Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Scatter Brained Thoughts

I've been both lazy and productive at the same time. That funk I recently got over regarding my loneliness has not only made me examine my own failings in that area, but also in other realms where I realized I was being too stubborn to examine a folly. The result of such has been making me depart from my normal routines such as journal writing and tackling my to-do lists in favor of being a little more spontaneous and doing things out of apartment, which I think has been beneficial in realizing what would be a more healthful lifestyle to live. I should get back on schedule soon, but I still need to make some changes.

One minor/major thing I've noticed is how counter-productive it is for me to actually be in my apartment. I keep telling myself it would be most productive to remain near my PC where I can type rapidly, access vast information, and have my well-groomed to-do lists, but in fighting my stubbornness I've come to terms that reality doesn't support that conclusion. The recreational connotation and idle routines I've established in this location has made this place, at least temporarily, an environment that encourages bad habits, so I've been trying to get out more often to see if different locations might actually motivate me to behave better. (For those that remember, I once did a "sensory enrichment" experiment.)

I'd say the evidence is positive. When I tried doing some constructive reading at the bookstore, for instance, I noticed that I had a more serious mindset about the task at hand and was able to stick with it. I had already trained myself to tune out other distractions such as other people walking by or the music playing (with ear plugs), so they weren't a problem. Reflecting on the past, even having my Kindle Fire with me to surf the internet didn't even distract me at other times. When I took it with me it was to complete certain online tasks, and I stuck to that goal.

I can see now why some people suggest during the setup of a workspace to only use that space for work. Locations have emotional connotations, so entering a specific area can encourage a particular mindset in response, so if bad habits and play are the norm in the particular environment such as my apartment, then I can see why I tend to fall prey to those wasteful activities such as surfing the internet. The bookstore, however, emanates things of the mind to me, books to be browsed for stimulation or to be hunkered down with in a seat, so when I go there it's easier to work. I need to make my to-do portable and uproot more often. Ultimately, I think it would be a massive help in molding me in the person I want to become, since I wouldn't be so set back by temptations. Additionally, uprooting more often would help make my apartment a more viable study space in the future, as habituating going to the bookstore more often would help break bad habits here at home, thus helping me create better habits later on.

Anyhow, enough blah blah. I've been abstaining from my writing for so long that I feel I must semi-plagiarize Thomas Sowell's "Thoughts on the Passing Scene" and Gus Van Horn's "[Day of the week] Hodge Podge" since the thoughts are stockpiling to the point that I don't want to dedicate separate articles, so here's some scatter brained thoughts:

Pay Attention

Joe Dispenza's book turned out to be pretty boring -- I think I might like his other one better -- because previous reading has already satisfied me in all that I want to know in neurology, so from here I'm just looking for practical advice.

However, the one valuable piece of help I've derived from this book is how tremendously important it is to pay attention (i.e. concentrate) in order to initiate a desirable change in the brain's neurological make-up. Without scrupulous attention, the right neurological networks aren't going to be stimulated as intensely or not at all, and that in effect is going to prevent a rewiring process or the growth of new neurons.

I know it doesn't seem like much, but it's made me realize just how much I've underestimated concentration. I've noticed now just how little effort I invest in my attention during practices to change myself, which consequently has probably made me sacrifice a lot of progress.

To use a minor example, take mincing shallots. Last week at work the chef taught me how to mince shallots and let me cut a few. However, I allowed myself to be very distracted in the process. I didn't do well because I was so inexperienced of course, but now I have to think how much experience did I lose out on by not concentrating intensively. Doing it for the first time should have at least elevated me from rung one to rung two on the ladder of developing a skill, but could my willful distractedness have kept me perched on rung one?

Come to think of it, how much value and skill-honing am I sacrificing in other areas by not paying attention? Maybe that's why I've been so embarrassed of my writing skills as of late, which is way other par for what I used to accomplish. Nowadays while writing a blog piece I allow myself to be way too distracted, by doing such things as randomly walking away from the keyboard, switching internet tabs, and so on. Perhaps that's why I misspell, force poor sentences out, and generally complete what is to appearance and in nature poor pieces.

I need to immerse myself in my activities more often if I want to improve myself. I need to learn to fixate with laser precision that which I am cutting, lose track of time while writing, and not be tempted at all to look at a clock while reading. I understand now how incredibly value a little thing such as the ability to concentrate is, and am going to be far more diligent in incorporating in my daily life.

It's simple to ascertain the instructions to improvement, though a little hard. All I need to do is pay attention. My ability to do so will of course be sloppy and not all that great at first, but with practice, such as by saying "be here now!" when I notice I'm distracted, the skill will naturally develop and carry over into other endeavors. Hopefully this will make me far more able at reaching my ideals now.

Attention, Rehearsal, and Mnemonics? 

I know the value of attention, but could mental rehearsal and mnemonics also be a mass benefit I'm forgoing? I'm starting to think of this as possibly a few *fundamental* mental techniques I should be practicing.

From other neurology reading I've learned that by imaging the practice of a particular skill will actually fire up the particular set of neurons that's involved in performing that skill. Practice on a neurological level initiates changes and growth, so perhaps using mental rehearsal is a very practical way to develop certain skills when you're in a situation where you can't do physical practice. In the experiments I've read about people have been able to learn musical pieces without playing the piano (by visualizing themselves playing the piece over and over for extended periods), and another person was able to make his finger stronger by visualizing lifting a weight with it.

The value of this is limited, but perhaps very useful. One thing I've anguished at in my culinary thinking is how the finitude of ingredients limit how much knife practice I can get it. With my finances, there's only so many mushrooms to cut, onions to chop, chickens to separate, and so on, so how fast I can really develop myself facing this limit? With mental rehearsal, perhaps faster than I think.

Maybe it would be of great value to me to practice a semi-meditative practice where I sit or lay down (with my eyes open) and try to visualize as vividly as possible myself performing those feats of dexterity. I may only buy and dissect one chicken at a time, but I can do several dozen in my head. This, I think, could be key to developing knife skills at a faster pace than practice alone would accomplish, given that money in the bank is affords only so much. Of course, actual physical practice is far superior and necessary to experience, but adopting mental rehearsal as a supplement can't hurt.

Furthermore, I've also been getting really enthused by mnemonics as of late by reading about them in Moonwalking with Einstein. In addition to paying stronger attention and doing mental rehearsal, perhaps mnemonics is also another thing I might find of value to train myself in. The better I get at it, the faster I can gather and retain information, and the faster I can memorize it the faster I can think about it and rearrange elements, which would surely be helpful in culinary endeavors. Hmm, I think I'll start setting up some practice goals, such as learning the entire menu and stock of the restaurant I work at, as a start.

But I need to stop somewhere. There I go again: Gathering more goals than I can possibly pursue. The key is to tackle them a little at a time, and only worry about stopping certain practices once they become second-nature and can be maintained by proper lifestyle changes, so that my mere way of living keeps my skills up without my having to take time out to hone them.

Do I Really Want to Open a Restaurant?

I've been thinking about my career goals again. Oddly, I've been second-guessing whether I actually do want to open a restaurant of my own one day. No, I'm not doubting the entirety of my involvement in food . . . I DO know that I want my career to be food-based and culinary-related . . . I'm just not sure where I want to take it.

Strangely, the seed of doubt has been planted by a desire to go swimming lately. The desire for water has been making me visualize beach fronts and beautiful oceans, and when I made the connection that I was pondering the subject of nature I began visualizing other beautiful landmarks, such as a pine forest or looking up at a starry sky from a barren field. I've always valued an untouched environment to an extent, beautiful trees and all that. It all started when my walking habit began: At my old neighborhood in Michigan I loved the trees at the very back, and I also once lived near a nature park which I visited with extreme regularity.

Why this makes me doubt my restaurant aspirations is because I realize opening a restaurant would more or less tie me to a physical location. One can't go travel out and about crazy-like when you've got a restaurant to run, you know? My desire to go swimming is not only related to a desire to visit some sort of tropical, aquatic location, but also to a larger desire to take in beautiful scenery on a much wider scale. Would I, perhaps, find a happier life in traveling around and examining the various natural foods the environment has to offer in different locations and writing books about them? Or do I simply want to go swimming in some pretty water?

It's hard to think out one's precise career direction, where one truly wants to go. I don't know what I do, but given that I actually live life my mind should come upon it sooner or later. I've noticed that the right course to take tends to unveil itself before me when I'm authentically chasing after my values: Sooner or later I come across a values that really resonates with me and says a lot about who I am as a person. 

For instance, I pretty much just stumbled upon the culinary profession as my chosen career line. An intellectual friend had been talking about her new "Paleo" diet and recommended some resources upon it. Being open to new information, I read the suggested book and became persuaded that an alternative nutritional lifestyle was more practical. I would go "Paleo."

I expected nothing of it except maybe some added years to my life, but to my shock my excess weight began melting off; my skin, teeth, and eyes improved incredibly; and I felt fantastic. Suddenly I began thinking about food continuously, not as a glutton, but as someone very deeply interested in it. I wanted to try all sorts of new flavors and things I haven't tasted, and dug up recipes and relished exploring the farmers market. Bingo! Randomly one day I realized that all these new interests meant the culinary field would be a fitting profession for me. It's been about three years since the decision, and I've been moving forward since then.

Just by selecting a random self-improvement goal -- altering my nutritional lifestyle -- I came upon a vast conclusion, what I want to dedicate myself to professionally. So I think that if I continue living my life in pursuit of values, sooner or later I'll come across that value that will really tell me something about myself, and alert me as to which direction I want to go.

A New Year's Resolution Redefined

One of my 2012 resolutions is to become more inspirational as a person. I've rethought it, and think it's better to redefine it as becoming a more uplifting leader. In other words, becoming a person who is a stronger influence upon others in a positive, uplifting manner.

The world is collapsing around us -- it doesn't have to necessarily, of course -- so the topic of how to become an effective advocate for better ideas often enters my mind. There's many little things I could say -- maybe I'll write them eventually -- but for now I want to say that redefining my new year's resolution in this realm should be helpful in redirecting my focus. Being "inspirational" is far too broad; how to be uplifting and how to be an effective leader is much easier to bring to a concrete level. By thinking in this vein I should be able to deduce more tangible practices.

In short, I want to make this type of change to myself because I don't want to let the world go. Happiness is possible, and I, you, and everyone has got to do something to encourage a culture more hospitable to it, otherwise the possibility will vanish.

* * * * *

That's it for now.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sensory Enrichment, Attention, and Stubbornness

Man, I've still not quite 've gotten the hang of the writing habit yet. Look at that boring title . . . but anyhow, I've begun reading a potentially valuable book called Evolve Your Brain, which examines changing one's self through the neuroplastic perspective. In pursuing my mental health (as per my primary new year's resolution) I've been examining both psychological and neurological perspectives, and reading up a little on neurology has been an astonishing help.

The author of the book is slightly mystical, as he believes in such things as being able to separate an immaterial mind from the body or that others can transfer "healing energy" by placing their hands on an injury, but otherwise his science in neurology seems to be well-grounded. Any thinking reader should be able to separate the mystical content that doesn't belong from the well-founded science.

So far the biggest revelation it has offered to me is just how important it is to pay attention to a particular endeavor in order to be able to initiate the desired brain change. You can't complete a task passively in the hopes of forming the right change, or to form better habits by coasting: You need attention and concentration.

It brings to my own attention (natch) just how much I allow my attention to lapse throughout the days, particularly when I involve myself in what I believe to be a very life-advancing task. How much value am I giving up daily by simply not paying attention? How many things are there that I'm not moving forward on become I do it passively? For instance, could my knife skills (for my chef-aspirations) be being held back by my not paying intense enough attention?

I need to pay more attention, give more awareness to that which is important. But it also brings to my attention how certain environments are harmful to my attention, such as my apartment (where recreation is an easy coming temptation). Am I not only not paying attention enough, but also putting myself in environments where attention is hindered?

This also makes me realize how stubborn I can be in examining certain premises. I had a problem for years with my computer: I can be my most productive in front of it, but I detest being held captive to it like that. The irony I've been stubbornly ignoring is that despite that fact that I can be most productive by my computer the facts are that my hangup of being near it for so long is making me act otherwise. I'm not being maximally productive, I being distracted and surfing idly around. My qualm with being in my apartment for so long is making my attempts at productivity self-sabotaging, as I think being here makes me inwardly rebel in a fashion.

I've noticed I have no such distractions at other places I choose to be productive, such as the bookstore or library. When I'm there all I'm concerned with is the task at hand, and even if I do have a computing device with me such as my Kindle Fire I'm still not tempted to play around, and use it only for the tasks I'm undertaking. My concentration is simply a lot better.

Several months ago I actually performed a "sensory enrichment" experiment to see what kind of benefit it could have on my life, in which I try switching up the roads I walked on, reading in different locations, visiting a nature park, etc. It was surprisingly beneficial to my well-being: All the new and constantly-changing sensory data really livened me up. But since then I've drastically cut down on my attempts at varying up the sensory environment.

Perhaps, given I intend to change my whole being, I need to take that more seriously again. If attention is truly a key component to inward change, and if my attention is better in other locations than it is at home, then I need to go where my attention can be its best.

My hangup, of course, is that I'm afraid that leaving all my electronic to-do lists will render me less productive, which is why I've been procrastinating on the practice. But I must face facts: If I'm still being unproductive despite being near a productivity machine, then I need to let go of the practice because my theory isn't supported by what reality really is. Besides, I do have a Kindle Fire, so all I need to do is carry that around and make my to-do lists portable. There's a solution if there's a will.

To pursue true and valuable change, regardless, may likely require that one drops certain practices for a while in order to pursue more valuable ones. Sometimes values not only need to be in a hierarchy, but also in a particular order. Being at a PC where I can type and research is certainly a value, but it's a greater value to me to defeat self-sabotaging and unproductive habits in favor of instilling better habits, so maybe I need to be away from all these to-do lists for a while so I can focus on the greater values, by which at a later date I should be able to come back with a better mindset.

This requires letting go of a lot of ideas I was attached to. For one, I depend on the internet a lot of my psychological visibility, so I fear that abstaining would weaken my friendships or make me inwardly frustrated. But again, I'm not seeing the facts for what they are. I can so easily abstain without missing my old habits, and the better habits will be more enjoyable besides.

In short, I propose making a major change to my routine where I ditch all these darn to-do lists I've assigned to myself so I can focus on better inward change my changing environments. It may mean that I may not get as *much* done . . . but what I do get done will be much more valuable to my life. I just need to think and restructure. To reiterate, if there's a will there should be a means. I just need to figure out how to make my lifestyle more portable.

And somewhere in there I'll tackle my poor writing skills as well. Whoo am I out of practice.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Another Social Shortcoming: A Lack of Extrospection

Ah yes, I seem to be totally over that funk now. It's strange how one can have seemingly random swerves like that. I think that, in being successful in altering my premises for my emotional health, my negative premises one more before they actually die. Frustrating, but perhaps a good sign of progress in itself.

What was most interesting about that funk is how much I learned about myself. I never noticed that I had so many potential repellents before. Just identifying them and working just a little to incorporate them into my life seems to have worked wonders already so far, just as identifying the Vegeta Mistake has. It's always hurtful to shine a light on one's flaws, but the rational man appreciates those incidents as an opportunity to remedy them.

Still yet I've come across another one: I've noticed that, in dealing with people, I have a semi-hard time switching between extrospection and introspection, and will sometimes stubbornly cling to introspection as a way to shut people out.

Since that term isn't widely known, what I mean by "extrospection" is the awareness of one's five senses. In other words, you extrospect when you concentrate on what's going on in the outer world. Introspection covers only the inner world. To contrast, imagine holding an image of a zebra in your head versus actually looking at a live zebra. The imagery of a zebra in your head is under introspection's jurisdiction, whereas actually seeing a real one is under extrospection. (And if you actually participated in this example, that's introspection too.)

While of course it's possible to deal with people in thinking terms, having intelligent conversations and all that, a great deal of extrospection is also required: Eye contact, awareness of another person's reactions, attention to their speech, etc. You can engage in introspection with another person, but a degree of extrospection is required, and I think I've been failing on that count big time.

What I've noticed in my own behavior is that sometimes I'll not only immerse myself in introspection, but also do it in a rather stubborn manner as a way of shutting others out. For examples, sometimes while thinking I'll give extremely short or even one-word answers to another person's conversation, as a way to indicate I don't want to talk to them. Or, in most questions, what I'll do is openly render myself nearly oblivious to the presence of others, immersing myself totally in an inner world, and probably cop an aloof and inattentive appearance to others. What I've realized is that this type of behavior is probably contributing to my loneliness, as such conduct would likely push people away since I'm both withdrawing and displaying myself as unwelcome to initiation.

Such a habit came into being probably from my stressful childhood. I had so many negative people in my life in the past that I think crawling into an inner world was the only way I could reduce the stress on command. I remember dealing with my grandmother was so stressful that I wouldn't notice that I had left the windshield wipers on while driving with her after the rain stopped. Introspection was my barrier.

But now it's a wall to others, not a barrier. I no longer live with negative people or am trapped with them, so the barrier is obsolete. What I need to do is better orient myself in extrospection so I can show more awareness to others around me, and be more welcoming. I don't need to rule out introspection, I just need to better switch from one process to the other one. Introspect while alone and unengaged by others, switch when addressed or addressing someone, or even just simply passing by.

Easy enough, but it's still amazing how such seemingly small aspects of oneself can go unnoticed for years.  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Doing More by Discarding Values

As mentioned a few posts ago, one of the major traits I've seen return in my recent self-improvements is the rapid and nearly overwhelming production of worthwhile ideas. That is, ideas that are worth documenting, acting upon, using as a basis for future plans, etc. This trait makes me fret a little bit since my mind is capable of giving me more ideas than I can handle, which is downright intimidating. Can I really act upon everything?

It actually harms my productivity in a way. Even when I set up my to-do lists in a rational way I don't attack it as well as I could because I get a sort of brain-lock from all the things I could do, even if my lists aren't all that large. With so many values, it's troublesome to try and figure out which is the best value to pursue for (or at all), and that brain-lock can slow down my efficiency, make me spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking in relation to action, or not act at all when I cave into the intimidation. It particular harms me when I'm involved in a particular activity, because sometimes I'll keep second-guessing myself all throughout the process and harm my concentration and dedication. How does one sort through all these possibilities and cut out the non-essentials?

It's only a start that hasn't spread to my other realms of productivity as of yet, but parsing my Google Reader has given me an insight. Sometimes I'll leave unread certain long articles and the like that I judge would be a valuable read, but something I don't want to read right away. Then a few weeks or even months later I'll take that item off my list because I left it sitting there for so long, recognizing it as a potential value but never actually engaging it. I leave them there for so long because as time passes they get trumped by other values. The fresher material always captures the stronger portion of my interest on each new day. I keep telling myself I'll get to it eventually . . . but then a long time later I'll finally relent and recognize that it's a value I'm simply never going to pursue.

I think I could enhance my productivity by recognizing this on a regular basis by aiming to clear out of my Google Reader on a near-daily basis. Not by reading everything, but by picking out those pieces I'm willing to read during that Google Reader session and discarding everything else, even if I do view it as a value. The fact of the matter is that if I'm not willing to partake it in immediately while I'm examining my Reader I'm probably not going to take the time to revisit it again. It's an interest and value for sure, but it's always other and higher values and interests that win my attention in the end.

It isn't a matter of actually forgoing a value in total, but rather exercising a mode of selectivity. There's more values out there in the world -- ways to enrich your life and gain your happiness -- than you could possibly pursue or obtain, so a great measure of selectivity is necessary. You must try your best to pick the highest values at all time. This is hard because you're always going to be aware that even though you picked the better value you have given up another value. For me, that could mean, since I like dark chocolate so much, that I might buy a dark mint chocolate bar instead of a coffee one because I'm only buying one and value the mint more, but it'll still nag at me to a small extent that I gave up the coffee bar because I still like that too.

In other words, in order to enhance my productivity and well-being I've got to make peace with what I'm giving up so that I can pursue the essentials. In Google Reader, this means I've got to make peace with giving up all those articles I'd like to read so that I can read only the ones I really want to read. Stubbornly holding onto those other interests only serves to worsen that brain-lock issue. In terms of action, this means that I'll clear out my reader every time I decide to examine it, and get rid of whatever I'm not willing to act upon that instance.

How this logic can beneficially apply to other realms of my life, such as picking out self-improvement endeavors, is not yet fully known to me, but I think there does lie in this solution some answers to my other difficulties. In reading books, for instance, I've had the troublesome conundrum -- as I suppose any serious reader might have -- of having a desire to read more books than I could possible dedicate my time to, which has in the past led to what feels like a nearly-infinite book list. I'm going to start applying my Google Reader solution: I'll read what immediately interests me, and discard the rest. I go to the library and rent out nearly countless books that interest me, and the rich piles on the floor ensure that I almost always have something of interest to read.

But of course, I'm not reading in an ADD fashion. I pick up books and extract all the value I want from them, reading from cover to cover and the like, so it's not like I'm continuously picking up and putting down titles without sticking to them. But overall I do pick up titles on a nearly spontaneous interest, and then pursue that interest to the end. While it may seem like a sloppy reading routine, I think it may be the most valuable since my interest always ensures that I'll pay good attention and benefit.

Besides, I could always split my reading into two categories: General and Intensive Education. The former will be where I'll allow myself to be dragged by the breeze of my interest, and the latter will be more directed. I can include educational texts in either category, but which category I decide to put them in will determine how I treat them. Book in the General category will be the books I pick up on immediate interest and partake in at my leisure, while the Intensive Education books will be books I hunker down to study like a student, taking notes and everything. But if the educational text instead falls in the General category, then I'll likely read it without note taking.

The most important thing to understand in this type of practice is that you should trust your memory, the effectiveness of your mind, and your ability to be consistent. I think the reason why it's been so tough for me to forgo an interesting article or to not do a self-improvement venture is that I not only mistakenly believe that it's an essential value, but also that if it is an essential value that forgoing it will mean losing that value forever. I've been afraid, for instance, that if I don't keep on my to-do lists a self-improvement venture that I think I really want to do but want to delay for later, that I'll never remember it ever again and will consequently give up self-enrichment. Same goes for things like reading articles: I'm afraid that if this article truly is worth my time that forgoing it means I'll never ever come back to it again.

But that's preposterous I've realized. When I've maintained writing lists it's often been the case where, if I really want to write about a topic, I'll keep mentally revisiting it even if I don't actually try to make myself. Or if a reading piece really is of value I'll be able to find it in the website archives later. In other words, if it's truly a value I should be incorporating into my life, I'll possess the ability to come back to it even if I erase its documentation. With a writing topic list, for example, I've once maintained the rule of deleting potential topic ideas after a certain number so that the list wouldn't get cluttered or overwhelming, and the most interesting ideas that got deleted came back of their own accord because I kept mentally revisiting them, even without trying to, and after several weeks of my interest popping in and out they would finally get their own article.

This is what I mean by trusting your mind in order to make this practicing of spontaneously discarding values practicable. You need to trust your memory in that you'll trust your values to lead you back to a certain article, book, plan, etc. if you don't document or erase it from documentation and later find you do want to act upon it. You need to trust in the effectivity of your mind to be able to perform this. Finally, you need to trust your ability to be consistent in that you'll be able to walk a fairly consistent path that will lead you back to value sets you thought to discard earlier on, rather than believing you might be internally random and will go askew in what values you choose until you document them and promise forever to come back to them.

For instance, my biggest culinary interest -- because I want to become a Paleo chef -- is meat, game, and fish. Protein cuisine. There's a really cool-sound cookbook called Eat Like a Wild Man, which sounds like something I could REALLY benefit from reading since it's so strongly related to my interests. However, other interests trump it right now.I don't have a reading list due to that infinite-list problem, and I only document books so long as I plan to rent them at the library in the nearly immediate future. As such, it's not documented, and I don't have any plans on when to get back to it.

However, if it's truly a value it should stick. The competence of my memory and the consistently of my values should sooner or later guide me right back to that book when the right time comes. Perhaps it's most likely to happen in a scenario where I'm trying to figure out an educational text that's most relevant to the type of cuisine I'd like to do, and them I'll have an flash of insight, remember texts that are related to this topic, and probably remember this book title too, and come back to it.

Think of it this way: In most cases, the value you're giving up isn't likely to actually disappear. The book that interests you, but that you chose not to read and didn't document isn't going to vanish from existence; it'll still be on shelves of libraries and bookstores. The articles you marked as "read" without reading will still most likely be archived. And with things like self-improvement ventures will most likely always be possible or present. If you trust the ability of your mind, memory, and consistency of values, and fully understand that values like these aren't going anywhere when you choose other values, you should be able to make peace with what you give up in order to pursue other values. If you really, really authentically want to act upon it, your mind and memory are potent enough to bring you back to what you've discarded. If you made the right choice in discarding it in the first place since your interest disappeared or higher values won out, then you've lessened your stress and time-wasters.

I still need to figure out how to apply this thinking to more areas of my life, as I'll still have a great deal of hesitancy, for instance, in trying to figure out what's the next self-improvement goal I should undertake, but this certainly does help a lot in dealing with an ocean of articles and books, enabling me to choose higher values on the fly without fretting about what's lost. Or only lost temporarily, in some cases.

Nobody has time to do everything they'd like to do. That entails a measure of giving up certain things you'd like to do in favor of doing things more valuable. Make peace with what you give up, because you'll always be choosing higher values in trade, and if it's truly worth your time you, and it, should find its way back.

A Misread of Intentions?

Alright, I'm starting to feel back together again. Writing that blog post yesterday and doing some introspection on my drive to work has given me more insight in to the nature of the situation and a possible remedy. Overall I feel like I'm getting over the funk.

Revelation: What if I'm acting in certain ways that are causing people to misinterpret me?

You can hear it on common occasion where you'll hear someone pass a certain estimate on someone based on their mannerisms, only that they'll completely misinterpret the mannerisms and reach a mistaken conclusion about the person when things are truly otherwise. For instance, I've heard of cases where people in school will assume that the kid who is silent and seldom sociable is a "stuck up," when really they're only shy. The kid's behavior is sending an easy to misinterpret signal to others, so while they're just shy, the mistaken conclusion, if spread, can stir up resentment amongst the other peers.

Of course, it's not absolute that people will misinterpret one's mannerisms or behavior, but it is likely to be common, especially in this day and age where people are unlikely to have conscious standards as to how they judge people.

So what if that applies to me? I've experienced a lot of unjustifiable hostility and negativity from other people to be sure, but what percentage of those people are actually good people simply misreading my mannerisms? Dealing with so many bad people has made me develop some bad habits: I tend not to factor people too much into my life, don't invest much energy into conversations, sometimes ignore people in favor of being totally silent, and so on. I've been habituated in thinking that most of the people I will continue to meet will be non-values or negative influences, so I tend to try to do my own thing while phasing out other people. I'm certainly not rude or offensive in my manner when I interact with others, but just maybe my own withdrawing into myself is being interpreted by others as being "stuck up."

This at least tells me to be much more careful about the signals I give off to other people and to be more thorough in enumerating the possibilities of what someone's behavior could indicate. People can't see the thoughts inside my head as I cannot theirs. People have to depend on each other's perceptual and verbal communications because literal mind-reading is impossible. As such, carelessness in one's gestures can certainly send off the wrong message.

From here, I shall work harder to maintain more awareness of what I'm doing. In introspecting, for instance, I've noticed that in the past I've sometimes been very consistent in greeting a coworker when I come in and then will suddenly lapse in keeping up that habit suddenly for several weeks, which may be a possible reason why my dealings with that coworkers suddenly became hostile: They may have read my random inconsistency as a stuck-up rejection.

Such awareness won't cure all the problems, though, I know, because there are those people who have nearly inexplicable hostility towards me. As mentioned before, those people who quiver at anger at the sound of my voice despite my using a polite tone and gestures, and having never met them before. Those people probably have irrational premises they need to deal with. But increasing my awareness, at least, will enable me to avoid driving good people away as I probably have been. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Ideal People

Oh damn. Just when I've been doing so well in improving myself I once again find myself in a funk. Ups and downs, progress and retrogression, back and forth are natural cycles to making long-term progress, but let's dig into this anyways, I guess.

That bum who seemingly tried to kick me has made me much more sensitive to the negativity people portray towards me. The next day, I think, after that encounter with the bum I walked up to a parking money collector to ask him about their policies, and despite my civil and polite tone he spoke angrily immediately. In the past I can recall people who have instantaneously gotten visibly angry with me despite having never met them before, just at the sound of my voice. (I know I don't speak too loudly as to be interpreted as yelling, or having any harsh tones that would indicate gruffness.) I've also been thinking about those who will just inexcusably mistreat me, such as dish washing partners I've had at work who will become verbally hostile if I simply give them a dirty dish (and they don't get angry at anyone else who brings them multiple dirty dishes).

Sure, there's positive people here and there, but the landscape to me looks overwhelmingly negative. I don't know what it is, but there seems to be something in my face or manner or whatever that sets people off. I know I'm not speaking indecently or offensively. I've looked in the mirror as I wrote this, and my face doesn't seem to portray any kind of hostility in its relaxed position. Are they people truly resentful at my proper manner and my cultivated diction? Is it nihilistic hatred of the good for being good?

I think so, because I've noticed how some people will distance themselves or disassociate entirely from me when they discover my writings online, or will at work become angry at me if I try to strive above and beyond, even though it doesn't impose on them or hinder them in absolutely any way. I think this is so because many of these people express these negative feelings towards me (via bullying and other such means) and only me, largely or totally forgoing taking their emotions out on anyone else. For instance, one time a food runner at my previous work place got incredibly upset when his boss told him he had to stay and help close the restaurant. His immediate response was to take dishes and trash from his tables on the floor and to slam them down at my dish counter, without tidying them up, putting them in the proper places, or getting rid of the trash. That was downright bullying, and when I told the boss on him he got very aggressively and then literally threw the dishes at the counter top. They eventually calmed him down, but stupidly he holds a grudge against me as if I did something wrong to him, and have refused to converse with me since. And the incident happen months ago. He was bullying me, not I him. I have a very deep pool of hatred for him.

But aside from this man's unjustifiable anger and unjustifiable treatment, the general response gets worse. His incredibly inexcusable behavior has not weakened his friendships with anyone else in the building, so I feel like I've been done a total injustice because those same people are supposedly friends with me, and yet weren't willing to defend me from their other friend's misconduct. Worse yet, they're willing to invite him for outings and such, and ignore me. Even worse is that this incident, among other things, eventually moved one of my bosses to threaten to fire me because of an "attitude problem" I displayed in the situation, where I left the building until the food runner calmed down. I acted for my safety, not because I was having an "attitude problem."

In this example alone we can pretty much see the entire sum of all the problems I find myself having with people in general. This food runner, upset at his boss for making him stay to close, takes all his anger out on me, when I'm entirely irrelevant to that decision and just an innocent bystander. The mutual friends between the runner and I, those aware of this incident at least, know that his behavior was entirely unjust and just childish meanness, but not only do they not act in my defense they also indicate a bizarrely stronger friendship with him, as they're willing to speak to and hang out with him more frequently to my neglect. Finally, that one (now ex) boss of mine then went so far as to accuse me of problematic behavior in that incident, even though she wasn't even there that night and was engaging in fantasy.

So that how the trend seems to go. People take their problems out on me; others stand by; and still others then go on to try to get me to believe that I'm part of the problem, or am somehow invoking the undeserved problem in the first place.

To all of mankind: Look, all I want to do is become the best I can be in this world. My writings do not violate anyone's rights, and in person I don't not impose on others or making people unduly frustrated. I do not hurt others, steal from others, or anything else. Why does the fact that I write an article or think out my political views make you want to hate me so much? Or why does my self-improvement ventures make you so resentful? I try to be nice to you, or otherwise leave you alone, so why can't you do the same? 

All this is what makes me feel so alone. In the past, I've mostly dealt with people who've either taken their own self-caused mental issues out on me, have had friends I didn't respect or value very much since they weren't willing to acknowledge these wrongs with moral indignation, and then those worst of the worst who try to convince me into believing that I'm somehow at fault as well in bad situations I didn't deserve.

I'm dissatisfied on a very deep level. I'm being careful to be consciously aware of how I view people, as I know there are good people out there, but I'm not seeing a whole lot of them. And even those who are good don't satisfy me enough on a deep level.

I think the happiest times I've had in dealing with people was talking philosophy with my other nerdy friends at the lunch table in high school. Amongst those people we could talk about any subject deeply, and any disagreements were handled with rare civility. We stayed friends all throughout even with differing positions, and really enjoyed the mental exercise. That was very deeply satisfying. And it isn't just philosophy I enjoyed talking deeply about, it's "deep anything."

The primary reason why I don't like socializing in groups, particularly with people my own age (I'm still in my early twenties), is that there's so little individual attention. People are leaping from subject to subject, triviality to triviality, and switching from activity to activity. Large groups always feel like people are always speaking and looking, but never actually listening or seeing. I like engaging on focusing on someone intensively and digging more deeply into subjects for longer lengths of time. When I'm in groups I tend to be a wallflower not because I'm shy, but rather because I'm so bored and disinterested.

I've since lost contact with most of those friends I had those satisfying discussions with. My discontent began to arise when I took my conversational habits I trained with them and used them on other people, to much a terrible response. Whenever I tried speaking philosophy with my family, for instance, many would become very cowardly distraught, uncivil, hostile, and even begin yelling. Worse yet is that they couldn't handle a disagreement, and would become even more hostile in the face of them or actually, literally develop an obsession with my viewpoint and dwell on it for weeks or months, continually bringing the conversation back up and beating a dead horse. For a short while I got some fulfillment from arguing in philosophy classes with other students, but despite the civil debates they were stressed out and repelled, and chose to distance themselves from me even as I became more fond of them.

Ideally, I'd like to meet people who can focus and concentrate on subjects for longer periods of time, handle stress and disagreements without resorting to irrational tactics, and enjoy coming back to these kinds of conversations over and over again. I'm surprise at how rare these people are.

But I still need to do more thinking. After losing contact with my own, more civil friends and having to spend so many years dealing with people who couldn't handle those conversations civilly, I've practically forgotten what it is I enjoy talking about, or what would fulfill me in dealing with other people. I'm so used to being alone that it's how I perpetually imagine myself -- I almost can't fathom a life where people play a more regular role -- and when I do engage in conversation I don't invest myself very deeply because I never anticipate any interesting depth, just soundbites.

So, what to do? First off, I must keep my eyes open for good people and be sure to try to judge others as accurately as possible, lest I let my current negative feelings cast a all-are-bad generalization upon everyone. Secondly, I need to consider where the kind of people I'd like to meet would gather and group. And thirdly -- perhaps the most beneficial -- I should consider just how it is I would like to conduct a fulfilling conversation, and actually try to engage them with the people I enjoy dealing with. Perhaps my soundbite conversations are so unfulfilling only because I'm not investing myself; perhaps if I showed more interest and dug a little deeper, the conversational partner would reciprocate.

I'm definitely very aware of the ways in which I could be sabotaging my relationships, such as by making self-fulfilling prophecies by showing disinterest in interaction or casting over-generalized negative estimates, so there's a definite watch on that. Right now, I'm just in a purely bad mood. Sometimes I can endure everything else, but the symbolism of a bum's attempted kick will set off a whole stream of negative thinking, bringing me down. And on the other hand this could be a sign of progress: neurologically speaking, I don't think the brain wants to build or destroy neurons or neuronal networks because of the work and energy involved, just like how weight lifting to build muscle is uncomfortable, so it's possible my brain could be stimulating networks that give rise to negative thinking/feelings to encourage me to strengthen them, since it would be easier to strengthen and maintain them rather than undo it all and replace it.

As always, life -- and I with it -- goes on.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Hostile World

These past few days I've found myself rather upset at something that happened as I was walking to work. I usually take a shortcut through another hotel parking dock to get to the street I want, and this day there happened to be a bum sitting on a bench. There was a van in front of him loading up with chemicals, so I couldn't help but pass close to him. When I got near he uncrossed his legs and brought out his right one just a few inches shy of touching me. I think the bastard tried to kick me.

I just walked on. He said nothing, and no contact occurred, so it's too small an incident to act upon. But it bothers me in a symbolic way, so much that I've been replaying that attempted kick a few times in my head. It symbolizes to me how hostile our culture is right now, and what a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't world we live in.

The majority of the people I've had to deal with in my life have been overwhelmingly negative. My mother was a boiling pot of anger -- mixed with longer bouts of frozen depression -- who scared me with her outbursts, made me distrust her, and ultimately destroyed any love I could have for her. I was scared of my grandfather since I thought he was going to hit me one day (he held me up by the front of my collar once), and my grandmother earned by revulsion by being literally obsessed with what other people thought of her, to the point that's almost all she cares about. In school I was stressed out by relentless bullying and friendships that either fell apart or ended too quickly. Teachers by and large didn't care about me, as they either acted with indifference towards the way other kids treated me, or even sided with the bullies. At work I've been frequently overlooked for promotions despite being one of the best employees, and had to deal with coworkers who were often angry at me for one thing or another, most likely the fact that I was willing to work so much harder than they.

This trend has been going on my whole life, with very few good people to alleviate matters. At home: Bad parent and grandparents. At school: Indifferent or odd mean teachers, and tons of bullies. At work: Passive bosses and angry coworkers. There's just too often no relief from this. And what do I do to hurt them? What do I do that makes me deserve this as some kind of justice? What justification does that bum, whom I've never met nor seen before, have in trying to kick me? What rational sense does it make for my coworkers to upset just because I want to do an extra project or clean a little more thoroughly?

What upsets me the most is the damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you don't position: At one point in my life I was mostly undercut by my shortcomings, and now people are angry at my virtues.

When I was a child something or the other happened that damaged my hearing. Because of that I can't hear the full phonetic nature of each and every word, which gave me an "accent" since I learned how to pronounce words only through their partially muted structure in my hearing. (E.g. I would say bath as bass, or scissors as thcissors.) I was unaware of this until my late high school years, so combining this with the fact I always smelled like cigarette smoke kids used to call me "retard," and I think even the adults believed it to a degree because they put me in special ed and lied to me by saying I just needed more time due to my hearing-impairment. (I know it was unjust since I knew my hearing didn't slow the transmission of information to my brain.) This behavior at large continued until the mid- to late high school years.

My last year of high school, after discovering Objectivism, I started a rather hard-core self-improvement regiment. Aware of my own flaws, I sought out to correct them, in both my dealings with people and my personal habits. When I got to college I finally got some speech therapy, as I got motivated to seek it out after a few people actually inquired what country I'm from. Once I understood the problem, my pronunciation became much better. As the years went on in my self-improvement I became more intelligent, more ambitious, more well-spoken and written, and more. I overall improved as a human.

But now people are still angry with me. It has happened several times to me in Texas when someone will spontaneously become agitated just at the sound of my voice, even with my perfectly polite tone. Coworkers at my old pizzeria, most regularly, would become very hostile and agitated with me for wanting to go above and beyond, even though I'm not doing anything that affects them. Two guys even went on to bully me, always expressing their anger at me (and only me) whenever it struck. It's perfectly unjustifiable, as too often their hostility is divorced from our interactions, making it so one day we're friends and then the next (and beyond that) we never speak again.

And now this bum, just because the way I look offends him, goes out to try and kick me. First I invoke hostility because of my mother's random outbursts and other children's cruelty towards my "accent," and now in having vastly improved myself people are offended at my proper speaking, my manners, my ambition.

When flawed, the bullies seize upon me to make themselves feel better by cutting me down (and thus making themselves feel heightened). Now much more improved, they switch to attacking me for my virtues. The irrational culture of today is set on making every suffer isn't it? Attack the flawed and weak to make yourself feel higher, follow the crowd and suffer like lemmings hitting the rocks beneath a cliff, and if you choose to be independent then you'll still garner anger and malevolence.

There's really no safe route except independence, because in independence you'll have your own personal spiritual comfort that you've at least satisfied yourself. Wallowing in weakness and submission, obviously, is to allow the crowd to get at you. But if you follow the crowd you can still suffer, as our irrational society today is like a bunch of lemmings walking off a cliff, where everyone will suffer equally in the end. By being independent you can at least enjoy your own company, and gain some measure of contentedness.

This is why, by and large, I often prefer being alone. Even with the higher living costs it's why I've chosen to pay for an apartment all for my lonesome, even though it would be cheaper to have a roommate. Being alone is one of the rare times in which I can handle myself in perfect peace, free from the stress of others. On a few occasions I even went into mild euphoria when I was left alone in the house, as without realizing it I was under constant tension with other people around.

On a truly worthwhile, spiritual level there have been few to none really good people in my life. Overall, I think I've really only had one great friend, one truly worthwhile friend, in my life because we shared so many life views, but I ended up destroying that friendship due to the irrational behaviors I adopted from my mother. Beyond that, I've been alone. All the people I'd truly want to deal with are scattered all across the globe, and the ones before me usually don't generate the kind of conversation that satisfies me on a deep level, so I'm always bored. Plus, I'm always afraid my associates are going to become spontaneously hostile to me, because that seems to usually happen after someone has discovered my writings on the internet. (Though, I try to be the same person online and off, so that's weird.)

In thinking about this last night I wondered whether this world is still worth living in. The people surrounding you do have a strong impact on your emotional estimate of mankind, don't they? Oh, they won't determine your view, if you don't let them, but they certainly shift how you "feel" about mankind at present. I know mankind can be good, but emotionally I feel fear, dread, and resentment since the most regular players I've dealt with have been nasty. I left my previous pizzeria job because I simply couldn't stand working with people who resent my ambition anymore.

Oh, I just wish there was one truly great person I could deal with in-person. Someone I could talk to about deep philosophy and personal subjects, because otherwise I depend on this blog and Facebook for my psychological visibility. I think having one really good person in my life would boost my moral endurance of today's hostility enough to know that this world is still worth living in. But I don't know who that person would be right now.

For now, I shall settle for people like Scrooge McDuck and other fictional beings that live inside books. While not alive, they should at least serve to satisfy my loneliness to whatever small degree it can.

Hopefully I never see that bum again. I'd certainly like to kick him back if he touches me, for while it's not conclusive he tried to kick me, I take him as a disgusting metaphor of what kind of people are destroying this world: Those who destroy themselves, and then try to channel their anger onto everything else.    

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ideas Here and Everywhere: Producing All that I Want

It's strange to think that much of my mental health self-improvement ventures this year are set at recapturing old traits I had once already possessed -- and lost to a difficult time -- which makes me feel like I'm traversing old grounds. But it is true.

Lately I've noticed that I'm beginning to recapture the old trait of having a mental pour spout of ideas. Probably due to the Mental Missions, increased productivity, and use of a voice recorder I have been having more and more "worthwhile" and recordable thoughts, often in overwhelming amounts. It's like finding a tree with more fruit than you could possible eat, which simply won't cease falling from the branches in perfect ripeness.

I know I can't rationally expect all these ideas to remain worthwhile and good in the long-run, or to have time to possibly address them all, but I do want to increase my ability to do so. Interestingly, my desire to act on my greatest number of thoughts lies in the realm of writing and reading. I hate discarding old writing topic ideas just because they grow too old, or maintaining a book list that barely gets nicked at. I can make peace with all the other thoughts and plans I may have to let good, but the writing and reading really bugs me.

Even as I strive to become a chef I'll probably always view myself as a writer. I wouldn't be surprised it I wrote some books on food or another. And as someone who deeply, deeply values intelligence I will always view myself as a lover of intellectual and good books. In my mind's eye, among other things, part of the vision of my ideal self includes a man who prodigiously produces writing and absorbs endless books. My time commitments will certainly determine how much of it all that I can actually accomplish, but I want to be doing a hell of a lot more of these two things than I'm doing now, even as much as I'm doing them now. I fantasize about myself actually being able to write upon each and every topic that enters into my desires, and blowing through large books in 2-3 days while retaining a deep comprehension of it.

How much of this aim is realistic and possible is beyond me, but some or a lot of it is possible, I know. For certain, I could definitely be making huge improvements in my efficiency and effectiveness in my current habits. But how?

The writing habit itself is still a little bit of a question, but I can at least figure out two methods for increasing my time and reading efficiency: Waking up earlier and speed-reading. Waking up earlier will give me more time in the day to do stuff, and speed-reading will enable me to get more done by increasing my reading rate.

The waking up earlier thing is a little tricky, because I want to do so naturally and without an alarm. In short, I want to enhance my sleep to the point that, with little to no external aid (such as a supplement), I can fall asleep easily, get effective sleep in a shorter period, and then wake up feeling refreshed. When I was very strict on the Paleo diet, in fact, was a time in which my sleep was outrageously good night after night: I fell asleep very quickly, slept very quickly, and woke up feeling great on a regular basis. The whole matter was that my habits were very rational. I ate a wise and healthy diet, and conducted a generally good lifestyle, not eating before bed or anything. Given that I don't have any health maladies, for me I think sleep is a skill to master.

I've deviated from the Paleo path a little too much. I've been eating too much chocolate, eating before bedtime, and not fasting enough. Such is enough, I think, to screw up my body's rhythm. As such, I've been having a hard time falling asleep and wake up feeling very groggy, in one of those states where you feel like you could go back to sleep but your body won't let you. So I think the solution is simple: Be more Paleo, fast regularly for the positive hormone functions, and don't eat before bed. Oh, and take more ice baths. They might sound horrendous to you, but I've been marveling at how they improve my sense of well-being and sleep, so I ought to be taking them more regularly. A few days of these guidelines and I should be right at rain.

Now speed-reading may sound foolish in that one may think I will be forgoing comprehension to get a speed-boost, sounding irrational, but I think there are some valid, though limited, methods in which one can improve reading-speed without giving up the all important comprehension and memorization. For one, easy: Be selective and don't read everything, maybe even forgoing whole parts of books. It's obvious how your time will be better and more efficiently spent if you read only what's of value to you. Second, another technique to speed-run is to simply boost how fast you read, just up until that point you notice you're just barely keeping cognitively track of what's being said (but still being aware of the information). Most of us probably don't read as fast as we actually can while still being involved in the information, so one of the simplest techniques is to simply push to perform at one's limit. Com'on: You're not really reading at your speed potential, are you? Lastly, try using your finger to trace along the text as you read to give your eyes a focal point, which will eliminate time-wasting eye movements. As I've read, our eyes hardly read with perfect straightness, and this can be confirmed by noticing the little jolts of movement your eyes make when you try to read without aid. With the finger tracing, your eyes will feel much more still, since they have the fingertip to hone in on.

But as far as speed-reading goes, I think these may be the only legitimately good methods. Other methods, such as silencing the inner voice that dictates the reading while you do it or grouping words together, seem like recipes for lessened comprehension. I can't possibly see how a person will still be able to fully understand a sentence if he doesn't internally vocalize the concepts and groups them together in a chunk. The methods described above are aimed at training speed while retaining understanding, so I suggest just using them and allowing their continued practice to boost your speed more and more.

The lingering question is how I could actually modify my writing habits so as to be able to write on all those topics that I want to. For right now my blogging aims are to write one article per day -- work and time permitting -- in the morning. If I'm only writing one article per day, then how does one fit everything else in? How can I include more spontaneously writing? Needs more thinking.

For now, I'll work on my sleep and speed-reading. Once I master sleep I'll not only have much more time at my hands, but also be a much more effective person since the best sleep is also healthful: I'd be sleeping more shortly because I'm getting the healthful properties much quicker and more effectively. And with speed-reading I only need to continue practicing these mentioned techniques, so as to train my speed to greater and greater heights.

Sooner or later I should then be able to go from an idea-spout to a producing machine.     

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Getting Better: My Mental Health

I haven't been slacking I swear; my two jobs have been eating up my time. This past weekend has almost literally been a cycle of wake up, work, sleep afterwards, and then wake to work again. However, I did give notice at one of my jobs since I don't think I can perform well at it anymore -- it's mid-scale, and mentally I'm developing a stronger and stronger dedication to fine dining. I proved to myself that I can handle two jobs, and I perhaps still want two jobs, but I think it's high time I exit mid-scale dining. It's just not within my culinary goals. For whatever time I reside in one job, however, I can focus on thinking about where I want to go from here, and get some reading/studying/thinking done.

Anyhow, since I've been working so much I don't feel very prepared to write a good article, so instead I commentate on my mental health. It may appear a bolt from the blue statement, but keep in mind that my primary new years' resolution this year is to heal all the emotional problems I've suffered throughout my life, that not only have eroded my well-being but have also made me engage in self-sabotage all throughout my life. This year is titled, after all, "The Year of Self-Mastery."

Lately my progress has been astounding. Positively astounding. I'm still short of the mark of reaching a contented state, but my overall negativity has plummeted. I have virtually no moodswings, as was typical of my likely bipolar disorder. I am less and less likely to respond with negative thoughts to stressful situations. My relationship with people has vastly improved since I learned not to immerse myself in emotion. I feel less guilt and shame. Overall, my progress has been surprising. Just surprising.

I'm well on the way to becoming a fully healthy human-being, I think. The work will never truly be over, I've understood, as many of the methods I've identified require lifelong maintenance in order to sustain my health. I wager no complaints, given the benefits.

Yes, I still need to write up that big gigantic post about all the methods I've learned about, and their worth, and procrastinate on it I shall continue. Its time will come. Don't worry. Instead, I'll recap, with some additions, the most important things I've learned that helped me out the most:

1.) Don't just focus on the psychological or physiological. Combine both: I think people two often emphasize one side in imbalance to the other, which might end up in frustration and dead ends. True, ideas are indeed what's ultimately drives your emotions -- being a psychological aspect -- but let us not overlook that the thoughts we have and the actions we perform do have an impact on the physiological makeup of our brains. Sure, a health problem could cause a chemical imbalance inside the brain . . . but bad thinking can too. And on the other side of the spectrum some people may emphasize the physiological aspect, ignoring the roots of their thoughts. It won't do you any good to take Prozac if you're still carrying around the ideas and taking the actions that are doing the emotional damage in the first place.

Combine both. In searching both sides of the equation, a very broad set of methodology becomes available, which will optimize your chances of success since psychologically you'll be able to address the roots of your problems and also engage in physiological means as a form of aid.

For instance, let's take a fictional anger issue. Imagine there exists a person who has trouble keeping himself from expressing his rage at people. Sooner or later he identifies his problem to doing inaccurate thinking, such as doing "mind-reading" by looking at people's faces or overgeneralizing a person's actions, such as by taking one irritating act they commit on seldom occasion and saying that he "does it all the time." By making this identification he can nip the inaccurate thinking in the bud when it should arise, but, to help him in periods of rage, he can also engage physical methods such as using aromatherapy to calm himself down during his highest-energy moments, which will then allow him to think clearly.

I myself have a wonderful perfumery nearby that sells essential oils. I bought some for cologne purposes, but I found that sniffing the vials often worked wonders to soften me up, and have done well for my anger, I think.

2.) Watch the Vegeta Mistake: It's a really weird and nerdy name for the phenomenon described, but one that has helped me immensely in my relationships. In short, the Vegeta Mistake is the premise that allowing yourself to act upon your emotions will get you what you want because you "feel" it. I use Vegeta from the Dragon Ball Z series at the embodying character because he had a fierce temper, and, given the nature of the series, losing his temper would make him literally generate lighting, gale-force winds, earthquakes, and so on.

When we feel a strong emotion, we are likely to feel like taking a particular course of action as bundled with it, and will often feel like engaging in that course of action will cause other people to react to you in a way that will satisfy the emotion. For instance, when angered you might feel like yelling, and you might feel that yelling will get people to understand what's upsetting you and to be motivated into correcting what's wrong. Or when you're depressed you might feel like withdrawing into a shell social-wise, in the hopes that your displayed misery will motivate people to push through your negativity to reach out to you.

But it doesn't work that way. People who yell lose respect. People who mope for attention lose friends. Just because you feel like acting on a whim will get you what you want doesn't mean that's true.

It's hard, but in times of intense emotion, in order to actually get what you want, you'll have to fight with and control yourself. If you're angry, you must restrain that urge to yell, and in doing so you're more likely to get people to listen to you. If you're depressed you must overcome that urge to mope or to withdraw, and to yourself reach out to people and socialize so that you can feel the value of being valued.

In short, during intense emotions we might feel that acting on our whims will get other people to satisfy your emotional needs, but truly you need to resist the temptation and work against your urges if you want people to engage with you.

This applies to me in both the cases of anger and depression. When I got angry I allowed myself to get very hostile, and during times of depression I would withdraw in the hopes that people would come to cheer me up, but I never found satisfaction that way. By identifying the Vegeta Mistake I began to find satisfaction in learning to control my emotions, no matter how hard, which lead to the solidifying of my relationships, making me actually enjoy the value of other people.

It's tough, but don't be Vegeta.

3.) Satisfy all your mind essentials: For me, in order to be mentally satisfied I must engage in thinking, reading, and intellectual production of some kind. If I don't then I get very antsy and dissatisfied, often restless and depressed. When I first moved to Dallas I felt very dissatisfied until I had gotten a library card.

This may apply in different ways to different people, but what this amounts to in practice for me is regular writing, regular reading, and "rubberducking." I write on my blog and Facebook to satisfy my commentary needs, and keep a handwritten introspection journal reflect on my character and also do "thought records" as defined in Mind Over Mood. Because I like to learn and be intellectually engaged I try to read a lot, though lately I've been reading lots of Case Closed manga. Lastly, I "rubberduck," which is the practice of talking to an inanimate object for the purpose of vocally introspecting, which not only helps me think but also helps satisfy me emotionally in a special way that no other method can achieve.

All three combined together leave me nice and steady. Falter on one and the pressure builds up. These, as I motioned towards in the beginning of the article, are the practices I'll probably have to engage in lifelong to forever reap their benefits.

* * * * *

There's more, especially some more concretes on the whole physiological spectrum, but these are the most important actions I've taken. They've been of immeasurable help so far, and will play a vital and large role in my ultimate healing. . . which is coming along beautifully.

However much you suffer, don't give up on your life. Driving through the pain to come out in happiness at the other end is well worth it.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Being Patient with Intimidating Possibilities

Trying to refine my habits through my "Ideal Day" framework may have been one of the most helpful identifications I've made this year. It really helps separate the essential from the non-essential, and really drives up motivation to live the most progress-oriented day possible.

I seem to be regaining much of my youthful fire back now too. I'm more enthusiastic and driven in my endeavors, and my mind just churns out thoughts on various and goals I could be setting. On that last I have seen especial improvement, as now I'm seeing self-improvement ventures all over the place. It's a little intimidating, as all the goals I could choose to take on are beyond my ability to take them on all at once. Certainly they can be tackled in small groups at a time, but can I really do it all? It gave me a little depressing anxiety to think that I may be over my head in setting such high standards for myself.

But no, it's possible, I've stated to myself. The key to taking on such an increasing array to self-improvement ventures is to be patient with yourself and to understand how successful self-improvement increases my capacities. Once I've mastered a particular self-improvement venture it no longer has to be a focused activity, but rather just become part of my lifestyle. Additionally, some self-improvement goals, by their nature, would increase my ability to balance and do more.

For instance, take the studying of mnemonic systems. Some are easy to grasp right away, but some, like the phonetic system, can take real concentrated effort to comprehend and master. In order to become competent at the more difficult ones one has to set aside time to practice it, most likely sets of hours. Those sets of hours dedicated to studying mnemonics will be taken away from other areas, so can you really get done all that you want to get done in your life if you have to take a sidetrack venture like this so often?

Well, no. For one, mastering a good mnemonic system will give you a skill that applies to infinite other learning areas, so it's not like your training an area of your being that will confine its value to only that area. Furthermore, and most importantly, once the system or systems is mastered you no longer have to focus on it; all you have to do is keep utilizing the developed skills to keep them fresh. Once you master a mnemonic you can use it like its second nature, and given the endless opportunities and venues for using it it's very unlikely it will weaken or be forgotten so long as you keep it apart of your lifestyle. The study of such a memorization method would only have to be done, really, once in your entire life, and only needs to be a part of your lifestyle in order to stay strong. You may have to set time aside now in order to get a hang of things . . . but not later on. Later on it's nearly automatic; your nature.

Thinking this way helps me deal with the intimidating amount of possibilities there are out there for self-improvement. The folly in my thinking is that each venture will call for continuous attention and time set-aside for it permanently, thereby very much limiting what I can accomplish with my time. But not so: Every venture can possibly incorporated into my very nature as an individual, and cease to consume time once it's seamed into my lifestyle. With my newly found Pitfall list I should be able to keep track of where I'm lacking, and address it accordingly.

As such, the amount of possibilities for self-improvement out there shouldn't frighten me in their respective time-commitments, but rather excite me given that whatever time I dedicate to them will be made up for in the value it gives me and time it saves later on.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Something Missed: Conceptual Exercises

So far so good on the "ideal day" thing, but argh, I forgot about conceptual exercises! For years now they've been the greatest difficulty of my self-improvement ventures. I recognize its great value, but have yet to refine it into a form that would allow me to do it on a regular basis without hesitations.

To explain its nature to those who don't know, my conceptual exercises are a more intensive form of the basic vocabulary exercise, where I not only try to learn the meaning of a word, but also establish its place in a conceptual chain and ground it in the fundamentals of knowledge, therefore making it a piece of knowledge rather than a mere vocabulary word.

For instance, to borrow an example from philosopher Ayn Rand, take the concept "furniture." Furniture doesn't actually exist; it's a category that organizes similar household objects that do physically exist, such as chairs, footrests, chests, and so on. In performing a conceptual exercise on this term, I would explicitly recognize that this is a concept a level above the perceptual level -- a category concept -- and note the concepts directly attached to it in a chain, the chairs, couches, and whatnot. Then I would visualize in my head various incidents of the things that would fit under the concept, and there we go: I've recognized the concept's distance from perceptual reality, noted what it subsumed, connected it to perceptual reality by visualizing its referents, and thus grounded it in reality.

The process will change slightly depending on the concept -- in order to ground a concept denoting physical action, for instance, I might actually perform the action to ground it rather than visualize it, or if the concept denotes a term in singing I might vocalize instead -- but this gets the gist of it down. It goes beyond looking a word up in a dictionary and be satisfied with the meaning right then and there. Oftentimes I would have to look up several terms at once to establish the chain, as I would have to do more research do understand the concepts used in the definition itself. It's exhaustive alright.

All of this is towards honing the precision of my language, thinking, and learning, to make me a more precise and appropriately certain person. You can't gain full certainty of the meaning of a term by merely looking it up in the dictionary and going "blah blah, here's the meaning," especially when you don't grasp the terms used in the definition itself.

I think this is a very valuable intellectual exercise. It's certainly done well for my vocabulary, and made me a better thinker. The problem is that it has some failings that keep me from being able to maintain it comfortably, so while I've been holding onto this exercise for years now I'm very sporadic in its practice.

What holds me back is the act of gathering terms to perform the exercises on. On a regular basis, I view it as very disruptive to the flow of my day to stop and record a term for later exercise. If I'm reading a text without taking notes on it, for instance, I hate having to pause to take note of a single word when all I want to do is establish a seamless flow in my reading pace. Or when I'm out and about, unless I'm very curious, I don't like pulling out my voice recorder to dedicate a file to a single concept. To my mind they're all unwelcome and petty interruptions. I have no problem doing the exercise itself . . . I just hate the process of gathering material for the exercise. That is what has stopped me and kept the exercise at bay for so long.

As part of living ideal days I want to incorporate this again into my regular routine. If I can just refine it in just the right way, it would be an invaluable daily practice, one that would really move me mentally forward in the passing years. But how do I get over that darn hangup?!?

I think I may have figured out a way. As stated before -- regardless of the fact I'm not in school -- I want to incorporate studying as a facet of my life, and I think if I perfect that habit then I'll be able to effortlessly mesh conceptual exercises into it. The trick is to seam the exercises into the studying in a way that it becomes part of the ongoing process without being a separate process itself.

Maybe that's been my problem all this time: Having conceptual exercises be a separate process, where I would gather and record times, hold onto a time, and delay performing exercises on them until the end of a reading section, the end of the day, or whatever. If I can integrate the practice into another practice then maybe its distinctness will disappear and allow me to feel more comfortable in maintaining it.

In other words, perhaps the conceptual exercises is something better done on the fly rather than something that's built up into a separate activity. Instead of recording a term for later practice, during my note-taking process I should habituate myself into quickly performing an exercise on a confusing term during the studying, to incorporate it as just an aspect of  the overall note-taking process.

Studying seems to be the best and only practical venue for this, because due to its intensively intellectual nature I think this is the only process where I wouldn't be annoyed at conceptual exercises since they wouldn't break my concentration or disrupt me, and be perfectly easy to switch back and forth between reading and doing exercises. Every other venue for this practice I've tried, conceptual exercises have been so disruptive that they would inevitably be dropped.

So the trick is to both incorporate the exercises as an integrated aspect of the studying process rather than making it an isolated activity, and to habituate studying itself.

Hopefully this is the best solution, because I don't want to forgo the mental benefits for any more years longer.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Ideal Day?

I think I stumble upon a good way to reframe things -- building upon yesterday's post -- that will help me better think out what I need to be doing from day to day in order to maximize my drive towards progressing on my goals. Steve Jobs has been quoted as stating that it's evident that you're discontent in your pursuits if you wake up with the feeling that you don't like how your spending your days, so I thought to myself, "In order to obtain my life's goals, what is it that I need to be doing day to day in order to keep making progress?"

It's overwhelming to try and plan all the pursuits from a bird's eye perspective weeks or months in advance, so I think shortening my thinking to a 24 hour frame will give me the best perspective on what I need to do on a daily basis to make step-by-step to my highest goals and ultimate happiness. Sure, I will certainly have to vary it up given appointments, work, and whatnot, but a rough sketch would certainly be beneficial.

Okay, given my limited finances, I'll worry about extensive cooking and experimentation practices a little bit later, so what do I want an ideal, progress-driven day to compose of? Cognitive exercise and challenges, intellectual productivity, treating every minute as precious to life, and balancing self-improvement efforts all throughout. What does that mean? Everyday, doing beneficial reading, formal studying (notes and all), writing, directed thinking and mental processes, cutting out wasteful activities, hustling in all endeavors, waking up early, and remaining perpetually aware of goals.

A bit of a jumble, so let's rough it out to parts of day:

* Morning: I'd like to wake up as early as naturally possible (i.e. without an alarm) and get out of bed immediately, excited to meet life. I remember once that my sleeping habits were so good that I used to get great sleep night after night and wake up positively excited to get out of bed. Nowadays I wake up far too tired, and because my body's trying to make me wake up, the conflicting signals I get from the tiredness make me lay in bed yearning to sleep more, only my body won't allow me to.

In order to accomplish this I simply need to modify my dietary and lighting habits. Shut off electronics after a certain period and use candles or orange glasses (to cut out blue light), and don't eat a few hours before sleeping. I think most of the problem is physiological. Many great men may have lived sleep-deprived lives, but I don't think it's necessary. Rational habits can make sleep an extremely and beneficial practice, if one just takes the right means.

* First hours: Focus. Produce something in writing. As stated before, I view my mental activities in an input/output fashion. The morning time, due to my rest, is where I'm most likely to want to create something -- engage in some "output" -- whereas the later part of the days is where I more likely want to "take in" something, like reading. If I perfect my sleeping habits then I'll probably wake up reeling with a deluge of thoughts, as my brain usually motors like that when it's at full power. Best time to write.

I actually want to engage in both handwriting and typing, to do a bit of extensive writing and to maintain the balance of my skill in relaying my thoughts on the computer vs. on a page. Regardless of overall writing, I've noticed that my skill in one venue will soften considerably if I abstain from one medium or the other for too long. Handwriting something out is definitely a different experience from typing it out.

In any order -- though hopefully lined up next to each other -- I want to strive to write at least one full page of text in my introspection journal to muse on my life and focus myself, and to produce one article per day here. Oh I know my habits here are god-forsaken awful, but I'm very intent on setting up a good routine since writing is an irreplaceable intellectual benefit. It's great exercise for the mind to lay your thoughts out in a strictly coherent form. But I keep getting caught up in contradictions such as "A blog is a waste of time!" or "I don't have a theme and therefore can't maintain an audience!" which I've already refuted to myself. By gosh follow your self-corrections and blog. I used to do it with extreme regularity before, and I can do it again! Absolutely!

* Late morning/start of afternoon: Eat or fast, and begin tackling to-do lists. Or hunker down and begin studying something.

I may have dropped out of college, but I still want an education . . . a life-long, self-directed regiment of it in fact. Like a school-goer, I want to get down deep into something educational, taking notes and all, to very consciously mold my intelligence. Truly deep learning and understanding requires very intense effort, more than I've been expending lately. There WAS a point in my life a few years ago, as a fresh college drop-out, where I did absorb myself for hours in textbooks and the like, filling up pages and setting up homework assignments all for my personal benefit. With my working shifts I may not be able to do it as much, but that's no excuse for not doing it at all.There should be time enough. If I want to maximize my cognitive abilities this is a must.

I've been making the sorry mistake of "waiting" for a regiment of study to just happen, as if I'll someday just dig into something and spontaneously take notes about it. No, it's not "just" going to happen. I have to consciously plan it out, and consciously direct myself. I'm not sure where to really start, but I think taking notes on this list would be an excellent start. Homework from chef.

* Any mentally unengaged portions of the day, such as walking somewhere or driving: Rubberducking and Mental Missions. I want my days to be as directed as possible, eliminating all specks of idle daydreaming and bullcrap. No, I don't intend to totally stamp out daydreaming, as I know that's impossible. It can be a legitimately beneficial practice as a method of rest from intense concentration or thinking, even necessary. But I do it too much: I want to reduce it to the minimum amount possible, and spend the rest of the time always trying to progress forward intellectually.

And of course, rubberducking and Mental Missions aren't the exclusive activities to do during these disengaged periods. I could also interject some other self-improvement activities, such as practicing singing or whistling in the car, engaging in memory or mathematical exercises at work, or whatever. I just want to make progress on something the majority of my waking hours, even if I'm simply walking from point A to point B.

* Later portions of the day: If I work, then it's time to take to the self-improvement goals I've set for myself there, or to make sure my Mental Missions are all set. If my shift was already completed in the morning or if I have the day off, then it's more reading, studying, self-improvement, or even writing.

* Nighttime: Shut of the computer at, say, 10 PM, stop looking at the time, and spend the rest of the night reading in bed. Ideally, it will be done by candle light to help protect me from blue light (and disrupting my sleep hormones), but if I don't have them then I'll use my lamp and resort to my orange safety glasses, which should still filter enough light out. I enjoy isolating myself like that at night . . . cutting off the news keeps me from getting upset at bad news or negative people commentating on it, and allows me to focus on a world of values before slumbering.

I also want to begin taking more ice baths again. I view them as very good for my health and really enjoy the way they make me feel. They might be very exhilarating during the experience, but coming out of it, warming up, and going into the afterstate is very, very soothing and relaxing. I'd take a cold shower, but the Texas heat warms the plumbing up far too much. I have ice balloons freezing as I write this.

* * * * *

A lot of specifics need to be filled in I know, and there's plenty of room to bring in other things such as taking time to learn to appreciate music or practice a new skill (such as, oh say, cooking), but I think this is a very good rough-draft that I can at least begin acting on now.

The rest of my life begins today, and today is a new chance, a small bundle of hours, to take yet another step to fully realize all that I can be in my life.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Meeting Myself Again, and the Pitfall List

Argh. I would do well to take a good few moments to make acquaintance with myself again. This past few months have made me realize just how far I've gone in losing sight of ideals and weakened my pursuits in striving to be the absolute best I can possibly be. Certainly I have been making huge progress on some of my other goals, such as my new year's resolution to get a fine dining job or my emotional health pursuits, but I'm not maxing out my efforts, if you know what I mean. To fully realize myself, I need to be working far more exhaustively to make myself into the man I truly want myself to be . . . if I'm going to obtain my fullest and most complete happiness.

Alright then, I ought to repeat my aims. What's my greatest desire in life? Devoid of concrete specifics, it is to fully realize my powers, to maximize my talents and abilities, and to reach the greatest cognitive heights I possibly can. The culinary arts is where I want to exercise all these capacities and drive all my energy. In order to obtain these aims I must be very prudent with my time as Scrooge McDuck is with his money. I need to have rational sleeping habits that obtain the most value in the least amount of, and spend all of my waking moments hustling from one endeavor to the next, never enjoying a moment of idleness unless needed for rest. I want to read as much as humanly possible of myself to learn as much as humanly possible of myself, write as much as humanly possible of myself to make my vast amount of mental activity in pieces for others to enjoy (I spend far too much time thinking, without putting it to action or words), and I need to set up meticulous and self-improvement goals one after another to develop myself as much as humanly. And the reach the great amount of enjoyment that can be obtained in life, I need to strive to set out as rich a life as possible, such as by surrounding myself by alluring smells -- a small, but intoxicating, pleasure -- seeking out beautiful things (and creating them myself, in words and on a plate), and taking in inspiring and enrichingly intelligent works of art.

All of this entails exhaustive pursuits, relentless self-improvement, frequent exercise in the mind either creating or learning, and cutting out the unneeded excess, such as surfing Facebook.

I need not fill in the specifics here as I'm well aware of them in my own mind and have made it clear what I want to be in past writing, so I need to restate to myself the broad generalizations to help me snap back and realize just how much more I need to hustle. I'm not making full use of my life. What's up with that?

Youthful people . . . really youthful, I mean those under 21 . . . tend to have a white hot idealism, as is commonly known. You get them to believe in some ideals and the best among them will more often than not pursue them feverishly, enough to make you cross-eyed at their efforts. I was such a person, once. I used to put myself through the wringer in my self-improvement goals, and even had a private course of study where I would study for hours on end almost every single day. But I lapsed.

In this day and age, tragically, people's youthful idealism tends to peter out with age. I don't think it's an inevitable burning out of the fire, but rather a sad reaction to how frustrating this world can be in how it often works to hold the best people down, making them work harder for less, or even nothing at all. It's definitely some sand on your flames to put forth an incredible effort at, say, your workplace and watch those around you get promoted with less time and work, because you're "irreplaceable" at your lowly position. But in cases of frustration like these the fire is suffocating, not burning itself out. In this day and age one must do well to keep the flames burning and to frequently fan and feed them, for the mean world we live in is cruelly intent on dousing them. The fire of youth should, ideally, be retained all through life, for the greatest men in the world, such as Walt Disney or Steve Jobs, met their successes by maintaining their youthful ambition through their lives.

My own fire has smoldered a bit, in just these scant few years. By reminding myself of just how far I want to go in realizing myself I want to kindle it back into a rage, so that I can once again wake up early in excitement at living my life and only go back to bed once I'm too exhausted to continue on. I used to do it once.

It's a lot on one's plate goal-wise, but reachable when viewed piece by piece. It would monstrously intimidating if I were to try and write everything out into one article, but all the steps to success and happiness include simple things such as reading books until my vision becomes blurry, visiting botanical gardens, and tying knots to develop my dexterity (relevant to my work). I'll set the goals and pursuits one by one as I come upon them.

To help prod myself I think one thing I could be doing much better at is keeping track of my vices. Sure, I focus a lot on the good things I could be doing, but not enough at all at the things I'm doing that's holding me back. Habits, by their nature, need little effort to be initiated, so the bad habits I allow myself to maintain are allowing me to all too easily coast since they require little to no effort to be acted upon, and can even be engage unconsciously as one might in locking a door without being aware of it. If I keep more in-depth track of my vices, I'd have a more comprehensive view of what my lifestyle is in total, and be better able to detect trends in my practices. 

What I propose to do is set up a sort of "pitfall" list, in which I type down all the vices that I have that I'm aware of to date, and then opening that file each and every single day to help me remain aware of my ongoing bad habits. After a week passes I will then obligate myself to rewrite that list from scratch without looking at a copy of the old one, so that the blank page will move me to honestly assess my life and actually investigate my character, and retain a strong and clear awareness of what's going on in my being, so that I don't, say, become so used to the list that I can "read" it without comprehending it. Being rewritten on a weekly basis, I will be called upon to assess myself over and over again, and throughout the week the vices won't become so stale that I'll lose my ability to really see what I've written down.

This perpetual awareness should destroy any ability within myself to coast unaware as to what I'm doing with my life, even if it means doing so by means of guilt. Being aware of a habit is the first and much significant step in being able to change it into a better one.

The fires of ambition . . . a true inferno . . . can be relit within me, and I'm intent on seeing myself through to the end on that. I have, after all, titled 2012 the Year of Self-Mastery, and this is but a logical focus.

When you master yourself, you enable yourself to work and live to the fullest, and gain the resultant happiness.