Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Conversational Poison: Speaking Between the Lines

I should have written about this long ago, but one discovery I've made about some dishonest people lately is that they often like to resort to "speaking between the lines," where they try to disguise their true thoughts under different words that don't mean at all what they intend it to mean. Aside from being annoying, it can be very destructive to a relationship.

For example, when I first went on the Paleo diet my housemate was impressed by the amount of bacon I was frying that day and stated "Wow! That's a lot of bacon!" However, they were speaking between the lines -- they wanted those words to be interpreted as a criticism of my diet, and cause me to eat less of the bacon than I intended. How do I know? They said those words over and over and over again, all in a row:

Them: "Wow! That's a lot of bacon."
Me: "Yes, it is."
T: " [Chuckle] Wow ... that's a lot of bacon!"
Me: "Yes."
T: "Wow. That is a lot. Of bacon."
Me: "Yes. It. Is."

Instead of being forthright with the criticism all they would do is tuck it implicitly under different words that hardly even hint at that meaning, and then repeat them in the hopes that I would "catch on." Far from persuading me to change my actions, it enormously agitated me, and initiated a verbal fight. I came to distrust and outright hate this person later on for conducting behavior so regularly like this, because they often resorted to it and seldom meant whatever it is they said. They were constantly beating around the bush, and I was constantly stressed out trying to figure out what they really meant.

I value being totally open and honest in conversation, so few things as quickly generate contempt in me than a person who speaks between the lines all the time. Even if I detect it but once it severely hacks away at how much I trust someone. Such behavior leads to little else but conflicts, unmet expectations, garbled conversations, and so on. All in all, there are three problems:

1.) Conflicts: Sometimes what a person truly wants to say isn't so offensive if he were to come out and say it, at least from my view. In the bacon example above, I would have been fine if the person politely disagreed with my dietary choice and persuaded me to act otherwise, so my anger was directed at their cowardice for not being open about it. It's pitiful, as this person often resorted to speaking between the lines in order to avoid discomfort and hostility, and it led to nothing but uncomfortable and hostile dealings.

2.) Garbled communication: Once you identify that a person speak between the lines you can also begin seeing meaning that isn't there. It's like the little boy who cried wolf: Even though the boy was actually telling the truth when the wolf finally did arrive, everyone was justified in not believing him given his destroyed credibility, and he lost some of the family sheep as a consequence. In terms of conveying meaning, speaking between the lines is very unobjective: The words used to disguise the real meaning hardly even hint at that hidden intention. If you look at the bacon example, there's no way you could deduce it to be a dietary criticism if the person had said only that sentence and said it only once. Once they started repeating and repeating it it becomes clear, and since it's seldom easy to deduce any secret meanings from the words themselves you start seeing words between the lines everywhere in that person's speech, even when that secret meaning isn't there. To the person receiving the speaking-between-the-lines treatment he'll become very upset and stressed out at being unable to take that person at their word, thus seldom trusting that they mean what they say, and the person guilty of such conduct will have to face the consequence of not only lost trust, but also being unable to predict how the other person will respond.

For instance, I've seen it once before where a person would falsely compliment another for a good behavior everyone knew he didn't conduct. The compliment was an attempt to sneak a criticism between the lines of course. But acting that way means he leaves himself open to the possibility in the future of being met with anger and stress when he authentically compliments someone, as they could interpret it as just another criticism. The attempt, here, to guilt-trip someone into good behavior by offering a false compliment means that his actual compliments could be rejected or misinterpreted.

There's also the aspect of unmet expectations. Sometimes a person will ask for something or state an expectation by tucking it between the lines, and then get upset later on when those requests and expectations go unmet, leading to yet more stress for both parties. For instance, one time I had to do some extensive yard work for an old lady who was a "super talker." Amidst her super talking she pointed out to me that deer often come and poop in her yard, but the exact meaning of her sentences indicated that she was just venting about a problem, and upset about what little she could do about it. After I had completed the job and got paid, I then later learned that she "got a kick out of" the fact I didn't pick up the deer poop, implying that she expected me to. She never asked me to. I not only dislike the lady for her super talking now, but also for the fact that she isn't upfront with her expectations and wants.

People who communicate their desires between the lines are setting themselves up for little else but frequent disappointment.

3.) Unearned distrust: Finally, as a variation of problem 2, the people who engage in this dishonest communication will often be harder to deal with, as through their own habits they begin trying to view between the lines of your own words, and will make it harder to get a precise meaning across to them. This is psychological projection: They project that you have the same psychological habits as they do.

The same person from the bacon example above was always thoroughly unpredictable in how they would respond to my words, probably because they were deducing all this hidden meaning in my words that simply wasn't there, and absent from my intention. Sometimes I would meet them at breakfast and state what poor sleep I got the night prior. Immediately they would become visibly nervous and stressed out, giggling to relieve the anxiety. I myself was baffled as to why I slept so poorly, and was merely stating it as a matter of fact. I thought it was physiological. The other person, I assume, was probably thinking that I was hinting at some kind of serious illness or the likes, and that I was trying to garner their sympathy or blame them for the problem or something. It perplexed me as to why they found the simple matter of sleeping poorly an anxiety-ridden subject. This person ultimately became too stressful for me to deal with, as their responses to my speaking couldn't be predicted: They'd yelled at random, evaded and tuned me out at random, walked away at random, and so on.

It is above and beyond annoying to work hard at using the proper words to concisely mean what it is that you want to say and actually say it, and then the other person goes around and acts upon what they believe you're saying between the lines. It's impossible to have a healthy relationship with them because communication isn't clear.

* * * * *

All in all, speaking between the lines is a recipe for stress, unhappy relations, and lost trust. Just mean what you say and say what you mean! 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Balancing Time Dedications

I'm slowly figuring out how I want to incorporate the mental trio of reading, speaking, and writing into my life.

Writing I should do more of in the morning, if I could possibly establish it as a routine. One of my favorite pastimes in the morning is to walk and do contemplation, as the creative faculties of my mind seem to be at their strongest at the point of the day. Freshly awoken, I simply want to exercise my mind on its own terms, free, for a while, of actually consuming something.

For reading, unless I'm trying to formally study something, is best done both before work and at night. Going back to that input/output thing I've said about my brain before, there's really not a period where I need to totally relax from doing mental work. I either want input (external stimulation such as books) or output (internal stimulation such as thinking or writing). If I wake in the day in an output mood, then as I gradually wear off the energy in that area it only makes sense that I convert to an input mode. Some of my harshest studying days were ended with the deep satisfaction of watching science shows: The exhaustion actually aided my concentration. The stimulation reading provides me offers a lasting satisfaction, so I think I should do it everyday about 45 minutes before going on shift since my work right now isn't mentally intensive, so I need something to satiate me beforehand. Also, my new favorite routine is to disconnect from the world at night and finish off with reading but under a small lamp, so I want to keep that up. The evening seems to be the best time to do the greatest amount of reading.

Speaking is still a conundrum. I can do it at anytime, but so often is it that I get absorbed in a train of thought that I almost totally forget to do it at all. Rather than worrying about actually cutting out a time period for it, I just need to work more at making it a standing order in my mind to do it during those activities devoid of any intellect, such as wiping down the mirror, or when I'm stumped at something, like writing, and need to brainstorm. In other words, I need to create a habit of noticing when I mentally idle, such as daydreaming while driving, and use the awareness to push me to rubberduck. Though, I also need to figure out how to incorporate this technique into my formal studies once I regain my productive composure and get back to it.

Now, beyond all this I think I may have identified a bad premise in my thinking that's been holding me back from productive ventures, particularly writing. If you've known my online presence for any amount of years, you'll know that many points I used to be an on-again-off-again writer, where I would have periods of very regular articles that gave away to dead periods, only to be revived and die off again. It wasn't because I was flip-flopping in how well I maintained my habits, but rather because I've been conflicted these past years on what role writing should play in my life.

You see, while I was growing up I wanted to be a professional writer. That is, if remembered correctly, why I started a blog in the first place. But then I understood that I really had no passion in that area and didn't think about it in my daily life as a passionate person would, and consequently gave up that dream. That smashed my motivation to write, made it really hard to consistently construct pieces, and eventually stressed me out enough to quit. However, all these years spent cultivating the skill has led me to become very attached to it, so a scant few weeks left me severely craving the practice. I then went forth to abandon my first blog *Benpercent* to dedicate myself to *Musing Aloud* in order to focus solely on self-improvement, personal thoughts, and general contemplation.

But then the one thing that got me the second time is noticing how much time it takes to write. It can be amazingly time-consuming, not just because of the effort needed for a polish piece, but for how entrancing the process can be if everything goes right, making you effortlessly go on for hours. I once spent 10-12 hours writing in virtually one sitting, because the piece was so interesting it kept beckoning me to go on and on and on, eventually whittling the whole day away. With how interesting the whole process was, it wasn't hard at all to go on at length like that. With the right effort, one can practically go into a trance.

But I want to become a chef. One would think that I'd spend more time cooking than writing given that, no? So I -- if remembered correctly, as my memory is fading on that issue -- abandoned my second blog, *Musing Aloud*, after realizing how many hours writing can actually take up. A lot, and many times without your bothering to care.

In thinking of writing, this perspective spread to other areas in my life, and I questioned everything. If I dedicate a portion of time to this, then it means less time for that. Is that really how I want to spend my time? There's a finite amount of time in a human's life, so am I spending it in ways that reap maximum value and will lead to my happiness and realization? Without inducing anxiety this type of thinking kind of paralyzed me, so in questioning the value of dedicating time to anything I dropped almost all my productive ventures and became the pitifully stagnating person I am now. The uncertainty of measuring a particular activity's value always drove me away since I looked at it from the negative: time spent here is time spent away from there. But of course, as I now have made myself realize, it's a preposterous answer to stop doing those activities, as now I'm left with drastically reduced value overall.

To solve the conundrum, I think I should simply not worry about it. The error is being over-technical. So long as I am pursuing the values that I believe are relevant to the achievement of my long-term happiness, then I shouldn't worry about measuring the value of one activity against another. Just take it in stride: If deemed valuable enough, try to incorporate the activity, and make changes as the long-term shows how other activities are affected. The most important thing is that I need to be willing to act, experiment, and make changes; not worry about getting it right the first time. Just experiment, make mistakes, and revisit the thinking. To err is to be human.

In regards to writing, I think the only true question is what types of pieces I should allow myself to engage it. At this point, I think it's unquestionable that writing does play a positive role, as even when I try to give it up I either get an intense urge to do it or have the urge be satisfied somewhere else. For instance, while I've been pitiful in maintaining *A Giant Doing*, I've been excelling at writing commentary on various things on Facebook, so while I'm bad at getting regular articles here my writing urges are unleashed on Facebook. After all these years, I simply do not want to stop writing.

How to do it most productively, on the other hand, is still in need of experimentation. Right now I'll just satisfy myself with the conclusion that it does need to play a role in my life, especially in intellectual life, and rest content with however many hours an article calls me to put into it, even if three or more in a sitting. Since I'm not working hard at editing -- since my purpose here is actually to engage in the writing act, not worry so much about a polished piece -- the stress has been greatly lessened.

With other activities I cut out time for, such as doing a cognitive exercise for ten minutes, should be viewed as a value pursued and gained, regardless of the validity of my thinking at the time. Just depend on honest judgement, experiment, err, correct, etc. 

So for now, I'll try to get some daily writing in, read at the particular times I've dedicated (45 minutes before work and all evening afterwards), and work on establishing a standing order on speaking.

Oh, and I'll also work on getting some more interesting articles up here too. Don't worry; I won't go on forever about my exciting daily routines.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

How to Live for Achievement Again

As mentioned previously, while I'm making almost startling emotional progress, relevant to my primary new year's resolution, I've been ghastly unproductive, thus retrogressing in that area. I'm in a somewhat writing mood today, so let's brainstorm.

I don't know why, but the Wassail and Mr. Knife saga has thrown me off in a way that I'm finding hard to recover from. I just feel too okay being a sloth at home like this, getting started slowly and getting little done in regards to my major goals. When I was so concerned with getting away from Mr. Knife promptly I entered a very introspective phase that left me feeling alright with neglecting my to-do lists, as I thought it was alright since getting away from danger was the most important thing to be concerned about at the time. However, now out of that danger, I look at my to-do lists with the feeling that they're foreign objects with repulsive things on them, and have been more unproductive than ever. While doing fine at work, I need to get my home life in order to make progress on my more important goals.

I think, while curable, I'm going through a phase of demotivation. Up to this point these past years I've worked very hard and yet got very little in return. If anything, punishments were dealt while totally undeserving people got the reward. I think back bitterly to my first restaurant job in Michigan, where I worked incredibly hard in the dish pit to be promoted to cook, and they always gave it to horrendously undeserving people. First they gave it to a guy who was very malicious and mean while on shift, and even sexually harassed some of the waitresses, and was so uncleanly he would have personified a health code violation, such as by scratching his bare and dirty toes and then touch the food without washing his hands. Then they gave the position to an alcoholic who came to every shift drunk to the point of severe cognitive impairments, and obviously had no prior restaurant experience. Finally, they then gave the position to an obese woman -- her weight is relevant since it did impair her efficiency -- who bullied the head cook to the point he threatened to quit, forcing the employers to fire her to avoid that disaster.

Okay, so I demonstrate my hard-working abilities and my initiative to go above and beyond, and continually do better, and they instead give the positions to all these other people who not only don't like their jobs and openly hate it, but also have not an ounce of merit to deserve such a position? Why must I struggle fiercely to be moved up to a cooking position when the alcoholic gets to start in it? Such discontent is eventually what drove me to Texas.

I know that was a long time ago, but in logic it still applies to some situations I'm in today, though I don't think I'm quite at liberty to talk about it. Simply put, it's soul-sapping to put so much into something and get so little out of it, while others put so little into something and get a lot out of it. The thought characterizing my current demotivation is, "Why bother?"

It feels like people let me down in serious ways on an all-too-regular basis. I remember the chef who brought me to Texas. He was so impressed with my efforts during the stage I performed for him that he said that if he were in charge of hiring he would have hired me on the spot. Such promising words moved me to hurry up and relocate to Texas so I could take any offered position, but upon arriving I found no such position existed, and that he could only help direct me in a job search. Then when I got in touch with his old mentor, who received high praise, I was told that I for certain secured a job at this fancy country club. I was excited and waiting anxiously for the job to start. But then week after week, I slowly approached bankruptcy, and had to get another job out of desperation. Then month after month passed without anything materializing on that job front, and now a year later I am no longer on speaking to that chef, and am barely subsisting and am still not in fine dining, even after two years of work in the industry. It goes on, but I'll stop there.

It's one of those periods where I feel like the people in charge of the major portions of the world, such as the great restaurants I want to get into, are horrendously unjust and will not allow the chance for people like me to flourish, while people who don't deserve to sweep the streets almost effortlessly climb their ladders, all while having no appreciation for the advancements since they don't value their job as I would given that I view it as my career. Here I am now, subsisting like a pauper for peanuts, while in a reasonable scenario I could be making $9-10 an hour and living comfortably doing prep and line work for a fine restaurant.

It's been hard getting out of such a situation. To desperately get away from my own landlord and her shockingly irrational tendencies, I moved rapidly in a fashion that has burned through a lot of my cash. My blasted apartment building required a hefty deposit since I couldn't find anyone to cosign my lease, and that deposit amounted to half of all my savings. Now I have less than $400 to my name. And yet there are some truly awful and contemptible people out there doing much better than I, putting forth less effort and time than I and yet succeeding at it.

Intellectually I know better, but it's one of those times in which I have a hard time making myself feel what I believe. I think one thing and then eventually cave into the "Why bother?" and loaf around. Oh, I could be strenuously pushing myself in ways that would make me enjoy life vigorously, but with how disappointing things appear I view myself as coasting towards some kind of eminent destruction, where struggle is futile except to hasten it.

But again: I know better, so I should start doing things that make me feel that belief. In a scenario like this it's important to remember that one's emotional nature is multi-faceted and not controlled by any one thing. While ideas may be the primary driver of one's emotions, one actions contribute heavily too, and my ideas about the ideal nature of life can only take me so far unless I use actions to substantiate it. For instance, it's not enough to intellectually believe that great success are possible in this world; one needs to actually pursue achievements, private and beyond, to fully experience the emotional impact of that belief. When I look back, I have made some significant progress in my life, regardless of whether or not it's as much as I wanted or happened in the areas I wanted to. When I moved from Michigan and cut my family off I've always been dissatisfied that I had to rent a room rather than get an apartment at first glance, but hey: I completed that major endeavor nonetheless. And now I've completed a second major endeavor by getting out of that terrible living situation and into this present apartment. I'm sure if we all look back on our lives we can all see successes like these that prove that success is possible in this world, and that we only need to work to keep at it.

So, aside from not being in fine dining yet, my major problem in my home life is that I'm unhappy with what I'm doing to expand my mind and mental faculties. I may want to become a great cook, but, in the abstract, my greatest goal in life nonetheless is to make full use of all the potential my mind has to offer. I want to become as intelligent as I possibly can, involve myself in career endeavors that make full use of my mental capacities (such as by running a restaurant that engages in molecular gastronomy, and/or writing books.), and develop my brain (speaking of the organ separate from the mind) as much as I can so I can have the strongest hardware possible for my intellectual efforts.

Going further, this means that I desire to live a more intellectual-oriented daily life, that includes daily studying, reading, focused thinking, and other endeavors that will help me reach my goals day by day. Hardly an iota of my routine matches what I'd like myself to be doing everyday, so I'm currently living far too immersed in unfocused thinking that's undirected towards my highest goals. My past self would be particularly ashamed of me, for there was a period in which I did engage in intensive study for my own personal benefit, reading grammar and math books, and even taking notes and doing homework, which I quit doing because the problems I had with my family interfered too deeply. I still have yet to get back to a good studying routine.

So ultimately what I want to do is more broad than merely getting back into a productive life; I want a more mentally productive life. While a more productive life would certainly entail things such as staying on top of the floor cleanings and whatnot, it would be more essentially directed towards staying on top of my reading, writing, and other intellectual-oriented activities, the things I'm not doing enough of.

This quote has been thinking about three essential factors: "Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man." - Francis Bacon

In other words, reading, writing, and talking. More detail can certainly go into explaining what and how to read, what to write about in what fashion, and what and how to talk about something, but for now I'll say that I think these are the three more important pursuits at base in developing one's fullest intellectual powers. It surprises me on a regular basis just how much value any individual pursuit can provide on an isolated basis, so what immense power I could obtain if I practiced all three daily! And what excuse do I have for no including them?

Reading -- and I do mean actual reading, not audio books -- is great for concentration, focus, and introspection. When I read heavily before work I feel at peace, satisfyingly calm, and mentally sharp.

I may have no plans as of yet for any professional writing, but man what it does to hone the precision of thought and to relieve one's need to convey information in language. When combating the worst of my urges in writing by, of course, writing I feel like the air conditioner has turned on in my brain and that it had been massaged. Furthermore, I feel like I understand the issues I've written about better and can explain them in more concise form.

The third, talking, has been the most surprising. As you know, I like engaging in the practice of "rubberducking," in which one takes an inanimate object and speaks to it as if it were real.This has done tremendous wonders for my ability to speak well, fluently, with a more varied vocabulary, and to even satisfy some emotional needs. Some of the benefits even spill over to writing, as in trying to use better vocabulary in spoken language leads to their easier use in writing. (If you have trouble avoiding writing a particular word or phrase or word in excess, try modifying your speaking first and then see how easily your writing changes.) Talking has been a great addition to my life, one I've been in sorry shape to live without.

If I could modify my everyday living to include all these activities on a regular basis, then what's possible for me? If they provide so much value when just considered alone, imagine what they could do if done together daily! If I lived more vigorously it could certainly be possible.

So in short, in reaching a more ideal lifestyle, at least in present terms where I need to figure out how to get higher from my current condition, I want to figure out how to include these on a daily basis, as well as get a formal learning routine in.

Unfortunately, I've run out of time for this piece. It's almost time to go to work, and as you know I try to take a more relaxed, less stressful approach to editing by not obsessing over the details of my writing, trying to derive the benefit more from the process than from coming up with a polished piece.

For now, I'll say that I think I have the reading portion down. While I enjoy my friends, my favorite aspect of living alone is having the isolation at night. I love shutting off my computer and being nearly cut off from the world, having nothing else but my books to keep me company. I try to keep myself from looking at clocks at the night, and go to bed as I please, after having gotten some hours of reading in. (Next I want to get a candle to read by, to promote healthier hormone production.)

Writing and talking I'll need to think about. For writing, I guess I should just make myself try and writing on a regular basis, like producing an article everyday, like Tod did for his (now discontinued) blog *Optimal Living*. The mind isn't a turnip: Squeeze hard enough and juice comes out. The talking will be difficult, as I find it hard to break my silence sometimes, and have a hard time figuring when to squeeze it in.

It'll get figured out.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

How I'm a Mess and Yet Content

A quick write-up to dispel any suspicion that I may have passed away, what with my poor writing habits as of late.

In a way, I'm still not recovered from the Wassail and Mr. Knife saga in terms of productivity, but I've been making vast emotional progress as of late, to the point that I've begun to actually reclaim serenity with life. So I'm a mess in that I haven't been doing well to maintain my productive habits as in the past, but at the same time I've been doing some very important learning and practices that has been having an immensely positive effect on my emotional health, which is part of my primary new year's resolution. I'd probably be more content if I kept myself busier . . . but progress is progress.

The two things that have been having a positive wallop are my identification of the Vegeta Mistake and my doing more rubberducking. On the former, I see now how much suffering I've inflicted upon myself all these years by carelessly engaging in the Vegeta Mistake, and in taking care to keep it constantly in mind I have both made healthy changes to my relationships and to myself. Not only have maintaining emotional control been doing wonders for my relationships, it's also been setting in motion some internal changes as well, as more and more do I feel a great reduction in those intense negative emotions, and now very rarely feel any temptation to act upon others on an intense whim. With what such a multi-faceted effect this identification has been having on me, I should recite those two words for years to come to keep me in check. I know it seems a little silly to be thinking in terms of an animated show here, but it works and applies for me.

On that latter, if I must remind you, by rubberducking I mean the practice of taking an inanimate object and speaking to it as if it were a sentient being, though not to the point of pretending it's speaking back or anything; you just use it as something to talk to. When I lived with my old landlord I gave up rubberducking for almost a year since it was impossible to do it with privacy in that home, so now restarting here in my new apartment and in the car I have seen what great effects I've been missing out on. Talking out an emotional problem is both a satisfying and quick way to relieve any nagging pressure, and I've been observing some other neat side-effects too, such as better speaking skills, improved mastery of vocabulary, and improved word choices in both speaking and writing. Restarting the practice has moved me to give up my introspection journal/diary altogether, which was my main form of emotional relief, as I've been forever frustrated with how slow the process was. Rubberducking can be done at nearly any time and incorporated during such activities as showering and tying your shoes. I use my Bowser bobblehead at home and a rubber, alligator-shaped pencil-topper in the car, though would like something for the kitchen.  

Observing its multi-faceted effects, I've got to see how far I can take its improvements. It'd probably help lots in studying, learning new words, memorizing . . . too often do I allow myself to be silent for hours on end, forgoing the easy benefits speaking aloud can give.

At some point in this year I intend to do a full and more exhaustive write-up in what I've done to obtain my mental health this year, but for now I'll rest content with some sporadic lessons, and wait for a more intensively written article to go into deeper detail. Right now, keep an eye on the Vegeta Mistake and talk to yourself on occasion, if you can. (Don't worry; you aren't crazy so long as the objects don't begin responding.)

Mentally, I think I've collected myself well enough that I need to begin focusing on other demons. From here, I think, my mental health will only improve if I take on greater pursuits such as seeking romantic love and whatnot. This budding serenity is a pleasant milestone, but further we must go. From here, I want to focus more on getting another job to improve my finances, and establishing more intellectually healthy routines so that I can get my mind and brain growing again, like back in my early college dropout days when I tested myself in private and intensive study. If I wish to maximize myself, I need to maximize my efforts.

And yes, while you may sarcastically smirk, part of my intention is to improve my writing regularity, so that I can reap the mental benefits of the precision practice. My being off with my to-do lists means I've been off with my writing too. I'll figure something out.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The All Important Thing I Forgot: The Reason Behind my Blog's Name

Wow, have I totally messed up on writing this post on time. Right when I began this blog I promised one of my first posts would explain why I've chosen this title, and months later I've almost totally forgotten. Well, let's remedy that right now.

As of current I don't consider myself to be a giant in terms of moral stature and ability, but with dedication to self-improvement I hope to reach that height someday. The reason why I've chosen this title is to denote the substance of this blog, its focus self-improvement in all areas of life to make one a better and better person, to reach that one point in life one actually does become a giant. And to become a giant one needs to perform the actions that composes the greatness one wishes to embody.

My favorite saying, which guides the crux of my life, is "A giant is as a giant does," which was spoken by Rod Serling at the end of a Twilight Zone episode, The Last Night of a Disc Jockey. It's not my favorite episode, but it did contain my favorite moral.

It stars a horse-rider -- a disc jockey -- who has gotten kicked out of his career for violating the rules too many times, and in his dismay he mopes around his hotel room that evening. Being so distraught, his subconscious, in a mystical sense, starts speaking to him and offers to grant him a wish he could use to redeem himself. His wish is to be "big," and this mystical force grants it literally by over tripling his size, making him nearly too large to fit in his room. Having attained his wish, the jockey then spends most the the rest of the episode gleefully contemplating all the good things that will happen to him due to his size.

But soon things go downhill. When he calls a girl on the phone for a date, using his newfound size as his hook, he's baffled as to why she's unimpressed and continues to refuse to go out with him. He then gets a call from the jockey club informing him that they'll give him a final chance to redeem himself and allow him to resume his riding. The jockey celebrates his chance briefly, only to mocked by the mystical force inside of him, which then makes him increase in size a second time, this time making him actually hit the ceiling. It finally dawns on the jockey that his size is too much -- that he'll be unable to go through doorways, sit on a horse, wear his jockey clothes. . . he ruined his life because he was more concerned with his physical bigness rather than how big he is as a person. As he has an explosive tantrum and tears up the room, Rod Serling then goes on to explain that it is not the appearance of a man that makes him who he is, but rather the substance of his actions. To be great, he needs to do great things.

"A giant is as a giant does."

I loved that quote from the first moment I heard it. Truthfully, obsessions with appearances has been a dominating problem in my life, one that nearly destroyed me and my happiness. There have even been times in which I've seen people be willing to sacrifice their life in a moment just so they wouldn't have to endure the embarrassment of appearing a certain way in front of others. Almost all the people I grew up around were obsessed with appearance to the point that they cared nothing about the substance behind those appearances, and were perfectly fine with faking and decorating everything without worrying about what things truly are.

They're more worried about sounding smart than actually being smart. They're more worried about smiling and looking happy rather than actually being happy. They're more worried about making sure they're doing what their neighbors are doing rather than focusing on doing their own thing. Simply put, they're more worried about appearing and looking certain ways to people, rather than actually trying to be that way.

They're just like the jockey who was more concerned with being physically big, rather than big in morality and competence.

And I've seen the dismal results. Ruined lives, unhappy relationships, mental disorders, wasted careers, financial destruction. . . By trying so hard to just keep up appearances they have ended up committing spiritual suicide. And that's been a horrific problem in my life up until now. These people care little to nothing what their beings are actually composed of.

That's why that saying speaks so strongly to me: It denotes that whoever you are, it is the content of your actions that ultimately makes you who you are, not what those actions happen to appear as, or how people happen to see them. The content is what it is, and that's that.

After seeing so many people emotionally mangle themselves and their lives by merely trying to look a certain way to others, I want to dedicate my life being a certain way. I want the whole of my being to be judged by the substance of what I do, and how consistently I do it: That's who I'll be as a human being. To achieve the happiness and greatness that's possible to me, I'm going to concentrate on the actions and behaviors that contain the right substance to lead me to that height, not what just happens to look good to others, what will gain me popularity, what will be the path of least resistance, or whatever.

As such, I've decided that the best title for this blog, seeing how centered around self-improvement it is, is *A Giant Doing.* Because a giant is as a giant does.  

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Avoiding the Vegeta Mistake

First off, so you don't get disappointed, this post is indeed a reference to Dragon Ball Z, but it's not about DBZ alone. In fact, I've written about this before, but reframing the phenomenon as the "Vegeta Mistake" has given me massive insights into the problem, enough so to have helped my life significantly these past weeks. This identification alone has given me a big leap on my new year's resolution to trump my bipolar and OCD tendencies, as I dub 2012 the year of "Self-Mastery" mainly in reference to the fact controlling my psychology is my most important goal this year.

After finally getting into an apartment, my main concern now is to get myself together after all the emotional turmoil I've had to go through while growing up. My biggest problem in life has always been being stuck with terrible people who always harmed my mental well-being, and with the sorry state of the world today I've had a horrendous time actually getting away from them, the only objective and definite solution to the problem. Now that I've got there, I need to overturn a lot of bad habits and ways of thinking I've gained from being immersed in such frequent stress, and the Vegeta Mistake is, I think, part of the core of the problems I face.

In short, the coined term "Vegeta Mistake" notes the phenomenon in which one thinks and acts on the belief that one's emotions has an external effect on the external environment around you, other people's emotions in particular, as if the experience of an emotion itself somehow radiated an energy outwards. For example, take anger. Have you ever dealt with those people who, in refusing to control their emotions, will often resort to intense glaring, explosive shouting, and other aggressive gestures? In my own experiences, particularly in my own cases of acting like this, the implicit belief is that the anger will initiate a stressful response in others, like fear, submission, and obedience. In glaring at others there have been times in which I in non-verbal terms wished that stare would literally transmit some kind of energy to the other person, which would mystically make them afraid and ashamed of themself for provoking me. It's an absurdity to think like this, but it's one of those preposterous beliefs one can adopt and act on if it's never actually acknowledged or verbalized to the persons conducting themselves like this.

The reason why I call this the Vegeta Mistake is because in the DBZ series the characters are capable of interacting with the environment in different and unique ways, such as shooting a beam out of their hands to blow up a mountain or increase their strength in a way that causes a lightening storm to generate. Vegeta, the person is question, is characterized by his hot temper, and in losing control of his emotions he would whimfully allow his abilities to affect the environment around him. For instance, one time when a scientist refused to build him some exercise equipment he got so angry he caused a pressure wave to emanate and crush and destroy the scientific equipment within a few feet of his standing-point. There has also been a time when he got so angry at a villain that he started generating lightening strikes and an intense windstorm. In the series it isn't mystical or magical -- its consistent with the laws of reality in their fictional universe -- but it is representative of how some people may feel what they're doing when they're indulging their emotions. The term Vegeta Mistake may be representative of how a person may feel when enraged, but it embodies so much more than that.

In total, it embodies virtually any time someone allows their actions to be unthinkingly dictated by an emotion, in the unstated belief that the emotion itself can generate some kind of effect in others, the same way Vegeta can generate lightening, wind, and pressure ways by simply getting angry.

It comes in many forms depending on the emotion. A person who allows themself to lose their temper may hope that their resulting behavior will invoke fear, submission, and apologetic behavior in others. A person who wallows in depression may hope that the very experience of the suffering will create a sort of magnetism to draw others in to inquire about the pain and attempt to remedy it. A person immersed in bliss may hope that the uplifting sensation will uplift others simply by being in the vicinity.

While it's true some of the described effects can happen in those scenarios it's important to understand what exactly is activating that kind of response. In all cases its the external behavior people observe and experience, not the internal emotion you're feeling. The enraged person can only make people become recessive by their yelling and aggressiveness, not the experience of their anger. The depressed person can only draw others in only if they already care about them and communicate their suffering, not by indulging in their suffering in hoping it creates an attractive force. And the happy person can only uplifts others by the ways they treat and talk to others, not by simply feeling good.

To fully understand what I mean, here's an experiment you can visualize. If you were in a library with a crowd of people, would people tell you to be quiet or kick you out for being noisy if you started using your inner voice to shout? Of course not: Nobody can hear your thoughts. If you started literally shouting then of course you would garner that negative reaction, as the speaking is what people can

How this all relates to my life is that this has made me deeply understand how far back I've been holding myself by holding back on comprehending this point. Making the Vegeta Mistake has been holding back both the emotional progress I want to make in gaining self-mastery and the value I can cultivate in my personal relationships.  

I ought not be one to hide my failings. A few weeks ago I had a rather intense emotional episode that knocked me mentally down by several notches, and created a big rough patch with my friends. I was upset with how things were going in a particular situation, and with irrational disregard I allowed my emotions to pilot me, which made the very problems I was upset with in the first place much worse, and made me become more distant from my friends since they felt pushed away, rather than sympathizing with me as I emotionalistically hoped they would. As a result, for about a week I temporarily developed a full-force depression, including the physical tiredness and all, and did not have the same enjoyable company with my friends as I had. I was acting on the foolishly unvocalized belief that indulging my intense emotions will cause others to sense them and sympathize, but, obviously and of course, they responded to my disrespectful behavior, the only thing they could actually observe, and acted accordingly. I wanted to advance forward by having an "episode" and kicked myself backwards instead. I don't know where it was in that period, but I began thinking about previous writing I had done on emotions and refined it to the point I came up with the "Vegeta Mistake" and realized how seriously I was committing it.

Now that I think about that term almost daily I have made huge emotional progress, and have vastly improved my relationships. Whenever I feel an oncoming urge to act on my emotions I say to myself, "Vegeta Mistake! Vegeta Mistake!" and then know immediately what intelligent behaviors to adopt in order to rationally get what I want, such as taking deep breaths to sooth anger, reaching out and interacting when I feel lonely and sad, and so on.

By keeping this in mind and rationally tailoring my actions in accordance, I have restored and enhanced the values in my relationships and gotten further ahead at work. Additionally, and of huge importance, I have begun to change my emotional nature to the point that the frequency of those intense negative emotions is decreasing and becoming far more manageable, a sure sign that I'm healing from my difficult past. For instance, becoming somber amongst my friends was far too regular an occurrence, and now by striving to push through the resistance and interact with my friends those emotions have been abated and my bonds strengthened.

The Vegeta Mistake is surely an absurd belief, but, again, it's one of those incredible oddities a person can absorb into one's character if it's left unspoken in the mind. When a belief is unspoken and unacknowledged to our very own self, then we can act on the craziest of premises. That being said, you should then be able to see the extent to which people actually perform the Vegeta Mistake. Take any case in which a person glares at you hotly when they've lost their temper, and will openly display their rage while refusing to rational resolve the problem. Or the significant other who will suddenly give their partner the silent treatment, continually refusing to state the problem, in the hopes that the offending person will "just know." Or the morbidly depressed person who becomes sullen and shuts other people out, sometimes even continually pushing people away, and then later complains that they feel alone and resentful that no one will help them. The Vegeta Mistake, in all cases here.

I'm thoroughly glad I've been able to condense this phenomenon into those terms as I have, as I intend to cite them almost daily to remind myself how to rationally construct myself actions to respond to my emotions, as now I am much closer to receiving the longed for prize of 2012: self-mastery. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Next Order of Business

Okay, I know I've been failing dismally on my supposed resolution to try writing a blog post every morning. For now, let's just play it by ear, as I still need to work out some thinking as to what would constitute a good routine. I think ultimately I need to pay attention to my individual needs each day as they change each morning: Some days I might want to engage the "output" side of my mind and write something, and another day I may want to partake in the "input" side and feed my brain a book.

But to get you up to speed on my happenings, I think I've mainly been avoiding blogging because the lack of a desk made it too uncomfortable to be typing at the computer for an extended time, as it was completely on the floor. Thankfully, now I've got a stand-up desk, as I much prefer standing up to sitting down. I wanted to hold off on the expense, but the discomfort in my back prodded me to do otherwise, so I got a cheapo $50 setup going that utilizes a mere folding card table I got from Target and a 10-pack of constructable storage boxes I got from Office Depot.

But anyhow, going back to the real deal I am finally moved into the apartment. I just need to buy some serviceware and silverware, a few more pieces of furniture, and hang up my clothes in the closet and I'll be totally settled. I haven't heard from either my old landlord Wassail or Mr. Knife since my move. I'm not sure about the latter, but I doubt I'll ever hear from Wassail again since she seems to have recklessly lost my phone number, which works to my advantage in shutting her off forever. Luckily, the final steps of my move were conducted in her absence, so I didn't have to deal with the prospect of getting into a belligerent argument with her when I finally communicated how I felt about her and why I wasn't going to keep in contact. Instead I left a long letter that simply laid out the facts and was free of hostile or profane language. I told her of her immoral irresponsibility, her obvious alcoholism, her poor way of treating people, and more, and even went so far as to give her some advice in how she can improve her screening process for potential tenants. If she takes my advice she could massively improve her life, but I have no hope for her. I actually wonder if she's still alive. With her type-1 diabetes she's in constant danger of killing herself with her irresponsibility, and if she still doesn't have any housemates she wouldn't be found in time to be saved. After that, how long would it take for the body to be discovered? She has no friends who visit, so it'd be a wonder as to when any of her associates would know if anything is off. I'm skeptical her employer would come looking for her given her lowly position and probably bad work ethic. With that and other factors -- ha -- I wouldn't be surprised if, when the bank repossesses the home, they find a blond haired skeleton inside. You can only play Russian Roulette with your health and life for so long.

Yet, despite finally being out of this bad living situation I'm still not back in mental shape. The stressful Mr. Knife saga has made me readopt some old bad habits since I did find it worthwhile to pursue my highest goals until I got out of that terrible living situation, and now I find some old bad thinking habits are being to resurface, resulting in old bad patterns, discontent, and wasted time. Regardless, I am still, to a great extent, better. I just need to take what I would consider to be the final steps to healing, as this time there is no external interference.

The problem with my trying to heal in the duration of living with bad and stressful people is that the stress of the situation would always provoke my anxieties, particularly because I was powerless to immediately remove myself from the situation. If the country were more prosperous and the culture more rational I would have probably been able to remove myself promptly, but with bad financial and cultural times I found myself stuck in those situations despite having no fault in it, and had a really rough time getting out, thereby forcing me to bear the brunt of severe stress in the meanwhile. It took about two years to get away from my mother after I determined to. With my grandmother, about three. And now with this awful ex-landlord -- considering I lived with her in her house, rather than on a property she visited -- it took almost a year. That's approximately six years living with bad people who imposed nothing but stress and psychological interference, from when I got away from one bad person I got in with another, and which was super-difficult to get away from them in an efficient manner. Dealing with a problem is one thing, but when that problem is practically omnipresent and unresolvable except through very difficult and time-consuming means, it eats at you in that duration and imposes some of the worst distress.



This analogy, in fact, bears some similarity to the way I actually learned to drive. Both my mother and grandmother were horrible teachers, whom I learned how to drive best without. Despite the fact I keep making proper and rational driving decisions my mother got unpredictably hysterical, which caused me to seize up and hit the brakes. My grandmother discouraged me from driving on the expressway, which in part delayed me from actually taking on my fear of it and driving on it. The way I dealt with all these problems is by keeping both of them out of the car. I even practiced driving on the expressway without telling my grandmother anything. Tackling my anxieties on my own was so much easier without interference, for while I still felt fear, that fear wasn't heightened by external interference, namely irrational people.

And so this is why I think I've been stuck these past years. In dealing with bad people in the worst possible way, living with them, I developed anxieties that couldn't be quelled the rational and proper way since the source of those anxieties were continually present in my life. It's like having the sole ability to address symptoms of a disease but not the disease itself, so the disease keeps generating new symptoms to treat. It's been eternally frustrating having to deal with the same anxious behaviors over and over again, as if they couldn't be defeated. Once I used to eat very anxiously. Once I conquered that I then had spending problems. Once I conquered that I then had problems taking too long of walks to engage in negative thinking. Once I conquered that I was back to anxious eating. Bah.

But now there's no interference. No family, Wassail, or Mr. Knife. Regardless of expense, I don't intend to live with anyone ever again, unless I get married or in a deep relationship. Living alone seems to be the only psychologically safe option.

So now with my weaknesses before me, it comes time to address them and defeat them permanently. I can see and quantify exactly which behaviors are leading to what emotional consequences, so all I need to do is enumerate them for reference, write down reminders on cards so that there's always within my mind, and then rigorously tackle a plan of action to permanently change my character. 2012 is the year of Self-Mastery, as I've named in. In my plans I want to become more frugal, productive, and healthy. Hopefully a portion of this leads to me writing more for your entertainment, as I've had some very good ideas for articles, particularly one involving a major identification about emotions and influencing other people.

Let's think. I like being pretty public with myself, within limits of course, to help motivate others deal with their own problems (and perhaps garner advice for my own), so I'll go ahead and identify explicitly the problems I'm dealing with:

1.) Idle mornings: I loll around in bed too long, and too often I engage in unproductive routines such as taking too-long of walks, which altogether delays the start of my day until noon and sometimes beyond. I'd like to be more like those people who wake up at seven AM and get rolling right away, which by the time noon rolls around they've had a rich day.

I think the root of these bad habits may be the fact this is how I lived in my childhood. Almost my entire life has been like this: Wake up, be idle until noon, and then get started. The family members I've dealt with primarily are notorious for getting outrageously slow starts to the morning, even if they wake up very early. We would all just tinker around until lunch time, by which then guilt motivates us to actually make use of the time. And, of course, as I've said in the past about routines, the mentality nurtured in the morning upon waking up seeps into the rest of the day, making the whole day far less productive than it could have been. Those mornings in which I got up and moving, and started with something like writing, reading, or doing a chore, has been amongst the most productive since I feel naturally inclined to sustain the momentum for the rest of the day.

I think the solution comes in two parts: sleep and base routines.

On the sleep front, I simply need to work at improving the quality of my sleep, as I think the encouragement to be idle in the mornings comes from crappy-quality nights. My body clock pretty much forces me to wake up at certain time frames whether I'd like to or not, and if I'm still tired then I fall prey to the delusion that I could actually fall back asleep, only I don't and can't, thereby wasting precious time in bed trying to obtain unobtainable rest. Some dietary tweaks and a change of practices should fix everything quickly.

Now on the base routine, as I've been talking about in my past posts the way I start my day tends to set its theme. When I'm idle and play around, I tend to maintain that mentality and set of desires for the rest of the day. When I apply my mind to something, however, I retain a sense of thoughtful action for the rest of the day, and desire to be productively engaged for the rest of the day. As such, I think I need to, at least for most of the week, prohibit myself from engaging in any particular recreation, and intend resort to stimulating myself first thing in the morning. A few times a week, perhaps, I could allow myself the luxury of taking a walk, but that would be best abstained from until my habits are reset. I think I could roughly divide my activities in reading vs. writing, in which some days I engage in reading and others I engage in writing a blog post, depending on whether I crave to learn something or exercise my creativity. My mind may desire to be stimulated in a broader set of activities than this, but this is probably the safe set for now. I won't nail myself to a schedule of writing, so continue to anticipate irregularity. Don't worry, I'll advertise and call for you when I'm ready.

2.) Anxious spending: Yes, I seem to be suffering from this problem once again. Sometimes when I go to a store I panic and put out of mind any sense of budget. I've never been so reckless that I've gotten into any sort of financial trouble, but still it's not wise for saving up for the future. This would actually probably best be saved through dietary means. Being a a chef-wannebe, my primary expenditure and value is food, so the grocery budget is the primary problem; I've never had any spending problem in other areas. I'm too prone to anxious eating, which makes me focus too much on getting groceries. If I engage my diet more rationally, I think I'll get my grocery spending under control since that should quell my anxiety about food in whole.

3.) Anxious eating: I've never garnered a health defect or seemed to have gained weight, but I still allow myself to indulge too much. I'd rather not dig into the root of the problem, so I'll say that I think I can solve it with some simple fasting. The Paleo diet rather endorses fasting as a regular practice, like once a week, and I know I can do it comfortably without suffering extreme discomfort, any impact on my energy level, or any change in my cognitive abilities. The point of fasting isn't to derive myself of calories, as I certainly make up the deficit in breaking it, it's to encourage positive hormone releases during the period and reset some biological mechanisms. For instance, I find that in fasting my hunger changes into something different and more bearable in nature, which changes my natural desires and approach towards food. For example, I can pretty much smash the regular temptation to overindulge in sugar by simply going one day without eating, as that seems to clear the craving and attachment out of my system. By fasting more regularly I should not only be able to improve my health and overall functioning, but also be able to improve my emotional nature in approaching food and conduct a more rational diet, which should also have an impact in how I approach my grocery expenditures.

* * * * *

As far as my thinking goes, these are the sole and primary three problems that I have. Lick these, and I should be much better off. Beyond what I've mentioned above, I think these can be further addressed by writing out messages on notecards and sticking them in the appropriate place, such as my car to remind me of my financial goals, to keep the nature of the problems to the forefront of my mind and continually remind myself of what actions I'm going to take to address them.

Otherwise, in total, I think I'm rockin' in tackling my new years' resolutions. One major one down already with the gain of a new apartment, and I've been making good progress on others. Though, there are problems, but we'll talk about that later; it's getting late and time to start on other things.