Reasons To Not Be Afraid – Post Revisited

About seven years ago I wrote what I still regard as the most honest, vulnerable and personal thing I have ever posted. The title of the post was Reasons To Not Be Afraid and it represents as close to bottom as I hope I ever go.

At the time, it had been about six weeks since my father had died and after taking the month of February to rot, drink, overeat, smoke, and basically spiral down, I had a moment of clarity. It was around 4:55 AM on the morning of Wednesday February 29. For some reason, probably because my brain had stopped enjoying the experience of being inside my body, I was snapped awake with the realization that my dad was dead. While this was obvious and something that I was clear on, given that he died on January 29, a part of me had been pushing it away. But through the fog my brain was able to do its thing, reconcile all of the sensory information, interrogate my long term memories and force into my consciousness the painful reality that he wasn’t on vacation and that he was never coming home.

I lost my shit! Waking-up angry is one thing, this was an entirely different animal. My body was already filled with a chemically induced rage courtesy of my medulla dumping the previous months share of adrenaline into my blood stream a few moments before my eyes opened. The worst part was that my eyes opening was not the first action I took that morning. My body had been up and moving around for a while before I joined the party and it was my joining in that slowed everything down; not right away though. I was along for the ride watching my body wrecking things as I tried to get a handle on a tsunami of grief, a growing pain in my right foot and the feeling that something should be ringing in my ears that people get when they are smashed awake by a threateningly loud noise.

There were a few things wrecked in my room, nothing of much value and nothing that was ever missed, but destroyed nonetheless. A fan, a pair of old headphones, a plastic water bottle, stuff that had been near my bed when my hands decided that those items needed to be as far away from me as possible and the rest of my body agreed. The predawn peace had been shattered by things exploding against the wall that had done nothing but try and hold up the house. Its answer? Make sure everything stayed on the inside of the room by providing the perfect surface to convince a few million molecular bonds that their partners were not worth holding on to. It was the noise of their scream as they let go that was responsible for waking me up.

Oh, and I had kicked something.

What does bottom look like? Well, it depends on the person I suppose. For me though it was kind of unremarkable. Bottom was sober. Bottom was clear headed. Bottom was a profound sadness. There wasn’t regret, my dad and I had been very close. His death wasn’t the shock that him getting cancer had been. When someone is given 6-12 weeks to live you know full well what is in the mail.

I was just tremendously sad.

Hitting bottom didn’t look anything like the view on the way there either. And in fairness, even the journey there wasn’t something that would make anyone shake their head in disgust. In the month between his death and me finally accepting it there had been a lot of drinking, over eating and too many cigarettes. Too much sleeping and too much time spent by myself working on a Morrissey flavored depression that was equal parts self indulgence and self pity. But there had been a lot of writing, a lot of insights and a lot of unconsciously coming to terms with the reality that my life was unworkable and had been for a very long time.

With my dad gone, I needed to grow-up – I needed to grow-up anyway, his passing must forced the issue. And as I lay on the floor of my room bawling that morning I accepted that my journey had begun.

Writing the “why’s” and “what ifs” lists in the Reasons To Not Be Afraid was good therapy advice that I had been putting off because the thought of the pain looking that deeply at my life might cause seemed too much to bare. This was an inflection point, a moment when the polarity reverses and the pain of continuing along a path becomes greater than any conceivable pain that would come from seeing what I had made of my life. While I didn’t particularly like what I saw and I detested the fact that I had become someone so afraid of the world that I was compulsively avoiding it, I knew that these were just feelings. If things were different, I would probably feel different.

That was the switch flipping. I had no idea if the future was going to be better, if I would attack the world with confidence and become a man of powerful and pragmatic action. That post, and the lists contained within it, were a reflection and the manifestation of untested beliefs. By doing different things, I would be able to find out if the beliefs were accurate and I would be able to feel something different. That was enough for me. It was clear that I was the one who had been making the decisions and choosing my actions, so I was free to make different decisions and choose different actions. And that is what I did.

Life got better, much better. It turned out that I had been living a lie. While the world is every bit as bad as I thought it was, living in it and being a part of it is a lot easier than avoiding it. While the “why’s” list did contain some accurate reasons, it also included some ad-hoc justifications for indulging in compulsive escapist behaviour. We’re all very good at coming up with reasons to support doing whatever it is we think we should do. The gold though was in my lack of imagination in the “what ifs” list. I was right about most of the things. As I changed my behavior, life got easier and it changed for the better. But I had been negligent in my consideration of the outcome of sustained small actions. Any action taken eliminates an almost infinite number of potential futures while simultaneously creating the possibility of an almost infinite number of alternative ones. It wasn’t just that I would no longer be hiding away from the world, it would be that I was actually engaging it, and that meant doing things, things that I hadn’t even considered being things before let alone things that I would be doing.

Seven years on the only thing that I would change about the post is the last line “I’m not necessarily afraid, but I am anxious,” which was more wishful thinking about the future than anything else. It was too early to make a definitive call on what the experience of change was like. The truth is that I am both afraid and anxious of doing new things and of the unknown in general. And I think I always will be. Life doesn’t start being less scary. There isn’t a desensitization effect as a result of doing stuff.

The main difference now is that I accept that I am afraid and I do it anyway.

The Myth Of Non Medical Detoxing – The Cleanse

About three years ago I decided to stop eating sugar, consuming caffeine, drinking alcohol and a few other things that had been impacting my thinking and life in general. I bit off a lot at once, it was an unreasonable amount, but I was sick of living the crappy life my poor choices delivered me. At the time I didn’t set a time limit for how long I would stop consuming these things but I don’t recall believing that I would never eat or drink them again. I just wanted to reestablish my baseline way of being so I could correct my course if needed and know what I was dealing with in terms my identity.

There were some withdrawal symptoms – headache, difficulty concentrating, increased anxiety, insomnia, mood swings and minor body pain – but these were to be expected. The doctor didn’t have any concerns and told me that they would decrease over the first few weeks and be gone completely in a month or so. He was right. The end result was that I found my baseline and learned a lot about myself and how consuming those things made me feel – or how going without consuming them made me feel. The lessons I learned were useful and I have invited many of my clients to try the same sort of thing to uncover their relationship with the food they eat and the liquids they drink.

What is interesting to me now is the talk and articles about detoxing your body and all the great things it will help you achieve. On one end of the spectrum are the things like Lent, Ramadan and Yom Kippur which are religious in nature and encourage the faster to reflect upon their relationship with God, atonement for sins and other spiritual awakenings. You do not need to buy anything to participate in these fasts and you probably don’t even need to believe in God given that they are straightforward and require that the person not eat for specific periods of time or give-up eating a particular type of food for a period of time. Worth doing because they’ll teach you something about your relationship with yourself, your food, and your maker.

The other end of the spectrum in the supplement industries version of a detox which they label a cleanse. Unlike the name implies, the whole notion that the body cannot clean itself is unfounded. Medical pathologies or illness aside, the body takes care of cleaning up waste very effectively. The liver and the kidneys do the job, and they’ve done it without the aid of supplements for eons.

Regardless of the product you were sold, the instructions are basically the same. You dramatically alter the food you eat for a period of time while consuming the cleanse products. The rational is that you need to stop doing the damage first to allow the cleansing products to work. Don’t be concerned with you initially feel worse because, as the instructions say, this sickness is proof that there were toxins in the body and that the cleanse is working.

But since you have adjusted the food you have been eating, you are actually going through withdrawal (much like I did when I stopped eating sugar and drinking coffee). The symptoms that are experienced are a result of the dietary change and have nothing to do with toxins being released by the body. This is an example of illusory correlation where two unrelated things are assumed to be related because they happen close to the same time.

What can you learn from those who buy cleanses?

  • Do not buy one, they don’t do what their sellers claim.
  • Do adjust your diet, there is a good chance you could be eating better.
  • When you adjust your diet, there is a good chance that you will initially feel unwell or sick; this will pass as the body adjusts to a new normal state.
  • Once a year for a few weeks, consider taking some time off of eating certain foods to see what this does to your body. If you experience withdrawal symptoms or cravings, notice these feelings and be mindful that your body has adjusted to eating them; this may not be how you want to live your life.
  • Always be aware that people who have something to sell will say whatever they need to say in order to sell you their product or service. With reference to cleanses or detoxes, your liver and kidneys do an almost perfect job and you already own them.

Why And What You Read Might Be Dangerous

I love to read and to learn. Both are critical to the growth and development of ones intellect. Both are extremely important and go hand in hand as a big way to make life better. I am not suggesting that you stop reading completely. What I am suggesting is that you, from time to time, alter your intention when you read.

‎The post Why Your Life Is Fine, I talked a little about the 3 ways we approach or respond when we are listening to someone. The first is with agreement – their information or story confirms to what we know to be true. The second is with disagreement – what they are saying doesn’t match what we know to be true. The third way is with authentic curiosity as to how and why what they are saying is right, if we disagree or wrong if we agree. From this dialectic approach we’d ask the question what would need to be real for that state that to be true.

Doing this isn’t easy and it requires a willingness to say I don’t know, which is risky and uncommon for us. While it is well worth doing, it is mentally draining and something humans are innately disinclined to do.

But moving forward by not doing it isn’t moving forward at all, and this why I make the statement that why and what you read might be dangerous. If you read with the intention of acquiring knowledge that confirms a belief, you aren’t really learning anything valuable; at least from my point of view, you are not generating anything new. The best parts of your brain are not being activated and your essential contribution to the world are not being actualized.

For example, I get a lot of emails about services and systems that pertain to the fitness field. 90 percent of them at least are about generating more revenue and becoming an effective seller. All of them use the same model, which is based on solid scientific research about gaining compliance. All use emotional selling methods with the goal of uncovering an emotional “why”. They all say the same catch phrases like “people won’t care until they know how much you care” ‎or “we have a proven system that has been used successfully by this many thousands of people”. It all sounds truthy, feels like it is correct and lands like it is genuinely helpful.

These sales systems are effective at getting people to sign up for large packages, commit on the spot to many months of training, and in creating a feeling of hope that is then leveraged to create revenue and massive profits for the seller. But it is total crap in terms of actually helping people improve their fitness. The questions they encourage the reader to ask exist to generate the information needed to back a person into a corner and then overcome any objections.

The success rate for people who work with trainers is powerfully low. 80 percent of people get very little change ever and less than 10 percent ‎maintain their results over a three year period. With success numbers like these there is something unworkable about emotional selling; it helps close the deal but it doesn’t help most of the people it is used on. Anyone who is reading these books / systems is doing so because they are looking for a panacea to help close a sale. This is dangerous to the trainer / coach because it ruins their brand, destroys their reputation and alienates their staff and team members.

So what exactly am I saying here? Very simply, if you are reading books about how to become the perfect trainer, coach, lover, pick-up artist, consultant, sales person, etc…., rethink the question you are trying to get the answer to. For example, if you are seeking a system to help improve your sales, consider asking the question “why are my sales not at a level I like?” or “am I actually helping clients with the service I am providing?” or “is my service or product effective at doing what it is supposed to do” or “are the results and experiences of my clients / customers good enough to enroll other people into my service” or “what is the unique thing that I bring forward in this area?” Compare these questions to “how do I improve my sales?” You’ll get very different answers which will shine a light on the things that actually need to be improved, changed or highlighted.

The best people in any industry are the best because they are the best, not because they read a book or implemented a system. They cultivated their wisdom through education, practice, trial and error and uncovering the X factor that they bring to the table. They understand individuality and tailor their advice to match the individual. They sell what people need and want and they do so without using emotionally manipulative techniques. They don’t enter into conversations with the belief that everyone should buy their product or service. They know who will benefit from buying and they know that that isn’t everyone.

As you move forward, I invite you to be more curious and mindful about your intentions when you read. What is the outcome you are seeking and what is your motivation? Once you are clear on these things you’ll have a better idea of what exactly you should be doing. And adjust your course when these things don’t line-up.

Creativity vs. Obedience / Conformity

I’m not sure if creativity and obedience / conformity are mutually exclusive but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that they are. I know that creativity is a natural thing for human beings. Anyone who has children or watched the ways they go about getting what they want KNOWS that they’ll pull out all the stops and come-up with new moves over and over again until they get what they want. Over time they’ll develop a strategy based on what worked before and they’ll adjust it when new behaviors prove fruitful.

It is amazing to witness because there is something special about seeing brand new actions being created out of a basic human want or need and the ability to produce novel behavior.

Much less amazing is being witness to the cultivation of obedience / conformity. It’s life draining and it stifles the progress of young people towards self determination and self expression. I can understand that there is a time and place for these things, but that time isn’t always and the place isn’t everywhere. Certain behaviors are needed for people to coexist and to work together productively and in harmony. Interrupting other peoples conversations for non emergency things isn’t helpful, ignoring well established social conventions that make possible individual liberty should be stopped quickly and doing dangerous or harmful things cannot be allowed to continue. But there is very little else that falls into the MUST BE ELIMINATED category.

Sure, it’s a lot easier for me, not having children, to righteously say that anything that culls the creativity of a human being is bad but that doesn’t make the statement any less true. If you are a parent, try saying each of these two sentences out loud to see which one feels better or is true.

“I want my child to be self expressed, to uncover and maximize their talents and become whatever they want to be.”

“I want my child to be the best cog in the machine that they can be.”

This is not a scientific test, it’s emotionally manipulating because it leads you to say the answer I want you to say. But there is a very good chance that, as a parent, you’d want your child or children to have the almost complete freedom to choose the life they want.

So right now consider the possibility that creativity and obedience / conformity cannot exist together. Imagine what happens when a child’s spontaneous behavior is unnecessary chastised and ridiculed in an attempt to stop, change or completely eliminate it. Now consider that most spontaneous behavior of children is their form of play and completely harmless. Most of it will burn itself out after a short period of time anyway so they don’t need to conform to any notion other people have for them. What difference does it make if a child is singing or humming quietly at the dinner table? What harm is there in repeating everything you say? It can be annoying as hell but that is it; if you make a game out of it, it can be a very effective teaching tool and very funny when they repeat preciously scientific things.

In the coaching, personal development and self-help fields there is an idea that coaches and mentors offer people increased choices, information about the outcomes of behaviors and rewards for good behaviors of the people they work with. Bad behaviors are not punished and very little attention is paid to them. The reason we approach people like this is because punishing behaviors decreases choices and tends to make people defensive; defensive people tend to close off and this hinders progress as it eliminates creativity and produces fight, flee, or freeze responses.

It’s also worth mentioning that if pain is used or a lack of fairness is perceived, these are the only thing that the subject is going to process. This is why beating a child may stop them from doing something, but it is going to create long term damage that will get in the way at some point in the future. Violence is inhibiting and while it may create obedience / conformity, it suppresses everything that lead up to the event. The lessons the child learns are that spontaneous behaviors need to be avoided and the perpetrator of the violence or unfair act cannot be trusted.

If you want to help someone foster their creative skills and possibly solve some of the worlds problems leave them alone when they are doing things that annoy you, encourage them when they come-up with novel or new solutions and reward them when they transport a skill from one area into another area. Give them the freedom to understand or figure out their own world and if they seem to be spending a lot of time in their head get them to talk about what they are experiencing. Even if they don’t know how to express it, give them the liberty to use their brain any way they want.

Let’s be fair, so much of what we do is only the result of us living in a developed society. There’s nothing natural about it and over time children will figure out how they need to exist within the world. Allow them to cultivate their creative instincts and enjoy the amazing things the human brain is capable of.

Effective Progressives Are Not Iconoclasts

Not all progressives are iconoclasts, and maybe that’s why they are so effective at causing change.

I have two mentors who hold progressive views about the fitness industry, neither is an iconoclast. One owns a gym and works hard with his business partner to create the best gym around. The other doesn’t have anything to do with the fitness industry other than talk to me about what is going on, in an effort to help me unpack why working within the industry makes me feel so off course‎.

What is fantastic about both of them is their ability to see what is occurring without setting about fixing it. The gym owner works to make his piece how they know it should be. The other guy just states his observations and how these occurrences may be impacting me. The beauty about their approaches is that they come at the topic from a place that nothing is wrong, and this keeps free any resources that would have been directed toward ‎fixing that which is viewed as broken or wrong.

Complaining about something is an action that will keep you locked in the past, and it is very easy to point out all the things that are wrong with something; the human brain is amazing at finding information that confirms a point of view and it does this automatically, without effort or energy. Unfortunately, problem solving is NOT the opposite of problem finding. It requires creativity, analysis and thinking all of which require effort and tend not to be rewarding along the way, only at the end when the problem is solved. Given this fact, complaining is what comes naturally, doing something about it isn’t.

So give the following a try when you start to notice just how crappy something is:

  • Remove your judgment. Very little is right or wrong, so just assume that everything is as it should be.
  • Become curious as to why it is the way it is. This will open you up and after a few minutes you’ll begin to uncover a growing list of reasons why it could be as it is. Keep this list grow for as long as you can or as long as seems necessary. Doing this is a skill and it may be completely new to you. Too often we “know” why things are the way they are and this knowing keeps us from unpacking the truth.
  • Figure out how you want it to be. This, again, is a skill, one that we may have had taught out of us. Obedience and compliance have historically been more important for society than change and there is a good reason why those who are in positions of influence or power want things to remain as they are. But the skill to identify how things can be better is innate in most of us so put some effort towards reigniting it and once it is fired up, determine how you want things to be.
  • Share your idea with peers, friends, coworkers, whoever. Communicating with others about how things can improve if they are changed is the only way your are going to generate the collaboration needed to progress something into a new realm. It’s also the best way to get feedback and to get new perspectives. This synergistic interaction can add power and wisdom to an idea.
  • Never think that your ways is the best way or the only way. It’s great and necessary to believe in your ideas for progress, but you will continue to refine and grow them only if you remain open to the possibility that they can be refined or grown.
  • Accept and be grateful that you are able to play a small role in the collective wisdom that is human knowledge. You may not answer any of the big problems but your contribution to progress will help someone, and that is a worthwhile endeavor.

Why Your Life Is Fine

In my post about the Dunning–Kruger effect I spoke about the inverted bell curve shape between the amount of knowledge someone has about a subject and their level of confidence in the subject – those who are experts and those who know very little about a subject will display the same level of confidence about the subject while those in the middle will show low levels of confidence in the subject matter.

Your life is fine because you rely on shortcuts to make a call as to who to listen to. One of these short cuts is the level of confidence a person displays. ‎As a consequence you’ll trust an amateur as much as an expert. Welcome to you fine life.

Dunning Krueger applies equally to yourself though. Often times you’ll believe you know an enormous amount about a subject when you know practically nothing. The end result is that you feel confident cherry picking information that confirms your point of view while you close off to anything that doesn’t match your world view. This tendency is called a confirmation bias and given that wealth of information that is easily available on-line, it is hard not to find opinions, studies and data that support any point of view.

Think about it this way:

When you listen to someone talk about a subject, you’ll approach it from one of three places. The first is that the person is correct ‎because what they are saying matches what you know / believe to be true. The second is that they are wrong because what they are saying doesn’t match what you know. The final way is from a place of curiosity about what they are saying, why they are saying it and how did they end up believing it. They aren’t wrong, they are correct in what they are saying not because they agree with you but because human beings are completely logical even if one of their assumptions is inaccurate.

Few people spontaneously approach things from a place of genuine curiosity; they either nod and think “yeah, thats how it is” or shake their head and say “what a load of nonsense.” Both approaches are a flawed, dangerous, and hurting the quality of your life.

Consider what would happen if you were to, as soon as you hear something and feel agreement or disagreement, immediately go to the other side and come-up with reasons as to why you disagree or agree. It’ll force you to think about things in a very different way, to try on some unusual thoughts and feelings and help you find out ways to be right about something that is wrong. After you come-up with 3 or 4 possible reasons, allow your mind to return to its initial state and then move forward as you deem appropriate. The goal is not necessarily to change your point of view, it is to take a moment to get away from knowing and open-up to other possibilities.

When you do this, you’ll find yourself becoming more curious about what is actually going on and very soon realize that you’ve started to learn more about something you thought you knew a lot about. This is going to take your fine life and make it so much better!

Three Deaths – Considering Legacy

There’s a saying, a version of which is attributed to David Eagleman, that details three death points for humans. The first is when the body dies. The second is when the last person who knew you dies. The third is when your name is spoken for the last time.

When I consider this as it applies to my dad, I wonder what he would have thought about it or if he had considered it, what exactly his thoughts were.

My dad was humble, modest and kind. I loved the heck out of him, respected him enough to disagree with his point of view and admired his tendency / passion / compulsion for learning. I tended to view myself as very different from him because there were things about him that I didn’t like. For example, he was always able to see the point of view of the less fortunate. Maybe I viewed that trait as a weakness, maybe I realized that those who roll over and crush people tend to acquire more things, maybe I really didn’t like this part of me. There were a number of things like this and over the last few years I’ve come to terms with the possibility that I just didn’t like that I had them too. I wanted, as my dad did for me, more than he had and to become many of the things that he didn’t, either through his circumstances or by his choice. It struck me that by becoming all the things he wasn’t it would be a good way to ensure that I didn’t live the same life.

Silly isn’t it? I wasn’t going to live the same life as him because he and my mom saw to it that I was given opportunities that he didn’t have. Moving to Canada, being raised as a socially tolerant liberal and getting the chance to attend university ensured that he and I would not live the same life. Plus, it was 30 years later and the world had changed enormously in the three decades between his birth and mine.

That is a big part of his legacy, his children may be like him, but they were not going to be the same as him. Whatever good we do, it is in large part due to his efforts to raise us and to lift our experiences into the realm of the things he never got to do.

Something that I hadn’t consider as being a possibility was the impact that my father had on people. During his wake, an event that I maintain he would have really enjoyed because all his friends were there, with lots of great food, drink and merriment, was a comment that an old neighbor made to me and my brother.

George lived across the street from my parents and was an unstoppable old Scot. A few heart attacks, a number of surgeries and various health issues associated for living fully couldn’t take him down. His doctors didn’t like that he just kept doing whatever it was he wanted but they were powerless to stop him. He didn’t play it safe, ever. 100%, all out, always was what he did. My dad liked him both because he was a decent and interesting man and also because he didn’t take short cuts and thrived on work hard.

George approached us at the wake and said “your father was a great man, he never said a bad thing about anyone.” I thanked him for saying that and muttered some other stuff that I cannot remember. The comment floored me because, while I had countless times heard my see the other side of everything and not just giving people the benefit of the doubt, but actually creating that doubt out of what I imagined was thin air, I had never considered that he was doing it because that was who he was. I always figured it was him being a good parent trying to instill in his children a rule of life that makes living with other people easier and more collaborative.

About a year ago I met another person who I did not know my dad had met. When she found out who I was, she told me that she had met my dad once and had really enjoyed it because he was kind and interesting, and that he had a great sense of humor, with a shameless roaring laugh. Hearing that made me happy, and I considered it a gift, one that I shared with my mom.

Now, as the time rolls on, it has been more than three years since he died, I’m starting to get a handle on what his legacy means to me. I am a lot like my dad, in many of the good ways and some of the ways I once believed were bad. I’m a little more passionate and a lot more dogmatic and single-minded at times. I enjoy learning and always have. I love laughing and can be enthusiastically joyful, a lot of the time.

But when I perceive a lack of fairness, it hurts me and I want to lash out and crush those who are slighting others. And I know this part isn’t working for me and has never. It isn’t helpful because it manufactures a sense that someone is wrong. My dad was able to identify that things were not right, but he was also able to understand that there was a good reason why someone would treat others unfairly. It wasn’t acceptable to do nothing about it, but crushing out of existence the perceived wrong doer wasn’t his way. And I have no problem admitting that I was wrong to view his approach as a weakness. It’s a strength to be able to allow people to be who they are and to try and work with them to change a situation from win:lose to win:win. He understood the important of other people and made the effort to get along with them.

This is a part of his legacy that I am going to try to genuinely emulate. Not just to keep my dads alive, but to keep alive the legacy piece of everyone who came before me who made this their way.

The Habit Of “No”

Human beings tend to keep doing what they have been doing for a number of reasons.

And the main reason why we continue things is because doing them before helped to keep us alive – IF someone is still alive, their behaviors and strategies are effective. But this raises a question, “did the behavior actually contribute to survival?” Put differently, “what role did an individual behavior or action play in ensuring survival?”

After some consideration it usually becomes clear that the survival assumption constitutes false evidence or a false justification as the behavior played no impact on survival. This isn’t to say that there is not a valid reason for doing something it just says that there physical survival was never a factor in the decision to do something or to not do it. It was the thing that we did before and it worked, so we do it again, and again.

The impact of the survival hypothesis is that we don’t spend much time considering why we make a decision because doing so requires energy and time. It is imaginable that at some point in human history taking too long to act would have meant death. These deaths would have removed most of the considerers from the gene pool. Those who remain might act more quickly. They’ll be able to find reasons to justify their actions. They’ll – keeping things exactly as they are. This evidence collection is automatic and requires little conscious effort, so we go along with it believing everything we think. When we get used to doing this, we become increasingly inclined to continue doing it. When this becomes our habit, our immediate reply to a request is to say no simply because doing what we are doing is keeping us safe. The outcome is that we close-off to new experiences for no valid reason. We just got lazy with our thinking.

Imagine there is a moment of time right between when you think no and say no. In this moment you’ll be able to notice the direction and intention of your thinking. Does it know exactly why you want to say no and is that reason compelling enough to say no? It probably isn’t a habit when there is a good reason. But if your mind is searching for reasons to justify saying no it could be that the habit of no is presenting itself. The difference between these two ways of thinking is that the first knows why and says no while the second says no and hunts for why.

Habits hunt for reasons for their existence when your mind is in a non-critical state. Until logic and higher level thinking are applied to a thought stream, the habit will find its justification quickly and consistently. But it doesn’t have to. When you pay attention to your automatic / initial thoughts you’ll notice that you become more aware of them as they unfold. You can then take as much time as you want before you say anything. It is going to take some mental energy to make this happen, but it is energy well spent for the boost your self awareness and control.

Is saying “no” one of your habits? In some cases it is. It’s really easy to say no because it allows you to continue to do what you are currently doing; which by virtue of the fact that you are alive and doing it, is safe. Because what you are presently doing is safe is rarely a good reason to avoid doing other things. Unless there is a real reason to not do something, maybe you should be trying other things out. Remember, there was a time when you could do practically nothing and you’ve come a long way from that point.

Cognitive Biases – Some Reasons Why Nothing Changes

With the sheer amount of sensory information that bombards us at every moment it is not surprising that our brains have evolved to use shortcut to help filter the important information out of the noise. These shortcut serve us well, but the automatic nature of them can present us with challenges when we neglect information or make a decision to act without getting more information.

Cognitive Biases by Drake Baer and Gus Lubin on Business Insider gives a list of automatic ways of thinking that can lead to errors in thought. The list is important, not just because it outlines some of the ways that the human brain can deflect accurate perceptions, but because of their nature, we cannot automatically notice them occurring. This is critical. You can combat them using direct conscious effort, but this will take effort and may never become automatic.

Consider the Conservatism bias, “where people believe prior evidence more than new evidence or information that has emerged,” for a moment. This bias may be active within you right now as you look through the list of the cognitive biases and think that they are false and don’t exist. The fact of the matter is, they are real, and over time your brain may begin to accept them as true and alter your understanding of the world to accommodate for their existence. But for the time being, before your brain assimilates this new information, everything you know about how the brain works says that it is a logical information processing machine that puts the same weight on all information it receives.

Why someone would feel this way makes sense. If we are still alive, everything we did before contributed to our survival. Anything new that we learn may not contribute to our survival so we resist it. Why accept untested information when the consequences can be so dire?

Okay, a few thousand years ago. But given that our brain hasn’t evolved much in the last 20000 years, it is no wonder that these cognitive biases exist. Our brain is the product of an environment that ceased to exist eons ago but is still running the same software with the same intention and now both need to be updated.

Read the list and notice some of the instances in your life were these cognitive biases has played a role in your thinking. You may not commit all of them and are likely very good at preventing some of them from happening. That’s great, it means that we are not powerless to their impact. We can, with conscious effort and practice, become aware of them, observe them happen and reprocess the impacted moment bias free. Taking this moment before acting will make your life better, and much closer to what you want it to be.

“The Fog Of War” – Eleven Lessons Applied To Personal Training

Robert McNamara was the Secretary of Defense under JFK and LBJ during the escalation of the war in Vietnam. He had an interesting life with many jobs, but as he got older he opened-up a lot about Vietnam. He had no lust for war and had reservations about it while he was in a position of influence. When he left office in 1968 he had already suggested that the sunk cost of the Vietnam war was too high and that the US should transition their direct fighting role to the South Vietnamese. These suggestions were not accepted and the fighting continued.

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara is a 2003 documentary film about Robert McNamara. What is interesting is that he admitted to his mistakes and expressed that he had done some very wrong things while Secretary Of Defense. He learned from his actions and tried to move forward applying these lessons.

From the movie, the 11 lessons are:

  1. Empathize with your enemy
  2. Rationality will not save us
  3. There’s something beyond one’s self
  4. Maximize efficiency
  5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war
  6. Get the data
  7. Belief and seeing are often both wrong
  8. Be prepared to re-examine your reasoning
  9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil
  10. Never say never
  11. You can’t change human nature

When I read the list, I considered how these lessons would apply to personal training. This is possible if we regard war as a partnership between two countries / groups to fight; in a fashion similar to the partnership between client and trainer. Maybe it’s more of a thought exercise and that I have defined the players in a way that allows me to apply the lessons to something that they were never intended to cover. And that is fine, what matters is if something is useful, not that it is right.

1) If a client wants to change, you’ll benefit from gaining an understanding about how they are suffering and what is motivating them to change their course. While you may not know what it is like to be in chronic pain or how unsatisfying seeing your reflection can be, a moment or two spend considering these things can soften the most dogmatic trainer enough to actually connect with a client to establish the trust needed to guide them towards a more fulfilling path.

2) Burning more calories than we consume is, for the most part, how people lower their body weight. That is a logical and rational thought. People know this yet it does not help them achieve their fat loss goals. Their choices are based on something less rational so the solution is likely going to flow out of uncovering or addressing the illogical something that is making life unfold as it is.

3) Often, people will only change for other people. Having enough energy to be an fantastic mother is one of the biggest motivators for a women to begin to exercise and improve her cardiovascular health. Being told that you are 6 months away dying from a heart attack moves people to make the changes they need to in order to enjoy eventually seeing their children graduate, get married and start their own families.

4) Busy people do not have ample time to do all the things that are needed to quickly achieve optimal health. If they are able to create 3 hours a week to dedicate to to improving it, these three hours need to pack in as much of the most effective movements as possible. Stretching, while important, is not going to improve strength or boost energy as much as lifting weights and increasing movement intensity to elevate heart rate. In this case, there is an enormous opportunity cost to stretching or low intensity exercise.

5) If your goal represents a 5% change in your body / fitness, you need to dedicate a small amount of time to it. If the goal is a 50% change, proportionately more effort is needed. Both the client and the trainer will spend a lot more time and effort at the beginning that then will towards the end simply because there is less to achieve towards the end.

6) Great trainers, like great people, make great decisions when they have all the information they need to make a great decision. Without the information to guide your decisions, your solutions will be incomplete and maybe even geared towards solving a problem that doesn’t exist. Listening without judgment is critical for collecting the highest quality data. You’ll remain open to what is actually occurring and this will shape your counsel.

7) Cognitive biases impact our perceptions in such a way that we see what we believe we see and we find the evidence we need in order to support our beliefs.
The things we see may not exist at all and the real world is likely somewhat different from how we perceive the real world. Effective personal trainers are always aware that they have the capacity to see things that aren’t there and to believe things that are not true. These keep the trainer open to the world and bring them closer to seeing the truth as it unfolds in front of them.

8) Progress is a state of constant change and each change may impact the next action. Effective coaches re-examine their clients course regularly and select different actions when they are called for. They know the reason for doing particular things and will not continue coaching something if a better action exists.

9) Doing good work for your clients is going to mean that you engage the worst parts of their behavior. You may not track in completely on their reason for over eating chips and under eating veggies, but to do the good work as a trainer, you are going to have to engage your clients evil and self destructive actions.

10) Everything that is possible IS possible and will come to be with the correct strategy and enough hard work. If the possible remains impossible it is simply because the strategy is incorrect or the work has not been done. “Never” is something that is said at the end of life or in the event that someone quits working towards their goal.

11) You cannot change human nature and as a personal trainer, you need to be aware of your clients nature. In some cases you can just tell someone to stop eating candy and they will stop eating candy – it’s not these peoples nature to eat candy. Regardless, you will need to work with a persons nature to help move them towards their goal. Someone who loves eating candy will probably always love to eat candy so they need to be allowed to eat candy every now and then because their nature will be expressed if repressed for too long, and these unplanned expressions tend to be over the top and extreme. You can work with their nature by asking them to eat good quality food 80% of the time, and have some candy once a week.

It’s probably fair to say that any good lesson can be applied somewhat to any other area in life. The Fog Of War does present some lessons and growth opportunities for personal trainers.