It’s Time For a Change…

It’s time for a change.

I’ve been writing here for a while about things that I think are interesting. Common misconceptions. Ways to improve your life. While I do want to write books about those things eventually, it’s not on my immediate agenda. Right now it’s time to get back into Stephenson’s world and see what’s been going on since I left.

So what does that mean?

It means that I’m going to start sharing a little of the research that I’m doing for the next book. It’s truly amazing how fast the world is changing.

DIY science is beginning to make a comeback. Garages and makerspaces across the country are breaking new ground in robotics and bio-hacking. Google trends is allowing even amateur social scientists to reveal the behaviors humanity’s been hiding behind closed doors for centuries. The emergence of the Raspberry Pi has enabled tiny, inexpensive, computing to become portable. 3D printing is getting continuously cheaper and more practical for quickly creating anything you can dream up. Digital publishing and print on demand have leveled the playing field for anyone wanting to make a living with words. YouTube, along with inexpensive video editing and animation tools mean anyone with an internet connection can create their own TV series. The list goes on and on.

This is where Stephenson’s lives. A world where schools and rules and limitations hardly exist for a kid with a creative mind and the courage to take action.

See that’s what the books have always been about. I’ve always believed that we sell kids short.

We send them through standard curriculua that’ve changed very little in the last two hundred years. We assume they can’t or won’t want to learn things on their own, that they must be forced into classrooms. Instead of allowing them to explore and try and fail and learn things in their own way, we funnel everyone into the same tired paths.

We make the pool of knowledge shallow and broad. when we should let life teach them the gaps in their knowledge and give them the tools to fill them when they’re found.

We inhibit their independence far into their adolescence. We give them the impression that a paper route, or mowing yards or babysitting or an allowance for doing chores are their only means of money before they turn sixteen.

I think we are doing them a disservice. I think we are crushing the creativity and independence out of them.

If I get this right, my stories will inspire the next generation to be different. To push against the status quo. To build their own curriculum and do their best learning outside of the classroom. To begin building businesses around their ideas  from an early age and make college and employers unnecessary.

Book three is already in the works, and I’m liking the way it’s shaping up. It’s going to be titled Exiled and will be ready to go by the end of summer. Book four is waiting in the wings and right now I think it’s going to be called Founder, but I’m not quite settled on that yet.

That’s all for today, now it’s time for me to get to work.

 

Why “Knowing Thyself” Isn’t as Easy as it Seems

Socrates urged his students to seek to understand themselves before delving into deeper subjects. Unfortunately, that is a lot easier than it sounds.

Did you know that you really don’t know what you look like? Seriously. The you that you know and love (or hate) is a very personal image. The only person who see it is you.

Most of us only ever see reflections of ourselves. Here’s the weird part, everyone else sees that image in reverse. In fact, when we do see ourselves the way everyone else does, we tend to not like it very much.  We’re just not familiar enough with our non-mirrored image to be comfortable with it.

This point was driven home for me recently in the Zoom room sessions with my work groups in the altMBA. It was all live video chats, with my image was included in the display. I kept wondering why I looked so terrible. I seemed to have a perpetually grumpy face, and when I smiled, my mouth twisted the wrong way. I hated it. My eyes seemed uneven and I felt like I resembled Sloth from The Goonies.

Then I noticed in the settings that the mirror function was turned off.  As soon as I toggled it back on, all was suddenly right with the world.

Ok, so why am I talking about this? I’m glad you asked!

This perspective shift is a really great metaphor for the blind spots that exist in our interactions with others in our lives. We like to think that we have a meticulously cultivated image of ourselves, but there’s a good chance that what others see doesn’t quite match up. That’s right, when we are posing and posturing in the mirror, it’s completely meaningless, because that’s not what other see.

Here are a few extensions of this thinking that I like to keep in mind to keep me grounded.

You’re Not as Bad as You Think You Are

Impostor syndrome is something I’ve wrestled with and have personally seen a lot of high performing people suffer from. In the throes of doubt, it’s almost comforting to know that others don’t see me the same way I see myself.

Our self-image is really just another reflection. It’s the sum total of all of the bad things we know about ourselves. But you know what? Everyone else only has little pieces of that information. They only know what they’ve seen and heard, and even those are colored by interpretations.

In short, ninety percent of the people you interact with really know very little about you. That means that all of the things the little voices in your head tell you to undermine your confidence are probably wrong. It’s important to keep this in mind when you begin to have doubts.

You’re Not As Good Either

All of the things I just said go both ways. No one else has a complete picture of all of the good things about you either. That means they lack the context that makes you feel good about yourself. When that happens it can get really confusing really fast. Sometimes it is hard to comprehend how your intentions could be misconstrued so horribly.

When you run into this situation it’s a good idea to stop and consider the situation. What does your audience not know that would help them understand? What is the basis for your argument? What experiences can you relate that will make things clear?

Usually these misunderstandings are easily resolved

Time Passes Outside of Our Perception

In all of our minds, the time gaps between encounters with one another are mostly invisible. Our brains assume we are picking right up with the last conversation we had months or years ago, that neither the person nor the situation has changed. It has to be that way. Without any new information to go on, there is no other option.

The reality is different. Both people in the conversation have lived every one of those invisible days. It’s very likely they’ve been changed by them. It’s also unlikely that either will ever hear the full story of those experiences.

So what does all of this mean?

That you shouldn’t be quite so surprised when disconnects occur. That it’s a good idea to spend some time catching up before diving directly into an issue. Idle smalltalk isn’t enough. The discussion should be centered around the issue at hand. You don’t have to go deep here. You’re just looking for major shifts. Revisit the “why” of the problem. Check for relevancy. Look for unintended consequences.

After ten minutes  or so of this, feel free to dive in.

Wrapping Things Up

It’s hard being us. Not only do we live in a world of people we struggle to understand, but as we just seen, there are many things that we don’t even know bout ourselves. This was a bit of a mind-bending post to write, and I’m not even sure if it ended up being very useful. Still its subject is something that I think a lot about and if you have any questions or additional thoughts, I’d love to hear them.Just leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

There is no spoon… Why You Are Only As Old As You Act

I get told fairly often that I need to start taking it easier. That I need to write larger, or make the font size bigger on my laptop. That my eyes are going to go soon.

Friends and family hint that I’m too old to be practicing jujitsu, or parkour, or running obstacle races because when you start getting to my age you don’t heal as fast. You’re more fragile.

I hear other people talking about how their memory isn’t what it used to be, and that they just can’t stay up late and get up early like they did when they were young. That they can’t exercise because of their bad back or that their grip strength is failing.

I think it’s all crap.

There are plenty of examples out there of older people who live incredible, fulfilling lives and do things that would be impossible for people far younger. There is the 96 year old sprinter who is still setting records and the 87 year old German gymnast who can still rock the parallel bars.  Just a quick YouTube search also turned up this 93 year old yoga instructor, and this 80 year old athlete who I’m not sure I could keep up with.

Some of you might be trying to explain away their strength and mobility by saying they hit the genetic jackpot, but I disagree. If you listen closely to their stories there is one thing they all have in common.

They’ve never stopped moving. They’re continuing to push themselves every day of their lives.

Yes, it’s true that you’re at a disadvantage as you age. From a biological standpoint you have become irrelevant. So sure, if you give up, If you slow down and spend more time lounging in comfort, a downhill slide isn’t all that far in your future. But is the simple fact that you are aging the cause?

I think the answer is a resounding NO!

Let me illustrate with a little example. If you spend the day digging postholes for a new fence, unless you have  good pair of gloves, you’ll end up with blisters. But if you spend a few months digging postholes your hands will toughen. You will have calluses so thick that you won’t ever need gloves again.

Why does this happen? The cells of our bodies are continually dying and being replaced. This happens at different rates for different types of cells. Bones and connective tissue are slow, muscle and skin is pretty fast. But lets get back to those blisters.

When the blisters pop and the skin begins to regrow, it will be a little thicker and a little tougher in response to the additional stresses you put on it while you worked.

The same thing happens when you lift weights or carry heavy loads. The muscles and bones respond by adapting to be ready for a similar load in the future. The muscle fibers grow stronger. Bones grow thicker. All of the connective tissues around the stressed joints get stronger as well.

Unfortunately this works in the other direction as well. If you don’t stress the system, when tissue cells are replaced, the body conserves energy by making them a little less strong in anticipation of easy days ahead.

This mechanism is universal. If you don’t uses your eyes in a way that stress them, they will become weak. If you don’t use the full range of motion in your hips, you will begin to lose that mobility. Biologically if you don’t use it, you lose it.

Think about that for a minute. Does this explanation make sense? If you’ve lost a step did it happen before or after you stopped pushing yourself? Did you take some time off only to find out that you could no longer do things that were once effortless? I’m betting I know the answer.

Of course this is a hard thing to accept. Every ache and pain, every annoying decline in performance, is essentially your fault. Luckily, this also means you can reverse the process.

How to Take Action

The first step is prevention. Think about what you want to still be able to do into your twilight years and make a plan. If you want to stay as young as those in the videos above, you need to find ways to continually challenge your body and mind.

  • If you want to be able to play in the floor with your grandchildren years from now, you should be spending as much time as you can sitting on the floor now in preparation.
  • If you want to be able to read without glasses at 90, you need to be spending time outside in nature where you are continually shifting your focus between the near and the far and the minuscule and the massive.
  • If you want to keep your mind sharp you need to find activities that push you to your limits every day. Start building a memory palace. Learn a new language. Travel to a foreign country where everything is unfamiliar and novel.

The second step is to begin the rebuilding process. Be patient. Find your comfortable limits, and then push just a bit past them. Then do it again and again. Here are a few place to go to get started:

Mobility and Flexibility

Mobility WOD – Kelly Starrett is the godfather of restoring mobility. If you want to be as limber as a seven year old girl (mine is like Gumby) he can help you get there in ten minutes a day.

Strength

Gymnastics Bodies – Coach Somer’s program will build you a strong flexible body from the ground up. The progressions are so slow that many people become frustrated and try to skip ahead. Don’t do it. Every set and every rep is designed to steadily load your tissues in a way that will turn you into a physical beast, whatever age group you might fall into.

Vision

In his excellent book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, James Gleck details the method that the great man used to maintain his eyesight. Focusing near and far, utilizing all of the muscles the manipulate and focus the eyes.

Memory

Moonwalking with Einstein – lays out several strategies for developing a bulletproof memory as it traces the author’s journey from journalist to memory champion, plus it’s a really fun book. I’ve recently read that memory problems are not a dysfunction of the brain brought on by aging, but a failure to consciously develop the system used for recalling the massive amount of information that we absorb during the course of our lives. What you really need is a better system of organization. You can learn some here.

Overall Health

Movement Matters and Move Your DNA – These two books by Katy Bowman are on my “read every year list”. Not only is she self-deprecating and funny, but she has an entirely different philosophical approach to living a happy life as a human. She is also wickedly smart.

Ok, those should get you started. If you happen to know of something else that should be on the list feel free to contact me and let me know. Also, if you have any other great examples of incredible older athletes, I’d love to hear them. Now I’ve got to get to bed, I’ve got jujitsu in the morning, and I don’t want to be late.

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