Saturday, December 8, 2012

Uncommon Sense

Common Sense and Conventional Wisdom. They're two phrases that are often confused and even used interchangeably. That's OK except that they often represent diametrically opposed answers to the same situation.

It's the first word of each phrase that causes the confusion. Indeed, common and conventional may be exchanged without modifying meaning much. However, that's not the case with sense and wisdom. Sense is something that comes from within; wisdom is something that comes from without. Sense is an intuitive, figure-it-out kind of thing; wisdom is a read-about-it, learn-it kind of thing. The two often yield different results and quite frequently, it's conventional wisdom that makes common sense so uncommon. Easy access to conventional wisdom (e.g., through google) often precludes the engagement of sense at all.

Problem is that conventional wisdom is often wrong (but it just makes up for it in volume). For example, let's say that you have pain in your right shoulder. You conclude that you've been working too long at your computer and that your muscles are overly tight. You ask friends what to do about it. One suggests a massage. Another shows you some stretching exercises. A third friend invites you to his yoga class.

Conventional wisdom says that any one or all of these can be a good solution to your shoulder pain. You try all of them. After the massage, you feel great, but by the time you go to bed, the pain starts to creep back in. The yoga provides a good distraction, but you're not sure it did much for your shoulder. The stretching felt good at first, but an hour later both shoulders are hurting.

Conventional wisdom says, "Stretch."

However, common sense (or perhaps, uncommon sense) says, "Compress."

For example, if you've got shoulder pain, take a couple of dumbbells (one in each hand), and hoist them up to shoulder height so that your forearms and hands are facing forward. Slowly exhale as you press the weights towards the ceiling until your arms are full extended; slowly inhale as you lower them to shoulder height. Find a weight that allows you to do this eight-to-ten times before you feel exhausted.

When you return to your desk, you'll find that your shoulder muscles have relaxed (all by themselves). Throughout the day, get up from your computer and repeat the exercise. Note that if you rarely or never work out, you may experience some aches and pains the next day; however, they'll not be from the stressed muscles. Just keep repeating the exercise; after a while you'll rarely if ever experience stress in your shoulders and you'll start to get into pretty good shape.

Conventional wisdom says, "That's not the way to do it."

Common sense tells you otherwise. All you have to do is to pay attention to your body and how it behaves. After exertion, muscles relax; it's just built into the system. It's one of those action/reaction phenomena, i.e., for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction.

Don't have or don't want to use weights? No problem. There's a little trick that musicians, actors and public speakers use to relax before going on stage. Make like a body-builder who's trying show off every muscle at once. Hunch just a bit. Curl your arms in slightly so that you hands are just before your belly. Suck in a deep breath and try to tighten absolutely every muscle in your body. Tighter. Tighter. Tighter. Hold it.

Now release. Voila!

Of course, the conflict between conventional wisdom and common sense isn't limited to muscle relaxation. It's pervasive. You might be surprised by just how much conventional wisdom you've adopted in lieu of using your sense. It can be hard to spot. However, there's an easy way find much of it.

If you'd like to build your uncommon sense by shedding conventional wisdom, start with the things you do that never seem to work or work as well as they ought. Could be that they never really made much sense to you, but you know, everyone else does'em that way.

Once you find a couple, give yourself a little uncommon sense workout. Don't google an answer. Just think about how you'd go about solving a problem if there were no one to ask and nothing to google.

Have an uncommonly happy day!

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