Archive for November, 2007


Necessary Conditions

Do you know how the food you eat influences you? Do you even recognize that the food you eat influences your feelings? Your mood? Your energy?

I have paid enough attention in the past to realize that my digestion is better when it is not loaded down by red meat. With this knowledge in mind I can make a conscious decision to skip the beef or deal with the slower digestion.

The self-reflection that generated this awareness was prompted by an external source. A similar comment recently has me running another experiment around refined flours and sugars. (Eben equated the reaction to processed, white “foods” with that of a crack addict.)

A good way to sabotage any change is to rely on the power of my will in the moment. It is way too late if the Zinger snack cake is in my hand and I attempt to break the eating pattern between bites. A much more successful strategy involves removing willpower from the equation. What needs to change ahead of time to prevent the Zinger from being in my mouth?

One method is to analyze the pattern for the necessary conditions required for the behavior to occur. In this example there needs to be Zingers available and I need to be in a semi-automatic, mindless mode when some sort of prompting directs me towards food. I decided to start with the availability since I can’t fully control the stimuli that might prompt a hunger reaction. Plus, removing the automatic response of eating the Zinger allows me to stop and pay attention to what my body is telling me (do I really need food or just water, is it time for a break, etc).

Then I did the same analysis of what the necessary conditions are for Zingers being available. The obvious place to start was that I had to buy the Zingers and put them in my desk. If either of those conditions were unmet I wouldn’t be eating Zingers that day. If I were to go back one step and not put them in my desk they would still be around somewhere and I would eat them eventually. This suggests that I go back as far as possible in the process to minimize Zinger availability.

Stepping back and analyzing the point-of-purchase brings us back to another battle with willpower — which I was avoiding in the first place. The advantage of backtracking through necessary conditions is that the willpower needed at the store is much lower than what is needed when the Zinger is in my hand. I can (more or less) rationally recognize how gross I’ll feel if I eat the box of Zingers. I also have immediate access to more healthful alternates such as carrots or tangerines. Not to mention all the opportunities between picking up the box and paying during which I can become aware and put them back.

The other non-obvious trick I use is that I allow myself one concession. Today it was chocolate covered raisins. Once I had my raisins it was much easier to pass the pop-tarts and Zingers because I had filled my quota of transgressions. (The next level involves putting the concession item back just before checking out!)

So, we’ve taken the situation of mindlessly eating Zingers at my desk and traced necessary conditions back to the initial purchase where the willpower needed is minimal and the time to reflect is maximal. The other missing piece in making this change is the intent. Next we’ll look at ways to word your intentions and desires that tunes your awareness. (For when you’re driving your shopping cart past the snack aisle!)

What “automatic” reaction will you prevent today by removing a necessary condition?

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Art of the Obvious Part 1: Knowing-Doing Gap

I live my life with the assumption that we all have the resources needed to continue growing. With a little observational art these resources often become obvious, especially to others. This series is intended to make a few more of those resources obvious and available to you when you need them.

I know many things that I don’t do. I lovingly refer to this as the “knowing-doing gap”.

For instance I know how ephemeral great ideas are and that they should be captured immediately. In fact I had several great ideas for this series as I was walking this afternoon. However, I was cold and didn’t feel like digging under my coat to get a pen and paper to write them down. Besides, the ideas were so great and so obvious I had to remember them, right?

Wrong. I am sitting here trying to will those thoughts back into the forefront of my mind. I know how helpful writing things down can be, yet I didn’t do it this time. What is the difference between the times I do what I know and the times I don’t? Tomorrow I’ll show several ways I’ve turned on the doing automatically. (Hint: by the time you are thinking about what you should have done it is too late!)

What do you know that you would like to do today?

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I’ve taken a few days to “go away” and I’m coming back from a wonderful holiday with some clarity.

Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.
— Leonardo da Vinci

How often do you really stop working? (That includes thinking about work!)
How much better will your judgment be after honestly relaxing?

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Politics and Disappointment

A friend and I started discussing politics via email. I thought that I was apolitical. It turns out that I have many opinions but they are not fully formed yet. Rather than publicly refine my politics I decided to share part of my response that applies beyond the realm of politicos.

Laws exist that allow groups of people (corporations) to be treated legally as if they were individuals. This works because at some point all decisions made and actions taken by corporations occur through individuals. We do not have any autonomous robots or computer intelligences running amuck. The world is still made up of individuals who all make the “best” decisions possible with the information available to them at the time. We may argue that there are opposing definitions of “best”, but I contend that each decision is the “best” possible with the information available.

This view of the world motivates several thoughts that are directly relevant to the topic at hand. First of all, assuming that people have made the best decision possible with the information available allows us to step back from a disappointing situation and acknowledge our own role in creating that situation. We may have been negligent in providing certain information. We may be disappointed because of a difference of opinion on what is “best” in a given situation. It may even be a combination of these two, where the information we did not communicate clearly was our own expected outcome.
“Disappointment requires adequate planning.”

Next time you are less than ecstatic with an outcome take a moment and ask yourself some questions like these:

How much of the current situation is based on my reaction to the outcome rather than the outcome itself?
What other information, if communicated clearly, would have gotten a “better” outcome?
What criteria am I using to judge the outcome? How do they compare with what I have communicated (verbally and non-verbally)?
What perceptual change do I need to see/hear/feel the outcome positively?

Feel free to comment below on how your experimenting goes.

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Vocabulary Saves Lives

Independent of the power of applied knowledge this is an example of directly impacting lives while improving your vocab (or showing off). has gathered “sponsors” in the form of advertisers and while you are busy building your vocabulary you are being exposed to the sponsors. Your “eye ball tax” is being paid out in rice. I, personally, can’t think of a better way to spend my eye ball tax. If I’m going to submit myself to advertising it may as well be benefiting more than just the advertiser. Yet another great example of win-win-win.

I spent a few minutes on the site while my daughter played nearby. I cranked through about 300 words and am sitting at a Vocab Level 45 at the moment. Beware, it is addictive. (I’m intent on getting a “perfect” 50.) I really don’t know how much my 2540 grains of rice really amounts to but when you add it up everyone’s little piles there were over 192 million grains of rice donated just yesterday.

If you also want a math lesson go to their totals page and plot the daily totals. The overall trend shows the power of compound interest (and attention).
What are you doing today to better yourself and help others?

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Two Ways To Share Your Knowledge

Now, if you are thinking “I don’t have any knowledge to share!” we’ll tackle that myth soon enough. For those of you with a bit of confidence in your competence here are two possibilities for sharing your knowledge.

First, we have the traditional act of publishing presented in a non-traditional light. Elsom Eldridge Jr. and Mark Hendricks joined forces with several other experts in publishing and are offering an interesting package called Create and Publish Your Book Now. I have not yet reviewed all the materials but I have recommendations from three people that I trust and respect in addition to enjoying Eldridge’s other work. I negotiated an additional $100 discount for you but I honestly don’t know how long it will last. Click the link above and check it out if you have ever considered writing your own book.

Next, how are you at the public transfer of knowledge? Across the board “PowerPoint” has become the de facto standard when someone is giving a presentation to a group. The trouble with PowerPoint is how far it has taken electronic slides from the supplement they should be. “The Slides” have often become an end rather than a means. What happened to using technology to augment the points you are presenting?

Our newest set of videos walks you through the process of creating effective presentations by eliminating the distractions and fulfilling your actual purpose for giving a presentation. The focus is on teaching rather than selling and we even explore a number of freely available resources to start improving your presentations today.

What were you letting stand in the way of writing your book? Creating your presentation? Maybe even recording your presentation and creating a product from it?

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Does Fresco Paint Frescoes?

MJ is at it again. This time he has recruited 91 year-old artist Jacque Fresco. They have me curious how quickly teaching people to draw fits with “the simple science of getting what you want”.

Check out what is happening over at the Simpleology blog.

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Mu Day!

Wednesday was going to be Mu Day. However, the only koan-esque question that day was “what is the sound of unfinished paperwork at a deadline?”

For those who have not yet googled for “mu koan” I will quickly summarize.

“Mu” means empty or without in Japanese. The Chinese equivalent is “Wu” as in wu-chi (empty stance). The computing equivalent might be “syntax error” or more likely “runtime error”. Linguistically they are often double binds.

The way I explained it yesterday at worship was as a malformed question. You can go around and around to answer it but in the end it is wasted because the question isn’t quite right. Sometimes it is a matter of the presumptions being faulty. Sometimes it is a false dichotomy and/or neither answer is valid. When they are presented as double binds neither choice is valid but people still feel the need to choose one.

So next time someone asks “if a tree falls in a forest…” you can “mu” rather than feeling bound to “yes” or “no”.

Where do you find yourself (artificially) stuck between two choices?
(If “mu” doesn’t get you unstuck I recommend Dr Martin’s Self Help.)

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Inertia and Momentum

Quick lesson in Newtonian physics.

Inertia: A body at rest tends to stay at rest. A body in motion tends to stay in motion.
Momentum: Mass times velocity. Change in momentum per time is force.

What does this tell us about the world?

The hard parts (where we need to apply force) are starting and stopping. Oh, and steering (since velocity is a vector and my inertia “definition” is overly simplistic).

What does this tell us about life?

Choose your goals carefully (minimize steering) and apply forces that increase your momentum (maximize starting) rather than decrease it (minimize stopping). Every action you take (including “doing nothing”) is a force applied to your life. Every action either adds to your momentum in the direction of your goals or adds to your momentum in a direction away from your goals.

If this sounds familiar you’ve probably been paying attention to what MJ has to say in his (currently free) Simpleology course. This is not where I was headed when I started writing this. But it is where the physics lead me. I love being a scientist.

What actions will bring you closer to your goals?
What actions will take you farther from your goals?
(Hint: do more off the first list and fewer off the second!)

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I/O, I/O, It’s Off To Work..

While the abbreviation “I/O” is a computer thing the idea of Input and Output are a matter of our daily lives.

Input can be a bit tricky. You can almost measure input: pages read, recordings heard, videos watched. Yet somehow we lose track of all those continuous inputs that hover below our conscious awareness. Not to mention the fact that all that input is coming in through one of five channels (the senses) and being filtered by our nervous system before we ever get to evaluate it consciously.

Output is the more straight forward of the two. You can measure your output in reasonable units: pages written, papers graded, tasks completed. The only real trick to the output side is making sure it is relevant output. And of course there is the output that gets turned into input in the form of feedback.

When we put I/O in the context of learning they each play an important role. We need to carefully balance the input (reading, listening, watching) with the output (writing, speaking, executing). School settings generally do a reasonable job of balancing input and output. “Industrial” development also tends to balance I/O. There is a reason it is called R&D — research (input) and development (output) are both necessary to make forward progress.

What if you aren’t in a laboratory or a classroom? There’s the rub. It is entirely up to the individual to maintain that balance. All output and no input makes Jack a dull boy. All input and no output makes Jack useless.

Yesterday I announced my short course for improving your reading input. After today’s post I’ve been inspired to release my first output course sooner rather than later. Watch later in the week for a video course on improving your presentations.

Last “mu” teaser before the big reveal. Figure out what is wrong with this question:

Have you stopped beating your kids?

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