“The Restaurant That Had No Name”


So, this happened …

In spite of the fact that it was not a boozy lunch, the three of us had no idea where we ate that day.

I mean, we know where we ate. If you had asked us to take you to the restaurant, it would have been no problem. It was just two blocks from the office, down the road, on the right. That day, we were looking for somewhere to eat lunch, noticed a new place had opened, and went in.

At the time, I worked in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong, a neighborhood famous for having the highest office rental rates in the world at the time!

And while all other restaurants in the area had either an English name only, or they had both an English and a Chinese name, this restaurant was different. It only had its name written in Chinese: 犇之食堂.

Even before moving to Hong Kong, I had taught myself how to read Chinese, and knew a few thousand characters. But the first character () in the name of the restaurant was quite rare, I’d never seen it before.

I just shrugged and went in with my colleagues, into a place whose name I couldn’t read.

The food was excellent, and a couple of weeks later, I suggested to those two Hong Kong-born colleagues that we go there again.

But then I realized that I had no idea how to tell them which particular restaurant I was referring to. It had no English name, and a Chinese name I couldn’t read. I was at a loss for words.

After struggling to explain which place I meant, I gave up. Instead, I suggested we eat at SamGor, and off we went.

On the way back, I took them one block out of our way so that I could point out the place I meant.

“What’s the name of this place?” I asked them, pointing to the Chinese writing above the door.  I continued, “I know that the last three characters mean ‘The dining hall of’, but how do you pronounce that first one?” I was referring to 犇.

Both of my colleagues looked a little embarrassed. It was indeed a rare enough character that neither of them knew how to pronounce it either! Further, they admitted that if they had to tell someone else where to meet them, they wouldn’t even know what to call the place.

Well, that sucks.

In a world where word-of-mouth marketing is so important, it was a silly idea to set up a restaurant where perhaps the majority of people don’t even know what to call the place.

I can’t imagine how many people didn’t meet friends and colleagues there, simply because they didn’t know what to tell their friends. And they couldn’t even look up the address online because, well, they didn’t know what to look up!

If you don’t know what to call it, if you don’t know how to talk about it, if you don’t know how to look it up . . . in many ways it is inaccessible.

But never mind restaurants. What about the rest of your life?

How much do you have going on around you, or inside you, that you don’t have a label for?

Imagine if you had a hashtag for situations, techniques, personalities, and feelings. Wow, that would be empowering! ;)

Simple Definition

The Restaurant That Had No Name: People couldn’t name the restaurant, and so couldn’t arrange with others to meet there. Similarly, not having a name for an emotion you’re feeling or an unspecified desire or a situation, makes it harder to know what’s happening or how to deal with it.

Summarizing what it means

Have a Bite

The restaurant had a name, but there were a lot of people who didn’t know it. Whether they couldn’t read Chinese at all, or simply couldn’t read that one character, they were unable to refer to the place. Effectively, the restaurant had no name.

I discovered first-hand that when people didn’t know how to refer to that restaurant, they simply didn’t arrange to meet others there.

Have a Fight

“The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.”

And yet, people did talk about Fight Club. What Tyler Durden did wrong was to give it a name. By calling it “Fight Club”, he made it a thing that could be discussed, shared, and talked about.

This chapter is the opposite of Fight Club. There are things that you should give a name to so that you can address them and shine a light on them.

the restaurant that had no name

Name it to tame it.

When there is no name, you can’t “go there”. This happens all the time, everywhere:

  • If you haven’t identified the emotion you’re feeling right now, how can you “go there” to improve it? While at first they might feel similar, there’s ultimately a big difference between being tired, or a little depressed, or mourning, for example. And each should be dealt with differently.
  • If you don’t know where to “go” in order to deal with a difficult child, what chance do you have of deciding the best way to resolve the situation? There is a world of difference in how to respond to a child being disobedient, versus being grumpy simply because they’re tired or hungry, versus whether they’re just testing boundaries like children do.

The application of labels – or #hashtags – is a powerful tool for understanding the world, and learning how best to deal with whatever life throws at you.

Having read the summary, you now know the core of this chapter. But what you’re still missing is the practical application – so I would strongly recommend you at least start reading the discussion below, where lots of short examples are presented.

If you haven’t spotted it yet, can you now see that the entire #HashtagYourLife system is built on empowerment through naming things? It’s simplifying your life through labeling. It’s reducing overwhelm by hashtagging your life!

Discussing what it means

(By the way, if you want to find out what happened to the restaurant, read through to the end of this section.)

Name it to Tame it

The value of knowing its name

It’s frustrating not knowing the name

Have you ever had one of those conversations where you’re trying hard to talk about a specific author or actor, but you can’t remember his or her name? After a few minutes of painful descriptions which fail to identify the person, you end the conversation with a frustrated “Never mind.”

You’re worse-off not knowing the name

Or can you remember being in a situation – perhaps before you had to give a speech or perform in front of an audience – when you thought you were really scared, and thus reluctant to go up. But then you realized that what you were feeling was actually excitement, not fear. Suddenly the stage seemed welcoming.

How ridiculous are humans, that simply by not correctly identifying the emotion we’re feeling, it’s possible to think we feel bad, when actually we feel good.

Making wrong decisions when you don’t know the name

If you had really confused yourself with a misinterpretation (you thought you were scared of performing in front of the audience), and not the truth (actually, you were feeling excited) then you might have made the wrong decision to just leave the venue before going on stage. What a terrible outcome that would have been!

Inaction from not knowing the name

I’ve come across a number of people who express a desire to write. But when I ask them what they want to write (a book? non-fiction? poems? adverts?) they don’t have a name for that feeling. But instead of spending time trying to truly lock-in that unexpressed feeling, they just shrug and write nothing. Not having a name for your desires can really hold you back.

Failure from not zooming into the name far enough

I had a personal epiphany with this. Some time back I was aware that I wasn’t getting enough done. I thought I had a name for it, “procrastination”. And yet, in spite of being convinced that I had successfully named it, I still didn’t seem to be taking action.

A while later it struck me that I hadn’t gone far enough with the naming. My inaction was indeed “procrastination”, but why was I procrastinating?

I came up with a whole bunch of reasons why people procrastinate:

  • they don’t like doing a task
  • they’re scared to do something
  • they don’t like the uncertainty of the outcome once it’s done
  • they’re not sure how to begin
  • they’re not sure how to finish
  • it’s too big and overwhelming
  • they feel guilty about doing it
  • they worry other things should be more important
  • they’re avoiding what has to happen next after this task is completed
  • and many more.

In my case, the reason that resonated most was that I was uncertain about what the outcome of my action would be, and my mind seemed to dwell on “what if it doesn’t work?” Therefore the action was subconsciously associated with a bad outcome, and I kept putting it off.

Once I had a name for what I was feeling really feeling, I was able to “go there”. I could now directly address my fear by asking, “But what if it works out well?”

This had a significant impact on me, and my activity levels started going up again.

Overwhelm from not having a name

I recall waking up one morning with a terrible feeling of dread. I couldn’t shake that feeling, and by 11am I still had that horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, a knot that just wouldn’t release.

Suddenly, an image from a nightmare I had during the night flashed through my mind. It was a horrible dream where something was going to happen to someone very close to me, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

I suddenly had a name for what was causing me dread. That name was “nightmare”, which was great to know because it meant it was not something real that I was dreading.

So now, I was able to bring it to my consciousness and then let go. Without the name, I simply wasn’t able to “go there”, I didn’t know what I needed to release.

Naming things is incredibly empowering.

It might not have a name, because it might not exist

Many years ago, I was running a team that did very large deals with insurance companies. Each deal created hundreds of millions of dollars on an insurer’s balance sheet, so you can imagine how many signatures I needed internally before I could enter into the deal.

I remember a particularly frustrating deal where there was just one internal sign-off I needed to complete, but the guy had been incredibly evasive. I was on a business trip in Taiwan while he was in London, and I finally got him on the phone. I pushed him to clarify why he was withholding his signature.

I knew that if he could name his concern, then I had a chance of either addressing it, or making changes to the structure so that his fear could be eased.

The problem was he couldn’t say what was bothering him, he couldn’t name his concern. So he was hiding, avoiding me, hoping the deal would just go away.

It was midnight, I was tired with terrible jet lag. And I was snappish.

I told him that I was going to email our CEO and explain that we were going to let a client down, and miss out on millions of dollars of profits, simply because he – the person I was speaking to – had indigestion, but was confusing his feeling of discomfort with having a problem with the deal itself.

It was a silly comment, but it did help to make him realize that blocking a deal on the basis of a feeling that he couldn’t name, a problem that might not exist, was similarly silly.

That led to a very useful discussion around risks and mitigations, and eventually, an hour later, he was comfortable. We ended up writing the deal, and it worked out very well.

How do you find the name?

Think of the range of possibilities, and pick one

  • I was able to solve my procrastination because I took the time to think about all the causes that might apply, and then I chose the one which was most likely my problem.
  • If you can name the trigger for your child’s temper yesterday (hunger? tiredness? carry-over stress from school?) then you can respond appropriately. Why scream at them, when you can give them a healthy snack to solve the problem?

Invent a name

For some people, the negative thoughts that fill their minds about what they are (not) able to achieve, are upsetting and even damaging. This is their Imposter Syndrome.

I know people who have successfully got their Imposter Syndrome under control by naming it, pretending it’s another person.

So rather than just having general negative thoughts filling their head, making it feel like it’s the truth, they now have a name for the “person” who is saying those things.

  • The first benefit is that it allows them to differentiate between their negative thoughts and those of the named “persona”
  • The second benefit is that they now have someone almost-tangible to argue with, to dismiss, to banish from their mind.

You can pretend a feeling is a person or an object, and give it a name. Don’t feel bad using the name of someone you don’t like (although, of course, it shouldn’t be someone that intimidates you, since now is the time to be strong).

Once you’ve named that feeling, you can control it.

Call it what it’s called

You might work with a colleague that is always making digs at you or others, who creates a feeling of emotional discomfort, leaving people on edge. For them, it’s probably a power play, but it’s no fun to be subject to constant digs. So name their digs. Each time your colleague makes a dig, then say (with a genuinely polite smile) “That’s a dig.”

This serves several purposes:

  • It shows them you know what they’re doing
  • When you’re pointing out digs several times a day, it highlights how often it’s happening
  • They might not realize themselves that they’re doing this, and your naming might be seen as useful feedback – but do it politely to avoid their becoming defensive.

This is increasingly what we see happening with racism and sexism. If someone makes a misogynistic comment, for example, more and more people are calling such people out on it. It’s easy to ignore and just put up with it, but by naming it, we become part of the change that the world needs.

ASIDE: What happened to the restaurant?

It seems the restaurant owner must have realized the problem that their name was causing, because I think it was just a few months later that they added a transliteration of their Chinese name: “Pun’s Food”.

The restaurant – the one with a name – is now thriving, and they’ve opened a second one in HK. Now people can actually find it.

restaurant that had no name

By the way, if you found yourself thinking this was a silly story because you just happen to be able to read that one character (), telling yourself that it’s not that rare a character, then you will definitely benefit from reading the chapter called #[Cup vs Glass].

Making it personal

I’ve tried to make the core concept of this chapter tangible by giving lots of examples. As you work through the questions below, make sure you’re also seeing the bigger picture as described above.

  • What is the most common time that you get a bad feeling, but you’ve not really managed to name it? Take some time to think of a whole range of names that might apply, then decide which one is right. Now that you have named that feeling, what is the best way of dealing with it?
  • Is there a situation that you have misnamed, which is costing you? For example, are you calling it “impatience” with your employees or children or partner, when actually it’s “verbal abuse”? Are you calling it “reluctance to commit”, when actually it’s “cheating”?

Now, trust your instincts for a moment, and ask yourself: What is the one thing in your life that really needs a name?

  • Is it an emotion? A situation? A behavior?
  • Take your time on this one, this could make a massive difference in your life in future
  • To get some ideas for this, take a look at the Full Collection of #HashtagYourLife stories and see if any of the chapter headings resonate with you. If yes, then that might be the name you’re looking for!

And since you’ve read through to the end of the chapter, what name should you give yourself? Possibilities include “winner”, “committed to improve”, “persistent” – but you decide what #hashtag you’d like to wear.

Related stories

#[If Snake-X then Antidote-Y]
#[Cup vs Glass]
#[Mistakes Can’t Melt Mountains]
#[The Sound of Hot Water Pouring]

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