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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
May 8th, 2019
Modern life is replete with all manner of vicious cycles that can gently grasp a person and slowly nudge them into a quickening whirlpool that descends towards velocities and forces that become harder and harder to escape.
These can all gather unto themselves in such powerful ways that some people quite literally do not ever escape such a fate.
It is perhaps no surprise that these three vicious cycles in particular can often have overlap. All three of these revolve in some way around chronic forms of stress. Debt can easily cause this stress, such stress can be a major contributing factor to depression, and addiction is often a short-term solution to such stress and depression.
The neuroendocrinologist Dr. Robert Sapolsky has been at the forefront of elucidating just how toxic chronic stress is for people. From digestive problems to accelerated aging to diminished portions of the brain crucial for learning and memory, stress, if activated for sustained periods slowly kills people.
With regards to the vicious cycles that we might encounter and get sucked down into, it should seem like an obvious catch-22. The more chronic stress a person experiences, the less equipped they become to invent a viable way out of the situation that is causing such stress.
It’s well correlated that financial stress lowers fluid IQ. And this is the kind of problem where utilizing as much intelligence as possible is crucial if not fundamental to changing and improving one’s financial situation. Such a correlation makes it far more likely, indeed increasingly likely that the more stress a person feels on account of debt, the less likely they will be able to muster some ingenuity and see a solution out of such a situation.
This is a positive feedback loop, pure and simple. But for the individual who gets sucked into such a vicious cycle there is absolutely nothing positive about it.
The symmetrical view here is to say that a person’s intelligence, under the influence of such chronic stress enters a negative feedback loop. As stress begins to have an effect on a person’s ability to make good decisions and therefore make bad decisions more likely, the fallout of such bad decisions again make more bad decisions even more likely. It’s reasonable to say that fluid intelligence in this case is stuck in a negative feedback loop where less optimal decisions hobble available intelligence for future decisions.
This horrible Maelström, like the one in Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, does have a few counter-intuitive hacks embedded in it’s nature.
In Poe’s short story a sailor gets sucked down into a Maelström and as he’s swirling round and round, clinging to the deck of the ship he’s on, he becomes calm and merely begins to observe the chaos around him. In that calmness he observes that objects of a certain shape get tossed out of the Maelström back up to safer waters.
It would seem crazy to abandon a ship, but the sailor lashes himself to an object like the ones he sees escape the Maelström and he jumps overboard, and inevitably his observation serves him well. He escapes the Maelström.
The counter-intuitive aspect of this situation is key, and it can serve anyone who likewise finds themselves trapped in some vicious cycle.
It’s perfectly reasonable to think that if the sailor had remained in a state of panic he never would have made his key observation.
Poe intuits a truth about stress that is exactly what researchers like Dr. Robert Sapolsky have illuminated.
For the person suffering from financial stress, or any other whirlpool of stress, the first solution is not necessarily to meet the problem head on.
The Maelström can be cracked if we first Pause and address the root cause of inability: stress.
This is the true whirlpool that is perpetuating many bad situations, and if that stress is first addressed, than our minds can become more able and adept at solving the external problems of our life.
But how we might wonder if it’s an external problem that is causing such stress, as with debt?
Luckily, the most effective forms of stress-reduction are free: such as meditation.
It may seem somewhat absurd that a person with debt spiraling out of control should meditate. Such a person should work harder, right?
Though, would it not serve such a person better to work smarter instead of just harder?
What if we can work harder and smarter? Might we resolve our problems quicker?
The tiny amount of time required each day for meditation to have a substantial impact on the reduction of stress can pay compounding dividends in terms of a person’s ability to then think more clearly and with ingenuity.
Like Poe’s sailor who becomes strangely calm, meditation, with a couple short months of dedicated practice can bring a calmness to a person that may enable them to make a key insight, one that might help them crack the Maelström and escape it, instead of fruitlessly trying to fight it.