Category Archives: Decisions

Freedom Of Choice – Do You Really Want It?

NEXT!

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine from high school about this problem that she’s been having with her next-door neighbor and her daughter. She thinks that because they are not as quiet as they used to be, then that means that something has happened, and she is taking it personally.

I remember reading something about that, when somebody has certain issues, and there is some kind of unfavorable change in the environment, people can sometimes take it personally, and assume it was something they did, or worse, assume it is another example of them always getting the short end of the stick.

Like once I had this friend, and we were waiting in line to get our food at this fast food place. She had number seventeen, and they called numbers fifteen, sixteen, and then eighteen. She looked discouragingly at her number and mumbled something about things like this always happening to her.

Of course, if you were to do an engineering analysis of the restaurant, the restaurant staff, and the time and resources required to produce each order, and then compared that to orders number fifteen through eighteen, you very well may draw the conclusion that order number seventeen was the most labor and resource intensive (e.g. double bacon cheeseburger, extra pickles with well done fries, no salt). It would then be completely logical (especially if you were waiting in line with Mr. Spock) to expect order number seventeen to take longer than the rest.

This extremely common situation is made worse by the idea that people have about what the world “should” be like. Restaurants “should” always give out the food in the order that it was ordered.

Then you open up a whole can of worms from the restaurants perspective. Should they always give out the order numbers sequentially, no matter how long each individual order takes? What about somebody like my friend who ordered a pretty specific order, and somebody right after her that ordered something simple, like a cheeseburger and fries combo? Do you hold up the line in order to make sure your orders are in order in order to not offend those orders behind her? Or do you try the best you can, and take a broader approach, and work as efficiently and quickly as you can in order to please as many customers as possible?

Sometimes when I’m at the supermarket, and there is a bunch of people waiting in line, and the next checker over opens up. Sometimes he or she will shout out “I can help whoever is next,” which of course leads to a brief period of social anarchy of biblical proportions, where the first will become last and the last will become first. Especially if the last isn’t shy about throwing some elbows in order to secure a first in line position in the newly opened check stand.

Then there are other, (usually older) more experienced checkers who make an effort to actually walk over to the next person in line, and single them out to be first in the next line. This usually results in a much more calm transition, as people are prone to accept the new checker’s authority on the situation, and follow suit. It’s not uncommon to see strangers checking with each other to see who is going to go over to the next checker, and who is going to stay in the current line.

I’ve never worked at a supermarket, and I don’t know if they have a policy for how to handle such a situation, but it just seems that for everybody involved, ensuring an orderly transition from one long line to two shorter ones is much better than eliciting some social anarchy.

I remember reading a study done a number of years ago regarding line psychology. People were presented with two options, at a hypothetical fast food restaurant. Option one is you walk into the place, and choose between four open registers. Whatever line you choose, you’ve got to stick with it no matter how slow it moves. (Of course, Murphy’s Law dictates that no matter which line you choose, it will be the slowest.)

Option two is one gigantic queue, where you line up like for an amusement park ride, or at the bank. Then whoever is next, can just say “next!” and since there is only one line, whoever is next, is next. This seems to be the most preferred by businesses, as it takes away the problem of dealing with line jumpers and how to handle the situation of a newly opened register.

But it is least favored among customers, as it completely takes away any choice they may have when they walk into the place. It gives the impression of being herded like cattle, something people don’t particularly enjoy on their lunch break. It also makes it seem that you will be waiting longer, despite numerous studies that show you actually will have less of a wait in a general queue than when you have to choose your own line.

Push may come to shove when you are forced to decide which is important, personal choice and freedom, or efficiency, even if the efficiency is customer oriented, as it gets them in and out quicker.

Often times, we prefer the illusion of choice even when, in the long run, having a choice means waiting longer, despite the length of the wait being the number one criterion for making the choice in the first place.

Quite a paradox, that.

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The Ritual Of Adulthood

Quest

Once there was a group of kids that had been sent on a mission. They were not to come back unless their mission was successfully accomplished. To do so you not only mean obvious failure, but also would indicate their lack of ability to take on further missions. They had been charged by the elders of their tribe, and had been on the road for some time. After they had set out, it had been quite for a while. None dared to speak, lest they violate the silent tension that clung relentlessly about the group.

At first the silent tension was troublesome. It gave rise to thoughts and anxieties of failure and rejection. But then the tension became accepted, then comfortable, and finally like an unseen security blanket that bound the group together. They would all fail or succeed together. To speak would snap the tension, and likely destroy any chance of success. Or so they thought.

Pain is an interesting thing. Biologists tell us the body evolved an inability to grow resistant to pain, as to do so would certainly not lead to reproductive success. Any creature from any species that had the ability to grow accustomed to pain may become injured, and not take reconstructive efforts. A bleeding animal wouldn’t lick it’s wounds and give it self the anti-bacterial effects of it’s own saliva. It would slowly remove itself from its own gene pool, and after only a few generations, any individual within the group with this “ability” would be extremely rare.

Other sensory input, on the other hand, that doesn’t require immediate attention can easily be temporarily ignored. Hunger, thirst, smell, slight discomfort due to outside ranges in temperature.

But emotional pain is a completely different ballgame. Neuroscientists are only just beginning to understand the role that emotions play in everyday human life. And even then the input they have is still a mystery. From a scientific perspective, emotions are nearly impossible to measure. You can’t very well hook somebody up to an emote-o-meter (unless you are a scientologist) and see what effects the different emotions have on physiological and biological functions of the mind/body/nervous system.

Until very recently, most scientists believed that emotions played on part in decision-making. Emotions were viewed from the Vulcan standpoint of getting in the way of logical thinking. It was believed that without emotions, we could always make the best choices, and never make mistakes.

Then a couple of surgeons had the opportunity to test this theory out during a particularly interesting brain surgery. The portion of the patient’s brain that was thought responsible for emotional feelings was temporarily “disconnected,” and since brain surgeries can be performed with an awake patient, they figured they ask him a couple difficult questions (like the kind you find in a high school ethics book). They were stunned to find out that he couldn’t even make the most basic decisions without the input of his emotions.

If you break everything down into either a pain or pleasure emotional response, and assume those are the drivers behind every decision, it makes sense. Your brain has this amazing capability of imagining several future outcomes of every single decision, usually unconscious, and checking to see what would produce the most pleasure, and the least amount of pain.

Luckily, through millions of years of evolution, things that keep us alive and safe, as well as propagate the species generally give us the most pleasure. Like good food, good sex, and a nice safe place to sleep at night. Things that put us in danger tend to give us emotional pain, like high places, loud noises, and tigers.

It can get complicated when our rational minds know that one particular choice is a good one, but it goes against our hard-wired programming from millions of years of evolution. No matter how scientifically sure you are that it’s probably not a good idea to have one more bowl of ice cream, it can be near impossible to squash your desire through willpower alone.

Of course, if you successfully avoid the ice cream enough times, you’ll build up a resistance to that evolutionary drive to continually eat whenever there’s food available. And pretty soon you’ll get used to expending emotional energy to suppress your million years old biological urge. So much so that when you do have an occasional bowl of ice cream, the “guilt” associated with it, which is really a temporary release of that emotional discomfort that you’ve grown accustomed to, is enough to mess up your pleasure of eating.

Of course, if you are trying to lose weight, this isn’t so bad. For many, to lose their craving and taste for something rich and calorie dense like ice cream would come as a blessing.

But what about more complicated things? What if you make a decision, one that requires some conscious willpower and faith in the face of unconscious resistance, but you aren’t nearly as scientifically sure as you were when you avoided the ice cream? When you put up with the emotional discomfort long enough, it’s easy to start to question your decision that you made earlier; no matter how sure you were when you made it.

It can be extremely helpful to set up some good anchors and targets to stay focused on, if you expect those tough times to come. Figure out exactly why you are embarking on your mission, and what the specific pay off will be when you get there. So when you do come across those rough patches, you’ll have something to focus on to pull you through. If you make a decision that isn’t really in your best interests, either because it’s not really your goal to begin with, or you aren’t sure what outcome you’re after, it’s extremely difficult to stay on track.

Make sure you take enough time to build your target, and make it as compelling as possible before starting on your operation.

When the group boys finally returned after a successful mission, they were given generous accolades from their tribe. They hadn’t known it, but this was a ritual performed on young boys to ease them into manhood. This had been passed down for generations immemorial, and in previous generations had been used to prepare young boys for the life and death struggle of the daily hunt. In recent times however, the ritual had gradually taken on a symbolic meaning, as the tribe had slowly evolved into a successful agricultural community, and hadn’t needed to hunt animals for many years. Nevertheless, they found it useful to send the boys on a quest, to give them a taste of setting their sights on something far off in the distance, going after it, getting it, and bringing it home.

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Are You Afraid Of Committment?

Right, Or Left?

I remember when I was a kid I played little league basketball. I pretty much sucked at it, which is why I only played once. We played on these courts with short baskets, or low baskets. I think maybe they were eight feet, but I’m not sure. I’m much better at playing horse. One of my problems was that I was too easy to fake out. Some guy would come dribbling down the court, and fake left, and I could immediately commit, and put all my weight on my right foot as I shifted to where I thought he was going.

After his quick fake left (my right) he would then go right, opposite to where I had committed my body weight, easily going around me. I would be left standing there, looking foolish. No matter how good an offensive player, a defender never looks good getting faked out like that.

Much later I remember playing a game of flag football, as an adult. It wasn’t a big game, just a bunch of weekend warriors out to have a good time. I think we had a case of beer on the game or something. I was on defense, on the line. We were playing some kind of zone defense in front, and man to man in back, I think. I’m not sure how to describe it in football technical terms.

I think I was supposed to count two alligators or something, and then rush in to the QB and try to grab his flags. But on this particular play, something felt odd. For some reason, and to this day I have no idea why, I didn’t rush in. I was about to step in but something stopped me. The offense pulled this double reverse, and the guy who ended up with the ball came running right at me. Had I rushed in like I was supposed to, I would have gotten faked out, and he would have made quite a substantial gain. But when he did come running at me, I was still dazed, trying to figure out why I was still standing there. I grabbed his flag, and they ended up losing a yard or two.

After the play, a teammate come up and congratulated me.
“You read that pretty good!” He said, clapping me on the back.

I had no idea what he was talking about. Read what? Read how? Later that night, it finally hit me what he was talking about. It was if I was some kind of experienced lineman, and could instinctively read the intentions of the offense, and react accordingly. But football is another sport I only played once or twice as a kid. I had no idea what was going on. So why did I just stand there?

I remember reading some article on some website regarding commitment in relationships. It was written by a guy, and he was saying that men are actually more prone to commit than women. I think maybe his girlfriend just dumped him, so perhaps he was a bit biased. Obviously, if you are a guy, and you are after a girl, and you are into her much more than she is into you, it’s easy to see that you could think that guys commit more readily than girls.

Likewise, if you are a girl, and you are into a guy much more than he is into you, it could be easy to convince yourself that guys just can’t commit.

The harsh truth may be that guys, and girls are both perfectly capable of commitment, just not to you (whoever you are), at least right now.

But what is commitment? What is it really?

When you go to the grocery store, and you want to buy one apple, (say you only have a dollar) you have to choose on above all the rest. So when you choose one, you are at the same time forever saying no to all the rest. If you are really really hungry, then it wouldn’t really matter that much. You’d grab any old apple that wasn’t bruised up and didn’t appear to be half eaten by worms.

But if you were using the apple in a special recipe, later that night say, you’d be much more picky. You wouldn’t be overwhelmed by hunger and in a hurry to choose. You’d take your time, and find the best one out of all of them. You’d likely pick up a few, inspect them, and then put them back. (In case you’re a fan of Murphy’s Law, when you go to the store to buy one apple, it will always be the one on the bottom).

Whenever you commit to one thing, you are saying “no” to everything else. It’s kind of hard to say “no” to something unless you know what you are saying “no” to.

I remember once I was at traffic school. One of those places you have to go to in order to avoid an increase in insurance. The teacher was an ex cop, and was telling us stories about pulling people over. He said once he flashed his sirens, and one guy pulled over. When he walked up to the guy’s window, he asked the cop why he chose him. There were plenty of other people speeding, so why did he have to choose him.

“I just flashed my lights, and you were the only one that stopped.” Was the cop’s response. Kind of funny, but that is most people’s strategy for making decisions. Make a little bit of an effort, usually the minimum amount required, and they take whatever comes to them.

Guy walks into a bar (what is this, a joke?) and he falls in love with the first girl that smiles at him. Girl graduates from college, sends out twenty résumés, and takes the first job offer she gets.

What’s you’re strategy? Do you take the first offer that comes? Or do you wait, and take your time to decide? Turning down an offer, any offer that seems decent can be extremely difficult. I’ve taken jobs before, because they were the only one I thought I could get at the time. Then later when people asked me why I chose that job, it felt embarrassing to say, “It was the only choice I had.”

If we could look into the future, and see all the opportunities that come our way on a daily basis, maybe we won’t be so prone to commit to soon, and get faked out like I did on the basketball court. Maybe it’s best to just trust our guts, hang back and see what develops.

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The Road, The Inn, And The Psychotic Jazz Musicians

Where To Now?

Once, many many years ago, I took a road trip with a bunch of friends from college. Not really friends, although we referred to each other as friends at the time. More like contextual friends. Dorm friends. As soon as we moved out of he dormitory (at my particular school, they only let you stay in the dorms one or two years) we kind of drifted apart.

Groups are kind of funny like that. They can form for a specific purpose, and so long as that purpose exists, everybody can get along great, hang out during off times (off times from whatever the group was formed for), and even meet up with each other’s families on occasion. But once the purpose for the group goes away, so does the group.

I saw this once in action when I got a book signed by a famous author of a cooking show on TV. In order to get his signature, you had to wait in this long line, twice. Once in the morning to get your particular number, and then later in the afternoon, when you came back to get in line based on your number.

So the people you stood in line in the morning were the same people you stood in line in the evening. And both times the waiting was quite lengthy, giving everybody ample time to start conversations beyond mere politeness. And having everybody leave and then come back in the afternoon was another factor that added to the feeling of “closeness.”

The people I was standing next to in line had formed this small “group” of about six or eight people. In the two hours or so we spent together, we became like best friends. Exchanged emails, showed each other family pictures, the whole deal. But as soon as the purpose for our group vanished, (we got our books signed) the closeness and feelings of camaraderie vanished as well. Boom. See ya.

That was kind of like the group I went on this road trip with. The purpose for our group lasted much longer, two full semesters, but it vanished just as quickly as the book-signing group once the reason for the group’s existence.

But while we hung out together, it was fun. We shared common enough interests (music, alcohol, girls) and disinterests (school, studying) that it was enough.

So it seemed like a great idea to take a road trip when there was a holiday on a Monday, giving us three days to goof off. One of the guys had recently bought this big van, and we talked him into driving somewhere. We didn’t know where, only that we wanted to go on road trip.

Since we were all pretty broke, we figured we’d have to sleep on the ground, instead of staying indoors, so our only requirement was that we would end up at some open place or campground where we wouldn’t get into too much trouble with our music other loud noise. The problem was that none of us were quite sure where that was.

We knew that in three out of the four possible directions we could go in would lead us to pretty large areas with no houses, but beyond that we didn’t have a clue. So we started driving, not knowing where we were going. Only that we had three days to kill before we got there and back, wherever there turned out to be.

One of the guys was majoring in Jazz, and he was telling us about this period in Jazz history where it was all the rage to play completely extemporaneous music. No notes, no predetermined set of beats or melody (I’m not sure if that is even the right terminology). Just four or five guys playing whatever they felt like playing. Sometimes it would coalesce into something that sounded pretty cool, but most of the time it would sound like utter nonsense, according to this guy.

He said that period in Jazz didn’t last long, as least they didn’t produce a lot of records, because nobody bought them. A few people that were really into the scene thought it was cool, but he explained that it never caught on big enough for that to be any musician’s main playing style.

He did bring a tape for us to listen to, and I have to agree it sounded pretty awful. Not really awful, but like completely nonsensical. Nothing you listen to music for, to relax, to be inspired, to pump up your emotions, would be satisfied by listening to a bunch of guys completely out of sync. It sounded like that brief second or two they sometimes leave on the record when an orchestra is warming up, just before the conductor takes over and leads everyone to play some masterpiece together.

It’s kind of cool, as it adds a sense of so many different people with so many different instruments out there, that suddenly come together and play as one entity. But a whole album of that stuff? No thanks.

We found out that without a specific destination, the novelty quickly wore off. Pretty soon finding a destination became our destination. Our requirements became less and less restricted, and any place that was flat. At first we wanted a place with a nice fire ring, so we could have a fire, but as it got later and later, we just wanted to get out of this guys van. It was one of those vans that didn’t have any chairs or windows in the back, so we were all sitting on the floor.

Pretty soon we just pulled off to the side of the road, sat on the ground, drank our alcohol, and fell asleep.

When they say that the road is better than the inn, I think it’s a given you have to have a pretty decent inn that you are going to. Otherwise the road can be a pretty boring and pointless journey.

The funny thing is, is that you really never even have to get to the inn. So long as you have a solid idea of where you’re going, that’s good enough. But without a known destination, it can get pretty boring, pretty quickly.

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Beware Of Infinite Loops

Answers

That’s what she wanted. She had been waiting for me for almost two hours, when I came wandering up. Where was I? Why didn’t I call? How could I do this to her, didn’t I know that she felt like a fool standing there all alone like that for so long? What must people think about her?

Calm down, I told her. We’ll get to the bottom of this. I showed her the text she’d sent me last night, and showed her my watch. Not an “in your face” kind of thing, but a gentle “here’s is the evidence that you may be incorrect” kind of thing.

Maybe that wasn’t the right course of action. Now she was angry that I was late, had been stewing about it for two hours, and just found out that it was he fault. Still needing somebody to blame, she tried to ask me why I didn’t call to confirm, to send a text back reminding her of the time.

Seeing as how I was totally innocent, it took a lot of willpower not to throw some snappy zingers in her face. I waited until she was finished.

“Well, it’s three O’clock, and we’re here. What do you want to do?” I asked, more than half hoping she’d stomp off in anger. This didn’t have the makings of a pleasant afternoon together.

“Whatever. I don’t care.” She said coolly. I had learned a long time ago, (albeit through several slow and painful lessons) that hoping somebody would change their attitude by telling you didn’t like it was useless at best.

I figured I’d give her one more shot, and a chance to save some face.

“Well, the movie starts in thirty minutes. Should I buy one ticket, or two?” I asked as calmly as possible, keeping myself completely open for either answer.

I was reading this book once that was talking about emotions. The guy was saying that humans have this strange way of thinking. We have thoughts, and then thoughts about those thoughts. And thoughts about those thoughts. And every step of the way, we have an emotional reaction to the thoughts.

They used to think that emotions get in the way of thinking, and decision-making. That emotions are completely separate from logic. It used to be generally accepted that if you were more like Spock, you’d be able to make much better choices and decisions, and wouldn’t be swayed by powerful emotions like anger, embarrassment, guilt, or lust.

By some brain surgeons decided to do an experiment. They were doing surgery on this guy. They were removing a tumor, and in order to get to it, they had to cut through several areas of his brain they thought were responsible for emotional thinking. This was only a temporary part of the surgery. They figured as long as they were in there tinkering around, they would test this logic-emotional theory.

Since brain surgery only requires general anesthetic (there aren’t any pain sensors in the brain) the guy could be awake, and responsive to questions. They figured they’d ask him some logic-based questions, starting with easy ones, and then getting to more and more complicated ones. Ones that most people have a hard time answering because of their moral and ethical considerations, like if you are in a boat and you only have on life preserver, who do you save, the President (who is opposite of your political party) or your favorite pet (or some other emotionally convoluted question).

These doctors had theorized that since this guy’s emotional circuitry would be temporarily disconnected, he’d be like Spock, and spit out purely logical answers.
But what they found was the opposite. Without emotional input, he couldn’t even make the most basic decisions. Without the emotional juice fueling the options, they seemed to him like a question of preference between a banana, and six. Later he said he couldn’t even begin to know how to answer the questions given him.

This, of course, sent neuroscientists into a tizzy, as it gave some great insight into the human decision making process. Of course, this was only one single case, and they can’t very well go off messing with peoples heads and disconnecting their emotions just to see what would happen.

But it does make sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Humans evolved to make decisions for a reason, not to pass the time through idle philosophical discussions. Pain or pleasure, safety or danger, simplicity or complexity, these are all emotionally fueled ideas that power all of our decisions.

But according to that book I mentioned before (Mind Lines by Dr. Hall) we get into trouble when our emotions are based on judgments not on reality, but on our interpretation of reality. Someone cuts you off in traffic, and you make a judgment about that. You assume they are a jerk. Then you have a reaction to your judgment of them being jerk. Then you feel a certain way about that. Within a few seconds, you get angry at feeling guilty for being judgmental about some guy you assumed was a jerk that cut you off in traffic.

So when she had been standing there for two hours, getting angrier and angrier at me for being late, it didn’t matter one bit to her that it was her mistake. Of course, when I posed my question to her, it invoked the power of commitment and consistency. (See Cialdini, Influence, Science and Practice). She’d been waiting for two hours, she wasn’t likely to just up and leave five minutes after I finally showed up. (Finally according to her frame.)

I suppose the moral of the story is that whenever you come up to someone that has been building layer upon layer of emotions, it may be a good idea to simply give them an either/or option, take a step back and see what happens.

At the very least, it can be fun to watch.

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Who Is Steering Your Ship?

Full Speed Ahead

It’s funny the way things work out sometimes. There are all kinds of stories about how some character spends their whole life running away from something only to find it was what they needed all along. They just needed to see it in a fresh light. Or the familiar story of somebody running away from something, where that thing turns out to be their destiny. They weren’t able to face it unless they went through whole journey to escape, which in reality was a journey to give them the experience of understanding what it truly was.

There’s that familiar one about the guy form Egypt who sees a fortuneteller, who tells him me will meet death in exactly on week. So the guy jumps on the next ship to the furthest possible port away from Egypt. Exactly one week later he is wandering through a marketplace, completely confused but happy. Confuse because he has no local currency and can’t understand the local language at all. Happy because he has escaped death. Then he turns the corner, and is shaken out of his daydreams by death himself. Death stares at him in disbelief. The guy finally decides to confront death, and ask him why he is so confused. Death responds that he is surprised to see him, because he has an appointment with him in Egypt in one hour. But unforeseen events took him to this faraway land. He is glad he ran into him, and promptly takes him on the spot.

I was reading this interesting book on biology the other day. (The Meme Machine, by Susan Blackmore) .Not really biology, it was all about meme’s and how meme’s spread. The particular chapter, however, was talking about recent discoveries in brain chemistry and activity. They have figured out a way to light up different areas of the brain, to see which areas are active during which thinking processes. In many cases, people make choices before we are consciously aware of them.

They’ll hook somebody up to one of these machines, and tell them to press a button when they see a ping-pong ball coming at them. They have identified the area of the brain that “lights up” when we are consciously aware of things going on around us. At least consciously aware of people throwing ping pong balls at us. They have also identified the brain areas that light up when our automatic muscles respond to the approaching ping-pong ball. Certain bits of adrenalin is sent to certain muscles that would move in case the ping pong ball needed to be deflected. They’ve tried it with several different angles, and from a biomechanical analysis, can determine before hand, which muscles would be primed with energy for motion, and sure enough, these are the muscles that primed by the brain when the ping-pong ball is thrown.

The interesting thing is that our conscious minds are the last to find out what is going on. The ping-pong ball gets thrown, our reality detection system (eyes, ears, etc) register the ping-pong ball as coming, and the brain automatically primes our muscles to respond. Only after our mind/body system has been prepared for the “intruder” into our personal space, is our consciousness pulled into the loop. Only then do we start to give meaning to events. After the fact.

They’ve even done more complicated studies, where it’s not a simple ping-pong ball. Where there is a range of choices to make, based on the physical incident. And many times, our conscious minds don’t get to take part in the decision making process. Our conscious minds are only made aware of the fact after the quick decision has been made, and then we come up with a bunch of stories and rationalizations about what is going on.

The purpose of this particular chapter was to question the whole idea of choice, and free will. Every choice we make is based on choices we made before, and those are based on choices we made before that. If at the most fundamental level, our conscious minds are only made aware of certain events after the fact, how in the world are we to believe that we are cruising through life as conscious, sentient beings making rational choices about how to live our lives?

It’s like our conscious brains are the captains of gigantic ocean liners whose course has been set long ago by unknown agents, and we find ourselves at the wheel, and delude ourselves into thinking we are actually steering the boat.

There is a fairly popular idea among Christians to “Let go, Let God.” Meaning that the good Lord knows what He’s doing, and when we try and force the issue, we just make it more complicated. When we simply “Let go,” and let God chart our course, life will be much easier, or at least we will fulfill God’s plan with much less resistance.

This works great if you are a devout Christian, but what about the Atheists among us? What happens if you take that same argument, to “Let Go,” who is doing the steering then? Is our mind/body system really smart enough, knowledgeable enough, and experienced enough to get us to where we want to go, assuming we really know where we’re going?

There’s the analogy that we really do steer the ship, it’s just that it takes a long time to change course. And when you do set your course, you’d better make certain that it’s really where you want to go. If you are trying to steer a giant ship around the ocean willy nilly, you’ll only frustrate yourself, and make the passengers sea sick.

One of the things that can happen when growing up in modern society is our course gets pretty much set for us, and it can be terribly hard to change it halfway through. It seems like a good enough idea to go through school, get a decent degree, get a job, find a mate and start a family. Those of you that have made drastic career changes halfway through adulthood know that it can be met with resistance by those around you, and even by yourself. Many are essentially dissuaded from making drastic changes, some for better, some for worse.

But if you are heading for a crash, I think it is better to change course much sooner than later. I’m pretty sure the captain of the Titanic wish he would have seen those icebergs much sooner than they did.

The beauty of having a mind/body system that works so well on auto pilot, once you choose a decent course, and make sure it’s the right path, you just have to input the coordinates, figure out the actions, and get to work. Everything after that is automatic. Just keep plugging away, knowing that you’ll get there eventually. So long as you double-check every once in a while to make sure you’re heading in the right direction, you can be fairly certain you’ll arrive.

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Success with NLP

Success with NLP

How To Make The Right Choice

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine over a cup of coffee. We had met while we were out shopping, not really met, more like bumped into each other. We both had a few minutes to spare, and there happened to be a coffee shop nearby, and so we decided to have a cup of joe and a chat.

We started talking about mistakes, and big mistakes that we’ve made in our lives. I don’t know how we got on that subject; I think she was concerned with her current relationship, that it may not be the right one for her. She is getting close to 30, and some girls feel some pressure, both internal and external to find somebody serious by then. I think she is wondering if she chose him because he was “Mr. Right Now,” instead of “Mr. Right.” I didn’t really want to get into some prolonged discussion about her boyfriend, but since she was veiling her conversation about him through general life mistakes, I was game.

Sometimes you can solve problems by addressing them structurally rather than specifically. If you get too involved in the particulars of a problem, you can lose the forest for the trees. That’s how therapeutic metaphors work. You hear some story that has the same structure to your problem, and by vicariously going through the metaphor, you can figure out a solution to your problem, oftentimes unconsciously.

That’s how Milton Erickson was able to heal people. He was a therapist that invented a strange kind of conversational hypnosis. People would come in and give him their problem, like bed-wetting or fear of elevators. He would them tell them a story that was completely different in content, but similar in structure, that had a happy ending. The people would leave, and discover a couple weeks later that their problem had been solved.

For example, if somebody was afraid of elevators, the traditional approach would be to talk about elevators, how they became scared of elevators, or to try and convince them of how safe they were using statistics. But a metaphorical approach would ignore elevators altogether, and focus on somebody who was afraid of doing something, and then by changing his focus on the positive outcome, rather than the thing he feared, he was able to overcome his fear. And after he overcame his fear of whatever it was, he realized how insignificant his fear really was.

Which is kind of what I suspect my friend was getting at. She wanted to discuss the possibility that she was making a mistake with her current boyfriend, without actually talking about her relationship. Talking about mistakes in general, I got the impression she was trying to find out if there was a general way to tell going into a potentially troublesome situation if you stick it out, and hope everything works out, or eject as soon as possible.

Sometimes you don’t need to make that decision, as certain actions are short lived. If you are playing on a particular golf course for the first time, and you choose a pitching wedge instead of an eight iron, you might come up short. You could consider this to be a mistake, but it is one you can learn from and do better next time. If you ever play this course again, and have the same lie, you’ll know to use your eight iron.

Those that study learning and brain development suspect this is how all learning takes places anyways. We make all kinds of small mistakes, and automatically correct them as we go along. A baby’s way to learn how to speak is to move their tongues around and make a bunch of random sounds until they figure out which ones get the right responses. Same with walking and learning all other motor skills.

However, some choices have much more impact than choosing a club. Like choosing a job or a marriage partner can have horrible results if you don’t choose wisely. And since most of us don’t get married a bunch of times or go through ten or twenty jobs in our lives, it can be tough to “learn” how to get married or choose the right career the same we “learn” how to walk or talk or approach the green.

The question is, and this is what I think my friend was getting at, is how do you know if your intuition is telling you that you’re making a bad decision, and how do you know when you are just nervous? If it were easy, nobody would ever get divorced or find themselves in a job they hate. But many people get divorced, or are stuck in terrible jobs or terrible relationships.

So the topic of the conversation was mistakes we’d made, and how we knew they were mistakes, and how we rectified the situation. One thing I learned, or one concept I was exposed to, was to future pace. If you are in a situation, and you think it may be a mistake, project yourself out into the future a few years, and see how it comes out. Imagine the best possible scenario, and the worst possible scenario, and the likelihood of both coming to pass. This is where intuition can be very powerful. Sometimes it’s impossible to make an accurate prediction of the future, but your intuition can usually do a pretty good job.

Project yourself out in the future and do a “gut check.” Is it an overwhelmingly good feeling a bad, feeling, or a “blech” feeling? If you’re make a decent decision and are just nervous, you’ll usually get a good feeling if you’re honest with yourself. But if you immediately think to feel repulsed at a possible future, the chances are you’re making a huge error in judgment.

This can be difficult, as many times we are afraid to look into the future, and only pay attention to the immediate pleasures of the present. My friend didn’t particularly like the idea of facing 30 and being single, so that was keeping her from facing the future at 35 or 40 having lived with this guy for that many years. But when she did take a peek into the future, her gut told her that it didn’t look good. So she was faced with making a tough decision.
Break up with her boyfriend, and accept an unpleasant present, or get engaged to him, as she suspected this was where her relationship was leading, and face an even worse future.

As emotionally uncomfortable as it is, many times the lesser of two evils is the obvious choice. But sometimes something pretty cool happens. By making a strong choice in the present, however uncomfortable, the future suddenly looks a lot brighter, giving you more resources and peace of mind in the present than you thought you had.

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Powerful Metaphysics

Powerful Metaphysics

Are You Committed?

Dumpster Diving

Once there were these two crows. They were just hanging out, minding their own business, waiting for some free food. They had recently noticed that a new set of vending machines had opened up next to the entrance to a mall, and next to the vending machines was a set of trashcans. The crows had noticed that this was a potential good source of free food, as the trashcans next to the vending machines aren’t emptied nearly as often as other trashcans.

Of course, the crows had no idea of the trash-emptying schedule, they just knew that those colorful boxes sometimes were a good place to hang out and find some decent scraps of food. So when they saw a couple of these new shiny boxes, they figured they’d better hang out and get some good stuff. Usually when crows find a source of food, the first crow to get there generally has dibs. He or she can lose their place in line, should another crow come in and challenge their dominance. If the food is plentiful, like a giant cornfield, they usually don’t worry about things like that.

But when it’s a couple of vending machines in the middle of an otherwise barren (from a crows persepctive) parking lot, then it’s important to get there and establish yourself.

Of course, this strategy can backfire. Once a couple of crows thought they were being clever, and stuck out a claim next do a single vending machine next to a bowling ally, only to discover (after about a weeks worth of closely guarding their new source) that it was only a drinking vending machine, and didn’t produce anything to eat whatsoever. So there’s a fine line between waiting to see if there really is going to be some food, and showing up too late only to find somebody has already made a claim.

Commitment is an interesting thing, even from a human perspective. Everybody wants to get the best they can, but when you make a commitment to anything, a job, a person, a route to work, you are effectively cutting of all other options. If you choose too hastily, you will probably won’t make the best choice. If you take too long to decide, then you might miss out on a lot of good choices.

If you’ve ever played any kind of contact, or semi contact sport, like hockey, basketball, football, a great skill to have is to be able to fake out your opponent, getting them to commit to a particular course of action, and then change course yourself, effectively evading them. On the flip side, being able to read your pursuer, and not be taken in by their sleights a great skill to have as well.

Much has been written from a military strategy standpoint, all the way back to Sun Tzu’s “The Art Of War” detailing many strategies of how to get your enemy to commit to a particular course of action, (chosen of course by you) so you can more easily strike and destroy them.

A classic example is the Allied invasion of Normandy. Several “fake” landing craft were sent out, in order to fool the Nazis into thinking the invasion was happening someplace, else, so they would incorrectly commit their resources, effectively leaving them open to where the actual invasion was going to take place. It was a successful plot that was instrumental (not the only one by a long shot) in the defeat of the Nazis.

Committing to a decision can sometimes have unintended effects, especially when making personal choices about how we choose to live our lives. Many times, people commit to something, thinking they will get a certain result, but when the results don’t show up, people can tend to “change” their original intent, so as not to “waste” their efforts. Even when it is obvious that aren’t going to succeed in a particular endeavor (according to your original intention) many of us plod along anyways, not willing to admit that we’ve wasted all that time and effort.

In “The Peter Principle,” Laurence J. Peter asks why people continue to put effort into something that is obviously unsuccessful. Most people will give the argument “I’ve been doing this for ten years, I’m not about to quit now.” Peter asks “why continue to do something when you have ample evidence that it doesn’t work?”

Of course, this is tough to do. As pointed out by Cialdini in “Influence, Science and Practice,” commitment and consistency is a powerful motivating force in human decision-making. We tend to do things the way we’ve always done them, so long as they haven’t killed us. This tendency has been shown time and time again in various social experiments and studies. It can be extremely tough to change course after doing the same thing day in and day out year after year.

One alternative is to take a step up on the logical ladder. You can still stay committed to the underlying intent without being committed to the actions that you initially thought you would get you to that underlying intent.

Somebody may choose to change diets, if one particular diet isn’t working out, provided that they are still committed and focused on losing weight. In NLP, it’s taught that it’s usually a good idea to have less investment in any particular method, while having a solid understanding of your underlying goals. More flexibility is always preferred when deciding how you want to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve. If whatever you thought was going to get you there isn’t working out, you can always change strategies midway, while keeping your focus on your original goals. That way you’ll never fall into the “I’ve been doing this for X years, I’m not about to change now,” trap.

So the crows decided that they’d wait three days, and if they didn’t see any good food being thrown in the garbage, they’d go someplace else. They had enlisted the help of a couple buddies, so there were six of them in all. They figured two of them would stand guard at any given time, to establish their claim. The other two would go to other food sources in the meantime.

What the crows discovered was a virtual food goldmine, although it was completely unexpected. The vending machines happened to be set up just around the corner from the big dumpsters that all the restaurants in the mall were supposed to throw their food out into. When the crows noticed how much food was being thrown out, their small group swelled in numbers immediately, and they never went hungry again.

External or Internal Motivation – Which Is Better?

Which Path Do You Take?

Once there was this pumpkin. He was a normal pumpkin, and went to a normal pumpkin school, like the rest of the kids in his neighborhood. His parents had tried to get him into one of those special schools for gifted pumpkins, but he didn’t think he passed the final entrance examination. They didn’t feel bad, neither did the pumpkin, as almost every pumpkin tries to get into one of those special schools, but very few make it. So his parents as well as he were in good company. Many parents teach their kids early on that the trying and failing is ok, so long as they try. That way, when the vast majority of the kids don’t get into the pumpkin school, they can feel proud of themselves for putting forth valiant effort.

The way the schools are set up, in case you aren’t familiar with them is that they are government run schools, and are completely paid for. There is a whole section of the pumpkin government devoted to the enrichment of its citizens. To that end they’ve created a panel of experts that teach the most cutting edge subjects. The school is a state of the art facility where most scientific and technological advances are made.

Many kids secretly don’t want to get into the advanced placement school. That would mean leaving their friends and family, as the school is located near the central government. Once they finish the school, they are required to spend no less than 5 years teaching at the school and further developing the curriculum. For a young pumpkin just entering into adolescence, this is an awfully large commitment.

Of course, the kids enjoy bragging about their scores, and comparing them to one another. Because they are completely meaningless if they aren’t accepted into the special school, the teasing and posturing of the young pumpkins is accepted as a normal part of every day school life.

Most pumpkins finish their primary education without moving on to higher levels. The pumpkin economy is sufficient to provide many well paying jobs to blue-collar pumpkin workers. Because these jobs are so plentiful, most pumpkins can easily find a way to make a living very near where they grew up.

It’s not uncommon to find neighborhoods with two and sometimes three generations of families spread throughout. Which is why the pumpkin of this particular story was overwhelmingly upset when he learned he was accepted, just barely, into the special pumpkin school. That meant ten years away from his friends and family. Five for the school itself, and five for the teaching commitment that came with it.

Of course, he knew very well that after finishing his teaching commitment, he was pretty much set for life. While many pumpkins stayed and taught at the special school after their commitment was fulfilled, it was by no means expected or even depended on. Virtually all the pumpkins that fulfilled their teaching requirements found extremely lucrative jobs in the technological fields, some even sitting on boards of directors of several large international conglomerations.

However, that didn’t appeal to our young pumpkin hero at all. He didn’t want a prestigious job in ten years. He didn’t want to start teaching at a prestigious university in five. He didn’t want to study there next fall. He wanted to stay right where he was.

He was in love.

They had begun hanging out together at lunchtime last spring. They had started sitting together at lunch, the way kids do. As time went on, they started sitting closer together, some days even exchanging a few words. Then one day, for some reason that neither of the cared about, when they showed up to their normal lunch table, it was only the two of them.

Of course they were both very nervous. But once they started talking, their nervousness was quickly replaced by the excitement of discovering new feelings and emotions that you never knew existed. Soon they started meeting when they knew it would only be just the two of them, if for only a few minutes. Sometimes they would talk about their math homework; sometimes they wouldn’t talk at all.

But now this young pumpkin had a decision to make. His acceptance letter, as a matter of law, would be reported to his school administrator. It is quite an honor for any school to have one of its students accepted to the government school of higher learning. Of course, attendance wasn’t compulsory, but no pumpkin had ever turned down such an opportunity. To attend a school, at no charge, with a virtual guarantee of economic success in only a few years. To do so would be unthinkable.

But that was just what the young pumpkin intended. The feelings he experienced when he was with his new girlfriend were far more wonderful than any ideas of economic success on the other end of a long, boring, ten-year separation from his friends and family.

But how in the world would he tell them?

One day he was moping about down at the park, when one of the elder pumpkins spotted him.

“What’s wrong?”

The young pumpkin explained everything, feeling a strange sense of relief at unloading his problems to a complete stranger. This was the first he’d told anyone of his predicament.

“That is a tough one.” Said the elder.

He paused, and the young pumpkin waited. After a deep breath, the elder turned to him and started.

“Many folks would tell you that young love is fleeting, that it doesn’t last. That you should focus on long term success, rather than short term feelings. That it is an honor and a privilege to be accepted to that school. That you have a duty to your family, to your school, to society to fulfill your destiny, as they’d say. To fulfill your talents. To use your creative gift to give to others what they may not be able to get for themselves.”

This is exactly what the young pumpkin was afraid of, and precisely what he didn’t want to hear.

The elder continued.

“Many will tell you tales of opportunities missed, of dreams that went unfulfilled. And they will tell you that if you do not take this opportunity, you will regret it for the rest of your life.”

The young pumpkin, although depressed beyond measure, was ready to accept his fate. His young mind was no match for such rhetoric from such an old and learned pumpkin.

“But here is one thing they will most assuredly not tell you. Their motives are selfish. They care not for you, but only for their own memories of their own lost opportunities. They see you on the cusp of success, and recall all of their failures. All of the times they could become great, but failed. In you they see their only chance of redemption, if only vicariously.”

The young pumpkin wasn’t sure he understood.

“It is a self perpetuating myth. An idea that isn’t true. They made a choice, and it didn’t turn out very well. So they see you, and by urging you to make the same choice and follow the same, expected path, they are hoping you will heal their wounds. Society is filled with people like that. Telling you what is right. Telling you what should be done. People seek comfort in the conformity of others. It helps them to believe that even if the choices they made didn’t bring them the happiness they expected, they are the common choices, and therefore the right choices.”

“Here is wisdom, young pumpkin. Many will tell you to make your choice based on what you want, and not what others want. But they forget to mention that that can only be done when you accept full responsibility for the outcome of your choice. And never expect others to undo what you’ve done. Ever. Ask yourself one question:

Can I live with it?”

The young pumpkin thought. Thought about ten years of doing things other people wanted him to, followed by who knows how many years doing who knows what. Could he live with that?

Then he thought of his friends, his family, his girlfriend, and the life he would likely lead should he turn down the opportunity of a lifetime.

The decision became lucidly clear. He smiled, and walked home.

The More Clearly You Define Your Destination, The Quicker You’ll Get There

Do You Know Where You Are Going?

I remember once me and a friend of mine decided to go hitchhiking. Neither of us had ever hitchhiked before, and we thought it would be fun to go camping that way. We both lived in the dorms, and our college was about fifteen miles away from the coast. Between the college and the coast were several businesses, industrial and residential areas. But on the other side, it quickly turned into pretty much nothing. A few rolling hills here and there, and small pockets of residential neighborhoods, and then desert.

Our plan was to hitch hike east until we found a place that didn’t have very many houses, and then camp out. Of course we prepared ourselves with plenty of water, food that didn’t require cooking. And beer. Lots of beer. After about three hours of hitchhiking, we finally found a suitable place to camp. Or drink until we passed out. Our only requirement was that it was relatively flat, and that it was far enough away from any houses so nobody could see our campfire and call the cops.

I took this seminar once on a weird type of speed-reading. It was called photoreading, and it taught you how to read an entire book in about 3 or 4 minutes. You slowly flipped through all the pages, and let the information soak into your brain without consciously reading it. Of course, you weren’t reading it consciously; you were reading it with your unconscious mind. Then later you could dig into your unconscious memory and pull out any required information that you needed. This was particularly useful for studying, or reading a bunch of books to do a report on something.

One of the things we needed to learn was to state a clear purpose for reading a book.

“I want to read this book to learn specific skills to improve my public speaking.”

“I want to learn specific techniques to nineteenth century Spanish architecture into my building designs.”

“I want to improve my fluency with daily use of French verbs.”

That way when you photoread the book, the elements that addressed your particular needs would stick better, and be easier to retrieve later when you needed them.

A particularly useful skill that we learned was photoreading a bunch of books on one subject, and then allow your unconscious alone to figure out how to incorporate those skills into your daily life. You never had to go back and try to “activate” some of the information if you were going to take a test or write a report. The new skills and behaviors would kind of just “show up” wherever you needed them.

There were a few people at the seminar that were repeat participants, and had used this technique with wild success. One lady photoread a bunch of books on painting techniques, as she was a beginning painter. After that her friends started commenting that her paintings were looking much better, and assumed she was taking lessons, or learning some advanced technique from some master or something.

In reality, all she was doing was photoreading a bunch of books on painting techniques, and the new techniques were just showing up in her paintings. She merely continued to paint as she felt, and the results spoke for themselves.

But before we learned how to do any of this stuff the instructor told us the importance of setting your intention before reading a book. What most people do is they read a book with only a vague hope that it can help them some way. It’s no wonder they have trouble applying what they read. They don’t really know what they were after in the first place.

He told us a funny story to emphasize this point.

There used to be this airline that was really cheap. You didn’t need reservations, and the planes always had seats available. They had several flights a day, so you could pretty much hop on a flight whenever you wanted. They were more than willing to sell you a ticket. The only problem was you never knew where they were going. The reason the tickets were so cheap was that the airplanes navigation systems were messed up. The pilots didn’t know how to program the destination. They sort of fiddled around with the buttons, and hoped they ended up somewhere decent. Sometimes they did, but other times they ended up in the middle of nowhere, and the passengers were left stranded on some frozen cornfield.

Of course, the airplane is you, and the pilot is your goals and choices. If you sort only know where you are going, with some vague hope that it will turn out ok, then maybe you’ll be ok, or maybe you’ll end up stranded on some frozen cornfield. Which we can all agree would pretty much suck.

I learned a lot from that seminar. They do have a book you can get at Amazon, called “Photoreading,” or you can get the home study course from Learning Strategies Corporation. Or you can take the whole seminar, like I did. It cost about three or four hundred bucks, but it was well worth it. Once you take it, you can take it as many times as you want after that, for free. If you Google “Photoreading,” you’ll find lots of pages to help you.

And probably the coolest thing about my hitchhiking camping trip is that after we finally got to our spot, and camped out without any problems from the cops, we started hiking back towards the highway to see if we could hitch a ride home. And this guy in limo picked us up. No joke. He had just dropped off a client, and was driving his limo back to his shop, and picked us up along the way. That was a fun trip. You never know how you’re going to end up with you start out like this.