Mind over matter

I was just working on debugging some code and I noticed that after I failed a couple of times, I got really sucked into the computer monitor. My neck bent, my shoulders hunched over, my breath shallow and my legs wrapped around the legs of the chair I’m sitting on.
What exactly was I doing here?
I was using all of my body, my emotional and even physical resources to “try to” solve the problem at hand.
However, what I forgot, out of habit was that not all the resources we possess are usable in solving any problem we might be facing. All of the emotional extension and the physical tension I was engaged was a subconscious attempt to get the problem to comply with me- as if I was a baby and I was trying my best to get my mother’s attention.
Most of us have learnt to get rid of unhelpful habits, such as this as we grow up and train ourselves to be fully functional adults. However, we all have our moments of weakness.
And when we are stressed out, or feeling under attack, we often tend to regress psychologically- i.e. if the problem is really big and we feel burdened enough, instead of using our best-suited faculties to solve the problem at hand, we regress and use more and more primitive tools.
Have you ever felt really frustrated and started pulling your hair, screaming at the wall, tears rolling down your cheeks?

“You too Brutus?”

Of all people, we get backstabbed by the ones we feel were the closest to us.  Why would anyone go around hating on others anyway?  Just mind your own business, be fruitful and multiply and stay the f- out of my business.  Why would you want me to fail?

My roommate gets that smile on his face everytime he sees me grab a cookie, because he knows I’m supposed to be on a paleo diet. “Don’t sweat it man, it’s too much trouble anyway.” – the bastard even sounds friendly.  But I know he’s happy to see me fail. 

And that is because he gets to feel good about himself not doing anything at all. 

The selfish genes are strong.  We are social animals and we love to be around others. We like to live and play and cooperate with others. But deep down, we are animals that carry the biological agenda of our genes.  Every one of us carries genes that want to propagate themselves- AT ANY COST. Biology is brutal, amoral. matter of fact and it is a game of survival and replication or obsolescence, death and extinction. And nobody said the fight has to be fair- well the genes wouldn’t care if somebody said it either.  If somebody else is creating a better reality for themselves, they are probably getting more natural, social or reproductive resources for themselves. And we are wired to believe that that means less for us. 

If you go off to climb Everest, and actually make it and come back, you will get all the girls at the bar and I’ll be left out in the cold. So, somewhere inside, everytime you miss a workout, I feel happy even though you are fifty pounds too heavy at the moment. 

This is primal matter. 

What happened to “mind over matter”?


She pisses me off

We have a finite amount of positive emotional resources- self esteem, optimism, concentration. We can use these to move toward our goals in order to create a more successful life for ourselves. However, sometimes we are stuck in a negative mindset, a rut of misery and compalining and whining and feeling like things are never going to work out and how much better things would be “if only that jackass would understand and change”.
“He really pisses me off.”
“He is really out to get me.”
” He’s a real pain in my neck.”

These are all issues with our own boundaries. As mature, healthy adults, we need to develop a strong sense of what is within our control, and what is outside.
We can be productive and positive with the things that are within our control, but we really have to learn to be okay with things that are not in our hands. A toddler raging at her mother until she fetches the monster’s toy can get her way. But once we become adults, we have to realize that we cannot control the rest of the world through our emotions.
Yes, we can certainly still influence other people and objects in our surrounding. But they do not respond to our emotions the way our doting mother used to when we were in the cradle. If we want a toy to come to us, we have to get up and pick it up for ourself, or communicate to someone else and convince them to do it for us. But nobody will understand the quiet longing in our eyes, or the true words being our dumb rage, or our emotions behind a sulk.

Why People Pretend

Why would anyone act like they know something that they are clearly clueless about?
It’s not just fooling others but fooling oneself. And it might come from a place of naive honesty.
Usually there are four levels of knowledge:
1. unconscious incompetence: we don’t know that we don’t know something
2. conscious incompetence: we realize that we do not know something
3. conscious competence: the learning phase when we know something and get it right if we focus on it
4. the level where something is fully internalized so it runs on autopilot and we know/do it seemingly without any effort

Most people are at level four on at least some skills, i.e. they know what if feels like to do something that they know. They just do it without huff and puff and it all goes smooth.
Now, when one is faced with a new challenge, there are two possible ways out:
1. admit that one is incompetent and then commit to consciously learning it
2. not admit to oneself that one doesn’t know:
At this point, one has to go on as if one knows what they are doing, and in this case, one would just go on as if they were already competent at the task, however, the competence is not there, resulting in a mess.

Once in a while, a man feels an urge- to do something cool;  to become fucking awesome.  You watch a Bruce Lee movie and you get all pumped up; you remember all the times in your life you’ve been a badass and you plan a kickass solution to everything you are planning for your future. That night you go out; school all of your friends at beer pong, high-five everyone in the room, flirt with the bartender and get the cute girl’s number. For as long as the wave lasts, you feel unstoppable; you’re on fire. You want to stay this way forever and not go back to the normal, ordinary, shitty way of life that you are used to.

You wake up the next day and you have a bit of a headache. You get an email from your boss telling you to get your assignment in on Tudsday instead of Thursday. You want to make an omelette but the pan is in the sink and you’ve been out of detergent for a week. Your heart sinks. So much for being on fire; you want to just forget all about life, curl up on your couch and never wake up.

“This is fucking annoying”, you wake up thinking.  Something always happens to pop your bubble. Little things seem to cripple you and bring you back down every time.

It is as if there is something keeping you from getting to where you’d like to be. As if it was tugging at you, holding you back. And these hang-ups seem much more deep-rooted than what you could just muscle through once and be done with. You were on a such a good swing swing starting New year’s day- remember- you’d been hitting the gym, quit smoking, that girl in your salsa class seemed to dig you. And then by march, you had turned into the “normal” you again.

Even if you force through something once, pretty soon you go back to thinking, “well  that one time was different, I was on fire, but normally this (shitty) is the way I am.”

But you see other people do it. It’s not too much to ask for; things just seem to go awry for you alone. You tell yourself you will get it next time, but then somehow things go right back to normal again.

“Why?”, you ask yourself,  “Can I get rid of these hang ups and make awesomeness my reality?”

You are facing what are called limiting beliefs and hidden shame. And everyone has their own irrational hang ups about something that seems trivial to everyone else. Genghis Khan, the man who conquered half of the known world was afraid of cats.

For most people, these seemingly little issues surround them on all sides and create a glass ceiling.

There is a way out. Not that hard.

Self-awareness is a big step toward getting over these trifles. Once you realize what your particular goblins look like and where they came from, you can make them vanish in a poof. As soon as you understand why you do some of the things you do, it becomes very obvious that you were seeing walls where doors have always been open.

These issues are deeper-rooted than you might think at first- most of them go back to experiences we had as children. Your brain still carries the injunctions and feelings that were patterned into it when you were a helpless little child and had no power over the world. As a child, whenever you reached for something and didn’t get it, you had no choice but to accept that the world was right and you must’ve been wrong- after all you had to survive. Since you were a little kid facing the whole world, you learnt to navigate your way around the obstacles so the next time you didn’t even think of fighting for it- you accepted that hold-back so that you could survive and grow up and become big and strong one day.  This is a very useful adaptation for when you are a child.

There comes a point, however, when you are a grown up- you have survived, you’ve sucked up and held back a fist, hidden your anger and muttered under your breath…whatever it took to get to this point. Now you are strong enough, not just physically but mentally too- to be able to face a rejection, an obstacle in the way, and fight with it. Even if you lose, it is not not going to end your life; you can bounce right back. But some of the fears you grew up with still seem enormous to you.

Most people are very wary of getting into a situation that might be awkward or embarrassing. We hate to put ourselves in situations where we might have to face rejection or shame. This is a very strong, visceral reaction. The reason this feeling of awkwardness or shame is so overpowering is because it is a learned response from when we were helpless children.

Say you were a baby in your mother’s arms and you wanted something. And your mom didn’t let you have it.  Now since you were entirely dependent on your mom to meet your needs, if she rejected you, you felt as if the universe closed its door on your face- after all, if  your mother truly rejected you you’d be dead. Babies are learning creatures and they are training themselves to engage in behaviors that are rewarded and not endanger themselves by engaging in behaviors that are punished or rejected. So, every behavior that led to a positive outcome became associated with a good feeling and everything that led to a negative outcome to a bad feeling.

As a baby, when you want something and it is denied to you- the adaptational feeling you experience is shame. It is not overt fear, as if you were confronted with danger, but it is a pretty big deal. Most things a child would ask for are directly related to survival and being denied meant you were denied something that was crucial for survival. As children, we really had to be good at avoiding shame-inducing experiences. Since it is a negative feeling (bad for survival) , we all learned to try to avoid or minimize incidents of shame.

The reason guys are scared to ask a girl out is that we still operate with the mindset of ” if she rejects me there will be shame”.  That might be true, but shame for us as adults doesn’t have the same life-threatening consequences as it would have for a kid.

A great analogy is that of an elephant cub is tied to a post with a  piece of string that’s strong enough that the baby can’t break it. It might try, but soon gives up because it learns that that is futile struggle. As the baby grows up day by day, it is held in place by the same piece of string. However, by the time it is strong enough to break it, the elephant has learned to not fight the string- it still remembers coming to its last breath fighting against it and would rather not go through that frustrating and exhausting struggle again. And eventually, even a grown up elephant is tamed and kept in the shed by a  measly string , because it will not even try to fight it.

The elephant has gotten used to its “normal” life and never even imagines what it would be like to not be bound. It might, by accident, get into a rage one day, and while it is not consciously thinking of “fighting the string”, break the string. However, because of habit, it will often return to the shed and once again be tied down by the same string.

You have probably seen guys do things they did not think themselves capable of  when they are going through a crisis or when they hit rock bottom. But then afterwards, just out of habit, they return to their old, comfortable ways.

There is a better way to break through these invisible chains. You can do this gently- by putting yourself in uncomfortable situations that are not going to kill you.

Part of the reason you are afraid is because you might feel unprepared for any response from her- positive or negative. You think it will be unpleasant if she gives you a negative response and you might not know how to take the interaction forward if she does. But you are making this way too big in your head. If it is a negative response, you just move on. If it is positive, keep it going until the interaction dies out on its own. You will have learned something. Seriously though, there is no reason to be afraid.

Next time you see an attractive woman, just go up to her and say hi.

No sweat, no nothing, huh?

Now, go up to a woman (at a bar at night, not in a library), keep a straight face and say, “I want you to come home with me tonight.”

What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe she will deny you the comfort of her breasts, but that’s not a big deal at all.  The fear you have is a relic from the past when being denied a breast could have been fatal.

Go, get em tiger.