We’re all the same and love is blind. ~ The Killers (Change Your Mind)
Five years ago, a few of us from my college were talking with a homeless man for a while, just listening to his story. He explained how a divorce with his wife eventually led to him being homeless. Another man we talked with flat out told us that he chose to be homeless and liked it more! He mentioned the freedom of having no bills or responsiblities. An intriguing perspective to say the least.
While in high school, my sister said that a guy told her he thought I was stuck up. I was floored and upset because of how opposite I was from that – I was painfully SHY. Shyness is often confused for egotism.
I know each of you have examples in your own life of your first impressions being completely wrong of others. It is still difficult not to put labels on people when they choose to label themselves. For example, those who dress goth, emo, thug, homeless, business, and ballet dancer are associating themselves with everyone else who dresses that way.
Labeling Others: Why Do We Do It?
Do you see how different the stories were of those homeless men? Why then, would we affix a single label to them that defines them in our minds?
Humans prefer to know things. We use science to try to understand everything about the world we live in. We want to know how that hummingbird is hovering so steadily and why puffer fish are so poisonous. Those examples have traceable causes. Hummingbirds flap their wings up to 90 times per second. Puffer fish are believed to get their poison from their diet, as scientists at Nagasaki University have bred poison-free puffer fish by controlling the fishes’ diet.
Did you know that hummingbirds (and other birds and insects) get lift from both the down stroke and the up stroke of their wings?
Our desire to understand our world is what causes this unfortunate problem. When we see a stranger, instead of logically accepting them as a complete question mark, we’ll make a quick judgment by observing their attire, gait, demeanor, and activity. Like the science examples, humans have some traceable causes for who they are. But there are so many variables in our lives that affect each other in complex ways that it is impossible to fully understand why any one person is the way that they are.
Scale It Back
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being observant. For example, I’ve found that observing yourself is the best way to destroy bad habits. Having an active mind and observing your surroundings is a great way to learn.
Like many things in life, we need to seek out the middle ground here. Humans like extremes, but they are rarely the best option. Do not label anyone so thoroughly that you don’t leave room for a change of opinion. At the same time, I must advise against walking up to a gang and asking them if they’d like to go ballroom dancing with you.
Everyone Has A Story
We are a fantastic species. We are all unique with our own hopes, dreams, fears, and insecurities. More importantly, we all have a story. If you want your life to be a whole lot more fascinating, start asking strangers what their story is. Even the most hardened hearts will often soften when someone takes an interest in their story instead of their criminal record or why they wear socks with sandals.
We are drawn to stories. Movies, books, video games, plays…they are based on story. If you’re a Christian like I am, you believe humans are a key part of an amazing story of creation and redemption. If you’re a naturalist, you believe we’re the most capable species in part of the incredible story of life ex nihilo.
Any way you slice it, humans are part of a larger and smaller (personal) story. At this basic level, we’re all in the same boat. I think Bob Marley was on to something.
I might write about my story on here (or as a book) someday, but right now I would love to hear your thoughts on this post. And if you’re willing, I would love to hear your story right now (as brief or lengthy as you wish to share). Feel free to leave it as a comment or use the contact form to email it to me if you’d rather not share it with everyone else.
This song had me in tears just now. It is by one of my favorite bands – Keane. To me, it speaks of a person wanting nothing more than to be understood. Deep down, that’s all of us.
This is an atypical post for Deep Existence, but I can’t pass up sharing a funny story that makes me look bad. 😀
Kill Devil Hills @ The Outer Banks, NC – May 2nd, 2011
We had to try to save the cute little puffer fish. He was helpless on the beach and we wanted to send him home. I bravely volunteered to toss him back from whence he came.
As I balanced the puffed-up specimen on a large seashell in my left hand, I realized that two women were watching me. It doesn’t matter if the two women are your sister and grandma – when women are watching a man throw something, he must throw it well. As such, I knew that a left-handed throw would not suffice. Heck, that could be embarrassing. So I suavely shifted the open-faced puffer fish sandwich into my right hand.
Not only was I going to be a hero for saving the poor puffer fish, but I would throw it really far like Joe Montana. I heaved it as hard as I possibly could into the sea.
Ego damage – It was a not anything like a Joe Montana pass. The puffer fish slid off of the shell prematurely and it ended up looking like a shanked NFL punt.
Physical damage – Due to the loss of the puffer fish’s weight right before swinging my arm wildly, I pulled a muscle in my back (it still hurts).
Morale damage – The cherry on top was seeing the puffer fish helplessly float right back onto the shore.
Oh yeah, and I think I could have died. I was touching it and holding it. Little did I know that there is enough toxin in a puffer fish to kill 30 human beings. The toxin is mostly internal, but it does reside on their skin and spines (he was puffed). To give you an idea of the toxicity – it is 1200 times more poisonous than cyanide.
Katie: “Aren’t they poisonous or something?”
Stephen: “Yeah, I think I’ve heard something about that, but I’m not sure.”
*Stephen picks up puffer fish*
Here I am holding puff daddy as if he isn't dangerous.
Two minutes later…
Stephen: “I wonder what the protocol is for washing hands after handling a puffer fish.”
*Stephen eats sandwich*
I was casually eating a sandwich right after handling a creature covered in lethal poison?! Mmm…yeah. I’m just an extreme person who takes risks. It’s neat that I didn’t die. My back is killing me, but only figuratively speaking.
Interesting fact: Puffer fish are a delicacy in Japan. Highly trained chefs must cut the meat in such a way that the customers are not destroyed internally from eating it. There are still about 100 deaths per year from this.
The cost of a single serving of puffer fish? Hundreds of dollars and your life (tax).
…but you can throw or lick them for free.
"A man was killed today after he licked a puffer fish."
At the end of one year, about ten percent of people are still on board with their New Year’s Resolution, according to Dr. Jim Taylor.
My New Year’s Resolution: To provide an alternative to trying to change once a year using a heavily flawed, proven-to-fail method.
The reason I’m not writing about this closer to New Year’s day is that many of you have already failed your New Year’s Resolution(s). This hopefully means you’re receptive for a new idea. In addition, I can write about New Year’s whenever I want to. 😀
So maybe you’re already on board with believing New Year’s Resolutions to be pointless. Great, but do you understand why they don’t work?
When you abuse something, it loses appeal. It is degraded. It is weakened. New Year’s Resolutions abuse motivation. Motivation is temporary in nature while New Year’s Resolutions are long-term goals. You’ll see why this is a problem later.
Motivation has a profoundly negative effect on our lives when we abuse it. Unlike other failures, a motivation-based failure to achieve a goal does more harm than good because it is not something we naturally learn from. It is evidence in our minds that we don’t have what it takes to be who we want to be. Of course this is not true, but it is difficult to believe in yourself after repeated internal failure.
A newly motivated mind considers previous instances of motivation and what results came of it. Imagine a person with a success rate of 95% when they are motivated to do something. At 95%, motivation is strong because the perceived likelihood of success is very high. Now replace that with a 20% success rate – motivation suffers.
Motivation Is A Cannibal
It feeds upon itself and works best when it works.
I bet that was confusing to read. Allow me to explain that mess.
Motivation is best created under probable conditions of success. In other words, don’t be motivated to lose 100 pounds, be motivated to lose 2 pounds. If you think this is a small difference, then I BEG you to reconsider for your own good. Here is how each one usually turns out.
The Grand New Year’s Resolution: Decide to lose 100 pounds this year
You weigh 300 starting out and the goal is 200. This would be an incredible accomplishment! You start out ready to do it. You are so motivated that you lose 10 pounds in the first month. You kick it up a notch and lose 15 more the next month. You are well on your way!
Into the 3rd month you’ve lost 35 pounds, but you sprain your ankle and have to rest. You gain some weight back. You lose focus on the goal for a while and try to get back into it, but at 8 months you’ve only lost 40 pounds and you know you won’t reach the goal.
You finish the year at 270 pounds. You’re mentally worn out from trying to get to 100 and let yourself gain a lot of the weight back. Now you’re certain you’ll never be able to lose weight.
Tuesday Afternoon At McDonalds: Decide to lose 2 pounds whenever
You weigh 300 starting out and the goal is 298. You lose 2 pounds the first week and are naturally encouraged to lose 3 more pounds. Next week, done! Now you’re feeling really good, having accomplished two motivation-based goals, and want to see if you can lose 5 more pounds to get to 290. This trend continues into the third month when you sprain your ankle. You have to rest for a while and even gain back some of the weight from before.
You recognize the setback and adjust the goal to lose 5 pounds from your current weight and accomplish it in 3 weeks. This process continues and you end up accomplishing 23 small weight-loss goals during the year. When you’re reflecting on the past year, you realize that you have lost 40 pounds and weigh 260! You know that if you just keep this up, you’ll be right where you want to be in no time. So you set your next goal – 255….
The reason that the small goal-setter continued on is that he did not have to keep re-motivating himself for the same goal. This is tiring and extremely difficult to do, especially for lofty goals. Instead, he motivated himself for goals he knew he could accomplish. Each of the 23 goal intervals on the way to 260 was met with a great feeling of success. His motivation for the next goal fed off of his results for the previous goals (cannibal!). He knew to expect success when he set a goal, and it excited him.
So be careful with motivation. It is extremely powerful when used effectively and a major drain when it is not. It is still good to set challenging goals, because the sense of accomplishment is greater. Push yourself, but don’t overdo it. If you push yourself too hard and fail once, you have the support of succeeding with 25 others. If you make one huge goal a year and fail, it pounds your confidence into the ground.
Have you been using motivation correctly? Let me know in the comments what you think. I’ll leave you with this quote, which sums up 100 pounds (results) vs. 2 pounds (small change) very well.
“If you focus on results, you will never change. If you focus on change, you will get results.” ~Jack Dixon
It seemed like a great fit for both sides. But deep into the second interview, she asked me the question, “how well do you do with multi-tasking?” I believe it was my response and her ignorance on the matter that lost me the job offer. I’ll get back to this. For now, let’s look at this expert multi-tasker.
Multi-tasking is an ever-growing part of our culture. Listening to music, watching TV, surfing the internet, working, eating, driving, playing games…*inhale*…chatting online, cooking, emailing, talking on the phone, reading, writing a paper, texting, writing a blog post, etc. These are being combined in various and increasingly crazy combinations, as clearly seen in the video above.
Babies in the 21st century are born with cell phones. (unverified)
Multi-tasking Is Not That Bad…
…If you’re doing a maximum of two things at once.
A recent French study found that when humans were given two tasks simultaneously, one task was handled by the right frontal lobe and the other by the left! Amazing, right? But once that number was increased to three tasks, one of the initial tasks “disappeared from the brain.” Even worse, with three tasks, the participants slowed down and made many more mistakes. Tackling three tasks at once is like running Windows Vista with 256 MB of RAM, except that we can’t add more frontal lobes.
Personally, I avoid multi-tasking whenever possible because deep focusing is superior. In the same study, when there was only one task to accomplish, both sides of the brain worked together to accomplish the task.
I keep thinking about our frontal lobes as dual-core processors, but I’ve made too many computer-related analogies in the last two posts.
Multi-tasking does not come naturally…
Your fast lateral eye movement and peripheral vision give the impression that you can see many things at once, but your point of focus is always singular.
In conversation, we take turns talking rather than speaking and listening at the same time.
Nearly all sports use one ball.
What about those who juggle while riding a unicycle? There it is! Multi-tasking lives! Not so fast. The reason we’re amazed by this feat is because it is insanely difficult to do and takes serious time and practice to perfect. I guarantee you that the performers who can do both at once can do each one much better individually.
I believe he is juggling knives on a unicycle. The face is justified.
Fun Fact: Jugglers use peripheral vision to juggle. They stare at a point in mid-air in front of them, focusing their vision on nothing and their mind on the peripheral environment (i.e. the objects they’re juggling).
We may feel productive multi-tasking, but anything more than two tasks is proven to be fertile soil for making mistakes and slowing down productivity. Unlike the juggling unicycler, we cannot predict and train for the multi-tasking feats we attempt to conquer on a daily basis.
Multi-tasking is the enemy of Deep Existence. It breeds shallow behavior by its very nature. It is impossible to go deep into anything if you’re being interrupted by and engaging in other activities simultaneously.
Focus For Greater Impact
Imagine you’re holding a huge, dirty, and jagged rock. You heave the rock with all your might into a lake in front of you with as high an arc as you can muster. *kerrrrrrrplunk* The rock impacts the water with deep sound and great force, triggering an explosion that forces the moist molecules into the air. A massive current is pushed out from the spot of impact.
Now imagine you’re holding a smooth, oval stone. You step forward and let it fly.
Only five? Wow, that’s not very good. The world record is 51 skips.
The stone skips along the water effortlessly. At every location it touches, it gracefully lifts off and glides to the next destination. Several tiny ripples can be seen gently flowing out from the touchdown locations as it makes its last skip and gently sinks down into the water.
That is the difference between deep focusing and shallow multi-tasking. The heavy rock went underwater immediately with great impact, whereas the small stone skipped several times before it went under with little impact. This 15 hour post might be less recognized than a trendy 5 minute news update on Justin Bieber’s new hair products, but it offers much greater value because of the time and focus I’ve put into it.
Focusing is not in style right now. Do you ever hear your friends boast of their ability to focus on one thing? No, but people light up when someone recalls how they were shaving or putting on make-up while eating breakfast and studying for an exam on the drive to school. Now we know that they’re just being inefficient (or dangerous in the case of driving).
About the interview… When she asked about my multi-tasking skills, I told her that I was adept at focusing and refocusing. I wish I could have taken a picture of the interviewers’ reactions (I received two surprised, blank stares). I told them I was skilled at exactly the opposite thing they were looking for. Did it mean I couldn’t stop working to answer a phone call? Absolutely not! My futile attempts to explain fell on dogmatic multi-tasking-loving ears.
The Two Types of Productive Days
Multi-tasking, the sneaky miscreant, often steals the credit for productive days. Think of your most productive days right now. They likely fit one or both of these scenarios.
You accomplish much on a single project – Your passion for the project fuels your efforts. Deep focus on getting it finished allows you to work effectively.
You accomplish many things – Taking out the trash, writing that report, getting groceries, calling the dentist to set up an appointment, having a great workout, doing laundry, and completely organizing your closet. What a productive day! This is NOT multi-tasking. This kind of a day requires focus. When you are focused, you get one task done and move to the next. Time management experts know how to focus.
The Two Types Of Multi-tasking
Distraction – you’re working on a project and you receive a phone call. While on the phone and still working on that project, the mailman stops by to have you sign for a package. Just like the study suggests, once the third task enters the picture, you’ll have to physically and mentally put aside one or both of the other two tasks.
Purposeful – you listen to music while cleaning. You read a book and take notes. You brainstorm ideas for a business while you mow the lawn. You remain focused because you’ve planned your multi-tasking session in a smart way that does not inhibit your productivity.
Purposeful double-tasking (two tasks at once) is fine and even beneficial. Distraction-based multi-tasking is more common and the one that kills your productivity. Unfortunately, the distraction often comes from within. For example,
“I just remembered I need to call my Attorney but the office is closed. Oh yeah, and I have to pick up cheese sometime soon. I really need to get in better shape.”
You might have these internal distractions pop up as you’re working on a presentation. They pull your focus away from the presentation and yet you’re probably not in a position where you can do anything about them. You’re going to have to reprocess them again later. This mental disorganization WILL happen unless the work is outsourced to something outside of the mind that you trust.
This work must be outsourced because our brains are literally incapable of storing as many things as we want them to store. Let me prove that with sheer numbers…
I currently have 127 things that I need to keep in mind. Twenty of those are huge multiple-step projects that I’m currently undertaking or will soon. In addition to those, I have 59 article ideas for Deep Existence. I know this because I have emptied my mind into a system that I can trust. Now I can use my mind for things like enjoying life, thinking of creative ideas, and not worrying about forgetting anything.
You can see I have 127 to-dos (58 are actionable right now)
No mind on earth can effectively manage the average person’s mental workload. This fact leads to inefficient use of our time, frustration from missing out on our dreams, and a constant (legitimate) feeling of being behind or forgetting something. Our mind is not a great task management system when the number of tasks surpasses its capacity.
The Solution I Use
I was fortunate to stumble across this solution while in college a few years ago. It is in the form of a book I’ve read (twice) that has changed my life. The book is “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. The picture above is my implementation of the system.
You cannot possibly remember the 200 things you want to, so stop trying. Outsource that stressful grunt-work to an intuitive system and free your mind for greater things. And remember to cut your multi-tasking to two tasks at most.
“Git ‘er dun” takes the sunshine out of my day every time I hear it.
But these clichés aren’t so bad.
“There is no time like the present”
“Carpe diem” (seize the day).
In Microsoft Windows, updates are often installed while the computer is resetting. I expect a world-action lawsuit against Microsoft because they stole this concept from the human mind. Sleep is our reset button.
You know how to spend 8,000 dollars, but do you know how to spend 28,726 days? Days are the non-negotiable currency of life. You can only spend one at a time unless you’re really good.
While we’re sleeping, our brain manages data collected from the previous day. Memories are transferred from temporary storage to the “hard drive” of the brain. This is why it is recommended to study the night before a test. Sleep is a rudimentary element of memory retention.
Rudimentary (adj) – consisting in first principles : fundamental. (word of the post)
I came across a fascinating German study published in February 2011. The results showed that the brain stores recent memories better in sleep than in wakefulness. It found that the sleeping human’s brain prioritizes and consolidates the information from the previous day (just like important vs optional updates for Windows :-P). You can see the details of the study here.
Sleep is what makes the day the most important block of time. Just like in Windows – we are able to choose what updates our brain will be installing every night. These updates will be related to:
What we did
What we learned
What we need to know for the next day
When you think of life in this way, it makes things simple. If you want to be a brilliant scientist, you’ll need to surround yourself with science and over time you’ll have a textbook of information in your brain. The challenge is in living consciously at all times, because it is easy not to. A conscious person actively chooses to spend their daily time in activities that align with their long term intentions.
This concept does not merely apply to our mental facilities, but also to our physical bodies. When I bench press three hundred an undisclosed, yet impressive amount of weight for my size, the muscle fibers in my chest and arms develop tiny tears (not as in crying – that happens when I tell you how much I bench). The tears in the fiber are repaired and strengthened overnight.
28,726 days is 78.7 years – the current life expectancy in the USA.
This is what my ideal self looks like, so I have a lot to do today.
Mind and body both work together to form who we are (in the physical realm). They both require sleep to solidify the progress we’ve made every day, and days are all we have. Weeks, months, years, and decades are clusters of days. You can accomplish a great deal in a day, but once you sleep, you’ve reset and it’s time to live another one. Our lives are divided into 16 hour chunks, give or take a couple hours.
Look at your ideal future self. This person represents everything you love and want to be. Now ask him/her a question – “What are you doing with your time today?” Listen carefully to the answer, find a way to do those things daily, and you’ll be that person…