Sunday, January 31, 2010

Even More Basic

Wow, we've had a lot of discussion both on and off the blog regarding the basics of the philosophy of happiness. Thank you everyone for your comments, emails and phone calls. I thought it might be useful to look at several of the topics we've discussed.

What's the Point
One of the things that I learned from Paul Weichselbaum was to always be asking myself, "So, what?" I think that "So, what?" has become my greatest weapon in my arsenal of productivity. It keeps me from wasting time on activities that are irrelevant to what I'm trying to accomplish, it helps keep meetings on track and productive, and it lets me avoid endless hours of explanation and argument by jumping to the end and asking, "Let's say that everything you're about to explain is true; how would that change what we're doing?"

In a comment on Back to Basics, Ari offered:
I thought this might be relevant...

Bruce Di Marsico, From "Beliefs are not a problem"

"Now the only judgment and beliefs that are really going to affect your happiness are judgments and beliefs that have to do with your happiness. It might not make much of a difference to your happiness for you to make a prediction about where the stock market is going to go, as long as your money, or your lack of it, is not going to be something that you’re going to make a judgment that you’ll be happy about or not.

A person who is really being happy might not make judgments or beliefs about their happiness, but they might make them about anything else, knowing that they are only just judgments, they are only just guesses, they’re only just beliefs, which they’re doing in order to get something or to conduct some business or to negotiate or to relate to someone."
The essence of what Bruce wrote is, "So, what?" We could spend years debating the nuances of judgments versus assessments versus fact-observation, but it all comes down to the question, "why are we looking at these in the first place?"

The basis of the discussion is not the question of 'what is a judgment', it's the question of 'what beliefs have the greatest impact on our happiness' (note, happiness is another term we want to clarify in a bit).

[You might also note that whereas someone might talk about judgments being an important subset of beliefs, in the text above, Bruce DiMarsico presents them as parallel concepts (i.e., judgments and beliefs), not as super set and sub-set.]

Facts, Beliefs, Assessment and Judgments
Many of us who have learned about the Dialogue as a method of self-exploration or facilitated self-exploration have come to distinguish two basic forms of statement regarding stimuli: Fact/Observation and Belief. Those of us who learned about talk therapy in the Berkshires have further learned to segment beliefs into Assessments and Judgments.

Let's start with statements regarding the temperature of the air outside. Within the context I've described above:
  1. "It's -1 degrees" would be an example of fact/observation.
  2. "It's cold outside" would be an example of assessment.
  3. "Shit, it's friggin cold outside!" would be an example of judgment.
In all three cases, we're talking about beliefs. We don't know it's -1 degrees; we just believe it is. Still, one can see that the three statements regarding the temperature vary significantly.

Forget What You Know
Since they seem to cause so much confusion, I'm going to suggest that we abandon the terms: fact/observation, judgment and assessment, and instead look at the process in the following way. (Don't worry, we can resurrect these terms later.)

Please note that the following explanation by way of introduction presents what is ultimately a cyclical process linearly. Also, please note that the above diagram is not to scale; however, beliefs actually are green.

Our world is crowed with gazillions of stimuli which are illustrated in the diagram above in orange. Of the gazillions of stimuli only a small number fall into our awareness (we'll talk about that process later.) Our minds are crowded with zillions of beliefs (represented in green); these beliefs vary in emotional charge. Some are quite positively charged (happiness fueling beliefs), some are negatively charged (unhappiness fueling beliefs), and some don't have much charge one way or the other.

As various stimuli enter our awareness, we engage a subset of our beliefs that we consider relevant to the stimuli. For most of us, this process happens so quickly that we would call it automatic. However, I would suggest that we simply view it as really fast thinking.

As we engage relevant beliefs, they form a filter through which we experience the stimuli that have entered our awareness. It's the beliefs that actually lead to our emotional responses. If we engage happiness-fueling beliefs, then we respond happily. If we engage unhappiness fueling beliefs, then we respond unhappily. In fact, one might say that our happiness is directly proportional to the net sum of the charges on the beliefs we engage.

For example, let's say that you encounter someone you're quite fond of. Your Happiness Quotient might be computed based on several (oversimplified for the sake of illustration) beliefs illustrated below.
He's wonderful+6
I need him-3
He's not going to want to be with me-5
Happiness Quotient-2

So What?

In the end, whether or not a statement is fact/observation or belief, whether or not a belief is a judgment or an assessment is not particularly useful; I would go so far as to say it was simply intellectual masturbation.

What actually matters is what beliefs you engage and the degree to which each of them fuels either happiness or unhappiness.
Both factors are important as the same belief experienced by two different people can have completely opposite happiness fueling effects.

All the above only matters insofar as it helps us achieve our goals, which in this case are generally to become happier and specifically to guide our self-exploration in a way that helps us ask the most meaningful questions.

Working Backwards
A great way to keep yourself on track with what's most important (i.e., most relevant to accomplish your goals) is to work backwards from the goal.

If our goal is to become happier (however you want to define happier), then let's start there. Working backwards from a goal of being happier, we fundamentally have two choices, we can look at situations where we're already happy and make our happiness bigger; or, we can look at situations where we're unhappy and turn them around. The philosophy is particularly good at the latter, and not particularly good at the former (I'll explain more about this in another article.)

Working backwards as we apply the philosophy to modify our unhappiness works something like this.
  1. We look at situations in which we manifest the specific unhappiness we'd like to change
  2. Once we've identified a situation, we dig into it looking for specific stimuli that result in our unhappiness.
  3. Having isolated those stimuli, we then look at our beliefs regarding them.
  4. As we look at those beliefs, we identify ones that have particularly strong charge
  5. We then dig into the beliefs with the strongest charges becoming more and more specific
  6. As we become specific in our understanding of our beliefs, we identify gaps or flaws in our logic and/or potential faults in our assumptions
  7. As we identify these gaps and faults we can choose to keep them, fill them, change them etc.
  8. Changing the beliefs changes the charges associated with them which in turn changes our response.
Stimulus->Belief->Response or Response->Stimulus->Belief
As Iris and I talked about all this yesterday, we realized that the structured presentation of concepts and techniques as a sequence can be misleading when it comes to applying them to the real world. For example, we can talk about the process of stimulus-belief-response. Stimuli pass through beliefs that yield responses. This is a great conceptual model, but the sequence is not particularly useful in discovering why we do what we do.

The application of stimulus-belief-response in conducting self-exploration is most effective when done in the sequence: response then stimulus then belief. We start with the response that we want to change (e.g., what would you like to explore today), we identify the stimuli that seem to trigger the response (e.g., what's an example of a time when you responded that way), and then we look at our beliefs regarding those stimuli (why do you belief that...)

That's it for this morning: much more to come.

An Invitation
As you know, the Belief Makers blog is completely open to your commentary. Please let me know if you agree, disagree, see something totally off or something that's really working for you. Also, if you would like to contribute and article on this or any other relevant topic, please let Iris know via the FaceBook group and we'll get you in there.

Happy Sunday, Teflon

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Marathon Training (Week 3)

Every Friday until November 7, 2010 you will find entries from a series written by Iris about her training to run the New York marathon in 2010. It is something she never aspired to do; she has never run a distance of more than 2 kilometers in her life. In this series she describes her adventures and how she works on her beliefs to transform her challenges and successes into one great experience.

This Saturday morning I am clear that Marathon training comes down to a 'mind' game. I've come to believe that most of us are capable of running a marathon (after training) as long as we are willing to work on our beliefs and uncover what we say to ourselves to motivate ourselves and create sustainable beliefs that motivate us to go on for long intervals of challenging exercise.

On Tuesday I covered a distance of 5.174 KM (including my 5 minutes of walking warm-up), which was my furthest distance up to then and even though there was nothing else to do but feel proud, I instead felt disappointed and tired.

My goal was to run 30 minutes without stopping, but a little faster then the day before. I started at a higher speed, and after a couple of minutes my body started to give feedback to my brain: this is too fast, slow down! I tried to ignore it, but I know now that ignoring it doesn’t work. You have to counteract with strong positive beliefs otherwise the “slow down” comes back to you faster than you can imagine!

That morning I was not creating positive beliefs. I was working out on a day that I had planned to take off and I seemed to have in my head that working out may be overdoing it. Still, because of my schedule working out that day was the more sensible thing to do. So while working out, every time my body sent a signal, “hmm getting warm; hmm, need some water; hmm, muscles feeling tight” I translated it to "see, you should be resting today. You're too tired to run!”

The funny thing was, I would immediately know that that’s what I was doing and say to myself “this is not useful! tell yourself something else”, and I would start telling myself that I am doing a good job etc. Even though I ended up feeling physically really good about what I did that day, I also felt tired and resistant.

That evening Kathy, Mark and I had dinner and we discussed my morning’s experience and how I was starting to understand that it is my brain and not my body that tells me how far I can run. Kathy shared an experience with me that totally confirmed this belief. I had to laugh hard and want to share her story with you:

During college, Kathy decided to start working out by running on a track at night. After her first run, a friend suggested that she contact security to tell them that she was using the track and to make sure they also check that area on their rounds.

The next time Kathy went to the track to do her beginners workout, a security guy was waiting for her. He posted himself on the side of the track watching over her like a mother duck watching her little ducklings as they take their first insecure steps into the big wide world. Kathy said that she ran and ran and ran… When she stopped one hour later, something she had never done before she realized that she was now a runner! Not because of training, not because of physical conditioning, but because she was determined not to to have had a security guy show up and then not run!

Since I hit my goal for this week (5K) I used the rest of the week to start adding speed to my running. It's so funny, I have so much more resistance to adding speed then to adding distance. I know that adding speed is going to benefit me the most over time. For example: 26 miles at a rate of 4 miles an hour (walking) is 6.5 hours, at 6 miles an hour it's 4 hours and 20 minutes, and at 8 miles an hour it's only 3 hours and 15 minutes. But I'm still quite resistant to speed training.

I have not yet found the best way to challenge myself to increase my speed, and I will keep you updated about my practical research this week on this subject.

Physical Changes
  • My weight has stabilized, but my fat is clearly disappearing on me and becoming muscle. People have started to comment that I lost weight.
  • My bra size has gone down one size.
  • My belly is starting to look muscular.
  • I seem to get grumpy if I skip my workout (addiction?)
  • I started to sweat, something my body normally doesn't do well. On hot days I always felt like a dog only getting the heat out through the soles of my feet.
Next Week’s Goals
  • Alternate speed training and distance training
  • Create a more in depth training program for the next two months.
  • Find and sign up for a 10K race and a half marathon

Friday, January 29, 2010

Back to Basics

Based on a bunch of discussions I've had of late as well as some of the comments I seen on various blogs and discussion groups dedicated to the philosophy of happiness, I thought it might be good to get back to basics.

Before starting, I want to be clear that I have absolutely no credentials to speak of; I'm not certified in any way in regard to the philosophy of happiness. Also, I would note that if you're someone who actually looks at credentials to validate what someone is saying, well... please stop now.

Clarifying Terms
Once upon a time (in the early 70's or late 60's), a man named Bruce Di Marsico invented something that he called the Option Method (and at times, Option Therapy). I would note that under the threat of severe saber rattling and ultimately a court order, I am compelled to not refer to Bruce's philosophy by the names applied to it by others. I know, it's silly and perhaps unbelievable, but people nonetheless. Sigh...

Anyway, as far as I can tell, all the core principles of Bruce's philosophy such as stimulus-belief-response and the method of talk therapy referred to as the dialogue all originated with Bruce.

Among the small group of people to whom Bruce taught the method was Barry Neil Kaufman who subsequently wrote several books about it, renaming it and trademarking the name. He also established a 5013c n0n-profit religious organization that among other things offers workshops that facilitate experiential learning the of the philosophy. The tag line for his teaching center in the Berkshires is "A place for miracles", and I must say that, in my experience, it is.

All this is to say that, when I refer to the philosophy, I'm referring to the core system of philosophy that originated with Bruce. I'm not referring to Bruce's specific instantiation (The Option Method) nor Kaufman's trademarked version of the same nor the non-registered trademarked place that the Kaufman's established; I'm just talking about the philosophical core.

The Foundation
Bruce's critical insight that forms the basis for everything else is simple: our emotions are voluntary actions, not involuntary reactions. Everything we feel is something we do, not something that happens to us. Being something that we voluntarily do, every emotion, every feeling is a choice. In particular, for Bruce and others, happiness is a choice.

OK, that's it. Nothing more, nothing less. As Einstein said, "Everything should be made a simple as possible, but no simpler."
The first principle is:
our emotions and feelings are not involuntary reactions to stimuli,
they are activities that we engage intentionally

Beliefs Cause Emotion
So, if our emotions and feelings are choices we make, why doesn't it feel that way. For most of us, our emotions absolutely seem to be involuntary reactions to the world around us. They're pre-programmed, they're reflexes, they're automatic. Something happens and we respond.
  • My boss yells at me in front of a group of people and I feel embarrassed.
  • A guy cuts me off in traffic and I get angry.
  • My mother passes away and I feel sad.
  • Someone points a gun at me and I feel scared.
  • My boyfriend breaks up with me and I feel hurt.
And yet, we don't all respond the same ways to the same stimuli. People respond differently to any given stimulus. Walk a photo of George Bush around Dallas, Texas and you'll get one set of emotional responses. Walk the same photo around Cambridge, Massachusetts and you'll get another, completely different set of responses.

If emotions are involuntary reactions to stimuli, how is that we all react differently. Bruce answered this question, by suggesting that our emotional reactions to stimuli are based on our beliefs regarding the stimuli. Everything we see and hear is filtered by our beliefs; this filtering process determines our reactions.
  • My reaction to getting fired is determined by my belief in regard to my capacity to get a new job.
  • My reaction to the death of a loved one is determined by my belief regarding afterlife.
  • My reaction to someone holding a gun is determined by my belief regarding her intention.
It is our beliefs regarding the stimuli that drive our reactions, not the stimuli themselves. Further, there are always many beliefs at work. My reaction to getting fired is determined by a combination of beliefs: Was I unjustly fired? Do I need a job? Can I find a job? Can I find a better job? And so on.
An second principle is:
Our reactions to stimuli are not directly caused by the stimuli,
they are caused by our beliefs regarding the stimuli.
A corollary to this is:
A good way to change how we react to stimuli,
is to uncover and change the beliefs that drive the reaction.
Isolating Causal Beliefs
As humans, each of us is a walking, talking constellation of thousands of beliefs. So, the question that arises is, "How do I know which beliefs to change in order to change my response to a given stimulus?"

In response to this, many who have learned the philosophy would tell you that you want to look for judgments. The topic of judgments vs. assessments is one about which many people seem quite confused. I believe this is simply because the Kaufman's got it a bit confused and they've taught more people the philosophy than anyone.

One teacher will often explain that there is an important subset of beliefs called judgments. Judgments are beliefs that have a charge: good/bad, right/wrong and so on. When looking for beliefs that cause unwanted responses, we want to look for judgments. The teacher will then distinguish words that represent judgments from words that represent assessments giving examples of each.

With this explanation, we've already gone completely off the rails. As one of my professors would say, "Not even wrong."

The idea that some beliefs that are assessments and others are judgments is just silly. There is nothing inherent to a belief that makes it a judgment or an assessment. There are just beliefs.

However, different beliefs hold different emotional charges for each of us and these emotional charges vary over time. Believing that your wife is going to leave you is just a belief. You may feel quite sad and concerned about that (negative charge), or you might feel quite excited and enthusiastic about it (positive charge), or you may not really care that much (no charge).

Our emotional response to a belief is directly proportional to the amount of charge that we've associated with that belief. Beliefs that carry a big charge cause a big emotional response; beliefs that carry a small charge cause small emotional responses. So, if you want to isolate the beliefs that are causing you to react in ways you want to change, look for the beliefs with the biggest charge. The important thing to remember is that the charge associated with any belief is completely variable from person to person and from time to time.
A third principle is:
To uncover the beliefs that have the greatest impact on your response to a stimulus,
look for those beliefs that carry the greatest emotional charge.
Modifying and Discarding Beliefs
Once I've uncovered a belief that is causing a specific response, I can process that belief to see if I want to keep it, modify it, discard it or replace it. This brings us to another critical principle.
A fourth principle is:
There is no such thing as an irrational belief;
every belief has a logic and rationale that drives it.

A corollary to this is:
Because every belief is rational and logical,
it can be understood and changed.
I've often heard people who are avid philosophical enthusiasts talk about irrational fears or irrational beliefs. Again, not even wrong.

One of the things we'll often tell ourselves is that we have irrational beliefs. We'll say things like, "I know it doesn't make any sense, but I just can't get past believing that..."

The problem is that, when we do this, we shut down any possible exploration of why we're doing what we're doing. We get 'stuck'.

By starting with the assumption that everything I do, no matter how irrational it may seem, actually has a logical and rational belief system driving it, I open the door to exploring my beliefs and changing them. With this principle in hand, we can break down our beliefs into the underlying beliefs and assumptions on which they're built. As we break our beliefs down into their component elements, we uncover flawed steps in our logic and the assumptions that, upon seeing them, no longer make sense.

Within the philosophy, our ability to logically break down and understand our beliefs is the basic method by which we change them.

So Far
OK, that's enough writing for this morning. Mark Twain once said something like, "I wanted to write you short letter, but ran out of time, so I wrote a long one."

Let me quickly summarize what we have so far:
  1. The philosophy exists independently of any branded or trademarked processes or organizations
  2. The foundational principle on which all the rest of the philosophy is built is that our emotions and feelings are voluntary actions, not involuntary reactions.
  3. Our emotions and feelings are not direct reactions to stimuli, but instead are reactions to our beliefs regarding stimuli.
  4. The degree to which a belief influences our reaction to stimuli is directly proportional to the charge that we apply to that belief. Highly charged beliefs yield big reactions.
  5. If we want to change how we respond to something, then we want to find the relevant beliefs with the strongest charge.
  6. All beliefs are logical and rational and can therefor be analyzed and understood.
  7. As we become clear on the logic and assumptions that drive our beliefs, it becomes easier to make changes to them or completely replace them.
  8. By changing our beliefs, we change how we respond.
OK, that's my first crack at the theoretical underpinnings of the philosophy. I'd love to hear your feedback and insights.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Focus on the 20%

I had a fascinating conversation with a friend, an educator of Math educators,who is getting frustrated with the educators she is educating, and would like to bypass them, and go straight to the point, the mathematics students!  We started talking about big ideas in mathematics: those that give the most bang for the buck, the most benefit for the effort.  She feels that there are relatively few, and when they are mastered and expanded upon, bring enjoyment and satisfaction in most mathematics education. Unfortunately, she says, most teachers and students spend much of their time focused on the smaller ideas, which,by themselves can seem quite irritating and irrelevant.  This leads to math frustration and many people,  faced with some differentiation or imaginary numbers, decide that mathematics is just not for them.

I was pretty excited at this insight.  What are these big ideas in mathematics?  I certainly didn't know them and I taught math grades 7-12 and first year college level algebra and probability theory.  I can be really good at following an algorithm, no understanding necessary (I spent many years thinking about whether computers can demonstrate intelligence, the Turing Test and ELIZA).

 Now that I'm doing second and third grade math with Simonne, I'm really fascinated by how much I'm learning!  Now, if I could get a handle on what these big ideas are....  I asked my friend,and she rattled off a few.  I only caught one.  She said that if a child becomes comfortable with the concept of complements, large chunks of mathematical processing become easier.

For example, the complements in 10 are 9 and 1, 8 and 2,7 and 3 and all the other pairs of numbers that add to 10.  The picture shows how a very small child would become comfortable with this idea by building a wall with cuisenaire rods such that every row has only 2 rods, except for the first row,which has the orange rod (the orange rod represents something 10 units long).  Even before a child knows that 7+3 = 10, he understands that the orange rod is the same as the black rod and the light green rod put together.

One possible expansion of the idea of complements is in finding change from $1 (or $10 or $100...any other) can be done easily by knowing the complements in 10 for the rightmost digit,and the complements in 9 for all the others!  Try it.  What change would you give me if I gave you $100 for a $67 item?

Ok,what has this to do with the 20%?  It's from that guy Parento and his notion that 20% of causes lead to 80% of the effects.  I'm already doing this in a few areas:

  • In Jay's home program, I decided that being able to relate and communicate was the 20% that I was going to make really big.  I decided that the other skills, like being able to write his name, though useful,would fall into the 80% that wouldn't really go far in getting me what I wanted for Jay.
  • In business, I decided that being able to connect with people and be helpful is my continuously expanding 20%,vs the 80% of product specific knowledge
  • In my relationship with Isaiah, I notice we experience the jet stream when we pay attention to the big things that are so big,they seem invisible, like the things we enjoy experiencing, our common passions and visions.  I try out hyper focussing on the small stuff that I allow to take up space, but don't add value.  I haven't found that useful.
  • I'm on a quest to figure out what the 20%  is in Mathematics, so my kids can really learn something, instead of fronting,the way I did for so many years.  
So, as I experience my life every day, I'm starting to ask myself, Is this in the 80% or in the 20%?  Is this bringing me value,or just taking up energy and space?  Just asking myself the question illuminates my choice to  focus on things that take me closer to where I want to go!  Focus on the 20%

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

1, 2, 3... Infinity

I've been noticing that there seem to be only four numbers that people use when trying to make decisions: 1, 2, 3 and ∞. Remarkably, all four tend to lead to bad decisions or no decisions (although no decision is an oxymoron).

One is for Victims
Most often, we seem to use the number one when making decisions. We'll use phrases such as, "There's nothing else I can do" or "I simply had no other choice" or "Things like this just happen" or "People like me just..." or "You tell me what the alternative is!"

Now, when we use the number one in making decisions, we tell ourselves that it's really zero, that we're not making a decision, that the decision is out of our control, that it's been made for us. We're victims.

However, this never really is the case. When we use the number one, it simply means that we don't like what we see behind door number two or door number three. Rather than simply saying that we don't like the choices we've been presented, we say that we have no choice.

So, one (or none) is a lie. We always have at least two options.

Too Much of Two
The more sophisticated among us who know that whether or not we admit it, whether or not we acknowledge our options, we're always making decisions. We know that whether or not we like it, there's always at least one alternative. So, we adopt two as our favorite number.

Whereas the one-ers would say, "I can't just quit my job!", the two-types would acknowledge that they can always quit, but that they don't necessarily like the consequences of doing so. Two is a great step forward.

There are many decisions that practically come down to A or B. Should I stay or should I go? Should I be with Tommy or should I be with Jane? Should I take that drink or not? Should I steal the money or not?

However, as appealing as two is (I mean, it's twice as good as one), two is an artificial construct we use to avoid hurting ourselves by thinking too much; in the real world of decisions, two doesn't exist.

Getting to Two
There are several ways we get to two.

One is to ignore micro-decisions along the way. The alcoholic two-type sitting at the bar in front of a glass of vodka contemplating what to do next, is only there because he's denied or avoided all the decisions along the way that could have kept him out of the bar in the first place.

A second is to clump and contrast. We take a great variety of alternatives and begin to group them. We group 16 options into 8 groups of 2, then 8 groups of 2 into 4 groups of 4, and then 4 groups of 4 into 2 groups of 8. Once we have two clumps, in order to keep any of our clumpies from escaping and confusing us, we turn up the contrast moving from high definition color to shades of gray to black and white. Rather than 5 or 6 political candidates representing a spectrum of perspectives and plans, we end up with liberals and conservatives. We get to traditional and modern, radical and orthodox, smart and stupid, good and bad... We clump and we contrast.

A third way that we get to two is the ultimatum, being told that you absolutely have to choose between A and B, or else. (Those of you paying attention will note that I just slipped in a third option.) Many of us fall for ultimatums, especially when they come in the form of passionate appeal or threat. Rather than simply asking, "What's up with the ultimatum?", we fall for it and begin debating the merits of A and B.

The Horns of a Trilemma
Although rarely used, three is a great advancement in decision making technology. You'll often hear three emerge after a long debate among two-types or as a clever response to an ultimatum. It will often take the form, "Hey, why couldn't we just do..."

Indeed, three is a great number and whereas two is 100% bigger than one, three is just 50% bigger than two. Unfortunately three gets no respect. It's kind of the relief pitcher replacing two only after two is completely exhausted and the game is all but lost. However, when applied properly, three can stop an ultimatum dead in its tracks. You know, "or what?"

Still, in the end, three is no less artificial than one or two. It's just a vast improvement.

Infinitely Better
I'm not sure how decision making has evolved to this, but as you move beyond three, numbers show up less and less frequently. You'll see the occasional four, the rare five and... well, they all but disappear until you get to infinity (∞).

Although infinitely many options is actually the only thing we ever really have, we seem incapable of grokking infinity. Just the thought of infinitely many choices gets some people completely catatonic. Unfortunately, rather than taking a deep breath and clumping and contrasting our way to say a million choices or a thousand choices or a hundred or even ten choices, we seem to respond to infinity with one.

Granted, there are some practical implications to processing infinitely many options, but nonetheless it can be really useful to at least remember that you always have infinitely many options available to you when feeling like your down to one (synonymous with none) or facing an ultimatum or on the horns of a trilemma.

Grokking Infinity
The nice thing about infinity is that you don't have to understand it to use it. If you find infinity a bit overwhelming, then I recommend thinking about infinity like salt or pepper or garlic (mmm... garlic); use it to add a little flavor to your decisions. When you feel like you have only one option just sprinkle a little infinity on it and see how it morphs.

If you feel stuck in a job that you don't like and that you can't leave, then just add a little infinity and voila, you'll start to see how many ways there are to stay in a job and make it better.

If you're being pressed to decide between your friendship with Mary and your friendship with Susie, add a little infinity and you'll quickly get to, "What's all this got to do with me? Go work it out!"

A little infinity goes a long way.

Infinitely yours,

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Getting Diagnosed

Over the last year, many people have suggested that I see a psychiatrist and to check out if I have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

My first reaction was, "WHY?"

I didn't question whether or not I had ADHD; my knowledge was limited, but the few things they told me about ADHD sounded like me. No, the WHY was more of, "How could it possibly help me to get diagnosed?"

My guess was that even with a diagnosis, I would still have a problem with clutter, disorganization and mess; I would still feel an urge to interrupt people and to finish their sentences; I would still...

So, why would it be in my interest to get diagnosed rather than simply addressing what seemed to be obvious challenges?

A Little Research
Just before Christmas, I decided to look more into ADHD. My first reaction to the information I found was a sense of confirmation; my second was grief.

I realized how much I have identified with being a messy person and how many self-judgments I've held. (Yes, Benevolent Warrior, even with all my training I can still hold self-judgments; just not while facilitating a dialogue.)

I realized how good it would feel to tell my friends and family that my habitual messiness came from not knowing how to be neat and from becoming extremely tired every time I looked at the clutter.

Imagine if, in preparing for her marathon, Iris' legs got extremely heavy every time she looked at her running shoes. It would be a loooooong way from where she is to finishing that marathon.

Well, that's how I feel about organizing stuff. Every time I look at the clutter, I get tired. Then I get confused as I try to stop myself from being tired, but can't figure out how to do that either. My confusion makes me even more tired and voila, it's a loooooooong way to a neat apartment.

Diagnosis for Whom?
I quickly realized that it was not my family I needed to tell this to; I needed to tell it to myself. As soon as I gave myself the diagnosis of ADHD, I started to let go of my self-judgments. For years I've tried an endless variety of approaches to cleaning based on my judgments that I should be able to clean my apartment. Now, having ADHD, I decided to just make it really easy: do 5-10 minutes and then take a break.

After taking some tests on the Internet, my next step was to get an appointment with a psychologist specialized in ADHD. She confirmed the diagnoses (it's still not official since only a psychiatrist can diagnose you with ADHD) and she gave me the name of a psychiatrist so I could try some medications.

So Now What?
What I did since the meeting with the psychologist (other than looking forward to trying some meds that might show me what peace of mind can be like), was to determine:
  1. which of my symptoms pose the biggest problems for me,
  2. what characterizes times in my life when I seem to have more problems,
  3. what characterizes times in my life when I seem to have fewer problems.
  4. what research is available on ADHD that could be useful to me.
What I have come up with so far is:
  1. I don't work well in noise such as sitting next to someone who is always on the phone
  2. I can do anything for five minutes
  3. I thrive in workshops and brainstorming sessions where multiple ideas are on the table at the same time
  4. Having my skin touched calms me down
  5. There doesn't seem to be connection with food and ADHD other than what is good for everyone
  6. Vitamin D might have a positive influence on ADHD symptoms (I want to learn more about this)
  7. Low estrogen increases ADHD symptoms
  8. Strenuous workouts can be effective in helping with ADHD; however, I'm not sure if this is only true for men, since I believe that it might also lower your estrogen level
It's Nice to have a Diagnosis
When I started to look into what ADHD was about, I also started find friends who had also been diagnosed with ADHD. They were all very helpful in listening to me and in helping me find more information.

As I talked with people about my diagnosis, I found a difference between people with firsthand knowledge on a subject and people without it. The ones without it rely on "experts" to know what they think. They would question my self-diagnosis until I told them that a psychologist confirmed it. Then they would stop.

Hmmmm... I guess that supports one of my original assumptions: if you have an official diagnosis, people will become more accepting, understanding and helpful.

Making It Official
In the end, outside of being prescribed medication, I could have done any of the things I've outlined above without an official diagnosis. I could have stopped judging myself for being messy. I could have paid better attention to what worked for me and what didn't. I could have identified situations in which I thrive and those in which I don't. I could have started researching my symptoms and experiences even if I'd never heard of ADHD.

And yet, there's something nice about having a diagnosis. I can relax in knowing, "yup, that's what I have." Information is easier to find. It becomes easier to find people who share my experience, people with a similar diagnosis. And people without the same diagnosis seem to become more accepting and helpful. Isn't that curious?

I'm guessing the benefits of getting diagnosed go beyond ADHD. I imagine parents of children with Autism or people with acid reflux or any number of others may experience the same thing.

So, what's your diagnosis?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Systems Thinking

I'm a systems guy. I've made a career of taking large masses of seemingly chaotic and unrelated stuff, finding the patterns and relationships, and then creating simple systems that make them manageable.

There are a few things that I've found characteristic to systems guys (and gals). First, systems guys are inherently lazy. We're always looking for ways to do more with less, ways to take ten tasks and reduce them to one, ways to simplify and make things easier.

Second, systems guys don't like to remember details; we prefer to derive information based on the system. As Richard Feynmen put it, "Why spend time memorizing something that you can simply look up."

Third, systems guys always believe that they can make their system better. As a software guy building systems I've designed, I almost never finish what I've started before I start looking at what I've done and say to myself, "Hmmm... I should really redo this part."

Fourth, systems guys tend not to be that interested in the business aspects of marketing and selling their systems. They prefer to be off working on the next chaotic mound.

What's A System
A system is simply a way of organizing a bunch of stuff into something that can be explained and understood simply and succinctly.

For example, western music is built on the twelve tone equal-tempered scale, an organization of sound into a set of 12 distinct notes from which all music is derived. The notes (A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G and G#) are each assigned a frequency. Each time the frequency doubles, the sequence starts again. For example, there's A 110, A 220, A 440, A 880 and so on. Each of the notes relates to each of the others via a constant ratio, the 12th root of 2 (1.05946309). To get to A# from A, you simply multiply A by the 1.05946309. To get from A# you get to B, you multiply A# by the same ratio. The 12th root of 2 multiplied by itself 12 times gives you 2, or double the original frequency. Simple.

You might say, "why does this matter?"

The equal-tempered scale matters because it makes it possible to have one instrument (e.g., a piano or a clarinet) that can play in any of the 12 keys. Prior to the equal-tempered scale, scales were defined by harmonic series. The harmonic series is the naturally occurring set of resonant frequencies for any given tone: twice the frequency, three times the frequency, four times, and so on.

Each note in an enharmonic scale is defined by its naturally occurring frequency within the series. If you've ever heard really good a cappella quartet, it will often sound as though there are more than four people singing. This is because the singers adjust their tuning from equal-tempered to enharmonic. Doing so causes the notes to align with each other sonically. The alignment creates resonance causing other frequencies in the series to become loud enough that they sound as if another voice were there.

The thing about enharmonic tuning is that notes vary slightly in frequency from key to key. An E in the key of C is just a tiny bit sharper than an E in the key of D. As a result, to play enharmoncally, a musician would be required to have an instrument for each key.

With the equal-tempered scale, an A is an A is an A, no matter what the key.

But Wait, There's More!
One of the things that seems to amaze people is that I can hear a song, play it, and then immediately transpose to any other key. People will frequently as how I'm able to do that.

Well, from a systems perspective, there's actually no such thing as keys. You have a major scale which is simple a sequence of notes defined by their relationship to each other. Regardless of what note you start on, what key you're in, the sequence is always the same: 2-2-1-2-2-2-1.

There are 12 notes: C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B. A C major scale is C D E F G A B. Start on C. Take two steps to D. Take two steps to E. Take 1 step to F. And so on. By just knowing 2-2-1-2-2-2-1, you've got the whole thing: every single major scale.

The same is the case for other scales (e.g., minor scales, modal scales) and chords. In fact, you could probably fit everything that you need to know to play any pop song you're ever heard onto a 3x5 card and still have room for your grocery list. (The little chart to the left shows you just how complicated people can make 2-2-1-2-2-2-1.)

It Can't Be That Easy!
I've explained this to lots of people who decide that it can't be that easy. If it were that easy, then how come there are these huge books on music and music theory? How come it take years to learn to play or become proficient? What gives here?

Well, there are a couple of reasons that music isn't taught this way. First, most people don't really get systems. I mean, they can use the word, but most of us don't spend our time really thinking about and understanding systems. Instead, we tend to learn 'facts' and 'examples'. We never learn the core.

Second, if you reduced everything to a simple system that anyone could learn easily and quickly, then you'd put a lot of people out of business. There's a lot of money to be made in shrouding systems in complexity and mystery.

For example, if you understand music at a systems level, there's never a need to purchase a sheet of music, ever. You can learn to figure out anything in almost no time. However, if you don't understand the system behind music, you're completely dependent upon sheet music. You can get better at playing more complex sheet music, but you'll never be free of it.

Systems and the Dialogue
Over the past week or so, we've had lots of discussions regarding judgments and the difference between judgments and assessments. Some of the discussion has served as a great example of the difference between systems-thinking and non-systems-thinking.

When you create a list of words that represent judgments and a list of words that represent assessments, you are firmly in the camp of non-systems thinking. From the list, you get a sense of what a judgment is and what an assessment is, but in the end, you don't actually understand the difference at its core.

If on the other hand you were to create a system or formula that distinguishes judgments from assessment (such as that Sree offered), then you don't have to know any words to discern judgment from assessment. The system frees you from the list.

Good and Bad Systems
Most people are not good at systems thinking. Even fewer are capable of designing systems. Designing systems requires much more than organizing a bunch of disparate stuff into a reasonably structured set of categories and steps. It involves developing an underlying theory of all the stuff in the first place; one that holds true independent of situation and circumstance. One that doesn't require the stuff to understand the stuff.

I have a friend who, in response to a fellow researcher's attempt at system development, once said, "10,000 spare parts hurtling through space in close formation does not an airplane make!" Yet, oftentimes what people offer up as systems are merely a structured collection of related or semi-related things without a cohesive, applicable theory as to how everything actually works.

To be sure, this type of organization into an approach or method can be quite useful. However, for systems people they're still akin to being bound to sheet music rather than simply understanding music.

Autism Treatment and Systems
Over the past months working with Kat, I've had the opportunity to learn a lot about Autism and Autism Treatment. Although her background is not in systems, Kat demonstrates solid systems-thinking and it's been fun to look at many sundry approaches to Autism from a systems perspective. From the perspective of a systems guy, there are lots of great ideas, approaches and techniques out there for helping kids with Autism, but there are not any great systems per se. It's been heartening to see that as the understanding of autism, sensory systems, child development and other related areas improves, many of what would previously have been considered to be treatment alternatives are on a convergence path.

Still, from a pure systems perspective, it's apparent to me that any one of the methods out there could use some solid systems work. From my perspective, there are still too many lists to be learned, to many techniques to be developed, too many names for what appear to be fundamentally the same thing. (To be clear, I'm a systems guy, not an Autism guy.)

Rather than reinventing what's already out there, Kat and I have been developing systems that could be applied to virtually any approach to Autism treatment to fill gaps, to impose better organization and structure, and to better track what's working and what's not, Kat providing the Autism expertise and me the systems expertise. In doing so, we don't replace what's there, we just provide parents a better framework for understanding what they're already doing and why they're doing it so that they can operate more effectively and more independently. So far, it seems to be really helping and I'm hoping that various organizations out there will see the benefit to both themselves and to their clients.

Not for Everyone

Of course, as is often the case when various methods and approaches start down a path towards convergence, rather than embracing their similarities, many players try to distinguish themselves in their ever diminishing differences. Things such as taking credit, maintaining brand and holding on to market share can get in the way of embracing like-minded people who are all have the same mission of helping families of kids with Autism.

Kat and I ran into this a bit with her former employer who at first saw what she was doing as taking their ideas and now I believe see what she's doing as either competitive or not beneficial to families who are implementing home based relationship programs with their children on the spectrum. I'm hoping that they'll come around because I see a wonderful approach that just needs a bit of help from a systems perspective. But, you never know.

Systems Thinking and You
Learning systems thinking is really powerful. It enables you to move quickly past the dependency on the guidance of experts into a zone where you can do more and more on your own, where you can derive answers rather than looking them up.

You can apply systems thinking to anything from cooking to running to playing music to driving to work. It starts simply by becoming aware of what you already know and what you can figure out based on what you already know. It then requires just a bit of confidence to make assertions and start testing them. It's not about getting your assertions right, it's about learning how to make assertions, what works and what doesn't. The getting right part will come.

What's nice about systems thinking is that's content independent. You can learn it doing anything. I recently discovered an online course in piano that teaches piano quite similarly to the way I would. If you're interested, check out Play Piano Today.

Also, if anything that I've written about today makes sense to you, I was thinking we could set up a little side discussion on systems-thinking, what it means and how to do it.

Happy thinking!


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pure Genius in Three Easy Steps

A while back I introduced you to the competition being held between my friends Mark Kaufman and Jonathan Harwood for World's Dumbest Smart Guy. Well, outside the occasional contribution from my dad who is kind of World's Dumbest Smart Guy Emeritus, Jonathan and Mark have been consistently breaking records and raising the bar in what I can only describe as a leap-frog competition of epic proportions. If only they were to have focused their ingenuity on curing cancer or solving world hunger... But alas, they seem to be destined for another kind of greatness.

Until recently, I thought that these two represented the best the planet had to offer, but all that's changed.

Smart as a Verb
Now, any one of us is contender for World's Dumbest Smart Guy. The first step simply involves being really smart. If you've never considered yourself really smart, it's quite easy to do. Being smart has nothing to do with innate ability or the mythical Intelligence Quotient (IQ). Being smart is something that can be learned, practiced and developed over time.

In fact, the phrase being smart is a bit of a misnomer. What I'm talking about would be more accurately described with a verb, not a state of being. So, instead of talking about being smart, let's talk about doing smart (like playing piano) or smarting (like running).

Now, if each of us were to take up playing piano or running, we would probably start at different levels based upon any number of factors such as our experiences, genetics, skills and attitudes. Over time, as we practiced and developed our skills, we would get better. In fact, depending on a bunch of factors such as attitude, focus, effort, insight and passion, the one of us who seemed to have the most talent (another mythological construct) at the beginning might not be the best player six months later.

Taking up doing smart is no different. Each of us starts at a certain level, but that has nothing to do with our potential or capacity for change.

At Least He Has His Music
As a kid, music always came really easy for me. I could hear things and play them. I could spend an hour or two with a new instrument and start playing it. At fourteen, when I learned notation, I began writing scores for musicals and big bands. Easy.

As a kid, other things were impossible for me. I was overweight, uncoordinated and last picked for any athletic team. I drove my dad to the brinks of insanity with my math skills. I couldn't organize my thoughts or cogently communicate them. I took remedial reading classes all the way through high school. Impossible.

Learning to Run
When I was thirty-two, I decided that I wanted to be athletic. A man named John Sheehan, one of the executives at work had taken a bunch of us on week-long team building and personal development course that involved everything from diet and exercise to high-ropes courses to learning how to become more aware and better at listening. The teachers were experts in what they taught. For example, the people who talked about diet and exercise were coaches who'd worked with professional sports teams. I soaked up everything and came home inspired to put into practice all that I'd learned.

Over the next six months, I ended up dropping about forty pounds going from 180 down to 140. I was able to run ten miles in just under an hour averaging 5:53 per mile and on the road, I could ride my mountain bike twenty nine miles in an hour. I started getting involved in mountain bike racing and even did some extreme rides such as a 185 mile trail ride that we completed in about sixteen hours (that's me in the yellow after 185 mile of mud, rocks and roots).

I was an athlete.

What Changed?
So what changed? First, I was taught that the dichotomy of athletic people versus non-athletic people doesn't exist; there are simply people who do athletics and those that don't.

Second, the most important skills required to learn anything are focus and attention. It's amazing what you can learn without instruction simply by being focused and paying attention to what you're doing. In many cases, everything you need to learn is already in you.

With running, I started paying attention to my stride, what felt good and what didn't, what felt fluid and what felt jerky. I started paying attention to my breathing and then to the correlation between my breathing and my stride. At first, I had no idea what to do with my arms; they seemed to get in the way. So, I experimented. I would let my arms hang loose at my side. I would swing them widely in sync with my legs. I would flap them randomly.

When I got stuck, I would watch others run, focusing so intensely that I would start breathing with them.

And of course, I would run! I ran every day, focused and attentive. And, eventually, I learned how to run.

Learning to Smart
Learning to do smart is no different than learning to run. The keys are focus, attention and practice. The first step is to recognize that there are no smart or dumb people, there are just people who do smart and people who do dumb (most of us being capable of both).

The next step is applying focus and attention to how you think, your process. How do you behave when confronted with a challenge that requires you to be smart? Do you remain present and clear, or do you distract yourself with emotions based on beliefs that you can't handle the challenge. If you do the latter, then work on the beliefs that are keeping you from being comfortable; practice refocusing yourself, becoming present and clear.

Next, practice doing smart. Dive into things that usually leave you feeling dumb. Pay attention to your process, how you respond, where your mind goes; develop a style of doing smart that works for you.

In the end, if you start with the premise of smart being something you do, if you really focus and pay attention to your process, and if you practice, you can be really smart.

Back to the Competition
Now that we know how to be smart, it's easy to understand how to do dumb. Even the most skilled smart guy can render himself completely stupid simply by losing focus and not paying attention.

Of course losing focus and not paying attention are also misnomers; it's not about losing focus, it's about focusing on something other than that which is most pertinent and useful, e.g., focusing on winning rather than running, or focusing on being accepted rather than what you have to say, or focusing on the audience rather than the music.

Mark and Jonathan tend to establish new records when they hyper-focus, i.e., the get so focused on one thing that they lose context and perspective. It's a great technique that leads to really funny breakthroughs in the competition.

Surpassing the Masters
Now I want to assure you that doing smart is not a life sentence. You can always undo it all in just a few moments. When it comes to dumb, Jonathan and Mark have only momentary lapses of greatness. This is due to flawed technique; being hyper focused on a specific element of what you're trying to achieve to the exclusion of all other elements doesn't happen that often. Their greatness is fleeting.

To completely wipe out smart is easy. It requires the engagement of big emotions such as fear, anger, self-righteousness or envy. Moreover, it requires you to engage these emotions in a sustainable manner; scary movies and the occasional argument won't cut it. To eradicate smartness, you must engage yourself in activities like jealousy or holding grudges or revenge. If you do this well and long enough, it can become habitual and you'll never need to worry about being smart ever again.

Alternatively, if you're already engaged in these or like activities and you seem to have lost all capacity for smart, you can restore smart simply by deciding to let go and love.

So, go out there an do smart... or don't.

Happy Sunday,

PS continuation of yesterday's blog is still to come.

What do you read?

Mark told me he wanted to use some extra article space this week, and so you will not see an article from me today.

But I do want to ask you a question: what do you read?

A friend of mine was so sweet to give me a book certificate as a belated birthday gift, and so I'm ready to go and buy some wonderful inspiring books. I am always looking for inspiration that ties together what I know and do, and from I can create new ideas, more inspiration and expand my philosophy.

At this moment I have on my shelf for reading (that means I am reading it or start it soon) a couple of books of Martin Seligman like Authentic Happiness and Optimistic Child; Engaging Autism written by Stanley Greenspan and Serena Wieder, Brain Training for runners by Matt Fitzgerald, Happiness by Matthieu Ridard, The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt and Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet.

Most of these books I found browsing around, and only one of them I got referred to by Mark's daughter. And now I am wondering, what do you read? I do not know what you like to read and I would love to know.

So, maybe you want to tell me what your favorite book is in this moment and why? What is it that you look for in a book? When do your read? How often do you read? I'm looking forward to hear from you.

Enjoy your Sunday (with a book?)!!

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I love to write about things that are happening in my life in the moment. There are lots of reasons for this. Writing is easier when all the material is right there, right now. Writing helps me clarify and organize my thoughts. Writing is cathartic and feels really good. Writing is an adventure; I never know where simply pursuing what's going on right now is going to take me.

I love to write about real people, activities and situations, not fictional or hypothetical ones, specially when illustrating concepts. Hypothetical examples tend to be artificial and flimsy. When you use hypothetical examples, it's easy to fool yourself into thinking that you've really thought something through when you haven't. Your hypothetical example may miss things that a real one wouldn't. So, I like to keep it real.

Which gets to the third thing. I absolutely believe that learning to live authentically is absolutely and positively the single most transformational thing anyone can do for themselves. By living authentically, I simply mean being consistent inside and out across time and space: just being consistently who you are no matter what the situation is, no matter whom you're with, no matter when.

It's not a righteous or religious thing. It's just makes life a whole lot easier. I would wager that some day, someone is going show empirically that much of what ails us in this modern world can be traced back to living inauthentically, keeping things inside, fearing that we'll be found out, spinning everything so much and so often that we no longer no what is and what isn't.

Last Night
As Iris and I munched on spelt crust Puttanesca pizza at Baba Louie's last night, we discussed our week. Iris was over the moon with her fledgling experiment with running. I was glad to be wrapping up a big project I've been working on for Angel Medical Systems and especially glad to be nearly done writing FDA-compliant documentation of my work. On Wednesday, we had a wondrous experience celebrating Quinn's fifth birthday (Iris and Quinn spend time together in the playroom six days every week. Check out Zen Master Quinn.)

As our discussion ebbed and flowed we drifted into a sequence of really interesting (and from my perspective bizarre) experiences over the last week involving folks at two amazing places that have helped me and so many others, places that I love and want to thrive. As we talked, I would occasionally say, "Wow, that's really interesting, I'd like to write a blog about that."

I would start explaining the concept, how it was illustrated by our experience, and why it was meaningful and useful.

After the third or fourth such excursion, Iris stopped me and said, "I really love these ideas, but as you've been illustrating them, you keep talking about hypothetical people and organizations, when in fact they're based on real people and a real organization."

"Normally, you're authentic and up front regarding names of people and groups. Why is it that you often talk about people from the Institute and the Institute itself anonymously?"

After my initial eloquently phrased response of, "What do you... well you see... I... uhmmm... err... Do you really think I do that?", Iris pointed out, "Yes, but only when it seems that someone might take what you're saying as negative or unflattering."

Well, slap me upside the head and call me Susan. After momentarily losing my command of language generally let alone English, I looked at Iris and said, "You're right!" We then proceeded to figure out why.

Enabling Dad
I remember when we finally decided to do something about my dad and his drinking. It was April 14 (the night before tax returns are due in the USA), I was in the middle of band rehearsal in the basement and the kids were all upstairs with Rene getting ready for bed when my dad stumbled into our house drunk, maniacally yelling about his f#&@ing computer and that I had to help him get his taxes done.

I ran upstairs and found my dad in tears about not being able to get his tax return done. He had a boxful of papers and some floppy disks. Rene had come running down the stairs as I had come running up. I looked at her saying that I'd take care of this. I yelled down to the band to carry on without me. I sat down to figure out my dad's taxes as he pissed himself and passed out on the couch.

After finishing his tax return and getting him home, I told my mom that we had to do something about my dad, that we couldn't keep waiting for him to simply get better. At this point, my mom wasn't ready to use the word alcoholic; there were just times when my dad drank a little too much.

We found a place associated with the hospital in town that offered an inpatient rehab program. When I talked to my mom about it, her first question wasn't "Is it a good program?" nor was it "Do you think they can really help him?"; it was, "If goes to a place right in town, won't people find out about it?"

Over time I've discovered that keeping this kind of thing secret doesn't work. "It takes a village" as they say. But the village can only help if they're clued in to what's going on.

Baby and Bathwater
OK, so back to 'why'. As Iris and I talked, I realized that in many ways I was operating like my mom, perhaps coming from a really different place, but having the same effect nonetheless.

As you become more and more authentic, you end up decompartmentalizing your life. You end up just being you. Nonetheless, I'm perfectly happy to let others compartmentalize themselves. Someone can be loving and caring in one situation, and hateful and malignant in another; I simply look at each for what it is. Each is just an example of something he's doing; it's not who he is.

Also, I don't confuse the message with the messenger. Einstein can be a self-absorbed, misanthropic bastard and I'd still buy relativity.

Thing is, I don't believe that other people operate as I do. I believe that, in general, people confuse doing with being and that they confuse message and messenger. I believe that people routinely throw out the baby with the bathwater.

As a result of that, I find myself actively avoiding direct discussion of things about the Institute or people there simply because of my belief that, upon seeing some of the things that might be perceived as negative, people would chuck the whole thing. I don't want that.

So, instead, I do what my mom did with my dad. No one intervenes and the village can't help.

The Best Way to Travel
Seeing all this feels really good. Thanks for traveling with me through my process.

I absolutely believe that living authentically and openly is the best way to go. The discomfort we experience as we emerge from the darkness of our lies and secrets into the light of authentic living is momentary. Our anticipation of that discomfort is amplified by fear and uncertainty.

However, once we get past it, there's nothing so freeing as having nothing to hide, no secrets, no lies, no waiting for the other shoe to fall or the skeletons to emerge from the closet. It's like coming off an addiction. The transition may be difficult, but being free of it is worth it.

OK, I'm clear now and I've got so much more to say authentically and openly, but I'm going to save that for tomorrow. For now, I'll leave you with a couple of questions:

Are you some who keep secrets and maintains lies? (If you find yourself viewing 'lie' judgmentally, then you probably are.) If so, why... who are you enabling... how does it feel... would you like to be free of it all?

Are there places in your life where you've kicked, where you've freed yourself from chains of secrets and lies? How did it feel to do so? Would you do it again? How come?

More tomorrow....


Friday, January 22, 2010

Marathon Training (Week 2)

Every Friday until November 7, 2010 you will find entries from a series written by Iris about her training to run the New York marathon in 2010. It is something she never aspired to do; she has never run a distance of more than 2 kilometers in her life. In this series she describes her adventures and how she works on her beliefs to transform her challenges and successes into one great experience.

During the last week, four people came up to me to tell me how inspired they were about me starting my marathon training. One friend told me that after reading my blog she is considering training for a half marathon. Another friend in the category of “running is awful” is considering training to run a five K as a fundraiser for her son. A third person was telling me how she realized that it is important to create time for herself, because that gives back to her family. All of them were realizing how this would be an awesome way to work on their beliefs…

What Happened this Week
Last week I didn’t run, but worked out every day to help my body to get going after not having worked out for, well... years. So I began the week on Sunday with my first run.

I had no idea what to expect, so I thought to start by running at a comfortable (comfortable?) pace and holding on to it as long as possible. I then would switch between running and walking as long as I could do it. Eighteen minutes later I stepped red-faced and winded from the treadmill having covered 1.35 miles.

I thought to myself, "Hmmm... I've got a long way to go!" and noticed that I was starting to feel disappointed with the result. But then I decided to just "stop it" and "not go there". Instead, I decided to be really happy with my first run. I complimented myself for taking this first important step. I considered how I would remember this moment in November after finishing the marathon and think to myself that ten months ago I couldn’t even run one and a half miles!

Brain Training
I bought a book that’s called Brain Training for Runners which keeps me entertained in the quiet (quiet?) hours. It combines research around running with belief making, and it gives lots of information that is very, very useful to me. It tells for example that research has proven that the body tries to prevent itself from exhaustion by giving feedback to the brain that says 'Stop it!'.

Matt Fitzgerald explains that, to teach your body to run longer and longer distances, you want to consistently train in a way that moves beyond and ignores the signals your body is sending to your brain to stop. In particular, you want to constantly pushes your limits in the beginning of your training!

This guidance is, umm, well, completely opposite to anything I've ever believed before. When it comes to my body telling me to stop, I've always been a really great listener. Nonetheless, I decided to adopt this new belief and have been challenging myself to run more and longer every run I do.

On Wednesday I crossed the 2 mile mark, and today I will run 2.3 miles. I am excited about the progress I have made in this week. I have pushed through my limits and have learned that my experience of exhaustion completely disappears within 10 to 30 minutes of completing my workout. If I can recover that fast, I must not be at the limit of my running, so it is easy to say that I can do a little bit more the next day. The pain in my legs which started the morning of my first run has miraculously disappeared. Mark told me this would be the case, but I could not imagine it!

Thoughts to Action
Yesterday night, I signed myself up for my first 5K run ever. On February 12 I will do my first public running performance and instead of being horrified I am really very excited. Interesting how things can change in such a short time…

Weekly Beliefs
I won't cover all the changes in beliefs that I made during this week, but I’m going to share a few clear changes in beliefs and some ways I have been motivating myself:

After my first run, I read a Facebook note of a friend saying that he had just run 10.8 miles that day. I immediately created the belief: “Wow, if he can do it, I can do it!”

After my first thought: "Oh, that’s not good enough! This will never get me to the Marathon", I was able to jump to more useful beliefs such as:
“It’s great to know where my starting point is
so I can see how far I've come."

"Today is the beginning of a new me: Iris the athlete."

"What a great challenge I have in front of me;
I will be so proud when I cross the finish line in November."
To push my limits I have been using positive affirmations:
“I can do more than my body believes it can,
and my head is the one that decides when to stop!”

“All great things started small.”

“Creating a great condition is a step by step
process which I started this week.”
Seeing that my body recovers quite quickly on all the changes I have implemented, I made up the belief: “I've been given a great vehicle and with enough driving lessons I can run a Marathon with a smile on my face.”

I transformed last week's belief:“This is going to be a challenge, but doable” into “Training for a Marathon is great fun and an interesting challenge that impacts many different parts of my life and I am ready to go for it!"

Physical Changes
  • The pain in the muscles in my legs disappeared.
  • I lost weight
  • My skin is not itchy anymore while running
  • I've started to look forward to my next workout (who would have thought)
Next Week’s Goals
  • Get myself to relax in my breathing instead of trying to control it
  • To do a 4.5 - 5K training run on January 31 (I'm building up to it)
  • Tweak my beliefs a bit more every day
  • Be more conscious of what I eat and drink
  • Keep better notes about my thought processes so I can share them in this blog.
Well, I’m off to my next training session. What are you doing today?