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Book Review-Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

If you were to ask people about their biggest failings, the one thing that if they could get a handle on their lives would be better, what would it be? It might be that solving a lack of willpower might top the list of failings – as it does in research on the subject. We’re all subject to times when our willpower is weak. However, what is willpower and how do we build it up for the times we need it. That’s the subject and goal of the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.

 

Defining Willpower

Often people will describe their lack of willpower from the perspective of eating more than we should. However, this is just one dimension of willpower. There are, however, four different categories for willpower which are:

  • Control of thoughts – The ability to focus our attention on appropriate or desirable activities or the ability to stay on a single train of thought.
  • Control of emotions – The ability to regulate emotions so they don’t become excessive or overwhelming
  • Impulse control – The ability to resist temptations
  • Performance control – The ability to manage speed, accuracy, and completeness to complete the task at hand.

In addition to these categories, power can be broken into its magnitude and stamina. That is can you avoid the most alluring desert or not or can you resist it for the entire evening. So willpower isn’t just one thing as we like to simplify it into. The fact is that you may have great amounts of willpower in one area, and little or none in another area.

The difference between good willpower and those with little willpower seems to have more to do with the situations and habits they create for themselves rather than a natural wellspring of willpower.

Stacking the Deck

Sitting at a table with your friends you reach over and grab another chip from the bowl which sits just within comfortable reach and within your peripheral vision. The conversation drifts between the game of cards, politics, and “last week’s goings on.” All the while you’re silently munching on chips. When you wake up the next morning and weigh yourself you discover – much to your horror — how many chips you really did eat.

The challenges you faced here weren’t high-stress or a “bad day at work.” The situation was setup to weaken your willpower. You were distracted by stimulating conversation (so you weren’t paying attention to your consumption.) The logistics were such that your subconscious was fed a constant stream of data about the availability of the snack. Your ease of reach could make the acquisition of the chips transparent.

In short the cards were stacked against you. The situation itself required a huge amount of willpower to resist and engaging conversation with friends was more than enough distraction to prevent you from summoning up the willpower that you normally have.

Willpower Exhaustion

When muscles get tired and have really been torn up by the process of their exertion and are quite literally unable to apply as much force as when they started. Slowly the more you exert yourself the more damage is done to the muscles. In the case of muscles, like willpower as we’ll see in a moment, after some time and recovery you’ll have a greater capacity. When your body has a chance to rest after physical exertion it goes about the process of rebuilding the muscles which were torn up and in a desire to prevent damage again they’re rebuilt slightly better and slightly stronger. This is how over a long period of concerted exercise body builders transform their bodies into muscular machines.

While building up their muscles in a pattern of strain and recovery, they quite literally can’t do as much at the end of a strenuous workout as they could do at the start. Their physical ability has been reduced – or in some cases exhausted.

Willpower works much like our physical muscles in that as we expend it, we’re expending some of a fixed amount of capacity. With our physical muscles it doesn’t matter whether we’re lifting weights or walking up the stairs, we’re consuming from the same pool of resources. With willpower it doesn’t matter if we’re making decisions or resisting chocolate cake, we’re drawing from the same pool of resources.

That’s why it’s important to recognize that we can exhaust our willpower. With rest and self-care, it will recover, but for a time we’re completely unable to muster any additional self-control. In 12 step programs they speak of the risky time of HALT which is an acronym for: hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. As it turns out these are all conditions that require a great deal of willpower and can send us hurtling towards willpower exhaustion and in the case of an addict, tumbling back into the addiction.

On the one hand, it’s important to exercise your willpower “muscles” on the other hand it’s important to know how to exercise them in ways that improve your chances for success. Part of that is managing your situation and part of that is building enduring habits. However, before you can build the right habits, you have to know how willpower is fed.

Blood Glucose

Many moons ago I had the privilege of working on a study which leveraged technology to assist patients with diabetes. This was my introduction to blood glucose – and the things that go wrong when your blood glucose isn’t carefully managed. Patients with diabetes are unable to properly regulate their blood sugar on their own. Their body either doesn’t produce insulin to keep the blood glucose low, or the body resists the insulin to such a degree that it can’t produce enough. (Technically there is one other option one’s liver can be converting too much fat into blood glucose but that’s rarer.) The result of too much blood glucose is that the patient’s blood becomes more like a syrup and this causes a whole plethora of complications from damaging the retina to increasing the work the heart must do and loss of neural sensation from the extremities.

In the management of this disease sometimes patients managing their own care and overzealous physicians create the opposite problem that is there’s not enough blood glucose for the body to function. The brain as the powerhouse of the body starts shutting down – like rolling brownouts in the power grid – causing some truly whacky responses. However, the blood glucose problem doesn’t just effect patients with diabetes. Low blood sugar is common in adults – just not as severe. The result for regular adults is that their body – and its largest power consumer, the brain – have to start conserving energy. As we learned in The Rise of Superman, while the brain’s normal energy consumption is the same, it can shut down places where energy is being consumed in order to prioritize other systems. When we’re depleted of blood glucose the brain shuts down the anterior cingulate cortex which is the center of self-control (and manager of the self in general). So when our blood glucose is low, we have less willpower.

One of the factors that leads to low blood glucose is high consumption of (blood glucose?) which is caused when we exercise willpower. So we quite literally run out of the body’s energy source – at least temporarily – when we’re using our willpower.

Situational Management

Consider the scenario that we introduced above where you’re snacking unconsciously on things which are within eye sight and within reach. What if we moved the bowl across the room or out of our peripheral vision? We’d eat less. If we want to simply replace the fattening snack with a healthy alternative, the odds are that we’ll eat that instead. (In smaller quantities, generally.) By manipulating the situation, we manipulate how much willpower we must direct towards our eating habits – and given the limited nature of our willpower, conserving it can be a good thing. (I spoke of a longer view of situational management in my post on Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy.)

Sometimes increasing willpower is creating situations where it’s not needed and is therefore not consumed. If you’re an alcoholic, then perhaps your first career choice may not be a bartender. With easy access to the addictive substance you fight, you’re bound to find times when your willpower is waning.

In Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis we were introduced to the model of the rider, the elephant, and the path. Situational management is all about managing the path. What’s going to be the default behavior when neither your reason nor your emotions are exerting control? The other component of the path is, however, creating the right habits to start with.

Creating Habits

The best way to use willpower, it turns out, is to use willpower to develop habits which then eliminate the need for willpower. If you get up each day and exercise – then you’ll get up each day and exercise without the willpower fight that accompanies the decision to exercise or not.

The precursor to a habit sometimes is the introduction of the “bright line.” That is the line you’re unwilling to cross. Jack Canfield, author of The Success Principles, says “99% is a bitch. 100% is a breeze.” That is once you’ve decided that you’re never going to do something, you need not consider the option again and therefore you don’t need to consume willpower to decide.

Once you’ve made the bright line decision, you can create habits around behaviors that you do want. In 12 step program circles there’s an idea of a stoplight. A stoplight has red, yellow, and green lights. The activities we do on a given day fall into three categories. Red activities are the things that we don’t want in our lives. Be it drinking, smoking, overeating, or something else these are the things that we know are bad for us and that we’ve decided (with our rational rider) that we’re not going to do. Yellow are those activities which aren’t bad in and of themselves but they sometimes lead to the red behaviors that we want to avoid. We avoid yellow behaviors not because they are inherently bad but because of where they can lead. Green activities are life giving to us. They renew us, enrich us, or make our lives better. We want to create more of these activities in our lives – these are the activities that we want to turn into habits.

Using our precious willpower to create habits around our green light activities isn’t easy – but it frees us up to use our willpower in other ways later. It eliminates the need to fight to do the green light activities while at the same time refreshing and renewing us and there by building our willpower.

Habits, according to The One Thing, take on average 66 days to form. Thus successful people focus on the development of one habit for two or three months and once that habit is formed and solidified they work on the next habit. John Kotter when speaking of organizational change in Leading Change and The Heart of Change
cautions for the need to reinforce change in the organization – the same is true of habits, they need to be reinforced. Benjamin Franklin was someone who was considered to have well-worn habits and to be a man of great willpower (except when it came to women) and even he admitted that building his habits – and supporting his virtues – was a life-long endeavor.

Building Willpower

I first encountered a living statue while in Las Vegas for a conference. I was walking through Caesar’s Palace and amongst the statues were sometimes people who were performing by not moving. Much like the Buckingham Palace guards they have to choose not to react to the people around them. (Excepting in the case of the living statues for those who choose to leave them a tip.) Willpower speaks of Amanda Palmer who brought the European tradition to the United States and more specifically to Harvard Square.

Palmer would stand on a box for hours at a time fighting the urge to scratch her nose or do any sort of physical movement. In the process she was demonstrating and developing her willpower. She would come home from her performances absolutely exhausted though she had barely moved. However, slowly and consistently she’d leverage the willpower she had and through it’s consistent use develop it further.

David Blaine is also profiled for his feats of endurance. Interestingly, and surprisingly, despite the ability to marshal his willpower for amazing feats, David Blane without the push of public eyes admits to not exercising willpower. Though he’s developed a set of mental tricks that he can use both to develop his willpower over the long term and the ability to marshal out the capacity he does have, he chooses not to exercise it every day – or in every part of his life. Instead when he’s preparing for a new stunt, he’s creating little goals and achieving them. He’s using repetition and practice to change little things over and over again until the momentum of his changes seem spectacular and unreachable by others.

Not Using Willpower

If willpower is an expendable resource perhaps the answer isn’t to build willpower but to stop using it all together – without the consequences of succumbing to temptations and lack of self-control. Creating “bright lines” and establishing habits are big and long term ways to conserve willpower by making decisions ahead of time about how you’ll behave. They’re in fact powerful examples of the strategy of precommitment.

In Greek mythology Odysseus had his shipmates tie him to the mast with orders to not listen to his cries to be set free or to change course while they were passing an island which was reportedly inhabited by sirens. By making it impossible for him to make a decision concerning his fate or the fate of his men he had precommitted to a course of action and saved himself the agonizing struggle between his desires and his willpower.

Another variation of this strategy is to make your decisions public. It’s easy to rationalize a private decision (See Change or Die for the major and minor defenses of our ego which include the tools necessary to distort reality.) Twelve step programs advocate accountability partners whom you agree to discuss your falters with. David Blane’s approach to making his willpower public is the extreme. Whether being encased in a block of ice or suspended above people in a glass box, Blaine’s demonstrations of willpower were excessively public – and therefore are great examples of how making your use of willpower a public matter can be a way to provide additional support and leverage to the willpower you have.

Seeing the Future

One of the common characteristics of people who are described as having little willpower is their focus on immediate gratification. They’ll take higher risk for lower reward than successful people with more willpower. That is success seems to be associated with the ability to see the future.

Mischel’s famous marshmallow test has come up before in Emotional Intelligence (and other books), the idea of delaying gratification being powerful isn’t new. However, what is new is that people who are considered to be of greater willpower (those with higher earnings) seem to set their sights much further in the future. They’re not looking an hour or two into the future, they’re looking years down the road. This vision for what they want in the future and the willingness to make small continuous decisions towards that goal seems to matter.

So while folks with a great deal of willpower can’t literally see the future, they certainly do envision it more often and more vividly.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

The fable of the tortoise and the hare is well known. The hare is capable of easily outrunning the tortoise in short bursts of fury. The tortoise, however, has learned through years of being outrun in the short term that his strength lies in perseverance. The tortoise knows that as long as he continues towards his goal – no matter how slowly – he’ll eventually get there. The hare with natural speed knows that he doesn’t have to try. He can afford to be lazy and lazy he becomes.

Successful people are people who have decided to be tortoises – committed to making slow steady progress over the long term to develop their willpower, create the right habits, and leave themselves in the right situations for success. There’s no quick fix or one-time treatment to magically improve willpower. It takes hard work over a long period of time to create the kind of future that includes a large source of willpower and the need to not have to use it.

Short and Long Term Goals

You’ve undoubtedly heard the advice to plan for success. You’ve seen the value of planning instilled by numerous teachers and leaders over the years. However, as you dive into creativity and innovation you begin to realize that most innovation didn’t have a plan. Whether it’s the random idea or taking the random idea and making it real sometimes “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray” according to Robert Burns. So what’s the real story on planning and setting goals?

First, goals presuppose that you can know what is best in the future by looking at what you know now. Daniel Kahnman in Thinking: Fast and Slow described the planning fallacy by explaining that they “describe plans and forecasts that are unrealistically close to best-case scenarios.” Here the planning fallacy takes on additional character. It also refers to the mistaken belief that you know today everything you need to know. Whether it’s Helmuth von Moltke’s admonishment that “no plan survives contact with the enemy” or something more mundane than the art of war great men (and women) recognized the need to adapt. (Some examples of extraordinary men are in Extraordinary Minds.)

Jim Collins in Good to Great speaks of the Stockdale Paradox where leaders must hold onto their visions while constantly being confronted with reality. In other words accepting that the world is as it is, not as we want it to be. Bob Pozen admits in his book Extreme Productivity
that even though he works hard and plans that his life has often taken unexpected turns that made his old plans obsolete. He had to adapt to the situation he was in and reset his goals and aspirations to match his circumstances.

At the same time, even if you don’t subscribe to Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich strategy or The Secret, there is something to planning. There’s something to having aspirational goals and a fixed endpoint that you set your sights on. It allows you to weather the momentary setbacks without wavering in your belief that you’ll reach the end goal. It allows you to accept the undercurrents pulling you – temporarily – from your goal. By having the endpoint in mind you have a frame of reference with which to recalibrate your efforts.

From a willpower perspective then, is it better to plan – or not plan? As it turns out the answer is both. The development of strategic goals is good. Knowing where you want to go greatly improves your odds of getting there. The impact of long term goals on willpower seems negligible. However, setting too many rigid short term goals creates an internal conflict between what you said you would get done and what you actually got done which depletes willpower and makes it hard to get done what you really want. More than that it sets you up for a cycle of guilt and shame which further depletes your mental resources. (See Daring Greatly for more on guilt and shame.)

Too much focus on short term goals may also focus us too much on the things that we’re not getting done. Rather than silently fading into the background and being forgotten the short term goals remind us of our unfinished business.

Unfinished Business

Have you ever had a song “stuck in your head?” Of course you have, we all have. Why does it happen and what can we do about it? It turns out our brains don’t like unfinished business that we can’t wrap a neat bow around. When you hear half of a song because you get out of your car or you’re interrupted by a phone call your subconscious is trying to finish the song. Since most of us can never finish the song from our memory and without further interruption it’s stuck in our head.

This is an example of what is called the Zeigarnik effect. That is our propensity to want to finish our business. One interesting trick for addressing this is, however, to simply create a plan to resolve the unfinished business later. It seems like our brains can’t tell the difference between planning to resolve something and having actually resolve it. As a result we can create a to-do list with the item on the list and then move effortlessly through our next task without the nagging song in our head or the thought that intrudes on our reading.

Weight Loss and Management

We started with the idea that most people consider willpower in the context of eating and dieting. Though this is a narrow application of willpower it is the one that most people admit to struggling with. As it turns out, that makes a lot of sense.

Consider our conversation about blood glucose above. Our bodies know that they need blood glucose to survive and when it begins to drop we’re naturally signaled to seek out sources of food. In the process the portions of our brain which are the sources of willpower are shut down to conserve energy. The net result is that the time when we most need willpower to prevent us from overeating is the time when we least have it available.

We’re further challenged in that avoiding a bar is easy to do. Since food is required for life, we can’t exactly avoid all food. So as it turns out the greatest test of willpower may be maintaining our weight. Perhaps you can pick up some hints from Willpower.

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Book Review-Stepparenting: Everything You Need to Know to Make It Work

 

It’s been said that parenting is the world’s hardest job. It comes with immense responsibility, impossible hours, no respect, and an unending litany of problems. However, there is a more difficult job. That is the job of the step parent. With parenting you have biology and history to fall back on. With step parenting you have no genetic bond and you don’t know what happened to the children before you became a part of their lives so it makes understanding them difficult. Stepparenting: Everything You Need to Know to Make it Work is designed to help you through the process and make it a little more manageable.

The Path to Step Parenting

In order to reach this difficult job one first has to go through the death of a spouse or through divorce. (See my review of Divorce for more on the divorce path.) Having personal experience with one and up-close experience with the other I can say that neither of the paths are enviable. Both of the paths come with their own pain and they leave their own scars – not just on the parents but on the children as well.

When parents are in pain they are often distracted from their roles as parents and they are prevented from being successful. The addition of another person, a stepparent for your children improves the situation because it offers a close relationship which improves overall divorce recovery. (See Divorce for more on the value.) Further, it introduces another person who can help to share the load with you. However, at the same time it introduces the need to address their pains as well.

Children’s Losses

The death or divorce that lead someone to being a step parent took a toll on the children in the relationship whether they quite literally lost – or only lost a part of their parent, they’re aware things aren’t as they were. Often children feel like they’re fighting for attention of a parent because their parents are spending more time tending to their own needs.

The introduction of a step-parent further removes some of the time available for the child. It’s another person to focus on further decreasing the amount of time that the children feel is available for them. It’s another loss for them. Another reduction of the time that is spent with them.

Consider a week has only 168 hours in it. If you’re sleeping 7-8 hours a night, working 50 hours (and traveling another 5), spending another 25 hours per week on domestic duties and personal maintenance tasks, you’re left with only 37 available hours for anything else – projects, spouses, children, etc.

With so little available time even a few hours a week of loss to a step parent can seem monumental.

Positive Parenting

So much of what causes problems in step families are the things that are problems in nuclear families – but the results are just more dramatic.

Solidarity

The integrity of the couple’s union is sacrament. If you went through the divorce path you have firsthand knowledge of what happens when the couple isn’t in sync. If you experienced a death you may or may not have seen what happens when a couple isn’t a united front to the children.

The primacy of the couple must be maintained because without it nothing else will hold together. It’s like gravity. If there is no gravity it doesn’t matter how great a car you have.

Pushing Boundaries

In the family unit it’s the children’s job to push boundaries and to try to work around the systems. They’re naturally designed to explore. The trick is to not get your buttons pushed when the children are pushing the boundaries.

Clear Consequences

Rules are rules, or are they? Rules without consequences aren’t really rules at all as one friend of mine recently explained while describing a class where they defined rules for a game but no enforcement. Children need to not just know the rules but they need to be clear about the consequences – and they need to be implemented if the rule is broken.

Parent-Child Relationships

With distracted parents sometimes children are allowed to set the rules or negotiate a new set of rules. This is dangerous as children aren’t ready for this responsibility. In any parenting relationship the parents need to be parents and not allow children to parent them.

Friends Second

Developing healthy friendships with children is appropriate – particularly as they become adults – but only when this doesn’t interfere with the primary role of being a parent. Parents sometimes desire approval from their children so much that they try to be their child’s friend first instead of second. This causes a number of problems when children don’t understand how to deal with step up-step down relationships (authoritative relationships) in the future.

The World Doesn’t Revolve

Sometimes in one-child relationships the child can become the center of attention. The entire world revolves around the child. The problem is that this doesn’t teach the child how to get along with others. Creating a healthy balance between paying attention to the child and not being focused on the child is key to the child’s long term development.

Like the rule of being friends second, revolving the family world around a child can create problems adapting later and a child that needs to be the center of attention in every situation.

Step Differently

Perhaps the most pervasive theme throughout the book was drawing the distinctions between a normal family and a biological nuclear family. That makes sense. From the point of view of most of us we’ve seen a nuclear family – whether functional or dysfunctional. What we may not have seen or understood are the nuances of a step family. Chief among the differences is the lack of instant love.

Instant Love

One of the wishes when a couple creates a step family is for everyone to instantly get along and love one another. After all they love their new spouse, shouldn’t the families love each other too? In a word, no. The kind of love we’re talking about in a family develops over time. Unlike the eros (romantic) love that attracted the couple in the first place, the philos love that binds a family together in brotherly love takes time. Shared experiences will create the opportunity for love to develop.

Mutual Maturation

In the book Play we discovered the value of play in preparing humans for the ambiguities of life. One of the challenges of step parenting is knowing when to let the siblings verbally play with one another and when the play is too rough or it’s no longer play.

Exs

Whether you have a “wasband” (was husband) or a “prife” (Prior wife) the children have parents including two biological ones. No matter what your issues are with the ex, the children still love (or should love) both parents. When speaking in front of the children it’s essential to respect the prior spouse.

Step to It

While parenting can be a scary proposition, step parenting doesn’t have to be any more challenging despite the lack of biology and history. By considering how to be the best parent you can be you’ll easily sail through the step parenting process. If you don’t, you can always pick up the book Stepparenting.

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Book Review – Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

 

Play is, for many, a lost art. Somewhere between childhood and growing up, we’ve lost our ability to really play. However, play doesn’t have to be a separate activity from our day-to-day lives. Play can – and perhaps should be – woven into the very fabric of our lives. In Stewart Brown’s book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, he covers how we’ve lost play and how to reclaim it.

Playing into Flow

Play has some very interesting connections to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow. (See Flow, Finding Flow, and The Rise of Superman for more on flow.) The conditions for play that Brown highlights are:

  • Apparently purposeless (done for its own sake)
  • Voluntary Inherent attraction
  • Freedom from time
  • Diminished consciousness of self
  • Improvisational potential
  • Continuation desire

Comparing this list, to Csikszentmihalyi’s list of characteristics for flow we see a great deal of overlap. Czikszentmihalyi’s list for flow is:

  • Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  • Merging of action and awareness
  • A loss of reflective self-consciousness
  • A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  • A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
  • Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience

At a direct look only two of Brown’s criteria – Apparent purposelessness and Improvisational potential don’t directly map. However, later in Brown’s own book he admits that play is about the internal attitude of the activity not the activity itself – and so while I believe play does not need to have an explicit relationship to something purposeful but it can if you have the right attitude. (More on this idea later)

While flow does not require improvisation, it does generate it. Research studies indicate that people in flow are more creative and that this creativity lasts for days after the flow state. (See The Rise of Superman for more on the chemicals involved and the creativity.)

The state of play and the state of flow are so closely connected that one could wonder how the most productive state (flow) might be the evolutionary byproduct of the development of play – a way for us to learn how to better adapt to our environments in a safe way.

Consciously Creative

Play may be important for children, but an important question is “How is it important to business today?” The answer comes from the relationship between play and creativity. It comes from the desire that businesses have today to have people that are more creative. Theory U quoted Richard Florida of Carnegie Mellon University in speaking of “the rise of the creative class” and attributed roughly 30% of all employed people into this new creative class. According to an IBM global survey of 1,500 top executives in sixty countries, the most desirable skill in a CEO was creativity.

Creativity is serious business – it is the driving force behind Pixar’s success (See Creativity, Inc. for more on Pixar and creativity) as well as many other organizations (See Unleashing Innovation for how Whirlpool leverages creativity and innovation.) However, it is play’s characteristic of continuing desire is what converts creativity into innovation.

Defining Innovation

As it turns out, I have written about innovation in my chapter titled “Removing Innovation Friction by Improving Meetings” for the Ark Group Book Smarter Innovation: Using Interactive Processes to Drive Better Business Results.
Innovation is not just creative ideas. Innovation is taking those creative ideas and seeing them through to the end. That takes a persistence that you develop through play. You learn to enjoy the “birthing” process so much that you continue to play with your creation until it becomes something real and tangible.

I cannot tell you the number of people who are impressed at the humble child safety cards that we created for Kin-to-Kid Connection (Visit www.kin2kid.com for more on the child safety cards.) While there are many comments about the cards themselves, I’m astounded at the number of people who have congratulated us on simply accomplishing something – converting the idea into implementation.

So play creates the conditions that allow for better creativity through a safe environment and then develops the persistence to get things done. (See How Children Succeed
for the impact of persistence – which the book calls grit.)

Safer but Not Safe

From an evolutionary standpoint, play is interesting because it’s energy that is expended with no clear and direct purpose. That is, it is not hunting and it is not recovering – so how is play a useful part of the evolutionary process. The answer it turns out may have more to do with our ability to create mental simulations than the direct learning of skills. While cats deprived of play can still hunt and kill, antelope will be maladjusted with the herd, if they have been deprived of play. We are not just rehearsing our practical skills; we’re learning to simulate alternative realities in a safe way.

One of the challenges of our world is that it is not safe. We seek out ways to manage our apparent safety either by taking risks or by avoiding risks. For some, who didn’t get enough “licking and grooming” and therefore didn’t develop a secure attachment to their parents, there never seems to be enough safety. (See How Children Succeed for more on licking and grooming) For others, we cower and never get a chance to find the courage to be ourselves perhaps because we did not have enough opportunities for safe play. (See Find Your Courage for more on being courageous).

Courage is learned through play whether it’s in sparring (See The Art of Learning), just talking (See Dialogue), or even having crucial conversations (See Crucial Conversations.) Courage is feeling safe enough that you can learn and grow – that you can take appropriate risks.

However, play is not safe. Play is relatively safe. That is that we are measuring our risks and not taking unnecessary risks. The simple fact of the matter is that sometimes animals and humans die while playing – so from an evolutionary standpoint it is necessary for the benefits of play to outweigh the few casualties that result from it.

Simulations are one of the things that humans do best. While we may withstand the worst of this with additional stress, it is an extremely effective way for us to adapt and avoid dangers that we could not normally see. Consider the fire captains that Gary Klein researched for Sources of Power who were running mental simulations to create effective firefighting strategies.

Learning Safety

We really learn differently when we are stressed. Quite literally, the processes that are at work to integrate memory are different depending upon our state when we are learning. When we are in a stressed state, the memories are routed via the hippocampus and stored for use by the amygdala to use for the pattern recognition used in fight or flight. The memories are therefore not directly accessible by the conscious. (See Incognito, Lost Knowledge, Sharing Hidden Know-How, and The New Edge in Knowledge for more about knowledge management and how we don’t have access to all of our memories.)

Play creates an air of safety that surrounds the activity and ultimately allows the lessons learned to be applied to other situations and environments. Play is supposed to be safe and is therefore supports the development of memories which can be applied to other situations.

Purpose and Play

Brown quotes Running Magazine as categorizing runners into four main categories: the exerciser, the competitor, the enthusiast, and the socializer. Every runner is objectively performing the same action – that is they are all running. Running is a means to some end – it is not the end itself. However, the experience for each – the internal game – is different. The socializer does not worry much about whether their running is good or bad. The Enthusiast just enjoys the act of running and does it for the pleasure. The exerciser may be disappointed with their workout and the competitor about their performance. Four different people, the same activity and four different reactions.

What if play isn’t about the actions that we’re performing? What if it is not about whether we are doing a pickup game of football or volleyball but is instead about the way that we are approaching it. What if play is about being in flow – rather than the actions we are doing? Brown carefully explains that because play is self-fulfilling and therefore better players will play-down to the rest of the players to keep the game going.

Malcom Gladwell made Anders Ericsson’s research regarding expertise popular in his book Outliers. Outliers says that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. However, the caveat here is that it has to be purposeful practice. However, Ericsson might have been speaking about flow and play. He was clear that the objective had to be to become better at the object of the effort. The examples that are often cited by Gladwell and others clearly enjoyed the work that they were doing – they could not distinguish it from play. The objective for them – the purpose – was often just to drive something forward. Their purpose was the purpose of becoming better, becoming more than they were.

It seems that play is the internal state of mind, which is characterized by a desire to improve – even if there’s no clear tie to being a “productive” human. Csikszentmihalyi was clear that flow required a clear goal and constant feedback. However, the clear goal can be to get better – even if one cannot explain exactly what better would mean.

So when examined closely, it seems that play can have a purpose – but the purpose of play cannot be to be productive. Play requires the feeling of safety even in failure.

Building a Brain for the Ambiguity of Life

The best adaptability and survival technique that Mother Nature has come up with is the ability to learn. It turns out that the ability to learn – rapidly and continuously – has a huge evolutional advantage. It’s no wonder then that play creates a strong positive learning effect – one which dramatically out paces the risks associated with the activities of play (in most cases.)

Traditional adult education says that adult learners need to be trained at the moment in time that they need the learning (readiness), why they need to know a piece of information (need to know), that they have the foundational concepts necessary to integrate the new information (foundation), and that they have an understanding of the problem they are trying to solve (self-concept). The training must be focused on solving problems (orientation) and the motivation for learning must map to the internal motivations of the student (motivation). (See The Adult Learner for more on adult learning.)

Most of the research in education (See Efficiency in Learning) is focused on the management of cognitive load. That is, most educational research says that helping to keep students focused on the task at hand is an important – if not essential part of the process for learning. Students (of all ages) have a limited working memory and without the ability to create complex schemas and chunking to reduce the load on working memory they’re frequently overloaded or teetering on the edge of being overloaded. (Efficiency in Learning talks about schemas. Sources of Power uses the word models for the same ability to process a large number of items as if they’re one thing.)

Lost Knowledge, which is focused on the retention of critical tacit knowledge explains the learning problem from the point of view of strategies of learning which are more and less effective. Instead of focusing on creating focus, Lost Knowledge focuses on approaches, which are more effective while admitting that capturing tacit knowledge is very difficult. That is, gaining experience and integrating the unspoken learnings from the experiential process, is challenging.

This is where play comes in. Play is autotelic – that is self-motivating. This eliminates much of the educational research which is trying to keep from distracting the learner – or allowing the learner to be distracted by their passing thoughts. When you couple in the self-regulating challenge aspects of play and realize that play will regulate the level of challenge into an acceptable band you’re left with an educational opportunity which is incredibly effective.

When organizations seek to teach their employees how to handle situations for which there is no rulebook the best strategy is to run simulations of the situations that you can expect – and allow the employees to internalize the foundational principles and to develop guidelines which can be generally applied to any situation. That’s what play is – simulation – and so it’s not surprising that brain development happens at its fastest rate while playing.

Rat Park and Dysfunction

From Chasing the Scream we learned about the studies on rats and the use of drugs. We learned that the rats that drugged themselves to death were in solitary confinement. They did not have other rats to play with – or things either. Their life was solitary and without any way to play or interact. So faced with an awful situation the rats chose drugs to numb their pain. When the rats were allowed to socialize with other rats, they rarely used drugs. The context of rat park was the study of drugs. However, somewhere along the way, we learned that socialization was important for rats. Buried in socialization is the innate need to play.

When humans are deprived of play as a child and as an adult, they have a disproportionally higher chance of creating harm or being locked up. You don’t have to be Charles Whitman in a bell tower to be handicapped by the lack of play. An over-controlled childhood with a lack of play seems to be a way to lead yourself to jail. We need play – just like the antelope – to learn how to get along socially and how to self-regulate.

Play Signals

Knowing that you need play is one thing – knowing when it is time to play is another. In the animal world, there are “tells” for when animals are playing. A dog will “bow” and wag its tail. There are also tells that the dog isn’t playing – like hair standing up on their backs. During the engagement, you’ll see animals voluntarily rolling on their backs to indicate they need a break or to reduce their position of power over the other animal.

Animals, even of different species, recognize these play signals and respond accordingly. They instinctively know that play is an important part of learning and growing. Even if humans aren’t endowed with the same level of play awareness we can improve our play and reading Play may be the place to start.

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Book Review-Divorce: Causes and Consequences

God hates divorce. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for interpretation. The state assumes that stable marriages are in the best interest of the state itself. Despite this the average marriage lasts only seven years and the divorce rate has impacted 40% or more of all marriages since the early 1970s. The blissful union of marriage is often found to have cracks – sometimes severe cracks – that challenges individual marriages and the institution itself. The book Divorce: Causes and Consequences tears apart what divorce is, how prevalent it is, and what the impacts are.

 

Biblical Reasons for Divorce

Using the standard of the bible there are three accepted reasons for a divorce. The first one is the “obvious” and most direct answer of adultery. The language in Matthew 19:9 is relatively clear and indicates that if a spouse chooses to have sexual relations with another person outside of the marriage that this is grounds for a divorce.

The second reason is an obvious social reason – abuse. Here the language is a bit less direct but still present (see Malachi 2:16 and Ephesians 5). All too often the victims of abuse are pushed into staying in bad marriages by the fear that in the eyes of the church and the community they won’t have been faithful to the vow they took. However, the reality is that God never intended for anyone to be abused in a marriage relationship. The only challenge here is what constitutes abuse and what is not. Generally, by the time that people are willing to confront this concern the abuse is obvious.

The third reason is abandonment. That is, when a spouse abandons another. This is really a special form of abuse. Here the bible says that a married couple shouldn’t deprive each other except for a short time. (See 1 Corinthians 7) While this is speaking specifically about martial sex – the broader application is that wives and husbands are supposed to be of one body – and you can’t abandon a part of your body.

Despite God hating divorce, there are biblical reasons why divorce is acceptable – and even righteous.

The Lesser of the Evils

God hates divorce is an absolute statement. There’s nothing to compare it to. And it’s in this context that divorce is most often considered. All things being equal who wouldn’t choose a healthy marriage instead of divorce. However, in this is the fallacy that marriages that aren’t divorcing are healthy marriages. It probably won’t take you long to think through your friends, your parent’s friends, and your grandparent’s friends to find a marriage where both parties are engaged in a silent warfare. Instead of protecting each other from the outside world, they’re the ones wielding the knives.

Which is the lesser evil: Divorcing amicably, or continuing to harm each other and any children? From a research point of view the answer is clear. Children are best in health marriage relationships. However, when confronted with unhealthy marriages or divorces, children are more successful after divorce than they are subjected to the unhealthy marriage.

So while divorce shouldn’t be the first option – for the sake of the children it needs to remain an option.

Divorce Trends

While it’s generally believed that the divorce rate is climbing, it’s actually been recessing slightly since the 1980s. Take a look at this graph from the book:

However, these numbers aren’t unique to the United States. While we have a higher divorce rate than other countries, all countries experienced a rise in divorce rates. See another figure from the book:

So while the US was experiencing higher divorce rates – so was the rest of the world. The spike in divorce rates immediately after World War II had some concerned that the rise of women participating in the workforce had contributed – and continues to contribute – to the divorce rate. However, the data seems to indicate that some part time work makes women happier and their marriage relationships more durable.

While the numbers from the 1960s to 1980s marked a steep increase that is likely due to changing laws and attitudes that allowed divorce for a broader set of reasons and the abandonment of unhappy and unhealthy marriages.

Components of Divorce

While divorce is a legal concept, it’s also got different components that evolve over different periods of time. Paul Bohannon’s model of the components of divorce is:

  • Emotional Divorce – This is the first stage of decreasing emotional investment in the marriage. (This mirrors the emotional investment that preceded the legal marriage.)
  • Legal Divorce – This is the legal process of filing for and receiving a legal decree for the division of property and custody of dependent children.
  • Economic Divorce – The practical steps necessary to dissolve any existing economic ties including things like removing names from bank accounts and creating new bank accounts.
  • Coparental Divorce – Custody expectations are established and followed.
  • Community Divorce – The social relationships inside and outside of the extended family need to be separated.
  • Psychic Divorce – Autonomy of thinking and emotions

Top Ten Risk Factors for Divorce

  1. Young Age – Marrying before the age of twenty-five
  2. Low Income – Earning less than twenty-five thousand dollars per year
  3. Race – Being African American or marrying someone of another race
  4. Rape – Having been raped
  5. Religion – Having no religious affiliation
  6. Children – Having children at the time of the marriage or having unwanted children
  7. Divorced Parents – Having divorced parents
  8. Education – Having less than a college degree
  9. Work Status – Being unemployed
  10. Poor Communication – Nagging, stonewalling, escalating conflicts (See The Science of Trust for more on communication patterns.)

Divorce Resilience

One of the clearest consequence of divorce is downward mobility. That is that having two households rather than one is more expensive and therefore both parties cannot maintain the same standard of living that they might have enjoyed before. So with the host of issues surrounding a divorce, how do you rebound from a divorce?

The answer seems to lie in strong friendships. Whether it’s a new romantic relationship or preferably a strong friend or two to carry you through, those with strong friendships fared better than those who didn’t have strong relationships. (See Change or Die for more on the impact of relationships.) Emotional Intelligence quoted a 1987 Science article as saying that Isolation “”is as significant to mortality rates as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and lack of physical exercise.” Divorced persons with health problems die earlier than their married counterparts. In other words, relationships are key. With the death of a major relationship it’s important to cultivate others.

That is not to support frantic socializing but rather to encourage healthy dating. The research seems to show that when men are franticly social they tend to be less happy and more distressed. So while some level of socialization is appropriate and healthy, filling every night on your calendar to prevent yourself from processing the loss is not.

Death is a good metaphor for dealing with divorce. (See On Death and Dying for more on how to cope with death.) In reality divorce is the obituary for your marriage. It signals the end of what was – including your dashed hopes and missed opportunities. Grieving for the loss of your marriage is appropriate and healthy.

Wallerstein defined three different profiles of adjustment. There were the survivors who were scarred by the divorce but kept struggling to move on – sometimes unsuccessfully but mostly succeeding. The second profile was the successful adjusters. These people resolved the past issues, accepted their mistakes, changed their behaviors, and functioned more adaptively. The final group were the losers who were unable to escape the pull of the divorce being the central spot in their thoughts and emotions.

The key it seems to healthy living post-divorce is to learn lessons from the divorce but to not ruminate about the divorce or how you are the victim of it. (See Boundaries, Beyond Boundaries, Daring Greatly, and Change or Die for more on victimhood.)

Children’s Concerns

Children are the “collateral damage” in a divorce. That is, they weren’t a part of the cause, but they’re stuck with some of the impacts. One of those impacts is that they’re more anxious and upset. They wonder if they caused the divorce and wonder if both of their parents still love them. They wonder where they’ll live and sometimes if there will be enough to eat.

Children also have the tendency to grow up too quickly. They become the parent’s confidant. Sons become “the man around the house.” This happens in part because of the void left in the parent’s lives and their inability or difficulty in managing their own responses. Mothers were found to be more irritable, unresponsive, erratic, and punitive. They had more trouble controlling their children, especially their sons. Children try to adapt their responses to compensate for their parents but create a gap in their own childhood in the process. They try to reverse roles with the parent and take on responsibility for the emotional needs of the family. This additional pressure can make them feel more depressed.

Years later when they try to form relationships the scars will become apparent for both the rapid growth and their difficulty in seeing what a healthy relationship should look like. It’s hard to have a healthy relationship with another human being if you’ve never seen it yourself. While not strictly speaking an outcome of the divorce itself – instead being a symptom of the dysfunctional relationship that created the divorce – the impact of “normal” being defined as what you grew up with and that “normal” being dysfunctional requires a great deal of work to get around.

Helping the Children

The best thing that a parent can do to help their child is to become emotionally healthy themselves. Any divorce is going to leave bruises and scars. It’s incumbent on the parent to do what they need to do to get healthy.

Children still need to remain children. That includes supervision of their habits and their school work. Checking homework to make sure it gets done and monitoring what they’re watching on the TV or on the computer. Simple things like regular mealtimes and regular bedtimes establish a routine that is comforting.

The rules should be clear and discipline should be firm but flexible. The structure reduces the uncertainty and paradoxically the firm discipline reminds the children that they don’t need to be in control. They can depend on their parents to be parents. Discipline and rules aren’t all that’s needed. Nurturance is also needed. That is a loving and responsive posture towards the child which acknowledges that they’ve got their own limitations, faults, and fears.

When parents treat their children like they’re an aunt, uncle, or grandparent and fail to establish and maintain appropriate guidance, children have more difficulty adjusting to the divorce. Being the “fun parent” may seem like you’re loving your children through the process, however, the research says that for both parents – but particularly for the custodial parent – this is dangerous.

Step Parenting

In most cases divorced individuals will eventually find themselves married again – or at least in a serious live-in relationship. In an upcoming review I’ll address this in more detail – but for now there are a few key insights to step parenting laid out in Divorce.

First, most second marriages are better than first marriages. Apparently divorcees learn from their mistakes and stop making them.

Second, the best way to step parent is to stay in sync with your spouse. The most successful step parenting relationships are those where the couple focus on maintaining their bond and presenting a unified front to the children.

Moving On

No one sets out in live to be a divorcee. However, despite this many find that this is the best answer for them. Reluctantly many adults find themselves trying to figure out how to cope with the loss of their marriage. Divorce has clues on how to navigate the waters of divorce and move on.

Multiple Color People

Reconnecting – 10 Years of Email

I’m really bad about keeping connections. I’ll work with someone on a project for a few days, weeks, months, or years and I’ll somehow forget to put them in my contacts. I’ll not connect with them on LinkedIn. I’ll basically do a crummy job of maintaining a relationship with someone who was an associate. Despite this I’ve managed to end up with about 1,900 connections on LinkedIn. No doubt this is more of a result of the projects that I’ve worked on than my ability to make connections.

What I do well, however, is I keep all my email. I have for 10 years. Recently I was able to write a tool which would extract out of my PST files the inbound and outbound email messages including everyone the message was sent to. The result was a database that I could use to find out what my email world was like but more importantly it would allow me to mine my email for the people with whom I communicated but didn’t have a LinkedIn connection for. Along the way, I learned a few things.

 

By The Numbers

I thought that some of the numbers might be interesting:

Total Rows (Messages X recipients) 668,429
Messages 375,317
Conversations 142,118
Rows I Sent (Messages X recipients) 114,438
Messages I Sent 75,009
Conversations where I said something 29,741
People I talked to* 10,114*
People I emailed more than three times* 3,108*

One caveat to the number of people I talked to is that often times a person appeared multiple times because they changed their display name, or I used their email address, they got married, changed organizations, etc. Even after some cleanup I ended up with a large number of duplicates in the list of people I talked to. This was fine for my purposes but it represents a serious data challenge.

I’ve not finished playing with the data but I know there are some gaps and other issues with it – and I know I’ve spoken to a lot of people over the years.

The Process

So the process for this has been keeping all my mail for the last 10 years and letting Outlook autoarchive it into PSTs as my mailbox got too full. Over the years I’ve ended up with 12 archive folders. I didn’t do a super great job of keeping regular intervals between them or a standard maximum size but having 12 makes each file manageable.

The utility I wrote loads a PST into Outlook then enumerates all of the folders in the PST and writes out every message. It writes a separate line in a CSV for each recipient of each message. I include the conversation ID, the sender, the subject, and the time it was sent in addition to each recipient. I had the utility writing out individual rows for each person because I was most interested in aggregating by the folks I sent to.

The CSV files that I generated were loaded into Access and there was a fair amount of cleanup I had to do. First, I removed any single quotes at the beginning and end of the to email addresses. As I was trying to aggregate by email address, having some where the address had single quotes and some where it didn’t proved problematic.

I didn’t end up getting the email address – I really only ended up getting the display name. I would have preferred to get both but it wasn’t obvious how to do this and for my purposes I was focused on the name.

The other key cleanup I had to do was to update places where I was the sender because this was one of my major goals – to filter by what I had sent. This was a bit more problematic because many of the rows had a blank sender, some had my email address, and still more had my X.400 email address from Exchange. Ultimately I set a flag in each row indicating whether I sent the message or not.

From there, I created a query for Top Talkers. This query isolated those people who were the recipient of at least three of my messages. I used this as a proxy for whether I had a real conversation with them or not.

If you are interested in the tooling, you can send me an email and I’ll respond when I can.

Picking a Threshold

One of the challenges was figuring out how many messages I’d need to send someone before I’d say that we had a meaningful conversation. Complicating this was that the same person occurred in the data multiple ways (as I mentioned above.) So if I traded emails with someone 100 times would they remember me and want to be connected? What about fifty? How about five?

Unfortunately, there weren’t any clear answers. I ultimately decided on three to simply limit what I was looking at. I figured that I knew that folks that only got three or less messages from me probably weren’t strong enough connections.

I generally use the threshold for LinkedIn that I’d have to be willing to connect one of my connections with someone else. Not that I’d recommend them but that I could say that I knew some aspect of them. I figured three or below and I wouldn’t be able to do that.

Memories

I’ll have to admit that my mind needed some prompting on more than a few of the people. I’d go through the list of people I had talked to and if I remembered them I’d search LinkedIn for them. Quite a few were already connections so that was great. Some weren’t and I asked to invite them.

For those that I didn’t remember I searched the database for the subjects of the messages I had sent them which generally helped me know how I knew them pretty quickly and I could search LinkedIn to find them. Later in the process I switched to using Outlook to search for the folks – but that was just because flipping between tabs in Access wasn’t worth it. I could keep Outlook on one screen and Access on another – and LinkedIn on a third.

Robotic Speed

At some point in the process, LinkedIn noticed the amount of activity I was generating and started flagging me as a potential robot. So I started having to enter Captcha codes for each connection I’d try to make and occasionally provide the contacts email address. While I was flattered that LinkedIn thought I was a robot, I was disappointed that once I hit the threshold I had to verify on every request. Still, it was somewhat fun to be working at a speed that it thought I was a bot.

Delegation (Lack of)

One might ask why I didn’t delegate some of the data management functions to my assistant. How hard can it be matching names in email to the names on LinkedIn? Well, it turns out it was a lot harder than you would think.

I’ve already mentioned the problem of needing to know how I knew someone to select the right person from the list returned from LinkedIn. However, there were more challenges including the need to determine if I didn’t find folks immediately if they were important enough to track down. Finally, there were some folks that I didn’t feel like connecting with. I wouldn’t give them a recommendation to anyone so being connected didn’t make sense.

Reconnecting

The whole point of the exercise for me was to reconnect with folks that I had managed to become disconnected with. My experience says that folks will accept LinkedIn invitations over a handful of days but even with having finished the invitations over the last two days, I’ve already gotten connected with 75 people that I had previously dropped. (Since drafting this approach and in the passing weeks it looks like the number is in excess of 150 new connections.) That for me is a big win – and potentially worth the effort to reconnect.

These folks will get a yearly update from me when the time runs around again this coming summer. Until then, I know that if I need to find that person I worked with years ago on something, I can be reasonably certain that I can find them now.

If we’ve worked together and I didn’t send you a LinkedIn connection request – feel free to send one to me.

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Book Review-A Philosopher’s Notes

When it comes to reading – and reviewing books – there aren’t many folks I know who read more than I do – at least readers of non-fiction works. However, Brian Johnson has me beat hands down. The list of books that he’s reviewed are impressive to say the least. When I came across his site through a group I’m in I realized I had to read his book and see what he had to say. A Philosopher’s Notes is an interesting book because it’s like cliff notes for a bunch of books all slammed together to make their own book.

 

Optimal Living

Brian is focused on the idea of optimal living. That is: how do you live your life to the fullest? It’s not a get rich program, or how to save the world in 24 hours or anything that promises great rewards without much work. In fact, Brian is careful to say (over and over again) that optimal living takes work. It’s a difficult road to walk. It’s not the easy path.

Instead it’s a hard road built on integrity and virtue. I’d add to his statements that it’s about living in alignment with your values. He quotes Martin Seligman who is the father of positive psychology and speaks about how happiness is the result of values in action – or living in alignment with your values.

He ultimately breaks optimal living into these 10 principles (the descriptions are mine):

  • Optimism – Avoiding the trap of negativity
  • Purpose – Realizing that you’re here for something more than your own happiness
  • Self-Awareness – Seeing yourself as clearly as possible
  • Goals – Knowing where you want to go
  • Action – Actually doing something
  • Energy – Conserving energy by not fighting with the system – adjusting it
  • Wisdom – Listening to the words and experiences of others and learning from them
  • Courage – The ability to move forward in the face of fear
  • Love – Giving of yourself to others
  • en*theos – Literally God within – but learning to bring things into one’s self.

Living in Reality

To live an optimal life you have to live in reality. While most adults spend so much time attempting to avoid reality it’s the source from which all things flow – and therefore something from which happiness comes. We can, if we choose, ignore reality and be delusional but this strategy will ultimately fail. We spend a great deal of energy avoiding reality – energy that could be best spent in making reality better.

Ultimately to live an optimal live, or an abundant life, or a life with purpose – whatever you want to call it – you have to live in reality. That’s why Buddhist monks were instructed “after you find enlightenment, chop wood, drawl water.” Enlightenment is nothing if we’re not able to apply it to the real world. It has to be connected with the world in which we live.

Creating Your World

Accepting the real world as it is today is just one perspective on the world. Another perspective is on the world that it can become. In this view we see the greatest possible future (ala optimism) and we seek to create a world that is more in-line with what it can be. That is where our actions and energy come into play as we seek to make the world a better place – one day at a time.

For me the reading I do is seeking to make me a better person – so that as Gandhi said I can “be the change you want to see in the world.” When I write a book review my intent is to share some small nuggets of the wisdom that I gathered up to make a small positive impact on you.

Some folks make large impacts on a few people. They leave the world a better place by positively influencing their children, their church, or their community. Some folks make a smaller impact on a larger number of people. Consider the number of people impacted by any well-known author. While John Maxwell or Jim Collins or Patrick Lencioni (See Good to Great, The Advantage) may or may not have a large impact on your life they create a small impact on a large number of people.

Creating our worlds is about small incremental steps made over a long period of time to shape the world that we’ll have in the future. Whether this is shaping your own schedule to allow for time for meditation or exercise or whether it’s shaping a community through work on a community playhouse, we have the ability to create the world we most desire.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

I do impressions. One of them is Kermit the Frog. One of his classic sayings is that “It’s not easy being green.” Life isn’t easy for any of us. Every one of us has some sort of pain that we’ve encountered. The path to living life to its fullest is paved with hard work day after day. While the results are worth it, the journey to optimal living isn’t easy. However, one potential first step of reading A Philosopher’s Notes isn’t that hard.

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Book Review-Beyond Genius: 12 Essential Traits of Today’s Renaissance Men

At some level we all would love to be a genius. The drive for mastery that was discussed in Drive is a part of how our new creative class of people operates. While many people are content to focus on a single area of mastery and expertise there are some folks for whom one specialty isn’t sufficient. These are the renaissance men that Beyond Genius: 12 Essential Traits of Today’s Renaissance Men is focused on.

 

Renaissance Man

The first time I publically wrote about renaissance men was in April of 2004. It was an article for Developer.com titled simply “Renaissance Man“. Since then the idea of someone who has unbounded curiosity for multiple topics and areas of interest has some up again and again. In a world where we often focus on specialty in a single area, the Renaissance man is an anomaly. The book Extraordinary Minds examined four different types of greatness through the lens of a few very famous individuals. In fact one of the categories is the maker – someone who creates a new field of study by combining other fields in new and different ways.

Today it’s all too easy to get and remained focused around a single discipline of thought. It’s easy to become pigeon holed into being a doctor or a nurse or a carpenter or an athlete. It’s much harder to become all of these things. It’s harder to have a thirst for learning that is unquenchable – and broadly applicable.

Consider for a moment the book reviews that exist here. In my internal notes I categorize things into buckets of: Personal, Church, Communication & Collaboration, Software Development, Engagement, Information Architecture and Knowledge Management, Leadership, Learning, Management, Marketing & Sales, Psychology, and Miscellaneous. This is a rather diverse set of interests of mine. Things that while I can’t be a master in that I’m enthralled to learn about.

For me the spark that kicked off my learning in multiple areas was settling into a pattern for reading and reviewing content that allowed me to develop a “database” of knowledge as I was doing my reading. The Medici family did the same thing in Florence but without the aid of computers.

The Medici Effect

It’s an interesting experiment. What happens when you surround yourself with masters in multiple domains and let them interact? There are plenty of books and consultants now who will tell you that you should surround yourself with a mastermind group. That is you should surround yourself with people who can help you grow. However, this wasn’t well known in the Medici family’s time. However, they built what may be the first mastermind group by gathering masters in multiple domains and encouraging them to interact.

The result was the spark that led to the Renaissance period. By gathering together – and in a sense binding together through financial support – a group of masters, they sparked investigation into multiple areas of expertise. The Innovator’s DNA discussed the contributions of the Medici family as did Seeing David in the Stone.

Experts Revisited

When Thomas Edison created Menlo Park and became famed for his introduction of the incandescent (electric) light bulb he surrounded himself with the experts of the day. He found experts in metallurgy, gas lighting, and other disciplines. While Edison is credited with the inventions he relied on what happens when people who have passion are gathered together. It’s the passions that drive people to become masters in a domain. It’s passion that drives – and passion is infectious. The passion for a topic from one expert infects another. They collectively influence each other to grow. This idea of bringing together people to create innovations was, in part, why Menlo Innovations (the subject of Joy, Inc.) was created.

We value the expertise of Edison but what we fail to realize is that Edison’s contributions were born out of curiosity and a wide ranging set of interests rather than a pure science pursuit of a single topic. It seems that the place for genius isn’t in a single topic. It’s in the space between areas of expertise and more importantly the ability to connect them.

Innovation in the Gaps

There are two radically different approaches to learning. First, become the foremost authority in a single area. Second, to be insanely curious about life and focus on learning whatever it is that interests you. The first has the capacity to lead to being famous within your field and driving forward the entire state of that field. It’s an opportunity to speak at conferences, write books, and be recognized.

By following your interests and developing a level of mastery in multiple sometimes related domains you may not push an individual discipline forward but at the same time you may just make discoveries that make the difference. It’s possible that by bringing together multiple domains of expertise you can make something new – like the incandescent lightbulb.

Before I proceed with the different approaches to learning it’s important to note that the person who chooses to learn multiple things isn’t lazy for not climbing to the pinnacle of the mountain of knowledge in a single area any more than a marathon runner is lazier than a rock climber. They’re different but neither is better than the other. Learning multiple disciplines isn’t a weakness or a cop out – it’s just a different way of expressing greatness.

Consider how Steve Jobs is remembered for the introduction of the Macintosh whose success depended upon things he learned at Xerox’s Palo Alto research center (PARC) and on his love of typography which developed while dropping in on a class on calligraphy and of course computers. Steve Jobs wasn’t a master in a single domain. His curiosity and hunger to “create a ding in the universe” created a different way of learning for him.

Curiosity Killed the Cat

The old saying curiosity killed the cat serves to discourage anyone who is curious enough to figure out the world in which they live. Milton wrote “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” which though is less well known offers the same ominous warning about being curious and exploring. Despite these warnings the Renaissance men will push through with an insatiable hunger for learning – learning whatever they can about what interests them.

Malcolm Knowles and his associates discovered that adults learn based on five components starting with a need to know. (See The Adult Learner for more.) In the Renaissance man the need to know is very strong. It’s an internal motivation to be just a little bit better tomorrow than you are today. It’s the internal drive for knowledge, their curiosity is what makes them great learners.

Twelve Traits

The twelve traits of the Renaissance Man according to Beyond Genius are:

  • I am outstanding in my field and exceptional in many areas.
  • I am insatiably curious.
  • I embrace culture.
  • I merge my left brain and my right brain.
  • I delight in sharing what I do.
  • I have the courage to take risks.
  • I create.
  • I persevere.
  • I am passionate.
  • I have vision.
  • I challenge the status quo.
  • I shape the future.

There are a few of these traits that deserve more discussion.

Courage

Some believe that being courageous is to be without fear – however, nothing could be further from the truth. Fear is REQUIRED for courage. Courage isn’t the absence of fear but instead it’s choosing to move forward when you are in fear. To be fearless is crazy and eventually will get you eaten by a lion. Being courageous will help you grow and expand. Fear is a normal, healthy, and often appropriate response to a set of conditions.

Instilling courage into your daily life can be done – perhaps using the recipe in Find Your Courage.

Creativity

In Creativity, Inc. Ed Catmull describes Pixar’s creativity by saying “… early on, all of our movies suck.” Pixar is recognized as the leader in the development of animated movies with numerous blockbuster successes to their credit and still they’re quite happy to say that they suck when they start. In reality all ideas born of creativity are ugly when they start. It’s only through refinement that the ideas become beautiful, emotional, and powerful.

Most of us, however, lost our creativity. An immature idea was criticized or we were told that we’re not creative people and we shut that part of ourselves down. We leave creativity behind as a childhood idea that shouldn’t be brought into adulthood. However, this is wrong. One of the most widely sought after skills in business today is creativity and yet it’s a skill that we strangle out of people. We have to take back our creativity if we want to live a life Beyond Genius.

Renaissance Men

The men that Beyond Genius singled out as being Renaissance Men are:

  • Galileo Galilei
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Isaac Newton
  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Michelangelo
  • Blaise Pascal
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Dave Stewart
  • John Paul DeJoria
  • Frank Nuovo
  • Richard Branson
  • Quincy Jones
  • Yvon Chouinard
  • Elon Musk
  • Steve Jobs
  • Steve Allen

My aspiration isn’t to make this list. My aspiration is to live up to the ideals that men like these lived under. Maybe by doing that, I can move Beyond Genius.

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Book Review-The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth

I view the life I’m living as a journey. (See Changes that Heal for more about viewing life as a journey.) In this journey I believe that I’m trying to learn how to become a better me. That means learning how to love more genuinely and how to accept reality more completely. The Road Less Traveled
is like the journal of a man who has already walked this path. He’s someone who has invested his life in showing others how to walk a road that few are willing to walk. This road is a road paved in hardships and learning. It’s lined with trials, failures, and successes. In short, the road is a hard road.

 

Life is Hard

One of the favorite laments of my adult children is “Being an adult is hard.” It’s said with the awareness that doing the right thing, that growing, that becoming a better person is the right path – but it’s a path that few people travel. When they share this sentiment is when I remember that life is hard – or that is when you live life to its fullest, it’s hard. Hidden somewhere in the message is, the awareness that the growth and the pain are worth it.

Somewhere along the way with our parents picking us up and kissing our skinned knee most of us have developed the impression that all pain is bad. However, pain is an evolutionary signal. It’s a warning but not necessarily that we should stop. Athletes feel pain during the training process as a way of letting them know that they’re tearing down their muscles so that they can be rebuilt stronger.

Pain ultimately means growth and growth is hard. Life can be hard. However, life is hard when it’s a life worth living. It’s hard when you’re not content to allow the world to shape you – without you shaping it back at least a little. Shaping your life requires discipline.

Defining Discipline

In The Fifth Discipline the word discipline refers to what the dictionary calls “a branch of knowledge, typically one studied in higher education.” In the Four Disciplines of Execution the other dictionary definition is used “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior…” However, neither conveys the meaning of self-discipline or how to know when you have it.

Peck suggests that there are four keys to discipline:

  • Delaying Gratification – Walter Mischel’s famous marshmallow experiment is the classic way to measure the ability to delay gratification. (See Emotional Intelligence for more on this test.) In order for children (or adults) to be able to delay gratification they have to believe the world is safe. (See How Children Succeed for secure detachment.)
  • Accepting Responsibility – We should accept responsibility for the things that we control – for our behavior. Conversely we shouldn’t accept responsibility for things that are outside of our control. Victims struggle to accept responsibility for their situation. (A good place to start for more on victimhood is Choice Theory.)
  • Dedication to Truth – Constantly seeking the truth is harder than it seems. There are “boxes” that we end up in (ala Anatomy of Peace) and our persnickety ego that prevents us from seeing clearly. (See Change or Die for more on our ego’s defenses.)
  • Balancing – Everything in excess or absence is bad for us. In food we become obese or anorexic. In religion we become amoral or a zealot. The final component of discipline is maintaining consideration for multiple conflicting factors and finding a path through them.

Peck’s four part definition of what he means when he says discipline is like the way that How Children Succeed
uses the word grit. It’s also reminiscent of the way that Jim Collins in Good-to-Great speaks of the Stockdale Paradox – where you’ve got to be persistent with your ideas – and be flexible and adaptable to know when they need to change. Marketing books like Guerilla Marketing and The New Rules of Marketing and PR speak of commitment and patience for programs. Sticking with something long enough to ensure that it works. Sometimes the waiting for things to get better while you’re continuing to try to push things forward can be excruciatingly painful.

Satisfactory Suffering

Suffering is a part of our human condition. No one has ever been able to completely escape suffering. Even a baby fresh out of the womb is made to suffer so they’ll cry. Suffering is generally considered to be a negative thing. We see suffering and we want to eliminate it. However, it’s suffering that is the fire in which great men (and women) are formed.

Abraham Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd Lincoln is widely regarded as one of the worst first ladies. She was known to be difficult to get along with. Abraham Lincoln suffered numerous failures in his life. He came from humble beginnings and yet with all this suffering he is widely believed to have been America’s best president. Perhaps that is backwards. It’s not in spite of the suffering that he was our best president but because of it.

Find your Courage disagrees with the use of the word suffering here by drawing a distinction between pain which is unavoidable and suffering which is dwelling on that pain. However, suffering is a sustained presence of pain whether or not you choose to dwell on it or not.

How to Be an Adult in Relationships, however, say that suffering is necessary for growth. The Happiness Hypothesis quotes Romans 5:3-4 “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” and the Dalai Lama “The person who has had more experience of hardships can stand more firmly in the face of problems than the person who has never experienced suffering. From this angle, then, some suffering can be a good lesson for life.”

So we cannot escape suffering. We have only to decide what we’re going to do with our suffering. We have to decide whether we’re going to crumble under its weight or use the suffering to grow. Sometimes knowing how we’re going to deal with our suffering is all about what kind of an animal we want to be.

Skunks, Turtles, and Working through Problems

In my review of Compelled to Control, I mentioned the idea of Skunks and Turtles and the harm that can befall turtles as they struggle to keep it all in – never fully processing their pain. The reality is that our problems rarely (if ever) disappear on their own. Most of the time we need to take some sort of action to take our pains and work through them. We can’t be like the skunk spewing the poison of our problems (suffering) on to others. Nor can we be the turtle pretending that problems don’t exist.

Somehow we’ve got to get past the point of intense and unwavering pain so that we can become a wise owl asking questions of ourselves and finding ways to convert our pain and suffering into something good.

Much of our pain comes from how we relate to the world. Our pain comes because we expect something different from the world than it is able to give to us. We all operate from a set of internal maps that guide us through this world and sometimes those maps are wrong and cause us to bump into the walls of reality.

Mental Cartography

3D Spatial reasoning is one category of intelligence. It refers to someone’s ability to arrange things in three dimensional space. It’s sort of a measure of your ability to make accurate maps in your mind of three dimensional space. It happens to be something that I’m relatively good at. I can put together the pieces of furniture and see if they’ll fit in a room or estimate the distance between two locations in the city with relative accuracy. So in this I’m creating the mental models (See Sources of Power) or schemas (See Efficiency in Learning for more about schemas) to allow me to navigate through the real world.

The problem isn’t that I create these maps. In fact, as Incognito pointed out we all make maps of the world – we don’t “see” the world completely and directly, our brain builds an image – a sometimes faulty image. However, we believe this image to be true. We build mental models for lots of things. It’s our mental models – or our mental maps – that shape our beliefs about the world and how it will react.

A poor mental model is the cause of a great deal of pain. Where our view of the world and the reality of the world are misaligned we’ll not see things and we’ll stub our toe on a chair or a dog. Thus it’s important to have accurate mental maps – but they are always flawed. It takes some conscious effort to continue to revise the mental maps that we have to more accurately reflect reality.

The problem of correcting our mental maps isn’t so much about adding new things to our maps as it is letting go of previously held beliefs. We have to realize that we aren’t the center of the universe or the solar system. We have to recognize that no amount of desiring the world to be flat will make it so. Sometimes we’ve just got to let go.

Letting Go

What parts of your life have you let go of? Most of us have parts of ourselves that we’ve let go of. Sometimes we’ve let go forever and sometimes we’ve just let go of it for a time. It’s been over a year since I’ve piloted an aircraft (flown). It’s been nearly two since I’ve been on a comedy stage. (See I am a Comedian for more about my start with comedy.) Neither of these things are gone for good in my life but for now, they’re not the most important thing. Perhaps you have a hobby (or two) that you’ve stepped away from.

Sometimes when we hear folks talking about letting go they’re talking about loosening our grip on control. Certainly getting more comfortable with the idea that we don’t and can’t control everything is a part of living (See Compelled to Control for more on control.) However, this is more akin to the concept of acceptance – accepting whatever the world has instore for you. (See How to be an Adult in Relationships
for more on acceptance.)

However, the letting go that I’m speaking about here is about releasing parts of ourselves – either for a time as above or forever. Releasing things forever can be harder. For instance, Reiss discussed in Who Am I?
that some folks value vengeance. Those folks find it hard to let go of the transgressions of others. They harbor anger that festers. Harboring resentment and anger towards another person is often described as taking poison and expecting the other person to die. Releasing the negative feelings that we feel for others is one thing that with work we can let go of.

The most poignant example of letting go that we must all experience as humans is the loss of relationships with others whether through someone moving away or more tragically dying. (See High Orbit – Respecting Grieving for more on loss through death.) Letting go (giving up) is the most painful human experience. In some real sense we’re losing a part of ourselves. We’re letting go of the positive memories of the other person. However, not all letting go is so tragic and overwhelming. There are also habits and passions of ours that we can let go of as well.

When I was early in my teenage years, I loved television. I turned it on when I came home and turned it off when I went to bed. I’d watch anything. I’d watch reruns of black and white shows that weren’t good when they were produced. I kept up with shows and I invested a lot of time in it. Consciously or unconsciously I’ve moved to a point of view where I rarely watch television.

The children tell me about the latest reality TV show or their favorite fictional drama – but I don’t know anything about it. For the most part I’ve let go of TV in my life. When I watch TV it’s mostly Doctor Who. (and if you’ve seen their production schedule you know that isn’t very frequently.) It’s a part of my life that I left behind and I have no expectation that I’ll ever pick it back up.

I had to let it go out of my life so that I could do other things. One of those is reading books.

Picking Up

If you’re able to let go of something (for a moment or a lifetime) you create space in your life for something else. You create the opportunity to do something different. One of those things for me is my reading and writing. As most people who read my blog know, I read and post a blog post for a book nearly every week. I am frequently asked where I find the time to do this. There are really two answers to this question.

First, my office is at home in a separate building. My commute is 8 seconds. I take the extra hour that most folks spend fighting traffic to and from work and I pour that into my reading and writing. It doesn’t happen every day and sometimes I have my own commute time as I drive to see clients, but it probably frees at least 4 hours a week in my schedule to read. The second answer is that I’m not watching TV – and I’m for the most part not playing computer games – This frees another 5-10 hours a week where I can pour my time into reading and writing.

All total I’ll get an extra 5-15 hours per week where I can read or write. This process for me is a process of improving myself. It’s a process of growing to be a better person today than I was yesterday. It’s a continual refinement of my mental maps and the continual development of skills. Each book puts another set of tools in my toolbox for being in relationships with others.

I am OK – Mostly

Asking for help is both natural and unnatural from an evolutionary point of view. We evolved as social creatures so that we could help one another succeed. However, those same forces would cause others to attack us in our moments of weakness. So we evolved as social creatures who remain guarded even in our social circles. We rarely stop considering how others may react to our vulnerability. As a result we say that we’re OK when we really mean that we’re mostly OK. Revealing our weaknesses hasn’t served us well – so we try to not do it.

However, for those who are interested in growth being vulnerable is a requirement. You can’t grow if you don’t face reality.

One Errors Through Absence the Other through Excess

In the Enneagram model individuals error through either (See Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self Discovery
for more on the Enneagram) under expressing or over expressing their instincts, feelings, or thinking. (They can also be completely out of touch with any of these three.) In The Road Less Traveled
Peck explains that neurotics assume too much responsibility and those with character disorders accept too little responsibility.

The neurotic uses the word “should” to indicate that they believe they have a greater control of the world than they actually do – and they feel like they’re falling short of the mark. The character disordered individual uses words like “can’t” to indicate that they don’t have the power to change their condition.

In truth we really only have control of our behaviors, we can’t control other people (See Choice Theory) or our current situation. We have to accept that we have control of behaviors – but not control over the behaviors of others. We do have the ability to lift ourselves out of our situation with hard work. However, we can’t change anything that has already happened.

If we’re in debt we can work on paying down and eliminating that debt. We can’t change, however, what got us into debt in the first place whether that debt was caused by an uninsured or underinsured event – or whether the debt was caused by uncontrolled spending.

Nothing Left to Love

Black holes are seen as the monsters of the universe. They are endlessly chewing up stars, planets, and anything else that gets near them. They’re perceived as having an unquenchable thirst for matter – any kind of matter. There are some people who are “black hole” people who seem to devour love – to consume it. They need love so much that they gobble up every bit of love that others offer to them.

These people have love holes so big that it seems like nothing will ever fill it. They are so busy seeking to get love that they’re left without any energy left to give love. This is a tragedy because it means the very thing that they want the most is the very thing they’re not capable of sharing to others in return.

The best way to get love is to give it. Universally if you’re willing to extend yourselves into people to help them and support their growth you’re more likely to get love in return.

Make me Happy

It is one thing to expect that others will love you and quite another to expect that they’ll make you happy. Our feelings, how we feel, are not the responsibility of others. Our feelings are how we choose to react to the world. (See Choice Theory for more on choosing feelings.) Despite the truth that we are responsible for our feelings many people prefer to find someone else who will make them happy.

There’s a certain beauty in this. If someone else is responsible for making you happy then you don’t have to take responsibility for it. When you’re sad you can blame someone else like your spouse. They aren’t making you happy so you can apply pressure to them to do a better job. This is a great deal until you realize that others are quite literally incapable of making you happy and therefore are always doomed to fail. Sure your spouse can cook you a special dinner and draw a warm bath but this doesn’t make you happy. This helps you to feel loved (though it’s not required that you let it in.) The feeling that you’re loved completely allows you to choose to feel happy.

The Balance of Love

There are many definitions of love. The romantic “fallen” in love comes with a belief that you should do anything for the other person. We believe that parents should do anything for their children. However, love is not simply giving the object of your affection everything they want. Love is also desiring their growth as well. Love is wanting for the other person to become what they’re capable of being. Of them becoming more than what they are today.

Sometimes love means judicious withholding so that the other person can grow. (Note that I’m not suggesting the kind of withholding in Intimacy Anorexia which is not focused on the other person’s growth.) Love means caring about the other person enough to let them struggle – when struggling means they’ll grow. Struggle is a natural part of life which can’t be eliminated. For instance, in The Rise of Superman
we learned that the struggle phase precedes the flow phase of heightened productivity.

If the center of love is a desire for the other person to be the best person they can be, to enable and facilitate their growth and success, then it makes more sense that there are times, particularly with children, that they shouldn’t get everything they want.

Most parents instinctively know that you can’t give a child everything they want because to do so would create a spoiled brat. At the same time good parents struggle to determine when they should give things to their children to demonstrate that they love them and when to withhold things to demonstrate that they love them – in a way the child won’t immediately understand.

Loved is a Feeling, Love is Not

As mentioned above one can feel loved. That is to accept the loving gestures of another. Love, however, is not a feeling. It’s an active verb. It’s a decision. It’s action. Love is making a decision to create a place of importance in your “quality world” – that is the internal representation of the external world. (See Choice Theory
for more on a quality world.)

In Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness the view that love isn’t a feeling but rather it’s a choice is fully exposed. Here Peck is focused on the action of love. Folks will say that they don’t feel like loving someone else. However, it really means that they don’t feel like giving. They don’t feel like extending themselves further and expending more energy. Realizing love is action you can see that you don’t feel like loving. It’s not that you don’t feel love. You don’t feel like loving others.

Performance-based Love

While love is an act not a feeling, being loved doesn’t require an act or action. However, many people have gotten this mixed up and have taught their children and those around them that in order to be loved they have to perform – to make the person look or feel good. However, this kind of love conveys that the decision to love someone is based solely on what they can do for you.

How can someone feel secure if they’re constantly worried that their performance will cause those whom they are interdependent upon to kick them out and cast them aside? At the heart of performance-based love is this fear, that we won’t be loved. As a result when you teach others a performance based approach to love to condemn them to a life of wondering if they’ll be safe – if they’ll continue to be loved.

Starting the Journey

One of the cautions in The Road Less Traveled is that the harder and longer that you work on spiritual development the lonelier the road becomes. I’d love to change that. I’d love for all of you to join me on The Road Less Travelled.

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My Video Studio 2.1

It’s only been since June that I wrote about the major upgrades to the studio but there have been a few more enhancements that I’ve done to try to resolve issues I was still having. They really break into two issues. First, Chroma Keying and second, working space.

Chroma Keying

Getting a “clean” Chroma key is really difficult. It’s not that big a deal when you’re just lighting a single subject but as the area you’re trying to key is getting larger and larger it becomes progressively more difficult to get the right results.

There were two specific things I was dealing with. The first was that the green was spilling onto my subject. The reflected light from the backdrop was reflecting onto the person so they’d have a green hue about them. This problem was caused by a variety of factors including the distance between the background and the subject as well as the amount of front lighting that the subject had on them. Second, I was having trouble getting even lighting across the entire width of the scene. The four foot sections of bulbs just wasn’t cutting it.

My first attempted solution involved adding some lights to compensate for shadows on the green screen created by the objects in the scene. So I’d hide small adjustable LED lights behind things like the monitor that was on-scene. I love the Neewer CN-576 lights that I got but I could never quite get the lighting right. I’d take a test shot put it in the editing software and see what I got – and invariably I’d realize that I didn’t like how clean the Chroma key was.

I decided that I needed to be able to see the Chroma key live. I wouldn’t normally do live keying but I needed a way to see things live and make small adjustments. That led me to the BlackMagic ATEM Television Studio Production Switcher. It’s a work of art and it allowed me to literally see the impact of my lighting to the Chroma key I could get. It had the side benefit of having a built in H.264 encoder so now I could quite literally live stream video from my studio. This allowed me to fine-tune the lighting but I still didn’t like the results of the Chroma keying. It could get a solid key but the problem was that it took a fair amount of effort to get things setup and my goal was a studio that I could just get going in and not have to worry about tweaking too much.

I ended up adjusting my preview monitors on the tower to make room for a dedicated preview for the ATEM on the bottom. This meant moving the second preview monitor up above to right about the second camera. It means that the tower looks like a bunch of TVs but at a glance the on-camera talent can see everything that is going on.

As a quick sidebar, the ATEM is a bit picky about the signals it’s getting in. My primary cameras were fine but I sometimes include some cheaper side-cameras for off-angles. Because the ATEM offers six channels (two are SDI only and two are SDI/HDMI and two are HDMI) I wanted to be able to include my off-angle cameras and be able to preview them. That meant finding a scan converter that would create a signal the ATEM liked. I found the Decimator MD-HX Cross Converter which does a wonderful job of cleaning up the signal and as a bonus converts it to SDI.

Back to my problem of having trouble getting even lighting for the Chroma keying. The solution was to custom make some strip lights. I got some white surface-mount LED strips and a power supply and created my own light. The LEDs themselves are sold as SMD 5050s. SMD stands for surface mount device. The 5050 is the size of the LED. A strip is 5 meters long only $10.99 at the time of this writing. I ordered three spools of the LED lights, two dimmers, and two power supplies. I made two lights that were roughly 8 feet long by taking a 1″x4″x10′ board and painting it white then attaching all of the gear to it. The result is one light for the bottom and one for the top that are 8 feet wide. Each have three strips of the lights – one and a half spools. This solved my issue with getting even lighting. The dimmers, it turns out, weren’t even necessary but I’m sure that I’ll find a use for them for lighting effects later.

Working Space

The studio is a 15’x30′ space that has the editing bay at one end. It’s not tiny – but it’s not spacious either. One of the problems that I had was that the front-fill lights (Interfit Photographic Super Cool Lighting Kit) weren’t able to be placed exactly the way I wanted. The two lighting stands that the two lights per side stood on ended up interfering with one another. The result was the lights were difficult to maneuver and difficult to place.

The solution was to have a friend of mine custom-create new lighting stands that are designed to mount multiple lights to and are designed so that the weight is all on one side – eliminating the need for tripod legs and making it easier to place. I really like the results even if I haven’t gotten around to painting them in chrome yet.

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Book Review-A Hunger for Healing: The Twelve Steps as a Classic Model for Christian Spiritual Growth

A good friend and Christian life coach and I were talking and he mentioned the book A Hunger for Healing was packed with insights and that I should read it. Most of the time when people make a recommendation for a book to read it takes me a while to get to it – this was no exception. I recognize that the research that I’ve done into the roots of Christianity and the intersection of Twelve Step programs is probably more than most folks would be interested in. (See Spiritual Evolution, The Great Evangelical Recession, Chuchless, for more on Christianity and it’s evolution.) However, there were some insights in A Hunger for Healing that needed shared – and more importantly it’s the link to a book called The Road Less Traveled that was amazing.

 

Hurting Church

It’s been said that the church is the only “army” that shoots it’s wounded. There are plenty of places where you can see where the church has done as much harm as it has done good in the world. Recently the pope relaxed the views of the church creating more acceptance of both divorced persons and homosexuals. The church historically had shunned those who were divorced and who were homosexual. While there’s a growing acceptance both groups of people remain treated as if they are damaged goods at some level.

There’s a common fallacy about becoming a Christian that once you accept Jesus Christ your problems stop. All you have to do is accept Christ and the work is over. The truth is that this is when the work really begins. I don’t personally put much stock in spiritual warfare but I know that my problems haven’t stopped.

The truth is that we’re all bruised in different ways. We’re all broken. We all sin. (See Romans 3:23) A friend of mine said that a church is a hospital for the spiritually sick. I believe that wholeheartedly. I believe that we’re all just trying to grow up and be better.

You’re Soaking in It

The more I research cognition and the psychology and neurology of it the more convinced I become that most of what we are is unconscious, not conscious. From the Rider-Elephant-Path model in The Happiness Hypothesis
and Switch to the neurology of Incognito to Sources of Power and Recognition Primed Decisions (RPD) there are hints that how we make decisions isn’t either rational or under our control.

Certainly as Kurt Lewin said, “Behavior is a function of person and environment.” We have free will but ultimately our behavior will be determined by both who we are as a person and the environmental factors that are surrounding us. However, there’s more than just the first order problem to look at. The second order problem is that we adapt to social norms. That is if others around us are doing something it’s likely we’ll feel like it is OK. This leads to the broken windows theory of crime covered in The Tipping Point.

I’ve heard criticism of twelve step programs that amounts to “I’m not an addict, so how can it help me?” A good friend of mine pointed me to a story in the Alcoholics Anonymous “big book” to read. I read it and told her that it didn’t make sense. She responded that she asked me to read it precisely because it wouldn’t make sense. She told me that the story resonates with addicts – the story of continuing to do something that you know is harmful is something that they can identify with. For me it didn’t make sense and in this was a very discernable difference between an addict and my situation.

However, despite this, I can say that programs that are based on the twelve step principles can be valuable to non-addicts. The great wisdom that is in the program and more importantly the people applies to every human. Things like “You’re only as sick as your secrets” reminds me to move into my relationships even when I don’t want to.

What I realize as I attend meetings is that I’m “soaking it in.” There are things that I hear that don’t connect for days, weeks, or months. I’m going not because I need a specific insight but rather that I recognize that there is wisdom here.

Controlling

A typical response of an addict – and most of the rest of us – is “white knuckling it.” That is using willpower to overcome the desires of our heart. Whether it’s a drink, or shopping, or sex, the “in control” person prevents those behaviors from leaking out by sheer force of will – that is until they run out of will power. However, sooner or later everyone does run out of willpower. Rather than trying to fix the pains that are bubbling up they try to fight the urges and overcome them. (See Chasing the Scream
for more on pains bubbling up.)

Controlling others is the subject of Compelled to Control – one of J. Keith Miller’s other books that I’ve reviewed. At the heart of the matter is our belief that we have to be in control of our lives and that we’re responsible for our wellbeing.

God in the Center

An odd thing happens when you are in the center of your world. With you in the center you have to solve all of the problems you have. You have to solve the problems that you see. However, it’s the problems that you don’t see that you still have to solve that is more difficult. With you at the center of your world you have to fix your own hurts. You have to recognize that you’re limited and therefore there will be problems that you just can’t solve.

A healthier arrangement is to put God in the center – make him responsible for making all things right. Twelve Step programs are careful to say that anything can be your “higher power.” However, I believe that this is largely because folks have such a distorted view of God that saying God from the outset would probably cause many to run away from the programs.

Whether you believe in an all-knowing and loving God or not – even if you’re an atheist – it’s helpful to realize that you don’t have to be in control of everything. You don’t have to have the solution to every problem. A friend, someone who loves you, or the universe will send you the answers you need.

Self-Care

It may seem odd that when confronted with someone who seems self-indulgent, whose behavior is harming themselves and those around them, one of your responses should be to teach them self-care. Instead of a life draining addiction or struggle they’ll often need to learn that it’s OK to take care of themselves. It’s an odd paradox that you have to be “selfish” to be able to support others but that is a fundamental truth.

You cannot give what you don’t have. If you don’t have peace, you can’t give peace. If you don’t have love, you can’t give love. If you don’t have a respect for yourself, you can’t give this to others. So despite the fact that many people (including addicts) have been told that it’s wrong to be selfish and to take care of yourself, this is precisely what we need to do sometimes.

In fact, as a rule we’re positively lousy at self-care. We’re bad at knowing what will make us happy and just as bad at knowing what will restore us. (See The Happiness Hypothesis, Hardwiring Happiness, and Stumbling on Happiness for more about our ability to find happiness.)

Intimacy

The way that healing comes, the way that we become more whole than we are today is by being intimate with another person. By finding the person who can see us for all that we are and seek to help us become better each day. We heal because others care enough to see our broken spaces and cover them with their love and acceptance. (See How to be an Adult in Relationships
for more on acceptance.)

Some are tragically incapable of intimacy and therefore will struggle to heal. (See Intimacy Anorexia for intimacy problems.) It’s through our powerlessness – and the help of others – that we become powerful. Like exercise where we tear down muscles and they come back stronger so we come back stronger when we are able to heal ourselves. So don’t lose. Keep your (A) Hunger for Healing.