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.

How I Have Been Wrong – Post Revisited

About five years ago I wrote the post How I Have Been Wrong to cover some of the mistakes that I had made up until that point during my time in the fitness industry.

The 5 mistakes I admitted to were:

  • Believing that nutrition is more important than food.
  • Believing that the program is more important than consistency.
  • Believing that by creating an emotional response a transformation has occurred.
  • Believing that EVERYONE should workout and become more healthy.
  • Believing that what gurus said was more useful than what I knew.

I can confidently say that I did not make those mistakes again, which is a good thing, so I have decided to take another run at the same topic to cover some of the other mistakes that I have made. This list has less to do with the fitness industry specifically, although some of the lessons could be applied to it, and you may notice that some of the items were actually the fuel for realizations outlined in the first list. I’m also going to alter the way I present the mistake by stating the lesson first and then unpacking the error. The list is by no means complete and will be added to in future posts.

Most of our thinking is unconscious. The brain is always active even when we are not doing much. Whether it be the passive assessment of sensory information for signs of threat, the reprocessing and consolidation of memories / experience, the interrogation of memories in order to reveal patterns or connections, the triggering of mental processes that help the brain make sense of the world along with the reprocessing of the output of these processes, the control of thousands of physiological processes, or the moment to moment adjustment of biological functioning required to maintain homeostasis in order to maintain vitality and life, the brain is always busy doing something. We have very little awareness of these things and are generally only aware that they exist as a consequence of their output or when they don’t work the way they are supposed to. At best we can only influence the input that the brain receives in terms of content and volume by directing our attention in varying degrees to specific things in the physical or mental environment, and be aware of the output of whatever processes yield information that can be moved into consciousness. For example, when asked what two plus two is we become aware of the answer but we have no awareness of what is involved with generating that answer.

We should always keep in mind that consciousness is another one of these automatic and unconscious process for which we only have access to its output. This is a big one because it doesn’t seem to make much sense given that we are conscious. But take a moment to consider the experience of being awake and alert and try to determine why you are not aware of something that you know but are not thinking about. What comes to mind is not everything that you have ever experienced. It is in fact only a tiny portion of what you know and not necessarily the most useful part of it. In order to bring to mind more information, we need to spend more time thinking about a subject. And on two different days, our initial thoughts about a subject might surface two completely different things. Sure, both things will pop up if we spend 20 seconds thinking about it but for some reason what appears in consciousness is not consistent. Something big is going on under the hood that is determine what comes to mind and we have almost no access to the inner workings of these processes.

Human beings are meaning making machines. We need coherency and order and are more than willing to make things up just to ensure that we have these things. Facts are less important than narrative consistency and we will ignore them when they are in conflict with our existing world view to ensure that we remain “right.” The reason we do this is to conserve the mental energy associated with maintaining open loops. This is a survival practice that allows us to close off experiences and move forward having more complete access to our cognitive capacity. It is safer to be wrong and energized than it is to be unsure and drained. Uncertainty is exhausting, so a false certainty, while not accurate, was actually a safer bet in terms of survival in our ancestral past. It isn’t an ideal trait for living in the modern world but it’s deeply coded into our operating system and requires deliberate effort to suppress.

Human beings automatically answer every question they hear. What is remarkable is our ability to come-up with answers to questions we cannot possibly know the solution to. This happens because our default course of action is to solve problems quickly so we can go back to burning as little energy as possible. Most of our answers will be centered on addressing “why” something occurred in an effort to gain the illusion of control in the future. Cause and effect relationships between stimulus and response are understood to be an essential part of the universe, so we gravitate towards uncovering / making-up these types of things. When we do not have any specific information, we will make-up whatever is required or generalize based on binary pairings that are of the “us” vs “them” flavor.

The longer we believe something or the longer a belief goes unquestioned, the more confident we become in its truth or factual nature. The reason for this have to do with the organic nature of the brain. Memories and mental processes are stored in neural networks – rich interconnected collections of brain cells. It is tissue that is made-up from the food we eat and has been laid down in response to the sensory and mental stimulation the brain has been subjected to. The structure of these networks is completely dependent upon the stimulation meaning that it will only be impacted by what happens. Given that most of the mental functioning exists below the level of conscious awareness, we have no idea about the true amount of stimulation that occurs, all we can know is what we were aware of.

However, what we pay attention to will shape what happens afterwards and the more we pay attention, the greater the impact on the cellular structure. By focusing very intensely on something, we dramatically increase the impact on the brain because it saturates the sensory input buffers with data / information of a particular type, which will result in a greater stimulation and force a higher level of adaptation.

This is not an innately dialectical process. What goes in is what gets processed and assimilated. The brain doesn’t spontaneously set about trying to figure out if it is correct or not. In fact, correctness, truth, and rightness are not even things that the brain is in a good position to understand let alone seek out. It deals with “what is” and more specifically, taking its experienced “what is” and making an internal representation of it so it can be better equipped to make predictions in the future. It has no relationship or coding for something that isn’t experienced – the neural networks that make error identification possible will only exist if the brain has had sufficient experience with the subject matter. It cannot interrogate perceptions against information it doesn’t have, and since the information is not there, the brain just moves forward with what is has.

This is the reason why errors MUST be identified as quickly as possible to ensure that the error is not rehearsed into long term memory. Once the tissue has been laid down to code for the error, it’s going to be much more difficult to correct it. And the longer the organic tissue resides in the brain, the more sticky the information it codes for becomes.

Consciousness is the last thing to deal with what has just happened. Reality is objective in so far as the physical material of the universe exists and is moving in a particular direction. Subjective reality does not exist in the same sense physically. In fact, what each one of us is aware of is just the output of a reality simulation that is running in our brains. This simulation is based on a stew of sensory data, long term memories, perception, and thousands of other unconscious mental processes that come together to serve up consciousness from moment to moment. For example, the thing we look at and experience as a tree is something that is out there, but the “treeness” of it is only something that exists in the brain of the person who is looking at or touching it. This is to say that we do not experience the tree directly, we experience mental activity that is interpreted consciously as tree. This conscious awareness is just the final step in the entire process and there is a lag of between 100ms and 500ms between the sensory data that trigger the sensory cells and our experience of that triggering.

Most people are completely enamored with their perception of their own brilliance. Obviously, given that we manufacture a meaning that is coherent and void of any innate error correction. What goes in and is stored is not viewed through a lens of probability of being correct, it is just brought in, processed, and stored as an internal representation of the external world. Since we cannot process what isn’t there, there isn’t ever a reason for us to actually believe that we are not completely correct, at least not an automatic or spontaneous reason to believe it. This leads us to have a growing level of certainty about almost everything that we have any experience with. Since there is no process for review, we move forward knowing we are correct and much better than other people at most things.

The reality is a lot more average than that. We might have some skills or talents in a particular area, so maybe a brilliance of a particular flavor in one or two things. We might be good at a few others that we have worked at. At everything else, we are at best average at but given the nature of statistics, we are probably below average at most things. Even being average at something isn’t actually all that good. Based on the distribution of skills, someone who is at the mean level of capability might only have between two and ten percent of the abilities of the most capable person. It’s understandable why we believe we are brilliant but we aren’t and should probably stop pretending so we can actually get better at things.

Learning new things is simple, but it is very hard work. Since all learning is the physical adaption to stimulation – the laying down of tissue – it takes time and effort. Organic material can only be generated at a finite pace, so regardless of our desire to learn quickly, it can only occur as quickly as biology will allow. About the only thing we can do to speed it up is to maximize the input of sensory data by working hard and paying very close attention to what we are determined to learn. This process will reduce the length of time needed to learn something but it will require a lot of mental energy and it will have a negative impact on our ability to do other things.

Direct physical experience is more important than anything else when it comes to surfacing talent and developing skills. Aside from maximizing the speed of brain growth in order to hard-wire a new skill, direct physical experience is required to trigger gene expression, which is ultimately the reason why some people have talent in a specific area while most others do not. Without direct physical experience, the genes will remain dormant and our potential will never be actualized. The biggest opportunity for human beings here is based on the fact that we seem to have way more genetic code than we are currently using. The stuff isn’t all useless as has previously been suggested. Much of it codes for traits that were previously helpful and are no longer needed to serve a survival function in modern life. But the traits are still in there because they were hard earned and helpful in determining evolutionary fitness.

Human beings have no idea why they are thinking what they are thinking in spite of their certainty that they know why. All of our explanation are post hoc and are based on what has happened as opposed to what is happening. It may not make a lot of sense to look at the world in these terms, but by not doing so we remain convinced that we know our motivations for doing things and that our conscious experience of reality is a reflection of what is actually going on. Neither of these things is true, and there is a growing body of evidence that indicate this fact. Functional MRI studies show that the decision making parts of the brain peak in activity level before the subject is conscious of the decision they have made – they will actually believe that they are making the decision after the brain has already made the decision because this is what it feels like. Given the need for a coherent meaning and understanding of the world, it is not surprising that people resist accepting the reality of what is actually going on and will instead choose to believe that their consciousness is in the driver’s seat.

Almost everything we say and think is unimportant, not helpful and serves only to distract us from the fundamental truth about life. Working backwards, the fundamental truth that people are resisting is that life is hard and it is finite. We’re all going to die and before we do, we will struggle through almost every day having to do a bunch of different things to help sustain life. No matter how satisfied we are in the moment, it will pass and we will become unsatisfied again forcing us to do more work. No one likes this fact, and most of us resist even considering it by remaining distracted by anything that will hold our attention. The end result is that we talk more than we should, about things that don’t matter, are not helpful, or cause others pain and suffering. But it feels like it matters and it feels better than the experience of reality in our own minds when we are forced to not be distracted and to actually allow life to be what it is.

If you are not sure about this, take some time to consider, on the fly as it is happening, what you are talking about in terms of it being important and helpful. You’ll very quickly notice the trend towards back biting and engaging in useless speak. Now perform the same inventory on your internal dialogue and notice how so much of it is the very boring play by play announcements or the musings of a psychopath who doesn’t have your best interests are heart and seems hell bent of ignoring reality almost completely by focusing on the very limited perspective made possibly by having a seat in the theater of your mind.

So there are a few things that I have been wrong about. There is a lot more, but I’m going to need some time to process what I have just written down and to notice the output of that processing. Maybe I should be a little less hard on myself and phased it as things I wasn’t getting right or didn’t realize but this seems like trying to put a nice spin on things. It doesn’t really matter when all is said and done. History is what it is and since my brain works hard to create a meaning that is coherent I have no doubt that I’ve already stopped feeling bad about not knowing that I didn’t know something and begun to lay down the tissue that will help me make better decisions in the future.

On The Mindless Menace Of Violence – Post Revisited

Yesterday was the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. so 51 years ago today Robert F Kennedy gave the speech that is referred to as “On The Mindless Menace Of Violence.”

The first time I ever heard the speech was sometime in early 2011 and I found it very moving. Some of my feelings were covered in the June 1, 2011 post On The Mindless Menace of Violence that has a link to a YouTube clip of an audio recording of the speech.

The first half of 1968 was a particularly bad time in America and early April was a low point of an excessively brutal year. News about MLKs murder traveled quickly and seemed to be the spark that lit the powder keg which was the growing level of dissatisfaction among the coming-of-age Baby Boomers and pretty much every race of people that wasn’t white.

The rage which was justified, could no longer be contained and riots erupted in many U.S. cities. These brought about swift reactions from the authorities. The first reaction was to try an put an end to civil unrest using force, and the second was a shift in the political climate that added a lot of momentum to the movement towards more equal rules and policies.

RFK had been a big advocate of civil rights and had a strong following among ethnic voters and within these communities. That spring was a time when the democratic primaries were being held to choose their candidate for the Presidential election later that year. Against the advice of his advisors, he made a single campaign stop in Cleveland, Ohio the day after King was killed. This was not the first time that he disregarded the security advice of his campaign staff.

He did not have a death wish but he also knew that the there was an important job to do and that fear would only get in the way of completing it. He was very aware of what was going on all around the country we he stepped in front of the crowd of 2200 people at the Sheraton-Cleveland Hotel and gave the speech.

When you listen to it, and you really should because it is powerful and dissimilar to the speeches we have grown accustomed to from modern politicians, it is striking that he does not give anyone a pass. The thrust of it is geared towards the perpetrators of violence and how they are taking actions against people who simply want to live their life and make things a little better for themselves and their families. He tries to paint a picture that we are all the same race – the human race – and that any action of unnecessary violence against one of us is an act of violence against all of us.

He knew full well that what happened the day before in Memphis, Tennessee was going to happen again, and again, and again, but that it could not go on forever because we would not let it. Two months and a day later we was killed and a lot of the optimism and belief that the human spirit is good and that it would eventually outshine evil seemed to evaporate.

He was right however, it just took a lot of time. The world is very different now than it was half a century ago. Most younger people don’t care about race, religion, sexual orientation, or any of the things that were historically used as wedge issue to trigger the us / them or in-group / out-group thinking. In every way life is better today than it has ever been. Sure, it’s not perfect, violence is still a fact of life, there are a lot of people who are suffering and not everyone enjoys the same advantages or head start. But it is better and improving.

What is less talked about is what RFK did on April 4, 1968, which is in a big way, much more impressive and it goes a long way to explain why he took the stage the following day and why he campaigned fearlessly until early June.

Kennedy had learned about Kings death as he boarded a plane to fly to Indianapolis for a campaign rally. He had some time to amend his speech and prepare some remarks to talk to the severity of what had just happened, what MLK represented and meant to the world and to speak to the void that his murder created. He cared about the people, but could not directly relate to how they might be feeling. There was a concern that into the void would flow more and a dramatic escalation of violence, which would cause more death and suffering which would serve as the fuel of a chain reaction that would be nearly impossible to stop.

This concern is legitimate given the tendency for people, and all living things, to be driven to action right as hope evaporates into helplessness. This is a very dangerous time given the feeling that there is nothing to lose, nothing to gain, and the window of opportunity to do massive harm to those you deem as responsible for everything that is wrong with your life. It is not rational yet there is a certain flavor of wisdom in it, which is why Kennedy took the chance to try and walk the country back for the edge

When he spoke, the first thing he told the crowd was the Martin Luther King Jr. was dead. This was news to everyone who had gathered to hear him speak. He conceded that many might be filled with hatred and a lust for retribution. There was no judgment in his words and many regard this act of empathy and compassion as being a source of peace and stability in a moment when the country was beginning to explode into chaos.

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

That night there was no rioting in Indianapolis and the following day he gave the On The Menace of Violence speech.

The world never got to enjoy the actualization of his vision. Nixon won the election in November and became president the following January and while he is regarded as having been remarkably liberal and progressive, especially for a Republican, he had some flaws that took him down along with a lot of his administration.

The 1970’s were like a decade long hang over for the turmoil of the 1960’s and the Vietnam war. The public was divided and did not have a lot of trust in their elected officials. There were no leaders like JFK, MLK or RFK and the global economy was in rough shape and a dramatic increase in the cost of oil in 1974-75 created an energy crisis that further suppressed optimism.

RFK was right though. Human beings are two sides of the same coin. We can be evil, violent and thoughtless towards other people. But we can also be kind, compassionate and responsible. The side of the coin we happen to find ourselves on is determined by what we are taught as being appropriate and socially acceptable. When we learn that our fellow citizens are our brothers and sisters, different but the same as us, we learn to treat them more fairly and act towards them with kindness. This is what generation X learned from their caregivers and families, and these are the lessons we pass on and try to teach.

His speech is a relevant today as it was back in 1968 because treating people fairly and with compassion will never be the wrong thing to do.

Choosing A Fitness Club – Post Revisited

So you have decided to invest in your future and start to work out, good for you! You won’t regret it. Improving your fitness means that you are going to be improving your health, and that always means that in the weeks, months and years that follow, you will live with at least a little bit more ease.

And like many people you have decided to avoid the upfront cost of buying all the needed gear to create a home gym and instead join a local gym. Okay, that is probably a good idea, particularly if you have never been a fitness enthusiast before. Improving ones health is not for everyone so unless you commitment devices are an effective way for you to stay on track, buying a bunch of equipment isn’t the best idea because it is expensive, it takes up room, and in the event you choose that fitness isn’t for you, its continued presence in your home serves as a kind of impulsiveness hangover.

Join a gym for a year and be curious about what the membership reveals about your commitment to physical self improvement. Review this decision at the end of the first month, the first quarter, nine months in and midway through the tenth month. If you like it, renew or invest in a home gym, and if you don’t, make sure to cancel your membership so it expires at the end of the year and you don’t end-up paying for time you don’t want or use.

Gyms are like restaurants or candy stores – not all are created equal. And if you have specific needs, you might have to send some time looking at different ones to make sure the fit is right. If you don’t know what you are looking for, and this is probably the case for anyone who is just beginning their journey into the realm of deliberate fitness, how do you go about finding the right gym for you or at least right enough to allow you to get started and objectively make the decision if its a trip worth taking?

There is one major consideration and a few other things to look for that will help you make as good a decision as is possible about something you know practically nothing about.

Will you go there three to five times a week, every week for the next twelve months? If the answer is no, don’t join. Look somewhere else and if the answer is always “no”, save your money or spend it on something else. Of all the considerations, this is really the only one that matters because improving fitness takes consistent effort over time. While one workout will help, the true benefit is cumulative. It will take about six months training  three to four workouts per week to get to a decent level fitness. This is between 78 and 104 visits to the gym over that twenty-six week period.

Keep this thought in mind when you are visiting the potential gyms. You will be coming to this place between twelve and sixteen times a month and if you do not see that as a possibility, don’t sign-up. This is actually more important than what you will be doing at the gym because a safely done low quality workout done consistently is more effective than the highest quality workout done infrequently.

This is the major consideration and the only show stopper. You don’t have to like it, although it is better if you do, you just have to do it 78 to 104 times in the next six months. If you are confident that you will and are willing to make that commitment take a look through the tips below on things to look for during your initial gym visits to get an idea of what you will be signing-up for.

When to shop: Make it as close to real life as possible. If you plan on working out right after work, make the visits right after work and drive from work. If you plan on going first thing in the morning, wake-up one day and make a dry run. Road and gym traffic have a pattern that is very stable. It isn’t enough to imagine that it will be rush hour and things will be busy because when we have “go fever” our optimism will colour our imagination in a way that will make us over confident that we won’t be annoyed. When we make the drive under real life conditions we are having an experience that is very close to what we’ll need to do over and over again. If it sucks before we sign-up, what reason do we have to believe that it will stop sucking once we pay?

Time of day plays the biggest role in determining the type of people who go to the gym. There are five distinct types of gym trainees and you will undoubtedly start to become one of them as you spend more and more time training when they train. They are early morning, off-hour, after work, late evening lifters, and the generalists. As rules of thumb, anyone who is willing to get out of bed to go to the gym will likely be highly driven and have less time to waste on things they deem as unimportant. The after work people will have a similar desire to waste as little time as possible. The late evening lifters tend to have a very focused lifting intensity but a more laid back approach to their between sets time. Off-hour people have selected these times because they work for them in terms of traffic flow and life management. The generalists workout whenever they can or feel like it. If you don’t like the mood, tone or energy when you visit, it isn’t going to change. But if you decide to train at that time, you probably will.

Once you get there: what does the parking lot look like? Are there lights, are they on when they shouldn’t be or off when they should be on? Are there garbage cans and are they overflowing or is there garbage all over the place? Is there sufficient parking? Are the specialty parking spots close to the entrance? Is there an employee of the month parking spot? If there is cleared snow, how has it been left? Have walkways been shoveled and salted or sanded? Is there a snow shovel visible? Do they have a flag pole and if they do, what is the condition of the flag? Is it at the right position – half or full mast? How are the cars parked – are they within the lines, are they backed or driven in?

All of these things will give you a good impression of how the staff approach their job and how the landlord approaches their tenants. Parking lots have very few rules or laws that specifically apply to them so most of what you will see will be the reflection of decisions people make to go above and beyond what is required. People who are willing to walk past garbage are making a decision to leave it on the ground, which is a reflection of what they believe they are responsible for.

The way people park is also very revealing. Double, crooked or otherwise selfishly parked cars are an indication of a possible personality flaw in the driver. In every case other than that of someone being a bad driver, there is a near zero percent chance that this flaw will not manifest itself in other ways inside the gym. While the staff is not responsible for how people park, they are responsible for making sure the members act in a socially acceptable way which includes how people park.

The first twenty feet: this is about first impressions and it includes information from all of your senses – feelings, smells, sounds and sights in that order. There shouldn’t be a taste and if there is, you should probably take a few moments to reconcile that fact. Is the floor level, is it bumpy, are there broken or missing tiles, is there a floor mat and is it clean, does the door open and close smoothly, does everything you tough feel clean? If you shake someones hand, what is their hand shake like? Do all of the staff shake hands the same way? Our brain picks up on the feeling of things in a mostly unconscious way, so give it the opportunity to take this information in and generate a perception. Our feet will feel problems very quickly and will make you aware that something isn’t right. Try to notice the information that is coming from the floor because it tells us a lot about the existence of a cleaning schedule or system and the level of care given to maintenance.

People who are moving intensely are burning a lot of energy, generating a lot of heat, sweating a lot and releasing a lot of water and carbon dioxide. For these reasons, gyms need to have very good ventilation. The air should be fresh, dry and odorless along with being at a temperature that matches the time of year.

What do you hear as you walk in? The volume and type of music, the sounds of the equipment, the amount and volume of chatter between members, what do the staff say to you and to the other members? Are there systems in place to control greetings and prospective member intake?

Finally, what are you seeing? Is the gym clean, well organized and tidy? Do the staff have uniforms or a dress code? Is the gym branded and if not, does it look like someone has given its appearance some consideration? Are the signs up to date, mounted in a consistent way, and appealing to look at? Can you tell the staff apart from the members? What are the members wearing? Are their finger prints or dust on things? Are their any burned out lights?

As you tour the gym: is any of the equipment out of order and if so, how long has it been that way? If it isn’t clear, ask someone. Is there a way to clean the equipment after use and do you observe members doing it? Do the members put equipment back after use? Are their weights left on the machines or barbells? Are there enough dumbbells and how high do they go? Is there a functional training area? Do they have squat racks and are there any Smith machines? How many hamstring curl machines and of different types are there? Do they offer group fitness classes, do they have their own studio and does it have an independent ventilation system? Is it clean and tidy?

Make sure you go into the change room and all bathrooms. Are they clean and tidy? What is the condition of the lockers? Is there soap, paper towels and toilet paper available? How is the water pressure and is there hot water? Are there any signs posted and if so, what do they say? For the record, people can be disgusting and most of the problems that management need to deal with concern the change room. The signs here will paint a clear picture of what they are hoping to put an end to or prevent from ever starting.

The staff: how are they acting? Are they busy, friendly and radiating an energy that is positive and free of drama? Do they look like they work out and with those who don’t, are their eyes moist and vibrant? Is this a job for them or a calling? How do they interact with the members? Is there a clear supervisor or manager and if so, are they on the floor or in an office behind a computer? How long have the staff worked at the gym?

The member enrollment conversation: is it a hard sell or an easy conversation? Are they trying to get you to join on the spot and have answers for any of your objections? Do you get a weird feeling in your stomach during their presentation that is a sign that someone is trying to control your thinking or emotional state? Are you being listened to and heard, or is the person just waiting for their turn to talk? When they reveal the price, do they try to reframe it or put it in context that relates to your fitness objectives? Are they honest about what the gym is and what it isn’t? Are they offering an enrollment gift as an incentive to join and if so, is it of high or low quality? Are they clear about the cancellation policy? How do they answer your questions and do they freely release information? In general, do they know what they are talking about or are they just there to process you as a transaction?

Final thought: The thing about gyms is that they are, at their core, big rooms with equipment and people. YOU are the engine that drives the results and that is only going to happen if you go consistently over time. The highest quality equipment and top level staff have no impact on members who do not show up, and they have only limited impact on those who are their regularly. What determines the cost of the membership and the value you get out of it is the number of times you go to the gym and how intensely you train when you are there. A $250 a year membership used once a month is essentially more expensive than a $700 a year membership used five times a week, every week for the entire year. And that $700 a year membership is a much better value when each of those workouts is performed near your max possible effort.

YOU are the difference maker. The gym is a tool that you will use and the staff are a part of the service that makes the process a little more convenient and maybe a little more enjoyable. But the responsibility of making your future better falls completely upon you. A gym membership is not the solution, USING that gym membership is.

If you haven’t read or do not remember, check out Choosing A Fitness Club. There are a few other tips or considerations that you might find helpful.

The Next Generation Gap – Post Revisited

Around 12 years ago I wrote the post The Next Generation Gap in response to reading the New York Magazine article “Say Everything”. The article was like nothing I had ever read before and it was a kind of wake-up call that reminded me that I was 34 and no longer in the drivers seat in terms of determining what was new and cool. My generations run at the front was over and we had been replaced with something that was so much different from everything that had ever come before.

The essence of the New York Magazine article was that the young people had always known the Internet and had come of age when broadband and the exceptionally low cost of storage had eliminated the need to be selective. Gone were times of film and chemical development that took time and money, replaced with digital cameras, unlimited pictures and the ability to store them online. Capturing a moment is just a matter of taking a bunch of pictures, switching to review, thumbing through what you got and keeping the ones that you want. It didn’t matter because there was no cost associated with taking a picture and you got to see it instantly to make sure your hair was right and that no one was blinking.

2007 was still very early days in whatever it is was we were going through and at the time of my post, the iPhone was about three months away from US release. Looking back on it now, it seems quaint to think about a world without the cloud, without instant access to Facebook, twitter or whatever social media applications matter right now. But 2007 was the calm before the explosion, and the younger people at the time were carving themselves a long lasting identify by capturing and posting large portions of their life online, for almost anyone to see, forever.

That was the essence of the article. With a no rules and no holds barred approach to making everything available, what the heck were these people doing to their future? There would be no secrets and anything they did would come back to haunt them. The article didn’t predict this of course, it was just so obvious that it would be the outcome given that no generation had ever existed so transparently before. They were young and naive. Actions have consequences, even for those who lack the foresight to predict them. Give it a few years, a decade at most, and the day of reckoning would hammer down on those too willing to share everything.

Except that isn’t what happened. The day of reckoning arrived, sure, but the hammer avoided those who shared so much. It turned out that living out loud and in constant public view served to immunize them from the fall that comes along with finally being outed as a closeted asshole. Except that wasn’t how it happened. People did simply not grow tired and immune to all things shocking – if that was the case, when the hammer dropped it wouldn’t have made a sound or crushed anyone. By growing up in a time when everything you say and do will be documented by someone, posted on line, and be instantly accessible forever, you learn to behave like a person who is one day going to have to account for your actions. Who you are is well known to anyone who is willing to take the time to find out. All of the bad things you have said or done are as accessible as all of good deeds you have bragged about or made public. Lives have been destroyed, but mostly those who are members of the older generations who managed to control the message and manipulate everyone’s point of view.

Smart phones were tools that young people knew how to use and they had potential consequences for bad behavior that were obvious to them at the time and have become obvious to the rest of us over the last decade. When you are in public, either physically or via broadcast, there are NO secrets and nothing will be forgotten. This isn’t brand new, it’s just that before powerful people were predictably able to shift opinion before by slut shaming, buying favors or silence, changing the subject completely, lying or controlling the narrative to such an extent that demonstrable facts didn’t matter. Powerful people are less able to do this now, so for a much larger portion of the population, there is no escaping the past.

Being held to account for your transgressions is a good thing, particularly when the fear of that account acts as the disincentive for transgressions in the first place, because the world is a better place when people behave and treat others as they want to be treated themselves.

There is a down side though, and it has to do with the volume or quantity of stuff that is being created. There is a devaluing that is going on, which paradoxically explains why making everything available to everyone all of the time has had the impact of causing people to feel like they don’t matter or that they cannot keep up. A quick comparison between social media streams clearly indicates that most people live a life that is way more exciting and just plain better. Envy is the more common response when we see the Instagram photos of an influencer who has been able to parlay their genetic lottery winnings into a life of unreasonable amounts of fame, fortune and fun. Our May “two-four” and “August long” weekends at a friends cottage are great experiences and fantastic memories until we see how the real The Weeknd or Kylie spend their time. Then we feel kind of crappy because our twice a year indulgences don’t keep up.

It’s everyone’s social media stream though. And when people notice the crappy feeling associated with being average, they share more and more stuff in an effort to lift their Klout Score or its current alternative. And in response to sharing more, other people feel worse and try to medicate the crappy feeling of being average by sharing more. This of course leads to billions of experiences being shared and made available to everyone which results in a reduction of the value of any individual experience. The joy is lower and it has a much shorter half-life. Whatever sense of elation we got from witnessing the solar eclipse evaporates the moment we see that Sally saw it from a cooler location when we look at the photos she posted. We may choose to not experience it all, instead opting to watch the HD video the next day on YouTube or watch people watching it.

Which gets us to the problems with sharing everything. The goal is no longer about having an experiences, it’s about sharing us having them, which is not the same thing. The result we might be seeking, although we won’t say it, is to trigger a negative emotional response in the people who consume our social media stream. The inevitable outcome is that everyone else is doing it. This results in most people having two types of experiences, those of documenting what they are doing and those of looking at the experiences that other people have documented. Neither of which is the same thing as being present and engaged in what you are doing from moment to moment.

The upside to sharing everything has probably been an improvement in civic behavior because we all know that we’re not going to get away with anything for very long. The down side is that there is a growing mood of collective melancholy as we are constantly reminded of how much better life can be but isn’t for us.

And that makes me a little curious about what the next generation will do to shift culture in response to living out loud and wide open. Time will tell, it always does….

Reasons To Not Be Afraid – Post Revisited

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

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

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

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

Oh, and I had kicked something.

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

I was just tremendously sad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting Stuff About Conflicts of Interest – Post Revisited

In early October 2012 I posted Interesting Stuff About Conflicts of Interest and have decided to take another run at the topic because my feelings have intensified and evolved since then.

Heather likes sales people – well, she likes listening to their pitch and she completely admits that she is open to being taken on the “what would your life be like if you owned this” ride that skilled sellers can take you on. But she doesn’t buy anything she doesn’t want to buy. She is open, but always in control. Sellers like her up until when she says “no thanks.”

I’m the opposite of it this – I hate it when people try to sell me stuff. I rarely allow myself to consider the benefits that buying their product will bring me while I am in front of the sales person. I’m on guard constantly when I shop. It can take me a long time to buy something and I rarely use the items I buy on an impulse or was “sold”. The buying (the sales) process for me is about collecting information that I will consider later.

Both approaches work, but Heather’s seems to deliver a more joyful experience than mine.

Heather is extremely strong and has a clear vision of what she needs in her life. She is able to go along with the sales process to see if the object fits her vision. Items that do, are bought, items that do not are not. It’s very simple. At her job she says “no” to a lot of vendors so she doesn’t seem to fear the consequences of saying “no” and she is already primed with the knowledge if someone is selling something they cannot be trusted to speak objectively about the negatives of that item. She buys when her mind is made up, and she ONLY buys when she wants the thing that is being sold.

I’m different here. While I’m strong and have a vision of what I want my life to be like, I need to try things on in a more reflective way. The reason I believe I am like this is because I have spent a lot of time selling in the fitness industry and am aware that effective selling can be about doing something to the other person vs. doing something for them. Be it a gym membership, personal training sessions or supplements, these items are sold the same way, on the hope of a better life or some improvement if someone ends up buying. While I was selling, I had a conflict of interest that biased my view of what was true.

Much of how I see the fitness world now is based a need for me to live with myself. Given that, as revealed in the clip of my initial post, IF I have a conflict of interest I will have a tough time being honest, in order to live with myself I need to remove the conflict of interest.

What I’ve stumbled on, through experience and conversation with my brother and Ben, is that the industry as it presently exists is incompatible with my views. Most of the people in the industry are selling something OTHER than what the industry is offering. They are selling the hope of a better life disguised as a short-cut. Regardless of their conscious or mindless intentions, very few of them are actually being honest about what they are doing. “Join this gym and you will lose weight”, “eat this supplement and you will gain muscle”, “train with me for 6 months and you’ll become a brand new person”, etc…..

Some of what they promise might actually come true, but that doesn’t make their sales pitch an honest one because most of the people who buy from them do not achieve their goals. In the fitness industry, the sellers are leaving out two very critical pieces of information that one must keep in mind when someone is attempting to sell them something:

1) The seller stands to gain from them buying. Even if the seller is a very moral person, they will lie, manipulate, pressure, etc…. to get the other person to buy their product or service (P&S). IF the seller honestly believes their (P&S) is effective and amazing, and will help the other person get what they want, can they really be blamed for playing hardball to get them to get them to buy? After all, they are acting in the other persons best interest even if the other person doesn’t see it that way. While not necessarily malice, it does imply that the seller does actually know what is best for the other person and knows with absolute certainty that their (P&S) is the best. In the fitness industry this is rarely the case.

2) The future actions of the buyer are what will determine if a (P&S) is actually helpful. In fact, the (P&S) is essentially interchangeable for any similar (P&S), equally effective or useless depending upon the actions of the buyer. The responsibility for the outcome is solely on the buyer.

Consider these for a moment.

If it is the actions of the buyer that determine the value of a sellers (P&S), can the seller really make any statement about the efficacy of what they are selling? The answer is almost always no. The fact that so many people in the fitness industry fail to recognize and mention that their P&S are useless without the consistent effort of the user makes it a dirty industry, loaded with salesmen, cheats, lairs, charlatans and the otherwise “need to be ignored”. Given this it’s easy to understand why so many gym rats dislike the personal training industry. They don’t care that the clients are using the equipment, they don’t like seeing people getting taken advantage of. The gym rats clearly understand that the individual works hard to get the results and that no mentor, coach, trainer or paid companion will ever do the work from them.

Negative Love Syndrome – Revisited

A few weeks ago I blogged Negative Love Syndrome – It Can Stop Here. If you didn’t read it give it a read now, and the Hoffman .pdf. I’ll wait for you to do that before I continue.

Great, now we’re on the same page.

Okay, I don’t disagree with the article or the concept of Negative Love Syndrome (NLS) but if you’re reading a self-improvement / self-awareness blog it’s pretty clear that the concept isn’t flushed out. I had a feeling there was an emptiness to it when I read it the first batch of times but didn’t figure it out until this weekend while I was at the Landmark Forum.

Here’s the deal with it:

Your parents create you and those who surround you are the ones who teach you most of what it is to be alive – survival skills, the skills of intimacy, and how to engage others. Good, bad, whatever. For example, if a mother used alcohol to cope with missing her family overseas, the child may learn to avoid getting close to other people to prevent what they judge to be a wrong type of behavior. If a father yelled because he never learned how to express his emotions his children may learn to avoid saying no or try and avoid disappointing people by never expressing their organic feelings. This makes sense. While not the same thing, both are a manifestation of a lack of authenticity which is the origin of negative love.

The concept is complete only when the individual identifies and addressed their responsibility in the existence of their NLS. Believing that your parents or caregivers did something wrong is a compelling slap to their face. Occasionally someone will do a horrible thing, but in many of the cases the parents were just people doing the best job they could, the only way they knew how. It’s nice to blame them for not doing what you believe would have been a better job, but chances are that they were younger than you are now when they did the things that shaped your NLS. If you are an adult and still blame your parents you are still a child. If you are a parent and still blame your parents you are lowering the potential for unlimited success and joy in the life of your children because you are a child raising children.

A parents role it to keep you alive until you are able to be independent. That’s it. Take responsibility for your place in life, your decision to transfer blame for your life onto them and others and get out of the past. Thank your parents for a job well done and ask your parents for forgiveness for being judgmental for their actions. If you don’t you are going to remain exactly the same as them.

Make no mistake about it, they feel it and believe that they have failed as a parent. Man-up, and let them know just how successful they were because you are alive. Let yourself be beautiful, vibrant and joyful. You don’t just owe them that, you owe them EVERYTHING.

David R. Hawkins’ “Hierarchy of Levels of Human Consciousness” – Revisited

If you haven’t seen and read David R. Hawkins’ “Hierarchy of Levels of Human Consciousness” I encourage you to do so. And do so again if you have seen it before. I first re-posted the list on January 30, 2007. That was at the end of my first month of blogging and I hadn’t figured out what blogging meant to me so I didn’t consider writing any of my thoughts about what level I was on. Too bad because it would be interesting to read them. I’d pin me at pride or courage, but that’s looking back 4.5 years.

I’d say that I float between willingness, acceptance and occasionally flirt with reason. I find it interesting that there are certain areas of my life were it would seem I act with reason in mind, while other areas I’ve only just gained a willingness to work with it. I don’t recalling thinking that I existed on different levels before.

It seems like automatic or behaviors learned before a few years ago tend to be less evolved. The majority of my new behaviors serve to help me achieve a particular goal and some of them are motivated by a spontaneous and mindless desire to do the right thing.

I do notice that I have a greater understanding of the levels now and have engaged people from all different levels and observed some of them gain the experience that leads to the conscious realization that the world isn’t exactly how they thought it was, forcing their consciousness to the next level. You can coach others to the base of a higher level, but life and how they interact with the world will ultimately facilitate any transcendence.

Experience is what shapes the evolution of our consciousness, and that is something you will accept once you hit the willingness level. From there further transcendence requires experience.