Style As Language, Art & Philosophy

Style, in the fashion sense, is going to be a big topic on this blog and you may wonder why.

Because it is a small change that makes a big difference.

It impacts how you think about yourself and very much influences how others think and act toward you.

Style is everything you do to express yourself through how you look. It is different than fashion, which is the ever changing art form of clothing. A great quote that explains the difference is “Fashion is what you buy. Style is what you do with it.”

When you start thinking about style deeply – and that’s how we like to think about things here at DFL – you’ll start finding a number of frameworks to hang those thoughts on. Advocates of caring about your appearance and making intentional decisions about it are going to use these frameworks.

But there are going to be the haters out there. Those that will contend it doesn’t or shouldn’t matter. Those people will use some of these same frameworks when arguing about it, even if they don’t understand them.

Style as Language

“What you wear says something to people even before you open your mouth.”

“Wearing a suit says you are serious.”

“The kind of watch you wear tells people a lot about you.”

One way of looking at style is as communication. How you look says something.

If you are thinking of style as communication, then once you start breaking down how different parts communicate, you are into linguistics. Linguistics is the study of language. It is the deep dive into how words come to mean what they mean and how one word stubley coveys something different from another word that means the same thing.

Style involves understanding a new language. It isn’t a spoken one, but rather one of fabric, color and texture. It must include an understanding of culture and psychology.

Probably the number one thing you need to decide when you are thinking about style as language is, “What do you want to say.”

You need to have an intentional message behind what you wear. Because you are communicating. With no thought you may be communicating, “I’m a slob.”, “My momma dresses me.”, or “I made my last fashion decisions in 1993.”

Style As Art

Why do designer clothes cost so much?

There are some differences between materials and construction that raise the cost, but not to the level of a Christian Louboutin heels in Paris verses Gianni Bini heels at Dillards in Abilene.

If you are a fashion linguist you might say it is because they communicate prestige. The mere act of wearing a pair of $2000+ shoes shows you are rich, and/or famous.

For people who value humility and thrift, this seems wrong. Ostentatious. But let me ask you another question…

Why does a Picasso cost so much?

In this case the cost of materials doesn’t even figure in. No it is because we value the art of Picasso more than other artists.

Some of this is socially constructed, and some of it is personal taste. There are people who don’t particularly like Picasso, but love Salvador Dali.

Here’s the distinction: Fashion is Art.

Looking at clothing through this filter, wanting to break it down and dive deeply into style means treating it like poetry. As an art form that is doing more than just communicating something factual about you. It is trying to invoke a feeling in the viewer.

Art communicates, but that isn’t why it is art. It invokes feeling and frankly great art does something in your brain that is hard to even express.

Style As Philosophy

I just used the word ostentatious. The dictionary definition is: “characterized by vulgar or pretentious display; designed to impress or attract notice.”

I also said in contrast “people who value humility and thrift”. Both virtues.

It is hard to talk about fashion without someone bringing up moral arguments. Here’s a quick distinction anytime someone uses the word should, they are saying something about values and not about facts.

“You shouldn’t spend that much money on clothes.”

“You shouldn’t care about how you look.”

“You shouldn’t buy from that company because they exploit their workers.”

“You shouldn’t wear that because it shows too much skin.”

With art you talk about value in terms of how it makes you feel, or a person’s willingness to spend money on it. In philosophy you talk about value in terms of its rightness and wrongness.

Style as philosophy talks about the moral aspects of it.

There are the external moral issues. How is the clothing sourced and made? Are the materials sustainable? Are they made from endangered species? Did an animal die to make them? Were workers paid a fair wage and given good conditions to work in?

Then there are the social moral issues. Does wearing something make you better than other people? Are you showing proper respect when you try to dress better than others? Are you stealing someone else’s culture with what you wear?

Then there are the psychological moral issues. Do you think you are a worse human being without fancy clothes? Is you personal worth determined by how you look? Is your body image defining you in a bad way?

We could go on in this vein – and we will in future distinctions – but you can understand now those questions are looking at style philosophically.

So you may be asking, “Ron, which one is it?”

The answer it is all of them. Life isn’t simple. Concepts aren’t one dimensional. To develop your own personal style, you will have to think in all of these terms. Lucky for you I’ll give your distinctions about style in future posts.

Photo by Andrew Worley on Unsplash


Happy Music Playlist

Wanna start your day right? Create a playlist full of songs that make you happy and want to dance.

I play mine in the shower every morning that I get up after my wife. I’ve also been known to pull it out in the car when I’m feeling down.

Music is all about creating a feeling in the listener. For some reason music is quick and powerful at eliciting these feelings. Maybe because it only uses one sense and is hands free. Maybe there is something about how our brains process sound. Whatever the reason we all know music moves us.

Which songs make you happy is going to be subjective. The point is to make YOUR happy music playlist.

I use Spotify as my music service and if you want to listen to my happy music playlist here it is.

In case you didn’t know, Spotify has a whole section of playlist dedicated to moods. There are a number of playlist with happiness as their theme. But if you are a hardcore metal head, the electronic house music probably isn’t what makes you happy.

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash


Leadership Mind Traps

Your brain is lazy and deceptive. Leaders need to keep an eye on it.

We talked a little in Attention that where we are focusing is our lives, but what’s up with the other stuff? See you’re brain is making all kinds of decisions affecting where your attention is. The problem is these filters are habituated. They are based on generalities, prejudices, and just “the way we’ve always done it.”

Today I’m going to quickly talk about three tricks your mind uses to make your life easier, but that can get you into trouble.

Proximity == Importance.

Your brain assumes that things closer to you are more important than things far away. A bear you are looking at through a pair of binoculars isn’t much of a threat, but one in arms reach is very important and needs 100% of your attention.

Visually proximity equates with size. That bear in the binoculars is pretty small with the naked eye, but fills your field of view at arms reach. This isn’t just about visuals either. Loud noises are more important. Feelings all over your body seem more important that ones in just one part.

Put all these together and they are your attention. Things that fill your attention seem are more important than things that only take up a little mindspace.

This means if you are spending a lot of time thinking about something, good or bad, your mind attaches more and more importance to it. If you interact with something often, it takes on more importance.

The challenge is sometimes, even often, just because something is taking up a lot of your time and thought, that doesn’t mean it is actually that important.

There are a lot of applications for this understanding, but let me give you one example. The other day I was listening to a discussion on the Joe Rogan Podcast about how Twitter has ruined journalism. The point the guest was making was reporters are all on Twitter and following each other. Then when they see a story tweeted, they just report it as true without doing any real investigation.

That main point is a case of this Proximity == Importance mind trap. To these reporters that are on Twitter all day watching a small group of people, what those people say seems really important. Their Twitter feed occupies a lot of their mindspace because they are spending a lot of time watching it.

But that wasn’t what caught my attention.

“Does Twitter even matter?” I thought.

I could go on a rant about Twitter and the sense of importance people give it, but that is for another day.

To Joe’s guest Twitter is important because he spends a lot of time on it. I get that because I used to spend a lot of time on Twitter. I too felt it was important.

Then I got out of the habit of watching it. Now I think the only reason to pay attention to Twitter at all is because the President of the United States uses it as his main means of talking directly to the public. Oh and Elon Musk occasionally says something cool.

After you experience this, you begin to understand that maybe we have a perception problem here. Just like TV News, talk radio, and other media, they have the importance you give them by filling your attention with them.

Now I know to ask, “Is it actually as important as it seems?”

Maybe Joe and his guest are right. Maybe Twitter is important, and my willful ignorance about what is going on is dumb. That’s possible, but it is going to take more than just going with my gut to figure out what is true.

Once we start trying to decide what is true or right we run into our second mind trap.

Cognitive Bias

Cognitive Bias means you are more likely to believe what you already believe. Which seems a little obvious and strange to even say.

Put another way you are more likely to accept ideas that agree with what you already believe to be true.

This spreads into all kinds of things. You see it in political discourse all the time. People on both the right and the left are willing to accept the craziest reports about those on the other side without challenge because it confirms what they already believe.

Let me give you a more personal example. Suppose you have two employees. Jill you consider to be a hardworking, dedicated worker. Jack you think is a slacker, looking to do the least they can do.

One more they are both late to work. Stuck in the same traffic jam.

If someone says “Looks like Jack overslept again. Probably out on a bender last night and hung over.” You are more likely to believe it because it confirms your previous belief about Jack.

If someone told you the same thing about Jill, you be like, “No Jill isn’t that kind of person. She’s probably just stuck in traffic.”

This is a subtle and devious mind trap and we all need to be on the lookout for it in our lives.

But even if we are aware of our biases and try to mitigate them, we still can fall into the last mind trap.

Correlation vs Causality

Did you know that murder rates go up when ice cream sales increase? Places where they sell more ice cream have higher murder rates.

Obviously ice cream causes murder.

Now I love me some rocky road, and eating it can change my mood, but not in a murdery sort of way.

Just because something follows something else, doesn’t mean one caused the other to happen. The following is called Correlation, and it is different from having caused something to happen, called Causality.

This mind trap is fairly well known among the kind of people who are looking for Distinctions For Life. The distinction here is a way to deal with the trap.

Ask “Is there another factor that might be influencing both of these things?” This can give you important insights into things.

For instance, both murder rates and ice cream sales go up when temperatures do. I’ve spent many a summer in hot, humid Houston and believe me it can cause you to feel murdery. And to develop a hankering for mint chocolate chip.

No matter how many ice cream pictures you see, it is not the cause of murder, even though you may want to believe it is.

See what I did there? Brought together all three mind traps Attention Size Equals Importance, Cognitive Bias, and Correlation vs Causality. Now you have these concepts in your brain they can start being part of your filter process, or at least you can use them to examine things you need to seriously think about.

Photo by Francis MacDonald on Unsplash


Remember vs Don’t Forget

This post is a “word hack.” Word Hacks are better ways of saying something.

“Don’t forget to go to the store.”

“Don’t forget you have an appointment at 2pm.”

“Don’t forget to brush your teeth.”

This is completely easy to understand. The “Don’t Forget” is exactly what you want to do.

But there is a problem. Our brains aren’t very good with negation. They first must think about the thing you are negating, which means you are spending time thinking about the very thing you don’t want to do.

Solution: “Remember”

Remember is also easy to understand, and says exactly what you want. But it only requires the brain to think about the outcome you want. There’s no side trip into forget land.

“Remember to go to the store.”

“Remember you have an appointment at 2pm.”

“Remember to brush your teeth.”

It is a habit to use one of these phrases over another, but I think you’ll find “Remember” more effective at getting people to, well, remember.



“Subjective experience is not just one of the dimensions of life, it is life itself.”

– Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Or as I like to rephrase it: “Life is a subjective experience.”

We never experience things in an objective manner. Everything goes through our senses and then through the mental filters of our brains. We actually work really hard to try and get to objective reality. That is the whole goal of science. To remove the subjectiveness from our observations.

The quote from Flow puts all of this in perspective. Whether we are experiencing objective reality or not, we are experiencing everything subjectively.

In distinction of beliefs we saw that what you believe affects how you act. Beliefs do this by interpreting reality. They affect your perceptions of events and facts. Getting your beliefs right is critical to living a more fulfilling life.

But there one other things that defines your subjective experience first and foremost.

Getting it right is the key.

What is Attention?

At any given moment there are a lot of things going on around you. In a globally connected world there is an infinite number of things you could be paying attention to.

Attention is what you are actually letting into your brain. What you are thinking about or processing with that computer in your head.

And it is the key to your life and your happiness.

Right now horrible, terrible things are happening in the world. But you aren’t experiencing them, and you don’t even know about them. So you don’t experience the horror.

Also right now wonderful and amazing things are happening in the world. But you aren’t experiencing them, and you don’t even know about them. So you don’t feel and experience the wonder.

Subjectively things you don’t perceive don’t exist.

What you are currently perceiving is your attention and it subjectively defines your life.

Getting Your Attention

“Hey you, over here!”

“Pay attention to me when I’m talking to you!”

Tapps the mic, “All right would you all take your seats and give me your attention.”

People and organizations are constantly trying to get our attention. Advertisers and business people want you to pay attention to their products and services. Safety professionals are trying to get you to pay attention to specific things because when you don’t people get hurt. Health care providers want you to pay attention to things that will keep you healthy.

These are all examples of externals that want our attention.

We all have those internal voices, both good and bad, that vye for our attention. Those things big and small that we like and want to think about. Thoughts will well worn pathways we run too in times of stress.

Where You Put Your Attention Is Your Life

If life is a subjective experience, and what our attention is on is our subjective experience, then your attention is your life.

Want to have a good and happy life? Put your attention on things that are good and happy.

The quality of your life is directly related to how much of your time you can focus on those things of high quality.

Attention gets goes places. Sometimes it goes where we want it to. That’s when we “put” our attention on something. Other time our attention is “drawn”, “captured”, or “pulled” somewhere.

Distraction, Multitasking, and Flow

What happens when your get distracted? A distraction is pulling your attention from where you want it to be.

Splitting your attention lowers the quality of your attention for both things. This is why multitasking doesn’t work. You are only giving a small amount of attention to each thing.

Flow is a super concentrated attention on one thing over all others. We will talk about it more in depth in the future, but for now know Flow is happiness, and the amount of time you spend in Flow is how happy you are.

Notice Your Attention

This concept is hard to explain. Hard to write about in a way that cleanly explains it. Hopefully I’ve communicated enough that you can start noticing where your attention is. That is the first step to change. Noticing what needs to change.

I challenge you to notice where you attention goes. Why is it going there? Do you have a habit of pulling out your phone when you sit down? Are you putting your attention where you want it to be, or is it getting pulled around by little red dots with numbers on them?

Feel and notice when you are trying to focus on something, but find yourself thinking about something totally unrelated. How did your attention get hijacked?

Also notice when you attention is full of the things you want it filled with. Where is your attention when you are feeling happiness?

Once you notice where you attention is going, you can start to have even more control over it.

Photo by Gavin Allanwood on Unsplash