Monday, October 29, 2012

My Twenty-Fourth Year . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burgulars and Outdated Evolution

Tossing off a quick thought for your consideration.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Hypothesis On Why People Don't Like to Think

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Harsh Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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