Sunday, September 29, 2013

Leaving Lovers and Skinning Cats

In the comment exchange back in "Sometimes", Teflon said,
"Someone insists that he can't possibly do something. I see fifty ways that he could."

As that comment continued rattling around in the back of my head since then, I noticed a few occasions where I found myself in that situation too. I'm fairly sure those occasions were nowhere close in nature to the ones Teflon faced, but in the moments of utter befuddlement that they caused me, I couldn't help feeling some kinship with him. I'm also sure that in my blissful ignorance, I must be presenting other souls in my life with similar moments, but it's up to them to blog about it.

Most of these situations seem to do with people skills, with a large subset of them being about oneself. In those cases, when the "fifty ways" moment hits, my first reaction often is a quick trip through sadness, anger and resoluteness. Sadness that I'm witnessing a full grown adult (usually) without an adequate set of tools and techniques for this most basic of needs for living in our world. Anger at our education system that continues to churn out such inadequately equipped products by the millions. And then I firm up my resolve to continue my own education process, and to promote that awareness to anybody I have responsibility for (or at least any influence over).

For instance, I see somebody intending to communicate a message. They try once, don't get anywhere, and throw their hands up in frustration, usually blaming their target for being obtuse or resistant. I see the whole thing play out, and go Huh?! In my mind's eye, a pulldown menu appears, with the following:

Ways to communicate a message:
  1. Verbally, with no affect
  2. Hammer the point home with a 2x4
  3. Indirectly or obliquely
  4. Nonverbally, using gestures and expressions only
  5. By example, in action. 
  6. Via a third party who may have a special connection
  7. Thru a Socratic dialog, asking Questions only, and letting him come to his own conclusions
  8. By hypnosis or other trickery in a weak moment
  9. Using leading questions
  10. Using thundering or flowery oratory
  11. Talking down to somebody, with the attitude that you clearly know more than him, and he is lower than pond scum if he questions that.
  12. Bullying somebody - using verbal force with someone weaker
  13. Diluting your own impact by using too much humor or too many nonsequiturs
  14. ... 
The ellipsis indicates that further scrolling will reveal more options. (Of course, not all the ways listed above are necessarily recommended, but being aware of them is critical, both to recognize when they are being used, and to know what to do if their effects need to be undone).

Other recent variations of this example occurred with trying to influence somebody's behavior (habitual or one-time), opinion or state of mind. Sometimes I see " I WANT X. I DIDN'T GET X" situations. My menu of exploratory questions unfurls: What are the other pieces of this picture? How big or complex is X? How big is the wanting? How many routes to X have been tried? How many times have any of those routes have been tried? How complex is the wanting? Of the steps in each route, how many are actions for me to take, and how many for others? How am I feeling? Why? ... What I see is an exciting landscape to explore, not a brick wall with a STOP sign.

This outstanding classic from the popular culture comes to mind:

I'm convinced that it's an innate part of being human to be innovative, to learn, to never say die, to believe that there is a solution for every problem - that there are infinite options for the way forward, limited only by what we know at the moment and what we decide to see.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Let's Learn

Driving into town yesterday, I listened to a story on NPR that I found exciting. Researchers are waking up to the fact that IQ is not a fixed quantity determined by genetics, but instead something that seems to vary with activity and environment. They still seem not to recognize that IQ is simply a side effect of activity, but they're getting closer.

In this story, a researcher named John Hewitt spoke about the rates of learning in children, adolescents and adults. Learning rates tend to decline as we get older.  What he'd discovered was that there was a strong correlation between high IQ and children whose rate of learning declined less rapidly than the norm, people who continued to learn as a child would even in adolescence.

Of course the causal chain was interpreted backwardly (i.e., the IQ causing the extended period versus the extended period causing IQ), but still, it was pretty cool to see researchers starting to get it.

Another researcher used language acquisition as an example of how children learn faster than adults. No news there. However an interesting point that she brought out was that the primary difference between adults and children is not in the acquisition of vocabulary, but instead, in the intuiting of syntax. Adults can learn new words pretty quickly, but they tend not to abstract the rules of syntax from what they hear. Children do both.

This made sense to me and helped me to better understand something I've been considering lately.

As far as I can tell my rate of learning is still increasing. I'm definitely learning more quickly now than a year a go or a decade ago. I've come to think about learning and IQ much like one would think about working out and strength. The more I learn, the faster I learn.

What resonated for me was the abstraction of syntax. The things I love most about learning, the things about which I'm most curious are those that require me to discover and discern the rules that are inherent to any system. Even if they've never been stated, I've found that they always exist and that, by observing a system, you can figure out the rules that govern it.

It would seem that this kind of activity is akin to circuit training for the brain.

Later in the day, I read a post on Facebook that I found wonderfully affirming. Here goes...
"In times of change, learners inherit the earth while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists."
Eric Hoffer

Happy Tuesday,

Friday, September 20, 2013

Honest Awareness

I love intense eagerness as well as eager anticipation (specially when it's intense). So, in response to Sree's comment...

In practice, there are three general responses to my assertion that someone is doing exactly what he wants to be doing.

1. That's completely wrong.
2. What do you mean?
3. Yeah, I know.

The first indicates a long road ahead, the second a shorter one and the third just a trip through the parking lot. In any case, I always start with a specific example provided by the unwanter. It never takes long to demonstrate the connections of wants and anti-wants. The main exception is when the unwanter decides to dig in her heels and defend her position in any way possible.

The most often used defense is non sequitur. Just a step or two away from conclusion, the unwanter introduces a perfectly true but completely irrelevant fact to takes us off course. Since I have no problem maintaining multiple conversational threads, I usually feign having fallen for the rouse and then, when the defender least expects it, bring the conversation back to the point of departure.

All that said, proving the point rarely results in change for someone who insists on being a victim of circumstance and forced to pursue activities he doesn't want to pursue. She'll seem overwhelmed by the potential responsibility of it. In those cases, I just back off (like way, way, way off).

For those who do want to take ownership of the coincidence of activity and wanting the activity, it comes down to the simple application of honest awareness.

Honest awareness is simple and straight forward. However, it can feel nearly impossible. The trick is to start with short, easy exercises and then to practice.

Before you can perform a task in the background without thinking about it, you have to learn to perform it in the foreground (often with great concentration.)  This is the case for awareness and honesty. Further, before you can perform a task in an ad hoc manner, it helps to perform it on a scheduled basis or in response to a specific trigger. To develop awareness, one starts by checking in with herself. Every hour, you ask yourself a set of questions, e.g, how am I feeling right now, or, am I talking too much, or, is what I'm doing right now in line with my goals for today.

The cool thing about pairing honesty with awareness is that you can focus your awareness exercises on being honest. Each time you say something or respond to a question, you can ask yourself, "How honest was my reply?"

The cool thing about this last exercise is that it doesn't take long for it to become a habit. Before you know it, you've become unavoidably aware of how honest you're being at any point in time.

Once this occurs, the rest becomes pretty easy. You move from being aware of your honesty to being aware of your wanting. What do I want right now? Am I doing that? If not, why am I doing it? What do I want that I'm getting by doing this?

You can routinize asking yourself questions by having your iPhone remind you or asking friends who see you to ask you questions whenever they do.  In any case, by routinizing the activity of questioning yourself, you begin to increase your awareness regarding the content of those questions.

That's pretty much it.

Happy Friday,

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gotta Wanna

People generally assign an activity to one of two categories: Gotta Do or Wanna Do.

Phrases and terms associated with the Gotta Dos include: "I hafta...", "They're makin' me...", and "I've got no choice but to..."

Phrases and terms associated with Wanna Dos include: "Someday I'd like to...", "I'd love too... but...", "I really wish I could... but..."

Gotta Do and Wanna Do are used so pervasively that the assignment of a task to one or the other category is rarely questioned. Further, Gotta Do has an almost magical capacity to render the motivation to pursue other activities impotent. It is frequently uttered as an incantation to ward off lurking Donwanna Dos allowing the invoker to feign wanting the Donwanna Do while neatly avoiding it. One needs simply say, "I'd love to, but I hafta..." and all protests to the contrary are rendered ineffective.

It's this last phenomenon that I find so curious and that others often find annoying when I find it curious. You see, in reality there are only Wanna Dos. Whenever we tell ourselves (or others) that we don't want to do something we're doing or about to do, we're lying. Although on the surface we may "honestly" believe that we don't want to undertake a task, deep down inside, there's a want that's being satisfied by the doing of it.

Distinguishing the differences between Gotta Do an Wanna Do is simply a matter of paying attention. If you pay attention to any Gotta Do, you'll find the underlying Wanna Do(s) right quickly. It ain't hard at all. You just have to be honest and aware.

I know. You might be thinking, "That's just not true! There are things in my life I hate to do, but I just don't have a choice."

I'd respond, "There likely are many things in your life that you hate to do, but do. However, you do have a choice. In fact, you have lots of choices."

You might think, "He's full of it."

Just go with me on this (at least for the moment).

Forget about figuring out the underlying wants that fuel your Gotta Dos and simply accept that they exist. Doing this you can simply decide, "I'm not sure exactly why, but I'm absolutely certain that I want to do what I'm about to do. Therefore, I'm going do it with the attitude that I not only want to do it, but that I love doing it. I'll figure out why I love it as I go."

If you do this and nothing else, you'll see a remarkable change in how you feel about what you're doing. You'll begin to see evidence that supports liking what you're doing. You'll get in touch with the benefits of what you're doing that fuel the underlying Wanna Dos. You'll feel better, and definitely be much more fun to be around.

There's just one caveat. If you decide to embrace the notion that everything you do is something that you want to do, you'll render ineffective the "I'd love to, but I hafta..." incantation. When someone asks you to do something you don't want to do, you might actually have to say, "Sorry, I don't want to do that."

Happy Sunday,

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Theory of Wanting

I'm always running into couples where at least one party is not happy with the other on a steady-state basis. As is the nature of steady-state phenomena, the unhappiness is not sufficient to have inspired decisive action. Usually it's simply inspired indecisive-action, e.g., acts of passive aggression, lamenting and complaining, and a general resistance to any idea attributable to the other party.

Complainers Need Not Apply
I love to work through problems, but I'm not big on hearing complaints and laments that don't lead to decisive action. Those who know me well know that the second time I hear them utter the same complaint, we're a) going to do something about it or b) implement a moratorium on complaining. Whether or not someone knows me, once I hear a complaint cycle by for the second time, I ask about it. The format of the question is something on the order of, "If you don't want that, then why do you continue to get that?" or, "If you don't like that, then why do you continue to do that?"

Almost invariably, the response is that of the victim upon whom the undesired activity or state has been foisted. It takes the form of, "I don't want it, but there's nothing I can do about it."

The part that gets most confusing to many a lamenter is that I don't pursue the "what you could be doing" side of the equation. Instead, I simply point out that he does in fact want what to do what he's doing, that he's getting what he wants.

This invariably turns into a kind of IQ test as I explain the interplay of words, thoughts, feelings and actions. If the IQ test is passed (i.e.) the lamenter realizes that what she wants is hidden within or a side-effect of getting what she doesn't want, then we proceed to the EQ test, i.e.,  reconciling what she can understand intellectually to something she can understand emotionally.

Want Theory
The problem with real-world wanting versus theoretical wanting is that, outside the lab, the wants are never pure. They're always compromised, sometimes with visible-to-the-naked-eye don't wants (such as "I don't want to be stuck with a $500/month car lease") or with invisible, microbial anti-wants (such as "I don't want to have to change my underwear every day.")

Since real-world wants are never available in their pristine form, they can be difficult to see. You have to get to them indirectly. The car payment you don't want is a side-effect of the car that you do want. The job you hate is a side-effect of the paycheck you to make the car payment you don't want because of the car that you do want. The suit that makes you so uncomfortable is a side-effect of wanting to look professional so that you can have a job you hate in order to get a paycheck you want to pay a bill you wish you didn't have to pay in order to get a car that you love.

And so it goes. To make this a little more concise, I've created Telfon's First Law of Wanting.

Teflon's First Law of Wanting

Every want has at least one associated anti-want, and 
every anti-want has at least one associated want.

Knowing that all desire abides by this first law of wanting is critical to understanding what you want. This leads us to a second law of wanting.

Teflon's Second Law of Wanting
Wants and anti-wants form want-chains in which
wants are interconnect anti-wants and vice versa.
Knowing this second law of wanting can make it significantly easier to find what it is you truly do want, to find the core want that's driving all the peripheral wants and anti-wants. You can start with either any random want or anti-want and move link by link to the core.

Relating and Wanting
So, what's Theory of Wanting got to do with relationships? Well, pretty much everything. You see, people are pretty good at knowing what they don't want. Ask them what someone what he doesn't want and you get a veritable projectile vomit of undesirable activities, things and states. However, ask him what he does want and... silence.

Since people are so much better at knowing what they don't want, they tend to focus on the unwanted aspects of life. (We do what we're good at doing.) Since they are bad at knowing what they do want, they tend to avoid any thought of it.

The result is that people are often unhappy with their partners because their partners are keeping them from being who they truly want to be, or having what they truly want to have, or doing what they truly want to do, and yet, they haven't a clue as to who they want to be, what they want to have, or what they want to do. All the unhappiness is just smoke.

So What?
The so-what is this. Until you know what you want, it makes absolutely no sense to be thinking about your partner and how she's keeping you from getting it. Further, after actually having figured out what it is you want, until you've clearly articulated it to your partner, it makes absolutely no sense to be thinking about how he's keeping you from getting it.

Happy Tuesday,

Monday, September 9, 2013

Free Speech, Attraction, and Competition

Thoughts on a Monday morning.

On Free Speech
I like that we have the right to speak, but not the right to be heard. The latter is not a right, it's a privilege that must be earned.

On Self-respect
No one but YOU can give YOU SELF-respect.

On Attraction
No one is attracted you if find yourself unattractive, at least, no one you'd want to find you attractive.

BTW, Being attractive has relatively little to do with being handsome, pretty, or having a "nice" personality.

Attraction and Relationship
Attraction is no basis for relationship. Many start relationships based on attraction. They figure that they'll work out the miscellaneous stuff (i.e., compatibility) later. Oftentimes each party thinks the other will change in order to be more compatible.

When (if) they work on compatibility, it's the big stuff, the religious stuff like god, diet, kids, and money. They rarely if ever work on the little stuff, the daily incompatibilities that "shouldn't" matter all that much.

However, it's the little foxes that ruin the vines, that eat the roots rather than the fruits.
  1. If you're someone who likes to snuggle at night, it matters that you're attracted to someone who needs his space. 
  2. If you're someone who pops out of bed and is out the door, it matters that you're attracted to someone who takes hours to get ready in the morning. 
  3. If you're someone who makes big decisions quickly, it matters that you're attracted to someone who can never decide what to order for dinner.
  4. If you're someone who's all about change and new experiences, it matters that you're attracted to someone who's all about predictability and stability.
  5. If you're someone who loves to cook for others, it matters that you're attracted to someone who's a finicky eater.
Attraction is not about pretty or being nice; it's about things like confidence, awareness and thoughtfulness. Really, these "intangible" attributes are palpable when truly present.

Attraction matters, but sustainable relationship is not about attraction. As mundane as it may sound, sustainable relationship is about compatibility. Really.

On Competition and Competing
If you struggle with the concept of competition or people who are "competitive", it's not because competition or being competitive is bad. It's because you're clinging too tightly to concepts like winning and losing: so tightly that you've intimately associated them with competition and competing.

Competition is a process, not an outcome. It's about learning, about winning or losing. Competition lets you to practice and develop skills. It lets you learn from other learners. It's one of the most powerful learning tools available.

When we avoid competition rather than addressing our competitive dysfunction, we miss out. When we don't foster and help develop competition in educational environments, we deny students access some of the greatest learning experiences available and we pass on competitive dysfunction.

Happy Monday,

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Over the years I come to appreciate the importance of specificity and detail. It's often an almost indiscernible difference in the finest detail that separates success and failure.

That said, specificity and detail can prove to be absolutely worthless in the absence of context. In fact, they can be worse than worthless. Without context, specificity and detail can be completely misleading, making knowledgable someone who knows absolutely nothing meaningful or useful, making certain that which is certainly wrong.

Context is the mechanism that transforms specificity and detail into powerful tools that improve outcomes and solve problems. Context transforms a pile of stones and pebbles into a fortified wall. Context transforms a hodgepodge of notes and phrases into a symphony. Context transforms jumbles of words and wrote recitation into a moving speech.

Without context, details are meaningless, less than useful. Without context, an airplane is just 10,000 spare parts hurtling through space in close formation.

So what?

There are two so-whats that I find immediately useful. One has to do with speaking and one with listening.

Regarding speaking, whenever you find yourself in a situation where your audience simply isn't getting your message. It could be that the problem has nothing to do with your being detailed, specific or clear. It could be that the problem lies in your not having provided sufficient context. Your audience may understand that A leads to B which results in C. They may simply be asking themselves, "So what?"

They may have no idea why you're telling them what you're telling them or why it matters (to them).

Regarding listening, whenever you find yourself wondering, "Why is she telling me this?" or you find yourself thinking, "Wow, he knows so much, but I have no idea what he's talking about," ask the speaker, "So, why are you telling me this?"

Whether listening or speaking, check in to ensure that you have a common context and you'll find that your communication with others improves wonderfully.

Happy Thursday,