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
January 12th, 2019
How useful are emotions?
Certainly they have incredible utility because they form the fuel and engine for everything we do.
The question is too vague however. We might for example ask how useful a tree is? In this case it’s perhaps more intuitive to follow up with a second question: useful for what? If we seek to build a table then certainly the tree is potentially very useful, but not in it’s current form. If however we see the tree’s utility as an entity that takes CO2 out of the atmosphere, then it is useful as is. What’s important to note here is that while the tree can be useful for many things, for some we need to convert that tree and put it through a process.
Likewise with emotions. All emotions provide us with the energy and impetus to actually do things.
Positive feelings of kinship and compassion perhaps need no conversion or processing, much like a tree seen as useful just being a tree.
But, we can think of far more difficult emotions like anger and frustration which rarely do us any good if we act upon these emotions in the form that we experience them. We generally lash out and create similar negative emotions in other people. We break things, undermine a project, damage relationships… all variety of things occur that we can very quickly come to regret.
This does not mean that the negative emotion cannot be useful. Like cutting a tree into slabs to make it more conducive to building a table, or shucking and roasting an ear of corn in order to eat, we can put our negative emotions through a process to convert them into more useful sources of energy and better reasons to take action.
This can be a mental energy to focus on a problem and think about it effectively in order to institute a solution.
This requires converting the stressful, negative emotion present into something that achieves a focused contemplation. Akin to peeling an orange, we get rid of what we don’t need, and what is left over is a sort of raw energy that we can use.
If we strip away the identity of an emotion, it’s negativeness –if you will, then what’s left over is simply a healthy amount of energy and a problem that needs solving. It becomes, in essence, two problems which can solve each other. The large amount of energy we need to expend can be spent actually solving the problem.
The problem is the reason we experience the hot emotion in the first place. But by shucking the emotion, removing the unuseful husk, we use that emotion like a fungible battery to power a calm laser-like focus to understand the constituent parts of the problem and enable us to see a real solution, as opposed to acting out on the negative emotion as fast as possible.
January 11th, 2019
We all drop the ball. No one is immune from making a mistake, whether they affect ourselves solely or those around us in a team or family. And often, emotions are quick to rise on any and all sides that might suffer as a result of such mistakes.
As a quick aside we might ask what function do emotions serve? While our lives, decisions and identity to a large degree seem to be woven of emotions, this question does not seem to be a particularly common ponderance, perhaps because they seem to make up everything about our experience. It’s akin to a fish wondering about water.
Whether positive or negative, whether effective or counter-productive, at their base, emotions simply impel us to do things, to take action and attempt to make things different. This is particularly salient after someone has made a mistake we find frustrating. Hot-tempered aggravation ignites and we immediately have the cause, direction and immense energy required to do something.
At this point, our wisest decision is to pause and simply regain calm. Anger is often referred to as a knife held by the blade. The tighter we hold on the more it simply injures us. Perhaps not as immediately as a knife, perhaps the wound is a long term circumstance, but it’s clear that anger rarely hands us the most effective option for solving problems.
If we merely pause before acting on such an emotion we can then convert the emotion to something more useful and turn this built-in adversary into a powerful asset. But this may not even be necessary.
When someone drops the ball, we need only ask one question that can potentially nullify the whole situation: Is this a one-off occurrence, or is this part of a pattern?
Even when we are the one who has dropped the ball, this question can perform a lot of good. If the mistake and occasion is a one-off occurrence, then there’s likely little to worry about. Most likely there was some extenuating circumstance that has had an influence or perhaps we’ve suffered a bout of mindlessness. All our vulnerable to such things. So when someone else drops the ball and it’s unusual, it’s not simply the benefit of the doubt to assume that something rare and unintended caused the mishap, it’s a matter of historical precedent and probability that this is the case. We can ask further questions to find out exactly what, but even that is not necessary because a single occurrence does not imply a problem – all it does it reaffirm the large complexity and noise of the world we live in.
If on the other hand the dropped ball is not an isolated instance, then there is perhaps a problem. If it is part of a pattern, then there is good cause to assume a problem actually exists. But the good thing about a pattern is that we can manipulate them. Since they are predictable, we can plan against them. And in so doing, solve the problem. We cannot however plan specifically for one-off events. Measures might be taken to lessen their effect, but every once in a while someone is going to have a sleepless night causing an exhaustion they cannot leave at the door, or all manner of problems that can perhaps not even be mitigated by some sort of super-human fortitude. In which case we should look at it as a minor blip in the wide scheme of things.
Everyone drops the ball, but to see it as larger than a blip is to lose focus and misapply a solution.
This is called iatrogenic. When the diagnosis or treatment actually causes the problem that was assumed to be present when in fact everything was fine.
The most important thing to wait for and notice when the ball is dropped is whether or not it rolls off afterwards, or if it’s caught after the bounce and the game can go on.
January 10th, 2019
For a moment picture a figure skater spinning. At first the posture of the figure skater is large and open as in a Biellmann spin or the Camel Spin which has as much weight distributed outwards from the center of the spin.
But we all know what the figure skater does next. With a stable rotation established, the skater begins to bring their weight towards the center. This concentrates the spin and speeds it up. Eventually the skater will compress into a near fetal position with all of their body weight compressed into as small a space as possible centered on the axis of their spin. This creates an impressive display of rotational speed.
This process of going from a large slow posture down into a small tight spin is a demonstration of a whirlpool, an image often mentioned on Tinkered Thinking to help represent positive and negative compounding cycles, often good habits and bad habits.
What we can learn from the image of the skater is how important the slower start of the spin is for the rest of the process. This slower spin with a larger posture is used to stabilize the spin, to ensure that as it’s concentrated, the refocused power won’t work against the skater and abruptly throw them off balance and fall.
This slower larger spin can work as an analogy for the amount of concentration we need to devote when establishing a new good habit. In the beginning it’s very useful to gamify the process by using a counter to keep track of days and to put much conscious effort into the necessary steps and actions to make sure our target behavior occurs. But over time, as this behavior reshapes some of the structure and firing pattern of our brain, the daily initiation of this behavior becomes automatic. In this case the stability of the spin has been well established, and at this point the accrued benefits of the daily habit begin to compound to a noticeable degree. This is a good habit - like our spinning skater brining in their weight – well focused.
These good habits are like spinning drill bits that allow us to drill into the future with purpose. Though bad habits function just the same. More than anything aside from unpredictably impactful events, our future is largely the result of our most concentrated habits, whether they be good or bad. This should give us reason to pause. And think about what things in our life are already spinning, and what behaviors we’d wish to have as the shapers of our future.
January 9th, 2019
Somehow ‘being on the right track’ and ‘blazing trails’ have come to mean much the same thing in the cultural parlance of moving forward and making progress. And yet these images could not be more incompatibly paired as synonyms.
They’ve perhaps been lumped together because any kind of forward progress is now coveted in a culture of productivity, leveling-up and the perennial task of eschewing the atrophy of being mediocre.
We can see this innate desire for novelty in the way social media platforms are built. Each social feed is designed with a primary concentration on tempting us with scrolling more, discovering the new. Novelty in this case appears to be a stickier factor than quality. But any kind of thoughtful pause will allow anyone to generally come to the conclusion that quality before novelty is probably a better order of priorities.
This obsession with the new perhaps undermines our ability to properly filter for quality. Instead of spending time with something to properly analyze it, we simply move forward. Each social media feed is like a track, which someone else has built, and in doing so, that person has much more control about where we go and what we see. This is where the two phrases ‘being on the right track’ and ‘blazing trails’ immediately diverge. While both are indicative of forward motion, suddenly the concepts of direction and agency emerge as attributes that make these phrases far from similar.
Being on the right track inherently carries with it an implication that we are using someone else’s structure to get somewhere, and since someone has already built this structure, anywhere we might go is a predetermined place, somewhere someone has already been because the person who built such a track had to get there first to actually lay the track. We might look at secondary education and much of the traditional career model as a system that conforms to this image of the track. In such a paradigm, it’s only a matter of picking the right track. The universities have already been built, the curriculum and diplomas already designed, the bureaucratic ladders of promotion already established. It’s just a matter of picking the right track and jumping through all the necessary hoops. Doing so might feel like blazing a trail personally in an emotional sense because each experience in this process is new to the individual, but this has an uncanny similarity to the social feeds we look. Every social feed is showing you something new. The important caveat is that while it appears new to the individual, it is not new to the larger system nor the population that takes part in such a system. We are seeing and experiencing what others have. Everyone who rides the same train is going to have a different experience that feels new to each person, but they are still experiencing much the same environment which can be predicted and anticipated or even designed by someone who is familiar with the overall structure of the track.
Blazing a trail on the other hand involves interacting with something that is truly new. Such an image might evoke a rugged character making a way through dense jungle, hacking at the foliage in order to get through. Here there is no set path, no track to zip us forward on our way. This is where no one has ever gone before. Blazing a trail is an image that is reserved exclusively for a frontier. It is where we come face to face with the unknown and the experience of uncertainty. And in this eerie pair of synonyms lie potential treasures that cannot be found on any track; for a very simple and straightforward reason. Anyone who has laid a track had to blaze a trail and clear the path in order to lay the track so any treasures that were found on the way into such unmapped territory were picked up by that explorer who had the luck to come across those treasures first. We might think of the creators of social media platforms, whether it be facebook, Instagram, twitter or even myspace. All of the creators of these systems and structures have become very wealthy as a result of their efforts. Not necessarily because they blazed the trail, but because they also laid tracks for others to easily follow in their wake and effortlessly see the new landscape that they traversed first. In the case of social media platforms, that track is a digital one and the landscape is other people and their thoughts, pictures, writings, songs, drawings and all other current manner of expression that can be hosted on this digital track.
One way to blaze a trail with these structures is to try and find a kind of human expression that has no representation on these large platforms. Finding a way to digitally integrate a form of human expression that currently has no representation is a way of blazing a trail away from these platforms, while simultaneously laying a branching track that people can follow.
But blazing a trail need not even be connected to any current popular system. While blazing a trail emotionally might be fulfilled by current systems, in order to truly blaze a trail where no one has ever ventured before, the two great navigational tools are curiosity and fear. Most of us battle a fairly ambient level of fear that coaxes us into more traditional forms of behavior and down more traditional tracks. Often we fear taking a chance and this is the emotional bottle neck that keeps the superpower of curiosity out of reach for use. For those who find their directions and even identity dominated by the status quo, their curiosity is tiled over with fear. Facing fear, if closely examined is really a matter of facing the unknown. Curiosity is the most efficient tool for navigating the unknown. It is the compliment to the cultural prescription to face one’s fear. While facing one’s fears is akin to progressing forward while leaning back and bracing for some kind of negativity, curiosity is progressing forward and leaning into the process with eagerness and a kind of hunger that can become unstoppable.
While it may seem like a wholly bad idea to follow someone else’s track based on this analysis, there is one singular benefit that should not be ignored. Tracks laid by another person can quite literally fast track you to a place where you can then curiously embark off into the unknown on your own. A place that would be impossible to get to on your own. This is the great gift of culture. And the simplest example is the language through which you understand these words. They were not created by you nor I, but we use them to fast track our ability to communicate and share ideas. In so doing we can compound the achievements of our forebears and build upon their tracks in order to use our limited time to explore the current frontiers and figure out a place where we can strike out on our own and find something new, some gift that we can turn around and show our fellow people, some unknown that might benefit our grand family.
This episode references Episode 63: The Etymology of Fear.
January 8th, 2019
Hopefully, we’ve all felt this. It’s when you find yourself in a position that feels uncomfortable because it broadcasts an identity and ability that is beyond what we think ourselves capable. Like a fish out of water, there is an uneasiness, perhaps even downright anxiety about this state of affairs.
Growth and progress require a change, and we might benefit from wondering whether all parts of our psychology get onboard with changes at the same time. There does appear to be two conflicting urges that plague all people. On the one hand we want things to stay the same and on the other we crave novelty, stimulation and growth. The first of these is denial rooted in a kind of fear. To want things to stay the same is a fantasy given a long enough timeline, but a craving for novelty, stimulation and growth is an engine to strategically deal with the fact that nothing stays the same.
Regardless of how these two urges might be mapped in the brain, it’s possible to highlight the guilty party as that urge that wants things to stay the same. Perhaps part of this mechanism is to simply assume things are still the same. This is also a bad mental tendency that people have, another area where denial comes in. So often when things are slowly getting worse, we deny any change and simply believe that things are still as they’ve always been. Until perhaps a heart attack devastates our reality and we have a big wake up call to the changes we’ve been ignoring. This instance is a sort of impostor syndrome in reverse. Generally, someone with an impending heart attack probably thinks they are healthier than they really are. Changes have been taking place, but they still identify with a younger, healthier self that never even thought about heart attacks. And then boom, wake up call.
Impostor syndrome, as it’s usually used, implies something good. Our efforts are paying off, other people see the fruits of our labor and see us more for what we are than we ourselves do. It’s almost as though when it comes to problems and work we have to do, we have our focus correctly faced forward, but when we think of ourselves, we look backwards and spend that whole time looking in the rear-view mirror. And yet, such a perspective couldn’t be more incorrect. Each day we are a slightly different person. This is true on a physical biological level as our cells constantly multiply and die, but it’s also true on a mental level if only for the fact that after yesterday, we have one more day of memories and information to incorporate into how we see and understand the world.
Impostor syndrome at it’s most basic is a fairly harmless phenomenon that shows why it’s a poor idea to cling to any identity too much. The Identity Danger can keep us locked into patterns of behavior that make us vulnerable to the changing nature of reality. It’s an instance that reminds us that identity is fluid. Identity evolves as a function of our understanding of reality.
As we gather more information, and unlock further information by taking action, our understanding of reality changes, and thus, our identity changes.
To cling too tightly to any identity is to shut out new information and underestimate the complexity of the world.
Luckily impostor syndrome is fairly harmless, and with the right understanding, we can see that it’s a good sign. It’s proof the we are changing, because our effect on the world has changed. If anything we should seek out situations the evoke impostor syndrome. At the very least, the discomfort of such an uncertain situation will make us more likely to grow.