Thursday, November 01, 2012

Expertise Trajectory Matters

In the blog on Creating Passionate Users, I found a great article entitled How to be an expert, that introduced this graphic:
This graphic really says a lot about the nature of expertise and the type of dedication and pushing needed to get through the continual hurdles that come up while trying to improve.
In my personal life, I have a lot of hobbies, and I can understand what it's like to get to the amateur level and then move on.  One of my biggest hobbies is around dancing, particularly related to salsa.  Like in any hobby that people have invested a lot, there's a a desire to discuss it all the time, and an opportunity to really learn about what makes us as human beings tick.
Seeing this image helped me break-through an aspect of dance that has long been confusing to me.  While I'm not an expert at dance myself, I still consider myself on an upward trajectory, always pushing myself to improve and grow in at least some aspect of being a dancer.  And part of it is to always push myself in different ways that I have pushed myself before.  For instance, as I push myself a lot harder to understand the music, I encounter very frustrating gaps in my knowledge, and at this time, I'm training my ear for pitch detection so that I'm better able to understand the harmonies of the music.  It's something that is extremely challenging for me and extremely slow going. But, I digress…
Here's the bit that I've always found confusing in myself:  I often prefer to dance with enthusiastic beginners over plateaued amateurs.    In the graph below the red (1) marks the enthusiastic beginners, and the blue (2) marks the plateaued amateurs.
Even though the beginners are much less experienced and skillful dancers than the plateaued amateurs, meaning that I cannot do as fancy stuff with them, I'm more inspired to dance with them than I am to dance with people above the suck threshold who are not focused on improvement.  Looking at this graph, I think that I simply prefer to dance with people who are trending upwards, no matter what level they're at.  It's the slope of their ability over time that I appreciate more than the current level of their ability.
Here's the things that make a dance fun for me:
  1. FRESHNESS - The dance is new and fresh and exhilarating in some way.
  2. FUN FACTOR - My partner is smiling, playful, and having a good time.
  3. GROWTH - I'm able to grow in an area where I'm currently trying to grow, without me feeling too judged or incompetent.
  4. CONNECTION - My partner and I are able to connect to each other and the music.
I think that the upward trajectory of my partner helps keep the dance fresh, makes them more likely to have fun, helps me grow over time along with the same dancer… or inspires me in new ways that I can grow, and likely to increase the connection over time.  There's a deep truth to humanity that we're more attuned to relative changes than absolute values, and this is another example of that idea.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Practicing Self Approval

"Wanting approval is the biggest check you will ever write." - Lawrence Crane

As a child, my father once told me to stop caring what other people think of me.  He told me that as I grow up, and become more confident in myself, I won't care how others feel about me.  The message is that if I don't care what others think of me, they'll stop judging me and have less control over my feelings.  If I let other kids' teasing hurt me, then they can hurt me, and kids who needed to feel that kind of power through psychological bullying would see that it works and use it to increase their own sense of self worth.  Though, if I had confidence in my own decisions and choices, and could realize that a lot of the judgments from others is just that, a play for power, a way to get control, likely due to lower self esteem in the others.

Truly confident people don't need to judge or bully others.  When they fully accept themselves, they neither need to grant or deny approval, nor do they seek it in others.  One of the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz is to not take anything personally.  Everything that someone likes or dislikes, approves or rejects, is a reflection of the values and emotions of that person, and that person alone.  It has nothing to do with the specific value or quality of that which is being judged.  Not taking anything personally, is trusting in yourself through judgment, and neither being proud of compliments, nor ashamed of insults.  Any statements or actions of others is just more information about the other person and nothing about the subject that they're judging.

It's hard, though.  There's a drive in many of us to want to be liked, and often to want to be liked and approved of by a specific person, specific people, or society in general.  And some people have been either formally or informally annointed as discerning critics.  Some people are great at being judges that others take seriously, their word becoming the basis for group opinion or group judgment.  To some extent, this is valuable to many as helping to determine fitness and what others will like.  However, in arts it often leads to the creation of diluted "mainstream" or "derivative" artifacts.  In people, it leads people into feeling low self esteem, "selling out", or lording their opinions over others.   Some of these comments illuminate a lesson: what we often find most appealing are the things that are most internally honest.

The great irony is, the more that people pander to be liked by others, the less authentic they become, and inevitably the less liked.  Seeking approval from others is really unattractive to the people giving the approval.  It creates a relationship of power.  People admire great personal integrity in others.  Having integrity means that one's beliefs and behaviors integrate thoroughly. Start Whole.

Lawrence Crane delivered an important message in a little book, that I find can be summarized in it's title Love Yourself and Let the Other Person Have It Your Way, and a key line  "Wanting approval is the biggest check you will ever write."   Giving others the power to approve or reject who you are is giving up your ability to make your own decisions, think your own thoughts, and feel your own feelings.   That's completely surrendering your personal freedom at the most fundamental levels.   To give myself approval, I constantly need to seek if there's anything in myself that I disapprove of, and accept it.  Over and over, I seek to accept every last bit of who I am.  Personal acceptance is an important part of my path to integrity, compassion, and happiness.

Since awareness leads to growth, I  track two related points daily on my daytender account:  Took nothing personally and Loved me.  I give myself a 1-10 rating on both of these.  Reflecting on these values is what helps, and the rating is interesting to watch over time, and in coordination with other counters and events of my life.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Right Effort That's Right for Me

Lately, I've been taking the time to appreciate what I have and wher e I am in life.  I've certainly had a charmed life, being born to two wonderful, loving, and stable parents who raised me morally and with a great education.  I never wanted for anything.  I'm certainly in the very top percentile in terms of starting out with opportunity.  The question to keep posing to myself is if I'm making the "right" use of it.  The challenge comes in definitely what "right" is for me and then acting on it.

Much of finding this definition of "right" and the opportunity to act on it passes passively, meaning that we did not explicitly decide to eliminate certain options, they were eliminated due to our own inaction.  I remember the first time realizing that a door was closed to me.  Sitting in a high school art class, watching the Winter Olympics, it occurred to me that several of the medalists were younger than I was, and had started as children.  Anyway, it never occurred to me until that moment that winning all sports in the Olympics wasn't an option to me.  I still figured that I could do anything.  Though now, my body already had ruts and I had already missed out on years of important training needed to prepare me for such high level success.  It's when Virgil's idea "Optima dies, prima fugit." (the best days are the first to flee) occurred to me long before I knew the words.

Over the years, many other opportunities passively passed me by, and that's ok as I've learned to let go of ambition and see more to be "of use".  In Buddha Is As Buddha Does by the Lama Surya Das, he relates a quote by a forest monk from Thailand, "In Asia, the class sequence of the teachings and practice is first generosity, then morality, and then meditation…. But here in the United States, the sequence seems to be meditation first, then morality, and after some time, as a kind of appendix, there is some teaching about generosity."  This strikes me as huge, since I spend more time focusing on meditation and mindfulness, than on anything else.  In some ways, this is highly self-serving, though I always convince myself that I need to bring my best self to any situation, and that I have a long way to go in the realm of mindfulness.  This year, I aim intentionally to change my focus from self-service to world service. 

Though given all of the ways of possibly serving, I need to discover the right way to do that for me.  There are more charities in the world than I have pennies to my name, and trying to spread the pennies evenly wouldn't do any good.  Value comes when I can focus my resources--time, money, energy--into the things that really matter to me, while striving to ensure that all of my acts are wholesome. 

Somewhere in my life I heard or read the concept that men are typically generous toward loved ones, family, friends, and people that they know, while women tend to be more generous to the world at large.  I cannot recall the source of this, nor do I have evidence to back it up, though I feel that for me, it is certainly easier for me to be generous with those whom I know.  Perhaps that it is focus that I've passively "chosen".  More now, I aim to spread my attention outward. 

Nearly 2 years ago, I focused on Why I Blog and identified goals of sharing, a primary one being not resting until others are free of suffering, as in the Bodhisattva vow.  My way is in helping others be more mindful.   Recently, I've teamed up with others who share this goal, we call ourselves Stark Raving Bits, to create daytender, a web site for helping to cultivate mindfulness in others.   

Friday, June 04, 2010

Appreciating Sadness

In The Mastery of Love don Miguel Ruiz writes "Everything is made by Love, by Life. Even fear is a reflection of love...." This gave me pause while feeling true. I put the book down to happily reflect on this novel piece of wisdom. I'm so used to seeing fear as the enemy of a loving relationship, an enemy of loving myself. But, it's true. It's originally the body's mechanism for protecting the organism from danger. It fuels the flight response. It is just that the human mind tends to accrus a lot of baggage and react with fear unnecessarily. The same holds for anger, it is also an expression of love, a protective response.
What about sadness? What is the biological advantage of sadness? As honed as our bodies are, sadness evolved for a reason, and in a search for the answer, a few different ideas came up.
Sadness/depression lead to great art. Joni Mitchell calls sadness "the sand that makes the pearl." Psychologist James Hillman observes: "Depression opens the door to beauty of some kind." Over recorded history, many of the commonly considered greatest artists were quite depressed, many attempted or committed suicide. One theory is that sadness is the inspiration for art. I've personally found that if I'm a little down, I can turn to creating art as a pick-me-up. The act of making art puts me in a state of flow (a la Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi) or helps me be in the present moment, the now. Many folks in happiness theory talk about how being in the now is the truest way to find happiness, so perhaps sadness encourages people to seek out flow activities.
Melancholia is part of the whole mental health picture. Some experts, including Jung, concluded that melancholia is essential to mental health. More on this topic can be found in Eric G. Wilson's book Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy. The theory here is that the psyche needs a full complement of emotions in order to be complete. To me this feels a bit taoist, recalling to mind Lao-Tzu's line from the Tao Te Ching that I've seen translated as: "Misery is but the shadow of happiness / Happiness is but the cloak of misery." The two are needfully balanced sides of the same coin. It also points to the idea that happiness may be relative and the full cycle, including sadness is also needed.

Sadness is a focusing tool. This is the most convincing argument that I've seen. "... depression is nature’s way of telling you that you’ve got complex social problems that the mind is intent on solving." From Scientific American's "Depression's Evolutionary Roots". This theory essentially sets up this chain: Sadness results from social problems. Social problems are dangerous to primates and village societies, our evolutionary roots, because if you don't fit into the group, you don't get protection, food, shelter, status, and reproductive power within your society. Essentially, you don't survive in harsh conditions. Sadness, in turn, releases a chemical in the brain that blocks the 5HT1A receptor which binds to seratonin. A few other effects concur with this, including tendency for creative rumination, increased ability to focus, decreases in sex drive, thirst, hunger, and pain-sensitivity. So, essentially, it provides the brain with creativity and focus that it needs for problem solving while reducing the drives for distractions, allowing the brain to figure it's way out of the social mess as fast as possible.
For the past several months, I've kept this in mind and have been able to appreciate all of my emotions a bit more, seeing them for the beneficial sides that they have. When I find myself a little sadness, I can treat this as a cue to examine my state, determine the cause of my sadness at a social level, and see if I can harness my increased focus and creativity to do my best and most creative work and to solve the problem that I am facing.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Haiku #12 - Sakura's Lament

Glory to cherries!
Their beauty heralds Spring time.
Then, obscurity.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Haiku #11 - In Lieu of Crying

Thanks to the mother
Of the farmer of the cow
Whose milk I just spilled.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haiku #10 - High-Hanging Fruit

Many beasts compete,
Snatching at low-hanging fruit.
Others learn to fly.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Haiku #9 - Hara Hachi Bu

Greedy serpent gags
Gorging enormous carcass.
Merry Christmas!

-- Yes, I broke the 5 syllable rule in the last line, but it adds such a punch, doesn't it? ;)

--Hara hachi bu
is the Okinawan dietary principle of only eating until the stomach is 80% full. I have found a lot of benefit in using this principle to moderate a lot of the pleasures in my life.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Haiku #8 - Just Write!

Letter from a friend
Want to reply just right. Wait...
Too precious! Just write!

--This haiku was inspired while playing email catch-up during the holiday lull. Sometimes I take the longest to reply to the mails that I'm most excited about.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Haiku #7 - Waving Her Red Flags

Waving her red flags
Arousing an adventure
Gripping life tightly.