Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Day 632: Hopeless, Helpless

There is so much in this world that shouldn't exist.

There are so many things that shouldn't happen.

There are so many lives that shouldn't unfold the way they do.

There are so many difficult situations.

There is so much pain.

There is so much hunger.

There is so much compromise.

There is so much and so many that are limited and undernourished.

There is so much sickness.

There is so much inaction.

There is so much denial.

There is so much ignorance.

There is so much judgement and discrimination.

There is so much dishonesty.

There is so much wrong with the world. Sometimes it seems like there is no place to start fixing it all, because each problem invades the others and nothing is ever simple enough to just fix.

All of this is true - but the experience of being overwhelmed can hinder you more than the sheer scope of the task at hand. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't acknowledge the magnitude of the problems we face - but that magnitude should not cause you to spiral downward in an experience of pessimism and 'it's too much'. Any task can be accomplished by taking it one step at a time.

Allowing yourself to feel overwhelmed causes you to stop looking at the situation clearly and rationally and leads you to to be more easily influenced by your emotional turmoil, which will cause you to be ineffective in what you're doing. Think about someone you know who is always blowing things out of proportion - they do not see clearly what is around them, they are influenced by their state of mind. When you start exaggerating and speaking or thinking dramatically then you know that you're not looking at what's in front of you with clarity - your vision is clouded by hazy lenses of emotional energy, spurring you on to think more irrationally and imagine even more irrational scenarios.

Yes, there is so much in this world that would cause you to cry in despair at its existence for eternity - the reality is that if you allow yourself to do this then you are not contributing to the solution to the problems, you are just another symptom.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Day 631: Body Language Gives Clues About YOU!;search%3Apease

I can't find any transcription of this TEDx Talk so you're just going to have to watch it. It's worth it, so just do it.

We don't always realise how much of our thoughts and emotions come through in our body language.

When you start paying attention to your gestures and expressions you start recognising the thoughts and emotions leaking out of the cracks and showing in your outward behaviour. You can use your body language as a reference for yourself to test whether you are clear about a specific point within you (ei you are not having thoughts or experiencing emotions about whatever the point is that you may or may not be fully aware of). When it comes to body language, you'll probably get the most information when you're communicating with someone else, but you can also test your awareness and the nature of your body language when you're alone - have you allowed a bad mood to get you down and let your body go into a slump? Are you feeling confident about something? Are your thoughts spinning around in your mind? Your body language can give you insight to these things and more.

Facial expressions are also telling of what you're thinking and how you're reacting within your mind. Most people have not developed the skill of controlling their body language or facial expressions, because of this you can be relatively certain that you are getting some pretty honest feedback from observing yourself.

It is interesting to film yourself in action and then watch the video to see, from an 'outside perspective' exactly what the hell you're actually doing when you're (for example) having a conversation with someone. You will probably see your opinions of a person come through quite clearly.

The goal is not to hide your body language and expressions so as to become a better liar - the goal is to stop the thoughts and emotions that are behind certain behaviours and expressions. Take the following as an example: You are discussing a topic with a person you know well, but the topic starts shifting into a conflict zone where either one or both of you are becoming agitated/irritated/whatever - the best thing is not to hide your state of reaction better, but to change your approach to the situation so that the conflict doesn't happen. You want to develop your communication skills and your openness to considering things outside your 'comfort zone' so that you can effectively direct a social situation without having to resort to all sorts of negative experiences and displays. This would mean letting go of your desire to be right and your desire to be in control.

The other aspect that Allan discusses which I have also written about in a previous post, is the point of 'fake it till you make it'. Developing your body language and expressions with awareness actually imprints those ideas, principles, ideals and 'thought patterns' into you - so if you are pretending to be confident in your body language you actually start feeling more confident and with time your entire way of thinking and of being changes to incorporate this confidence and it becomes a part of your natural expression .Obviously this is only to a certain degree. Continuing with the example of confidence, if you have spent most of your life judging yourself and generally being nasty to yourself you will still need to address the root of that habit - pretending to be confident is not going to conquer your demons of old - but it certainly will make it easier.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Day 630: Just Want to Fit In

In this life you learn to wear many faces. You learn to change and adapt to different people and situations. You do this for a number of reasons, but it's generally for the purpose of fitting in and being accepted.

We are born with a strong sense of wanting to belong and be accepted - though the question is whether we are born with this or is it something that we develop after birth, something we learn from the people and environment around us? Regardless of this, it is an instinct that is outdated and that has evolved in current times to actually prevent us from really developing and sharing ourselves as independent and strong individuals.

Instead of this skill being used for survival as it may have originally been designed for, we use it to avoid social exclusion because these days our own self image is based on how we perceive other people's apparent judgements of us. Everyone is trying to be and live the way they think they're supposed to be living - according to whatever standards they have chosen to hold on to and regard as being important.

A lot of the time we are the ones choosing to change our behaviour or presence in a situation, but sometimes we change in moments without realising it. This is now moving deeper into your 'programming' to levels of your mind. There could be any number of reasons for you to change and not notice - maybe you've met someone with whom you feel a connection - all sorts of things tend to happen when our hormones and potential relationships are involved. Maybe you have developed a very good friendship with someone and now like all the things they like and share the same opinions with them. If you look a little deeper into these two examples, you'll see that the little ways in which you change are not really coming from your choice or even your 'nature' (for lack of a better word in this moment - by 'nature' I mean for example the things you now like or the opinions you have developed in the new relationship or friendship are not really reflecting what you like and how you feel - it's more that you want to fit in / be close / share things with this person). All of this is happening on a subconscious level, so until you stop and really look at yourself and the situation closely, your experience is one of blissful ignorance.

So when someone tells you that you talk differently with a specific person, or act differently, or say or do things you wouldn't normally do - you should assess yourself to see what is actually going on. Are you allowing yourself to change yourself to protect your relationship with them? Are you changing yourself to avoid some potential conflict? Are you changing yourself to try and project yourself to the other person as being this way or that? There are many more reasons - you will have to be objective and a little brutal with yourself to make sure that you are the one who is actually giving yourself and your life direction - because in the end that's what it comes down to: are you truly being who you are and expressing yourself from a point of directive principle.

I cannot say that you should 'express who you are' - as in this world that is naive. In this world we must direct our words and actions with awareness and consideration of what the potential repercussions of those words and actions may be - not only for ourselves but for everything and everyone around us.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Day 629: When Life Chooses For You

So when we face hard choices, we shouldn't beat our head against a wall trying to figure out which alternative is better. There is no best alternative. Instead of looking for reasons out there, we should be looking for reasons in here: Who am I to be? You might decide to be a pink sock-wearing, cereal-loving, country-living banker, and I might decide to be a black sock-wearing, urban, donut-loving artist. What we do in hard choices is very much up to each of us. 
Now, people who don't exercise their normative powers in hard choices are drifters. We all know people like that. I drifted into being a lawyer. I didn't put my agency behind lawyering. I wasn't for lawyering. Drifters allow the world to write the story of their lives. They let mechanisms of reward and punishment -- pats on the head, fear, the easiness of an option — to determine what they do. So the lesson of hard choices: reflect on what you can put your agency behind, on what you can be for, and through hard choices, become that person.  
Far from being sources of agony and dread, hard choices are precious opportunities for us to celebrate what is special about the human condition, that the reasons that govern our choices as correct or incorrect sometimes run out, and it is here, in the space of hard choices, that we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are. And that's why hard choices are not a curse but a godsend. - Ruth Chang

This continues from my previous post.

Are you a drifter, or do you determine your own path? I am sure that almost every person has at one time or another been a drifter, allowing some external force (or their reaction towards that force, like fear) to choose which path to take. We tend to give up choice when we feel overwhelmed. We can feel overwhelmed for a variety of reasons: your friends and family wont stop nagging you to make a certain choice, you fear the consequences of certain paths, you feel like you won't be able to handle a path, you get lured in by the 'perks' of a path (even if it's not something you really want to do), you fear what conflict may come as a result of a specific choice, you fear what people will think of you, you feel like you don't know who you are... the list could go on but I'm sure you get the picture.

What you will realise about letting yourself drift from choice to choice is that you will not be completely at peace with the choice - maybe after time and effort - but otherwise it's unlikely that you'll actually be happy with where you end up. What tends to happen is that you start acting out in small ways, trying to somehow make yourself feel better, but in a kind of a twisted, self-sabotaging way. Maybe you start drinking heavily and getting into fights, maybe you fight with your partner, maybe you do reckless things - all in an attempt to make yourself feel better for not having the life you actually wanted. You may also stated blaming people - whoever - for where you ended up. You may believe that because you chose to not make a choice, you are not responsible for what follows. This blame starts at small, venomous thoughts in your mind and slowly grow over time until you are filled with rage. You think the rage is all about whoever it is you've decided to blame for your life, but deep down you know that you are in fact the one who is responsible - entirely so.

Obviously when you're 'in it' it's difficult to see what you're doing - all you see is the rage and the blame. It's also difficult to see how the whole thing started: at one point where you chose to give up your choice. The interesting thing is that giving up your choice does not mean that you give up the responsibility for what happens after - but most people believe that the opposite is true. It ends up being all about the blame game - everyone else is at fault because "I'm not responsible". The blame game validates our self images and makes us feel really good about ourselves - at the expense of being miserable.

When you are the one making the decisions in your life things tend to unfold very differently. You are more likely to understand that your life is your responsibility - that your choice sets your path, whether it works out or not. You are also more likely to realise that if your choice doesn't work out you can always choose a different path. This experience is empowering - realising that you really are in charge and that no matter what comes your way, you will find a way through it and still experience a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction that you did the best you could and that you can and will rise to meet any challenge with a clear mind and directive principle.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Day 628: There is no Ideal Choice

Think of a hard choice you'll face in the near future. It might be between two careers -- artist and accountant -- or places to live -- the city or the country -- or even between two people to marry -- you could marry Betty or you could marry Lolita. Or it might be a choice about whether to have children, to have an ailing parent move in with you, to raise your child in a religion that your partner lives by but leaves you cold. Or whether to donate your life savings to charity. 
Chances are, the hard choice you thought of was something big, something momentous, something that matters to you. Hard choices seem to be occasions for agonizing, hand-wringing, the gnashing of teeth. But I think we've misunderstood hard choices and the role they play in our lives. Understanding hard choices uncovers a hidden power each of us possesses.  
What makes a choice hard is the way the alternatives relate. In any easy choice, one alternative is better than the other. In a hard choice, one alternative is better in some ways, the other alternative is better in other ways, and neither is better than the other overall. You agonize over whether to stay in your current job in the city or uproot your life for more challenging work in the country because staying is better in some ways, moving is better in others, and neither is better than the other overall. - Ruth Chang

This Talk has brought up a few aspects of choice that I'd like to discuss, so this may end up being more that one post - let's see how it goes.

Let me start with the point of making difficult choices and how sometimes we make a choice based on fallacies of reasoning or allowing certain thoughts to convince us to go one way or the other. The first fallacy I will go over is the belief that there is a 'right' choice and that all the other choices are wrong - this is not the case when it comes to this life and this world (unless you're writing a test - but even there the questions and answers are designed and influenced by people who have certain beliefs - so consider that there is no 'right' answer, but rather that there is only 'the answer the examiner wants you to choose').

Some common fallacies that I'm not going to go into too much are fallacies of perception which basically lead you to make unrealistic plans and projections of the future. Check this list of cognitive biases. Obviously pretty much all of our choices depend on our perceptions - so when we are not seeing the world or some point objectively and realistically, chances are that the choice we make is not going to turn out exactly as planned.

As you can see, most of the time we are not making rational choices anyway - we allow far too much clutter and chit-chat in our minds that influences us in our decision making. This clutter includes fears, anxiety, desire, fantasies, anger, jealousy, ego, etc. Having said that, everyone will face hard choices, regardless of how they work through those choices. For tonight I am going into only one aspect of hard choices, and that is that there is no 'ideal' or 'best' choice. Even when you have all the information, most of the time you still can't see which way to go. Sometimes this 'indecision' is influenced by the clutter in your mind, but sometimes it's not.

There simply are not many situations that have a perfect answer to the problem. Most solutions have pro's and con's that end up cancelling each other out. This is the unfortunate reality - but we can at least make these choices less complicated for ourselves by removing the clutter that adds to the confusion. We can make sure that we are not including all the stuff that sometimes leads us to the position of just taking the easiest path (in a way you're giving up your choice by allowing life and circumstances to choose for you).

Here is where i am going to tie in with the next post: being the director of your choices.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Day 627: Rotten Silence

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a 1968 speech where he reflects upon the Civil Rights Movement, states, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends." 
As a teacher, I've internalized this message. Every day, all around us, we see the consequences of silence manifest themselves in the form of discrimination, violence, genocide and war. In the classroom, I challenge my students to explore the silences in their own lives through poetry. We work together to fill those spaces, to recognize them, to name them, to understand that they don't have to be sources of shame. In an effort to create a culture within my classroom where students feel safe sharing the intimacies of their own silences, I have four core principles posted on the board that sits in the front of my class, which every student signs at the beginning of the year: read critically, write consciously, speak clearly, tell your truth.  
And I find myself thinking a lot about that last point, tell your truth. And I realized that if I was going to ask my students to speak up, I was going to have to tell my truth and be honest with them about the times where I failed to do so. 
So I tell them that growing up, as a kid in a Catholic family in New Orleans, during Lent I was always taught that the most meaningful thing one could do was to give something up, sacrifice something you typically indulge in to prove to God you understand his sanctity. I've given up soda, McDonald's, French fries, French kisses, and everything in between. But one year, I gave up speaking. I figured the most valuable thing I could sacrifice was my own voice, but it was like I hadn't realized that I had given that up a long time ago. I spent so much of my life telling people the things they wanted to hear instead of the things they needed to, told myself I wasn't meant to be anyone's conscience because I still had to figure out being my own, so sometimes I just wouldn't say anything, appeasing ignorance with my silence, unaware that validation doesn't need words to endorse its existence. When Christian was beat up for being gay, I put my hands in my pocket and walked with my head down as if I didn't even notice. I couldn't use my locker for weeks because the bolt on the lock reminded me of the one I had put on my lips when the homeless man on the corner looked at me with eyes up merely searching for an affirmation that he was worth seeing. I was more concerned with touching the screen on my Apple than actually feeding him one. When the woman at the fundraising gala said "I'm so proud of you. It must be so hard teaching those poor, unintelligent kids," I bit my lip, because apparently we needed her money more than my students needed their dignity. 
We spend so much time listening to the things people are saying that we rarely pay attention to the things they don't. Silence is the residue of fear. It is feeling your flaws gut-wrench guillotine your tongue. It is the air retreating from your chest because it doesn't feel safe in your lungs. Silence is Rwandan genocide. Silence is Katrina. It is what you hear when there aren't enough body bags left. It is the sound after the noose is already tied. It is charring. It is chains. It is privilege. It is pain. There is no time to pick your battles when your battles have already picked you. 
I will not let silence wrap itself around my indecision. I will tell Christian that he is a lion, a sanctuary of bravery and brilliance. I will ask that homeless man what his name is and how his day was, because sometimes all people want to be is human. I will tell that woman that my students can talk about transcendentalism like their last name was Thoreau, and just because you watched one episode of "The Wire" doesn't mean you know anything about my kids. So this year, instead of giving something up, I will live every day as if there were a microphone tucked under my tongue, a stage on the underside of my inhibition. Because who has to have a soapbox when all you've ever needed is your voice? - Clint Smith

What is it that immobilizes you? What is it that keeps you from speaking out against an injustice that you have witnessed? What is it that keeps you from challenging a discriminatory or stereotyped opinion? 


Sometimes you fear what other people will think of you. Sometimes you fear getting into trouble. Sometimes you fear conflict. Sometimes you simply fear the unknown of what comes after you speak up. Surely not all of us know innately how to effectively direct any given situation we may find ourselves in. We can however develop our abilities by ensuring that we remain calm and without emotional reaction and then testing out how to direct the situation from there. 

Deliberately creating conflict by barging into a situation or someone's (albeit misguided) opinions won't get anyone anywhere. You are more likely to worsen the situation. Your first step should always be to take a deep breath and assess yourself: whether you are experiencing any kind of emotional upheaval or thoughts that tend to lead to an emotional experience - the next step is to clear those reactions and make sure that you are stable, level-headed and calm. By doing this you ensure that you are in the best possible state of mind to be able to direct the situation effectively. 

It may sound simple enough, but if you look at the world around you you will recognise that this seems to be quite a difficult thing for most people to do. Spending some time with your family should give you enough evidence of this - but if it doesn't then just watch a few movies in order to see the kind of mind set that is being promoted (and accepted) in our society. Apparently TV shows and movies cannot be entertaining without adding all sorts of ridiculous drama - all of this is then watched and absorbed by the youth of the nation and all of a sudden the next generation is a bunch of neurotic, self obsessed sociopaths. Somehow we keep missing that connection...

Most of our interactions with each other in this life involve a dance of sussing each other out: are you judging me? Are you validating my judgements about myself? How will you react when I act in this way? - It's all about conflict avoidance to try and make the best impression possible and hide your perceived faults. In the end the entire dance is driven by your fears - it's pretty unusual to have a conversation with someone who is completely open and grounded in who they are in that moment with you. 

These fears seep out and poison so many parts of our lives and society. They keep us from doing the things we know are best. They keep us from making peace with ourselves. They keep us from developing meaningful and honest connections. They keep us from creating a world of true beauty and compassion.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Day 626: Fake it Till You Become it

So at the end of my first year at Harvard, a student who had not talked in class the entire semester, who I had said, "Look, you've gotta participate or else you're going to fail," came into my office. I really didn't know her at all. And she said, she came in totally defeated, and she said, "I'm not supposed to be here." And that was the moment for me. Because two things happened. One was that I realized, oh my gosh, I don't feel like that anymore. You know. I don't feel that anymore, but she does, and I get that feeling. And the second was, she is supposed to be here! Like, she can fake it, she can become it. So I was like, "Yes, you are! You are supposed to be here! And tomorrow you're going to fake it, you're going to make yourself powerful, and, you know, you're gonna — " (Applause) (Applause) "And you're going to go into the classroom, and you are going to give the best comment ever." You know? And she gave the best comment ever, and people turned around and they were like, oh my God, I didn't even notice her sitting there, you know? (Laughter) 
She comes back to me months later, and I realized that she had not just faked it till she made it, she had actually faked it till she became it. So she had changed. And so I want to say to you, don't fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it. You know? It's not — Do it enough until you actually become it and internalize. - Amy Cuddy

This Talk took me by surprise a little - I had skipped past it a few times on the TED site thinking that I wouldn't find anything to say about it (obviously this was an assumption that was not based on any actual investigation). But I watched it this evening and recognised something within it that I have been struggling to verbalise to people who are stuck in a rut, people who have the power and opportunity to change themselves but have just not been doing it (usually from the belief that "I can't do it" or a vicious cycle of self judgements that they keep participating in and really making themselves feel like crap). This something is fake it 'till you become it.

When you're setting out to change something about yourself it's not going to happen magically on it's own - you have to be the driving force behind it. Changing a pattern of behaviour or a thought pattern requires that you actually do the new behaviour that you want to live and stop the old behaviour. This concept of fake it till you become it is exactly it - you have to practice and push yourself to do things and behave in ways that are outside your comfort zone and that may seem scary. The first important thing you must make sure of is that that fear of "what if (I do it badly, it ends up being the wrong choice, I can't do it...)" doesn't stop you. Obviously changing yourself is going to need practice, so you won't get it perfect the first (or second, or third, or even hundredth) time - but you have to keep practicing until you become the new pattern that you feel will benefit, the pattern that you actually want to live in your life.

The part where so many people get stuck is in thinking about how things could turn out (all those what if's) and thinking about how they are incapable of doing whatever it is that they'd really like to do. Obviously those thoughts can develop into a vicious cycle - but every cycle can be broken by exactly what I am saying in this post: You can fake it till you become it - close your eyes, take a deep breath and DO IT.

I learned this particular approach and terminology with my horsemanship instructor. I was a very shy and introverted person for most of my childhood and some of my teen years - some points I had overcome by then but not all. So when I started lessons with my teacher she told me the importance of body language when you're working with a horse because that is how they communicate. So I had to push myself to stop slouching, lift my chin up and step forward strongly in order to move this half-ton horse around and to develop a relationship where he respects my "personal space" (therefore he is less likely to do things like bash me with his head or step on my foot).

In more recent times I have been deliberately placing myself in situations that I am usually uncomfortable in, or in a situation where I am faced with doing something I want to do but have a fear of doing for whatever reason. Just because I put myself in these situations on purpose doesn't mean that I don't still feel uncomfortable or nervous - but when I move past the thoughts and expectations of what I think something will be like or feel like, I realise that what I imagined it to be is completely unrealistic compared to what it actually is like.

The same can be said for almost every point in your life that you have imagined doing without any real investigation for yourself - usually you've blown it way out of proportion and you're now at the point where it's become this giant entity in your mind that you think is going to crush you if you try to approach it. Obviously the big scary monster is all in your imagination and once you face yourself and do the thing you're so afraid of, you will not only overcome that fear but you will also empower yourself to face even more of yourself with courage and confidence.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Day 625: Attention Redirection

It's interesting, isn't it? Some of us are a little bit more perceptive than others. It seems that way. But I have a different theory about that, that model of attention. They have fancy models of attention, Posner's trinity model of attention. For me, I like to think of it very simple, like a surveillance system. It's kind of like you have all these fancy sensors, and inside your brain is a little security guard. For me, I like to call him Frank. So Frank is sitting at a desk. He's got all sorts of cool information in front of him, high-tech equipment, he's got cameras, he's got a little phone that he can pick up, listen to the ears, all these senses, all these perceptions. But attention is what steers your perceptions, is what controls your reality. It's the gateway to the mind. If you don't attend to something, you can't be aware of it. But ironically, you can attend to something without being aware of it. That's why there's the cocktail effect: When you're in a party, you're having conversations with someone, and yet you can recognize your name and you didn't even realize you were listening to that. 
Now, for my job, I have to play with techniques to exploit this, to play with your attention as a limited resource. So if I could control how you spend your attention, if I could maybe steal your attention through a distraction. Now, instead of doing it like misdirection and throwing it off to the side, instead, what I choose to focus on is Frank, to be able to play with the Frank inside your head, your little security guard, and get you, instead of focusing on your external senses, just to go internal for a second. So if I ask you to access a memory, like, what is that? What just happened? Do you have a wallet? Do you have an American Express in your wallet? And when I do that, your Frank turns around. He accesses the file. He has to rewind the tape. And what's interesting is, he can't rewind the tape at the same time that he's trying to process new data. - Apollo Robbins

This is one of those TED Talks that you have to watch in order to experience the full weight of the point Apollo is making.So if you haven't already, go watch the Talk and then come back here.

I think that most people will agree after watching that that it is pretty damn easy to take advantage of the way we perceive the people and world around us. There may be a few people with extraordinary perception skills, but that is definitely not the norm. Apollo shows us how easy it is to pull one over on you in a very "small" setting - now imagine for a moment that the setting is your whole life and that most of the world is designed in such a way so as to direct your attention onto specific things so that you don't notice what goes on elsewhere.

It's a pretty scary thought - scary enough to make it hard to believe. Unfortunately if you stop for a moment and look at your life and at the world objectively, you will recognise all the different modes of distraction contrasting with the real nature of what's happening in the world. Take the following as an example: You are going out for dinner with your partner and you want to look nice since it's a special occasion. You decide that the occasion justifies the purchase of some new clothes that you can wear to dinner because you want to look good for your partner. While this is going on you're holding a constant internal conversation with yourself, thinking about all the things you'd like, what you think you need, what you think your partner will think, what you think your parents will think, what kind of dress/suit you'd like to wear, what you think your partner will wear and so on and so forth. In the larger scheme of things when you consider the facts of life for so many (like genocide, rape, child soldiers, slavery, prostitution, poverty, etc) - deciding on what to wear for a dinner doesn't seem like it should be given quite so much time and attention. The fact of the matter is that our lives are filled with distractions - generally things that have very little real meaning in the world. When you compare the amount of time, energy and attention we give to the superficial things in our lives to the things that actually matter in the world it all seems quite ridiculous.

Even this post will catch your attention for only a moment, all too soon the memory of it will float away on the breeze and you will move on to new and exciting things to focus your attention on.

The news is a very good example of the fleeting nature of the human attention span. How many breaking stories do you see in a month, or in 6 months? Can you recall the things you thought were important 6 months ago (that are not still being splashed all over the news)? Is Bring Back Our Girls as fresh and important to you now as it was when the story first broke? Doubtful - your attention has likely been redirected to something new and fresh.

He who controls the attention of the human race also controls the world.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Day 624: Why Don't You Care?

This continues from my previous post - please read it for context.

Renata poses some very relevant questions to the times that we live in in the Talk from my previous post. 

Now, psychoanalysts know very well that people surprisingly don't have passion for knowledge but passion for ignorance. Now, what does that mean? Let's say when we are facing a life-threatening illness, a lot of people don't want to know that. They'd rather prefer denying the illness, which is why it's not so wise to inform them if they don't ask. Surprisingly, research shows that sometimes people who deny their illness live longer than those who are rationally choosing the best treatment.  
Now, this ignorance, however, is not very helpful on the level of the social. When we are ignorant about where we are heading, a lot of social damage can be caused. 
Now for me, a question often is why we still embrace this idea of a self-made man on which capitalism relied from its beginning? Why do we think that we are really such masters of our lives that we can rationally make the best ideal choices, that we don't accept losses and risks? And for me, it's very shocking to see sometimes very poor people, for example, not supporting the idea of the rich being taxed more. Quite often here they still identify with a certain kind of a lottery mentality. Okay, maybe they don't think that they will make it in the future, but maybe they think, my son might become the next Bill Gates. And who would want to tax one's son? Or, a question for me is also, why would people who have no health insurance not embrace universal healthcare? Sometimes they don't embrace it, again identifying with the idea of choice, but they have nothing to choose from. 
Now, Margaret Thatcher famously said that there is nothing like a society. Society doesn't exist, it is only individuals and their families. Sadly, this ideology still functions very well, which is why people who are poor might feel ashamed for their poverty. We might endlessly feel guilty that we are not making the right choices, and that's why we didn't succeed. We are anxious that we are not good enough. That's why we work very hard, long hours at the workplace and equally long hours on remaking ourselves. Now, when we are anxious over choices, sometimes we easily give our power of choice away. We identify with the guru who tells us what to do, self-help therapist, or we embrace a totalitarian leader who appears to have no doubts about choices, who sort of knows. - Renata Salecl   

Why do we give so much attention to fashion but so little to the circumstances of the people making the clothing and accessories? Why do we care so much about finding a partner and starting a family, but so little for the world we are bringing our children into? 

There is so much in this life that we have squandered - there is equally as much in ourselves that we have laid to waste. We focus all of our attention on superficial things that are meaningless when you are facing the end of the line. We have truly mastered the skill of being ignorant in such a way that we don't feel guilty. We tell ourselves that climate change is a serious problem and that the world leaders are responsible for solving the crisis so that when they fail we have someone to blame. We tell ourselves that Going Green and buying locally are helping the environment so that we feel like we have done our part and that no further action is required (doing just enough to keep the guilt at bay by rationalising that it is "enough"). We tell ourselves that our lives are more important than other lives so that we don't feel so sad when we hear of the murder, rape, torture, slavery and wars that flourish in so many parts of the world. 

The truth is that there are things that we care about. Number 1 is usually me, myself & I. After that you get things like "how I look", "What other people think of me", "My family", "My culture", "my religion", "computer games", "porn", "entertainment", "nature", "Smartphones", "technology", "progress" and whatever else. Most people dedicate themselves to all the little things that are important to them - unfortunately it is rare that these things include really and seriously changing the world on a global scale. 

Think about it - when it comes to something you really care about then you will stop at nothing to nurture whatever it is. Now think about the world. Look around you. Look at all the problems that are staring all of us in the faces. Do you care? Do you care about life on earth as much as you care about the number 1 thing in your life? 

It's easy to disassociate from the things and people around you. It's easy to ignore the world. It's easy to just carry on trying to be as happy as you can be within the circumstances you've chosen to live in. We aren't born with the innate sense of truly caring about our world. Our parents and schools don't teach us to care about the world. TV and media doesn't teach us to care about the world. The world is screaming at you to live only for yourself and not consider other people - it's not surprising that the result is what it is. Most people don't even know what it means to take responsibility for something, to consider how far that responsibility reaches and the effects your actions can have in so many ways. Few people realise that when they fail their commitment that it doesn't only affect them - it affects everything around them by setting a domino effect into motion. 

Our entire world has become one big domino effect - everyone is paying for everyone else's 'crimes' and no one is taking responsibility.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Day 623: Can Choice Make You Happy?

In today's times of post-industrial capitalism, choice, together with individual freedom and the idea of self-making, has been elevated to an ideal. Now, together with this, we also have a belief in endless progress. But the underside of this ideology has been an increase of anxiety, feelings of guilt, feelings of being inadequate, feeling that we are failing in our choices. Sadly, this ideology of individual choice has prevented us from thinking about social changes. It appears that this ideology was actually very efficient in pacifying us as political and social thinkers. Instead of making social critiques, we are more and more engaging in self-critique, sometimes to the point of self-destruction. 
Now, how come that ideology of choice is still so powerful, even among people who have not many things to choose among? How come that even people who are poor very much still identify with the idea of choice, the kind of rational idea of choice which we embrace?  
Now, the ideology of choice is very successful in opening for us a space to think about some imagined future. Let me give you an example. My friend Manya, when she was a student at university in California, was earning money by working for a car dealer. Now, Manya, when she encountered the typical customer, would debate with him about his lifestyle, how much he wants to spend, how many children he has, what does he need the car for? They would usually come to a good conclusion what would be a perfect car. Now, before Manya's customer would go home and think things through, she would say to him, "The car that you are buying now is perfect, but in a few year's time, when your kids will be already out of the house, when you will have a little bit more money, that other car will be ideal. But what you are buying now is great." Now, the majority of Manya's customers who came back the next day bought that other car, the car they did not need, the car that cost far too much money. Now, Manya became so successful in selling cars that soon she moved on to selling airplanes. (Laughter) And knowing so much about the psychology of people prepared her well for her current job, which is that of a psychoanalyst. 
Now, why were Manya's customers so irrational? Manya's success was that she was able to open in their heads an image of an idealized future, an image of themselves when they are already more successful, freer, and for them, choosing that other car was as if they are coming closer to this ideal in which it was as if Manya already saw them. - Renata Salecl 

I strongly recommend this Talk - Renata discusses very real and relevant aspects of our lives at this point in time.

This Talk corresponds very highly with what Desteni has been saying for a while, though in different words. I can't count how many posts I've written about our tendency to focus on ourselves and ignoring the real world and people around us. We live so much of our lives in our imaginations, whether we are imagining some glorious future or how things could have been in the past. Often our fantasies are completely unrealistic and unfounded - but they still make us feel really happy (even though the fantasies are not real). What does this mean for happiness? What does this make happiness?

I am going to continue this topic tomorrow when my brain is functioning better - for now please do watch or read the Talk.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Day 622: What Kind of Motivation is Effective?

So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, take a look at this. This is called the candle problem. Some of you might have seen this before. It's created in 1945 by a psychologist named Karl Duncker. Karl Duncker created this experiment that is used in a whole variety of experiments in behavioral science. And here's how it works. Suppose I'm the experimenter. I bring you into a room. I give you a candle, some thumbtacks and some matches. And I say to you, "Your job is to attach the candle to the wall so the wax doesn't drip onto the table." Now what would you do? 
Now many people begin trying to thumbtack the candle to the wall. Doesn't work. Somebody, some people -- and I saw somebody kind of make the motion over here -- some people have a great idea where they light the match, melt the side of the candle, try to adhere it to the wall. It's an awesome idea. Doesn't work. And eventually, after five or 10 minutes, most people figure out the solution, which you can see here. The key is to overcome what's called functional fixedness. You look at that box and you see it only as a receptacle for the tacks. But it can also have this other function, as a platform for the candle. The candle problem.  
Now I want to tell you about an experiment using the candle problem, done by a scientist named Sam Glucksberg, who is now at Princeton University in the U.S. This shows the power of incentives. Here's what he did. He gathered his participants. And he said, "I'm going to time you. How quickly you can solve this problem?" To one group he said, "I'm going to time you to establish norms, averages for how long it typically takes someone to solve this sort of problem." 
To the second group he offered rewards. He said, "If you're in the top 25 percent of the fastest times, you get five dollars. If you're the fastest of everyone we're testing here today, you get 20 dollars." Now this is several years ago. Adjusted for inflation, it's a decent sum of money for a few minutes of work. It's a nice motivator. 
Question: How much faster did this group solve the problem? Answer: It took them, on average, three and a half minutes longer. Three and a half minutes longer. Now this makes no sense right? I mean, I'm an American. I believe in free markets. That's not how it's supposed to work. Right? (Laughter) If you want people to perform better, you reward them. Right? Bonuses, commissions, their own reality show. Incentivize them. That's how business works. But that's not happening here. You've got an incentive designed to sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity, and it does just the opposite. It dulls thinking and blocks creativity. 
And what's interesting about this experiment is that it's not an aberration. This has been replicated over and over and over again, for nearly 40 years. These contingent motivators -- if you do this, then you get that -- work in some circumstances. But for a lot of tasks, they actually either don't work or, often, they do harm. This is one of the most robust findings in social science, and also one of the most ignored. 
I want to talk today only about autonomy. In the 20th century, we came up with this idea of management. Management did not emanate from nature. Management is like -- it's not a tree, it's a television set. Okay? Somebody invented it. And it doesn't mean it's going to work forever. Management is great. Traditional notions of management are great if you want compliance. But if you want engagement, self-direction works better.  
Let me give you some examples of some kind of radical notions of self-direction. What this means -- you don't see a lot of it, but you see the first stirrings of something really interesting going on, because what it means is paying people adequately and fairly, absolutely -- getting the issue of money off the table, and then giving people lots of autonomy. Let me give you some examples. - Daniel Pink

This is a very important point, not only in our economy but also in our day-to-day lives. The concept of trying to motivate someone (even yourself) with the reward / punishment system is not as effective as we believe it to be. This can be applied in parenting, schooling, in the workplace and even in how you choose to spend your free time.

We function much better when we understand clearly why something must be done, when we are given the opportunity to challenge our own creativity and when we have a strong will to see something through. These things are all things that we must essentially develop within ourselves and apply to all areas of our lives, not just to those few areas of interest or need. Changing this one aspect within ourselves will have a profound effect in our personal lives, but that effect will also ripple out into the world and people around us.

So many of us, in so many ways, are stuck in a 'functional fixedness' - our vision too narrow to consider solutions outside the box. This functional fixedness does not only apply in scientific/psychological experiments - it seems to exist in almost every aspect of our lives. The economy is a pretty big example - we do not consider using the economic system and tools in any other way except for the way in which we are doing it (we believe that this way is the 'right' way and that there is no possible better solution). I am sure that there are thousands of smaller examples, you usually only come across them when you are challenged to use a certain item or tool in a way that you are not used to. After doing so you think to yourself "wow, that was neat". You see many examples like these on the internet with those fantastic lists of "how to use everyday items in unconventional and super useful ways".

Changing the way we think and live doesn't happen by magic - it is a purposeful action that you have to take every moment until it eventually becomes smooth and effortless. Getting through the initial difficult phase is usually where people give up because most of us simply have never had to do that before. Often, thoughts like "I can't do it", "it's too difficult", "I'll do it tomorrow" win in these scenarios and lead to a cycle of self judgement that just pulls the person deeper into the funk of not doing anything. Unfortunately there is no magic solution to this - the answer is the same as before, the same as it will always be: You have to move yourself, put one foot in front of the other. You also have to stop those thoughts that sabotage you - tell them to piss off, you're doing this thing no matter what. In the end motivation isn't even necessary - you do what must be done because it must be done.