My Thoughts On Facebook – Post Revisited

In early August 2007 I wrote a post called My Thoughts On Facebook in which I outlined why I had deleted my account.

I reactivated my account a few months later and engaged in the social media world to a certain degree for about 8 years. I stopped posting to Facebook a couple of years ago when I became aware of how the platform made me feel – mostly crappy – after taking an inventory of how my day to day actions were contributing to my sense of well-being. For the record, I do not blame Facebook for my actions nor do I hold them accountable for how I interacted with the site. I was always free to act otherwise and they did not evolve the brain chemistry that makes the quest for “likes” so addictive.

When it got right down to it, I had to answer the questions “why am I doing what I am doing?” and “should I continue to do what I have been doing?”

Many of the people I know use Facebook for the reasons it was created – to stay in contact with other people in a way that gives them control of when and how deeply they get involved. They are busy and finding the time to meet up with friends is tough and usually unnecessary. Most of the connections serve to download whatever updates are needed just to make sure nothing important slips through the cracks, and this is what Facebook is really good for. It’s a semi interactive medium that allows all of our friends to read whatever they feel like that we are inclined to share. “Here’s pictures of a wedding, a vacation, a child’s concert performance, a cat video I found funny, etc….”

This is something that I still use it for, except I don’t post anything about my own life any more. My wife tags me in pictures and that is about it. I’m happy to stay up to date with the on goings of people I know, and I’m honestly happy that their lives are progressing as lives do. Those people have the opportunity to see where I have been with Heather, which is about all I do that I think is worth sharing – here I am with my favorite person doing something we decided to do, planned out, and made happen.

My problem with Facebook, and I literally mean my problem with it in terms of me judging myself, is that it plays on the most insecure parts of my personality. I had found myself posting for “likes” and then feeling good or bad depending upon the responses of other people.

After my dad died, I was a little lost and set about posting a lot in an attempt to generate some sense of belonging or connection. At the time I knew what I was doing and was fine with giving a few months to it because I felt so aimless. It’s hard to say if it served that purpose given that human beings move through grief and maybe I would have felt better anyway but I’m willing to be charitable and say that in the months following his passing that Facebook did afford me the opportunity to reach out and engage the world in a way that contributed to the rebuilding of my happiness. And if it had ended there I think I would still be active on the platform.

It was my quest for “likes” that I identified as problematic; specifically, the transactional rules I had manufactured that governed my engagement. On the face of it there shouldn’t be any complexity here. Posting a quote that I found that was interesting or a thought that I had that I believed was inspirational are not a cause for sadness or social turmoil, and for a lot of people these things are one and done. Socially well-adjusted people will either post the things and deal with whatever comes of them, having no emotional response one way or the other along with no need for a particular response, or else they will just not post them because none of it matters all that much. I was not one of those people. I noticed myself considering “likes” as a growing part of my life. It wasn’t enough for me to get a kick out of reading something or having an interesting thought, I needed OTHER people to get the same kick or acknowledge a kick of sorts. In the very lamest sense, the quote or the idea was not the source of joy that it once had been, the reward came from other people liking or commenting. And the moment I noticed myself deleting posts that didn’t do either of these two things I realized that I had crossed some boundary into the realm of behavior that wasn’t working for me in terms of happiness.

I don’t recall the date, but I recall the moment when it dawned on me that my behavior was not what I wanted or needed it to be. When you hear yourself think “okay, that didn’t work, I have to delete it so people don’t know that it was there” and watch your hand click “delete post” a switch has flipped. Again, I don’t blame anyone but myself nor do I believe that most people develop the same maladaptive behavior. It was me and that is all I am talking about here.

There is NO reason why my happiness should depend upon the decision other people make to check a “like” button about my musings UNLESS I had conditioned my brain to respond that way. Given that relying on other people for anything, let alone actions that will lead to my happiness, is a pointless exercise that leads to unhappiness and resentment, along with it being the effective non consensual enrollment of other people in a contract they don’t even know exists, the question had to be asked, “what the hell was I doing?”

That is much more interesting, and something that I would not have taken the time to figure out had I remained engage in the pursuit of approval on social media. In fact, my life changed directions the moment I asked that question.

Why do people do the things that they do? The superficial answer to that question is usually going to be a post hoc rationale for an action. This is fine when that is the actual reason for doing something. But how often is that?

Not very often. The truth of the matter is that we don’t actually have to do most of the things that we do – there is no compelling or life preserving reason to participate in nearly every social interaction we engage in. Most of our communication is pointless in terms of it doing anything useful. It is made up of talking about things that don’t matter, about people, about how things that are as opposed to how we engineer them to be, back stabbing, or conversations about subjects that we don’t know anything about and cannot contribute to. With the exception of work and child rearing, how many of your thoughts, internal or said out loud, make a difference? Do any of them change anything? If so, which ones and why? And of all that remain, why did you think and then say them out loud?

I’m more than willing to create a bucket called “thinking out loud” to throw these pointless utterances into because thinking is a complex thing and sometimes the physical matter we add to a thought by saying it out loud gives it an energy that makes it actually real / useful when trying to uncover the truth of something. A lot of what I say is actually an attempt to think; in much the same way that my writing is a way of thinking. Writing is better than speaking for this because the words have a much longer half-life and the ability to reread them causes them to be more “real” – both have an impact on the objective world in so far as each takes brain activity and converts it into something with more mass – air and sound waves with talking and physical movement that creates a visual representation of the thought – which give us an opportunity externalize the stimuli and receive it as though it is coming from outside of us.

So with the exception of communication from these three categories – child rearing, work, and thinking – what is the point of the rest? I’ll maintain that there really isn’t one, at least not one that can universally be viewed as helpful. Most of what remains will be in the realm of useless speak or back biting, that serves as validation that we are alive, worthwhile, and connected to other people or to make us feel more secure in our connection with other people by denigrating those who are not there to defend themselves.

My Facebook quest for likes satisfied this. I wanted to feel connected to others and worthwhile and relied on the influx of “likes” as proof of these things. When the likes didn’t come, didn’t come quickly enough, or were not in the numbers I wanted, my quest was not satisfied. The experience is not a flat emotional experience. Getting the likes was rewarding – I had trained my brain to release reward chemicals in response to them. Initially a like was all that was needed, but over time it needed to be more than one and by the time I found that I wasn’t feeling good about being on Facebook the likes needed to arrive very close to the time of posting and needed to cross a threshold number within a certain time frame. Let’s say they needed to start within 10 minutes and needed to hit 10% of my friends list within 4 hours. A post that was liked by 2% didn’t give me what I was looking for, and instead of feeling like nothing, it felt like the absence of something good.

This should sound very similar to addiction, particularly what you might have read about cocaine addiction. Everyone who takes the drug reports that they feel at least good but probably fantastic the first few times they take it. And of course they do, it stimulates the release of dopamine, among other things, which is one of the primary reward chemicals the brain releases. Under non drug situations, the release of dopamine is associated with a change in the internal environment that is perceived as the occurrence of a conditioned stimulus. In learning theory, classical conditioning is the learning that occurs when a reward is closely paired in time with a stimuli that is benign (not innately rewarding). The result of this pairing is that the reward will be released when the stimuli is experienced. Pavlov uncovered this type of learning when he noticed that dogs began to salivate when they heard the sounds that preceded their daily feeding. Since the salivation occurred before the food was given, he realized that the reward was not required to trigger the behavior. The language around the entire thing can be slightly confusing but the conditioning process is real and the discovery shined a big light on what was going on in the brain. What was actually going on became less important than what the animal believed was going on – the raw sensory data mattered less than how the brain interpreted the raw sensory data.

My addiction to likes is a version of this that only differs in terms of the complexity of the perceptions – the unconscious meaning that I was putting on likes. Almost all of the learning happened unconsciously and without my awareness. I think I liked the feeling of social validation and approval although there was nothing intrinsically rewarding with seeing a thumbs up icon appear, or a larger and larger number appearing to the right of it. This was simply visual information. The heavy lifting was being done by unconscious thought processes that extracted / manufactured the meaning. The release of reward chemicals was also done unconsciously and based on the output of a process that interpreted the likes as social validation. None of this was anything that I was aware of as it was happening and it only became obvious months or years later when NOT getting the likes as quickly as I wanted them created a negative experience.

Again, NOT getting likes isn’t a thing that actually exists. However the brain is able to interpret the absence of something as a negative when it has learned to expect something positive. The lack of likes did not trigger the release of dopamine. Since my brain expected this reward, not getting it was experienced as a negative.

The big upside to “likes” addiction when compared to drug addiction is that you only experience the negative withdrawal symptoms when an anticipated reward is received. When I stopped posting, nothing changed other than the elimination of some rewards and some negative experiences when my posts were not received the way I was anticipating. I did not notice the times when I did not get rewarded and did not NOT get rewarded. This is very different from cocaine which is reported as one of the toughest drugs to withdraw from.

Understanding this process is important for a few reasons. When we introduce an exogenous chemical that triggers the release of reward chemicals, our body starts to down regulate the production of the impacted reward chemical because it tries to maintain homeostasis. With Cocaine and dopamine, each person has a natural level of dopamine inside the reward centers of their brain. When they take cocaine, the concentration of dopamine increases. Initially, this will feel great, but since the increase pushes levels above the upper threshold of what is natural, the body adapts by decreasing dopamine production to restore homeostasis. If, which isn’t usually the case, the person does not increase their cocaine consumption, their brain will find a level of dopamine production that reflects the normal level. They won’t feel high anymore, just normal. This is called tolerance and it is the manifestation of the brains attempt to keep things within a very specific level of operation. If the cocaine is stopped, the brains decreased dopamine production will result in a lower than normal level of dopamine which will be experienced as a negative by the person.

Dopamine and other naturally occurring reward chemicals are considered action creating or action promoting because they will motivate the person to take whatever action they have paired as the conditioned stimulus. In my case it was the quest for “likes” but in the case of a cocaine user it will be drug seeking and taking behavior. The reason why my quitting Facebook cold turkey did not cause me any withdrawal was because I hadn’t done anything to down regulate my natural dopamine production. My brain was operating as it naturally did. It manufactured the normal amount of dopamine and released it in response to the things it had been conditioned to release it to. The only tolerance that had occurred was the learned tolerance to the number, frequency and speed of “likes.” My brain was doing what it always was doing and that is to grow accustomed to rewards in so far as to grow the magnitude of the stimuli that was required to trigger the release of the dopamine.

This is different from chemical tolerance because my brain was still capable of manufacturing and releasing a normal quantity of dopamine. It just doesn’t do it in response to the same amount of stimuli as before. It is a type of behavioral tolerance or stimuli tolerance – it is completely perceptual and based off of brain activity. Chemical tolerance is the brain changing how it functions to reduce the amount of the dopamine that is manufactured. It has nothing to do with perception (mental activity) and is a completely biological response to changes in the physical internal environment.

The other reason why it is important to get a good understanding of the Pavlovian conditioning of reward activation to perception is that it reveals a lot about how human beings find themselves locked into acting in ways that do not objectively reflect their best interests. I am grateful that I set about trying to get likes only to find that there was a growing need for them in order to experience whatever positive outcome I was getting. Had I not journeyed down this path it might have taken me a lot longer to notice what was going on and, therefore, what had always been going on. It was just very easy to notice the changes in my response given the immediacy of things that happen on the Internet.

It is fair to say that my brain operates in more or less the same way as everyone else’s brain, which is more or less the same way that every brain has operated for millions of years. Not that pre-modern man thought about getting “likes,” just that they had a brain that would release reward chemicals in response to things that it wanted to repeat; in the same way a dog’s brain gets it to do the things that preceded a reward before. This is both exceptionally simple and remarkably powerful.

Much of its power comes from the fact that it is both unconscious and automatic and this renders us almost completely incapable of stopping it. The opposite is not true, we CAN consciously impact it – we have the ability to teach our brains that any benign or neutral stimuli is rewarding simply by rewarding / triggering a reward within close temporal proximity to the stimuli. In fact, given our power of perception and our ability to have conscious thought, there is almost NO limit to what we can condition our brains to believe is rewarding because the idea of future reward serves as a sufficient proxy for actual reward. We can learn to delay gratification almost indefinitely so long as our brain has sufficient experience with finally receiving a reward for something that it delayed.

There is a lot of talk about the marshmallow experiment that deals with delaying reward. The initial reports from the study seemed to reveal that children who were able to delay gratification at an early age were able to carry this ability with them into adulthood and, as a consequence, had better behavioral outcomes. Children at a particular age were given the choice of one marshmallow now or two marshmallows in 5 minutes. Some of the children would just eat the marshmallow immediately while others would hold off for the larger reward later. Children in the second group were said to have the ability to delay gratification and were viewed to have better impulse control and they appeared to have fewer behavioral issues later in life. The narrative here makes sense, but subsequent studies reveal a more detailed picture that isn’t as cut and dry.

Children who were able to delay gratification could very easily be flipped into non-delayers if during the initial trial their waiting was not rewarded with the promised larger reward. This is an important finding because it complicates things dramatically. The researchers did not have control or complete knowledge of everything that happened before the study. While it might seem that some children were incapable of delaying gratification, it is possible that they had just learned that there is no such thing as delaying gratification based on their previous experience. If a reward is available now and a greater potential reward might be available later if they wait, experience has shown them that there never is a greater future reward, there is only a reward now or no reward at all.

The brain will reach a particular age that context will begin to factor into things meaning that a child of a particular age won’t be flipped into an immediate gratification seeker by a dishonest actor and will simply identify the dishonest actor as being someone who cannot be trusted. This means that there is an age / maturity threshold at which point the brain will be able to parse the context for specific information that will allow them to make a tight rule about who cannot be trusted vs. a general rule that no one can be trusted. It would not surprise me that, before this age, the dishonesty of a primary care giver would have a catastrophic effect on the long term trust strategies developed by a child.

All of this is said to explain that rewards are not a simple topic or that the rules that apply to dogs necessarily apply to humans. The larger the brain, the more complicated and robust the rules can be. And as an individual gains more experience and forms more long term memories, these rules can be shaped by things that are not real, have never happened, and are not even in the realm of possibility.

This is where Facebook and my quest for “likes” was given room to grow. Social acceptance is a thing that human beings are coded to identify and something that we likely find rewarding. The initial rewards may not be dopamine fueled, but it would stand to reason that they would be sooner or later. Once that happens, dopamine will be released in response to any form of perceived social validation coming from any perceived source. And after my brain got used to getting it, it would begin to need more and more of it in order to trigger the reward. This is why I started to dislike my time on Facebook and why I found getting off of it to be a positive. There was no withdrawal, just the creation of freedom as I no longer felt the drive to think up something profound to post in an attempt to harvest “likes.”

From what I gather, I am not alone in finding the potentially rewarding nature of Facebook likes to be more than a little disruptive to the day to day experience of being alive. Most of the social media sites have altered their business model to become attention capturing and holding over something else. People who are a lot smarter than me are working on the problem of how to keep people engaged with the sites / platform by stoking whatever emotional triggers serve to hold their attention most tightly. They don’t care about doing good or about helping people make the most of their time on the planet. They care about keeping users attention while generating as many clicks as possible. Social validation, outrage, humor, in-group / out-group thinking, etc….. it doesn’t matter. The attention of potential users is what is critical because this is what they will use to generate money.

I don’t blame Facebook or other social media platforms. It isn’t their fault they have figured out that third party companies will pay them a lot of money if users remain connected to the platform. And it isn’t their fault that they have figured out the way that peoples brains work and are using it to generate a lot of money. I’m kind of grateful actually. As much as it might seem like it was a big waste of time, I wouldn’t have taken the time to figure out what I was doing or why I was feeling the way I was had I not had the opportunity to do those things and feel that way. Facebook actually helped me wake-up to what was going on in my brain by forcing me to ask some very important questions.

Why do I do what I do? Well I don’t know, but at least some of the time I know it is for the dopamine. The rest of it, maybe because it makes me angry or outraged, maybe because it once got me something I thought I liked, and maybe because I’m not all that different from the rest of the living beings on the planet and do what I have done before and just normalized.

I have no idea what role Facebook and other social media platforms will play in my future but I’m pretty certain that I’m going to have a better idea of how they are trying to get me to do it. And I think that is actually a lot more fun and interesting than anything else. Knowing and accepting that I am the product and the fuel in their business model gives me a lot more control of how mindfully I engage it, and in setting the limits of what I’m willing to do and for how long.

Responding To Criticism – Post Revisited

About seven years ago I published a post title Responding To Criticism. It outlined a more pragmatic way to handle criticism that can shift / reverse the negative emotional valence reaction and allow you to make take the most out of the interaction regardless of the validity of what is said or the intentions of the person who is giving it to you. Basically, you treat the interaction as if it is a part of an improv act and employ the “yes, and” strategy. You simply just assume that the criticism is valid and take some time to figure-out what the consequences are.

At the time I suggested that you remain quiet and approach it as though it is an introspective exercise. There should be some later processing to factor in who the person is that offered the criticism because the motives of other people can be much more revealing than the actual words they are using. The key is to accept whatever it is that the person says as being a possible truth and to allow it to exist without judgment. This is tough to do when we feel that someone has just criticized us given that negative value judgments tend to trigger emotional reactions that hinder objectivity.

I maintain the view that we should accept whatever is said as being the truth and remain as open and non-reactive as we can to ensure that we are able to extract as much value from the statement as possible. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we unconditionally accept it as the truth, just that we accept it as true for the initial run at it. This is how improv operates, there is a single thread that runs from beginning to end as each player takes their turn reacting and responding until time runs out, the audience is laughing, or a natural end point is reached. Unlike improv, once our introspection reaches an end, we return to the beginning and reprocess the subject factoring in context – who the person is, what their motives are, how they would gain from having the criticism accepted and acted on, etc…. This is much closer to dialectical analysis because it allows for the consideration of much more of the picture than simply just the words.

Frankly, in the moment you cannot care much about the person who has shelled out the criticism because having feelings towards them one way or the other will bias your initial interpretation of what they said. As such, you have to try things on from both sides – like you care about them and are more willing to assume that they are telling you the truth OR like you don’t care about them and are more willing to assume that they are lying to you. The best option is to assuming each, one after the other, in order to arrive at a more complete picture of things.

You’re probably going to keep this process to yourself and not ask them to be a part of it. They’ll say their piece and you’ll go through the pros / cons of it being true and then the pros / cons as being the statement made by someone in the present context. However, you may want to get the other persons involvement. Doing so is a little risky in so far as it can be interpreted as being confrontational and if done carelessly it can prevent future feedback from a well meaning person.

In this case, the “yes and” part of it is done out loud. As opposed to doing the introspection and analysis yourself, you push the responsibility of much of this onto the other person. By asking them to explain the consequences of your behavior, you might be able to find out why your action / behavior is problematic, how it makes them feel, and to uncover the distance between your intention and the actual outcome. There is also a chance that they will be able to suggest an alternative that might lead you to the outcome you are seeking. Regardless, how the person addresses you will indicate a lot about their state of mind and might just reveal their actual intention / motives for saying something in the first place. The rule of thumb is that people are either trying to help or trying to hurt and their follow-up answers will be aligned with their intention.

No matter what they say, you will have to take some time to process all of it from both sides of the coin in order to extract the maximum benefit from the interaction. The positive outcome is clear when the person is acting with good intentions – they what the best for us and are providing a portion of the road map towards achieving that. In the case of a person who is being critical because it serves their ends, the introspection that is fueled by the dialectical analysis will bring up a lot of very useful information – who to trust and why or why not, the nature of this persons relationship with the world and with facts, the nature of how they operate in terms of manipulating you into feeling or doing something, and, most importantly, what they view as bad in so far as most people do not criticize others for things they themselves view as positive.

The good, the bad, the ugly and the UGLY. How you engage the other person in response to criticism will go a long way in determining what you get out of them. With those who are making an earnest attempt to help, you will get the good stuff out of them by employing either the good or the bad approach, but will likely alienate them with the ugly, or when the bad approach is used exclusively. Those who wish you harm will offer up more useful information when the bad approach is used and less with the good approach. When the ugly approach is used, they will shutdown or attack. The quickest way to find out someones intentions is to use the ugly approach; but this comes at the cost of the potential alienation of those who care about us and a toxic interaction with those who wish us harm.

The good approach will have you ask probing questions to uncover what the person heard you say and how that made them feel. You are approaching the other person with an open mind and a sincere willingness to understand how your action made them feel, how it was interpreted and what the consequences or likely outcome will be. It is granular, very specific and absent of any judgment. Everything is fine and after this interaction, the future will be better. You are taking the responsibility for guiding the conversation, something that will become more clear when you read the bad and the ugly, but in general they will not feel any resistance and your curiosity will prevent any defensiveness.

The bad approach will have you ask a flat question that is very much the same as “yes, and?” This is more like improv in that it is assumed that each person has an obligation to take a turn and contribute to the conversation / interaction. Whereas you were asking them specific questions with the good approach, which removed any sense of obligation, the bad approach is more forceful. You are agreeing with the person by saying “yes” but are then asking them to explain the consequences of that truth. This is much more abrupt and it instantly forces them to think about the interaction in terms of possible outcomes. Someone who is offering genuine feedback will already have done this to some extent and while they may become slightly defensive by your direct ask, the information you are seeking will be readily available. Those who are throwing bombs, or are have been emotionally triggered into criticizing you, will not have this information available to them because they will not have spent any time thinking about it before they speak.

The ugly approach will have you ask something to the effect of “so what?” This triggers defensiveness in almost everyone who hears it because it is empty of curiosity and is completely void of the collaborative agreement that are innate traits of the good and the bad. It also has hints of a dominance hierarchy in that they are being forced to present a justification for their criticism / feedback for consideration. The dynamic is set up in such a way that you get to be a decider and vet the legitimacy of their rationale. It has a linguistic / conversational structure that is establishes inequality or validates that the interaction is not between two equals; this is the primary characteristic of contempt.

The ugly has a long lasting quality that the good and bad do not have. It creates a negative emotional experience in most people. This serves as a punishment in a psychological sense – it suppresses the actions that preceded it along with creating the pairing of negativity with the person, serving as a disincentive to spending time with the person in the future in any context. An honest player might engage the person once or twice because they are genuinely trying to be helpful but they will quickly learn that it isn’t worth it. A dishonest player won’t care because their objective was to do harm and the ugly response serves as proof that they were successful. Those who rely on this approach will quickly find themselves surrounded by people who do not care about them, do not try to help them and will say and do whatever is required to end the interaction as quickly as possible.

The UGLY approach is any reaction that can be considered to mean “you would say that” or “I don’t care.” It is the outright dismissal of the other person and not just their opinion. Regardless of the intentions of the person who offered feedback / criticism, the reaction will be negative. The relationship with a positive operator will be permanently damaged; they may not say anything to indicate that harm has been done but things will never be the same again. The reaction from someone who is setting out to do harm is very likely to be hostile. This slight will be noticed and will serve to fuel the escalation of their animosity. An UGLY response will eliminate the possibility of harvesting anything good or useful from the interaction because it will stop it dead in its tracks.

It is fair to say that the difference between feedback and criticism is determined by the intention of the person who is offering it. Those who are trying to help are giving feedback while those who are trying to harm are given criticism. However, the intent to do harm does not necessarily mean that you will be harmed or even that you cannot benefit from the other persons efforts. When you assume that everything is feedback and offered-up with the goal of improving your future actions, on the initial pass, you will be able to extract a lot of potentially useful information. You are not on your own here and can engage the other person in this endeavor. Depending on how you set about extracting this information, you have a lot of control on both the amount of information they reveal and the context from which it is coming. Bad actors can be revealed quickly, and their efforts to do harm do not need to be successful.

Of course, when you assume only nefarious motivations you will miss out on the positive intentions of the good and will never have access to the possible benefits of listening and hearing what the unsavory players have to say.

Mice Adapting To Being In Space

In 2014, SpaceX launched a resupply mission to the International Space Station that included mice. They were placed into the Rodent Research Hardware System with the objective to study how they adapted to micro gravity and life in space. The video below contains some footage.

Although the video has a lot of cuts and is missing practically everything, it does look like some of the mice are having fun.

What is striking is just how quickly they adjust their movements to accommodate the near weightless environment. They groom, eat, play and move around, as mice do on earth. When you look closely, you can see that they use their toes to grip the bars of the cage to remain in place and to stop themselves from floating away. You can also see how their movements become more refined during the time covered in the video – the “swimming” type movements of their rear legs that are visible during the first few days are almost completely gone after 10 days.

This is something that human beings also experience during the initial periods of weightlessness as their brains struggle to get a handle on what is happening and to learn how to move around without the benefit of friction. The movements are useless though as they do not do anything other than waste energy and increase the risk of injury to oneself and others. But after a few days, the brain figures it out and learns how to move effectively using the least amount of energy possible. It is remarkable just how quickly the brain figures this out and adjusts to the micro gravity environment of the ISS.

The amount of room that they mice have is dramatically larger than that which is available to their human counter parts have. While the internal volume of the ISS is massive at just over 32000 square feet contained within 16 modules, none of the modules contain wide open space like the mice get to enjoy. Getting wide open pressurized spaces into orbit is expensive and since there is no justifiable science reason to do it, they haven’t done it.

With the exception of Sky Lab, the first US space station, human beings have never really had much room to move around while in space. This mission was launched in 1973 and the habitable section was contained in a refitted third stage of a Saturn 5 rocket. It was basically a pipe that had a 22 foot diameter. It was 85′ long and was broken up into two rooms. This gave the astronauts 10000 sq feet of space to work, live and float around it.

It’s remarkable watching this second video because it is more or less the same as the mouse video – living beings getting used to micro gravity and then enjoying the experience that the improved ease of movement affords them. I have no doubt that it is what I would do if I was up there and it’s probably what almost everyone else would do.

Our brain, and the mouse brain for that matter, is remarkable in its ability to quickly adapt to whatever it is forced to deal with. In the case of zero G, the experience is completely sensory in so far as the internal narrative will not alter the meaning of the sensory information. There is no gravity and the body is effectively weightless. There is nothing that can be said to re-frame the raw sensory data in terms of it being anything other than what it is. The brain has NO choice but to accept what is occurring and deal with it. This lack of choice jump starts the process because no mental effort is directed towards trying to interpret the situation as anything other than what is going on. The mice of course do not have this narrative re-framing ability so their brain instantly sets about figuring how to go about living life in the new environment.

A lesson that can be taken from these space experiences is about the true cost of resisting reality. When we can and choose to see things differently from how they actually are, we delay our powerful innate adaptative processes that allow us to quickly adjust to changes in the environment. This can temporarily delay putting in the effort that is needed to normalize to the new situation, but the cost of doing so is the ongoing waste of mental energy that is required to maintain the narrative story. This loss of energy is going to continue until the environment returns to the previous normal or the decision is made to accept reality and adapt to it.

The total cost of adaptation is going to be the lowest when we accept reality instantly, bring in very detailed sensory data and let our brain process it. This is what the brain has been doing for millions of years and it is what YOUR brain has been doing for all of your life. When we delay accepting reality we waste time and energy and we also increase the potential that the eventual cost of adapting will be larger as a result of us becoming more invested in something that isn’t real; given the relationship between the strength of a belief to the length of time we have held it and the amount of effort we have spend trying to defend it. The neural networks grow more robust over time and in response to greater stimulation that results in confirmation – even if the confirmation is a misinterpretation of the facts.

Reality is what reality is, and it doesn’t care about your feelings or beliefs. The sooner they align with it, the sooner your brain will be completely free to figure out how to best adjust to the changes to allow you to live with less resistance. Stop making things harder for yourself and let your brain do the work it unconsciously and effortlessly does to create a life of ease.

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.