Monthly Archives: February 2009

Find the Right Fit

I had a rude awakening this morning. As I was heading out, I noticed that I had forgotten to take out the trash last night. As stepped out for my morning walk, I noticed that the garbage truck was just pulling up. I ran inside, grabbed my bag of trash (today is burnables day) and ran down the five flights of stairs in my apartment. I got to the trash truck just as they were finishing up, and the trash man told me they couldn’t accept my bag, because it was the wrong color. Furious, I turned and walked back upstairs in shame, holding my improperly colored garbage bag. I thought of plenty of insulting things to say to that garbage man. Stupid rules. I can understand rules, but the wrong color? Some rules are meant just to annoy me, I’m sure of it.

A friend of mine used to have a rule about girls that he dated. He was looking for a specific type, with a specific personality. He had a really good job as an investment advisor for a very large company. He was looking for a girl to settle down with, as he was reaching that age. He had set up a system, so that he could, after only a couple of dates, determine if the girls personality and intelligence level met his criteria. Some of the girls wanted to date him again after he’d disqualified them, and although they seemed to be determined to get another shot at him, he refused to change his standards. At the time I wasn’t sure if I believed that he was really searching for “the one” or if he was just using it as an excuse to date as many women as possible.

I had a girlfriend, way back in high school that I knew wasn’t right for me, but we went out for a long time anyways. I was really relieved after we broke up, and she was as well, because we had spent so much time trying to keep something going that shouldn’t have been started in the first place. I realized that you can’t make something fit, regardless of how much you want it to. I think many people try and do things backward, in a way. They tend to create a image of what they think they want, and instead of taking the time to sort through the possibilities, and make a determination whether or not something fits, they try to fit things where they really don’t belong. I think it’s a lot easier, in the long run, to figure out exactly what you want first, and then spend your efforts to find the right fit, instead of forcing a square peg into a round hole.

Which is exactly what my friend was doing. He found his girl, they were exceptionally compatible, and ten years later, they are still incredibly happily married with three kids. It turns out he really did know what he wanted, and determined as early as possible. You really have to develop courage and a strong belief in yourself to pull something like that off. Many people just roam through life and take what they can get.
I suppose that’s exactly what the sanitation worker did as well. Who knows how much trouble he’d get into if he showed up at the sanitation processing plant with the wrong color bag. It might throw off the whole system they got. I’m sure he wanted to finish his morning route and whatever he needed to do back at the sanitation processing plant as quickly as possible. When you have a clear destination in mind, it’s easy to reject things that will only slow you down, and not waste time with somebody that is too busy to learn the rules of the game.


Paint Your Future Brightly

I was sitting in the barber shop this morning. I didn’t have to be anywhere until one, so I had my morning free. I usually get my hair cut with a number two blade, but there is one lady I like to go to at this specific barber shop because she does a really thorough job despite it being a rather easy haircut. I should cut my hair more often, but I tend to let it grow until it is a bit too long. Then after I decide to get it cut, I usually wait another two weeks. It’s kind of weird that way I do that sometimes. I know I have something that I need to do, and when I look at my schedule and see that I have some free time, I think “oh yea, then I can go and do…” The problem is, I often fill up my free time with activities that don’t really give me much benefit. It’s almost as if when I have a big block of free time, it gives me the luxury of procrastinating even more.

Not that procrastination is always a bad thing in every situation. I was at an art museum with a buddy of mine last weekend, and we were looking at all the paintings. He was actually going there to try and get a phone number from one of the girls that worked there. He kind of knew her, but wanted to go with a friend. He thought it would be too obvious if he showed up by himself, asked for her number, and then left. He thought that he would appear to desperate. After putting it off for a few weeks, we finally went. The way he was describing his plan, he made it sound like he was planning a jewelry heist or something.

One of more interesting paintings was one by a guy whose name I forgot. The guy painted it when he was well into his eighties, and it was his first work. They had little biographies of the painters under each painting, as none of them were world famous. This guy had wanted to be a painter his whole life, but as it said on the card “life kept getting in the way.” Some of the cards had just the basic biographical information, and other cards had a lot more. This had a message the artist wrote, which was kind of advice. It said as follows:

Gentle reader. Painting can be a difficult task. Sometimes you have a spirit in you that you have to release. If you cannot release it, you will lose it’s flavor forever. You must imagine the painting finished before you. You must imagine your future on that blank canvas of your mind, so that you can overcome any obstacles that stand you way. You must make the colors bright, and the images crisp. You must bring your future to the present, and  push out all that stops you.

The funny thing was that my friend read that quote probably twenty times. He was standing about a meter from the girl whom he wanted to ask out, and when he finally got the courage, she said yes. And when I asked him about the quote on the way home, he didn’t even remember what I am talking about.

And finally my barber came in, but because I was in such a hurry, she wasn’t able to do as thorough a job as she normally does. I’ll never make the mistake again of missing on one of her fantastic haircuts. I learned my lesson.


Propel Yourself Forward with Self Praise

If you’ve ever taught kids you probably already know that one of the best ways to improve learning is through the consistent application of honest praise. I remember once I was teaching my friends kid how to answer riddles correctly, that is remember the goofy answer that she could use to then go and tell her friends. I decided to do a little experiment. While I read her the riddle, I would completely ignore the incorrect answers as much as possible. I wouldn’t say “no,” nor would I make any facial expressions that indicated her answer was unacceptable. Completely neutral. Whenever she gave the “correct” answer, I made sure to smile, say “good job!” and give her a good feeling. I noticed when I did this, she learned rather quickly.

Then later that afternoon, I tried the same experiment with another kid. He was about the same age, and belonged to another extended family member. It was my friends’ grandmothers eightieth birthday, so there were lots of extended families there that weekend. Anyways, when I taught the other kid the same set of riddles, I altered my ‘experiment’ just a little bit. I gave slightly less enthusiastic praise when he gave the ‘correct’ answer, and just as strong negative reinforcement when he gave the incorrect answer. It seemed to take him much longer to learn the same set of simple riddles.

Now I have no idea what kind of child psychological things were going on, or if this proves that girls are smarter than boys, or perhaps even that girl really liked riddles and the boy thought they were really lame. Personally, what I believe it shows is that positive reinforcement can much more power over negative reinforcement.

It was Napoleon who said that “Men will die for ribbons.”  Meaning that even in battle, men will risk their lives to be given the most positive praise imaginable (for some anyways.) Praise in front of their peers, in the form of medals in reward for bravery on the battlefield. If you’re a guy, it’s hard to imagine anything more fantastic than being given public praise for bravery in fighting down an enemy. (Other than an unlimited supply of money and string free sex, but that’s another blog post.) 

One thing though, that I’ve surprised that I haven’t read more of it, is the power of self praise. I mean honest, direct, self appreciation. If you have something you want to do, and it’s a bit of a struggle, why not tell yourself, “good job?”  You don’t have to look at yourself in the mirror, and give yourself a thumbs up and shout “Good Job!” although that would probably feel pretty good if you could get over the weirdness of it. But what happens when you do something really nice for yourself, and when you enjoy it, tell yourself you are rewarding yourself for a job well done?

And furthermore, what happens if, whenever you get a wrong answer, instead of beating yourself up, just ignore the mistake and keep plugging away?

You might just be surprised at how much more effective you become at getting the things you want in life.


Fight For What You Want

Last week I was having a look around in the university library near my apartment. I was looking for a particular book on psychology that was recommended to me by a friend, but I wasn’t having any luck. I had been looking for a few hours. And I really wasn’t interested in finding anything else, I was ready to give up hope. I had scanned the medical section several times, as it was a book on clinical psychology. I was really depressed. You know you get. When you start to wonder if you will ever find what you are looking for. Not only do you start to feel depressed because you can’t find what you are looking for, you start to wonder what else you could have been doing with your time that you’ve wasted. Normally I love going to the library, because there so many fascinating things you can find there, but not that day. I felt like some goldfish stuck in a dirty fishbowl that keeps swimming around hoping to find a way out.

I went to the new aquarium downtown, and they have some interesting fish. They have these fish that eat small fish like things, then have these bigger fish that eat actual fish, then they have fish so big that they need to feed them chunks of meat. There was one fish tank that had several fish of different sizes. I don’t know if they were different ages, or something else, but I’m pretty sure they were the same species, because they all had the same blue and silver design on their sides. It was really interesting to watch them being fed. The guy would come in at the same time every day, and throw in a bunch of food, which I think he said were dried squid flakes or something. And the fish would scramble and crash into one another as they would fight for the food. The cool thing was, the smallest fish never seemed to give up. He always seemed to keep trying regardless of how many times he got bumped out of the way. It was like he knew that if he was able to keep trying, he would get what he was after.

He (or she, I’m not sure how to tell boy fish from girl fish) reminded me of a professor I had at university. He was a math professor, but he was very opinionated in matters other than math. He said the difference in life between winners and losers has nothing to do with intelligence or upbringing, or social skills or anything that you’d normally think of. He said that winners are the people that simply never give up. Losers always find a reason to stop trying, while winners always find a reason to keep trying. He kept mentioning this old Chinese proverb: “If you wait by the riverside long enough, you will see the bodies of your enemies floating by.” I’m not sure if I wanted to see the bodies of my enemies, but it was an interesting point. He kept telling us that winners know that failure is only one step closer to success, and in reality, there is no failure if you alwasy learn something. Interesting thought.

And it turns out that particular brand of fish is the kind where there are literally hundreds born in every litter (or whatever they call a bunch of baby fish) but only three or four survive. It’s natures way of making sure that only the fittest live long enough to make more fish. So that little fish, simply by staying alive and fighting for what he wanted, was proving to the world how worthy he thought he was.

Finally, a really nice receptionist asked me if I was looking for something in particular. The only reason it took her so long to ask me was the incredible scowl on my face. It turned out that somebody had misplaced that particular book, and had filed it downstairs in the engineering department. Had she not asked me, I would never have found it.


Step Back – – – Contemplate

I was flipping through the channels recently, and I came across one of those medical dramas. You know the kind, where they shift between the tension between the doctors and nurses, orderlies, and patients. It’s interesting how no matter what jobs people find themselves in, they will always come up with the same kinds of conflicts. But the thing the struck me was that it reminded me of once when I was sitting in the waiting room of the emergency room at the hospital. A friend of mine was suffering from extreme side cramps with what would later be determined to be a burst appendix. Because it was so crowded had been waiting for almost an hour by the time they wheeled her in for emergency surgery.  Probably the most disturbing thing was a man who had been waiting there with his kid, who was having some kinds of troubles. And he got into a pretty heated argument with the receptionist, as he had been waiting longer than any of us. Because he was speaking in broken English, and it was apparent the receptionist only spoke English they were having a difficult time communicating. And it didn’t help matters that he was distraught because of his sick daughter, she was distraught because of the many people waiting for more medical care than was available, and there really was nothing she could do. It’s horrible when you find yourself with a communication problem like that.

It reminds me when I was on the beach once, waiting for a friend. I was kind of learning against a wall they had separating the boardwalk from the actual sand. I was standing in the sand area, leaning against the wall, facing the ocean. It was really beautiful. The sun was off to the left, and was going to be setting soon. I was hoping my friend would arrive so we could enjoy the sunset together. But then again, it was one of those times where you are just relaxed and content to sit and let whatever happens happen.  Which is probably why I became so curious about the guy who started talking to me. It seems he was some kind of a performer, and would walk up and down the beach until he found a large crowd, and put on his show, and accept whatever donations they felt were appropriate. He started talking in sentences that didn’t really make much sense, but there was something intriguing about him, so I just listened, wondering where exactly he was going with all of this.

He sorted of reminded me from my friend from Australia, that I see every once in a while. This guy is a philosophy major, who is always going off on weird tangents, but he usually makes a lot of sense when you look below the surface. It’s like you have to take a step back to and figure out how to look at the broader concept of what he is talking about to make sense of it all. Sometimes you really need to pay attention to what is being said so you can really understand it. And many times he doesn’t make any sense then and there, it’s only when you begin to think about this that you can later find ways to apply it to your own life. He also likes to surf, which is probably why I started daydreaming about him while this guy was talking about whatever it was he was talking about.

Which ended up being that he was a fire eater, among other things. He had a bag with him, and while we were talking, or rather while he was talking and I was listening, enough people showed up. He kind of just broke off right in the middle of his story and then put on his fire eating show. And also he walked on fire, and rolled around on broken glass, and all kinds of cool stuff. All in all I think he collected a couple hundred dollars from the crowd. Not a bad take.

After my friend was wheeled into the emergency room, someone finally was able to summon the courage to intervene as a translator for the poor guy with the sick daughter. Turned out she just had diarrhea, and was dehydrated. That’s why she wouldn’t stop crying. Another person in the waiting room offered a solution that calmed his daughter down enough so the poor man was able to enjoy some peace until he finally saw a doctor. While we were waiting for my friend to come out of surgery (from which she fully recovered) he left and gave a gracious thanks to all that helped him.


Always Assume The Best

I had to visit a friend in the hospital this past weekend. Nothing serious, but where I live people get put into the hospital for the strangest things. He was suffering from what the doctors said might be an ulcer, or just might be gastritis, but to be on the safe side, they want to keep him overnight for observation. I guess different countries  have different rules about how to act based on what is going on inside somebody. Even when they are fairly sure it’s nothing serious, the usually put you into the hospital at least overnight, just to be sure. I don’t particularly like hospitals, so whenever I have to go visit them, I have to make sure to up a big defense so I don’t’ let the sadness creep inside. I was in the elevator on the way down, happy to be leaving, when I saw somebody staring at me. He wasn’t a patient, or a doctor. I didn’t think I recognized him, but he kept staring at me.

Like this one time I was at the library in town. I had only moved here a few days ago at the time. I really like to read so I decided to go and check out the local library to see if they had any books I’d read before. And I was sitting there,and this guy kept looking at me from across the room. And had a really angry expression on his face, like I’d done something to offend him or something. I was starting to get kind of nervous, but seeing how I was in a public place, I didn’t really think he would do anything. But he just kept staring. Maybe he thought I looked like somebody that stole his milk money when he was a kid or something. Maybe he didn’t like the shirt I was wearing.

I usually don’t think such mean things about people. One of my relatives once told me that giving the other person the benefit of the doubt has two sides of the same coin. One side is to always assume that others are acting on some kind of good intentions, no matter how deep. And they are always trying their best, based on their experiences, to act on those intentions in the best way they know how. And the other side of that is that you must always assume that they have are also assuming that you are somehow acting on your best intentions. That way you’ve not only got a precedent to live up to, but when you live up to that precedent, even if it’s imaginary, you can show them a good example. So it will always work out in the end.

And it turns out the guy wasn’t even looking at me. He was looking at he guy sitting behind me. They had come together, the guy sitting behind me wanting to study, and his friend staring at him wanting to play baseball. Since they played baseball last Saturday, today was study day.

And the guy in the elevator had just heard some bad news about his cousin, so he wouldn’t’ have stared at anybody the way he was staring at me. I hope his cousin recovers.


Creative Ways to Solve Problems

My neighborhood had a sort of a festival this weekend. Something to do with the goddess of spring coming, or something. It is kind of like a carnival in some respects. They have various festivals around, and their a group of food vendors, around twenty or thirty that travel around and land in whatever city happens to be having the festival.  I went with a couple friends. One of my friends’ cousin was working at one of the booths, so we were hanging out talking for a while about this and that. He telling us about the different cities they go to, and how they see the some of the same people in each city. And one of my friends asked him if he ever gets tired of cooking and eating the particular food that they prepare. He said it’s just like any other job, you get used to it. But then he said they are having a problem with this particular city. Some kinds of termites or something. Since they started up, they started seeing little termite like bugs. And that spells bad news for a food stall carnival traveler, because most of stuff is made of wood. He seemed pretty worried, because a business like that, you are pretty close to breaking even most of the time, and you can’t really handle unforeseen problems that crop up from time to time.

Like when my friend found a bunch of plumbing problems under his house. He had a huge tree in the backyard, and the branches were strangling the pipes under the house and messing up the flow. And he got several estimates, and it was going to cost around five thousand dollars. Because he and his wife had spent most of their money buying this house, they didn’t have that kind of cash laying around to fix the problem. Even though it really wasn’t there problem. Or at least it wasn’t there problem before, and when they moved into the house, they just sort of accepted the fact that this problem was there, and decided they would have to figure out a way to deal with it. Problems can be interesting in this regard.

Sometimes when you have a problem, and you try the usual methods, and they don’t work, sometimes you need to think of something else. You need to get creative and think of new ways to get around problems. Because as long as you live and move through life, you are going to encounter problems. People that become really successful in life, (regardless of how you define success,) aren’t the ones that have to deal with the least amount of problems. They are the ones that are able to come up with different solutions for whatever problem they come up against. And really successful people have discovered that problems are really opportunities in disguise. Many people believe the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is how they perceive problems. Successful people see them as ways to learn and improve their skills. Regardless of how big and unsolvable the problem seems, you can always think of new ideas, even come up with ways to use it to your advantage.

So my friend’s wife got on the phone. She called and checked if there was a statute of limitations, or whatever you call it, on buying a house. She was hoping to see if they could figure out way to get the previous owner to pay part of the bill. No dice. Then she had an idea. She checked to see when the tree was planted, and it was planted by the city before the houses were actually built. So she called the city, and sure enough they admitted they were responsible. And the city paid the entire bill. And all it took was a few phone calls.

And the termites turned out to not even be termites. They were a weird strain of ants, really small ants, that  look like termites. And since it was a ‘spring is coming’ festival, they took it as a good sign. Kind of like when the groundhog sees his shadow, or doesn’t see his shadow, or however that rule goes. And because my friends’ booth had the highest concentration of these pretend-termite-ants, it was the most popular for the weekend, and made the most money. He still didn’t give us any free food, though.


Tap Your Memories for a Powerful Future

One way to really put yourself on the fast track to success is through the creative use of your imagination. Humans are unique among the animals, as our brains give us the ability to imagine different outcomes for our immediate future. Many evolutionary experts believe this is one of the driving forces behind our incredibly large brains, compared to other species.

This of course can be more of a hindrance than a help. If you’ve ever thought about doing something a little bit risky, you’ll know what I’m talking about. You think about doing something. Like raising your hand in class to ask a question, or speaking up with a perhaps controversial point in a meeting at work. Or you see an attractive member of the opposite sex and you’d like to go and introduce yourself.

What happens next is almost so fast we don’t even realize it. You quickly imagine all the possible outcomes of your prospective course of action, and many times the answer that comes back is a big NO! DANGER!. The brain looks into the future, and imagines what each potential outcome will feel like. Any feelings the brain deems are not desirable, get rejected, and you suddenly feel anxious and nervous about doing what you only thought a minute ago was a no brainer. Now you’re not so sure.

How can you fix this?

Not to worry. Here’s what you do. Before you go to sleep at night, scan through the day for any instances where you wish you could have acted differently. Say you saw a beautiful woman, and failed to take this opportunity to go and introduce yourself. Forget about why, and forget about chastising yourself. Instead, imagine what resource would have been helpful in that situation. For example, what resource would have been helpful when you saw the beautiful woman? Courage? Wit? Charm? Amazing linguistic dexterity? Anything will work. Since this is only in your imagination, you can try different ways until you find something that works really well.

Let’s say you chose courage. Here’s what you do. If it seems kind of weird, don’t worry. It is. But that’s ok. Remember, this is all only happening in your imagination. Scan through your whole life until you find a couple examples of that resource. What was it? Courage. Anytime you felt courage, in any situation, is fine. Now freeze the two memories out in front of your there. See yourself in the memory over there on the left, where you were courageous. And see yourself in the more recent memory over on the right, where you were about to go and talk to the girl of your dreams before you changed your mind.

Exhale all your breath, and breath in all the courage from the picture on the left. Slowly exhale your courage into the picture on the right, giving yourself the courage in your more recent memory. Do this three or four times. Next, float over into yourself on the picture on the right. Now that you’ve infused yourself with the courage that you already experienced, relive your recent memory, only with a different outcome. Walk over and talk to her, throw down some mad game, and get her number, or whatever it is that you wanted to do when you first saw her. Repeat this a couple times.

The key with this exercise is to do it consistently, every night. It might seem difficult, or strange, or even borderline psychotic at first, but when you get the hang of it, you are sending your brain a clear and powerful message. You can not only imagine different futures, but you can reach back into your past and extract resources from anywhere, anytime and from any context and apply them to now, so that in the future you’ll be much more successful than you were before you read this article.


Clear the Path for Easy Living

This morning I was browsing in a new bookstore in my neighborhood. It is the kind of bookstore where they have used books as well as new books. Used book stores can be really fun to browse through, because you never know what you are going to find. Sometimes you’ll be looking through, and you will find some books that sort of look interesting, but not interesting enough to buy. Other times you can find things that you are really interested in. This particular bookstore had been only been open a couple of weeks, so they haven’t really built up their inventory of used books yet. They had quite a few new books. Novels, biographies, how to books, and even a few cookbooks. The store itself isn’t that large, so the aisles were pretty crowded, not like other bookstores, where people specifically go there for the open space.

Open space is important, because you need room to move around. I’m been moving around quite a bit in my life. Currently I’m living in my fifth country. It’s interesting how much extra stuff you think is really important that you naturally get rid of when you move as much as I have. I was telling a friend of mine the other day about all the cooking equipment I used to collect, because I really enjoy cooking. So I was in the habit of buying this, and buying that so that when I wanted to cook a really extravagant meal, I had the proper equipment to do so. But because I’ve moved so much, I’ve shed some the extra stuff that turned out to be not so important. A couple of large suitcases is really all you need.

It can be important to periodically take inventory of your life and see what extra baggage you are carrying around that isn’t that important. Or at least isn’t as important as you think it is. Because nothing can slow you down more than extra junk that can clog the precious neural pathways of your brain. When you just relax and release what isn’t important, your life can become easier. When you let go of fears, you can really begin to enjoy the ease with which you can live your life. And it really is a simple matter of shifting your thoughts towards ease and happiness, and away from stress and anxiety. One way to do this is through focused breathing. Another way to do this is through Chi Gong or other slow movement exercises. It’s not important exactly how specifically you choose to do this, rather that you do something on a regular basis that can clear out that which holds you back.

As it turns out, most of the cooking equipment I used to have, I didn’t really need. I can do the same thing that those machines did with creative use of some basic tools. And that can make cooking more fun.

And I’m not exactly sure where they will put all the new used books once they get them, because the shelves and aisles are already filled up with new books. I guess they are really confident that they will get a lot of business, and sell a lot of books. Perhaps their plan is that when people bring in their old books, they can get some money which they will then turn around and use to buy more books. And investing your money in books is a great idea, because learning is one of the greatest rewards in life. 



It’s Good to Mix it Up Once in a While

Once upon a time there was this group of missionaries. And they traveled to different islands, and tried to persuade the island people to discard their old set of beliefs, and replace them with what they promised was a new, enhanced and better set of beliefs. Because they brought food that the island people had never seen before, the island people kind of accepted some of the beliefs, but not all of them. Kind of like a mix.

I have a friend that is from Vietnam. He was telling me that many Vietnamese dishes are actually influenced by the French. Because the French had colonized what was then called Indochina (by the French, no doubt,) they had a lot of influence on the culture, architecture, food, and even the writing system. The language itself was too far developed for the French to make it as confusing as the French language, so at least that part of the culture remained fairly intact. One of the great outcomes of the influence of one culture on another are this sandwiches called Bun Mi’s. They are made with small loaves of French bread sliced in half, and filled with Vietnamese style meats and other fillings. They are incredibly tasty, and usually fairly cheap.

It’s interesting what happens when you mix one thing with another, you’re never sure you know what you are going to get. Of course if you mix yellow and blue you are going to get green, but everybody knows that. I’m talking about mixing things when you have no idea how they are going to turn out. Cultures, ideas, whole races of people (depending if you believe in any Egyptian-UFO conspiracies.) One of the most important things to consider when mixing ideas is the simple fact that you can’t usually come back, so you need to be careful when mixing two things, like countries or genetic mutations. You don’t want to create something that won’t be beneficial. On the other hand, nobody ever was able to discover something wonderful by being too cautious. When you have some of this, and some of that, and you want to bring to bear one onto the other, go right ahead. That’s how great things happen.

And I even was telling my girlfriend once about this great French-Vietnamese restaurant, and she could scarcely believe such a combination could exist. And sure enough, there the restaurant was, just like I’d expected it to be. And they have some dandy tasting frog legs there.

And the missionaries decided that it wasn’t worth it because they kept running out of chocolate chip cookies, or whatever it was they had to bribe them with to accept their beliefs. They told them and they decided that they had to leave, and then went and left them behind.