Sunday, July 8, 2012

Developing Will Power

In a previous post I defined success as mastering your own will, and I further state that, " I'm willing to operate under the assumption that we do have the capability for [free will].  That capability however needs to be exercised just like any other mental capacity in order to be effective."  But what does it mean to develop the will?  Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., a psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, explores this question in her research, and offers some suggestions in a talk at Google.  The video is long, but I suggest you take the time to watch it, even if it means watching it in parts.  I discuss a brief summary here and give my own insights to her talk.  Dr. McGonigal discusses research about willpower and the physiological mechanisms that regulate it.  She suggests that getting enough sleep, meditating, doing physical exercise, and having a healthy plant-based diet improves your ability to master your own will by giving you the physiological tools needed to accomplish your goals.  Further, based on research in the field, she suggests the following tools for developing willpower:
  1. Being too hard on yourself for failure of your goals will lead to further relapses.  Instead, it is better to forgive yourself and realize it is part of the process of change. 
  2. Writing a lettter from your future self to your current self gives you the ability to strengthen your willpower as your future self is no longer a stranger and can be something to strive for.
  3. Instead of focusing on success, it is more important to ask "when will I fail and what will I do about it?".  While it is importatnt to be optimistic, being naively positive will dissapoint you whereas focusing on potential failures and their solutions allows you to overcome obstacles.
  4. Surfing the urge can give you the strength to do something difficult. This is framed in the context of quitting smoking, or eating healthier.  Taking a moment to recognize an urge and letting it pass while breathing allows you to let the urge go.
Its a great talk that brings science into the realm of philosophy.  She has several books which I look forward to reading, and her work has provided a breadth of resources in scientific literature to explore.  While I do not disagree with anything Dr. McGonigal says, I have a few issues with her presentation.

Will power in this talk is often described in terms desires and behaviors used to control those desires.  This makes sense as desires and behaviors are easily measured by science, and this seems to be an arm-chair use of the term will power.  To me however, while desires are related to will power, having control of your will is much more than having the ability to limit your desires.  I do not intend to give a comprehensive definition of will power as thousands of years of philosophy have already pondered this question.  Any schmoe however can learn to control desires and behavior, but the will is much more.  The will is using your conscious mind to shape and control reality to your liking, having a proactive and directed cause-effect relationship with the world rather than a reactionary one.  Note that this isn't necessarily mutually exclusive to Dr. McGonigal's talk, but it does have a different focus.  Instead of acheiving goals and having self control, I view the will as being about grabbing the reins of reality and steering it in a positive rather than negative manner.  Trying to break through to something new, positive and influential (changing lives for the better, mastering an art, tapping into wealth), as opposed to trying to avoid something (stopping smoking, eating healthier).  I breifly discuss this in my post about desire, which is highly influenced by some of Nietzche's writing.  The distinction is important.  Kelly's description of will power is probably the most pragmatic for people to use, but it is not likely to lead to greatness.  To get to greatness, you need to truly let your soul break free and shine, and while Kelly's techniques likely won't hurt, they will not lead to will power in this sense.

So what does lead to developing the will?  I have learned to control my desires and implement discipline in my life, but these things are not demonstrative of my will's power.  They are simply self control.  I have been working on my will for years and have made progress, but still have a long way to go.  I do not have all of the answers, and I have not scoured the scientific research to come up with a list of techniques (current science cannot give this answer, though it can lead down the right path).  What I discuss here is from my personal exploration in developing will power and from my observation of the few others I know who have mastered their will. 

One thing Dr. McGonigal discusses is meditation, and this above the other items  is vital for will power, but in a different way than I think she discusses it.  I do not mean simple mindfulness and breathing exercises.  Those are good techinques, but they are not meditation itself.  I mean deep, mind-cleansing meditation that takes years of study and practice to learn.  Related techniques include developing a strong sense of self awareness and training your attention (I will write a post about attention shortly).  By being aware of the self, you know what you are doing, what state of mind and body you are in, and what you are capable of in relation to your surroundings.  Attention adds to this awareness and allows you to process the necessary information to implement your will.  Further techinques include learning as much as possible, and mastering as many skills as possible so that you have the knowledge and ability to exercise your will.  Finally, two other items I have found are important for will power are to observe and understand nature, and to understand patterns/rhythms.  Nature is everywhere, in every city street and out in the great wilderness.  Understanding how it works unleashes secrets of life that can be utilized.  It connects our busy wired-in brains to our primitive selves and our intution.  Everything abides by a pattern or rhythm and understanding how your rhythms interact with the rest of the world allows you to control that rhthym. 

This is not an extensive list and I do not have all the answers, but they are useful tools.  Developing the will is and always will be a personal journey.  Let no one hold you back on your journey to success.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Advice for your 20 year old self

A while ago, I had the opportunity for a night on the town with a group of people who have had much more experience in life than I have, both in years and in business.  After a few drinks, the conversations turned to the best way to live one's life, and every person I talked to, while generally happy, hadn't figured out the answer for themselves.  So I proceeded to ask each person what advice they would give to their 20 year old self.  Most of them interpreted this as me asking them advice for myself (I was much older than 20 at the time) and made excuses highlighting the differences between themselves and me as to why their answer would not be pertinent.  Insisting that I was talking only about them, and what advice they would give to their 20 year old selves, most people were baffled, or gave vague financial advice.  Nobody knew the answer to this question, and had nothing substantial to offer their 20 year old selves.  To their credit, we were drunk and I threw this question at them out of the blue.  This is an important question to contemplate however as it allows one to look back on the past with 20/20 vision and think about how to improve, and to pinpoint what really matters.  What advice would you give to your 20 year old self? (note this applies even if you are younger than 20).  Leave a comment below so we can read an answer that will benefit us both.

Ethical persuasion

In an interview with BJ Fogg, Ramit Sethi states that persuasion is ok as long as it is done ethically.  He proceeds to define ethical persuasion as persuasion that is done to get a person to do A, when they would have done A anyway if they had all the information and the necessary motivation.  If they had all the information and motivation and would not have done A, then it would be unethical to pursuade them to do so.  I understand the point he is making, but disagree that pursuasion is ethical in this scenario.

I think Mr. Sethi is implying that if somebody would lose weight, or try to get rich if they had the information and motivation, it would be ethical to pursuade them to do so.  But, consider the example where the person being persuaded would do something horrible, like murder, if they had all the information and the motivation to do so.  Since they don't have the information or the motivation, they do not commit the crime, and it would not be ethical to pursuade them to do so.  In fact, it would be very wrong to persuade them.  Further, there are things people may do if they had the information and motivation that would not be very good for themselves.  To give an example, one may go party all the time, getting drunk, having fun, and ignoring responsibilities.  It sounds like a good time, but it actually holds a person back to pursuade them to do so.

My biggest contention with his statement however is that it requires the persuader to make a judgement on what a person would do given a certain set of hypotheticals.  It is impossible for the persuader to know this.  It is possible to make an educated guess, and for friends and family members, it may be more appearant than for others, but to make this judgement on a complete stranger (or for someone you know) is not practical or ethical.  To say a person would do x if they knew y would require an extensive knowledge of that person's psychology, biology, and circumstances.  Even if these things were known, deduced, or induced, there is still a great amount of variability that would come into play with an individual's choice.  It's like saying, "those republicans would choose to be democrats if they had all the information and motivation, so I'm going to pursuade them."  One's personal bias will color the perception of the targeted person. 

What persuasion really is, is the ability to impart your will onto another person, and the discussion of whether persuasion is ethical should revolve around this question.  There may or may not be circumstances under which it is warranted.  Regardless, one should be aware that persuasion exists and is being used constantly to try to shape one's behavior.  Despite the ethical considerations, persuasion is an important art/science to learn if for no other reason than to recognize when it is being used against you.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

On Image

Image is important.  In fact the image that you portray directly impacts the outcome of your circumstances.  Better looking people get higher salaries and more breaks, for example.  There is a reason politicians are clean shaven and wear a suit.  Your image is used by others to make a snap judgement about you, whether you like it or not.  First impressions are lasting impressions and they are made within a matter of seconds. 

While everybody has an image, and some consciously maintain it, few inspect where their image comes from.  The image we portray is often automatic, but for this reason it is even more important to understand its origin. 

Our personal images that we portray come from emotional ties to our experiences.  When we see somebody portraying an image that we identify with, we adopt that image, or at least parts of it.  The business person wears a suit, the construction worker wears dirty jeans, and the moms drive minivans and wear mom jeans.  We take on the image we identify with, not because there is something inherent in being a mom that requires you wear mom jeans, or that businessmen can't conduct their business in a t-shirt, but because as individuals we strive to emulate that which identify with and that which we desire.  Our images then begin to shape our identities.  It is "monkey see, monkey do" on a grand scale.  Even those who feel they are fashionable, unique, and creative in their image are striving to attain an idealized version of what they want to be.  Our image does not come from within, but from what we are conditioned to believe is an appropriate image for what we want to be.

Why is it that we choose to let our image shape our identity, when we could be choosing to have our identity define our image?  Why do we not create from the inside our identities first, and then work on the image we want to portray rather than the image we think we should portray?  This requires shaping your identity outside of business suits and mom jeans, and outside of material things for that matter.  Its all a costume anyway, why not make it yours?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Using Intuition

As a philosopher, I trust rationality.  Making logical decisions is a necessary step to living a successful life, and rationality is an important tool for achieving your goals.  As much as I trust and promote logic as a necessary and useful tool, I declare that intuition is more important. 

Intuition is more important because the human is an amazing machine with incredible capabilities.  While we can think through a problem logically, we often miss key premises, or use faulty logic, but our intuition quickly analyzes the situation and already has the answers we seek.  It is a guiding force that has been developed and perfected through milennia of evolution to allow us to process the complex patterns of life before our consciousness even becomes fully aware of them.  A well-developed intuition is never wrong.  This is a key point which I will address later.

While modern science cannot yet point to the area of the brain responsible for intution, I can tell you it is different from the area used in conscious thought and rationality.  It uses a more basic, primitve part of the brain which is why it is associated more with a 'feeling' than a linguistic reasoning.  It is something innate in every human, that has a close connection to the essence of the way things are.  Its your connection to God, or Nature, or the Great Equation, if you will.  It does not matter what you call it, but your intuition has the answers and it knows what to do.  And it is right.  Using intuition comes with the benefit of complete confidence.

The problem is, that we also have an aspect of ourselves that competes with our intutition.  It is our consciousness, our language, and our fears that continually work to repsectively challenge, silence, and change our intuition's message.  These are the checks and balances of our human system.  While consiousness, language, and fears play an important role in our lives, they interfere with our abilities to utilize the full potential of our intuition.  This is why it is so important to practice utilizing intuition, exercising this capacity until it is well developed and one is familiar enough with it to get the right message out of it. 

Everybody has had the experience of listening to their intutition.  Think of the scenario when something just didn't feel right, so you avoided it to find out there would have been a personal disaster.  Or the scenario when you decided to jump in and 'go for it anyway' beating the odds to be successful.  One's intuition is more often ignored however, and often to one's peril.  There have beens everal examples I could share where the little subconscious voice in my head told me to do, or not do something, but ignoring the warning signs, I continued anyway, leading to a difficult situation. 

The most recent personal experience I've had with intuition was when I was driving in a new neighborhood, and I did not know the speed limit.  Mindlessly driving along, I had the thought out of the blue that I should immediately slow down, and hitting the brakes I dropped my speed by 15 mph.  Not a block later, there was a police officer with a radar gun hidden around the corner checking for speeders.  As the next speed limit sign came up, realized that my reduction in speed put me only at 3 mph over the limit instead of 18, thus avoiding a ticket.  My intuition led me to the right action.

This is a small example, but if you think back to your life, I'm sure you can identify many examples.  But the key to developing your intuition and using it effectively, is to constantly be in tune with it rather than only listen to it in the few moments it screams at you (as in the speeding example above).  It has much to give you if you listen.  There are many exercises which can work toward this, but ultimately, it involves remaining relaxed, self-aware, and having the will-power to lucidly control your actions rather than spontaneously react to life.  Let your intuition be a guiding force in your life.  Using intuition as your guiding force will quickly lead you to your success as it is always right.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Great Negotiator

Travelling to other countries, it quickly becomes appearant that nearly everything is negotiable.  This concept is foreign to many Americans as we pay "sticker price" for most items without thinking about it.  Sure, there are times where negotiation comes into play, but by and large it is not part of our culture.  Travel to China or India however, and its a completely different story, where you negotiate for nearly everything from food, to merchandise, to cab fare, and more.  While the skills of constant negotation are intricate take time to develop, one rule prevails over all others:  You have to be willing to walk away in order to get what you want.

The key to getting what you want is successfully negotiating in the ultimate game of life.  If you want to be rich, you have to negotiate with Life the terms on which to acheive that.  If you want to live on a beach on a tropical island, you have to negotiate with Life the terms on which to acheive that.  If you want to travel the world, you have to negotiate with Life the terms on which to acheive that.  If you want to live in a cabin in the woods, you have to negotiate with Life the terms on which to acheive that.

And while the skills of constant negotation are intricate and take time to master, one rule prevails over all others:  You have to be willing to walk away in order to get what you want.  Let me elaborate.

Many people are stuck in their lives, not knowing how to achieve their dreams, desires, and ambitions.  In their mental scripts there are a million reasons why it won't work, and few if any reasons why it will work.  That is a poor position from which to negotiate your own terms.  The reason one cannot successfully negotiate is because they are not willing to walk away from what they have in order to achieve it.  Perhaps you have the (false) security of a 9-5 job, or you have a decent house.  Perhaps you are poor, but get by just fine.  Perhaps you run a small business, and can make ends meet, but haven't been able to expand to the next level.  These things are all great, but often hold us back because we are not willing to walk away from them.  We are not willing to walk away toward something greater, and we are not willing to walk away risking losing it all.  But if you want to be successful you must be willing.  And in your journey toward success at some point you will be willing to walk away.

Note that I say willing to walk away.  Its not always the case that you will have to, but if you don't put that as an option, you have no levarage in your negotiations with Life.  You will be willing to walk away when moment comes because it will lead to your success in the adventure you pursue. You will get the best deal from life only when you learn to negotiate with the Great Negotiator.  Getting what you want out of life requires you to choose a direction and negotiate until you reach your destination getting the best deal you can along the way.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


It is beneficial to have a direction in which to go.  It does not matter what that direction is, but it is important to choose one and start going that way.  You may be side-tracked, lost, or turned around in the process.  No matter.  It is important to go anyway.  By standing still, you fade away and lose the great experience of Life.  Pick a direction and start your journey.  Take action to acheive what is in your heart and what you feel in the essence of your being.  Become yourself.  The advancement you will bring to your life, and to the world will change you for the better.  This is a garauntee.  However, if you stand still you will get nothing.  Begin your journey in the direction that you have chosen and become yourself. 

This is a direction in which only you can travel, and it will be slow-going, bringing almost imperceptable gains, but in time you will see that you have begun to master your life.  It does not matter the direction as you will find the way during your travels, but you must pick a direction and start going.  Take today to start travelling in the direction of your choice.  Be your own master.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


A lesson I have learned in my practice of Ba Gua is to learn balance through imbalance.  I have recently been reflecting on this lesson and it has reminded me of the ying-yang symbol.  The ying-yang symbol is very ancient and developed according to the observed principle of balance.  Everything ultimately results in balance.  Combined with the notion of constant change, you begin to see that there are ups and downs to everything.  The circular shape of the ying yang represents the flowing change, and the black white dimensions show the contrast between dominant energies.    The circle of the opposite  color within each domain shows that everything has a tinge of its opposite within it.  This simple symbol becomes quite complex when analyzed over time and takes on an almost divine meaning.  But how does one use this meaning in daily life? 

I recently wrote about sustainability, and the ying-yang symbol represents the balance I touched on in that post.  Not just in the environment, but in everything.  For every excess, there is poverty, for every euphoria, there is depression, for every good day, there is a bad day.  These are the trials and tribulations of our life.  Unfortunately, we’ve been conditioned to believe in imbalance.  We want constant excess, euphoria, and everlasting good days.  Instead of appreciating and embracing the balance of things, we fight it at all costs.  But its important to realize that in order to understand excess, one must experience poverty.  In order to understand happiness, one must experience sadness, and in order to appreciate a good day, one must have experienced a bad day.  The opposites give meaning to eachother.  While its important to experience the imbalance of excess in order to understand balance, it is detrimental to continually seek imbalance.  Work on bringing balance into your life.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Tale of a Preacher

A man walked into the woods to get relief from the relentless sun.  As he walked he noticed the life around him and had a moment of enlightenment as the spirit of the woods imparted to him a message of the way life is meant to be.  As he continued walking, he came upon a path leading up a mountain and decided to climb to the top.  Looking out over the valley after his long journey to the top, he noticed that the sun was nearly setting and the world was nearly quiet.  He himself could not be quiet however, as the message imparted on him by the woods had been turning in his head for the entire climb, and he knew that he had discovered a sacred secret about life.  On the mountain top he realized he was alone, with no one but himself and the mountain with which to speak.  He decided however that his newfound message was too valuable to keep to himself and proceeded to speak the meaning of life he learned from the woods as he understood it.  As he finished speaking this divine secret, he made a deep etching capturing the essence of his words on a giant stone next to where he was sitting, and the sun fell behind the horizon just as he finished, leading to a quiet stillness in the valley and in himself.  He realized the world had just been changed by his words, by his message, even if only in the smallest sense.  He slept a long deep dreamless sleep and when he awoke, the valley had also been awakened, buzzing and humming its own message in return.  The man quickly descended the mountain, and exited the wood, to breathe the fresh sun-drenched air.  He had only his message to give henceforth, and understood the little miracle that he spoke changed the world everywhere he went.  He understood the importance of his impact as his message was imparted to others so that they, after a long journey of their own, could speak it as they understood it.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Desire to Understand Life

A curious mind is constantly exploring the world with the desire to know Life, and to understand Life.  It is only when you can understand life that you can make rational decisions with conscious control over your behavior.  Let me give you an example. 

You might spend the evening behind a tv or computer screen, but you will benefit if you stand up and try this exercise.  With your palm on one hand facing down in front of you and all your fingers together pointing in a forward direction, try to draw a perfect circle in the air.  Now try to draw that same exact circle perfectly at half speed.

If this is your first time trying this, your first circle was probably fairly decent, and you did it at a moderately fast speed that you are naturally comfortable with.  The second circle you drew was not nearly a perfect circle, and it was hard to control your speed to go so slowly.  This demonstrates that you do not have very much physical control of your body.  It can be learned however by drawing the slow circle many times until you can go even slower. 

If your mind does not have good control over your body, how can it have good control of your will.  This too can be practiced by resting the mind.  So, take a deep breathe to relax, and try the exercise above with the circles, because you will develop both your physical precison, and your mental willpower.

 You have just explored an aspect of life that helps you to understand Life.  Doing these types of activities (and 1000's of other similar activities) you begin to understand Life.  While you may never get to a true enlightenment, you make constant progress to getting closer to Life's meaning.  Approaching this understaning of Life, you begin to think clearly and can make more rational decisions while exercising your will.

There are those who don't want to understand life.  They are content to not know, and do not want to explore to get further answers or enlightenment.    It is simple enough to be led by the physical pleasures in life.  It is much more of an accomplishment to explore beyond the physical pleasures, and to be led by your sheer will.  So how do you get control of your own will?

Really this is a path that only you can go down, as the answer is different for everybody.  You need to explore life and figure that part out.  I can't tell you how to control your own will, but I can give you suggestions for things that have worked for me to understand life:

  • Put yourself in an uncomfortable position and relax in it everyday.  I mean this both physically through stretching or lifting or doing some difficult exercise, and I also mean this in the other context of taking actions to expand your mental awareness.  Go somewhere you don't know the language, talk to a stranger, give somebody $100 out of the blue, go skydiving, etc.  
  • Observe how nature works.  Nature is a complex entity, much more complex than our most advanced technology, and it works incredibly efficiently and resilliantly.  Go somewhere you can find a relatively undisturbed natural place and sit quietly while observing the interactions.  The longer you stay the better, whether its sitting quietly for an hour or for 3 days.  Observe how nature works and adopt its patterns into your life.
  • Do opposites to acheive balance.  If you just lifted somehting heavy, lift somehting light.  If you were just angry, practice being calm.  If you've been calm all day, work on getting excited about something.  If you've been working for 70 hours, take a vacation. 

These are just a few of the exercises you can do, and the list is virtually limitless.  Be creative with your time as you only live once.  Please share a comment with the things that you do in your life to explore Life, because it can only lead to enlightenment.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Meaning of Sustainability

The term 'sustainable' is lightly tossed around in conversations about the environment, food, energy, and even the economy, to demonstrate that we as a civilization are in trouble if we continue on our current trajectory.  It has become a buzz word that triggers euphoria in hippies and nausea in conservatives.  From my personal experience, I have approached the word with great concern and interest, especially when presented with compelling data, but have grown callous to it with over exposure.  This has triggered me to reflect on the true meaning of the word, and how it relates to the way we live our lives.

Without consulting a dictionary, I would define something as sustainable if it can be continued indefinitely.  A sustainable system is one in which the inputs feed the outputs and the outputs feed the inputs, leading to a closed cycle which is balanced.  I have seen this imagery in the form of an ouroborus, and Aristotle described the universe as the mythical snake eating its own tail and constantly regenerating.  If we care about self preservation, it is worth caring about whether we are living sustainably, that is in a way in which we can preserve our collective quality of life or improve it indefinitely. 

It became clear with the economic collapse, that our system was not sustainable, and it needed a large boost to stay afloat.  Its questionable if that boost has put it on track to be sustainable from this point on or if it was merely a band aid on a much larger wound.  Looking at the world economy would lead one to believe it was just a band aid.  And if our economy is not sustainable, it is not likely that other parts of our lives are sustainable either.  We're running out of things.  Quickly.  While I could write a list of things that we can never get back, its better said that we are running out of the ability to continue doing what we are doing.

I'm not here to argue about conserving fossil fuels, or conserving water, or conserving soil, or conserving the environment.  I think those are all important things, but they don't really matter.  They don't matter because we are currently not living sustainably and this means that we either change our ways or we perish.  What matters is that we, as a species, as a civilization are able to continue to thrive.  And this ability is currently being threatened by our current lifestyles. 

I'm not here to argue about the right way to live your life, or that you should bike more often than drive, or that you should eat local organic foods because I do not have the answers, and I'm not sure our best actions could solve the current system of unsustainability.  It is estimated that the world can only support 1-2 billion people, and I'm not eager to see how that goes down.  But I do find it believable that life has value and it is important to preserve our world, our quality of lives for our children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and neighbors if we value our existence and the ability for civilization to thrive.   It seems people want to take everything they can before its all gone and leave nothing for the future (either for themselves or the next generations).  We are destroying instead of building, consuming instead generating. 

 Nature will correct itself as it always has and always will.  This means we can begin to live sustainably either by choice through consciously changing our ways, or by force through an unstable environment, government, and economy.  I do not fear continuing on the current path because I know it cannot happen as it is by definition not sustainable.  Sustainable is the only thing that can persevere and is the natural order of things.  The only question is what will the future to get to sustainability look like and how do we make it the least painful?  Make your changes now so you won't be forced to do so later.  Cleaning up the mess begins with the individual cleaning up his or her own life.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Goal Setting

I recently read the following post about goal setting, and according to the information in this article, only 3% of the population sets goals and only one percent write them down:  The article goes on to describe why it is important to teach kids to set and write down goals.  While I think the intent of the writer is a positive one, I'm not sure I entirely agree.

Goals have value, and can help you to achieve some things by giving focus and direction.  Writing them down (and putting them somewhere you will see it every day) serves as a commitment and a reminder of your ambition.  But I also have several problems with goals. 

In pursuit of every goal, there are obstacles that one will encounter and overcome.  Occasionally these obstacles will cause you to change goals/plans because as they say, "that's the way the cracker crumbles".  So if a goal is going to change and evolve, what is the point of having the goal in the first place?  Wouldn't it be more valuable to be able to roll with the punches?  And if you choose to continue to pursue a goal despite insurmountable obstacles or a change in your needs/development, then it would appear that you would pursuing them with a blind fanatical conviction that is out of touch with reality.  This does not seem to be healthy or productive.

Pursuit of one's goals also prevents one from living in the moment and enjoying what life is offering everyday, every moment.  Instead of living for the future, it would be beneficial to live consciously and presently finding success in the way that you choose your day to unfold.   

Further, if one still chooses to live life according to goals, setting them is not enough.  One must know how to structure the goals so that they are attainable and reasonble.  The goals must be worthy of accomplishing as well, and not just shaping one's fancies.  And in reality a goal is meaningless if one does not have the will to follow through on the goal.  And so many of us lack any meaningful willpower.

Despite my problems with goals, I think they do have some merit and can be a useful tool.  Whether one chooses to live life according to goals or not, it is still informative to understand goal development and utilization.  There is a difference between choosing not to set goals because you do not think it is the best life strategy and failing to set goals or take any actions because you have not thought about the matter.  I applaud the writer of introducing the subject to kids, but I think the emphasis on the importance of goals is overblown.  I have used goals in the past, and I will likely use them in the future, but it is more important for me to set my direction based on principles and conscious living, than the pursuit of my desires which change frequently as I mature and develop.

Do you use goals?  How do you use them, and if so what are they?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Infinite Value and Freedom

In a recent conversation with a friend, we agreed that life has inherent value.  That is something I can agree with.  There are entire industries dedicated to determining what that value is and balancing risk accordingly.  The problem with these industries however is that they are currently incapable of calculating the infinite value that life has.  Life does have infinite value to you.  Is there any amount of money for which you would give your life?  The answer is no. 

Until you live your life to reflect this infinite value, you are not free, and you will not be fulfilled.  Despite the infinite value of our time, we choose to squander away precious moments every day by placing a finite value on our time.  We continue to live our lives for finite income, letting somebody else dictate what our time is worth.  Further we tend to squander away precious moments "vegging out", or mindlessly relaxing instead of being conscious and engaged. 

So the question quickly becomes, how does one live life to reflect infinite value?  How does one attain freedom?  I have many answers to complex questions, but I have not yet been able to answer this one.  The only ideas I have come up with have been to become filthy rich, thereby virtually having infinite value, or by becoming filthy poor, thereby taking complete control of your time.  Both are equally difficult to achieve, and I look forward to any comments that could contribute to the answer.

It seems a thrid possibility, rejecting the current system of values entirely and constructing it anew, holds promise as a solution, but I do not know what that would look like.  I look forward to your thoughts on the matter in the comments.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Life of Truth

Picture a life in which you lived truthfully.  What does it look like?  Does it sound like something appealing?  The value of living truthfully isn't in some righteous virtue, but by fully engaging in the Truth, you will journey down the correct path in Life.  This correct path will lead to the fulfillment you are missing.

So what does it look like to live a truthful life, and why is it appealing?  On the surface, living truthfully means your language reflects true statements and that you do not lie.  Not even white lies.  How many times in a day do you typically lie?  While you can probably count a few, there are numerous times that you lie without even realizing it.  According to the research people self report lying between 1-9 times per day varying by gender with men telling more lies than women.  But most of this research is done by self report, and is likely not accurate.  Further, there are many instances of lying that happen automatically and people often lie to themselves.  Even if people were honest in their self-report these instances would go unnoticed.  And while lying is a prevalent part of everyone's day, imagine how your life would be different if you told the truth in complete confidence.  Instead of lying to get your way, tell the truth with no shame to get your way.  The results are quite surprising, and you will be surprised to see how your life changes for the better.

And beyond telling the Truth, try living the truth.  That is bring your actions to coincide with both what you are saying, and that which is truly right.  This is what truthful living is all about.  While it sounds simple, it is incredibly difficult and takes a tremendous amount of will power.  It means not succumbing to the tempation of telling lies, even the white ones.  It means accepting responsibility and being held accountable; completely, 100%.  But it also means never having to be ashamed, or afraid, or confused.  It also means always being correct.  And you can't go wrong if you're always correct.

Instead of lying to yourself, take action to accomplish what you really want and what is good for you, what is Truthful.  It might mean quitting your job to pursue your passion or a worthy cause.  It might mean giving up unhealthy food to eat that which will satisfy your body rather than your pleasures.  Acting according to the truth can mean making some difficult decisions, but that is why the path of Truth is such a powerful journey.  It can only take you to greatness.

Now dedicate yourself to living a life of Truth.

Note:  Inspired by Ghandi's Autobiography

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Routine vs Adventure

Humans are creatures of habit.  This is demonstrated in our daily routines, which for the typical American consists of something along the lines of: wake up, get ready for work, commute to work, work, commute home, extra cirricular, dinner, bed.  There is obviously room for variation, and the specifics about where one works and spends freetime differ, but some form of this routine describes the daily life of most people.  This is safe and comfortable, but it doesn't really bring fulfillment into one's life. 

Think about the times in life where you really felt alive, and ask yourself if those times have been during your routine, or if it was at times when your routine was broken.  The late night adventures with friends, travels to foreign places, coming across a lot of money; these are things people dream of, but rarely experience when caught in routine.  It takes adventure to be exceptional and live an exceptional life.  Why can't every day bring the types of Adventure that make you feel alive?

Its true that Adventure may find you during your routine by chance, but more often than not, Adventure requires you to find it. If you do, it is willing to give you what you seek, but you must make the effort to find it yourself.  Wouldn't you rather experience life to its fullest everyday than live a mote life of routine?  Don't you owe it to yourself to achieve the greatest you can in life?  What will you achieve by adventure compared to that which you would during routine? 

Its time to shape your life so that you feel alive, for it is only the exceptional life that is worth living.  Do something everyday that excites or scares you.  Take risks.  Push yourself to the boundaries and live your life as if it were an epic adventure.  Give up your short term safety and comfort to find the true meaning of life.  This is the stuff legends are made of.  Make the leap to challenge yourself to live an exceptional life.  Climb the mountain and scream from the top of your lungs that you have conquered it, and you will stand above the common man.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Power of Mental Scripts

Our minds are continually using language  to report our beliefs of the way the world is to ourselves.  By taking control of this language, you can harness the power of mental scripts.  You are probably aware of several of these mental scripts as they make their way from your subconscious to your daily conversations, but there are many more scripts that are running through your head that you may not be aware of but still have a profound affect on your life.  The more a script is repeated, the more it is believed to be reality, and the more your body manifests itself according to that script.  For example, the person who has the mental script of "I'm really funny", has that meme running through his head throughout the day either consciously or subconsciously.  Because he or she believes they are funny, they act in a way to manifest that belief by telling jokes and laughing frequently, thereby becoming someone who is funny.  This belief and mental script may even make its way into the individuals daily conversation in the way of a story starting with, "I did the funniest thing today...".  This concept holds true for nearly every aspect of your life.  It is important to understand what your personal mental scripts are and make sure that they are what you want them to be. 

The common ones are likely easy to identify and come up in daily conversations with those close to you.  For example the mental script, "I'm doing well" is a common theme that usually holds true unless you reply with something like, "I'm feeling under the weather".  While there are many positive scripts there are many negative ones as well.  It is important to identify the negative scripts and modify them to achieve a positive outcome.  Some common negative daily scripts include, "I'm fat", "I hate my job", "I hate X political party", "I wish I were rich", "I like fast food (I'm lovin' it)", etc.  By having these mental scripts or ones similar, they manifest themselves in reality.  Instead of thinking to yourself, "I'm fat"(even if you are), It would be better to think, "I have weight to lose, and I'm on my way to losing it", or "I enjoy eating vegetables more than sugar".  By changing the script to something positive, your belief changes and your body begins to manifest its new belief.  While the common scripts are typically easy to identify by looking at what complaints come up in conversation, there are many more scripts which are buried deeper and harder to identify.  For example, people often hold themselves back unnecesarily with scripts like "I don't deserve to be rich", or "I'm not a people person".   By digging deep with some self reflection, one can dredge up hidden mental scripts that are holding you back and change them to positive ones which will lead to real benefits. 

It is also important to understand where your mental scripts come from and begin to regulate those influences on your beliefs.  Advertising is a very powerful force to building mental scripts.  McDonald's, as I alluded to previously, has the theme, "I'm loving it".  When you hear this over and over while staring at a cheeseburger, you begin to believe this to be the case as your mental script changes and accepts it as fact.  Eliminating advertising to prevent this is an option, though incredibly difficult in today's world, but you could also work on changing the script that is being thrown at you.  For example, you could develop a script that "I do not trust McDonald's", or "McDonald's is unhealthy and distastful" thereby effectively blocking their influence on your mental scripts.  Advertising isn't the only source of mental scripts however.  Politicians, coworkers, friends, family, church, etc. all play a role in building your mental scripts and they have been since your birth.  Once you begin to limit the influences of others on your scripts you can then begin to create your own scripts.  Creating your own scripts free of the influence of others is incredibly difficult to do, but by doing so you will open doors to creating a life a freedom and greatness.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Thing About Desire

Desire is a powerful motivator, but it is important that you are aware of how your desires are established.  Desires can  be derived from either that which you dislike or that which you like.  Negative or positive emotions.  Most desires are derived from that which you do not like.  We go to work because we do not want to be poor, we buy a house because we are afraid of being homeless, we buy the newest iPhone because we do not like social rejection, we want taxes to end because we don't like our money taken from us, and we eat food because we are afraid of being hungry.  The list continues and the examples of desire derived from positive emotions are difficult to come by.  While most of these examples can be framed in a positive manner (I eat food because I like to be full) the underlying motivation for the desire and the behavior is a response to that which we do not like.  It is a rare individual who can create a desire from sheer will of that which they want to achieve.  To base your desires on that which you like sets you apart from the masses which base their desires on that which they do not like.  It is the ability to create based on foresight and will that creates nobility.  It is the noble who change the world and find fulfillment in their lives.  It is the noble who have direction and purpose.  It is the noble who master their will and transcend fear  to achieve greatness.

Take this moment to examine where your desires come from, and eliminate the desires that come from negative emotions because by transforming your goals into that which you truly will to happen, allows you to achieve the greatness that sits dormant inside of you.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Systems of Greed

I frequently have political discussions with my friends.  Several years ago, I was discussing the economy with two of my friends, and also which systems of government work best.  After stating they were in favor of improving the economy at all costs, and giving theories about how best to do that, they proclaimed their reasoning boiled down to, "Because I'm greedy".  The bluntness of this statement shocked me a little bit.  It came across as a raw truth about their motivation, and while I wasn't necessarily surprised at the proclamation, I was shocked at the corrosiveness of the statement.  Several years have past since that conversation, and I am only reminded of it because of video I recently came across.  The video is Milton Friedman discussing how greed is the basis of Capitalism, and how this is a good thing.  You can see the video here:

In short, his argument is that Greed is human nature.  Any system not run on greed has not been successful.  Capitalism is run on greed and it has been the most sucessful of all economic systems.   All political systems have run on greed.  Therefore greed is good and so is Capitalism.

He is a good talker with an enchanting rhythm, strong presence, and uses alot of loaded rhetoric to get his point across, however his argument is flawed on several points.

While greed is a PART of human nature, it is not the essence of human nature.  Humans are also happy, sad, angry, kind, compassionate, excitable, jealous, prideful, loving, charitable, etc.  To base an economic system on greed because it reflects human nature is flawed because human nature is much more complex than a single emotion.  While I conceed that greed has its place in life, it is flawed to say that it is the basis of human nature.  If we are to build an economic system to reflect human nature, we must also build in the other aspects which represent how mankind functions.  This would be a very complex system, much more so than the current one.  A start to remedy the current situation would be to acknowledge our system is built on greed and try to incorporate another emotion.  It would be wise to include greed's opposite, namely compassion, as it would lend a balance to a lopsided system.  While such a system does not yet exist, it does not mean a transition cannot begin.

A system built solely on greed is  imbalanced as it does not take into account the other complex emotions inherent in human nature.  An imbalanced system will self destruct as the number of people who lose out in that system grows exponentially.  Friedman points out that all other economic systems have failed and uses this to support Capitalism.  He also states that all other systems are built on greed.  I would argue that capitalism is no better, it just hasn't been around long enough to fail.  What we've witnessed over the last few years demonstrates this.  Friedman might argue, "Who is going to build a system based on anything other than greed"?  He has a point.  When greed is so prevalently rewarded as it is in the current system it is hard to achieve any other standard.  When the system falls apart however, there is no other option but to reconstruct under different principles.  As humans we should strive to do this before the system malfunctions to a point where it forces us to do so.  The change needs to come from the bottom up to reward acts that are beneficial everyone's state of being rather than those acts that are beneficial only to the individual.  I support building an economic system that reflects human nature just as Friedman does, but I disagree that humans are mearly greedy scoundrels.  Lets begin to act according to the virtues that we all agree will bring humanity to a better future.