Stoicism came of age in a time of political turmoil much like today. Remember that Stoicism isn’t about judging other people. It’s not a moral philosophy handed down by a perfect god that you’re supposed to project and enforce onto the world. No, it’s a personal philosophy that’s designed to inform how to live a quality life. Remember, there is no “bible” of the Stoics which lays out the whole thing. Stoicism was largely taught in the oral tradition and what writings there we have are lecture notes, letters, and personal diaries. These teach us to philosophies, to be a Philo (lover) of Sophia ( wisdom). And to focus on what you can control while being indifferent to what you don’t. Living life in pursuit of wisdom is a quality life.
This is why Marcus Aurelius wrote (as a note to himself): “Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.”
Remember, he wrote this in his diary! He was not trying to start a cult, gather a following, or get Instagram likes. He was training his OWN mind. As I am in this post.
Be open to the idea that people are going to be fools or jerks or unreliable or anything else. Let them be. That’s their business. That’s not inside your control. A friend of mine who has a high public profile recently commented about “haters”, “I am indifferent to them. Why give them free rent in my brain?” The choice to engage in disagreeable thoughts about people and events is always mine.
Be disciplined with yourself, and your reactions. If someone acts ridiculous, let them. If you’re acting ridiculous, that’s on you. Notice the problem (which is your reaction, not the external event itself), stop it, and work on preventing it from happening in the future. What you do is in your control. That is your business. Be strict about it.
This is especially important to remember at a time when many people seem to be consumed with every tweet or quip from certain politicians, celebrities, or “influencers”. Leave other people to themselves. You have enough to worry about.
This does not mean “sit down and shut up” as some will infer. If other people are doing something that does intersect with something in your control then you can and must act. But don’t keep reposting “outrage”. Don’t let other people into your head. No free rent. Don’t let the monkey in your head run wild worrying about other people. Focus the monkey on what is in your own control.
Barrels of ink has been spilled over “be kind to yourself.” This one guy even wrote a new song about it. So how can we get a new twist on this ancient advice? I thought about this over the break while watching SuperWhy (ignore the haters) with my daughter Madison. In every episode, the characters change just one word in a story to change the whole story. Let’s try it here. Insert “older” between “to” and “self.” So “Be kind to your older self.” The self you are going to become. The old guy farting in the corner. The slow driver in front of you. The guy in the grocery checkout line digging for change in a wallet while you impatiently clutch your ApplePay iPhone, thumb hovering over the touchpad. Yea that guy. So here is how to do it
Download one of the photo aging apps. I used the free AgingBooth.
Take a picture of yourself, age it at least 30 years (the default in AgingBooth).
Put this picture somewhere you will see it every day for at least 30 days. I put next to my computer monitor next to the Lucy skull (double whammy). I will likely move it around the house.
When you see the picture, say or think something kind of the person. Initially, there will be revulsion. Get over it. It is you. Be kind.
I didn’t want to do this. My father is 30 years older than me. I don’t want to be my father. Ever. Getting old is scary. But that is why I needed to do this. It is very Stoic to face your fears. And the fear of getting old is one of the strongest in life.
I hypothesize that facing the fear of getting old will reduce the charge that fear has. I hope to be less fearful of getting old and more at ease with my place in the world.
It is Feb. 2 and I have done this for the last 32 days. Noticeable results include:
Less emotional charge when I see the picture of my older self. Less revulsion. Less tilt.
Meaningful conversations have been started. “What is that all about?” a couple of friends asked on seeing a copy of the “old” picture on my coffee table. I am always looking for smart conversation triggers and that picture has been a good one.
A couple people saw the picture and shut down completely. Didn’t want to talk about getting old or the exercise at all. Upon reflection, these people are generally asleep, generally plowing through life with blinders on, generally adverse to contemplation. I didn’t try to prod them into anything, but it was an interesting confirmation bias test for a couple of people I thought were asleep to life. Show them this exercise. If they are asleep they won’t want to engage.
A fun exercise that reduced the emotional charge of a common fear in my life as well as energized my tribe with contemplative conversation. Worthwhile all around. I will keep the pictures around, but likely not focus on daily observation.
There is plenty of science on Kindness in general, usually focusing on being kind to others. There has been plenty written on random acts of kindness. I found far less relate to self-kindness. Some recent studies show self compassion can improve mental health (duh). I don’t know of any specific science studies around self kindness to your older self, but the general kindness research would apply.
The idea to practice self-kindness to my older self I must admit was not my own, it came from a Tim Ferris podcast with AJ Jacobs.
Today a friend said “I am worried about loosing my money in XYZ investment.” To my own surprise my first thought was “You really believe it is YOUR money?” The stoic stuff is really getting ingrained. I recently highlighted these passages:
“What fortune has made yours is not your own.”
Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
“Until we have begun to go without them, we fail to realize how unnecessary many things are. We’ve been using them not because we needed them but because we had them.”
Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
“No man is crushed by misfortune unless he has first been deceived by prosperity.”
Seneca, Dialogues and Letters
“There is no enjoying the possession of anything valuable unless one has someone to share it with.”
Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
“Fidelity purchased with money, money can destroy.”
Seneca, The Conquest of Happiness
Okay. Okay. Enough quotes. It is better to really experience a concept than just read it. So I have been making up practical exercises to remind myself of these truisms (exercises are very stoic). Here is the one i developed today to remind myself that none of the things in my life are actually “mine”. I do this about once a quarter. It will take you 10 minutes. Do it right now!
The impermanence of things exercise.
On a rulled sheet of paper write “things” in the center at the top of the page. To the left write -5, -10, and Birth. To the right write +5, +10, and Death. Make columns for each with the middle one under “things” the widest.
Now look around where you are and start writing down the middle column all the things that are “yours” that you see. Fill the page, should be just over 20 or so. Now down the left columns for each thing put a “Y” in the -5 box if it was in your life five years ago, or ten years a go or at your birth. Do this for all the things. Then go down the right side columns and predict if this thing is going to be in your life five years from now +5, ten years and at your Death. You get the idea. Now count up the number of “Y” in each column and put it at the top along with what percentage it is of the total number of items. Here is one I did today in my hotel room in Honolulu.
Of the 24 things on my list (and there were like over 100 things around the room) less than half (42%) were in my life 5 years ago, almost none (8%) were in my life 10 years ago and exactly zero were in my life at birth. Looking forward I was fairly optimistic that a majority (62%) would be in my life five years from now, exactly a third (33%) would be around in 10 years and 17 % would be with me at death. But then I will be dead and I can’t take them with me so they will be someone else’s at that time so 0% will go with me at Death.
What did this exercise remind me of is a very visceral and visual way ?
1. Coming into this world I had nothing.
2. The majority of things around me are recent additions.
3. The things I believe will be with me at death have lots of experiential value to them (I have had meaningful experiences with them with other people to create memories additional to the thing itself).
4. Most of the things I see are temporary objects in my life (were not here 5 years ago and will not be here 5 years from now).
5. While some things may be with me at death I can’t take any of it with me so the things really are not “mine”.
Side note: I have an absurd number of things with me on vacation. And multiples of things. Seven paddle shirts. Three surf shorts. The experiential value of a thing is inversely related to the number of them I have. For example I have only one watch with me (while I own many). The one watch i wear the most often has the most experiential value. Is the one I see myself with at death. So the obvious question is “do in need all those other watches?” This exercise made me contemplate that question. While I don’t have an answer it is a good thought exercise and moves my thought in the right direction (which is to keep asking the questions).
This exercise builds on the stoic idea that DOING philosophy is the best way to ingrain the core ideas. I like this exercise because it is short, can be done anywhere, and is a stark reminder of a couple major philosophical concepts that I struggle to keep the top of mind including:
Give up your attachments (they aren’t yours anyway)
Things don’t make a life.
Meaning comes from experiences with other people.
I was born with nothing and will die with nothing.
I designed this exercise myself so it is not based on any academic or scientific study. There has been a lot of research around attachment theory which sometimes includes “stuff” but mostly is focused on relationships.
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!
Third time reading this book. First time in 20 years. First time reading the Complete Edition (including rediscovered Part Four). The photography included in this edition really adds to the beauty and contemplation of the story: it is worth buying the printed book for the pictures alone.
This book never gets old. It just gets more useful and I understand it better. When I first read in college, it seemed like a weird fantasy story about a bird. My young self was a bit of an outcast. I very much wanted to have the tenacity to dig deep into a passion everyone else thought was useless and prove them all wrong. So I did that (computers). This is probably why Seagull is on every college reading list and rightfully so.
Then re-reading it in my 30s after leaving the Catholic church and recently returning, the religious undertones popped out. Especially in (new) part four where the true meaning of the initial quest has been lost in the bureaucracy of the belief system built around it (sound familiar Catholics?) This is a classic Hero’s Journey as described by Joseph Campbell. Hero is passionate, gets cast out of society, becomes enlightened around his passion, comes back to teach the TRUTH, is initially scorned, then accepted, then revered, then co-opted for other purposes and the TRUTH is lost. That is also the story of the Catholic Church in many ways.
Reading it again in my 50s after settling down a bit, the later parts of the story resonated. The desire to share your life wisdom with love and kindness. The frustration with success leading to misinterpretation and co-opting of original intent. But still the desire to give back to the next generation. The hope that an open mind willing to learn still existed.
Some favorite quotes:
“Who is more responsible than a gull who finds and follows a meaning, a higher purpose in life? For a thousand years we have scrabbled after fish heads, but now we have a reason to life – to learn, to discover, to be free! Give me one chance, let me show you what I have found.” Jonathan “The Brotherhood is Broken” said the other birds and they turned their backs on him.
“His one sorrow was not solitude, it was that other gulls refused to believe the glory of flight that awaited them; they refused to open their eyes and see.”
He spoke of very simple things – that it is right for a gull to fly, that freedom is the very nature of his being, that whatever stands against that freedom must be set aside, be it ritual or superstition or limitation in any form. The only true law is that which leads to freedom, there is no other. The only difference, the very only one, is that they have begun to understand what they really are and have begun to practice it.
A long silence. “Well, this kind of flying has always been here to be learned by anybody who wanted to discover it; that’s got nothing to do with time.”
“Why is it,” Jonathan puzzled, “that the hardest thing in the world is to convince a bird that he is free, and that he can prove it for himself i he’d just spend a little time practicing? Why should that be so hard?”
“To begin with,” he said heavily, “You’ve got to understand that the seagull is an unlimited idea of freedom, an image of the Great Gull, and your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip, is nothing more than your thought itself.”
They were honored, and worse – revered, but they were no longer heard, and the birds who practiced flying were fewer and fewer.
Anthony Seagull didn’t have answers, but he knew that he would gratefully, gladly lay down his life to follow any bird who could demonstrate what he was talking about, show him just a few answers in life that worked, that brought excellence and joy into everyday living. Until he found that bird, life would remain gray and bleak, illogical, without purpose; every seagull would remain a coincidental collection of blood and feathers pointed toward oblivion.
My suggestion: Read this every 10 years. You will learn something new each time.
On any journey, it helps to know where you are starting from, what strengths and weaknesses you have, and what tools, stories, assumptions, modes of being and values you are consciously or unconsciously bringing along. It also can help to understand how what you bring compares to the other travelers. Where are you strong, where are you weak, what skills do you want to build and how do you build them? Self Assessment Questionnaires can be a good Red Pill to help you figure these things out in a structured way.
I have taken over 1000 of these things and provide the most useful here in upgraded form. Most of these questionnaires come from theoretical academics for research purposes and often lack any applied analysis or “What next” guidance. My “Upgraded Self Assessment Questionnaires” attempt to provide four improvements over their purely research based cousins:
Peer reviewed, well-studied assessment frameworks. Stay away from pop psychology “quizzes”. Choose questionnaires that have been thoughtfully designed, tested for correlations, run over large and varied data sets, and subject to critique and comparison to other available measurement methods (and survived). I am not trying to find the “best” and “only” frameworks, just ones that have been proven to work well so far.
Cohort analysis and objective results placement. Provide some analysis of your individual results as compared to other people who took the assessment either through my tools and/or in the overall research samples. This is the “where am I in relation to the other traveler” piece. Understand this relationship may be an “ah Ha” moment or it may confirm what you already know/feel. The pay off here is understanding, waking up a bit, become aware just a little more of yourself and your surroundings. Pause a moment and let it sink in.
Factor analysis where available. Most assessment tests, while testing a high level item like “happiness” will have groups of questions that are testing the sub-factors that the questionnaire designer has found to make up “happiness”. For example, Jung would say happiness has five factors, health, relationships, ability to perceive beauty, wealth, and spiritual practice. If you want to improve happiness, the biggest bang for your buck may be to focus on improving the weakest sub-factor. My upgraded analysis will provide factor analysis where possible.
How to improve recommendations and further reading. I didn’t take hundreds of these things in a selfless devotion to furthering academic research. I took them to gain self-awareness and take action to change things I don’t like. So every analysis section includes extensive links to further reading on the subject as well as pointers to “interventions” which have been proven through research to result in higher assessment scores over time. Many of my favorite “interventions” are on my blog section called “Try This”.
I have started using the words “assessment” and “questionnaire” purposefully instead of “test” or “evaluation”. I have found “test” and “evaluation” to have a somewhat pejorative connotation toward a yes/no, pass/fail, you have it or you don’t have it mindset. “Tests” can tend to put you in a box and keep you there. Early mental health practices were big on this approach, picking out the “bad apples” and putting them in institutions. Even today, a “diagnosis” (read “test result”) of depression tends put the patient into a treatment “box”, usually pharmacological, the vast majority palliative in nature.
It is important to remember with all assessments and measurements that you are not the sum of your parts. You are not your test results. You are not your grit scale, or Meyers Briggs type, or any other measurement. You are not your job title. You are not your relationship status. Many of these assessments, the results change over time, or when applied to different circumstances. Just like your emotions change, and the weather. You are not your temperature reading. These are characteristics, parts, points in time. Your authentic self is something else. Something larger. Something deeper. In my experience, in the search for these larger, bigger more meaningful things, the assessments can help uncover pathways, stepping stones, issues which are enabling or preventing discover of your authentic self. Keep in mind these are all just tools. Your analysis, synthesis and implementation of growth/change is the most important thing to move the journey forward.
Based on my own self awareness work and supported by more modern existential psychotherapy and positive psychology science, I find that most things measured can be changed. The purpose of an “assessment” is to calculate a set point, a starting point. If you want to change the measurement, do some interventions, therapy, growth work, whatever is suggested by the science to improve what you are measuring. Then take the assessment again. And Again. Over time if the interventions are working you should see improvements. If you don’t, change what you are doing, try something else. An assessment can lead to awareness which can lead to growth OUT of the box.
I provide these Upgraded Self Assessment Questionnaires to help you wake up and get out of your Boxes.