WHAT IS THIS?
Daily, snackable writings and podcasts to spur changes in thinking.
A blueprint for building a better brain by slow, consistent, daily drops of influence.
The way we think is both our greatest tool - indeed our only tool - and very often it is also our biggest leash. We are only who we think we are. Our opportunities are also limited by who other people think we are. It stands to reason that if we’d like to change who we are, we must start with an effort to change our thinking. Read more here
November 11th, 2018
Lucilius and a friend decided to cook some food on a beach one evening. They lugged a grill and a cooler full of food and drinks down to the sandy shore and set up the evening’s camp. The beach was strewn with huge logs that had washed ashore, a byproduct of the regions’ logging industry.
Some of these logs had been painstakingly set into the ground like flagpoles, or looking like bare trees with no branches nor bark.
While Lucilius’ friend took the initiative with the cooking, Lucilius found himself wondering if he could climb one of the upright logs. He walked up to one and studied it. The top was flat and about 20 feet high. Maybe it was doable. He attempted to grab the log in different ways and tried to find footing all around it, but after enough attempts, he decided to give up.
Lucilius’ friend had been watching him the whole time and wondered likewise, though felt a greater sense of possibility.
He quickly walked up to the same log. Lucilius watched how in a seeming flash, his friend ascended to the top of the log.
“How did you do that?” Lucilius asked looking up.
His friend looked down and returned, “I’m not really sure, but I was confident it could be done.”
Lucilius turned to another nearby log and marched up to it, and before he could think too much, he too had climbed to the top and stood high up on the same level as his friend. They both laughed and enjoyed the view for a little while before getting back down to tend to the food.
When dinner’d been had and the two were growing cold as the sun set, they packed things up and started the trek home.
Lucilius wondered about the strange little incident when he couldn’t for the life of him climb the log. Seeing his friend do it had somehow changed everything.
He’d been so concerned with trying to put together some kind of technique to get a boost up on the log, when his friend just went at it, almost without thinking, as though he’d simply trusted his body.
But, Lucilius decided in thought, it all came down to that initial perspective his friend had while watching. He’d been more sure it was possible than Lucilius. And once Lucilius had seen it actually was possible, he too gained a perspective that somehow made the whole effort easy.
He wondered as they walked, how much needless effort was wasted while people second guessed the possibility of their aims.
November 10th, 2018
We’ve all been in a funk, and chances are, we’ll get into a funk again sometime in the future. It can be a sort of whirlpool that eats up ungodly amounts of time and is one of the choice habitats of the Netflix binge, the ice-cream topped carb overload and the perpetual groggy superficial sleep trap.
Each one – in fact – is it’s own whirlpool and together they seem capable of aggregating into one single powerful funky whirlpool where not much happens.
More than a couple days in such a funk can create a habit. It’s good to note that in the literature of habit formation, 3 days is the first threshold where a habit begins to dig it’s trench in our mind.
This is how being in a funk can turn into being stuck in a RUT.
Two things are needed in this teetering situation. First we need the circumspect mindfulness to have the wherewithal to realize what’s going on. To go “Oh, I’m in a funk, and if I’m not careful and proactive, I could get stuck here for a very long time.” The first, realizing one is in a funk, is not terribly difficult. Some may even gloat about it. The second part, about being careful and proactive, begins to probe the tricky and counter-intuitive methods for achieving a STATE CHANGE.
The whirlpool of funk is self-perpetuating. Like most feelings, it seeks to reinforce itself, and it’s because of this feeling, doing something to counter-act and dismantle this feeling is counter-intuitive.
Hence the all too often default response we give when someone gives us good advice like going for a walk. We say:
“I don’t feel like it.”
And that’s the whole point. The response we give couldn’t be more idiotic, but also, it can’t be more appropriate, and emblematic of the problem.
If we can remember the last time that we found our way out of a funk, we might have good evidence for how to do it again. Perhaps someone dragged us out of the house to a social gathering where we had more fun than we expected. Or we went on a hike, or a bike ride.
The physical aspect of these STATE CHANGEs is important and good to investigate. There is a chemical that our nervous system produces called Acetylcholine. It is responsible for all of our muscular movement. Every time you lift the remote to press play on the next Netflix episode, there’s acetylcholine signaling the muscles in your arm and hand to contract in all the intricate ways required to skip the intro. But very little acetylcholine is required for doing this sort of activity.
Performing a perfect deadlift at max weight, on the other hand, produces a comparatively monstrous amount of acetylcholine.
Why is this important? Because acetylcholine doesn’t just signal muscles. Put very simply, acetylcholine impacts many other parts of the brain. One example is the hippocampus, which plays a crucial role in learning and memory formation. While it’s not fully understood, and it’s treatment here is extraordinarily simplistic, it’s safe to say that acetylcholine has a positive impact on the hippocampus. This means that movement and exercise of any kind have a good impact on learning and memory. Generally we concentrate on the peptide groups known as endorphins to point out how exercise has a positive impact on the brain and our mood, but acetylcholine is mentioned here merely to hint at the myriad ways that we can impact our mental state with different strategies.
For example anger can result in damaging words that have negative repercussions on an important relationship, or that anger can be funneled towards a workout with a punching bag. Both use the angry emotion, but the effects of each strategy ramify in completely opposite directions. One makes life worse, while the other resolves the anger while providing a workout.
The best time to experiment with State Changes to find out what works best is before we need it. We can try different things while at a normal baseline and note how different things impact our mental state, whether it be a practice session at the piano, reading a book, or a local hike or simply dropping to the floor and refusing to get up until we’ve done a hundred pushups. A cold shower is also a particularly effective way to kick one’s own ass, mentally that is.
We might want to speculate about all the different neurotransmitters that might be involved with these different activities and simply wonder about how they can all have positive impacts on the brain in different ways. From a strictly conceptual standpoint, it can be a comforting thought to remember that our brains and bodies are constructed with numerous pathways we can use to level-up every time we find ourselves in a funk. Such a thought may bring just enough curiosity to the forefront of that executive brain to ask the question: what should I try right now?
We might want to remember that a funk loves it’s own being in a way, and doesn’t want to give up the spotlight. It is ultimately our choice how much we want to identify with the spotlight-hogging funk, unless of course we have already implemented a steady workout routine and the steady stream of healthy chemistry simply leaves us no choice but to feel better than we normally would.
November 9th, 2018
Have an idea, start a project, write something down, it doesn’t matter what or how we produce our own personal form of generosity, there comes a time when you have to push that little bird out of the nest and let it fall into the void.
Think for a moment of the word coddle. It means to treat in an overly indulgent or overprotective way. But what good does this do? We might answer this question more circumspectly by asking: what is the cause of such an impulse. Clearly in manifests from a form of fear. A fear of what the world will do to the thing that needs to be coddled. Perhaps with infants and small children, this impulse is justified. Injury is a real risk, no matter how it manifests.
But what about the idea or the project that we are afraid to share or launch?
The same fear certainly applies. We fear that the world will hate it, or worse, be totally indifferent. And so coddle takes on a larger expression of itself. We coddle an idea or project out of a fear that this will happen, because we think that such a reaction from the world is a reflection on our own self.
Indeed the logic seems sound here: we had an idea that we thought the world might like, but we turn out wrong, and this wrongness somehow translates to our person, and we become slathered in this wrongness.
This is again, a case of mistaken identity. We have the bad habit of mistaking the only object of consciousness as our own identity. Intense emotions are perhaps the easiest way to understand this concept. When enraged, we somehow become anger incarnate. We lose ourselves in the process and drama of anger. So to can be the case with disappointment. We can lose ourselves in overwhelming concentration on the fact that an idea has failed. The failure becomes a form of identity, that if too well entertained, may find some permanent hold in our mental house.
All such mistaken identity is an error of perspective.
By zooming out we can view the whole incident as an experiment with reality. Even no feedback is potentially useful feedback if we only integrate it appropriately.
But the dazzling thing about the void is that it will play a sort of tennis with us. Perhaps we will lob idea after idea into the void with nothing happening. The void might seem like an insatiable eating machine that gives nothing back. But if we keep at it, something will eventually strike, and hit back, and we will discover real feedback.
We would do best to launch everything and anything we can generate off into the void. Simply put, it’s deceptive that we can see and hear the world because having such gives the illusion that it can be understood (and perhaps it can) and that tomorrow will look much like today. But situations can change drastically for totally unseen reasons. It’s this possibility that does us well to launch any and every idea off into the void. There’s no telling which one might get volleyed back with a payload of gold.
This episode references Episode 93: The Generator.
November 8th, 2018
Any number or variety of things can combine and mingle into a single day and deride us from healthy, positive, productive thinking, behaviors and habits. Note for a moment how much easier it is to lose a good habit than it is to create one in the first place.
A commitment to work out everyday only needs one break in the streak to start a trend that can add up.
Such good habits are fragile, even after long implementation, and a tiny coalescence of negative incidents can have a huge impact.
A project flops.
An angry bitter message comes our way.
A misunderstanding balloons far beyond it’s meaning.
In the same way that good habits can be compounded for an effect that is greater than the sum of their parts, so too with the negative that life can throw our way. Three unfortunate events on the same day seem to have a compounding effect. Whereas one negative incident might be cooly swallowed by our wake, two is like hitting an iceberg and three is like sailing off the edge of the planet.
Sometimes we still have to go to work, and we simply go through the motions. But do we forget our good habits? The daily commitment to write or work out or meditate?
Best to do the same and just go through the motions. Even if the writing is terrible and the workout is sloppy and the meditation feels like a waste of time, tomorrow is a new day, with a much higher probability for a better outlook. And if we’ve simply gone through the motions, it’ll be a gift to tomorrow’s outlook, and we’ll be that much more likely to keep on track, no matter how far we seemed to drift.
November 7th, 2018
Hindsight is 20/20. Or so they say. The catch of the phrase depends on the realization that a mistake was being made. But if we have continued, or continue to make a mistake that exists through time, or if we continually repeat a mistake, then hindsight is not necessarily in the sort of focus that we like to call 20/20.
Such a sharp perspective of the past requires a realization that such a mistake was being made and the cessation of the behavior that is the mistake or leads to the mistake.
A mistake only looks like a mistake when a person is unwilling to incorporate new information that seems to imply that a belief or behavior might be a mistake. We might be somehow blind to the implications of such new information in the same way that facts and arguments that are counter to our beliefs in some way tend to only entrench our beliefs, however obviously flawed and mistaken we might be in doing so. We should ask what exactly in the human psyche keeps us on such an illogical path no matter how clear the evidence is against our beliefs? Clearly this is not logical, which leaves the other obvious option of emotion. When someone has dug in on their false opinion or belief in blatant disregard of contradicting logical evidence, what might we identify as the primary emotion that such a person feels?
We make the mistake of identifying with our belief or thought so much so that to admit a mistake is to effectively identify as a mistake: an experience that can theoretically open a can of all sorts of negative emotions. Think of the spectrum that can exist here. For example, we might not be so affected by the realization that we were mistaken about the time of the party last night, but the destabilizing emotions that could come from information counter to core beliefs has frightening potential. The concept of mental breakdown starts to stir in such a situation. And what exactly is a mental break down other than accepting and believing information that is counter to core beliefs? Such core beliefs literally breakdown if such information is integrated, like seismic waves passing fragile buildings.
A mistake doesn’t look like a mistake if a person adjusts quickly and willingly to new information. Like hockey players changing direction based on changes in the direction of the puck.
Ultimately, it’s a sense of certainty that is at the core of our mistakes, keeping us on ill tracks of behavior and denying the influence of new, contradictory information.
This curse of certainty rides on a double-edged precept: the only way to prove yourself wrong is also the only way to find out if you’re right.