Posts Tagged 'Spark'

The 2 Percent

The 80:20 rule applies to and works with almost everything. In the past I have declared that these days it’s more like 90:10. Within that there are the 2 percent…of people. The ones who get it all right. I don’t mean they do everything right, or have it all figured out. I mean the ones who dance through and maximize life.

The2%

Why not? What are we holding on to? What is there really to lose? Really? Conquer the fear. It’s a recurring theme of this blog. But it’s not about having conquered it. Those 2 percenters haven’t conquered it. It’s about conquerING it. The process. Say yes. Leap. Lean in. Break the cage. See what’s possibleFigure it out. That’s the journey toward happiness as a state of being, not just a mood.

Liking Change. Act in spite of fear. Abundance. Confidence. Basking in the discomfort. Getting the most out of life. Embracing the unknown. Going for your dreams. Outside the box. Excitement. Exploring new things. Living without limits. Giving the most to life.

Your comfort zone: Be like others. A dull life. Fear. Surviving. Insecure. Procrastination. Getting by. Play it safe. Regret.

 

Blind Spot

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Aside from our other senses, we are temporarily blind to the half of the world located behind our head at any given moment. Some call that our blind spot. However, it’s not completely blind because we’re aware of the fact that we aren’t seeing it, not to mention the fact that the blindness is usually pretty easy to remedy when we need to, though it can be dangerous if we’re not paying attention.

Contrast that with our actual blind spot. Ironically the very place where the eye connects to the brain (via the optic nerve) is an area on our retina where we do not see – the blind spot. We do not notice it, and are thus unaware of it, because our brain fills the gap by extrapolating the likely content from the surroundings. We make it up. Fortunately this defect in our vision is small enough that it rarely causes a problem.

Combine those two characteristics and there would be significant issues. Imagine large areas of your vision that appear to be functioning fine, but are in fact being made up by your brain. We would call that being delusional (or one of a few other maladies).

Yet we are, in fact, delusional to some extent. We roll through life with our programming while being largely unaware that we’re thinking and acting according to it rather than objectively processing all the input we receive. These blind spots in our awareness – things we haven’t been programmed to be sensitive to – are all around waiting to trip us up. Most of the time the stumbles are minor, however, on occasion we can go pretty far astray and not be aware of it. We can hit the wall and crash, or we can do more subtle damage that we don’t see for a while, or we get what appears to us as having been randomly blindsided.

There is no solution to this in the moment. No easy shortcut to improve your odds beyond simply acquiring more wisdom as you experience more of life. You must start by accepting that what you see and believe is not an objective reality. It is simply what your brain has selectively chosen to make you conscious of. The best you can do is educate yourself and work at being informed and aware. Work at empathy by forcing yourself to be sensitive to others. Prepare within reason for mishaps so you can recover. There is a discipline to managing the risk, but in the end it’s impossible to eliminate it all. Being prepared includes the perspective of knowing we can’t be completely prepared. We must still be willing to act. To risk that we may be stepping into something that isn’t as it appears. Once we recognize how often this actually happens in our lives it could help us reconcile the fear we have when we do see the potential pitfalls. The risks our limbic system chooses to put in front of us are often as overblown as the risks we don’t see that are glossed over. Even the seemingly sure things had them. We just weren’t aware of it.

Purpose

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Your purpose is what you are constructed for. Constructed – as in built, wired, crafted. Your unique way of thinking and acting.

Many get confused and believe purpose is made from what is liked, or what one happens to be good at. Being good at something is a clue, but there is more to purpose than just having an aptitude and interest. It’s even more than passion. Purpose includes the assessment of where you can make the most difference. The stuff that’s on the top shelf of your capabilities. You may not even be good at it yet, but you will be, because you will stay in the game in spite of signs to the contrary, even when you get decked.

In 1988 Steve Jobs was in the wilderness, having been fired from the company he started. But while he may have initially set out to make some computers, his true vision started to come into focus. He believed computers are for the people. He saw a world with thousands of users versus one computer a 1000 times more powerful. That was his purpose. He was relentless about it.

It’s not about how grand your purpose is. It can be small. It’s big to you, and that’s what counts. Start by figuring out what you’re unwilling to give up on. Within those things there is one that you actually shouldn’t let go of. Part of life is figuring that out. Difficult. It may even require some trial and error. That process is important to recognizing the real deal when you find it.

Happiness, Part xx6, The Chemistry

Parts xx1, xx2, xx3, xx4, xx5. Part xx6 will unfold over a series of related posts.

We’re animals with bodies wired to respond to stimuli in ways that increase our chances of survival. While we have certain physical vulnerabilities, we overcome them by having been graced with a complex array of genetic tools that make us adept at learning and cooperation. We’re social. We work well in groups, and need them. We respond to what we call feelings, which help to facilitate this cooperative, social behavior. Our feelings have chemical underpinnings. There are two primary kinds: Selfless and Selfish. The selfish ones produce good feelings when we accomplish things for ourselves, while the selfless ones are oriented more toward the feelings we get in cooperation with others.

The primary selfish ones are:

Endorphins – Associated with the runner’s high. Their job is to mask physical pain. To help give us the will to push through when we’re tired or injured. But they serve other purposes as well. When we laugh they are released, which can mitigate anxiety. An example might be a comedic moment in a horror movie. We feel better even after the laughing stops.

Dopamine – Responsible for the feeling of satisfaction we get when accomplishing something. The bigger the accomplishment the more dopamine we get. We even get a little along the way to start us up and keep us going. It’s a part of what makes us goal oriented. Eating food produces dopamine, which is one reason why we like to eat (too much). In fact, dopamine is a major factor any many different types of addictions. This includes not only food or drugs, but things like checking e-mail or Facebook. That little bit of intrigue when there is something new releases dopamine. We like it. We want more. We can’t put our phones down for want of it.

There are some others in this category that are a little less important for feelings, though more important for action, such as Noradrenaline and Adrenaline.

The primary selfless ones are:

SeratoninSerotonin – Our warm feelings when others support and approve of us, or we support others, are linked to serotonin. Getting likes on Facebook or feeling like you have followers or loyal friends triggers the release of this chemical. The feeling of respect from others triggers it, and so it helps us to organize around being a good team member or leader. Because of this chemical we feel the weight of responsibility toward others – not just results (that would be dopamine), but the people, especially when they are counting on us in some way. It helps make us want to do right by people, or to make them proud.

Oxytocin – Known as the love chemical, oxytocin helps to produce a feeling of closeness or intimacy with others. It is often, but not necessarily triggered by physical contact. It helps to reinforce a bond between people, whether friends, siblings, or parent and child. It’s why others showing support of our endeavors makes us feel better about them, and why we feel better about ourselves and them when we offer that support. It triggers feelings of empathy and the strongest bonds of trust and friendship. Unlike dopamine, which is fast and temporary, oxytocin lasts and strengthens relationships over time. It produces a feeling of warmth and security that allows us to reveal our vulnerabilities.

Try to find ways to laugh or seek other enjoyment to trigger endorphins, especially when times are tough. Easier said than done. Try to find healthy (as in not too frivolous) measures of accomplishment to achieve. Dopamine will help you once you set up some clearly defined goals. Show up (or come through) and do something to help someone else or make them feel good for a little boost of serotonin. And for oxytocin, reveal your vulnerability and show yourself. Strive to get close.

In other words, fake it ’til you make it. It’s not easy, but your body will respond by chemically helping you…if you can just find a way to get started. Each day.

What is Your Passion?

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“Follow your passion” has become such a canned bit of advice. It’s valid, but it can be misleading. People interpret what’s wanted, or even loving something as passion. It isn’t. It’s desire, and that’s a huge start, but there are lots of wants that don’t really qualify as passions. Why? Because we aren’t actually willing to work toward them in a meaningful and consistent way. Instead it’s helpful say…

Follow Your Effort

When you observe what you’re willing to take your own initiative and exert real effort to do you probably will have found an actual passion (one of them – there can be more than one). Double check that the result of your actions is what you really want (it’s more than just the actions themselves) and you’re on track.

Risk of Patience

RiskPatience

How risk averse are you? It’s in our DNA, actually. While we each are more or less prone to take risks in certain domains relative to others, there is a generally higher appreciation for adventure in some overall. Sometimes we look on from the sidelines, wishing we could muster that, while other times we appreciate the comfort of relative safety. Time is the element that changes us.

I don’t know how many times I’ve sat behind someone at a busy intersection watching their decision making from my perspective. Plenty of gaps in traffic sufficient enough to merge or get across go by, but they sit…and wait…for what seems like the perfect opportunity. Sometimes they get it, and the decision is easy. Other times their patience eventually wears down and the willingness to risk more or be more aggressive rises. I’ve seen people make dangerous moves when a moment before a much easier one was available.

There are few things in life with so little risk that they are no-brainers, and yet we often wait…as if that perfect moment (or the answer) will reveal itself to us. At intersections at least, our willingness to take risk is tied to a combination of our patience and mood. Watching how novices manage stocks or play at the casino is another interesting exercise.

In many situations the actual risk is calculable. It may be changing, but often those changes aren’t so complex that it can’t be approximately worked out in real-time (like the intersection). As time passes without (the desired) results we become willing to risk more. As our situation improves we become more patient. Even when the waiting had nothing to do with the improvement we may simply asses that there is more to lose. The key is in how we weigh the trajectory. If our situation worsens, do we believe it will continue to get worse at the same rate? As the traffic builds at that intersection we know it will subside again soon (barring some other mitigating factor such as a shift ending at a nearby factory or something), but once our willingness to wait is exhausted, aggressiveness takes over.

Here’s another thought. Rationalization. When we’re young we’re generally more willing to take risks. Overall most of those risks work out well enough, even if not exactly how we envisioned them. Gradually we stop taking them, and pretty much stand pat. We have too much at stake now to risk it. We concede to time and the idea of “good enough.” But how much more risky is it really to tackle something with all of the wisdom you can bring to it at an older age than it was when you were a naïve kid? We look too much at what there is to lose, and the fear gets us. It’s like turning around at that intersection and going back home to watch TV.

Time erodes our position. Whatever it is you want to do or become, there is now less time to do, or to enjoy the fruits of it, than a moment ago. The risk in doing it may have increased, but waiting more also increases the stakes. Can we learn to see the truth of this such that we forgo the idea of the ideal moment and just get on with it?

No Sense

PistolDie

Sometimes people do the oddest things. It makes no sense. All stupidity and lack of wisdom aside, studies are beginning to show that when under (enough) stress, decision making fundamentally changes. One problem with strategic, correlative based thinking is it’s rather predictable. Biologically this isn’t always good. When trying to elude a superior preditor the last thing you’d want to be is predictable. No, in a desperate enough situation you’d want actions to be random, as it may well be your only real chance to survive. The same could arguably be said of outwitting a superior foe competing for resources. Or for navigating yourself out of a hopeless situation. In short, when things get perceptually bad enough actions can show dramatically poor judgement or remarkable insight, though current research shows it possibly isn’t either. Hopefully someone will come to your rescue before you’re left to your own devices. Otherwise…good luck.

Art’s Effects

The importance of good art is easy to underestimate. First, we trivialize what it is by calling so many things art that aren’t. Beyond that, we just don’t know all of the profound ways it works its way into our lives or how we’re impacted by it.

EdnaPaintingPaul

My aunt Edna painted this many years ago. She died of cancer at too young an age, but left behind people I’ve always felt a sort of unique closeness to in my large extended family. She and my mom were very close growing up, but I think my closeness to her family was more a result of being like minded in many ways.

My cousin posted this picture on Facebook, and due to whatever machinations go on behind the scenes in that little universe it repeatedly appeared in my feed…until I realized some things. I remember visiting their place in Toronto from time to time back in the ’70s and ’80s.. I can visualize precisely where this hung in their apartment (they have since moved around a few times). It is almost the only thing I remember about the furnishings there. It really stood out to me, and made an impression. Why?

When I see it I am always struck by the colors. Almost pastels, but something more. The image stands on its own and has always been imprinted on my mind in some way, for some reason. It always appeared abstract to me, yet when I look with more care I can clearly see that it is a church in an old town.

It reminds me of those times I spent in Toronto. Love that place. Wanted to move there.

It reminds me of the artist. Most memories are vague, but there are always those that stand out more distinctively. Certain sensibilities formed at a young age by being around her, in her home, etc.

It represents days gone by. Even an innocence lost in a way, as it is something from my childhood more or less. When I see it I always see it in a particular context: hanging on that wall of their apartment. A place they haven’t lived in around 30 years. It takes me back there. A stamp or icon representing a period of time in a particular setting. An entire set of associated (if more vague) images and memories – things that had a larger impact on my life and the person I became than those people know.

Good art transports us across reality, memories, perceptions, feelings, and understandings in the most abstract, yet often compelling, ways. All these years later I’m glad Edna sat down and took the time to make this work, and had developed the skill to pull it off so well. Surely she had no idea at the time the lasting effect it would have. We live in an age where artistic output, in whatever form it may take, has never been easier. The only enemies are time and fear, which is really to say there is only the fear. You don’t have to publish it, but make sure you take some time to pull something creative out of yourself. You’ll be better for it, and it may work out that the world will be, too.

Hope is Not a Strategy

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Hoping things will work out or get better has no bearing on making them so (quantum physics notwithstanding).

Hope is simply something that can make us feel better about our circumstances. It takes on more meaning and feels more substantial when we’re actually in action to achieve a result. Still it isn’t the hope that does it. It’s the action. Hope can help motivate us to action, or is helpful in getting us to stay the course, or it can serve to tranquilize us that it will work out anyway. Inaction.

Hope is not an effective strategy. It’s just a feeling, an emotion. Many people have gone to their graves eventually realizing that hope wasn’t actually doing anything beyond making them feel better in the moment.

Don’t live your life putting your faith in hope. You may need to give up the tranquility of hope to finally take action. Maybe you need to break something. Something that’s probably already broken.

Gratitude

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Sometimes it’s right in front of us. Sometimes we have to search. It’s nearly always there – something to appreciate and be thankful for.

When we see it, and it’s obvious to us…those are some nice moments. It would be great if there were more of those such that we could skip through life on the buoys of good feelings they produce. But it’s when we choose to find it in those shadows between the obvious beams of light that we reveal our best character to ourselves. In some of our best moments we can even step back and see the contrast between the obvious and the sublime machinations that afford us a view into the darkness in such a way that we can still find our path. That’s the essence of who we can be, if only we can manage to sustain it. Thus is the challenge of the thinking/feeling human.


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