Tuesday, September 15, 2009

There is No Try

"No! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try."
-- Yoda, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

I've been debating whether or not to call this blog, There is No Try or Are You European, Part Two.
A few weeks ago, Iris and I had the most wonderful weekend with friends and family. We saw a great performance by Melody Gardot, a blues/jazz singer from Philadelphia with and amazing story and a monster band.

The next day, Iris and I were talking about the concert and about my opinions regarding Iris' capacity to sing as well as Melody. I had determined that the Iris' could sing as well as Melody if she simply decided to; Iris had a different opinion.

Pragmatic Truth
As we conversed, it became clear that Iris was thinking about my comments as being true or not true. I was thinking about them being useful or not useful. (By the way, it took me a while to figure this out.)

I guess that I tend to think about truth from a practical perspective, (i.e., does it work or not) when others tend to think about truth from a factual perspective (i.e., is it true or not).

Truth as Cause, Not Effect
Okay, most of us grew up with the notion of truth being a statement that accurately represents facts. Others might associate truth with belief more than facts; someone is being truthful when they say things that they believe are factual (whether or not their perceptions are accurate.)

Whether you define truth as factual or honest, I'd like to introduce the idea of truth being causal.
  1. What we believe is true causes us to filter information so that we see only evidence that supports what we believe.
  2. What we believe is true causes us to effect (bring into existence) facts that reflect our beliefs.
You see examples of item one every day. For example, in the US, we're having a great debate over national health care. The people who want a public health insurance plan all see evidence that not only supports it, but mandates it. The people who don't want a public plan see evidence of it being the end of democracy. Almost everyone has almost no data (relative to the volumes of data that are available). Yet, most of us feel strongly that our beliefs are well founded and true.

For item two, we simply need to look at ourselves. In particular, consider the number of things in your life that you have believed you could not do. Include all the "I think I can" beliefs masquerading as "I can" beliefs.

You know... I can't write well... I just don't get computers... I tried skiing and it was a disaster... I'll never be able to do advanced math... I just don't know how to relate to people...

Now, how many of those beliefs have you successfully challenged by doing the very thing you believed you couldn't do?

Of those cases (excluding the ones where someone simply took you by the hand and dragged you through the process), how often did the accomplishment precede the belief change and how often did belief change precede the accomplishment?

My guess is that, there are many things in your life that you've believed you can't do that you don't do. In fact, the truth of the can't may be so strong that you don't even consider the option any more.

Pragmatic Optimism
As I typed Pragmatic Optimism, it occurred to me that I have many friends who would consider the phrase to be an oxymoron and the phrase Pragmatic Pessimism to be redundant. Nonetheless, I would say that:
Optimism (when coupled with focus, time and effort) may be the single most practical tool we have available to us!
From a dictionary perspective: optimism is a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome, i.e., a filter that allows through the positive evidence. Since we're filtering anyway, why not filter out the negative?
Take any situation, apply a healthy dose of optimism, and you'll get dramatically different results.
But How?
Before getting to how to become optimistic, let me quickly address why not. Although there are many reasons to be pessimistic (or realistic), it boils down to either fear of disappointment or Optimistic Viewthe belief that pessimism causes us to work harder.

Get over it!

Now, if you'd like to become more optimistic, I've come up with some steps that you can take. If you're steadfastly a lost cause, then you still might want to take these steps with your children and then let them drag you out of your loser, pessimistic existence after they become optimistic dynamos.

Step 1: Laugh and let go! Don't take everything so seriously. We tend to invest our pessimistic energy in areas of our life that we've considered important or that we take seriously. So, it's time to have some fun with it and laugh.

Step 2: Place yourself on a pessimism-free diet for one week.
This works best if you advertise it and ask everyone around you to call you on anything that you do or say that even hints at pessimism. Importantly, when they do call you on it, you're not allowed to argue or explain. Just take it in.

Step 3: Pick something that you really want to do, but can't, and decide that you can do it. Suspend disbelief. We're not talking about I think I can here; we're talking about I can.

Step 4: Craft Little Wins. This may be the important part. Break down the thing that you want to accomplish into small enough chunks where you can start accomplishing some of it. Don't take on all of calculus at once; just do some basic arithmetic and work it until you're good at it. If you want to learn piano, before you dive into theory and scales and exercises, learn to play a couple of chords so that you can accompany yourself on a song or two.

As you do this, you build evidence to support you optimism.

Have an enjoyable optimistic Tuesday!

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