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.

User Guide for the Mind – unconscious/conscious mind

The body – your actions – takes commands from the brain. It will do everything that it is told to do. It’s the work horse that takes the brains wishes and tries to make them the reality.

This is a simple concept and it has massive ramifications when trying to improve your life.

The brain works on two levels. There is the conscious level – thoughts that we are aware of or actively controlling – and there is everything else that the brain does that we have no awareness of. Any time we are not using our conscious mind or directing attention towards something, the unconscious mind has full control over our body. Most of our actions are generated unconsciously and they reflect the will of a part of our brain that we have no awareness of.

This is a more complicated concept with massive ramifications with maintaining an unsatisfying life.

The issue is that what UM deals almost exclusively with things that have happened in the past.

It is going to process the daily information assimilating it and looking for patterns and threats. The goal is survival so creating a world view that is consistent and based on what has already happened makes complete sense because if one is still alive what they did before worked. But we aren’t in the wild anymore so we can be a lot more open to the experience and information we allow our brain to process.

Look at it this way, it’s what the brain does anyway so put it to work and create positive change.

You don’t want to prime it with things that aren’t working or things that you know are not right and won’t work for you. But doing this is going to take conscious effort and directed attention because the UM deals with things that have happened in the past and created behaviors that are based on the survival lessons learned. Given that the body takes most of its actions from the UM, these actions tend not to serve a creative or forward-looking function. If you need to change your life, you need to change the type of information that is being feed into your brain. After a period of time, the UM will begin to seek out this type of information and start to generate actions that reflect a positive change.

It doesn’t take very long for goal directed actions to begin to shape the way you view the world and overtime it can become self-reinforcing. But it does take sustained and active attention on the things that will bring you what you are looking for.

Prime the UM with new experiences and new information. Actively seek out the things that you want. Be or act and have the experiences that you want to have.

Sunk Cost – Another Way The Past Influences Your Future

Sunk cost is regarded as the amount of money / resources that have already been spend / invested into something that cannot be recouped. These costs have already been incurred regardless of the outcome.

For example, spending $5000 digging a hole in the back yard for a swimming pool. Regardless of how you proceed after the hole has been dug, you cannot get the $5000 back; filling in the hole will not return the money. Another example is working on a relationship – you can spend 6 months going to therapy in an effort to mend things with no guarantee that you’ll both grow old together.

The issue with sunk costs is that they can bias perspective and effect decision making because we can tend to place a higher value on past actions vs. future actions. A number of studies have shown that people become more certain about their decisions after they make them – those who bet on a sporting event will immediately become more confident that their desired outcome will be the eventual outcome once they place their wager.

The reality is very different. While the betting odds can change as a result of more people betting on an outcome, and while those people will become more certain about the outcome, NOTHING about the outcome has changed. The team that was going to win is still going to win. The actions of those outside of the system will have no impact on the actions inside the system.

To put is another way, what is the eventual outcome is going to be the outcome regardless of any sunk cost. Sinking cost into a bad decision will not make it a good decision REGARDLESS of any perceptual tendency to think that it does.

Given the human tendency to further invest in poor choice because of sunk cost, it’s easy to see how this can have a detrimental impact on ones life. Alternative options will not be considered or will be viewed less favorably and resources will continue to be invested into a poor decision. What is viewed as unworkable from an external and objective point of view can be viewed as worthy of continued effort by those who are involved and subjectively engaged in the process.

How do you know when you are being impacted by sunk costs?

  • You’ll hear yourself saying or thinking “well, I’ve put this much into it already” while you have a feeling that walking away will be a waste of that effort. In this instance, you have already realized the eventual outcome but rationalizing a delay by looking at the sunk cost. Immediate action is both appropriate and needed here.
  • You have a tendency to view things in terms of win:lose and not from a perspective of what was the lesson from an experience. You don’t want to lose so you continue in a failing attempt to win. In reality both are abstract and meaningless distinctions. If you choose personal growth from an experience you will be able to move forward very quickly because you’ll view the sunk cost as the price for a powerful lesson.
  • You are fearful to consider different alternatives because of a sense of wasted time / money / resources. This is an indication that you are not being objective and open minded, a clear indication that something illogical is at play.
  • You have a scarcity view of the world and believe that you may not ever have the sunk resources again. Being loss avoidant isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when you hold a view that what has been spend cannot ever be regained, you are not looking at the future accurately. The consequence is that you end-up pouring MORE resources into something that is a lost cause; this will increase the scarcity of resources making real the very thing you are trying to avoid.

There are times to stay and persevere and there are times to learn a lesson and change your course. The right thing to do is the thing that is objectively and statistically the most probable way to achieve your goal. The wrong thing to do is to avoid unpacking your reasons for staying because you believe everything would be a waste if you were to stop.

Sunk costs impair rational thinking so if you are in a situation and have spend a lot of resources on it, be mindful that your natural tendency will be to view continuing as the best course of action. It may be, but take the time to see the potential costs of continuing and to evaluate the situation for what it actually is right now vs. what it was when you made the decision to invest in it.

Getting Back To Leading

“What other people think about you is categorically irrelevant” is something that I recall one of the Landmark leaders saying to one of the participants. Intellectually I got it, it’s all meaningless and empty so peoples opinions are equally meaningless. Emotionally it isn’t as easy to grasp. As social creatures, we want to belong; heck, we need to belong. There has been an evolutionary imperative for us to be motivated to be part of a tribe given the certain and rapid death that a solitary individual would face.

This is not the case anymore. Sure, we need caregivers to raise us to adulthood, but the general cuteness of babies almost ensures that this will happen. But after we become adults and start paying taxes, our need to belong decreases, quickly diminishing and then eliminating the need to be liked.

But be the need to be liked by others is often a roadblock to making better choices and transforming breakdowns into breakthroughs and can be the reason why we fail to take action or make decisive decisions. It can keep us grounded in what we believe to be possible and is often the reason for not thinking differently and acting with vision in mind. Holding a need to be liked above everything else will prevent you from becoming a strong and trusted leader and will stop you from making a very real difference in the world.

This need to be liked actually has us act in very unlikable ways. Consider some of the lies that have be uttered to avoid the scorn of telling it like it is. We’ll save peoples feelings by lying to them about how their hair looks, their choice of clothing, the way they sing, about their work ethic, about their irresponsible actions, etc….

The need to be liked prevents us from saying it like it is for fear of alienating people. Instead, we indulge them in their delusions, further enabling their self-abuse and lack of accountability. We squander the opportunity to foster a relationship built on trust and let them get away with being average because we care too much about ourselves to actually try to make a difference in another persons life.

Leading has very little to do with being liked – that is to say that being likable is not a requirement for being a good leader.

Your ability to lead depends on your ability to create trusting relationships with people, your ability to inspire people to do the things they need to do and your ability to communicate a vision of a reality that does not yet exist but that others play a role in creating. These are easier if you are respected as a person and leader, which does not mean you need to be liked. In fact, getting people to believe in and do the impossible is about not letting them off the hook – something that can make people feel really uncomfortable. But expecting the best out of people and holding them to their highest standard is what leaders do.

Take a moment to consider the impact that your moments of not being completely honest have had on other people. Consider the possibilities of what could become reality if you had spoken your mind and called it as you saw it.

“Your Body Is Your Vessel” – Reading Your Mind

Drinking, ironically, when Tony said “your body is your vessel.”

In many ways, the contents of your body represent the sum total of your choices and your path through life.

Those before and after anti-meth ads are effective because they quickly show the impact of certain decisions. Ruined faces fill-in information about how someone got to where they are.

Being lean or muscular or having a nice body implies a certain level of something that most people do not have or do.

A slow grinding walk, with fallen shoulders and dropped head says a lot about the mood of the mind and the body, and even more about the decisions being made on their behalf.

A constant vacant smile and a lack of presence or connection with other people reveals a chaotic thought stream, which may be functional, is also a flood of open loops and unreconciled issues.

The scars, the bruises, the plastic surgery, the dental work, your words, your intentions, the spontaneous thoughts, feelings and actions, the planned, the controlled, the free movement about the planet tells a story about how you got to be where you are today, the contents of your mind, the actions of your caregivers, friends, and self.

Your body is your vessel, and it is so much more. It reveals your most intimate details and leaves you open to be read like book with big letters and few polysyllabic words – it is all there, written about the faces, bodies and movements of others, it’s all there for EVERYONE to read. You are obvious, and it’s fine, we all are.

Negative Love Syndrome – It Can Stop Here

A few weeks ago Sharyl sent me an article. It was a .pdf of The Negative Love Syndrome by Bob Hoffman. It is fascinating and I’ve read it a few times a week since I got it. It isn’t very long and it is another layer of explanation along the lines of how people observe, learn and practice things as a child that become their unconscious adult behaviors.

With Negative Love Syndrome (NLS), just like compassionate love, children normalize the early experiences of “love” they observe from their parents / caregivers interactions with them and each other. No matter WHAT happens, it will be regarded as normal and set the baseline for all love behavior moving forward; these early experiences shape the child’s future actions so they will work unconsciously and often against their own interests to ensure the baseline experience is restored. But with NLS, the children normalize seeking loving behaviors that do not add quality of live or are simply negative.

For example, when mommy withdraws and doesn’t tell dad what is bugging her, daddy yells and then she does. The boys learn that adult females are cold and conditionally open (when they get yelled at), the girls learn to bottle things it up until her partner gets verbally abusive. Provided the boy yells, both eventually get what they want so they remain in “love.” This is in contrast to compassionate love were the women may not talk openly, but her husband accepts that she will talk when ready and will not pressure her. Children viewing this will internalize appropriate boundaries, and both the need for and respect of another person’s privacy. While the boy will not learn how to make conditionally females open, he also doesn’t learn to attack an object. He learns that women are people, with feelings and that they will talk when they need to. The lesson a girl learns from watching her mother set-up and honor the boundaries can on serve to make her more empowered.

If left unresolved NLS will manifest itself as a series of games between the adult and their future partners although little if any of this is conscious. Seemingly healthy relationships will begin to suffer as the adult works to create the relationship of their parents; which is the reason why they suffer from NLS. If their partner doesn’t realize that this is happening and remains committed to having a healthy relationship, they begin to alter their actions and play the game as well. This is why NLS relationships create unusual experiences for those who normally engage others with compassionate love.

It makes perfect sense when you reflect on it. You need and want your parents to love and approve of you so you try to do what they did. Doing something different than what they did will be tough because it goes against most of what you learned; it will feel and likely be perceived as rebellion. The assumption people make when they choose to get into a relationship is to work towards the bond that their parents had. One does not necessarily realize that this is what they are doing because they engage most parts of their life without the impact of NLS such that they may pick suitable candidates for girl or boy friends, ones who offer compassionate love, but once their own feelings of love begin to develop the negative love tendencies start to come out and degrade things quickly.

The confusing thing is that often what they are receiving is EXACTLY what they need and know they want but since it doesn’t feel like negative love it is rejected. The consequence of compassionate love being rejected tends to be a withdrawal from the rejecter – a negative love trait. So by rejecting the thing they want and need in their life, they are able to experience the thing that makes them feel normal and shittie.

People are going to be nuanced when how they manufacture a negative love environment so the games that get played can be very complex, engrossing and red herrings in terms of what is actually happening. Think about it, you are engaging someone with a very fast brain, that has automated and normalized something to the point of it falling outside of their consciousness so they are not even aware of what they are actually doing, let alone why they may be doing it. They KNOW something isn’t right, but resist all coaching in an effort to win the game.

The prognosis is good but only if the person is willing to change, so the outcome for most is poor. I have known a couple of people who have been able to find their way out of the darkness and would be confident that if someone is willing to work at it, they can get better. It takes time and a keen awareness of how you are thinking. But first it takes the person to realize that there is something wrong and a willingness to press pause, let things settle and see how the landscape looks.

The Saddest Truth – Never Seen It, Never Do It

Recently the world has lost a lot of its fog and I’ve been able to see some truths a lot more clearly than before. The saddest truth is that of why some people act like complete jerks, heartless, thoughtless and generally a complete pain in the butt to be around. It pains me because as a rule, they weren’t born this way, they were raises this way.

In terms of socialization, children are effectively blank slates when they are born. Certain personality traits are innate, but the degree of their expression is going to be determined by the experiences a child has as they grow up. For example, most human beings are capable of experiencing empathy. We learn through watching our parents and peers that the feeling we get inside when we hear of something troubling happening to someone is called empathy and that a small expression of the emotion is an appropriate response to bad news for someone else. Happiness, love, anger, sadness, guilt, shame, etc… are all the same way. We have the capacity to experience them and we learn how to manage their expression through observation and practice with the people we socialize with. These early experiences lay the groundwork for what becomes our emotional spectrum in terms of expression, thoughts and triggers. So our caregivers from birth to age 10 play an enormous role in determining how we handle ourselves as we interact in the world.

But imagine the possible consequences to a system that relies on a small number of people to enrich a young person with all of the experiences that are needed to effectively create an objective understanding of the world and ones innate emotional potential. For one thing, this approach is very narrow in scope and it engenders an almost carbon copy of what the caregivers believes. While not necessarily a bad thing, it doesn’t actually offer a lot of diversity and can lead to adjustment issues once the child experiences different points of view or a different world view; as each new experience must be assimilated or repelled to maintain a consistent understanding of the world. Also, by virtue of the small number of primary care givers, many experiences will be missed because these they fall outside the scope of what these people know. Finally and most seriously, there is not sufficient redundancy in such a small system to safe guard for the deluding influence of a deviant role model; anti social or maladaptive behaviors are assumed to be the norm by the child very early. Their struggle with the world begins well before they have an capacity to understand what it is about their behavior that isn’t appropriate.

Love, self-image and anger are the three main emotional areas that are most negatively impacted by absence or inappropriate childhood behavioral modeling.

Love is complicate in the self-aware adult, it’s a ball of confusion for a child. First thing, parents and adults are capable of loving each other in the same way a child loves a parent and also in a completely abstract way that doesn’t make any sense to a child. But that’s “love” modeled for a child. Assuming the care giver is capable of expressing love, the child will begin to generate an association between the feeling of love and the actions that accompany it. If the feeling is paired with loving actions – smiling, cuddling, holding, talking, singing, basically the things that make one feel happy and secure – the child’s understanding of family / caregiver love will well established in reality which will serve them well as they move forward. But if the care giver models something other than loving actions when the child is expecting love erroneous emotion / action pairing begin to form and the child’s view of love will corrupted. For example, an abusive parent who yells, hit or punishes their child for being afraid of the dark, painting outside the lines or not being immediately successful when trying something new. Care giver actions like these teach the child that no one cares when you are afraid, that love is conditional upon you being successful at everything you do and that creative efforts will result in emotional or physical pain. That becomes their understanding of love. It’s ugly, it’s damaging it, and it occurred before the child was old enough to identify any of what was going on.

Self-image depends upon care gives identifying our talents and efforts during critical periods in life. Between 3 – 7 children need to be acknowledged and recognized for how they engage their world. This is critical because they are starting to branch-out and their understanding of the world is expanding as their brain matures – their social circle is growing as they go to preschool and then to school. For the first time in their lives, they have the cognitive capacity to consider that they are not the same thing as other people and that each person is separate. In order for a child to properly form an accurate image of themselves, they need to be taught about themselves. Care gives who recognize a child’s actions and talents help them associate these actions and talents with the image they create about who they are. Care givers who do not draw the child’s attention to their achievements fail to help them connect the dots between actions and self-image, often leaving the child fixate on this phase of development. The end result can be insecurity and narcissism as the developing child struggles to satisfy a need for a positive self-image but having never been given the tools needed to consolidate it out of real life experiences.

Anger and its expression is in many ways the most damaging outcome of inappropriate modeling as anger tends to motivate drastic action that lacks consideration of the future. Anger is natural. It is a very useful survival tool as it can motivate irrational murderous rage, which is exactly what would be needed to fight off an attacking animal. Thankfully that doesn’t happen too often but it needs to be considered that deep within each of us lies the potential to go bizerk and destroy life. Anger needs to be experienced and released, but it needs to be let out in a controlled undamaging way whenever possible. A care giver who takes the time to let out their anger in a control non-volatile way will teach the child the appropriate way to let the emotion flow out of them. However, the physically abusive parent who channel their life frustration onto their child in the form of abuse teaches the child that they are simply an object on which other people beat when they are angry. It doesn’t take very long before the child learns to be helpless and retreats into their head knowing that the violent world will always lay a beating upon them. Worse still in how this lesson makes its way through the generations as the grown child, who has only seen abuse (hitting their children) as the model of anger expression, pays this pattern of behavior forward.

Socializing human beings is a tough, time consuming task, made even more challenging by their tendency towards unquestioned single trial learn and a brain that doesn’t full mature until early adulthood. The key thing with it is to model and teach a child appropriate actions and appropriate responses to external events and emotion evoking occurrences. Our emotional system is well established and it comes on-line will before our brains develop the capacity to work with all of the abstract information that tends to create our understanding of the world. Keep in mind, if a person has never seen it, they are not likely going to do it. If someone is failing to behave in a way that is appropriate, there’s a very good chance that they don’t even know that what they are doing is not appropriate because they haven’t seen anything else, and they haven’t had someone tell them that their actions are alienating and simply don’t work for them.

New Challenges – Moving In With Rachel – The Final Month

Sadly, things haven’t worked out with Rachel and me so last month was my final month living with her. I’m not going to get all blamey, down or amped-up for what comes now because I don’t really feel any of those things. Rachel is a great person with a ton of potential in many areas of her life. In two years we’ll both be doing great personally and professionally – that’s inevitable – so there’s no real point in suffering the time between now and then for it is only temporary.

But there are lessons and wisdom in the entire experience so the pragmatic thing is to put them down so I don’t forget them and maybe they can be of use to others.

People need to be alone for a long enough period of time to know that they can survive independently. If this time is not taken or this knowledge is not present, one may view others as a necessary part in their life and NOT simply as a choice. I’m not sure how long this takes, but it takes time. It is only when you know what it’s like to be alone that you will know if it’s better when you choose to be with a specific person.

People should be able to identify when they are trying to control another person. This will usually happen when two people disagree on something and cannot simply agree to disagree. To not be able to agree is human, to not accept that the other person has a right to feel what they feel simply because you don’t agree with them is very shortsighted. In reality it doesn’t really matter for most things. What does matter is your ability to accept that others have a view of the world that is important to them and you should not try to control this. Provide evidence for your point of view if you like, but just do your best to let others do what they need to do.

People are not good or bad, they just work to make real the internal world view they hold. Actions will generally construct events that tend to validate your self image or self-talk. Most of the time, people are completely unaware that their actions reflect this view. Attributing malice to most things is inaccurate given that most behaviors, even self-destructive ones, are self-interested actions.

Behaviors are not good/bad or right/wrong, they either work for us or they don’t. By using judging words when talking to someone about their behavior we create shame which causes them to withdraw. Judgment fosters contempt, which will destroy a relationship and likely the possibility of a friendship very quickly. You have to let people be themselves and make the decision if their way of being is compatible with yours. If it doesn’t work for you, you need to move on fairly quickly.

There are many more things that I have learned from my time with Rachel but these are four big ones that, moving forward, I will try to focus on.

Has Human Evolution Stopped? Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Our Ancestral Mind in the Modern World: An Interview with Satoshi Kanazawa introduces some interesting ideas about why we do the things we do.

In fact, we’re not playing catch up; we’re stuck. For any evolutionary change to take place, the environment has to remain more or less constant for many generations, so that evolution can select the traits that are adaptive and eliminate those that are not. When the environment undergoes rapid change within the space of a generation or two, as it has been for the last couple of millennia, if not more, then evolution can’t happen because nature can’t determine which traits to select and which to eliminate. So they remain at a standstill. Our brain (and the rest of our body) are essentially frozen in time — stuck in the Stone Age.

One example of this is that when we watch a scary movie, we get scared, and when we watch porn we get turned on. We cry when someone dies in a movie. Our brain cannot tell the difference between what’s simulated and what’s real, because this distinction didn’t exist in the Stone Age.

Emotions Are Not Thoughts

I spent a lot of my life miserable until my dad told me to stop mistaking my emotions for thinking. 10 years I had no difficultly accepting Des’ claim that spontaneous emotions exist to let us know that something significant is happening, that we’ve picked up on something important or that our conscious attention is needed on something. Emotions are a window into our the unconscious mind and what they bring forth in our awareness is the immediate representation of the quality of dissonance between the world we are perceiving and the world we are predicting.

The human brain is very effective at processing and storing information. This processing capacity allows it to compare present sensory and perceptive input against years of stored experience. Any input that matches a stored memory can trigger an emotional release and what that release is depends on your emotional state when the initial memory was encoded and stored – matching on a negative experience will mostly likely trigger a negative emotional response. It is very effective at bringing forward distant memories and aiding in our survival; given we are still alive, doing what we did last time will likely result in the same thing.

This useful system that has one major draw back, it is also triggered by the perception of something not just the sensation of it – those with a fear of clowns can trigger an anxiety attack by just thinking about clowns. This characteristic of emotions makes it very easy to create a feedback loop and when paired with the belief that emotions are thinking, led to a lot of my misery. Imagine you think about a clown and start to get a little anxious. If you tend to mistake emotions as thoughts, you will believe that there is an actual physical reason to feel anxious. As you look for the reason why, you will undoubtedly think about clowns which will cause more anxiety. The cycle will continue until the anxiety dissipates.

The realization that feelings are not thoughts stops this cycle because it gives us a chance to engage or talk back to the emotion. Once we are able to figure out where the emotion came from we are then able to determine the true value of the information that it is giving us. In the case of the clown loop, we’d be able to say I feel anxious because I am thinking about a clown instead of believing that I feel anxious because there is a good reason to feel anxious.

Emotions are not thoughts, they are real and they contain valuable information but they are not the same thing as thinking.