See The Patterns And Start Seeing Yourself

Note: This is a republishing of a pulled article. It turns out that some of the facts were not accurate when I posted it initially, but I feel that there is a lesson about patterns and accepting the outcome of your choices when you make the decision to avoid seeing a pattern.

A close friend called me in tears last night because their computer crashed and they lost a very important essay. Normally I am sympathetic but last night was different. I simply said “that sucks, I guess you need to start writing it again”. They replied with “thanks a lot” and hung-up.

I cared a little, that they hung-up on me, but very little that they had lost their essay, one that they had spend almost a month working on. I hope we don’t chat for a while so I’m able to NOT say “I told you to back it up in 3 unique places, I told you to email the essay to your gmail account a couple of times a week, I told you to burn it to disk every few days”. I don’t want to say these things because they are not helpful and because saying them would move the conversation away from the fact that it seems that this person is engineering a reason to fail.

It sure looks that way. Simply put, you do not, at an age greater than 15, have any excuse for NOT backing-up your critical computer files – particularly the ones that are needed for you to graduate. The only reason for repeating this pattern is that you want to have an external reason for why a failure was not your fault – although no one in the world is going to accept that a computer failure as anything other than an excuse.

I hope they are able to recover from the loss. Barring that, I hope in time that they are able to see that they did it to themselves because they don’t want to be successful. It wasn’t the first time this has happened, it’s the fifth or sixth; each time before they were able to recover the documents. I recall the last serious episode – a frantic 1:30 AM panic which had a successful ending and the promise that back-ups would be performed. Well, they weren’t and all I can say is that I see the pattern, this is their nature and this is the way it’s always going to be for them until they see it for themselves.

The sad part, final year of a time critical program. If the essay isn’t completed there are huge time and money expenses to get back on track. All avoidable if their nature was different or if they say themselves for who and how they are – someone searching for a reason why the world is out to get them and so keen to find it that they’ll engineer their own failure – or if they cared enough about their stuff to look after it

UPDATE: it turned out that partial back-ups had been made in the form of sectional draft emails to an adviser. The person was able to recreate the paper for the most part and did end up getting a very good mark. We never chatted about the crisis again so I’ll assume the lesson was learned this time round.

“I look in the mirror and all I see is unactualize potential”

Good, you’re starting to get sick of looking like the sum total of your bad choices. Maybe you even cry about it, thinking how could you do this to yourself? The truth is it’s easy to let the effects of doing nothing healthful catch-up with you. You observe this each time you look in the mirror. Heck, you might have taken to NOT looking at your body in the mirror just so you aren’t reminded of how eating poorly, not listening to your doctor and not exercising is making it look.

But you see it, and you know you should do something about it because deep down inside you KNOW you deserve better than what you are allowing yourself to have. For some reason you made the decision to NOT be all you can be and NOT feel amazing as you age. Now you are angry with what you see and you’re tired of wasting your beauty on being inactive and overeating because you think you have an emotional right to hammer down food.

I’m glad you’re angry. You’re sick of it and you are finally going to do something about it – if you aren’t angry, why would you do anything different now? Because you say you’re going to? That didn’t work before, last year, or the year before that because you didn’t care enough to get angry at what you are doing to yourself. It doesn’t matter what you say, what is important is what you do and getting angry at yourself is a big and critical first step.

So take a moment today or tomorrow to look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself what you see. If you’re aware that you aren’t seeing you closing in on your potential, get angry, stop hurting yourself and get yourself moving in the right direction. And if you don’t know how to do it, seek out and pay for professional help.

Stimulus Moment Response

Almost 4 years ago I blogged about a conservation with Des about how lengthening the time between stimulus and response will improve the quality of your decisions. By allowing time for any emotional reaction to subside, you will be able to think more logically. It makes a lot more sense to me now than it did then because I’ve become better at lengthening the time between stimulus and response in a number of situations. But it has taken a long time to get to about 95%.

I haven’t been able to stop the internal emotional response completely but becoming aware that it has happened has been extremely helpful in stopping me from doing anything that will keep it going longer than it needs to. When I feel the emotion building I’ll breath and try to clear my head. If it continues to build, I quickly ask myself if I care about what has happened that is causing the emotion, if I need to indulge the emotion and if so, when does that need to happen.

A couple of examples:

Someone cuts me off in traffic. Think “bastard”. Then “don’t do anything, don’t beep, don’t yell, don’t give them the finger or look at them”. Then “I don’t know them, this isn’t important.” Then I allow distance to build between our two cars. Done.

Break-up with Rachel – this was longer lasting in that thoughts of the subject would pop into my head a lot at the beginning; each one representing a stimulus that required addressing. Think “oh my God, I’m so sad”. Then “this will fade with time, but right now it isn’t going away”. Then “does what I’m doing right now (my engagement of the environment) require that I be completely present or can I step away from everything to indulge the feelings of sadness and loss?” Then I either reengage the present situation or indulge the emotion.

One of the key differences now is that I often don’t act. I won’t broadcast anything to the world until I know for sure what it is that I need to do. I now realize that I can’t do anything to completely stop the emotional reaction as it starts (given that it is based on past experiences). I can however begin to shape how and when they are expressed by changing my reaction to the current one.

Lengthening the time between stimulus and response is a challenge. I’ve been at it for 4 years and I’m still struggling with it. However, you can eliminate much of the damage that emotional actions will have on your life simply by not doing anything until you are sure you know how you need to act.

Reflecting On Arrogance

I’ve had some free time on my hands so I figured it would be a good idea to get caught-up with some friends who I haven’t had the chance to connect with recently. The toughest thing I heard was that I’m rather intolerant towards people who don’t follow my advice or embrace my world view. This was a surprise, but after the sting of hearing it faded and I was able to see it, I felt very bad. I spent some time thinking about it trying to see the times when it was true.

In my head make the distinction between my job (training, fitness and wellness) and the rest of my life.

With my job I’m an expert and I know more than all of my clients and most of the people I engage about this subject. If people ask me for advice or pay me for it, I’ve got a right and need to be dogmatic because the approach I have come-up with is extremely effective, but ONLY if the instructions are followed. You can’t eat the way I suggest, add in a servicing of chocolate and still expect the results I’m promising because this ISN’T what I was suggesting. The same applies to sleep/rest, exercise and other lifestyle variables that have a detrimental impact ones progress. Being intolerant to deviations is, in my opinion, appropriate here because people who are seeking improvements in their health/body composition have demonstrated a lack of knowledge or a lack of ability to do the things they need to do in order to achieve what they are looking for. It is simple, if you want my help you need to follow my advice TO THE LETTER. I don’t need you to ask me for my help and I get very little out of dispensing advice that people ignore.

With the rest of my life doing this would be a problem.

But I’m not entirely sure that I engage in the behavior that was described; at least in terms of things OTHER than my job or things related to fitness, performance or body composition. I’m human and will give my opinion and when someone doesn’t agree with me, I’m probably going to try to get them to see my point of view. And if they are able to I’ll get them to explain their point of view. If, in the end, we don’t see eye to eye, we’ll just need to disagree. I haven’t ended an adult friendship over a difference in opinion though.

I’m not ruling out the possibility that there may be some truth in what was said so I think there’s value in being open to hearing what friends think about my behavior. I’ll agree that I’m dogmatic about my fitness solutions and that’s only because they work. Time will tell if this trait applies to other areas of my life. I know I’ll be looking for it!

Happiness Short Cuts

Being happy is a passion of mine! I’d rather laugh, joke, smile and enjoy life than anything else. Usually the joy flows out of me effortlessly but from time to time I wake-up feeling horrible for no apparent reason and need to do something to get my game face on. Below are some of the things that have helped me turn those days around:

Always do your best. When you try to do something to the best of your ability you automatically shift your attention from the past and direct it completely onto the moment. It has been my experience that IF you are in the moment, you will feel very little of anything. The intense focus on the here and now is something that tends to lend itself to mindlessness, which human beings experience as simple existence. If mindlessness is achieved during an activity, the peak state of flow is achieved were pure action just pours out of us. Some will experience this as a bliss state while others will enjoy the escape from their low mood.

Stop seeking approval. This is the most important thing that I have learned in the last 15 years and any time I release myself from needing others approval there is a dramatic boost in my mood and my performance. I stop living in the past – that is to say that I stop doing the things that I have learned will garner the approval of others – and return to living in the moment and trying to do my best.

Learn to like being wrong because it leads to wisdom. You are going to be wrong so much that you need to do more than just accept that it will happen. You need to appreciate it when it happens because being wrong is what will lead you to learn new things more quickly than almost any other method of learning. Learning to make being wrong less painful will make you happier.
Understand that emotion is not thought. This is a huge one. Emotions are real in that there are chemicals released by the body resulting in what we experience as emotion. But emotions are not thoughts and they shouldn’t be given the same consideration as thoughts. Emotions provide information about situations and they tend to reflect the outcome of matching certain patterns but they are retrospective and based on experience. When we make the error that emotions are thoughts, we tend to think about the emotion and therefore keep the emotion going vs. letting it flow and let it go.

Accept that logic and emotion cannot exist at the same time and emotion trumps logic. This one was easy to observe but tough to deal with. Your prefrontal cortex is responsible for logic and rational thought stops having an impact when the emotional system is active. As such, when you are experiencing an emotion, it is IMPOSSIBLE for you to logically engage it. Instead, you need to allow the emotion to flow through and out of you and then proceed to the logical engagement.

You cannot control how other people think (frankly, you can only barely control how YOU think). You can try to control other peoples thoughts and you may even have some success, but eventually they are going to think what they want and if that goes against what you are hoping, you’re not going to be happy. It’s futile to try so just stop and accept that other peoples thoughts are outside the realm of your control. Give them the freedom to think and act autonomously and deal with the consequences of these action because this is what you will be doing anyway, regardless of your intentions. Accepting it before you have to deal with them is going to be a lot easier and more fun.

Do not take anything personally. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m the center of my universe – I’m the creator of my conscious understanding of the world and given that I’m the only receiver of my sensory input, I AM the center of everything. But so is everyone else of their own existence. For this reason, you cannot take anything other people do personally because it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the other person.

Pattern Matching Experiences

Sometimes it helps to think about the human brain as a computer. Environmental data gets feed into the system through our senses. The system initiates numerous tasks gear towards interpreting, manipulating and querying new information and storing it in memory. It then determines the next action and the cycle repeats.

One of the tasks is to check your memories for similar experiences looking for matches and make you aware when it finds one through thought, emotion or a gut feeling. A match is good and you get a small reward when you find one. It means you’ve encountered this experience before and therefore have a workable solution in place. This is always true because if you encountered it before what you did before allowed you to live to encounter it again. Deferring to the previous solution is going to decrease mental effort because it requires less thinking and the physical behaviors have already been performed by the body. It’s probably going to feel somewhat pleasant and it is the fastest way to the next action.

You wouldn’t want it any other way in the primitive world we inhabited 15000 years ago. The world was so dangerous that you needed single trial learning because you very rarely got a second chance. You need to be alerted when the watering hole has the same look it had right before the alligator jumped out and killed someone in your tribe because recalling this will keep you alive.

It’s a perfect system for dealing with emergency situation and situations were your previous action was the most effective action. It can be dangerous if the pattern isn’t one that works for us, for example conflict avoidance with a partner or disregarding someones opinion because of a physical characteristic. When a response becomes automatic without being vetted for relevance and appropriateness based on your current understanding of the world you may run into problems.

Given that there is a survival reason to do what you did the last time, you may benefit from taking a moment to make sure your action is going to be your best action. If you are doing it simply because it is easy, you might want to stop doing that if you want to get more out of life. Remain diligent for 30 days and you’ll likely find that you are happier and more productive.