Self Improvement · Original Thought · Teamwork · Uncertainty

Simon Says

simon

Simon Says’ was a game I played as a child. A group of us stood and one of us was Simon. He proceeded to give commands ” Simon says stand on one foot”, Simon says hold up your right arm.”, “turn around”. If we didn’t do what Simon says or did do what was commanded without Simon says, we were eliminated. The last one standing became the new Simon. Supposedly, I learned to listen rather than react and to obey when the right person gave the order, In reality, I didn’t learn either very well. Obedience and its synonyms submission, subservience, deference stick in my craw when the orders come from some authority, real or referent, that is looking to kick me off the island if I don’t comply completely. Mindless blind compliance ensures that we live a life of mediocrity and never reach the potential we were designed for. When I refer to design, I am referring to the millennia-long evolution that has brought us to this time and place. The destination wasn’t ordained, the process wasn’t prescribed. Evolution doesn’t have an endgame beyond the immediate issue and the solution path it has chosen. Evolution is adaptive. When a change occurs, it is measured and if it improves survival, it is fostered and if it detracts, it is rejected and a new adaptation is tried. But all decisions have an impact and the consequences aren’t easily forecasted so the journey and the destination are still an adventure.
“You could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby … changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole.”
— Fichte, The Vocation of Man (1800)
I am not sure how apt Fichte’s quote is but it provides for me a sense of the power of the unwinding march.

Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the U.S. media.

Noam Chomsky

Back to obeying the leader for fear of being called out. In a game, this might be trivial but following orders without understanding them, considering the ramifications, or speaking out against them when they violate your sensibilities and values is demoralizing and destructive. When a boss ‘suggests’ that quotas could be met if corners were shaved and you trim the edges regardless of the consequences, you impact more than sales. If a religious head advises that a certain behavior is a sin and associating with anyone who commits the act is also a sin and you begin to distance yourself from a friend or family member, you may think you are saving your tomorrows but at what cost for today?

Obedience without question or consideration is subservience, not loyalty or patriotism or fielty. Obedience without question removes the need for courage, conscience or consciousness. Those three c’s are important enough that they have survived millions of evolutionary adaptations and surrendering them to a president, priest, or popularity contest winner is a tragedy. I am not suggesting mindless cold-hearted disobedience. I am recommending deep reflection and careful consideration before acting on the commands of someone you know, trust and/or respect. If you have doubts or reservations about the character and motive of the commander, then be doubly cautious in joining their parade and marching to their drum beat.
In the end, I hope I am remembered for something other than “he was good at following orders.”

Make Today Remarkable by asking ridiculously impossible questions.
B

 

 

 

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Wicked

There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

goodandevil

What makes us wicked? Apparently, according to Robert M Sapolsky from his book “Behave” the little girl with a girl is just like the rest of us. ” Sapolsky has been reflecting on the origins of human behavior, starting deep in the brain moments before we act and working his way millions of years back to the evolutionary pressures on our prehistoric ancestors’ decisions, with stops along the way to consider how hormones, brain development and social structures shape our behavior. He also has been thinking about free will and comes to the conclusion, based on the biological and psychological evidence, that we do not have it.”~ Stanford News, Nathan Collins.

We have limited control over how the regions of our brain become habituated. Evolutionary changes fixed certain paths millennia ago and hormonal response to pleasurable and painful stimuli point and prod us to act in certain ways depending on context,

He relates a story about a young man entering a room through a closed door and is surprised to discover his grandmother sitting on a chair. He crosses the floor to her and gives her a long warm hug. In a second version a young man entering a room through a closed door and is surprised to discover an alien with slime and sharp teeth. As the creature moves toward him, he picks up a weapon and kills it. In both stories, the young man’s brain receives the same dopamine hit because in both cases the action is what was right to do.

What is right to do and the motivation to do it is the meta narrative that covers all the chapters in Sapolsky’s easy to read and sometimes funny. Richard Wrangham from the New York Times describes “Behave” ; “We begin in the first second before a behavior is produced, our guide taking us confidently into the amygdala, the dopaminergic system and the frontal cortex. We continue the tour with events that occur minutes, hours, days, months and years ago, finally stretching back thousands of generations to the level where Darwinian processes explain why the systems that produce behavior evolved in their particular, haphazard way. By the time the book returns from these expanding horizons it has given readers the opportunity to feel astonishingly comfortable with a rich slew of fascinating neurobiology basics.”

So if Sapolsky has an inkling of ‘truth’ in his thesis, am I not responsible for my actions ‘cold hearted kindness’, ‘warm blooded rage’ or any other combination? Like one of the writer’s in Christian scripture says when asked “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not!” Of course not. We must be held to account for our actions regardless of the supposed causes of the actions. He asserts that even when there has been a brain injury that impairs some function, we can’t accept or condone behaviour that violates our current norms.

“To illustrate, he cited the case of a Catholic nun who ministers to prisoners on death row in Louisiana. These men, he said, are “some of the most frightening, nightmarish humans who have ever walked this Earth.”

When asked how she can spend her time with such men, Sapolsky said the nun answers, “The less forgivable the act, the more it must be forgiven. The less lovable the person is, the more you must find the means to love them.”

“As a strident atheist,” he said, “this strikes me as the most irrational, magnificent thing we are capable of as a species. We are not just a ‘unique-ier’ species, we are the ‘unique-ier-est,’ simply because of this. …

“And this one does not come easily … this contradiction, to take the impossibility of something to be the very proof that it must be possible and must become a moral imperative. The harder it is to do that, the more important it is.””

As I journey from a recovering post modern fundamentalist to a burgeoning social humanist, I have needed to re evaluate where my morality resides and where it came from. At one time I believed that it was endowed by a Creator who dictated both the rules and the sanctions for violation. I now think that my morality is far more dynamic and contextual. What I hold to be good, fair and just is more a function of how the regions of my brain react to the circumstances. Similarly, my neuron activity that arises in moments of fear, disgust, or distrust are triggers for action that would be indefensible under different conclusions.

My life is a draft and as I work through it, by writing about it and living it there are edits and amendments that are required. I appreciated that you are following along.

Make Today Remarkable, whatever that means for you today,

B

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Grab a Pen and Paper

If you are reading this today, it is too late. Let’s look towards tomorrow. Before you crawl into bed tonight, stop and write down your 3 goals for tomorrow. Put the list of three things somewhere where you will see it first thing in the morning. I always try to follow Mark Twain’s advice around goals; “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Once I get the biggest, least appealing goal out of the way – often within the first hour, I am on track to accomplish even more.

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Back to the night time list. If you write meaningless or vague goals that don’t inspire you, they will likely get left undone or you won’t be able to recognize when you have achieved them. Goals beget goals like steps turn into a movement. Start with something smaller, and meaningful that begins where you are. There is no point in creating an unrealistic goal of doing 100 push-ups if you haven’t ever done 1. But ” I will complete 10 push-ups before 9am and another 10 push-ups before noon” may be doable and specific enough to succeed. This type of goal can progress by adding reps (10 3xs a day) or more push-ups (11,12,20…) or becoming habitual 2×10 every day.

I prefer to set goals around my strengths. So reading 150 books in a year was feasible and I am well on my way to exceeding the target. I needed to break the big goal into smaller chunks. ” I will read 100 pages of “Superstitions” by Bruce M Hood before 9pm tomorrow” is specific enough for me but if my schedule and lifestyle was busier, I might need to ” read 100 pages of “Superstitions” by Bruce M Hood between noon and 1pm and on my 40 minute commute home, tomorrow”. Knowing how you succeed and what will work for you is the path to capitalizing on the opportunity.

I am a morning person and a, usually up about 5am so getting stuff done early in the day works for me. If you tend to be a night owl, that might be better. I can’t draw a circle, freehand, but I can write 1500 words a day so if I have a goal of shring a position, an idea or a message, I play to my strong points.

If I have a monthly monetary expectations like $5000 in sales commissions, or $3000 in new business, or $10,000 return on investment, I need to set daily goals that will keep me on track to do the work that leads to the money. ” I will make 5 follow-up calls to clients between 10am and 11:30am”, ” I will prospect 10 new leads by cold calling 60 names from the company list tomorrow afternoon. I will keep calling until I have reached the 60 calls.”

When you set a good goal and can’t ever achieve it, ask what isn’t working. Maybe you are playing against tendencies, against best practices, or against your best interests. Or the goal doesn’t really have meaning for you. Or you don’t have the resources or tools to complete the tasks. Evaluate and adapt the goal or drop it.

Start tonight by writing your goals for tomorrow and then wake up ready to get started.

B

Original Thought · Teamwork · Uncertainty

The Usual Suspect Might Not Be

I suspect that my suspicions are unwarranted. Or at least they are unsubstantiated. My ability and tendency to make decisions easily and quickly mean that I also come to judgement quickly and easily. If the ease and speed aren’t tempered with research, reflection and discernment, then my confirmation bias takes over and I begin to categorise ideas and people based on sketchy and incomplete information. Unfortunately, first impressions, valid or not, are lasting. If I conclude that someone has ulterior or selfish motives, it will take a long time and consistent effort to move me from that position and I will likely hear everything they say through a muddy translation.

Changing how I react to perceived circumstances is entrenched from years of using this heuristic. My rush to decide won’t be easy to change but I can be aware of by predisposition and be aware that it may not be accurate. Awareness of my tendency opens the possibility that I can deliberately short circuit the shortcut.

Have you ever made a choice, a decision, a judgement and in the light of time, information, and/or confirmation changed your mind? I have been enamoured with an idea that I later realized was clunky logic. I have been awed by a person and her rhetoric only to discover that there wasn’t anything substantial there. I have opted to dislike a friend of a friend because of how I interpreted something that they said only to discover that my translation of the event was significantly different than theirs and they became a respected colleague. I have rejected people and ideas because of their proximity to ideas and people that I disagreed with so I discredited the new ideas and people by association.

I have also felt the sting of guilt by association, the pain of rejection because of a misunderstanding and I know I have disappointed people because their initial view of me and my capabilities exceeded my willingness and skills.

Knowing that and having felt that I should be able to draw on the sum of my experience rather than a narrow bandwidth of it. If I can pause and draw on the wider view, my snap decisions should be better,

Make Today Remarkable, by doubting your initial observation,

B

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Sharing Economy · Teamwork · Uncertainty

Fear versus Hope

I am afraid that the fear mongers are winning and yes I see the irony. After writing for weeks about hope and her great liberating, creative, and generous power I find myself slipping over to the dark side more often than I like. Even though I understand that choosing hope has a positive and infectious impact on my life and those around me, I feel like I have been inundated by media, social media, and conversations with a message of distrust, hatred, and terror. So much of what I hear and read has a bias towards suspicion, division, and polarization. Is our world tumbling out of control? Will the schism we are creating bring dire and fatal consequences for our species?

I am taking off the grey coloured glasses of despair and seeing the world in the brighter glow of hope. What I take in through my eyes and ears will be curated towards the best of our city, province, country. I am not going to naively ignore news but I will intentionally seek generative, positive stories. Afterall, the best and the worst are nothing more than fictions that we tell ourselves and if collectively more of us lean into narratives about responsible government and personal responsibility, climate care, equity, joyful relationships, then more coverage of those will be offered and more will be generated.
My position isn’t Pollyanna pie in the sky. It is a deliberate and intentional choice. I can be positive and passionate and opinionated and respectful with being inane, insane, or weak. Hope can raise the water for my little boat and can carry a flotilla of like minded travellers. Therein lies the rub. I am looking for people who are willing and courageous enough to say no to fear and yes to hope.

We can build a new movement; one that is democratic without being political. One that is passionate without being partisan. One that is confident without the vitriol of certainty. Are you interested in joining others to create something hopeful, even if it just adds joy and inspiration to those on the boats? What if the Armada’s positivity infects a few dozen, a few hundred, a few thousand new sailors? Are you seeking hope? Do you know others around you who are ready to stake their position and take a stand? If we created an online presence like a Facebook page (or other suggestions)
would you join and contribute? Hope won’t win if we just lurk around her edges. We need to wrap our arms around her and then tell others our stories of hope.

Today I had three conversations with younger people from early 20’s to early 30’s who seem immune to the rubbish that is being spewed through conventional and new mediums. Their outlook on today, tomorrow and the future were refreshingly expectant. They weren’t so much concerned with the trappings of the world but more interested in what they are and will experience and the value that they can add to their friends, family and community.

They believe they are and can make a difference in the world and they are. It is that simple and that complicated but it began with a choice to view the world in a light shining brightly.

Make Today Hopeful,

Bonce-you-choose-hope-anything-is-possible

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Serenity

The Serenity Prayer is a troubling bit of naive advice.

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

Amen.

The more well known first five verses set up the contrast between action and inertia, between courage and wisdom, between divinity and humanity. For believers in a monotheistic world, it seems to be a means to shift blame and justify inaction. For unbelievers, it points to wisdom as the inspiration for decisions rather than any god or gods. The Glori Patre formulation brings familiarity.

The second stanza becomes very Buddhist for the first three lines. Accepting the world as it is rather than as I would have it be, is easy to say and certainly harder to do. In my morning meditation, I can be accepting of my surroundings; the light, sounds, and energy around me. I have learned to accept my aches, physical, emotional, and intellectual for the moments that I rest in awareness of my body but the experience is fleeting as I return to the room, the house, the world.

The metaphoric invocation is abrupt but temporary in line eight. Almost as an aside, an incantation that harkens the magic and power from beyond. The poet becomes frenetic jumping from self to Saviour as the reason to live and the means to solve the anxiety of decisions. If I relinquish the decision and the responsibility for it, I am absolved. Even if I don’t fully and truly accept the Christian myth, I am restored for making or not making a choice to act.

The prayer ends, as all good prayers should, with the incantation; repeated and bleated by so many. In the call for agreement, we reinforce the fiction that we have created together and which is necessary to make any sense of our world, our place and the concept of prayer.

As the prayer closes, it makes the big promise that regardless of whether I have wisdom or courage or knowledge and without consideration for how my self-imposed choice impacts others, I will live forever with the one who releases me of the responsibility.

To be clear, I have prayed this prayer on many occasions and my significant action bias always won out even when I didn’t have the necessary information to make the choice wisely. For the times when I know that my choice to act caused harm and for those times that I don’t recognize the hardship I contributed to, I accept responsibility. For the times that my limited view of the world suggests that my action was neutral or helpful, I accept responsibility too. No passing the buck, no shared fiction, just me being responsible or irresponsible in the moment.

This post was precipitated by having someone say to me ” God helps those who help themselves” in what I felt was a callous response to some homeless people we had an encounter with. He didn’t appreciate me suggesting that his statement was an acknowledgement that there is no god and if he still believed there was then, from my reading of scripture, that he was missing the big point by weaving a thick veil with a whole lot of very small stuff. Not my finest moment. But I was frustrated by his words and concerned that I didn’t have a better response to the two women and a man other than the giving of alms (which readers of this post will remember, I have referred to as a status verification absolution practice. ) If charity is the best we can do, so be it. But charity shouldn’t stop us from looking for root causes. If we continue to manage social issues, social issues manage to continue.

There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction. ~ John F. Kennedy

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Success

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What constitutes success? How do you measure the value of a minute, an hour, a lifetime? Is the accumulation of material goods and zeroes a meaningful metric? How much is enough? Is there such a thing as too much?
For regular readers, you will know that I tend to believe and try to practice the belief that our lives aren’t measured by what we have but rather by what we do. Too much creates an expectation of more and a dissatisfaction with the present.
If I live my life with open hands; allowing gifts and possessions to be shared rather than accumulated, my hands never seem to be empty. When I close my fists on money, material belongings, relationships, ideas then there isn’t room for additional, new, exciting possibilities. There isn’t a motivation to seek out new people or room in the closed fist to caress a new idea.
My success is measured by the incremental changes that my curiousity and relationships bring me. I am better (more successful) on the days that I am open to the unknown, interested in mystery, and able to have impactful and challenging conversations with the people that I encounter on the adventure of my day.
We have stuff and sometimes I cling to it but mostly it gets in the way of explaining, learning, sharing because the stuff says more about me (and things I don’t aspire to have said) than my intellect, rhetoric and actions. If the bling and accessories don’t add to my essence then they are detracting from who I want to be and how I want to be remembered.

Shedding stuff is difficult, especially if we have vested personal importance in their status and allowed them to become proxies for true meaning. It may be easier to succeed in not acquiring objects that are peripheral to your life mission. If I want to live a more self-sustaining life, does a luxury SUV or the latest Keurig machine fit inside or outside the path? (does the latest anything fit?)

In a Business Insider article Arriana Huffington says “To live the lives we truly want and deserve, and not just the lives we settle for, we need a Third Metric,” she says, “a third measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power, and consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.”
In the same article Winston Churchill says “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm”.

It seems that others have been asking the “what is success” question for decades, maybe centuries. How do you know or feel your success? Do you? What needs to change so your metrics are meaningful for you? Are you ready and willing to shift your focus and live life a new way?

B

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

This too Shall Pass (Likely)

Why do things have a way of working themselves out? For most of us, most of the time, regardless of how much or how little planning things have a way of working themselves out. Even when a detour jumps out of the bushes or the sky seems to fall on our heads, we find our way to the end of the road. It might not be the destination we were seeking or via the route that we expected but somehow we make it out the other side. Tragedy can strike and we go on, a windfall can arrive or be lost and we continue, or boredom, stress, or health concerns weigh us down and we march on.

Most of us have had setbacks that knocked the wind out of us and left us reeling; an untimely death, an unexpected diagnosis, a broken relationship and yet we soldier on. We reflect, we ruminate, we readjust, and we remain. I don’t believe there is an exceptional characteristic that allows us to overcome. It seems to lie in the process.

There is a bit of ‘pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again”, a bit of ” don’t let the bastards beat you down” and a lot of living in the pain and through the pain to the other side. Sometimes the ache can be erased, sometimes it can be accepted easily, but mostly it needs to be acknowledged, accepted, and absorbed. The suffering and pain leads to somewhere, somewhere better or at least different from the current state. To clarify, I am not talking about individuals who suffer from debilitating and deteriorating illness. Their condition might leave little room for relief from long-term distress. But if someone is suffering from diabetes and their illness is managed by treatment, they go through an initial depression but generally adapt to the new normal of medication and/or injections and the regimen becomes part of their day-to-day.

Unfortunately, what seems like an organic process of reflection and recovery requires intention and commitment to staying the course when our instincts scream retreat. Living in the anguish without judgement, accepting that many/most things are beyond the span of our control, and resolving to allow for the time it takes and the energy it requires to feel the depths, hold in the deeps and rise up, in a controlled, steady ascent. This is not something to be taken lightly nor without support.

The world is a much better place when we live in interdependent relationships; giving and taking support, grace, and service to each other. It is difficult for many of us to seek and accept these gifts from others, even those closest to us. We find it much easier and more pleasant to give love, provide nurturing and solve problems for others. There is a happiness glow that occurs when we use our strengths to strengthen others because our brain chemistry is triggered to release chemicals that interact with neurons that signal pleasure in our brains. When we ignore or reject assistance from those around us or stoically deny we have any issues, we are robbing our friends and family of the same pleasure we seek.

My thesis is that we overcome circumstances and adapt with the help of those in our community (community being a group of people who know and depend on each other) while we recognize, acknowledge and live through the downs and ups in our lives.

Who depends on you? Who do you depend on? How are you ‘working through’ a detour or unexpected situation in your life?

B

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

The Harder Way

If we embrace a bit of inconvenience, how do we benefit? Convenience is a set of stepping stones that easily and harmoniously lead to the same conclusion as yesterday and the day before. If I always accept the ‘easy’ way it becomes the only way. If I use my private vehicle as a convenient tool to avoid planning, avoid exercise, and avoid thinking I am blindly going where I always go. But if I consider my options, reflect on what I want to accomplish and make a plan, I can save time, gas, frustration and expand my mind rather than shrink it into tiny status quo blob.

adventure
We have stopped considering options. The mediocrity rut will lead to the grave without any personally generated excitement.
(Not to dwell on automobile use because the issue of defaulting into convenience is across all elements of our lives but where I live the truck is a god-given-over-my dead-body right and suggesting that there might be a different approach is worth your life and would be political suicide.)
Inconvenience wakes us up and conversely convenience keeps us inert and supposedly satisfied. Shake up your routine, walk when you could drive, mail when you could text, call instead of email, get up early, go to bed early, make a meal rather than takeout, think about a different way to use the next ten minutes and then do it.

Go out of your way to help a friend, a stranger, an enemy. Do something difficult and do something the hard way. If you are considering doing something and think ” that wouldn’t be to hard” or “that should be easy”, imagine a way to make the task more difficult, more perfect, and then take the high road.

I have discovered that the difference between good and great is a matter of inches but on far too many occasions, I am tempted and then convinced to be satisfied with good. When I go the extra inches, I feel better about myself and my performance and the interaction is remembered and appreciated.

Surprise yourself and others by going the extra inches and intentionally taking the hatd way.

B

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Peer Pressure

When faced with the decision to research a subject, ruminate on the information, reflect on the consequences and form your own opinion or blindly accepting the collective fiction of a group, which do you choose? Does it matter if the subject seems significant? trivial? If the consequences are personal and material, do you resort to the easier approach or take a harder road?

Group think works because thinking is hard work. Comprehending an appropriate question and choosing a credible source of information are skills that we have stopped practising.  My greatest strength is my ability to synthesise disparate ideas. My greatest weakness is my ability to synthesise disparate ideas. Regardless, I tend to rush to a conclusion and if the destination at the end of a straight line is familiar, I will probably go where my eyes take me.

We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.” ~ Robert Brault

The road less travelled is bound to be more challenging, more interesting and more scenic. I am heading out to Sundre Alberta this afternoon. I have made the trip hundreds of times and often vary the route. If I wanted to arrive in 1 hour and 7 minutes, the fastest course is to stick to the freeway (QE2). Traffic clips along at 120 km ph and on a Friday is bumper to bumper. My goal in heading away from the city is relaxation and mindfulness and if I speed along with the crowd, I arrive irritated and anxious. However, if I meander on lesser highways with a slower speed and considerably less traffic, I am able to take in the majesty of my surroundings and rather than getting stressed by the trip, I am relaxed and inspired by it.

pathway

If I am distracted by the shortest path; however, I measure that – least time, least effort, most familiarity, personal preference, invalid excuses, unrealistic fear I will always miss out on the journey and will probably arrive somewhere that I have already been but without the learning, preparation, or anticipation.

Make Today Remarkable, by resisting peer pressure posturing and embracing some originality,

B