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If we wish to change the person we find ourselves to be, we must change our thinking.

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PRACTICING CONTRADICTIONS

March 21st, 2020

 

 

Seneca once wrote that “Only the wise man is content with what is his.  All foolishness suffers the burden of dissatisfaction with itself.”

 

And yet he was a very accomplished statesman, philosopher, orator and he was wealthy.  You’d think someone who wrote a line like the one above would be a humble monk with nearly nothing.

 

George Bernard Shaw once wrote “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

 

 

Taking the ideas of these two thinkers hand in hand would have us reason that all progress depends on the fool who is unwisely dissatisfied with what he has.

 

Both thinkers have good points, but they don’t seem to align.  It’s easy to read each and find ourselves nodding in agreement.  But there’s clear dissonance. 

 

How do we make sense of that?

 

People have a funny sense when it comes to continuity, especially continuity of character.  It’s inherent to the large majority of us to try and remain stable in who we are, even if that continuity is only really evident to our perspective.  This is the reason why social accountability works.  One way to get yourself to stick to a new and difficult habit is to tell everyone you know that you’re doing it.  Then there’s social pressure to remain consistent with your word. 

 

This continuity is, ironically, not entirely consistent.  We are quite literally riddled with contradictions, from which we operate.

 

There’s a phrase that comes to mind in order to solve this paradox of inconsistent continuity:

 

There’s a time and a place.

 

John Steinbeck once wrote:  “When two people meet, each one is changed by the other so you’ve got two new people.”

 

The same applies to situations.  When you put a person in a new situation, you get a new person.  And the key to understanding the incongruence between the ideas we began with is to realize that there’s a time and a place for each.

 

It’s good to be a little foolish and suppose you can make progress, by being unreasonable, and pushing the world to change in line with what you imagine.

 

But it’s also good to practice the ability of being content with what you have.  They are not mutually exclusive, each is a tool depending on the moment.  If we find ourselves in a situation where we really are powerless, then calling up a well-oiled practice of being content with what one has is immensely useful.  In fact it primes a person to act affectively when the situation finally does change, when the gates once again open and the race is back on.

Continuity of character portrays a concept of human behavior that is too simplistic.  Yes, it’s incredibly important to have continuity of truth and honesty, especially in relationships.  Again, that is the time and place for an incredible adherence to continuity of character.  But it is provincial to push one’s entire way of being through this processor.

 

You don’t drive around in just first gear, you have to switch gears depending on the circumstance, and sometimes, you have to throw it into high gear.  This does not mean we abandon first gear forever. 

 

Adaptation is a matter of being able to switch gears to fit the circumstance, and sometimes that means running on a gear that allows you to change the circumstance.

 

 

 


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Podcast Ep. 706: Practicing Contradictions

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HOW TO START WRITING

March 20th, 2020

 

This episode is dedicated to Devon who asked about how to start a writing practice.  You can connect with Devon on Twitter with the handle @raidevon

 

 

A writing practice is a bit like a meditation practice.  Sitting down to practice everyday yields a lot of unexpected good, and over time, this good may compound in other unexpected ways.

 

But where to start?

 

This is often the most difficult question when it comes to just about anything.  The advice to just start is quite a bit better than the old faithful advertisement to just do it.

 

Starting involves a much smaller step than the whole.  Just do it refers to the entire task.

 

So how does a person just start when it comes to writing?

 

There are a few basic parameters that were adopted when Tinkered Thinking was just getting started that have turned out to be incredibly effective, and as per some initial experiments with others, these parameters prove to be useful for the person who feels like a beginner.

 

First is to set a time limit.  Say just 20 minutes a day.

 

The reasons for this are three fold.

 

When faced with a blank screen and a desire to write, it’s easy to sit there all day imagining the perfect piece of writing while the screen remains completely blank.  Setting a time limit is a forcing function to get started.  It’s not 20 minutes from the moment you start writing.  It’s 20 minutes from the moment you sit down to write.  Which means any time spent staring at the blank page is eating into your valuable 20 minutes.  The small pressure this situation creates is extremely useful, and perhaps the most useful thing that will be suggested here. 

 

The second reason why this time limit is so useful is because it forces you to try and write something mildly cohesive during that time.  After enough time, writing becomes like anything else, enjoyable.  Once you’re on a roll, you can find yourself writing for hours.  This time limit also functions as a way to manage the new practice inside of your existing schedule.  You don’t have to allot an unknown amount of time.  The constraint helps a writer get a sense of arc.  By repeating this exercise day after day, then a writer practices beginnings, build ups, and conclusions, over and over.  As opposed to working on one thing and editing it to death.  Or simply letting the piece of writing metastasize to an enormous and ungainly size. 

 

The third reason is that this practice creates a cannon of work in relatively short time.  After attempting to write something cohesive 7 times in a week, you suddenly have 7 pieces of writing from which you can choose from if you wanted to expand and hone one of them.  Do this practice for a month, and then not only have you practiced beginnings, build ups and conclusions 30 times, but again you have quite a sizable library of mirco-writings to choose from if you so wish to tinker with expanding and polishing a piece of writing. 

 

In addition to this parameter of limited time, there is also the question of topic.

 

That is, what to write about.

 

The working rule of thumb here is that essays are far more useful than diary entries.  Keeping a journal has a history of being touted as a practice for good mental health, but attempting to write micro essays might prove to have an edge on diary entries as more and more people explore the practice of writing.  As for what these micro-essays should be about, curiosity is key.  And curiosity can be a response to confusion.  So this also makes confusion a guiding light.  One daily activity where these two often pop up is while taking a shower.  It’s one of the few times during our day when our mind is left to wander, and it’s a particularly ripe time when topics for writing emerge.  Where diary entries tend to be more of a record of action and feeling, micro essays go in the other direction.  They are exploratory.

 

Indeed, the strange thing about writing is that even though our alphabet has been around for quite a while, and we’ve been slapping words together in all sorts of ways for much of that time, the world of writing might just be getting started.  Giant libraries seem to broadcast the idea that everything has been written.  What’s there to add?  But this is the wrong perspective.  It’s the wrong question.  A better one is: can writing clarify my thinking and help me understand the way I see the world?  The answer is yes.  This leads to a final point about how to start writing.

 

The written word has an implicit assumption that it exists to be read.  But this is not true.  Writing for an audience, or even feeling like you are writing for an audience creates a self consciousness that often hinders far more than it helps.

 

Tinkered Thinking was started merely with the intention to write.  The content found it’s way onto the internet by accident more than anything, and then slowly it has gained a much loved audience.  But even after that process of growth, the initial reason to write remains intact.  It is a method for examining and analyzing the way we think.  This begins to trot into the territory of why we should write.  This final point is simply to highlight the benefits of intentionally not showing one’s writing.  There is freedom without an audience, and when starting a new practice like this, it’s best to keep the pressure off.  Once the practice and habit has it’s own momentum, then who cares who reads it and what they think.  By that time, you’re practice can’t be stopped, only improved, and that’s exactly how the opinions of others become useful.  Even those who hate what you produce.  With enough momentum, everything in your way can become fuel for the practice.

 

 

 


Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

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Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 705: How to Start Writing

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Tinkered Thinking


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EMOTIONAL REGULATION PART IV - LEARNING

March 19th, 2020

 

This episode is dedicated to someone from Twitter with the handle @leptonscosmos who showed some curiosity about this topic.  This episode is part of a casual on going series by Tinkered Thinking.  For Parts I, II & III of Emotional Regulation check out Episodes 591597 & 641.

 

Everyone says they love to learn.  But how much truth is there to this statement?  Do we all spend every free moment learning?  Absolutely not.  We have Netflix and twitter, and ice cream to attend to.

 

We all say we love to learn because we’re universally confident that learning is generally good for you.  Not only does it give you brain a jog, but learning a new skill gives you more agency in the world, agency which can potentially be leveraged further to generate more agency.

 

After all, a lack of agency is one of the strongest predictors of stress and decay of mental health.

 

In effect, we all love the idea of learning.  But the experience is another story.

 

The default state of learning, when a person’s brain is struggling to acquire some skill or understand some concept is

 

confusion.

 

Once you understand the concept, the learning is over.  Unless, of course, you’ve learned it incorrectly and you have to wait for reality to slap you in the face when you try to put that concept into practice. 

 

Then the process starts over again.

 

There’s confusion. 

 

Wait, I thought that would work? 

 

Confusion is a destabilizing experience.  Like fear, it’s one of the ways that we touch the unknown and interact with the world in an uncertain way.  And fear is also one of the ways we can react to confusion.

 

See confusion isn’t an emotion.  It’s a state of circumstance.  Etymology is helpful here.  The word ‘confusion’ comes from Latin, meaning ‘mingle together’.

 

Two or more pieces of the puzzle are mingling together in our mind and we’ve yet to see how they fit or fuse together.

 

How they fit together doesn’t matter nearly as much as our emotional reaction to the state of being confused.  If we become anxious and insecure, we grow fearful, and how much good are these emotions going to be for our chances of figuring something out?  Chances are they aren’t going to help. 

 

Anxiety and fear are the result of a cocktail of glucocorticoids flooding our system.  These steroid hormones put us into a ‘fight or flight mode’.  They are priming our system for a physical ordeal, and as a result, areas like our prefrontal cortex are getting a little less love in terms of use.  In essence our ability to think creatively and rationally is impeded when we feel fear and anxiety.

 

But this is how many people often feel when confronted with a new subject they are trying to learn.  Confusion inspires thoughts like: 

 

Maybe I’m not smart enough to understand this?

 

What if I never figure it out?

 

And from here, it’s a slippery slope to a slew of negative ways of categorizing yourself.

 

Compare that experience to another that most all of us have had:  that instance when you are totally engrossed in a topic, and while confusion still weaves through the situation, our reaction to it is curiosity.  The inability to see the connection between mingling parts feels more like a mystery or a fun riddle that we can tease apart, and we end up learning much faster as a result.  It’s no wonder, considering our brain is functioning without the flood of glucocorticoids that often act like a poison to clear and curious thinking.

 

We’ve had both of these reactions to confusion, but clearly, we’re only interested in one, which brings up the question: can we choose how we react to confusion? And, if we find our anxiety spiking, our sense of insecurity rising, is there anyway to stop this trend and dive into that other, more fluid form of learning?

 

The answer is yes, and the explanation is simple.

 

There is one important distinction that separates these two reactions to confusion:

 

One is internal, the other is external.

 

Fear, anxiety, and insecurity – in this context – these are all derived from an internal focus.  They are a result of thinking about one’s self.  It’s the ‘I’ in Maybe I’m not so smart… what if I never figure it out..  These negative emotions are ultimately the result of focusing on the wrong thing.

 

Whereas with clear and fluid curiosity, where is one’s attention?  It is external.  Our attention is focused on all the little parts of the puzzle, rearranging them either actually or in imagination in order to try to solve the little riddles that bind them.  Our attention is inverted in this case.

 

The distinction here leads to a simple rule of thumb for emotional regulation, particularly with learning.

 

If you find yourself overwhelmed, anxious and doubting yourself, then it’s a sign you’re not actually focusing on the things you are trying to learn.  What you can do is just pick one small tiny aspect of the topic you are looking into, and just try to understand it in it’s most basic form.  If that doesn’t work, zoom in even more and try to understand a smaller part.  Eventually you are going to make a strike against confusion, chip off a piece of the puzzle and claim it as your own.  And once you’ve done that, you’re on a roll.

 

Learning is primarily this emotional experience.  Our brains are all quite adaptable.  They change themselves based on what we experience and what we focus on.  But of course this process can be hindered by feelings of inadequacy and thoughts of stupidity.  But these feelings can be thwarted, tripped up, and ultimately down regulated.

 

That last ingredient is time.  Often it just takes time and focus so that all the parts can mingle long enough so that eventually they start linking up, and things begin to click.


Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

or
Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 704: Emotional Regulation Part IV - Learning

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Tinkered Thinking


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If you appreciate the work of Tinkered Thinking, please consider lending support. This platform can only continue and flourish with the support of readers and listeners like you.

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Appreciation can be more than a feeling. Toss something in the jar if you find your thinking delightfully tinkered.




DANCING WITH MISFORTUNE

March 18th, 2020

 

Many people suddenly have a lot of free time today.  For many, this means loss of jobs, and financial insecurity, it means businesses with blood and sweat in their foundations might not make it.  It means a lot of people are bewildered and blindsided, and the shock of the emerging situation will echo for a few days.  All of these situations are nonetheless better than fighting to breathe while you watch a distressed doctor struggle over the decision of whether you should get the life-saving ventilator or if the suffering person next to you should.

 

For once, the sacrifice of average people, together, are saving lives.

 

But on top of this, the horrible and bizarre situation is rife with opportunity.  And this is not meant in the way of opportunism.  There really is some beautiful opportunity with this free time.

 

Novels will be written.  Apps will be built. Relationships will be strengthened.  Great habits will be formed.  Businesses will be started.  Long dreamt projects will finally begin to emerge in the real world.

 

Nothing is more valuable than free time, and many of us have just been handed a boatload of it.  Once the shock wears off and we gain our bearings with the emerging solutions of our individual financial situations, we will have the opportunity to pause, to reconsider priorities in the absence of many of them and wonder:

 

what should I do?

 

This alone is a gift that many people don’t get, sometimes for decades on end. Suddenly it has been forced into your life.

 

In years to come, many people will think back on this moment in history and be thankful it happened because of the invisible opportunity it became, the seed of time that grew into a tree of productivity and fruited with prosperity.

 

Sure, clean the house to help with your stress.  Buy some more toilet paper if it’s really going to make your day, but after all that settles, and you finally have the luxury to get a little bored, ask yourself:

 

what should I do?

 

The answer becomes your life.


Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

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Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 703: Dancing with Misfortune

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Tinkered Thinking


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Appreciation can be more than a feeling. Toss something in the jar if you find your thinking delightfully tinkered.




BETTER SAFE

March 17th, 2020

 

How long does an instance of being safe last? 

 

Put it side by side with something more familiar:  how long do regrets last?

 

Both have the same answer: forever.  The difference of course is that we remember the regret, the stupid mistake, the embarrassing faux pas.  But when we exercise a little safety and some risk never comes to pass?  We never remember this.  There’s nothing to remember.  And so it can seem as though the preparation and the cautionary action was for nothing. 

 

It’s a strange set of circumstances to undertake an effort with the explicit purpose of making sure nothing happens.  But this is often what safety is when successful.  A whole lot for nothing.  it can easily seem reasonable that doing nothing will get nothing, and tempt us to let things play out.

 

We have a hard time keeping in mind what’s not right in front of us.  Especially things that are invisible in some way or simply never exist because our whole aim was to live life without the accident, the tragedy.

 

Successful safety is all about the imagination.  It’s a matter of accurately and precisely imagining a world that you explicitly aim to make sure never materializes.

 

It’s the goal of keeping fiction as fiction.

 

But that’s the thing: without an effort to try and imagine the worst, we also cease to imagine a way to avoid it.

 

Better safe than sorry, and in this case, that requires an imagination dosed with pessimism.

 

 


Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

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Podcast Ep. 702: Better Safe

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Tinkered Thinking


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If you appreciate the work of Tinkered Thinking, please consider lending support. This platform can only continue and flourish with the support of readers and listeners like you.

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Appreciation can be more than a feeling. Toss something in the jar if you find your thinking delightfully tinkered.