Monday, December 24, 2012

How My 2012 Went, and Plans for 2013

Time for me once again to pretend to be a good, on-schedule writer and do the obligatory end of year analysis, though I'm doing it out of value of course, not traditional commitment. This year, I will say, has been rather messy, a confusing conjumblelation of factors that really makes it neither good nor bad, though plenty disappointing enough. Overall I did learn a lot about myself personally, how to judge and treat other people, and have identified the important questions to address and set up new goals for 2013.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Still-Water Mind: Health Around the Corner?

A little frustrated energy shall make me write this with haste, but I think I may have come across a really big insight about myself that will not only cultivate good concentration, but also, so finally, give me a better path to achieving my ideal vision of myself.

If you've been following along, you'll know that as of recent I've been very big into developing concentration, as I've been surprised to discover how essential it really it to fundamental mental health. With success and lapses here and there I have found that I am generally right, but it remains a tricky practice. The big insight I've discovered is that writing is actually my primary mental health practice, that I need to place my routines in a specific order for them to be effective, and that I must do the writing in a special way in order for it to be its most potent.

It's rather big because originally I thought I just needed an array of techniques to keep me steady, without any of them being particularly more important than the other, that it was okay to do them in any order so long as I did them all, and that some rigid rules didn't hurt any particular practice, which turns out to be otherwise.

What I've discovered is that, given my intellectually driven nature, handwriting in a journal is the best way to cultivate good concentration and a good mood, because it allows me to reflect deeply on the particular ideas within me, and that the handwriting makes the process more intensive mentally. The secondary thing is that I must allow myself unrestrained time to engage in this practice, as taking my time to unleash everything is best, whether it be less than twenty minutes or nearly two hours. Previously I was only dedicating myself artificially to one page a day, which wasn't enough, especially when I did it sporadically. Thirdly, I've discovered that this practice is more important than the others because it gets "out" what's on my mind, and if I don't do that I'm cluttered with thoughts and noise in any other activity I try to do. Finally, this flows into the realization that I must do this practice first most because otherwise not getting things "out" will result in irresolvable distractions all elsewhere.

The other important practice, I think, is meditation, but I could live without it, maybe. Seeing what effect doing exhaustive writing has had on me makes me realize what's gone so wrong with meditation all these years. I've been trying to be consistent about it for a long time now, but failed hard because I couldn't understand why only a few sessions at first would cultivate the concentrative and soothing effects that I wanted, while I would struggle endlessly on thereafter. I think it's because I've failed to get all my thoughts out, as I've said, so meditation is too difficult, if not impossible, if I don't do a brain dump beforehand. Even if the purpose of the practice is to learn how to quiet the mind and focus on sensory experience I simply cannot do that unless I clear the thoughts by means of writing.

I was impressed when, one day before traveling to work, I had done a particularly lot of writing beforehand. That day I decided I was going to push every other task aside to work on the journal, and I wrote for a whole one to two hours, which practically left little time or anything else. My mind was amazingly calm, like still water, and I couldn't believe how clearly I could think, easily guide my thoughts, and how relaxed I was. When I meditated before my work shift the session went perfectly as it should, my laser-focusing on the practice as I never could before.

Thus, if I am to totally secure my mental health and totally eliminate the internal obstacles to my more ideal self, then I think I need to focus primarily on an introspective journal and meditation, with the tenets that I write as early as possible in the day with unrestrained time, multiple entries if need be, and then allow myself meditation chronologically afterwards, preferably before a shift, as the prior brain dump will then enable me to hone my concentration down to a precise measure.

It's big because perhaps this could be the final measure needed to finally get over all my past problems, at long last. Restricting myself to one page certainly leads to an insufficient release, and it's impossible to meditate with all the inward noise, so perhaps my discoveries will finally perfect the practices. I won't always need to write for hours on end; I've discovered that the more I tend to the practice regularly and exhaustively both increases my efficiency of writing and requires me to "need" to say less, satisfying me more quickly.

We'll see. My present goal is to write as early as possible in the day without time restraints, to meditate before a working shift (when I have a little time to start another entry, and it works best as mental prep), and to write a second entry during my break.

Monday, October 29, 2012

My Twenty-Fourth Year . . .

My birthday was a few days ago. I am now officially twenty-four, and while I saw the age-change coming it didn't really move my emotions until the midnight hour struck, officially changing the digits. I'm still very young, but it impresses me that I'm only six years away from being thirty, which from my young person's perspective feels like its practically middle age. I am not distraught at how my life has been spent so far, but I do feel a spurring to hurry up and get on with living a truly good life, as birthdays are a good reminder of how the clock is ticking.

Overall I was very lukewarm this birthday. Truthfully, I didn't even celebrate it, as I still remain largely alone in Texas, no network of people to gather together for a party. The only present I got even was a treatment to a steak dinner, and have to admit that was satisfying enough. I don't miss the presents I used to get from the family I cut off -- geez, almost a two full years now -- because they were so strange in getting me things that were obviously unrelated to my character. I ask for a $15 book and I get a $150 iPod, odd since I'm not a vivid music player. One birthday my only wish was to have a cake decorated like a Jack-o-Lantern, and I got a generic Dairy Queen cake and a cell phone, which was still yet odd since I was so vocal about my hatred of talking on the phone. Hmph.

My lukewarmness is due to my being happy with the material condition of my life, yet unhappy with its spiritual setting. Materialistically I'm pretty well-off: I'm at a decently paying job at a good hotel with good people and bosses; I have my own apartment, which I have been pining for for several years; and I'm able to afford the scant few luxuries I want. On the other hand, I'm still deeply dissatisfied with my career, investing three years and am still on the bottom of the ladder; am not as intellectually cultivated as I want to be, and still suffer loneliness and resentment towards people. But still yet, I've made a lot of psychological progress in tending to some major problem and mitigating others, but I've still got a long ways to go if I want to truly achieve "self-mastery", as I've dubbed 2012 the year of.

Yet, with lots of life still yet to live, it's still not too late to strive for the better within myself, no? This birthday ought to be treated as another opportunity to make new resolutions like that of new year's resolutions. Er, birthday resolutions. I want this year to be so good on a character level that, no matter what the deterioration of the world, I can be authentically happy with and proud of myself by my twenty-fifth year, and make it all escalate from there.

As I said above, my primary dissatisfaction is my career, and that's the one I want to work on the most. No matter what my knowledge of the hardships of this world I am never able to avoid the shock of experiencing it, and the restaurant industry has certainly disappointed me in that regard. While I love my line of work, it's been a harsh blow to walk into restaurants and become one of the establishment's best employees hands down, and to be neglected for promotions, or even outright regularly demoted because the ambition I bring to my starting position locks me into it. They say that dish washing can be a great start to an aspiring chef's career, getting his foot in the door, but that advice is sadly outdated in this day and age where people have childish resistance against hard work and feel entitled to start higher up. Good dishwashers are so rare that coming in such a position with the drive to show your worth might unfortunately keep you trapped in it. If the industry had been more just to me, I would have been doing fine dining cooking by now, but instead I've spent years doing unjustly rewarded work, being given excuses and outright lies, and even demoted half a dozen times because I can't be replaced at my starting position.

My passion for the restaurant industry has waned, and honestly I'm thinking about leaving it outright for a few years. The rubber on my tires is burnt straight to the rim -- how am I still at point A? Given it's relevance to my culinary interests, it might be more beneficial for me to become an apprentice to a butcher, some kind of game hunter, a fish monger, or whatever. I primarily want to deal with protein cooking -- meat, poultry, game -- so while I recognize the need for expertise in plant cookery to become an authentically good chef, the proteins are what I want to learn about first. I trust my current employers to be just to me, but I'm pessimistic about any opportunities coming up for me, as too much lies on me being able to be replaced with two other good dish washers to fill the positions, and for me that's waiting for lightning to strike in the right place or to win the lottery jackpot.

I don't know. Maybe I'd tolerate my restaurant job with greater perseverance if I had a butcher's apprenticeship to spiritually recharge me in the meanwhile, but I'm conflicted. Right now I'll seek out that apprenticeship as a secondary job, and see how it affects my psychology, hopefully for the better. So that's one thing I want accomplished before turning twenty-five: To actually be in some line of work that's actually relevant to my culinary aims, whether it be prep or butchering. The time to move up on the ladder is now.

Though, I have to admit that my greater disappointment is in my intellectual life, as I don't do that much to advance my mind as I used to. The year I dropped out of college was actually my most mentally productive and educational, as losing trust in formal education made me take it seriously and into my own hands, moving me to study so hard for my own benefit I had to sleep from exhaustion, or to do mind-advancing exercises to the point I got a headache. While my current intention is to actually engage in cooking long-term, I still want to be as intelligent and academic about it as possible, and perhaps be a regular author and academic on the side to my chef's career, or heck, maybe I'll end up being a full-blown writer in the end. Whatever the case, learning and mental prowess are a definite must in my line of work: I am by far my happiest and most effective when my mind is happily engaged in what I'm doing. Cooking, to me, cannot simply be a mastery of physical skills and a categorizing of tastes; I have to think about it in some way. I don't plan on doing molecular gastronomy, but I certainly want a deeper knowledge of food beyond "if you do this it'll taste good."

As such, while I'm twenty-four I would again like to recapture that fervent self-improvement streak I had going on when I freshly dropped out of college. The reason why it didn't last in the first place is because I had some majorly bad people in my life at the time, and it eventually took most and then all of my attention away from my self-advancement because I had to dedicate these last few years to solving those petty problems. My grandmother, for instance, did not agree with me that studying at home was in any way beneficial, and literally could not fathom why I would want to do it, so for years she frequently took to purposely interrupting and distracting me, to the point it became mentally impossible to get any work done.

All those years spent solving those problems has obliterated any good habits I had established. At one point I studied so rigorously that I almost literally had a physical craving to do it, as my brain enjoyed the intense stimulation; all the interruptions has made it hard to open up a book now. But tsk! I've got to man up and get on with it, as my trust shall not be earned back to the educational establishment, especially after putting me over $4,000 in debt without $4,000 of value added into my life.

I talk about personal studies and self-improvement a lot without making good on it, I know, but I'm not giving up on it since I've seen how happy I've been in my most mentally strenuous times. My ideals intimidate me since I recognize that my goals entail working myself to exhaustion regularly multiple times a week, solely through exertion of the mind. Trust me, you wake up feeling different and extra-good about life when the night prior you were thinking so hard at a subject that you got a headache. It may not sound pleasant, but the mental and character growth that occurs overnight as a result sure is.

So another thing I'd like to obtain by my twenty-fifth year is to be very, very consistent on how rigorously I mentally apply myself. I may never been a formal student again, but I want it to be a regular in my life to open a book and take notes on it, and even set up study assignments around it. More mental potency lends itself to more competence in the career realm, which opens the door to more achievement and consequently happiness; I'm not talking about "Ivory tower" learning that turns one into an armchair intellectual, here. Still more, in addition to the formal studying, I also want to be more consistent in mentally applying myself for growth outside of that realm, such as by developing an innate ability to navigate by refusing to use a GPS, becoming fluent in math by forgoing the calculator, and so on. It goes without saying that mental powers are my highest value. I just enjoy life so much better with a broader and deeper mind. How could physical pleasures with mindless prerequisites compare?  

I could go on about focuses, but really I think these are the only two fundamental realms worth worrying about, gateways to all the other good things to life. For example, intensive personal self-improvement ought to lead into career advancement, because after all I'll be more competent and capable of more, and career advancement will lead to more money and better finances, and so on. No need to elaborate how these roots will lead to a trunk with many branches of flowers.

While this may sound like a separate focus, I think this will also lead to me coming closer, if not all the way towards how I envision an ideal self. Not hold back, I desire to become an utterly spectacular man, highly competent, intelligent, emotionally moving and persuasive, and lovably benevolent, capable of leading and influencing people . . . only I don't think that needs to be a direct aim, in total. I just need to focus on the ingredients of how to fully develop myself for my best happiest. To become my most intelligent and competent, I must study and rigorously apply my mind to tasks. To become benevolent and lovable, I have to get over my bitter history and master treating people well and respectfully with near-perfect consistency. To be persuasive, I have to be meticulous and thoughtful in my opinions, unafraid to share them, and assertive in not backing down unless I'm convinced to another opinion. All separate and distinct goals that ultimately tie into becoming my absolute best self. Tend to the individual smaller traits of your being, and the whole of your character will take care of itself.

As for people-related goals, I don't know what to do. I know I've complained about my loneliness an awful lot, but it seems like there's little I can do about it except make sure I'm maintaining a likable being and that I seize opportunity. The people around me just seem like we wouldn't be able to establish the deep, meaningful relationships I'd want. In other words, I'm not surrounded by the people with the same values as I, or the deep dedication to any shared pursuits. There is an Objectivist group I could drive to and perhaps meet such people there, but work largely prohibits me from being able to attend, so my ability to go will always be rare. Oh well: Focus on my self-realization, enjoy myself how I can with others, and never neglect an opportunity. A good enough formula, for now.

The first steps to take are to tend to my concentration, start opening some books and take on mind-improvement goals, and call some places for apprenticeships. While I could plan it more deeply, I've learned not to worry about it: As you successfully establish a habit and master it, you become more efficient and productive, which increases the capacity to do more and creates the urge to do so. I'll branch out accordingly.

Whatever happens, I intend not to waste my life. The good thing about other people is having them commit the mistakes so you can take the lesson without paying the price. I've seen what shocking misery and internal horror it leads to throughout a lifetime to engage in idle habits and petty anxiety, and how maintaining those motions can destroy a whole lifetime. Remembering those people sure straightens me up.  

Burgulars and Outdated Evolution

Tossing off a quick thought for your consideration.

You know, I've always thought it's weird that when a person suspects that a person has trespassed into their home, even if in a silly fashion, like right after watching a horror movie, the common response is to be as quiet as possible and make no noise, and to either hide or meekly say ". . . hello?" This isn't logical.

While possible, it's probably rare to near non-existent that a person would break into your home with the express purpose of deliberately seeking you out to hurt you, so on the most common side the more likely psychology of a criminal would be that he's scared to death while he's committing his action, anxiety through the roof about getting caught. If he saw someone, even without them noticing or showing any sign of assertiveness, he'd more probably get terrified and flee, rather than shout "Ah ha! Got you!" and then go after you.

As such, doesn't it make far more sense that, if you were to sense someone in your home, regardless of whether or not it's true, to be as loud and assertive as possible, and to aggressively search them out? Imagine what a criminal would think in response to that. Here he is breaking into this home . . . and my god the home owner is actually after him! Oh my god he must have a gun or something! Better get the hell out!

I bet that the reason why people feel such paralyzing fear as the common response is because it could be an outdated biological measure from man's evolutionary history. The whole biological mechanism that paralyzes you into place or gives you an irresistible urge to run away is called "fight or flight," and it does make sense when dealing with wild animals. If you saw a wild lion in the jungle around some heavy foliage it would make sense to dash to the nearest bush and have your muscles tighten up so you don't risk making a single sound in the branches; confronting the lion is not a good idea. However, this biological urging continues in us in a technological age where it's really of little to no use. If someone breaks our window at night and enters, the temptation is to hide under the bed and freeze, and yet the most practical thing to do might be to shout angrily, turn lights on, and stomp around loudly. Criminals by their nature are mentally weak, so all this would probably be sufficient to drive them away in panic.

Though, isn't it funny that man can update his surroundings and technology faster than his biology can adapt to it?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Hypothesis On Why People Don't Like to Think

Yes, another irregular appearance, but I'll dash on with the subject since it's interesting, and if I want to write more I've got to write more, no? I really should post reflections like these.

Now to some degree or another it's well-known that culturally we're in a very anti-intellectual period. People don't like to think. School quality is going down as are grades, people are lacking essential cognitive skills on a wide measure, and, most of concern, people by and large don't want to exert themselves mentally, choosing the path of least mental resistance instead.

But is it as simple an explanation as choosing the path of least resistance? My idea is still simple, but a little different.

I hypothesize that people don't like to mentally exert themselves these days because it literally feels good not to; that, in a low-level intellectual state, their brain actually rewards them with endorphins the less they mentally exert themselves. I don't think this is natural of humans, but rather a lasting consequence of bad epistemology.

Epistemology is the field of philosophy that studies how man obtains and validates knowledge, and on a concrete level a given epistemology is going to determine how effectively or ineffectively one learns. An invalid epistemology will stifle and paralyze the mind while a good one will aid and empower it, setting free virtually unlimited powers. Accepting without detail that schools are declining in quality, for the sake of argument, it goes without saying that schools teach in accordance to very bad epistemological methods. For instance, in my math class during senior year in high school my teacher was totally unable to attach certain math concepts to real-life applications, which made what she was teaching, in that context, literal nonsense.

As such, these bad epistemological methods make learning far harder than it needs to be or actually is, so kids, teens, and young adults walk away with the sincere complaint that they can't remember the content of their classes, and with the unfortunate resentment of learning in whole, wherever it applies. When people bearing this kind of resentment leave school they tend to leave learning altogether, not enjoying fine books, the application of their minds, or anything intellectual.

I think this results in people receiving feel-good signals from their brain when they don't exert themselves because the irrational epistemological methods they've practiced are unnecessarily intense and practically futile, wasting a lot of effort for a whole lot of nothing. On a biological level, I think the body might recognize that, through irrational schooling, the brain is frequently wasting resources by trying to build up synaptic connections and neural networks that quickly waste away soon after, and which happens over and over again throughout the schooling years.

This could be best likened to adopting an irrational exercise regiment that is severely uncomfortable, time consuming, leads to no physical benefits neither in health nor appearance, and doesn't even lead to pleasurable aftereffects. If a government agency were to force children to perform exercises like that for years then of course they wouldn't look forward to it, would hate the duration of it, and quit it as soon as it was no longer mandatory. If what they were forced to do actually dictated their whole conception of what exercise is, then they may forfeit tending to their physical fitness altogether, believing it to be an uncomfortable task that leads to little worthwhile.

I've noticed this type of feeling in my own character a few years ago while I was still "recovering," you could say, from my schooling as a fresh college dropout. It disturbed me to notice that every time I relaxed my attention my brain would release endorphins and give me this kind of feel-good ooey-gooey feeling, which blurried my eyesight, shut off my listening abilities, and generally shut off my cognitive functions. I could see that it was my brain making me feel good for relaxing its efforts, as whenever I did it while watching television I would almost always walk away with no memory of what went on in the show I supposedly just watched; I just shut my brain off and watched the dancing colors.

It disturbed me enough to do something about it, so whenever I noticed my brain releasing endorphins like that I would immediately come to and sharpen my attention, quizzing myself on character names and whatnot to ensure my brain was actually on. Eventually it got to the point where I no longer feel it, and I have to wonder if it's actually impossible for me to experience it again, as if I exerted myself to the point there is no return to that state, for whenever I relax my cognition too much I actually feel horrible; no endorphins are released. Being cognitively lax makes me miserable, moody, and negative, whereas testing my powers are what now, in opposition, releases the endorphins, and the harder I work my brain the overall more better I feel.

So could it be that a large portion of Americans enjoy the sense of not thinking because they practice irrational epistemologies that lead to little to no intellectual benefits, thereby making it so they literally feel better in shutting off their willful cognition? I'd say it's a big factor. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Harsh Times

(I write this quickly to get this out there before work. Please find it in your heart to forgive me if there's any spelling, grammar, or syntax errors, but I'll understand if you never want to speak to me again because of it . . .)

Aye yes! I was gone extra long that time wasn't I? But I haven't forgotten that you all exist. A kind of another life update: The context and general situation of my life remains as good as last time, though I admit I've been struggling with some personal issues deeply impacting my personal life, more deeply still impacting my habits. Writing is one of my most unsatisfied urges, so write about it now I shall.

Though, it is odd talking about my emotional health so sporadically. The difficulty in not being consistent is that once I do get back to the subject, regardless of how open I was prior, the lack of habit again makes it feel like a tender and private subject, even though the can of worms has been opened before, so now I'm just taking again to pour them all out.

Anyhow, I have to admit that I've been doing rather badly on the psychological level, and while I'm regaining my composure I confess I was actually on the verge of a nervous breakdown a little while ago, such stress which has been making me such a poor writer and all.

While I'm in a good spot in life and all, having a job beneficial to my goals and having my own private living space, the frustration of not being where I *should* be has really be catching up with me these past weeks and pushing my stress levels beyond max. I know I really harp this tune too much, but it still pesters me that I'm a dishwasher. I've been in the restaurant industry for nearly three years now and have seen person after person get promoted ahead of me, people with inferior skills, less experience, less responsibility, and less overall time put in towards the promotion, while I get left behind in my starting position because my enthusiasm makes me too indispensable there, so while the reason for my ambition was to show how valuable I could be to the restaurant overall it ended up being my downfall since it tends to lock me in. It's like having your car jacked up so the driving wheels are off the ground while you put the pedal to the metal: A lot of exertion and speed, but no traveling whatsoever, and all while watching others coast down a slope by casually disengaging the brake.  

I've been thinking lately, and I'm started to conclude that the obscene lack of progress in my career is creating a massive psychological need which may be giving rise to my other bad habits, such as not tending to self-improvement goals, eating healthfully, or even doing chores on time. I once had exploding passion to exert myself strenuously both at work and at home to become the best human I can possibly be, and to see so much energy going nowhere professionally, I think, is petering out my interest to the point where it leaks over to my home life too, making me far lazier and irresponsible than would be otherwise. In other words, I think that because I've been exerting myself so much to make progress that isn't being made professionally, especially as I see undeserving people get ahead, it's demotivating me to exert myself to the same degree since the value I chase after, with previous, unjust employers, becomes more unobtainable the harder I chase it and all too easy to reach for those who idle at the opposite end of the spectrum, doing little to nothing to deserve it. Subconsciously I feel progress isn't possible, so if progress isn't possible I've been losing my taste for self-improvement too, which, in the past, has been my primary character trait. Hence, I've been losing a lot of interest in my work, and I don't feel any enthusiasm towards the rigors of pushing myself at home, such as by studying books, doing brain exercises, disciplining myself in diet, and so on.

I have to wonder what kind of impact it would have on my entire character *if* this psychological need for progress were actually met. I think back particularly to when I first discovered Objectivism. Back then I was absolutely addicted to video games, as they were my way of taking my mind off my life, which was far tougher then. Upon opening *The Virtue of Selfishness* my addiction almost literally died overnight. There was just no urge to play anymore; I wanted to read and expand from then on, which is amazing consider I maintained the addiction for nearly fifteen years, only to have it collapse so suddenly, and all because a primary psychological need was met: To understand that life is worth living and paying attention to.

So, if progress was made career-wise, could too my anxieties, misbehaviors, and pitfalls crumble overnight too? Probably not, but it'd probably strike a healthy blow against them, making it far easier to dispose of them. Forgive the wishful thinking, but, oh, I do wish I could make the satisfactory progress for this to happen.

But it is certainly fallacious to sit around and wait for that to happen. This issue is within myself, and needs to be addressed within myself, otherwise the draining of my ambition could be my own personal undoing, damaging my chances at actually fulfilling the said psychological need. It will require pushing through some negative resistance, but I must pull myself to demonstrate my worth so that can happen, as I am with employers I trust now and have had the best working relationship with in my professional life.

While this writing is primarily to complain and vent, I take moral responsibility for my character. I am in control. These are decisions I'm making for which I ought to be held responsible to. Whatever pitfall I engage is of my own choice, regardless of how an anxiety may have pushed me to it.

At this point it looks like I may not be writing that post on mental health this year as I thought I would, as at the beginning of 2012 I captioned the year to be the Year of Self-Mastery, and obtaining solid mental health has been a lot harder than I thought it would be. Definitely the hardest endeavor of my life! But I've made *a lot* of progress and learned *a lot*, so while I could write up a post of practical and rational detail, I feel like I'm going to be a hypocrite for doing so until I achieve a healthful state where enough methods have been learned to make permanence possible. (That is to say, there is no possible way to make mental health permanent, so I want to discover enough methods and whatnot to make permanence *possible* so long as I consistently employ my understanding.)

While it may be a wee more complex, I think all I really need to do right now is meditate, "mentally rehearse," and write in my journal, as really, I think all the other methods I've employed have done their job, so to secure matters all I really need to do is strengthen my concentration and will to keep my mind set upon the constructive and to shut out what which isn't healthful. (I don't have time to elaborate on mental rehearsal, as I'm dashing this off before work, and I'm going ahead and publishing since I might not otherwise publish this later if I save it as a draft.)

Once I can control every thought I have, squashing any other urge or temptation, that's when I'll have every ounce of control over my actions. It is obtainable, and I shall pursue it. The vision of the ideal self is still locked in my head, and I am adamant on persevering to take the steps towards making it real. Life is worth living, and achieving.

I would say "more later," but I might dissipate for awhile again, unless you're friends with me on Facebook or something, so as always don't assume I'm dead in a ditch or anything. Now, after having dashed this off, it's time to dash to work!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Life Update

Just some off the cuff introspecting about present events to fit a wistful mood. My blogging habits still remain so sloppy that I must set aside time to update like this, rather than disperse information across articles.

Anyhow, mixed feelings are strong, but generally my life is going pretty darn well. I'm at a satisfactorily paying job at a fine dining restaurant with great people who are training me in prep tasks; while in big debt, I'm now earning more money to live more comfortably and not panic about money so much, and increasingly my self-improvement goals are becoming more and more successful. On this last, I've managed to reduce the amount of time I've been wasting, which has been depressing me; I'm on a far better track with my diet, which is one of my 2012 new year's resolutions; and I'm finally back to formally studying again, which is something I've been trying to get back to for years. (For your info, the current book is Culinary Math.)

Those are pretty bland descriptions I know, but still presents the new theme that my life, at long last, is getting better. I'm gradually rising in the restaurant industry after having struggled for 2.5 years, I'm crushing anxieties and obsessive thoughts that controlled me for over 5 years, and I'm finally getting back on track on a healthier, more Paleo lifestyle after anxiety drove me away for months (though not to grains or anything). With as much misery as I've endured and put myself through, this is great news.

Though, there are still some downpoints which often put me in a sort of angrily introspective mood, which still have yet to satisfactorily remedied. I get into work very early in the afternoon and get out oftentimes past midnight, so with the commute my freetime is drastically cut into, so I'm unhappy with how I spend those precious hours in regards to self-improvement. Additionally, though while drastically reduced in intensity, I remain bitter about still being a dishwasher. That's certainly a complaint I've broken all the guitar strings on, but the discontentment with the condition remains, so it's hard to refrain from talking about it. (I've been in the industry for nearly three year's for Christ's sake.) Finally, I'm not satisfied with myself concerning my status as a cultural activist, as I believe in very strongly in being a positive activist, though don't believe I do enough to aid my causes.

In short, things are good, but not as good as they should be. I want to rise up faster in the restaurant industry, for my current deserts are making me impatient with the current pacing. My finite time I want to use with the utmost wisdom, to ensure every hour is dedicated to my ultimate, long-term happiness. And I'd like to actually be more active on the cultural scene, rather than just posting articles, pictures, commentary, and whatnot on the likes of Facebook.

This passing 9/11 anniversary and my upcoming birthday have brought at once to my attention what dire straits the world is and how finite my time on earth is. In a particularly intensive thinking mood, the anger making the inside of my cranium feel toasty, I roiled with determination and thoughts of how so much more of my life can be dedicated to realizing my full potential. A cheesy thing to say, but at apt description for now.

Then it hit me that I am living irrationally after all. How did I get myself into the position where I actually have to contemplate how to dedicate more of my life to my long-term goals, when really all of my life should be dedicated to my most important values? My thoughts were the words of a man with too much waste and frill in his life.

Facebook, Twitter, online comics . . . such things are trivial additions to my life that don't even add to my daily satisfaction, and yet can garner huge costs in both time and concentration. With me dashing off to work so early and being so late, how can I dare think to waste time on Facebook or even to weaken my productivity by interspersing it intermittently in my work? It's amazing how I've been held back by such a triviality which I unthinkingly believed to contribute something meaningful to my daily routines, but which does not, not even in the spreading of better ideas. The smallest obstacle, holding me back dramatically!

I've been doing more to severely cut down on the use of wasteful websites, and to huge benefit. My productivity has skyrocketed, my self-satisfaction, and intellectual abilities too. Best of all, my desire to work is increasingly replacing my desire to play around in those zones, so my productivity is enhanced even further than that.

What I've realized from this is that in order to secure my happiness, fullest development, and ultimate potence as a human-being I've got to, in a way, be obsessed with my life. All activities and goals ought to swirl and design themselves around the core of me maximizing my intellectual capacity and becoming a culinary professional. Things like Twitter and all that, while they can add something worthwhile, ultimately add illusionary values which I really can do without.

I feel stiff in saying this, which is the rust on my blogging skills, but ideally when I first wake up I ought to start working then and there to begin improving my condition. To deal with my finances, study and improve my mind, set goals for work, work, and then continuing improving my condition before bed. Social networking, with my current habits, is such a deviation which serves little else but distractive harm.

To be more satisfied with how my time is spent before and after work, I've got to be waking up early and starting upon my goals immediately, and to not cease doing so even after my shift, just before bed. To finally rise out of the dish pit a LOT more of my time need to be dedicated to my development, as even with my merit I've still got to have the skills to actually be able to take advantage of an opportunity when it's there. And with the world in dire straits, I've got to better commit time to learning how to talk to people about the issues and doing actual activist things, rather than being so isolated to Facebook and the likes. It's need no radical restructuring of life except to eliminate the waste, procrastination, idling.

With brief experimentation I'm surprised at how I don't even miss some little things at all. I go a whole day without visiting a website I otherwise visit daily, and I cared not at all! How much did it contribute to my daily satisfaction after all, then?

I used to have this problem with morning walks, too. I used to love taking them, but gradually they became too much of an excuse to engage in self-destructive thinking, as I find it easiest to think while pacing. I cut it out of my routine and am hardly impoverished in spirit at all, except I will sometimes unleash an urge on a nature park trail.

It a small thing to do, but one with huge benefits. Hopefully it'll make me a better blogger on here, to wipe the rust off my skills. Hopefully the next time I write an update I can say I'm a prep cook, one with a very keen mind, becoming prominent on the activist scene.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Success in Assertiveness!

One character flaw I've gone on at length about myself is my past meekness. I tend to be overly quiet, far too hesitant to share my views, and just overall not out there in the intellectual arena. It bothered me because it stands in the way of developing meaningful friendships the way I want to develop them and being a positive influence on others as I want to be. However, these past few days I've had quite the success with being more assertive, and the primary lesson I've learned is that if you want to ultimately embody an idea or ideal, then you have to do it continuously in action, no other means possible.

The number one obstacle preventing me from developing my assertiveness was the belief that I could somehow mentally prime myself all the way to the end result. In other words, that I could somehow continually repeat the desirable attributes to myself over and over again, and all the factors present, including why my fears were irrational, and somehow through that process alone I'd become assertive. Months of mentally priming myself that way have failed to accomplish anything, as I remained as fearful and near-meek as ever.

While contemplating aloud in my car on the way to work a few days ago I realized that there is no substitute for actual action. What I really needed to do was make concrete what being assertive meant in practice, and then simply practice it! I corrected my posture, did a few voice exercises -- I tend to hit soft pitches when nervous -- held my head upright, and spoke honestly while keeping in mind that my fear of repercussion was baseless. It worked! I actually felt more confident, and gradually my fears of hostility faded away. There's still some work to be done, but I'm finally making progress on this goal I've been talking about for months.

Now I know that while good ideas are certainly necessary precursors to meaningful action, they still aren't substitutes for meaningful action. I could practice in my head all day what assertiveness means; it'll hardly amount to anything until I actually *put to action* the visualizations in my head. In other words, I can't sit home "intending" all day; intentions must be put to action in order to amount to anything.

It may seem small, but I find this an important thing to reflect upon because it's actual material proof that I can cite that means ideas put to practice regularly will eventually alter your character, regardless of your feelings at the beginning. So many of my goals . . . such as writing on this blog regularly . . . have been pushed back because I keep trying to mentally prime or "intend" my way to the end result as if it'll happen on it's own, because I continually get disappointed that, once I do attempt an action, I find that my emotions aren't in line with my ideas as I'd like them to be, and consequently get dissuaded, weaken my attempts, or give up altogether. Such as the case with my desire for assertiveness: I thought all the mental priming would naturally make the discomfort melt away before I actually began practicing the traits, so I fell back into old habits when I was disappointed to find that my discomfort persisted. A short little effort to push through it in practice has offered me the proof I needed, and the motivation I've wanted to push harder at other goals.

The motivation spawning is the most important aspect, as too often do feelings of discomfort cause me to give up, as I've taken them as evidence that no actual progress is occurring in my efforts. To the contrary, they are the very proof that changes are occurring, since I'm doing something new which my body and character must adapt to.

From now on I'll use this evidence as refutement to my irrational ways of these last few years, to fuel a motivation to take my goals much more seriously from now on, rather than the foolishly relaxed attitude I've had.

I don't know when I'll exercise that energy in the direction of being a more serious writer on here though, so be patient with me.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Taking the Safety Wheels Off the Brain

Reading this article about the effects of tools on the brain has really got me thinking about just what fashions I'm weakening my intellectual capacity by resorting to so many safeguards, such as spell check and the calculator. They're definitely convenient or even necessary at times, but how excessively used are they? And how much mental softening does this excess lead to?

I raise concern because one of my highest aims in life is to develop my intellectual capacity as far as I can take it because I so deeply value of mind of depth, broadness, and acuity. It's a mystery to me as to how I developed such an intense value, but surely it is one of my most intense. In pondering this article I've realized that the things I depend on for safety, such as the calculator, weaken me because, after all, I'd actually like to be able to do calculations in my head speedily and sharply. (Good for culinary math, you know.) Same goes for spelling: I'd like to be able to automatize the memories of the proper spellings, not just wait for the red squiggly lines to appear. On and on.

To put my money where my mouth is the safety wheels have got to go. Except where necessary, I need to do such things as abandon the calculator, turn off spell check, and so on if I am to take seriously the development of my mind. No tools where the mind can suffice!

It'll take awhile to see all the areas where I'm using mental tools excessively and how I need to address it, but for now I think I need to put down the calculator and do more calculations in my head and on paper, and in using spell check actually look at the corrected suggestion and type it out instead of selecting it to be pasted.

It'll all be tough, but few things worthwhile gaining are easy!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Rehearsing Being a Chef: A Different Way to Look at Cookbooks

Ah ha! A good idea! For several years now -- while it may seen absurd that an aspiring chef is saying it -- I've had a disdain for cookbooks. I just don't like reading recipes. I've thought them mechanical and uninformative. Much more to my preference are books on theory; that is, how food works and interacts to give us the experiences we have. Right now the Good Eats cookbooks are really the only cookbooks I like right now.

But perhaps there is something to obtain from reading recipes, and really I've just been reading them wrong all this time? I have a copy of Charlie Trotter's Raw from the library right now, and in thinking about it I began thinking why the recipes work the way they do. I'm not actually making any of them right now, to be clear, so the thinking was purely intellectual. I thought about the textures, the forms, the flavors . . . say! This is how a chef should think, shouldn't he?

Aside from an lasting disdain of general cookbooks, I've also been embarrassed at my cooking endeavors, as I constantly fear I can't afford to do valuable practice, and that I fail to understand what's going on. And that is key to good cooking, isn't it? Understanding what's going on.

When that word passed my mind I realized that if I read recipes intensely I *could* obtain the benefit of automatizing how to think like a good cook, which can serve as a gateway for actually being one. Automatization is essential to developing later expertise: What you've mastered is what comes easiest to you, as a matter of habit from extensive training.

If I want to be a good chef and cook well, then I not only need to learn theory (i.e. food science), I need to learn how to think in terms of pairing and contrasting flavors, textures, aromas, and temperatures, and aside from good old cooking practice, which nothing can replace, why don't I intensely study the recipes of good cookbooks? Taking notes and all, such as why particular methods were used, what they achieved, how complete it is, how it compares and contrasts, and on and on.

What I'm particularly thinking of is utilizing this as a variant of mental rehearsal from the book Evolve Your Brain. From this and other neurological reading, I've learned that you can actually indirectly train a skill outside of physical practice by engaging in intense mental visualization of it. For instance, The Brain That Changes Itself mentions an experiment involving participants learning how to play a piano piece. They asked one group to "practice" purely by playing the pieces in their mind over and over again, and they found that the people who just mentally rehearsed not only learned the piece, they also, if I remember correctly, learned it as well as the group that did actual physical practice. It makes sense. Neurologically speaking, our skills are composed of our brain circuits, and in developing an ability it develops the neurons and synapses as well, so to mentally visualize performing a skill requires the brain to stimulate the requisite networks, which, if done repeatedly, develops them. The piano players who learned the musical piece purely by mental practice stimulated the areas of their brain responsible for actually performing the skill, so when time came to perform they were able to actually perform the piece.

It makes perfect sense, then, to read good cookbooks as a way to automatize a certain mode of culinary thinking. It will never replace actual practice, no, but what a great supplement! I've also toyed with the idea of using this method as a way of, say, developing knife skills, since in the mental world the food and potential for practice are infinite, whereas they are not in real life, and also cost money.

I'll try to include this type of rehearsing into a full-blown study regiment, taking notes and whatnot, sooner or later, but for now I think I'll be loose and continue reading the Charlie Trotter book more intensively. The prospects of this practice seem very good to me. "We are what we repeatedly do," as Aristotle said.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Do You Have to "Bounce" a Personality Off Others?

Quick musing. One thing I've been wondering about for a long time is whether you actually need other people to develop a personality in a social context. Will you inevitably develop in some way or another depending on what kinds of people are present or absent in your life?

I wonder because, as I've written about many times before, I've definitely changed in personality in some undesirable ways since high school, and wonder if there was anything I could have done to prevent it, or if the stressful situation made my regression unavoidable. To pick at one particular trait, I used to be very, very open about my character and beliefs, such as which philosophical authors I read, political beliefs I hold, why I've adopted the Paleo diet, and so on, but these days I tend to be more on the quiet side regarding these, and while I am getting better there still tends to be anxiety preventing me from opening up.

The most apparent reason to me would be the difference in people that surrounded me during those periods. When I was my most ideologically visible in high school I was surrounded by people who enjoyed intellectual discussions and could disagree easily and politely without it have a dramatic impact on our relationship, and my elders by and large didn't respond to my development. Being open was very easy because there was no punishment for it.

However, when I graduated high school and lost contact with those people, in their place came a lot of people who couldn't handle their emotions, where the slightest discomfort would literally induce panic attacks, get them yelling and shouting, and other uncivilized manners. Worse yet, some of these people would even become obsessed with our disagreements and, long after I dropped the subject, would try to revive it for years to try and get me to adopt their position by nagging. Worst yet, for financial reasons I could not escape these people for some years, so I was temporarily trapped in a social network of emotional bombs that develop unhealthy obsessions and beg other people to make them feel better.

As such, I think this is the sole reason why I've become so reluctant as I am to share things about myself: I've been so suffocated by people who are hyper-sensitive and emotionally unhealthy that I've become very quiet about myself since it was, unfortunately, the safest option to avoid a yelling-at. For Christ's sake, someone once exploded at me for politely asking why they believed the sunlight would fade their carpet.

But was it necessary? Yes, it was a practical defense mechanism, but did it have to go so far as to alter my character in such an undesirable way, where this quietness has become outdated since I no longer deal with those people? I don't know.

At the very least I am making good progress at surmounting that reluctance, as I learned the effective measure is to restate to myself repeatedly that other people's emotions don't matter, I'm being civilized, I can always remove myself, and so on. Yet, this issue still concerns me because what if I get trapped in another bad situation again where being quiet is the only way to avoid confrontation? How do I avoid in turn changing into a meek character?

Hmm, this is slightly sadistically in a unharmful way, but one idea I have is to actively learn how to enjoy a person's emotional outburst to my ideas. Have you ever heard the phrase that if you have enemies it's a good thing, because it means you stand for something? Taking for granted that I'm being civil, polite, and appropriate, I ought to enjoy to some extent a person's emotional outburst, for while it may be unpleasant it does give me evidence that they're taking offense at what I stand for, and going on the defensive. In other words, even if their behavior is appalling it means I've resonated with them.

To get more sadistic, for those persons who continually get hysterical through their own fault -- though I'm not stuck with any such person at the time -- I can take their hysteria as their punishment for holding irrational beliefs or refusing to think. If I build up endurance then surely any such confrontation will generate more discomfort for them than for me, and those truly irrational in handling their emotions should surely cave in and dodge out sooner or later, leaving me alone.

That is, at least, ONE method. I must persevere more than they persist. But could there be other things for me to do as preventative measures?

It's a worthy thinking subject. I don't want to lose any more years as I have. Once I develop into a man I'm proud of I want to stay that way, external pressure regardless.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Concentration Update: A Vital Skill

Yep, to and fro from that ditch, again. Oh well.

Anyhow, I wanted to take a moment to update how I've been doing on my concentration. I mentioned a few months ago that I found out that concentration is actually a fundamental ability needed for mental health, rather than just some skill one keeps on the side for brief homework and work assignments. By spending more time honing this ability I've noticed a substantial increase in my well-being and thinking.

In pursuing mental health, this is an amazing discovery. Beyond merely just being able to keep my mind on productive things, it does supremely well at helping me keep my mind off negative thoughts that are deleterious to my mood and overall functionality. I've been treating people better, acting more productively, experiencing less anxiety, doing more constructive thinking, and just all-around am more fit.

What I do to cultivate this ability is so simple too. What I do mainly is select a spot to focus my eyes on, like a unique mark on the wall or something, and then stare at it intensely for a defined period of time, usually twenty minutes, while doing as little blinking and thinking as possible. I permit vocal counting in my head, but beyond that I shut everything out: Visualizations, other vocalizations, and so on. It's a tough process, as I'll have to shut off rogue thoughts all throughout the exercise.

Regardless of the struggle it seems to work well. Upon ending a session I am relaxed, collected, and, most importantly, steady in mind. My thoughts go where I want them to go, and it's much easier to avoid those obsessive patterns which have given me so much grief over these past years.

However, it remains only one part of the mental health puzzle. While vital it is not primary. You also need to know what ideas give rise to your emotions and how your brain physiologically works so that you can engage in practices that make meaningful changes.

For now, I wholly endorse making a conscious effort to cultivate strong concentration skills. It may seem like a waste of time to sit or stand still for twenty minutes a day -- I recommend against laying down, as it's too easy to go to sleep -- but with your health, comfort, and very happiness at stake I urge you to reconsider.

For a list of a variety of ways to improve your concentration, consider this article on The Art of Manliness on multiple ways to do so, to keep yourself interested in the practice.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The "Tell Me Everything You Know" Notebook?

Another boring post on studying practices you probably don't care about, but which I'll write anyway since it entertains me. Er, tough luck on your recreational reading.

But for fellow nerds who will read on, I think I may have figured out a potential solution to my "sporadic" learning problem. As mentioned previously, one of my conundrums in reinitiating a stronger learning lifestyle, including studying, is that, since I'm no longer in school anymore, I'll have to construct different and original methodologies to suit the kind of lifestyle I lead, as I no longer have full, unabated days to sit with a book and study it from cover to cover. Aside from the time that I do have to do traditional book study, I'll need methods for studying in the car (via talking), thinking while doing physical labor, memorization techniques while listening, and so on. In other words, in order to continue learning as much as I can I need methods to adopt to any situation, regardless of the materials I have available.

Passing over the other psychological obstacles I faced, the primary one that bothered me was feedback. How can I sustain motivation to do this work if I'm learning hodge-podge? In contrast a traditional study routine can be thoroughly documented and have evidence of progress, whereas doing sporadic things such as reading an article online or doing vocabulary exercises can be forgotten unless one works harder to memorize or call attention to it. I don't want to have a day which engages all these intensive methodologies only to become demotivated by it at night by having vague memory of what I've done.

I think I've come up with a solution. Lisa VanDamme of the VanDamme academy, I recall, once wrote of a particular learning technique called "Tell Me Everything You Know." (That isn't the original writing I learned of it from, so my memory of the origins may be inaccurate.) She was concerned with how some children were giving vague answers when asked what they learned in school today, such as "about the Pyramids," so she devised this method which moves the students to be exhaustive about what they've learned, such as to say exactly what about the pyramids. It seems to be an excellent review and memorization technique that also hones understanding.

So, to keep up motivation for a more unorganized learning style, what if I required myself to write down "everything I know" before I go to bed? I won't literally write everything I know, but rather all the important things I learned from the day and be as detailed as possible. It would include culinary techniques, mathematical methods, the reason behind a particular procedure, vocabulary exercises I did, or even just thoughts that I have, such as on epistemology, politics, or something new I tasted. I would have to have an arbitrary cut-off point in my writing unless I am to go on forever, but it would summon back to mind all the mentally important aspects of the day and give me a chance to strengthen my memory, flesh it out further, hone my understanding, and so on. It would be good training for more precise thinking, and also increase my attention during daily learning to make sure I have details for night writing.

I like this idea because it's relaxed and rigorous at the same time. Relaxed in that the writing is just a sort of brain dump that I need not reference ever again, and yet rigorous in that I need to be exhaustive, detailed, precise, and organized in my writing. Best of all, it's a very relaxed way to measure my intellectual progress since I'll be able to see how my mind is growing (or slacking) on a daily basis while at the same time not being a pain-in-the-butt measuring technique. It would be interesting, spontaneous, entertaining, and just enjoyable.

Furthermore, I also like it since its importance lies in the method, not in making it referenciable. More and more am I understanding that authentic learning lies in proper method and intense concentration, so I'm trying to get myself to fret less over making my writing referenciable or searchable, because if my style is going to be so varied then making my writing able to be referenced will be an enormous pain.

Starting tonight I will begin this practice before bed, and see how well it integrates into a nightly routine.    

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Fantasy I Have About Cloning

A random musing about a particular set of daydreaming I do. I forgot how it started, but I continuously have this one particular fantasy which often brings me giggling amusement.

It has to do with cloning. It goes like this: Take any person you dislike and clone them several times over -- by magical means, I guess; you need not imagine the actual cloning process, just take for granted that the clones are there -- and then make the original person you dislike deal with the clones as part of regular routine. The most important things are that the clones have the same mind functions, making them identical in character to the original, and, to add the comedy, the clones are totally and perpetually oblivious to their own behavioral patterns, even if they witness it in the other clones or are spoken to about it.

Why is this funny to me? Well, if you dislike a person to a certain intensity about their vices, then the hilarity comes from playing out in your head watching the original see his vices played out before him, and even better yet to suffer from them firsthand!

The most frustrating thing about dealing with an irrational person whose characteristics impinge upon your comfort is that they can often and almost always be evasive that their irrationalities actually exist, regardless of how well you do to prove it to them. I've actually seen a person throw a loud yelling tantrum about an issue they were making themselves suffer over and blame me about it, and in fewer than five minutes later they calm down and pretend nothing ever happen, and are even practically in denial that it happened. Worse yet, they do it regularly. You can't get more evasive than that.

But what if they had a clone that threw a yelling tantrum at them and then also evaded it? If magic existed, would there be any more just punishment?

It puts a smile on my face since the most irrational of people are the least likely to look themselves in the mirror honestly. When they do face the unsightly issues about themselves, such as caving into emotional whims, they either get really worked up and evasive, or, most enjoyable, quiet, humble, and guilty.

That's what I like in this fantasy. You take all the attributes that grate you about a particular person and force them to look in the mirror about it by experiencing it first-hand via a clone with those same traits, who is so oblivious to it themselves that nothing stops them from indulging in that behavior. Have a person in your life who irrationally takes their rage out on you and then evades that fact? Witness their payback by experiencing that same rage unabated by a living mirror.

And yes, upping the number of clones ups the funny, for me. Have a loose cannon boss who mistreats his workers? Imagine a dozen of him, all at work at once, all clustered into a group, going off on each other and instilling chaos. 

Just a daydream, but a fun one at that.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Judging People is Hard. How to Make it Less So.

I'll come out of the gate stating that this is a subject I have especially strong feelings about. One of the dominant themes in my thinking is how to treat people objectively and judge them properly, as the vast majority of the misery in my life has come from dealing with horrendous and toxic people who poisoned my life, such as by me not identifying their bad nature timely enough, not condemning them properly, and so on. To avoid ever going through such years of hell again I frequently think about the nature of relationships and ways of treating people, even if I am predominantly a loner.

As can already be ascertained, I am not an advocate of "Judge not lest ye be judged," but rather "Judge and prepare to be judged." Judging people is important, because if you don't do it how can you keep bad people out and good people in? To so much as know who's good and who's bad requires an act of judgement, and to keep relationships healthy you need to know how to judge people righteously and act accordingly.

Undelightfully, however, the majority of the people I've dealt with in my life have been, in practice, advocates of the former quoted slogan. These last few years of my life have been heavily directed at getting some severely, irredeemably frustrating people out of my life that have made me unhappy for years, and to my immense disappointment I received an incredible amount of opposition to my decision, which forced me to cut out swaths more people out of my life because the specific individuals they wanted me to associate with were simply too miserable to deal with to be worth having all those other people in my life. The root of their particular errors were simple evasions: They didn't want to face the facts as they were, and often ignored my stated position and/or distorted it. Though, upon thinking -- though this doesn't excuse their evasion -- I realize there are certain complexities in relationships that make it hard to judge people, which can make it frustrating for a particular person to convince others of his particular estimate to other people who are merely outsiders looking in.

While the major problem in my own conflicts has been evasions from other people, I realize that being an outsider looking at relationships from the sidelines can make it extremely difficult to see what the person dealing with it first-hand sees, so sometimes the person dealing with it first-hand can unfortunately appear unreasonable with his estimate, even though he has access to a lot more evidence than the outsider.

As I advocate being judgmental of people, I more strongly advocate being just, giving estimates that fit the evidence to the best of one's thinking ability. Sometimes that can even include withholding judgment when there isn't enough evidence to draw a conclusion, but it never means refusing to judge.

Simply put, to be able to accurately judge the nature of a particular individual takes both time and a variety of contexts to be able to see multiple facets of their character, to be able to form a proper estimate. The process of judging is always fallible, but to avoid the most serious pitfalls, avoid being hasty and forming judgments in limited scenarios.

This may not be exhaustive, as it's off the top of my head, but here's a list of factors I think everyone should keep in mind when trying to form accurate judgments about people:

1.) Time: Seeing the various facets of a person's character takes time. It depends on how you deal with that person as to how much time is needed. If the person is only your coworker that you deal with a half-hour a day, then it might only take a few days to begin forming an accurate judgment on how this person is as your coworker. If they're your family member, however, whom you have to deal with for days each week by default of being genetically related to them, then that same process, since the judgment involves making a much deeper conclusion, can take months or years.

The short of it is: take your time. I've seen far too many mistakes made by people who hastily form estimates of people after having dealt with them for a day or even mere minutes, only to be severely disappointed later on.

For instance, I once rented a room from an alcoholic landlord who forced other people, especially her tenants, to deal with her irresponsible medical emergencies. Two of the tenants that I dealt with during my stay there both came into the home thinking very highly of the woman after having dealt with her for a week or so. One guy even questioned my negative estimate of her to me after about a week, as he couldn't see how I bore such a horrendous opinion of her.

Sure enough, however, after approximately a month both tenants were absolutely disgusted with the landlord. The one tenant who, while buzzed with alcohol, called our landlord "a wonderful woman," almost punched her when she got drunk and woke us up in the middle of the night by screaming. The other guy who questioned my negative opinion and stated he was happily willing to take care of her during her medical emergencies, since he was a guy with a "big heart," moved without telling her or paying the money he owed, and tore up his contract as a visible display of disgust.

It didn't take months and months to see the true nature of the landlord, it's just that these guys formed their estimates way too quickly, which led them to inevitable disappointment when they saw the other aggravating features of our landlord revealed over the weeks, such as how she nags people she hardly knows, interrupts conversations, obnoxiously relays her opinions while refusing to acknowledge others, forces other people to take care of her diabetes, and so on.

In another case, while I worked as a park ranger in Michigan, I noticed my boss had formed a positive estimate of a person who delivered a cake for a party the team was having. She had only spoke with the person for five minutes or fewer, and concluded from that interaction that they were a nice person, purely from the delivered cake and introductory mannerisms.

For my boss it didn't end up in disappointment since she didn't deal with the person any further than that, but mentally it made internal eye roll because I knew that person far more intimately, and knew from hours of experience that they were not nice. They were manipulative, a pathological liar, frequently push their opinions, resorted to yelling often, threw tantrums and then pretended it never happened, and so on. Judging from the fuller spectrum of behaviors I've observed, I know this person is far from nice. They only appear so when they want to make a good appearance and gain the approval of someone. Five minutes of interaction is WAY insufficient for determining how a person really is, except to be able to form an initial first impression. Although it didn't harm my boss' emotional well-being, this example does show how forming an estimate too quickly can lead to wildly inaccurate conclusions.

Take home point: Take your time when judging people! Distinguish between an estimate that's only a first impression, a deeper analysis of the person's being, a conclusion of their ultimate nature, and so on.

2.) Context and location: Or, in other words, the situations and scenarios in which you deal with a particular person. No one ever acts the same in every setting, regardless of the people available, the factors present, the actions they're performing, and so on. And obviously, a person will act differently in public in front of everyone than they will in private with one other person behind closed doors.

For me, this has probably been one of the biggest agitating factors in trying to relay an estimate of a particular person to someone else. I'll deal with the person one-on-one for hours behind closed doors, in absolute privacy, while the other person only deals with them for far less time out in public and out in the open, and only there. I observe far more of a different type of evidence that the other person does, because anyone will act considerably different in private where they're most comfortable displaying traits they wouldn't in public, but the person I'm trying to relay the estimate to will be incredulous because they can't get over what they observe in dealing with this person in public. Despite my ability to prove an individual is atrociously intrusive and temperamental in private, one-on-one interactions, the other person will cling to their estimate that the person is "nice" because, of course, that's all they see trait-wise when they deal with the person in restaurants, stores, etc.

Here might be a good time to consider that in forming judgments about people it can be a good idea to take other people's estimate into consideration, as they might be able to provide evidence and examples to you that you would be otherwise unable to experience yourself. For instance -- to leap to an extreme example for quick clarity -- a person who is absolutely kind to you in person, always, may prove to be unforgivably evil if another person reveals to you that they were a molestation victim of this person, and that he continues traumatizing people today. You might never suffer such an act from him, but that added context from another person ought to factor into the conclusion you draw about that molester.   

Here is also a good time to emphasize that all the factors on this list interact and cannot be isolated. For proof, I was once sent a letter by a complete and absolute stranger who gently encouraged me to resume relations with a terrible person I cut out of my life, for this person had spent many hours chatting and socializing with that other person in public, and held them in good regard. As noted above, taking time is important to forming proper judgments . . . but on this item we realize context is too. The writer had spent lots of time in dealing with the person I refused to, but in both a drastically different and unvaried context that they were continuously exposed to only certain portions of this person's character, which led to a drastically different estimate and, of course, their inability to see how I could justify deploring them.

The person that I had cut off in question I had dealt with for years, in a vast variety of situations and locations, for vast hours at time, both in public group settings and one-on-one privacy, and had been continuously exposed to astoundingly negative traits that I observed to be inexcusably stressful and, most important, constant throughout my years of dealing with them, which is why I refused to deal with them. I've experienced for years a ton of negatives that far outweighed any and all positives, and had more than enough time to conclude that this is a constant in this person's character, i.e. a part of their nature they regularly display, and refused to deal with them accordingly because I had enough time and evidence to conclude that future relations will be just as miserable, if not more so. This letter writer, however, was both unaware of these factors and probably never experienced them since they dealt with the person in public, so they saw an entirely different picture. Again, while it may not have resulted in grief for this particular person later on, it does show how a limited context can lead to wildly inaccurate conclusions. At the very least, this inaccurate conclusion would interfere with my willingness to befriend the letter-writer, as they're encouraging me to deal with someone who is damaging to my happiness.

In addition to time, realize that people act differently dependent upon the location, the other people they're dealing with, the scenarios, and so on. To use the coworker example above, dealing with the coworker for only a half-hour a day may give you only enough evidence of how they are as a coworker, because they're likely to only act in particular ways as your coworker, and in vastly different ways in their home life, at a store, in a group of people they don't know, etc.

3.) Relationship: Or in other words, exactly how you're connected to this person. A person will treat differently a perfect stranger than a family member they've known all their life, and still differently a family member they've just met at a reunion, and so on. How people relate to each other shows a whole other spectrum of behavior, reaching far broader than genetic relations versus voluntary associations. Here this item ought to emphasize that we should pay attention to how people treat others, not just ourselves.

A particularly frustrating example I have is all the bullies I had to deal with at my last job at a pizzeria. There offers some pretty poignant examples, as it shows how almost randomly selective people can be.

One particular bully I had was once my friend, when one day he randomly turned to perpetual anger to me, and bullied me from then on. I had not interfered with his well-being in the least nor spoken in derogatory terms behind his back, so the reason for his anger is extremely unclear, but his behavior was certainly unjustifiable. He glared at me, gave me the silent treatment, intentionally wasted my time during work, stood in my path when I was trying to clean a floor, and even once threw dishes at me. I had done nothing whatsoever to deserve those behaviors, yet suffered them. While once my friend, I came to hate him with a deep fury.

The let-down aspect of this is that most everyone else either had a decent enough relationship with him, or even thought fondly of him, which hurt me since those people were supposedly my friend too. After observing him over a period of months on multiple days, I came to understand that he was selectively bullying me, and only me in that workplace, for no explicit reason. Yet, despite being aware of this, most everyone else continued associating with him on positive grounds while being aware of his gross injustice towards me.

What this shows is how seemingly random any single person can be in how he treats others. He might be just and good to one, and randomly unjust to another for no clear reason. A high estimate you hold of one person could easily be impacted by observing him being unreasonably cruel to another, so we ought to pay attention to how one person treats *others* outside of oneself, to again broaden the context of evidence one has to pass an accurate judgment.

In my workplace example, my other coworkers, to be righteous and respectful to our friendship, should have taking to condemning him or severing relations, as they knew what he did was totally out of line, so it was a betrayal to our friendship to continue being friends with me while passively observing him outright bully me, even display violent gestures at me. To judge my previous friendships there in return, my attachment to those people is greatly lessened or even eliminated by the fact that they would allow their "friend" to inflict so much stress and misery on me while being his friend as well. It's simply not right.

4.) Psychological pressure: Here's probably the most unique and confusing one, which is largely a derivation of the time aspect. What I mean by "psychological pressure" is how one's emotional reactions change -- by intensifying, weakening, going from positive to negative, etc. -- depending on not only how much time one has spent dealing with another, but also how one has been subjected to another person's behavior patterns in repetition. 

To people observing relationships from the outside looking in, this must be the most confusing: It's easy to fail to comprehend or emphasize with a strong emotion a person may feel towards another, because they might view, say, a behavioral pattern a few times or even just once, and try drawing their conclusions from that. To speak of the negative, people are all too easy to err on failing to understand why a certain behavioral pattern would enrage you, even if they've experienced it themselves. The answer is easy: There is a total psychological different in reacting to a negative behavioral pattern once, and reacting to it again after the 200th time.

Let's use a weird example to clarify. Imagine someone taps you on the shoulder dozens of times, intentionally trying to annoy you, and always refusing to cease after you acknowledge and ask them to stop. You would obviously and justly get very upset, even severely angry, after being subjected to dozens of instants of this behavior pattern, which continues and continues despite your calls for cessation. One tap on the shoulder would be polite and sufficient to get one's attention, and really very few people would get upset at that, but dozens and dozens in a row? Of course anyone would get angry!

But also imagine that an outsider walks in on you and that tapper just as the final tap sends your temper over the edge, and you begin yelling at the person and pushing away for him to stop. In your context, you're totally justified: He's clearly trying to antagonize you on purpose, deserves no politeness due to his persistence, and even deserves physical force (the pushing away) since he continues despite your vocal pleading, but to the person who just came in it could easily look like the person tapped you on the shoulder once and that you're the one being irrational and aggressive. It's not true, but it's all the outsider can see.

So this applies everywhere else. It can be very confusing to understand why a particular person might become outrageously disgusted at a particular person's mannerisms, such as eating loudly, when you haven't dealt with that specific person as long as the other one has. You may have experienced the loud eating on but one occasion; they could have been observing it for years

Even if you do have patience as solid as a rock, there's always the possibly of subjecting it to enough water to erode it away. What doesn't annoy you but once may enrage you after the 24th incident.

The number of times we're subjected to particular patterns and trends certainly does have a big impact on our emotions, and can drastically change our estimate of a person over time if they continue. You might be completely tolerant and patient in dealing with a person's irrational temper the first time around, but after two years and dozens of incidents later it may build up to enough stress -- enough psychological pressure -- that it may become grounds for never speaking to the person again.

Aside from emphasizing the effect time has on relationships, this also emphasizes context. When you're an outsider, you're not going to witness the same amount of evidence of a person's character if you only deal with them as a coworker in comparison to someone who lives with them. That can make it very hard to fathom why a person might experience certain emotions, either positive or negative, because you may not have experienced a fraction of the consistent patterns and trends the other person has. A woman you hardly know who mainly attracts your indifference might have a love-sick suitor at her hand who spends far more hours with her than you, while a guy you consider yourself good friends with could be making his roommate vomit from the stress of living with him. Time both changes and intensifies or weakens emotions.

This factor has probably been my personal number one obstacle in trying to convince other people to consider adopting an estimate of a particular person. They simply don't see the amount of evidence that I've seen, or how it changes perception after being subjected to it repeatedly. The letter writer above who encouraged me to deal with a person I disassociated from probably had only known the person for a series of months, whereas I've dealt with the person for nearly two decades and consequently knew and experienced far, far, far more than that writer ever would. Additionally, in trying to relay a negative estimate to another about a person I lived with, it was far too easy for them to encourage me to brush it off and just tolerate it when their relationship with the person was severely delimited while I was subjected to the negative behaviors nearly 24/7 across multiple years. Dealing with a person's irrationality for hours a day over years is definitely going to be interpreted differently from the perspective of a person who may only observe it for fifteen minutes a week or less.

In short, if you find yourself finding it difficult to understand why a person might feel such strong emotions about another, consider the difference in time you spend with them: As the number of experiences from which the emotion stems multiply, so does the emotion's intensity and endurance.

* * * * *

There might be, if not certainly, be more factors relevant in trying to accurately judge a person, but here's a list of things to keep in mind, which should make the process easier. There's probably never going to be a fool-proof way to be able to form just estimates of a person in a prompt manner, as you'll never have *direct* access to the sincerity of their intentions (say, to change for the better) nor will you ever be able to mystically predict how the passing of time might change them as they continue to exercise their freewill and make choices, but this ought to at least limit the more serious errors.

This is important from both the perspective of judging the people you deal with AND understanding how people may have formed their estimates of others, and why they formed them. Aside from the obvious necessity of avoiding bad people in your life, it's also important in that it's relevant to determining when it's rational to encourage persons to maintain healthy relationships, and when to leave them alone from negatives they want to walk away from.

The latter is the primary reason why I've had to regretfully cut off so much of my family when I moved to Texas. I wanted to excommunicate but two toxic people in my life who added little else but misery and stress, and everyone's persistent disagreement and irrational calls for me to reassociate made me conclude that they were also detrimental to my happiness. While more than likely rooted in inexcusable evasion, their failure to understand how the amount of time I spent with the person, the various contexts and locations I dealt with them in,  the nature of our relationship, and the nature of "psychological pressure" made them unable to comprehend the intensity of disgust I felt towards those people, so they treated me as if I were somehow being unreasonable and overreactive. I have seen and experienced far more than they have, and had far more puzzle pieces to put together in getting a picture of that person's nature, so they should have considered that and left me alone since the relations were so immensely unhappy. They lost their contact with me as a result of their persistent encouragement for me to resume unhappy, toxic dealings.

Judge and prepare to be judged, for it is necessary to be able to keep good people in your life, excise bad, try to help your friends maintain happy relations, and know when to leave them alone otherwise.       

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Being Wordy Enough?

My writing is a little scatterbrained at the moment, isn't it? Well, it's getting the space filled up here nonetheless, and I have to say I haven't been giving myself sufficient writing release lately, so the temptation is a little built up. Argh, if I woke up early then I'd be better off with more time.

Here's the current musing: What's the fine line between being concise and having said a sufficient amount to get your meaning across? The difficulty I come across in certain issues is that I notice I often has to say a lot in order to get my full meaning out, but sometimes it takes an awful lot of words and a little time to do so. I wonder about it because it makes certain issues hard to discuss, as I consider the amount of words to be necessary, yet it might be complained that I communicated excess, unnecessary information.

One such example would be Diana Hsieh's answer to a question I submitted to her podcast. Generally it's a good answer, but she derails a bit. While she says my question was a little overly verbal, I think I may not have said enough, because in the specific cases I've observed there's enough evidence to objectively conclude that the particular people in question were being irrational.

For one, by frequent interruptions I mean interruptions that were rude, unnecessary, and sometimes dishonest because I was upfront about it to the person, yet they wouldn't change their behavior. Many people I've spoken to have often taken to interrupting me every few seconds, hardly allowing me to string sentences together, and will stubbornly refuse to alter their behavior after I point out how annoyed I am by their interjections, and, most importantly, how I treat them that way. Sometimes I've discussed the issue of a one person's interruption habit multiple times, yet they'll both refuse to change it or to even address my complaint; they just pretend like I've never explicated it and go on interrupting.

As another example, by arbitrary time limit I really meant an insufficient time limit to formulate an answer, or no time at all even. A girl in music class I was debating once asked me a question, gave me literally two to three seconds to answer it, during which that span she loudly interjected with "Mhm?!" noises to prevent me from responding (since I'd be quieted by believing she's going to say something), and then just up and ended the conversation, refusing to listen any longer. With other people there have even been times where I'll be asked a question and given no time at all to answer, like a fraction second, before the person continues on as if I were somehow unable to answer the question. If their question were written out, there'd be no space between the question mark and next sentence.

Diana is right to say that one shouldn't assume that someone is irrational in all instances where it may only appear so, but in the specific cases that I have observed there is enough evidence to conclude that. However, it takes some words to be able to detail these factors in order to provide sufficient evidence that this is the case. I can state the conclusion all by itself, and it'll still be just as true, but without the evidence I will obviously not seem at all supported to any viewer of the stated conundrum, which will lead them to draw other conclusions, such as that I'm misinterpreting the situation.

This type of verbiage problem makes me hesitant to speak upon a certain breadth of issues, such as why I've chosen to cut my family out of my life. My argument as to why is easy to understand, but the number of factors make it lengthy since the problems encompass over a decade, so my metaphor for descriving my argument is that it's like a giant and easy children's puzzle where the pieces are as big as your torso and extremely easy to put together, but the number of pieces present make it take up the whole floor space: Easy, yet still just slightly time-consuming. As such, I tend to refuse to go into details or discuss the topic, which leads me to the irksome predicament of people claiming to "sympathize" with me, even when the reality of their situation might be drastically different.

So to reiterate, in detailing certain positions that require a certain number of factors in order to relay with full accuracy, how can one better serve to be concise while not sacrificing meaning?

Perhaps the best course is to either make explicit certain assumptions, or to be clear that not all factors are present. Hmm. I intend to read a book on English rhetoric (i.e. speech-giving), so perhaps any mention of concision there will give me the right food for thought.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Paper! Paper! What to Do with All the Paper!

Still fighting off a not-so-productive streak, but I am taking good measures to begin setting up a new self-improvement regiment to get me back to my old rigor, such as studying. If I want to regain my enthusiasm for life, I have to perform acts that lead into it. Passion is as passion does.

Anyhow, I'm stepping dangerously back into the territory of dreaded "overplanning," which I've warned myself against, but it looks like it can't be avoided right now. I'm trying to set out my courses as loosely as possible without being so strict in a routine that it intimidates me into procrastination, but I guess it's just a problem that comes with the package.

The most pressing concern at the moment: Notebooks! Oh goodness, notebooks! I want to begin establishing a routine of notetaking again alongside a new study regiment, but how to maintain my notebooks and how many of them to keep is a cumbersome question.

The difficult factor in all of this, because I am not in school, is that I plan on learning in a different and more efficient way. Since I'm striving for pure practical learning, not grades and degrees, I will not be reading every book I pick up cover-to-cover. In fact, my research for any particular learning may lead me to things other than books, such as podcasts, blogs, and videos. The difficulty that adds is that because tiny little minutiae like that won't fill up an entire notebook -- thus meaning I oughtn't prescribe an entire notebook to them -- how can I best maintain my notes accordingly? Sometimes I might dig for information from only half a book, three articles on a website, specific sections of a recorded lecture, and so on. It's so hodge-podge that organizing seems impossible.

The root of the problem is probably that I haven't resolved the conflict yet as to whether or not I want my notes to be referenciable. Written properly, intensively, and clearly enough, I think the mere act of writing the notes could be a sufficient cognitive benefit on its own; do I really need to construct and organize them in a way that I can keep coming back to them for reference? If not, then there's really no problem: Label the notes clearly and don't be too random, such as by assigning certain notebooks to specific subjects, and otherwise don't worry about making them retrievable.

However, if I do want them to be retrievable, then that brings up the organization problem up again. They need to be organized in a fashion where I'd be able to find them again . . . or maybe not? On the other hand, when studying something to any intensive measure it's a given that I'll be focused on it for a time, so perhaps I need not worry about organization, because the present of currently studying something will make the notes retrievable at the time of their writing, both due to a fresh memory of its location and that fact it can be easily located by flipping pages starting from the blank end and working backwards. After a certain amount of time passes maybe I won't need them to be retrievable.

Darn! This open brainstorming isn't seeming to make the questions any more resolvable! At least for just one thing, I know for certain that I'd like to maintain a book titled "Little Reading/Little Thinking," where I can accumulate notes on sporadic readings and thoughts that I survey in non-retrievable form, just leaning on the cognitive benefits of the writing itself. Books that I'll actually study cover-to-cover or mostly cover-to-cover will be easy too, since they'll have entire notebooks dedicated to them. But what of the hodgepodge stuff? And how ought I structure my habits around these writings?

My the confusions of trying to improve your life! Maybe I ought to sleep on it, brainstorm on paper upon waking, and tinker with some other goals first, to distance myself from the problem temporarily. Or maybe just not worry about it and go for broke with the non-retrievable thing. More confusing alternatives!