Friday, July 30, 2010

Being Dynamic In A Dynamic World

There's a lot of bad information and bad advice circulating out there. The problem with bad advice is that it presents itself in the form of good advice by containing a kernel of truth. Its akin to a wolf in sheep's clothing that taught himself how to to say "BAA-AHH-AHH!"

Ever hear the phrase "don't be someone you're not?" Well what I'm about to talk about is really going to fly in the face of "don't be someone you're not." So here we go.

When we say "don't be someone your not," what are we talking about? Identity. Okay, so what is identity? Who are we, right? Well, we are our thoughts, beliefs, values, and actions. All of these come together to form a self perception of what kind of person we are. So essentially what we are saying is don't be someone that doesn't hold the same beliefs and values as you and don't do something that other person would do. But there is an inherent assumption in this, and that assumption is that beliefs and values do not change.

Usually when we see someone acting different and "being someone they're not," it's because some or all of the above factors have changed. What they used to believe they found doesn't hold up all the time or what they valued isn't really what they were after in the first place. These changes in beliefs and values lead to different actions, which in turn, completes the shift of identity.

But what about the creepy people acting all weird and stuff?! They're trying too hard, it just doesn't go, the shoe doesn't fit, or somethings just off. What we are perceiving is a lack of congruence. Essentially, we are seeing a divide in what they are thinking and what they are doing. Its like if someone is gritting their teeth, yelling, and turning red in the face, our social senses tell us they're angry. But what if someone lightly puts their hands on their hips, scowls in disappoint at you and then says, "Oooo I am soooo angry at you?" Incongruity, between what they're saying and what they really are thinking tells us they aren't really that angry.

Okay, now lets get back to those weirdos acting all strange and stuff, so what is this lack of congruence caused from? Why is there a divide between what they're saying and what they're doing? It all boils down to one concept: reference experiences. Case in point, lets take a guy who's very successful with women. Where does the road to his success in the sack start? It starts the very first time he has a crush on a girl, probably around elementary school. This innocent little crush at a very young age will set precedent for the rest of his pubescent years (and possibly longer in some cases!), because if the little girl returns the affection, it will boost his ego and solidify his identity as a young Giacomo Casanova. If he is rejected, he will remember the crushing blow for years to come. Either way the ego registers an experience to reference back to when placed in similar situations in the future.

Fast forward to his next pre-pubescent crush, what is going to happen here? Well if he was successful the first time he'll probably be thinking "well Suzy liked me, so she'll probably too, because I'm the shiz-nit and I got it goin' on!" On the flip side if he was unsuccessful, he will may very well be thinking "I dunno, Suzy turned me down, she's probably too, why would she like YOU? I can't do anything right" Then when he displays his affection, he does something incongruent because there's a divide between what he's saying and what he's thinking. In turn, Suzy thinks he's weird and blows him off.

The interesting thing about this is that it doesn't really matter what happens as a result of the first crush, or the second, or any for that matter. What matters is how it is perceived by the ego and integrated into our identity. The most fundamental law about the ego is that it always wants to be right, even when its wrong. It doesn't care that you can't get a date, it doesn't care that you can't go to the high school prom, and it certainly doesn't care that you are now a forty year old virgin. What it does care about is this: "Hey, at least I was right about being a loser! I always knew it! You can't say I was wrong!"

Is this any way to go through life? Being slaves of our egos? The problem with the ego is this: its static, doesn't wanna change. Comfortable. All Set. Its A-Okay! The mind is a resource-conserving machine and will do anything possible to be efficient and resourceful. Changing neural synapses is a burden and takes effort and energy. The ego is the mind's way of providing resistance towards environmental influence (which can be a good thing!). If every time someone told you something, you believed'd probably be dead in a week. The ego is what protects us and solidifies our identity and ultimately enables us to operate with confidence.

What we must do then is to work around the ego, and the way to do that is with logic. As stubborn as the ego is, its rational. Its a slow process but essentially if we can find things that rattle our beliefs and values, we can create enough cognitive dissonance to influence a change. Remember how the ego is always right? Well its also pattern-finding and likes to assume things. So if we give it reasons why a belief isn't necessarily true, it will take those logical reasons as to why that belief doesn't work and form a new belief that takes into account the new information.

Case in point, lets say you have a personal belief that all Chinese people are short. Okay, well we could say well how short is short? Shorter than who? Than me? I'm pretty tall though. Have I really not met any Chinese people taller than me? What about Yao Ming? He's tall.

So our ego has just received a barrage of contradictory information that flies in the face of what it initially perceived to be reality. It will now make a new belief along the lines of "Okay, Okay, GENERALLY Chinese people are of shorter stature. However, exceptions and genetics play a huge factor in addition to cultural origin." It has taken our old belief plus the new information and created a new all encompassing belief.

So getting back to our little discussion on "don't be someone your not," all we are essentially saying is "don't be dynamic, don't adapt, don't change." But as with all bad advice, there is always a kernel of truth that makes it believable, and that kernel of truth is that you shouldn't be someone that is of different ethical or moral standards than you perceive yourself to be. Case in point, if you consider yourself to be a honest and good person, being a con artist would not be a wise career decision. This is because there is a divide between the ethical standards of a good and honest person and con artist. You can't be an honest con artist and be successful.

What it comes down to is this: don't be afraid to be dynamic and fluid, the only thing constant in life is change and yes, that includes you! Just remember that the mind and body come with complicated software, and sometimes it takes a little bit of time to make a totally congruent change.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

ROT: Return on Tomatoes

I eat dinner every Sunday with my family, usually my parents, sister, her husband, and my girlfriend. At the beginning of every summer my parents always planted a small garden. Ever since I was a kid, they'd be in the backyard tilling the soil, planting seeds and just getting plain old dirty.

This past Sunday, I walked around the house to check out how the garden was coming along and was surprised by what I saw. Of course, I saw the zucchini, fresh peppers, lettuce, and some other lil' knick knacks in there, but what really caught my eye were the tomatoes. There were tons of them, some riper than others of course, but it was the shear number of them that made me really see them in a different light.

I couldn't help but think of how novel the idea of a garden is. You spend some time doing a little research on how to garden, then spend some time planting, getting dirty and tired in the sun. And once you're done, you're not done. You gotta water...and wait....and water...and wait...until something starts to grow.

But when you finally see the pay off it, you learn something. Something just clicks. About how doing something today and letting it grow for tomorrow really ends up working out. This can apply to your career, relationships, finances, and even your hopes and dreams. Gardening...I mean its a really novel idea, and the pay off is astounding in two ways. First because if you've never tasted a fresh homegrown tomato you haven't lived, and second, because of the pride you must get from knowing that "I...created...this."

How similar to life gardening is, especially investing. We put away money, not knowing how it'll ripen or what it will truly yield. During the interim watering periods nothing seems to happen. During dry spells some stocks shriveling and dying...others coming close, all the while we're sweating, and watering, and sweating, and watering!

Yet there's one thing that a garden can teach you about stocks, and its that all the tomatoes don't ripen at the same time. Some turn red before others, so while you're picking today's salad or sandwich topping there are still others that are there for tomorrow.

Just concentrate on the ones that are turning ripe today, and leave the unripe ones for another day.

So maybe its time to ask you: how's your garden coming along?