compile, execute, and debug code all from one piece of software. If you have decided to look for an IDE, you may be astonished at just how many IDE’s there are. Which one should you pick?

The truth is, it’s all up to your preference. Personally, I really like using Visual Studio. I like that it comes with a compiler, which can eliminate a lot of issues, especially when you’re first getting started. Not only that, Visual Studio is extremely versatile, with support ranging from Virtual Reality development with C#, to having C++ and Python support, to app development. It’s a great one-stop-shop for your development needs, and although it’s bulky, it can be a great place to get started.

To follow along with me, I’ll be assuming you’ve already installed Visual Studio with all the default settings. I’m working with the 2017 version.

Create a New Project

The first thing you’ll want to do is create a new project, which can be found under File > New > Project. This will open up a new window where you can choose what kind of project you’d like to create.

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When you click on Project, a new window will open up. In the sidebar, click on C++. Choose Windows Console Application, and name your project. You can also create a git repository from here, but more on that later. Click Ok.

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Start Coding!

You’ll notice a default C++ file already has been created for you. Here, you can start editing! I inserted a basic C++ program to get us started.

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Run your Program

After you’ve finished editing, you simply go to Debug > Start without Debugging. Another window will open up with your creation.

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And that’s all there is to it! What are you still reading this for? Go try it out!

 

How to Remove a Background in Photoshop

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Removing a background in Photoshop is actually surprisingly easy, and is a common task when modifying images. In order to do this, we simply need to access the polygonal lasso tool.

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The default tool will usually be the regular lasso tool, but if you hold down the lasso, a few more options will appear. Choose the one that looks like the image above.

In small sections, go over the subject and outline them as close as possible. You can use Ctrl + to zoom in and Ctrl – to zoom out, which will give you more control over the smaller details of the image. When you’re done, go to Select > Modify > Smooth. I usually use 3 pixels. Once you’ve done this, you can use the Eraser tool to get rid of the background. After you’ve removed the entire background, you can fill it with whatever color you choose. I will sometimes use a gradient in order to get a more dynamic look from the background.

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Falling on my Face. Repeatedly.

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On Monday and Tuesday, my best friend Courtney and I decided to have a mini-getaway and drove out to the Mississippi River. We stayed at Chestnut Mountain Resort to do a little bit of snowboarding since she’s been shredding since she was a kid and I’ve recently fallen in love with the sport. After a few easy runs down to the river, we decided to give the terrain park a go. She vaguely remembered how to do some tricks, and I was ready for something new. What ensued was the most hilarious, humbling, and rewarding experience I’ve had all month.

We settled on a small beginner fun box, and after a few sips of premade Jose Cuervo margaritas discreetly disguised in a Kombucha bottle, we set on landing some new tricks. At least ten of our first initial tries, we realized we were slowing down too much before the jump, either stopping right before the box or toppling over in a very slow and ungraceful fashion. As the sun was setting and the temperature was quickly dropping into the negatives as a snowstorm set in, we decided to go to our hotel room to warm up, and ended up watching a few episodes of Black Mirror and drawing pictures with gel pens, falling asleep at around 10pm and confirming that tomorrow, we would definitely reach our goal of landing the box jump.

The next morning, the snow had stopped and we were greeted with a beautiful sunrise, casting a delicate lavender light over the Mississippi River. We made some sandwiches and headed out again, determined to accomplish our goal. As we sat on the lift, we saw the box from an aerial perspective and laughed at how TINY the box was, but how big it seemed in the moment. We also saw a younger boarder (which was rare, since we were staying on a weekday and had the whole park to ourselves) gracefully slide over the box.

“Okay,” Courtney mused. “If he can do it we can definitely do this. We just have to not think about it and go as fast as we can.”

We took turns going down first, recording the other as they gave the box a go. I went a little faster than before, and promptly and unceremoniously fell on top of the box, smashing my shins into the rail and hitting my head on the icy ground. I definitely needed to pick up some speed – the consequence of going too slow was a painful kiss from the box’s cold metal rails. Courtney went down next, clearing the box and then falling straight on her back. The videos we have are filled with ridiculous falls followed by hysterical laughter. Why were we doing this again?

After our first falls, we would keep ditching the box, sometimes avoiding it completely. Fear had crept into our heads, muddying up our goals and making it that much harder. We decided that we were overthinking it, and all we had to do was not think about it.

On her second try, Courtney cleared the box in a spectacular fashion, and I can be heard in the recording hooting for joy like an over-proud mother. I hadn’t yet gotten out of my head, and I was rewarded with a few more wipeouts, bruising my knees and ditching the box a few more times. I even got so angry with myself for ditching the box at one point that I unstrapped my bindings and ran back up the mountain to try again, leaving me completely breathless yet grateful that I had spent the week prior sprinting up the seven floors to my sister’s condo after my workouts.

When I finally made it, I had promised myself in my head to stop thinking. I distracted my head with other thoughts, imagined myself clearing the box, and set a goal in my mind to try my best. I went down, picked up some speed, and slid right over the box, finding myself able to even do a cute little jump down the box at the end. I hollered for joy, feeling an incredible mixture of pride and adrenaline coursing through my veins, and we promptly headed for a bigger, longer box. We both cleared the longer box after a few tries and, by the end of the day, we had even gone off some ramps. It was an exhilarating and beautiful experience, one that only reached me as soon as I decided to let go and stop overthinking.

Humans are blessed with an incredible ability to think, but it can also be a trap. I’ve read somewhere that we need to consciously use our brains as a tool, because if we let it control us, we are helpless against ourselves. This is why meditation is so important and effective – it teaches us how to generate awareness of our thoughts, and through practice, learn to control the thoughts themselves. This simple reminder allowed me to stretch beyond what I thought I was capable of and truly enjoy the moment. Courtney and I spent the entire ride back talking about how much fun we had, treating ourselves to huge slim jims, sugary cappuccinos, and spicy skittles as we talked about life on our way back to Chicago.

Let go of what you’re holding on to if it doesn’t serve you. Allow your body to breathe, allow yourself to feel the flow you have inside you. It will most likely amaze you in ways you never thought possible. And above all, don’t give up. Success is only a few tries away.

Letting Go.

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As I’ve started to implement routine into my life, I’ve found that I’ve had ample time to accomplish some of the goals I’ve been meaning to fulfill. Lately, I’ve been consistently meditating, exercising, and spending time delving deeper into philosophical works. Most recently, I’ve been listening to an audiobook translation of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, watching Crash Course philosophy, and I’ve finished a few chapters of A Guide to the Good Life by William Irvine. I couldn’t have come across Stoicism at a more opportune time, as it seems my life has been more chaotic lately than ever. Managing two startups, trying to find a job after college, freelancing, and living out of a backpack all while going through a tough breakup has proved itself to be a very unstable time in my life. However, I’ve found solace in studying philosophy, taking steps towards advancing my career, improving my health and wellness, and I feel grounded amidst all the uncertainty.

Stoicism, as it’s known today, is a philosophy rooted in the idea of detaching oneself from negative emotions by learning to fully appreciate everything that we are given by fortune. This may seem counterproductive, as it suggests the idea of being neutral to everything. However, it pushes the idea of joy and appreciation as something that we have to consciously work on in order to achieve. The hedonistic values prevalent in today’s society leave many people unhappy – we live in a time of unprecedented comfort and security, yet we are increasingly dissatisfied with life. This is due to the fact that we don’t spend time appreciating what we have because we are always chasing the next form of pleasure. This habit leads us to always be in a state of dissatisfaction. Stoicism tells you to take nothing for granted, to fully appreciate what you have, to work as hard as you can towards the goals that you want out of life, and to truly live every day as if it were your last by habitually evaluating what you value in life.

This led me to the concept of letting go. Throughout my life, I’ve clung to my desires, passions, and loves in an unhealthy way. I’ve obsessed over my imperfections, I’ve tried to please everyone in my life, and I had developed a habit of trying to constantly prove myself as a worthy being to the people in my life. However, this all stemmed from an idea that I wasn’t good enough, that there was something inherently wrong with me, and I believed that rejection was proof that I had failed to be an exemplary human being. However, I had to realize that I couldn’t please everyone. I will apply for positions that I believe I am a perfect fit for that will be filled by other candidates. I will experience loss, I will experience grief, difficulty, and uncertainty. People will leave my life, whether through death, through circumstance, or of their own accord, and it is not my job to convince them to stay. I can only appreciate the good times that I’ve had, reflect upon the lessons I’ve learned, work hard to transform my goals into my reality, and find stability in knowing that my time on this Earth has not been wasted – I’ve been fortunate enough to experience it in the first place.

Life will move forward, whether I want it to or not. All I can do is try my best, actively participate, and give it all I’ve got. The rest is up to fortune to determine and, in the end, nothing will truly matter anyway. It may seem like a grim topic to think about, but in the next hundred years, you and everyone you love will be nothing but a distant memory. It is not up to us to determine how long we live, what events we will encounter, or which people will stay in our lives, but we can control how we feel in every moment of every day. It is for this reason that I have learned to let go of the things I can’t control, find joy in the simple pleasures of life, try to be the best version of myself that I can be, and let the universe sort the rest.

Five Reasons Costa Rica is the Best Place on Earth

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Back in the summer of 2016, I went on my first trip out of the country to Costa Rica. It was an incredible experience, and out of all of the places that I’ve traveled, Costa Rica still feels like home. The beauty and incredible weather in CR are coupled with some amazing attributes unique to the country, and I cannot wait to return.

Costa Rica is not just a pretty place – so let me tell you why I think this is the best country on Earth.

The Culture

Costa Rica is home to some of the coolest, most laid-back people I’ve ever met. Our first night, we stayed in these awesome pipe houses. Our Airbnb host had made a beautiful home tucked away in Playa Grande. He gave us the best advice, and he even hooked us up with some discount surf lessons from one of his friends. That friend not only taught us how to surf, he took us on an adventure where we kayaked on top of crocodile-ridden waters.

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The Surf

Costa Rica is part of the peninsula between North and South America, so it has great surf on both coasts, year round. The warm water requires only a rash guard to catch some waves, which spoiled me for life.

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The Biodiversity

Our first night in Costa Rica, we decided to tread out to the beach to look at the full moon. We soon realized we were surrounded by hundreds of colorful crabs, donned in a gorgeous orange and purple outer shell, unlike anything I had ever seen before. We woke up to the sounds of howler monkeys hanging out high up in the trees, tried catching lizards that scurried beneath our feet, and even met this badass biker parrot.

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The Food

The food in Costa Rica incredible. Being in such a tropical area, we were surrounded by fresh, organic fruit everywhere we went. All the meats and cheeses we had were fresh. We met an amazing family who made us dinner one of our nights there, and it was the best meal I had ever had in my life.

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The Government

The Costa Rican government abolished their military in the 50’s, choosing instead to spend their budget on education. They recently elected a female president, Lauren Chinchilla. The laws enacted in this country lead me to believe that they have the right values in mind, being its own oasis of culture and intellect unlike any other place in the world.

And they have some damn good sunsets.

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Breaking Barriers

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Wednesday night, I got to celebrate my younger brother’s 20th birthday with all four of my siblings. The event was beautiful because it was the first time my siblings and I had come together to just hang out as adults.

Being one of four siblings is interesting firstly because we are considered a big family by Western standards. Most people I know only have one or two siblings. Not only that, but the age ranges between us are pretty huge. My older brother will be turning 33 in June, meaning there’s a thirteen-year age gap between the oldest and youngest sibling in my family. I think my parents planned it this way on purpose so we couldn’t conspire against them, but that’s another story.

For us, this meant that we were all at different points in life for much of our adolescence and early adulthood. To put it in perspective, when we attended my eldest brother’s college graduation, my younger brother was still in elementary school. This range of ages caused our family to have very dynamic relationships between siblings. My youngest brother and I are only about three years apart, so we’ve always been very close. I’ve had phases of closeness and distance between my older sister, who is six years older than me. When she entered her tween years, she could not stand me, as is expected of a 16-year-old with a very nosy and destructive ten-year-old sister. My eldest brother and I have not always been able to talk about our lives in detail, a product of age and family structure, but we’ve always had a mutual closeness that similarly resembles the relationship between my elder sister and my younger brother. As my youngest brother has finally entered his college years, we’ve been able to see each other as adults as each sibling goes through relationships, similar struggles, and of course, being able to finally drink together.

My parents were conservative Muslims, meaning we had a lot of unrealistic ideals to follow throughout our lives. Many Muslim-Americans face the same issues as they enter the dating world and adulthood, as there is a strict “no dating, no drinking, no partying” rule that we are ingrained with from a young age. This caused us to keep a lot of secrets from each other. As the age ranges caused a discord in and of itself, we also adopted similar levels of secret-keeping from each other as well. My father passed away in 2011, which caused another dramatic shift in our relationships. I believe our relationships could have gone one of two ways following my father’s death – extreme closeness or complete displacement. The first few years were difficult, with my older brother having to give up on his life plans in order to financially support our family. This built lots of frustration and confusion between our relationships, as we didn’t know whether to still see our brother as a brother or more of a parental figure.

Our relationships changed a lot after I entered my third and fourth year of college, because my boyfriend and I were starting to get serious and the idea of introducing him to my family was starting to become a necessity as our life plans started to merge. After years of keeping relationships from each other and hiding the more intimate details of our lives from each other, I had to go home and tell my family that not only was I dating someone with a different religion and culture, but that we were planning on living together. There was lots of friction, as we had to make the decision to either cling to our old rules and habits or start our relationships from scratch and open up to each other. It was arguably one of the hardest moments of my life and there was definitely lots of crying and arguments, but it ended up being a much more positive experience than I could have ever expected. I received tons of support from my family, and it set a new precedent within our family to start being open about our lives and live our truths, no matter how much we wanted to hide them or keep them secret. Luckily, we’ve grown stronger and tighter as a family unit since then, and I cannot imagine the past year of my life being as amazing as it was without the unconditional love and support that I’ve received from my family.

I think my biggest takeaway after this experience was of the sheer importance of honesty. Telling the truth can be downright ugly sometimes – it can cause disappointment, hurt the people you love the most, and it can feel like every cell in your body is telling you that you’re doing the wrong thing when you finally spit the words out. But honesty and authenticity are all we can use to learn who we can depend on in life, and to learn from our mistakes rather than covering up our flaws. My truths healed my relationships with my family and allowed me to open up to them about the real problems in my life and receive the warm, loving support that everyone needs. It helps to have a parent and older siblings who have already been through it all, to hear advice spoken in retrospect rather than trying to figure it all out alone.

Happy Birthday, Rehaan. This was definitely a night to remember.

Breaking Habits.

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I mentioned in a previous post how I’ve started using HabitBull to track my progress towards the goals I have. For the past 5 days, I’ve been killing it. 

But something happened yesterday.

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Do you see it glaring back at you?

I missed a blog post yesterday. And I cannot go back and fill that darn circle in.

I woke up with an immediate sense of guilt, and a desire to “double up” posts and fill the circle in today. I went back to the subreddit, and found that when you miss a day, you miss a day, and to make sure to complete the task the next day and start up the chain.

I didn’t expect the feeling of missing a circle to seem like such a failure. But it is. And I have to accept it and let it go. I do feel a sense of urgency now, so I believe this method is working out for me. I think that having specific times to do all these tasks will probably make the process easier since I hadn’t been assigning times for each task.

Wish me luck!

Captain Fantastic and Ego Death.

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Last night, a close friend of mine recommended that I watch “Captain Fantastic.” I’m not a big movie buff (I have an incredibly short attention span and if I don’t find a movie incredibly engaging, I will fall asleep within the first fifteen minutes – thanks, ADHD) but I spent the whole hour and fifty-eight minutes glued to the screen in a hyperfocused trance, and this movie has been the only thing on my mind since watching it.

The film, directed by Matt Ross, follows the life of a man named Ben Cash (played by Viggo Mortensen) who left society with his wife, Leslie, and raised six children in the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest. We never get to meet Cash’s beloved wife, though. We learn that she committed suicide after three months of staying in a mental institution for treatment of severe Bipolar Affective Disorder. The movie unpacks the lives of the family in a way that gives us hints and clues into Ben and Leslie’s relationship as we follow their grieving process of losing Leslie. The kids are rigorously trained with intensive physical exercise, highly advanced readings, and mature philosophical discussions from a young age. Each child takes turns listening and taking charge of certain situations, and every child’s views and unique characteristics are celebrated and accepted by the whole family. They depend on one another, fight for each other, and are bound by a closeness that is incredibly refreshing.

However, this movie isn’t about the benefits of rejecting society. In fact, the movie does an incredible job of questioning the beliefs of everyone. Ben’s overtly self-assured view of the world results in some condescending and dangerous choices, hinting at the idea that Ben’s abhorrence of capitalist society played a factor in Leslie’s suicide. The kids struggle when they interact with the “real world,” with the eldest son finding himself unable to connect with women his age and hiding his acceptance letters to Ivy League schools and desire to attend college from his organized-society rejecting father, and with the children finding themselves unable to coexist with their suburbanized cousins. The youngest son, Rellian, finds himself rebelling against his father and arguing that they should be able to just celebrate Christmas, finding himself unable to argue his stance to his family.

The family isn’t entirely “leftist,” as we come to find that all the children are well-equipped with weapons, utilizing impressive knives and combat skills to hunt game.

There isn’t an underlying “message” to the whole movie, as we can never pinpoint characters who are inherently right or wrong in their views. Every character has their own strengths and flaws, and every ideological view is represented in a way is both supportive and ridiculing.

This movie led me to question my views on many things. Though I find myself to be incredibly leftist in terms of my political views, this movie offered me a sober view of the strengths and weaknesses of each ideology. In the end, I felt as though I had relaxed my hard views significantly, in a way that reminded me that nothing is ever black and white, and that every decision and choice we make should be rigorously challenged before we can settle into a particular view of life.

 

The X Effect

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Recently, I came across the subreddit “The X Effect” which is a community of people who have discovered a simple habit accountability method. This method involves creating a 50 square grid, with a title of a habit you’d like to implement. This can be any kind of habit you’d like to implement. One of the habits I chose to implement was writing a blog post every single day, regardless of how I felt about writing or if I had any sort of creative genius in me at the moment.

Mel Robbins talks about the importance of getting out of your “feelings” about doing a certain task. She has done extensive research on productivity and found that everything we do can be traced back to a “feedback loop” in the brain.

The X Effect is a great way to start implementing habits, because there is something about the human psyche that dislikes breaking streaks. And how can you implement a habit without tracking how long you’ve been working on it?

I downloaded the HabitBull so that I could easily track my progress in a few areas – writing, working out, and meditating. So far, it’s been working great for me.

Try it out, and let me know how you do. There’s a whole subreddit for “X-effect” grads, and having a community is a great way to stay motivated.