Posts Tagged 'complete control'

Decision Time

BrainDiagramMany decisions come to us in a way that invites, and sometimes requires, immediate action or response. We have complicated machinery working behind the scenes that in those precious seconds will chemically and electrically influence what we do in profound ways.

I wrote recently about the role some chemicals play in our lives. The relative presence or absence of those at any given moment certainly impacts how we act as we’re stimulated. That perturbation of our system then triggers the release of still more associated chemicals, which ride around with us for a while, continuing to impact how we interpret the world.

The electrical system also has a profound influence. Because of the way our brain is physically laid out and wired there is a timing impacting how we register stimuli. Much information about the anatomy of the brain is available online, but for quick reference you can think of the Thalamus as an information hub that routes things where they need to go. The hippocampus is complicated, but in layman’s terms it plays a vital role in processing memories, inhibition, and the way we understand space (as in our spatial awareness). The amygdala also processes memories, but is more focused on emotionally oriented things. Finally the cortex, which is comprised of many subparts, is responsible for our thinking. It plays a key role in consciousness, perception, awareness, language, thought, attention, and memory.

Note how the emotional centers of the Amygdala and Hippocampus are closely tied to the Thalamus. Electrically these areas are able to receive and process information fractions of a second before the more rational parts of our brain get a shot at it. When an input triggers a memory our emotional center is first on the scene, and is able fire back electrical impulses that pull other emotionally relevant memories before we’ve had a chance to “think” about it. And then the chemicals are released to put the rest of our physiology in a complimentary state, which among other things affects the way we process further information and categorize it into memories, which are then retrieved, and so on.

We don’t stand a chance.

There are some biologically sound reasons for it to work this way, but it does trip us up on a regular basis. One can employ techniques to mitigate the tendency to react emotionally to things, but they all require time. The emotional centers have an inherent advantage. If you can pause to begin thinking about it, or distract yourself away from it, you better open the circumstance up for more rational processing. You can write things down, which also engages the more rationally cognizant portions of your brain. You can make a flow chart, or log some if/then statements, etc. You can force yourself to remember something you did well, or achieved, or (ideally) something you did that helped someone. Your chemicals will reinforce your efforts here.

It all starts with the recognition that your emotions are out in front of your thinking, which means even your thinking becomes based on an emotional context…until you change the context with other thinking and emotions.


cross walk Jesus

Sometimes the battles you’re fighting are not as they appear, or will not lead to a result you really want. Observe how you define winning and think through what it really is. Some players at the poker table will never show you what cards they had after they beat you. It makes sense. If you show people what cards you beat them with they can start unwinding your game. I knew a player who would always flash you his hand, or tell you later over a drink, how he beat you. He cared more about your feeling in defeat than his victory in the next hand. He cared about the connection. What battles are you waging, and why? What do you really want?

Happiness, Part xx5, the Distraction


(Links to part xx1, xx2, xx3, and xx4.)

A recent Harvard study determined that those with persistent stray thoughts and wandering minds were less likely to be happy than those able to focus on task.

It seems to confirm what Buddhists, sages and saints have long taught – That an unruly mind creates unhappiness and disfunction and that the keys to happiness lay in mastering the mind, not in changing external factors in our lives.

The most startling part of their discovery, however, is that unhappiness doesn’t just come from the mind wandering to unpleasant things. The study shows people with minds that wander to neutral or even pleasant thoughts are still less happy than if the mind did not wander at all (1).

During the study people were asked to focus on a given activity. It was found that even if the activity was some hum-drum chore, participants were happier if their minds were fully there, focused in the moment. The conclusion is that when the mind wanders repeatedly (and for many of us it wanders frequently every day) it reduces our overall happiness and wellbeing (2).

All consistent with declarations I’ve made for years that it’s much more about what’s happening on the inside than on circumstances. It comes from within. If only we had the Spock-like ability to control our mind’s thoughts.

While we may not be able to control our minds the way we want to, we can manage by living in the moment. It’s a refrain I hear often – “live in the moment.” Again, easier said than done.

One key is to be busy. When we’re busy we don’t tend to think as much. It’s a double-edged sword, but one that does temporarily help. That’s a little too simplistic though. It’s about being engaged as much as just being busy. When you are mindful with your activity, you’re not preoccupied with regrets or worries; you’re not planning or wanting for anything. You’re not lending power to thinking processes and so they do not dominate your awareness.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a leading researcher in positive psychology, refers to this state of mind as “flow.” Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as being totally absorbed, or immersed, in the activity in which you’re engaged. It doesn’t matter what the particular task is— what matters is that you are fully present when you’re doing it.

Csikszentmihalyi, often called the grandfather of positive psychology, found that our happiest moments are when we are in the state of flow. In this state, we are highly alert. We are totally focused with one pointed attention. This focus—this mindfulness of being in the moment—is when happiness spontaneously arises (3).

It certainly can’t hurt to find and nurture activities that enable one to get into this state of flow, or mindfulness. Engaging in activities that are perceived as risky and/or important enough to hold our attention work well. But the specter living underneath is that these effects are temporary, and for some probably feel more like a disguise or distraction from ‘reality’. I’m also a proponent of the notion that one’s perception is their reality, which characterizes it as being rather subjective. It is what we make it. It comes from within.

So maybe it is just a distraction, but it’s still nice while it lasts. However the bigger rub is it also distracts us from taking more proactive and profound measures to strategically improve our lives? There is the risk of waking up one day to realize that your inertia took you to a place you don’t really want to be.

It’s a balancing act. If the pendulum swings to the negative it’s a good idea to get (more) engaged in something. But it’s also wise to step back from time to time to assess. It’s a potentially painful or discouraging exercise, with risks of getting derailed. But it’s a necessary evil unless you can Spock yourself into a perpetual “don’t worry, be happy” mindset.



When we step back from things we tend to see cycles. Good moods, bad moods. Good and bad times. Seasons. The sales cycle. Maybe our circadian rhythms make this idea comfortable and easy to understand.

It’s the power of the information and opportunity within the cycle we usually don’t see. Not objective enough when we’re there, and not wise enough to devise and implement actionable techniques for controlling it later.

Since I’m a bit of an expert on sales I’ll illustrate with what’s in a sales cycle. In layman’s terms…

  1. Euphoria – The brief time right after a purchase, where there is no thought of making changes
  2. Awareness – The long time spent gradually becoming more aware of alternatives
  3. Decision – The decision to make a change (often triggered by some event)
  4. Thinking – Figuring out what the criteria for success is
  5. Measurement – Searching for and examining the quantifiable characteristics of available options
  6. Investigation – Determining how to acquire it
  7. Close – Final decision to act
  8. Reconsideration – (any) Second guessing (that may take place)

Without going into depth and turning this into a sales class (**), there are some notable characteristics to this cycle. Many people think we do a lot of investigation and then decide. While there is a final decision at the end, we actually decide before we begin the process. We spend by far the most amount of time in #2. Far more than the rest combined. Increasingly aware there is something better, but the pain isn’t great enough to act (yet). Once a decision has been made, things move quickly, but the machinations are more complex. And there are opportunities for setbacks, which can send us back to #2. On some occasions less content than we already were, but often with at least a temporary new and better outlook on the current condition. Without derailment, inertia usually increases as we move toward the end. The decisions, while emotional all along, become more so. Throughout the process there is the fear keeping us in check. And the battle between the unknown and the known.

We call it a “sales cycle” because it repeats. When we think of moods we view them as something temporary, generally in a state of flux.

Within them it’s really more like a whirlpool. The sales cycle eventually leads to a change. A team playing well gets the confidence to risk more, and the motivation to work more. They get better. The downward spiral is all too familiar as well. A drinking problem leads to a job lost, which leads to more drinking. Poor customer service leads customers to choose other vendors, which of course leads to less investment in customer service, which continues the problem. Guilt may lead to overeating, which triggers more guilt.

If only we could control it. We especially want to fix the down cycles. The (too common, obvious, simple) plan is to live with the cycle that caused the problem. “When I get stressed, I freeze up, so I need to figure out how to avoid getting stressed.” Yeah, right! The simple plan really puts the onus on the world to stop contributing the input that leads to the negative output. That’s just not going to work very well.

When it turns for the worse, the answer isn’t to look for the swift and certain solution. The more difficult but more effective alternative is to try to be aware as the cycle begins. Once you find it, understand what triggers it and then learn to use that trigger to initiate a different cycle. The real solution will come into better focus once we replace the down cycle with the up cycle. “This is my down cycle. What will it cost me to replace it with a different one? Who can help me? What do I need to learn? How do I change my habits and my instincts? What feeds it? What about it is comfortable to me?”

This works for organizations and individuals. The restaurant with declining sales borrows money to buy fresher food instead of cutting corners that will lead nowhere good. Or following a client loss not with layoffs, but with hiring of even better staff. The depressed individual engages in work rather than shrinking from it, eventually better able to put things into perspective.

This is incredibly difficult, and it feels overly risky. Afraid to risk, and more afraid to risk more, especially in light of the fact that we’re not sure what to do. But identifying the downward spiral and investing in replacing it with the upward one is the one and only best strategy. The alternative, which is to rationalize and defend the cycle as a law of nature or permanent habit, is tragic. If you’re not optimistic about or committed to reversing it then you’re probably best served by giving up (another risk) before the losses mount.


** Much more to all this. The cycle depicted here is one for consequential purchases. Those that carry some risk, usually by way of costing enough money that we want to get it right and/or are resistant to the change without a satisfying rationale. The above machinations help us make good decisions, but also simply help us feel better about the decision we make.

Bump the Spinning Plates

02-lFAqTMany of us feel like we have too much going on to keep up with it all. Truth is there is a lot of comfort in being busy all the time. We feel good about being involved in it all. Stuff is happening. That’s what life’s about, eh? It provides a license for us avoid.

Perturb that system and you create an opportunity to discover what’s really important, or what’s really wrong. When you allow things to crash and burn a few times you get some wisdom otherwise missed by being trapped in the self-induced role of master plate spinner.



• The bureaucracy of Government Health Care

• Standardized Testing in Schools

• Regulatory Commissions that stifle commerce

• Micro Managing

All are symptoms of a failure. Things weren’t turning out well so someone had to step in to look after it. And not surprisingly, in many cases the ones who step in not only don’t understand some of the challenges, but also have a different background set of concerns driving their agenda — what they pay attention to.

And so it is very annoying, and in the end improvements, if any, are usually modest and often offset by new problems that manifest.

If someone hires you to run a lemonade stand and you don’t make money you can basically expect one of four results.

  1. Be fired
  2. Be left alone to continue to fail
  3. Be micro managed
  4. Be more effectively managed

The probability of the best outcome is not great. If you know best, and if you want to keep your boss or government out of your business then you best be producing the desired outcomes. This means you first need to know what are considered the best outcomes.

Teachers, for instance, may be in a no win situation because our definition of what it means to “educate” a child has changed. They failed. And now we have standardized testing and no child left behind (among others). It may look a little better on the surface, but the underlying problems are worse than ever.

There have been ample opportunities for insurance reform in the past few decades. Apparently enough people in power thought it was working well enough. You could argue they got what was coming to them.

It’s all bad management. Again, if you want to keep bad management away then you need to produce results. It’s really hard (not impossible). But those are the rules.



What a corporation needs:

  • Fertile ground in which to conduct business. This includes…
  • A population who has enough belief that they have a say in things to carry on.
  • A population who believes (enough) that consumption, in whatever form(s) it may take, yields enough satisfaction in life to remain content.
  • A population predictable enough to manipulate somewhat easily.

Democracy — we appear to have a say. Sort of like the child who is allowed to decide between milk or water.

Military — the capacity to fight wars to make the world secure for business (corporations). Our personal security, to whatever extent it really exists, is also a useful byproduct.

Religion — keeps us relatively happy and docile. When things seem exceptionally shitty we can find solace there. Our sensibilities are more predictable. Manipulatable.

Quality of life — is often rated according to a simple triangulation on a few parameters: perceived security and autonomy, belonging, and belongings.

It can be easily argued that the world contains a corporate totalitarian core thriving inside a fictitious democratic shell. Few recognize this ‘inverted’ totalitarian state because it looks nothing like the Orwellian images we’ve been given of such a condition. The world is being militarized by the significant states and their ‘police forces.’ State surveillance is becoming universal and torture is outsourced to gulags.

In past times simple folk usually couldn’t work out how they were being manipulated by royal monarchies, and the papal monarchy, who claimed a ‘divine right to rule.’ Ordinary people from those times couldn’t see how the rivalrous network of elites were actually linked through similar goals and ideals, not least because the illiterate masses were indoctrinated to believe in their humble lot, to obey divinely-endorsed authority and to live in fear of damnation. And pay taxes.

We see more compelling arguments that the planet is more than ever ruled by super-wealthy people who use their outrageous fortunes to steer the trajectories of whole societies for their material and political gain. Armies of professional, political, religious and even military elites serve them. Together they comprise a highly-networked ‘capitalist’ class. ‘Free markets’ are spread with the idea that they deliver the individual freedom and prosperity for all.

This may be a conspiracy theory or it may be true, though there is no doubt some truth in it. Either way we go along because it’s all we know, and because we’re focused on our own individual relatively incremental improvements in life we can see and feel first hand. It’s not a terrible life. It’s all we know how to do. We are given schools and religion, that also train us to be compliant and content. We’re reasonably comfortable most of the time, and we are shown examples of some who appear to rise to the status of ‘rich,’ or some other highly regarded status that looks fulfilling. They aren’t fundamentally different from us.

Our society basically works for most people. And that really is the best disguise.


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