Sunday, September 16, 2012

Life Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 14, 2012

Success in Assertiveness!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Taking the Safety Wheels Off the Brain

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 10, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 9, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 7, 2012

Concentration Update: A Vital Skill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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