Pretty much all my life when I have wondered how to “get” or “achieve” happiness, the answer has gone something like this: “First do X,Y,Z, then when you have achieved A,B,C, you can then be happy.” Pretty much the entire western world has a cognitive happiness model with happiness delayed in the future after some long journey with various achievements along the way. Consumer society is the most obvious offender “Buy This and get That”. But career advice, most religious traditions and even the “self help” industry reinforces this delayed gratification mental model.
This model always caused my BS meter to go off. Wouldn’t being happy now cause you and everyone around you to be happier now? Why couldn’t I be happy now but still have dreams? When hard or bad things happened, why should I allow that to make me unhappy? Are there ways to build happiness NOW without buying into some huge new mental model of the world (one religion say), or hanging my hopes on THE ONE TRUE THING sold by GURUX? I was always VERY skeptical that anyone or any organization had THE ONE TRUE THING that if I just bought it, practiced it, or believed it, all my problems would disappear and happiness would bloom like flowers. Or Unicorns.
Well it turns out my contrarian view has attracted some scientists who have been building a new mental model about happiness which is EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what we have been taught. The field is Positive Psychology. One of the lights is Shawn Anchor and he has a brilliant TED talk about the new model. Anchor is also very entertaining and funny using many personal stories to describe the new model. In the end he gives five evidence based practices that have been shown to be able to raise the “base happiness” level in people NOW. You don’ t have to believe anything, buy anything, or join a cult. By adding a couple of simple practices, in total of less than 20 minutes a day, you can reliably and quantifiably increase your base happiness level. When you do that, it is self reinforcing and the world around you (seems to) change. Actually what you have changed is your mindset from a “everything sucks, i am going to be happy later”, to “I am happy now and happiness is my natural state.” If you are looking for an evidence based approach to happiness with some concrete exercises, this is for you.
Grab some popcorn. Watch this one. Change your life.
I had heard about meditation for along time before I was actually able to actually learn it. It wasn’t until the Headspace app came out from Andy Puddicombe that meditation became accessible to me. While many people deal with a busy mind by drinking, working, exercising, Andy went to Tibet and became a monk. Now he is back to describe this ancient practice in very accessible terms to all of us in the west. Oh, and he juggles as a visual aide. Worth 10 minutes!
Ok, not a TED talk, but a very short and interesting talk on what meditation is, how it works, and why it is important. In Eckhart’s unique self deprecating style. Meditation is not a “doing” it is a “being”.
It is about being in the present moment. About tuning into the present. In his words:
All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear – are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence. People don’t realize that now is all there ever is; there is no past or future except as memory or anticipation in your mind.
In 8 minutes, this is what Meditation is and how it will change your mind:
One of my daughters, Madison, had alopecia. Yea I had to look it up too. It is a autoimmune disease that causes the hair to fall out. For a six year old girl it was particularly horrifying to have big bald spots on her head. In the mad scramble for the cause and a cure, we ended up learning quite alot about food. Ok, mom Jen Pitts learned alot about food and Dad came along begrudgingly. Yea like usual. Good food, bad food, and especially rethinking what I learned about food in school, especially the “food pyramid”. Turns out the “food pyramid” was created mostly by industrial food lobbyist rather than nutritionists. It also turns out that school lunches are one of the leading contributors to our overall decline in child health in America. School lunches are all too often the target of easy recipes and cost cutting.
Jamie Oliver has a different idea. In this TED talk he really lays bare the bad trade we are making with out children’s health when we go for industrial food lobby cheap lunch programs. He has successfully delivered healthy food in the same budgets around the world. It is really all about attitude. Watch the talk, change your mind. Pack your own lunch.
I am starting a new category here at DGC, my favorite TED talks of all time. Sometimes they will be on-topic with the other themes here at DGC, sometimes they will be totally random. The common thread will be that these talks made me think, made me contemplate in a new way. Maybe the talk challenged a belief or bias I had. Maybe it introduced me to a new field I never considered. Maybe someone just communicated an eternal truth in a new and interesting way. In any case, I have listened to hundreds of TED talks and attended a couple of their in person meetings. These are the ones I pass on to friends.
The first one I want to share is about addiction. Maybe you have struggled with it yourself as I have (gambling, cell phones, etc.) or maybe you know someone who has. But the question is, how should addicts be treated? The common method in America is to shun them and punish them. Yet much of the addictive behavior is a cry for attention, for attachment, a reaching out for connection. Pushing them away is exactly the opposite of what is needed. Hari really breaks it down for us from debunking the erroneous studies behind current policy to highlighting success with new approaches. This talk is not just for policy wonks, it is for all of us. It can help us have more compassion for the addicts in our lives, including ourselves. Watch it.
I used to think philisophy was for academics. Then I grew up and recognized many of the timeless philosophical questions repeating themselves in my own life.
The primary one of course is “How does one live this life?” Actually this death. Because we all are born to die. We are trying to do this very difficult thing – living and dying – as well as we can. We can let circumstances push us around and passively be a passenger on the trip. Or we can engage our reasoned choice of how, why, and what for to live. In that way we must become philosophers.
The philosophers who have made the most sense to me are the Stoics. The don’t ask us to believe in anything really. Just to wake up, contemplate, pause, question and decide for yourself. A pretty good program I must say.
The jesuits believe this as well. A very old stoic idea. The only permanent thing is prohairesis, our capacity for reasoned choice. Everything outside our control, outside our reasoned choice, is an attachment that will change and likely keeps from free will.
DeepGreenCrystals is all about waking up and discovering your authentic self. A big part of this task is facing the deep rooted stories that hold us back. Any story which is impeding growth should be examined under the harsh light of data and contemplation against the yardstick of authenticity and “does it still serve me?” Recover your grit, 15 minutes of Honesty and Stop Multitasking are exercises which resulted from a moment of clarity that turned into a useful contemplation and data collection tool.
Despite thinking and writing about authenticity nearly every day, I found another example of bad storytelling holding me back this morning while doing Morning Pages. How I noticed it and what I did about it is generalizable across many circumstances, so here comes another post.
Every now and then when doing something, I notice a slight tingling feeling in the back of my head. Or a non-specific feeling of unease. Sometimes it is a shallow slight feeling of dread. Not sword of Damocles threatening, but a hint of impending doom, a minor fear. Many times the source of the fear never becomes clear. Often times, when the source is revealed, the fear is so minor that my rational mind just sets it aside as irrelevant. My rational mind has become very good at suppressing/denying minor fears. Save the energy for the big things right? But this background noise still saps energy and creates a cloud that makes authentic operation much more difficult. When the big things do come you are starting from a cloudy drained state rather than a rested strong one. Facing down minor fears and getting beyond them is the only way to lower the background noise and start to clear the fog.
This morning, the tingle started right as I sat down to write. The tingle had been there for a couple of days, but today I decided to try to figure it out. I stopped writing and I stared at the small journal with wide ruled pages it, turning the feeling over in my mind. What am I doing? Morning Pages, 750 words. Three pages in the journal. Why? Because I am a more authentic person when I do Morning Pages. I am start the day out with a success by doing Morning Pages. Am I really doing Morning Pages? Maybe not. Three pages in this small, wide ruled journal is probably not really 750 words. Ah, there it is. The Flinch. The Fear.
I have been congratulating myself on doing Morning Pages fairly regularly, but I was uneasy about accepting the praise because something felt inauthentic about it. Three pages is a shortcut to 750 words. That is three pages of 8.5×11 college ruled paper (30 lines per page), about 250 words per page. Here I was writing in a smaller journal with wider lines (25 lines per page). My rational mind knew there was likely something off, but with all the praise and compliments coming in daily, why rock the boat? Could my monkey mind be taking a shortcut to get the reward while doing less actual work (avoiding pain)? That disconnect could be the source of the tingle. So I went back and counted the actual number of words on each of the previous six journal pages. The average was 160 words per page. Bingo! Three pages in this journal was 480 words (35% less than the 750 goal).
The minor fear uncovered here was “Morning Pages are hard to be successful at, so lets lower the bar.” So the story in my head was “You are a great success with Morning Pages”, but my monkey mind had cut the work by 35% through obfuscation (maybe even weasel words) in an effort to reach the goal with as little effort as possible. The true story is “You are great at completing 65% of your Morning Pages goal every day.” I can’t fault the monkey. He is doing his job. He is keeping me alive by avoiding pain and achieving goals with as little effort as possible. It is not his fault. The monkey was afraid of failure and hard work, so he lowered the bar. Creative and smart actually.
Now, armed with the DATA, my rational mind can contemplate the question of “does the story serve me?” Do I want to continue with the Monkey’s tactic of lowering the bar, or do I value the benefits derived from the greater effort? The monkey says “3 pages = success” when the truth is “5 pages = success”. One word in the story changes and authenticity is restored! Yes, I want authenticity, so I am going with “5 pages = success”. The monkey will likely still try to do his job to avoid pain, but now I am making a conscience decision to tilt the story toward my conscious mind’s goal. I faced the fear, disrobed it, and am moving forward with a revised story. I know exactly where the bug in the program is and how to fix it.
One down, hundreds to go. This process of examining a minor fear created by the monkey, getting to the bottom of it, reframing the story to one the rational mind wrote can be used any time you come across a fear. Try it for yourself. Let me know how it goes.
Weasel Words: “words or statements that are intentionally ambiguous or misleading”
Being the political season, the air is full of ambiguous statements that dodge the real question, or slant the facts in favor of the speaker. Who can forget:
Bill Clinton: “I did not have sex with that woman.” (he didn’t consider “oral” to be “sex”, or “that woman” could be another woman other than the one we all thought he was speaking about.)
Trump: “The polls say I’m winning.” Yea, your own polls, or a few outlier polls, but the Real Clear Politics average of all leading polls says something else completely.
Hillary Clinton: About Benghazi “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet.” Sure, “some people” say that, but you told your family it was a terrorist attack.
Weasel Words also came up recently when I was going through the 40 Years of Zen program (review post coming). Dave Asprey has written about them here. Then this morning while talking to the Purpose Goddesses Tay and Val, weasel words came up again. The Universe obviously wants to hear my thought on this subject, so here I go.
Becoming more aware of my own use of weasel words has been an important part of my waking up and becoming more conscious. When I find myself using some of the worst offenders, I endeavor to observe rather than indulge the judgemental thoughts (I just had to rewrite that from “try not to be judgemental”). The words are neither good nor bad in and of themselves. The issue is in the context and the intention behind their use as opposed to other words that could be used. In the political sphere, a person is usually trying to dodge a direct question purposefully with misdirection. We have all seen that. On a personal basis and between people, weasel words can be serving some very valid goals including:
Avoidance of pain to self or others. The ego doesn’t like to fail. So it says things like “I will try.” Success is then the trying not the doing. Lowering the bar. This is basically a natural defense mechanism. So it is when we beat around the bush with bad news to a friend. We are “trying” to spare them pain. But many times the pain just gets elongated, delayed, or suppressed.
Avoidance of responsibility. Again, ego doesn’t like to fail or be responsible for anything that it could fail at. So it shirks responsibility at every chance. “I” will do something is hard, “we” will do something shares the responsibility around and gets off my shoulders alone. So do politicians. They want to please as many voters of different stripes as possible so saying platitudes keeps them out of hot water. We are so used to this behavior from politicians that in many ways an in your face guy like Trump is a refreshing alternative to many people.
Motivation from narrowing of alternatives. The ego also doesn’t like the paradox of choice. Too many choices means hard work will be required to decide between the alternatives. Not only could you choose incorrectly leading to pain and failure (see above), but the work to make the decision is difficult in an of itself. So we say we “can’t” or “Have to” or “Need to” do something. That means it is an imperative with no other alternatives. The only way. The narrow path can seem attractive versus the hard brain work of sifting through alternatives.
Recognition that the ego is just doing its job to protect me from pain and increase the chances of success has enabled me to be much less judgemental of my own use of these words. When encountering my own use of a weasel word I ask myself
Is this word phrasing serving me (or just my ego)?
Is there an underlying issue which my ego is trying to avoid here?
Is there a way to reframe the sentence which is more in line with my authentic purpose?
Often times lately I have reframed weasel words, sometimes they get through even an attentive filter like mine. My personal reason for becoming aware of these words and working to get them out of my vocabulary is because they typically are impediments to action, destroy motivation, debilitate and discourage me from moving forward in life. I have decided that brain energy spent on them is generally wasted and I would rather spend that energy on actually accomplishing something rather than the avoidance.
Here are my personal top 5 offenders:
To “try” lowers the bar so that success doesn’t require any actual accomplishment. Try pre-supposes failure. “Try” also doesn’t have any time table attached to it so the scale is open ended. I can be “trying” for a very long time, years even. Try doesn’t have a logical end point. The name of the major category of this post used to be “Try This:”. I thought “try” would be a less judgemental or declarative word that wouldn’t scare people as much as “do”. People would be more willing to “try” something that to be told to “do” something. And that is probably true on the surface. But here at DGC we are about waking up and taking the Red Pill. The Red Pill says “There is no Try, Only Do.” Ok, Yoda and the Maharishi said it before me, but even with my antennae on high alert, I still create a category with the word “try” in it.
Reframe: “I will.” “I will do everything I can.”
Saying I “should” do something is the same as saying nothing. It is stating the obvious. These statements are usually complete wastes of time, often procrastination of the actual work. There is also an easy way out. Stuff you “should” do is not very important, you “should” do it, but there are not obvious harsh consequences for not doing it. I have often found myself saying I “should” do something 10-20 times before actually doing it. “I should take out the trash.” Taking no responsibility for actually doing the thing I “should” do. It is a statement of desire not action. Replace with action words. What would your brain do with all that wasted energy? You could have taken out the trash in a fraction of all the time your brain was saying you “should” take out the trash.
Reframe: Want. Choose to. Going to. Get to.
The near cousin of “should” but with an absolutist set of blinders on. Much more declarative. “Need” ratchets up “should” with the implication of dire consequences if you don’t do it. “Have to” leaves all alternatives off the table, there are no alternatives, I “have to.” Ratcheting up the pressure like that the ego wants to force you to get that thing done. “I need to get the new Apple Iphone.” “I Have to get tickets to the play offs.” The existential stress goes up accordingly. So ask yourself the question, is this story I am telling myself about “need” or “have to” really an existential question? Are there truly dire consequences of not doing this? Does your rational mind agree with the upleveling of this desire to the “need” category that your ego has done? Stop and ask the question.
Reframe: Ratchet down the consequences. Change to “want” or “get to”
For me, the worst kind of weasel words are those that cut off all options. That put up walls to progress of any sort. “Can’t” does that but shutting down discussion. There is no way, I “can’t”. No explanation, to alternatives, no deliberation. Just a clean line in the sand. I heard Seth Godin talking one time about writers block and deconstructing the claim “I can’t write.”. “Really? you forgot how to use a pen? Your fingers are broken?” The point is that the story “I can’t write” is not true. You can, technically. The real underlying issue is that your ego is afraid that what you write might suck. Or that the writing will cause the brain to heat up and hurt. Or that there will be editing and re-writing. “Can’t” just killed your motivation. Cut off any forward motion. Until you break that story, no progress will be made. Specifically around writing that is why I love the Morning pages exercise. Write for fifteen minutes a day without judgement, without critique. Just fucking write. You can do it. Break the block. Rewrite the story in your head. You CAN write. Now go on and write something good.
Reframe: Can. or if you are honest about not doing something, say “I won’t”.
In an era of participation trophies this one is a killer on our kids. This word is WAY over used. This one should be very parsimoniously given out. Save it for the big things. “I am so proud of you for getting that trophy!” Dude, it a participation trophy. This is the Near cousin of Try. You are “proud” that your kid “tried”. Talk about a low bar. Be proud of actual achievements. Or complement effort. My daughter was recently in the regional championship meet for her high school swim team. She is a middle of the pack swimmer so didn’t have any expectations of winning or medaling and I didn’t want her to be focused on those things anyway. In the meet she achieved a personal PR in her 50 meter and 100 meter swim! I didn’t say I was “proud” of her. I complimented her on finishing the season with a bang. Finishing with the best effort she had had all year, a Personal Record. Congratulations. A PR is an actual achievement. A measurable accomplishment. Take note of that.
Reframe: Your effort was very impressive. Save “pride” for your country.
My personal goal is to reduce the use of these five words by 50% next year over this year. As with “Do This” posts, your personal mileage may vary. Your goals may vary. Everyone though can benefit from a little more consciousness in relation to our vocabulary and how it reflects the stories in our heads. Be aware. Be precise. Be awake.
My instant gratification monkey is great at telling me stories that make me feel good about doing shit that he wants to do, while my rational mind knows that shit stinks. The best tool I have found to overcoming these feel good stories that support unwanted habits or behavior is the bright shiny sunlight of AWARENESS, DATA AND FACTS. One such exercise is 15 Minutes of Honesty. Today I have the mythbuster which destroys the “I am good at Multitasking” story, one of my monkey’s favorites:
1 Minute Proof that I suck at Multitasking.
For most of us, the rational mind has convinced the monkey that texting and driving sucks, but we continue to believe the monkey at work, with friends and around the house. The monkey mind LOVES multitasking. Jumping around between things feels like engagement. Feels like a lot is getting done. Many people and things need my attention. So many that I have to spread myself thin. It makes me feel important, needed, worthwhile. Multitasking implies that we are working on multiple tasks simultaneously and in total getting more done (says the monkey). But the human brain isn’t able to focus on more than one thing at a time, so what are actually doing is RAPID TASK SWITCHING and the research shows a significant switching cost overhead associated with this process. In some cases it can be 100% overhead meaning it takes TWICE as long to complete two tasks done with rapid switching instead of in serial (one at a time).
Okay, okay says my monkey, sure I hear you, but I don’t really believe you. Those university studies are done on drugged up grad students (not smart monkeys like me), I am WAY more productive than them! I am great at multitasking!
Okay Monkey, let’s put that to the test.
Grab a piece of blank paper, a pen and a stopwatch. Your task is to draw two lines and write a sentence on one line and a series of numbers on the second line. On the first line write “I am great at multitasking.” On the second line write the numbers 1-20 in series. The goal is to end up with one line with the sentence and one line with the number series. But we are going to perform the tasks two different ways and time ourselves doing each method.
Method 1: Separate Task in Series: First, do the tasks in Series, one after each other, focusing only on the immediate task at hand each time. Draw the first line, write the sentence “I am great at multitasking”. Draw the second line, write the numbers 1-20 in order. Start the stopwatch when you begin and stop when finished. Write down the time.
Method 2: Multitasking/Rapid task switching: Switch between tasks as you are doing them. Draw the first line. Write “I”. Draw the Second line. Write “1”. Go up to the first line, make a space, then write the letter “a”. Down to the second line, write the number “2”. Now back up to the first line, write the “m” of “am”. Down to the second line for “3”… And so on until you have the two lines done. Write down that time.
Here is my piece of paper from this morning.
Serial :24 seconds, Multi :50 seconds. Oh, the monkey doesn’t like that. The tasks are the same. The time to compete 2X! “I can do better” my monkey says. So I do it 10 more times. Trying every trick I can think of to improve the multitask scenario. After 10 iterations, average time to complete: Serial :22 seconds, Multi :50 seconds. So I actually got better at doing the tasks in serial (practice), but the switching costs of multitasking kept my performance stuck.
Being a nerd, I dug a bit deeper. What exactly is going on that causes 100% overhead during multitasking? A few things I observed in this particular exercise include:
Physical movement between task space. In serial, I write the sentence from left to right all at once, one letter next to the other. In multi, I have to move the pen between the lines, find the correct place to put the letter or number, and start. This movement time, while small, is probably about 80% of the time to even write one letter or number. While the impact of physical movement in this particular exercise may be outsized versus other multitasking scenarios, the effect can still be significant. Even moving the mouse to switch between applications, or navigate around your phone. In this exercise I estimate that Physical movement explains about 80% of the variance.
Mental reset (reconfiguring your control settings). Writing numbers and letters are different. Each time you switch you have to try to remember your place in the task, figure out what to do next, then do it. That mental framing, “getting into the task” takes time. For a simple task like this it was small, maybe 10% of the variance in this exercise, but in some tasks like writing a novel, it can be very large.
Cognitive stress. While the mind can’t focus on more than one thing at a time, having more than one thing pressing on you can cause the stress of the impending task to weigh on the current task. I found this often in the exercise, writing a number and already thinking ahead to what letter I had to write next. Thinking of task 1 during task 2 made task 2 take longer to complete. In this exercise I estimate cognitive stress explains about 5% of the variance.
Task volume explosion. When doing the tasks in Series, you have basically four sub-tasks. 1. Draw a line. 2. Write a sentence. 3. Draw a line. 4. Write a series of numbers. When done Multitasking, there are 44 sub-tasks (10x!). Draw line (x2), Write Letter (x22), Write number (x20). It takes more mental energy to check off 44 things than it does to check off 4 things. In this exercise I estimate that Task Volume Explosion explains about 5% of the variance.
Ok, so exercise done, variance explained, Monkey convinced right? Well I hope so, but this is one that keeps coming back like a bad penny. Today I am aware, but then I get busy and the Monkey comes back with extra Trumpesk confidence “I am great at multitasking”. So bookmark this post. Whenever you hear the monkey’s story, redo the exercise. Spend time on the analysis. Let it sink in. Eventually you may change the Monkey’s story.
Like how I used the Monkey’s own story to prove the absurdity of the story? Change the story, change yourself. Remember the Monkey believes stories it believes/feels to be true. The stories are in his(your) head due to some kind of confirmation or learning in the past. At one time, the story may have even been correct or have served a valuable purpose. Or it may have been implanted there falsely (say by a large conglomerate (Apple, Microsoft, Google, et al) trying to sell you productivity tools/technology) by advertising or media.
Here at DGC we like to practice contemplation and give you practical tools to analyze where you are in life and if it is all going the best it can for you. A key tactic in this journey is to Know your Stories (the monkey’s and everyone else’s) and then ASK IF THOSE STORIES ARE STILL SERVING YOU on a regular basis. Compare the Stories against the facts. In the case of the “I am great at multitasking” story, a fairly simple one minute exercise lays bare the truth. Many times it only takes changing one word in the story. Repeat that story enough and it will become the Monkey’s story. My truth about multitasking? Say it with me: “I suck at multitasking!” Convince your monkey of this and productivity will skyrocket!