Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How Slowing Down Will Increase the Quality of Your Life

Last week, I shared with you a great video from Mr. Adam Savage, myth buster extraordinaire.

Over the course of the lecture, we learn of the obsessive nature that he has towards his pet projects. I must admit, I have a very similar obsessive nature. Though, I don't have twenty gigabytes of reference material for my obsessions.

Obsession is an interesting thing. The most common mental images brought up by the word are remarkably negative. We think of obsessive gamblers who lose their children's college fun, of obsessive actors who get so into their parts that it can literally destroy their lives (e.g. Heath Ledger), or of any number of people who are left in ruin because of their inability to control that which they obsess over.

The Random House Dictionary defines obsession as this:

ob.ses.sion
–noun
1. the domination of one's thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc.
2. the idea, image, desire, feeling, etc., itself.
3. the state of being obsessed.
4. the act of obsessing.

From that definition, we start to get an inkling of the duality of the term. Obsessions can be both good and bad. Obviously, Mr. Savage's obsession didn't hurt his professional or personal relationships and it didn't leave him with anything less than a replica Dodo skeleton (and no place to put it) and the most accurate replica of the Maltese Falcon known to man. Certainly, we can't say that those are bad things.

However, his obsession isn't the true lesson that Mr. Savage is sharing with us, though he spends nearly the entire lecture talking about it. Let me share with you the lesson in Mr. Savage's own words: "...and maybe then, I'll achieve the end of this exercise. But, really, if we're all going to be honest with ourselves, I have to admit that achieving the end of the exercise was never the point of the exercise to begin with. Was it?"

He couldn't have put the message more eloquently. I'll repeat that really important part here if you didn't read it the first time: achieving the end of the exercise was never the point of the exercise to begin with. So simple, yet so profound.

In our modern society, we focus on results. We want to get the best grade, we want to get the job, we want to own the car, to get the girl, and to live a happy life. There is no focus on the process of getting to the end, we just want the end results. But as humans, we're not satisfied with just getting results, we want them faster, more completely, and all at the same time. It's not enough to share valuable information with family, friends, and readers via Twitter. We must have TweetDeck, Twitterrific, and any number of clients. We can't check one email at a time, we have to have Thunderbird to check them all at once. While these in and of themselves aren't problems as they save time and allow us to move on with our lives and do other things, they are an indication of a trend in society. I'll use my own office as an example. From left to right I have a dual monitor desk top (have to have two monitors because it increases productivity!), a television (can't miss House or NCIS, and heaven forbid I miss a hockey game), a laptop (my desktop is somewhat obsolete, browsing the web and running Photoshop at the same time is too taxing for it), and a netbook (it really is too much work to switch windows between browsing online and chatting with friends). I guarantee that each and every one of you is in a similar situation. You get information NOW and you can't wait until commercial break to read it. As a society, we've become such experts at multi-tasking that we are almost incapable of doing only one thing at a time and enjoying the process of it.

We don't value what we don't work for. This is a known fact. That's why the best psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors in the world can charge outrageous prices and people will pay without thinking twice. Now I'm not saying they're greedy people, but people simply get more out of something if they have to sacrifice to get it. If I were to charge for viewing this blog, I can promise that you would get more out of it even with the same content. Why? Simply because you've put something into it.

One of the keys to becoming a more successful person and a Modern Day Renaissance Man is to recognize that the end result is insignificant. When I was learning and developing the social skills required to be successful in social dynamics, I realized that it wasn't just about meeting women or learning social skills. There was much more to it that improved the person that I am. I learned how to learn, the importance or practice, that ultimately there is no such thing as failure, that the fastest way to success is not to find what does work but to instead try to find out what doesn't work, and a lot of other things. If instead of putting that work in, sacrificing my time, and both learning from and enjoying the process I had woken up one day with the ability to meet, attract, and make friends with people in any environment anyplace in this country, would I be the same person I am right now? I probably wouldn't. It's the process that shaped me, not the results. If we were to wake up tomorrow with a perfect economy, all having jobs, and with the stock market trading at 13,000, would we be better off for it? I'd venture to say that we wouldn't. It's living through this and learning the lessons that matters, not that we eventually get back to where we were.

Stop multi-tasking. Live in the moment. Enjoy the process. Learn the lessons that are there to be learned. You won't regret it. I can promise you that much.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Deep Insight from the Mythbusters

Instead of a regular post today, I wanted to share with you something spectacular. I came across a video of Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame giving a lecture. He talks about his obsessions and at the end, divulges one of the greatest secrets of life. Check out the video and on Tuesday, I'll have a full post discussing the secret that Mr. Savage teaches us in the video.

Enjoy!



If you want to see a larger version of the video, it can be found here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How to Instantly Earn Respect from Anyone, at Any Time.

What do you gain more of when you give it away?

A few things come to mind; Love, Social Value, and most importantly, Respect.

Of all qualities to have in the world, one of the most universal is to be respected and respectful. It applies to relationships of all kinds: professional, romantic, family, etc. There's a few secrets to making gaining the respect of others happen much quicker and more completely. When you know that you can walk into any building in the country and be respected as a person, it's a powerful thing. Your outlook on life starts to change and everything starts to fall into place.

The secret to gaining the respect of others is to give respect to others. It seems pretty simple, but what does it mean to give respect? When is it acceptable to withdraw respect? How do we treat those that we've rightfully withdrawn respect from? All answers will come in due time.

First let's take a look at how to give respect. A few basic suggestions.
  • Address college level instructors as Professor or Dr. unless you are instructed to do otherwise.
  • Address law enforcement personnel as Officer, Trooper, Deputy, Detective, Constable, etc.
  • Address your elders with respect. People older than you are "Mr. LastName" or "Ms. LastName" and people who appear old enough to be Grand Parents are "Sir" or "Ma'am" until you are told to call them otherwise.
  • Follow the golden rule. If you wouldn't like somebody interrupting you, don't interrupt them.
  • Use good etiquette. I know that you were all properly raised, express that. For a great source of etiquette, I highly recommend The Modern Gentleman.
  • Ask for input, even if it's not their field of expertise. You never know what information they may have that you don't. To get used to the idea of asking for advice, start with the mundane. When you're checking out at the grocery store, ask the person working "I'm thinking about renting a movie tonight, but don't know what to get. Have you seen anything good recently?".
  • Hold the door open for others, it's polite, and in today's time crunched society it's uncommon to see. Speaking of doors, how do you address two sets of doors when you're out with a woman? Here's the simple answer. Always hold the outermost door, and allow her to hold the innermost. This is why: In the winter, when you hold the outer door, she gets into the warmth of the building first. When you leave the building, she leaves the warmth of the building last. The difference in time spent out doors isn't significant, but it's one of those actions that will trigger a subconscious thought in her of "this guy GETS IT."
  • Don't brag or try to impress people. In the social dynamics world, this is called qualifying. By randomly bringing out the awesome people you know, things you've done, or stuff you own, you're communicating "I'm not worth your time on my own, so I have to show that I have qualifications that make me worthy of your time." Let's face it, nobody likes the guy who shows up and says "Sorry I'm late. I had trouble finding a parking spot for my Porsche." To quote Joshua Pellicer from The Art of Charm:. "Qualifying is like Zen poem. The more you try to understand, the less you understand. The more you try to qualify, the less you are actually qualified."

There are probably a dozen or so more things I could add to that list, but it covers the basics. If you can think of more, let me know.

Moving on, when do we withdraw respect from people, what do we do when we're disrespected?

If you're minorly disrespected, take it in stride. Sometimes, the person doesn't even realize that it happened. Here's an example: I was having a conversation with a friend and he interrupted me. I stopped talking, let him finish, then said "Next time, could you wait for me to finish my statement?" Even in a heated argument, you have to take it in stride. An appropriate response in that situation would have been "I don't interrupt you when you're speaking, I would appreciate it if you did the same for me."

Now if somebody has treated you with a major level of disrespect, the best course of action is to deal with it ....surprise! respectfully. Address the issue in private. Dealing with your dirty laundry in public is not the way of a respectful person. Approach them calmly and knowing exactly what you want to say. Do not attack them verbally and express your problem. For example: "I didn't like it when you talked about my relationship with my girlfriend behind my back. Please don't do it again." If the disrespect is continued, only then can you start to withdraw your respect.

An important thing to note here is that there is a difference between "not respect" and "disrespect." Not holding the door open for somebody is "not respect". Pulling the door closed behind you just so that the other person has to open it? That's not only disrespectful, but childish as well. It is "not respect" to not willing give your seat on the subway to a pregnant woman. It is disrespectful to refuse to give your seat to her when directly asked. If you decide to withdraw respect from somebody, you can just not do the suggestions listed above, with the exception of the first two. Always address law enforcement officers and military officers with their position. They deserve it.

Though it is acceptable to withdraw respect from somebody, I wouldn't recommend it for a few reasons. You never know who may hold a position above you some day. That person that you withdrew respect from may hold a grudge and hold it against you. It's also better not to withdraw respect as a militaristic tactic. To quote Sun-Tzu's The Art of War: "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer."

I want to take a moment as we conclude to mention that there are no circumstances under which it is ever appropriate to treat someone with disrespect. We are all human beings and there's a certain amount of dignity that we must all treat one another with.

The experts say that by consciously doing something for thirty consecutive days, it becomes a habit. By putting the effort into immediately giving respect rather than forcing others to earn it, I can promise you that your life will be better off for it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Living a Stress Free Life with the BE APT System Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of the BE APT System. Earlier today we discussed how there are merely five things that are within the realm of human control and how anything outside of these five things aren’t allowed to cause stress in our lives.

What are these things and how do we control them? Let me explain.

Beliefs

I’m going to paraphrase Sean Stephenson on the definition of beliefs and how to change them. I’ve never heard a clearer or more accurate description from anyone.

Think of thoughts as being similar to rain. You’re out in the rain wearing a raincoat. As you walk, drops fall upon you from the sky. Most of them bounce off of you, just as thoughts come and go, only staying for a few seconds. Some of those rain drops, though, stick to you. They stay around, and pool together forming larger drops. Then those drops join together forming larger drops still. These larger drops are beliefs. The beliefs are just thoughts that you choose to hold on to and to make real or true.

The human brain is a proving machine. When you tell it something, it searches for evidence to prove what you told it to be true. The question is, what you are proving yourself right about. Are you proving to yourself that you’re great with women, or that you’re a loser? Are you proving to yourself that you can be successful and make more money than you can possibly dream of, or are you proving that you will never amount to anything?

There is nothing wrong about having any particular belief. The thing to remember is that the belief exists solely to prove it’s own existence. For instance if you believe “I am unattractive” then that belief will go out and provide you with examples of how you are not attractive. It won’t provide you with accurate examples though. Your brain will change, alter, delete sections of, and generally mess with reality to prove itself. It will tell you “See? That woman just gave me a funny look, proof that I’m ugly.” This happens throughout your day. Your brain is constantly looking for ways back up what it thinks is your beliefs.

How, then, do we control our beliefs? We control them with conscious effort and practice. I really like the analogy that beliefs are like animals that feed on proof of their existence. Your brain must constantly find examples to back it up, or they will starve and die. Sometimes, as with negative or limiting beliefs, you want the beliefs to die, so they must be starved off. If you consciously tell yourself “I am not ugly” or even better “I am attractive”, your brain will go out for a little bit and find proof of these things. This conscious reprogramming of your subconscious mind is commonly called Affirmations. They can be read about more places than I can count. The important thing to remember here is that THEY WORK!

Tony Robbins on Beliefs: “Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy.”

Emotions

This is the most controversial of all of the elements of human control. A number of people have said “It’s impossible to control emotions.” They couldn’t be more wrong. While it is difficult, it can be done.

Emotions are states of mental existence that we do not consciously enter into. Joy, happiness, grief, sorrow, and lust are all examples. There are a number of ways to control that which we do not consciously create ourselves. The steps that I have listed below are only one of many ways to go about it.

First, mindful of your emotional state. Learn the difference between when you are feeling sheer joy and when you are feeling happy. Learn the difference between sorrow and grief. Know what each emotion means to you and what the signals are for that emotional state.

Next, identify the cause of your emotion. Emotions are not caused by events or circumstances. They are caused by your thoughts and attitudes towards those events and circumstances. You are not full of grief when your pet dog dies. The dog dying has nothing to do with your emotion. What has to do with your emotion is how you interpret your dog dying, your perception of the event. More on perception later.

The next step is to ask yourself a few simple questions. Is there anything that I could have done to change the event or circumstance that has led me to this emotional state? Is there anything that I can do now to go back and change to change my emotional state? Remember earlier when I said that the first key to the BE APT System is to understand that there are things in the world that you cannot change? This is where it comes into play strongly. The past is the past. There is nothing that we can do to change it. Worrying, or being upset about something that has occurred in the past is counter productive. What is much more advantageous is to learn from the past and to improve in the future.

Recognize that you have the right to have whatever emotions that you like, but that you also have the right (and responsibility) to know when those feelings and emotions have served their purpose and must be left behind for the benefit of yourself and those around you. An example: If your significant other breaks up with you, you have the right to be upset. You have the right to be angry. You also have the responsibility to recognize that there soon comes a point when those emotions are no longer useful. You cannot stay mad at your ex forever. It is unhealthy for you as well as for your friends, family, and co-workers. Move on with your life and stop stressing over that which is in the past and you cannot go back and change.

Know that emotion and logic are not the same thing, but that they are related. I’m a scientist, so I’ll explain it like an experiment. Logic is a system of reasoning and reasoning is what we do with our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and perceptions (all of the intangible elements of the BE APT System). Logic is like a computer program, running through several variable and determining and appropriate output. No matter how great you are at running a program, you can easily have an improper output if you are only aware of 5 of the 100 variables that are relevant to the situation. Your logic system can tell you that the emotion that you currently have is appropriate if it doesn’t have all of the information that it needs.

Lastly, choose the right time and place to express your emotions. Controlling your emotions doesn't mean ignoring them. It means that you recognize them and act on them when you it is appropriate, not randomly and uncontrollably.

Tony Robbins on Emotions: “Take control of your consistent emotions and begin to consciously and deliberately reshape your daily experience of life.”

Actions

This is the simplest of all of the five things that we can control, and also has the most obvious exceptions. If you have seizures, you are NOT in control of your actions. It’s not a big deal. There’s nothing that you can do about it. If you suffer from Turrets Syndrome, you cannot control your actions. It’s not a big deal. There’s nothing that you can do about it.

For most of us, our actions are entirely within the realm of our control. Not only are they within the realm of our control, but we are responsible for them. Being drunk, tired, or hungry is no excuse to treat anybody with disrespect or to snap at them. You are responsible for your own actions at all times.

Tony Robbins on Action: “You see, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough! You must take action.”

Perceptions

There is an old Jain tale about a king who brings five blind men into the town square where there is an elephant. He tells each man to touch the thing before him and tell the kind what he knows it to be. The first man felt the trunk and told the king that it was a big snake. The second mad touched elephant’s tail and told him that it was a rope. The third felt a leg and called it a tree trunk. The fourth grabbed an ear and called it a winnowing fan. The last man felt the side of the elephant and declared that it was a wall. The five men quickly got into a heated argument about what this thing before them was. Each of these five men was right, yet none of them were. They were each right because they each had a very limited perception of the elephant.

We are much like the five blind men. We can only interpret things based on a very limited perception of the world. However, when presented with multiple ways to perceive things, it is our choice of which we accept. Below is a very common perception test:


What do you see? Is there a vase, or two faces? The answer is both. Which of the two options you see first is based on your perception of the image.

Here’s a real life example that happened to me (and happens to many people I know). I have a fedora that I love to wear. One day, I was walking in the mall and walked past some guy. As I pass, the guy yells “Nice hat, asshole!” There are two different ways to perceive this situation. The first is most common. The guy is being a jerk. The second is very uncommon and a much more productive perception to choose to have. The guy is simply giving a compliment. Which situation you perceive to be true is a matter of choice. What I did was to casually turn around, smile, and say “Thanks for the compliment.” I overheard the woman that was with him say “You are such a jerk,” to him.

Is your significant other breaking up with you a bad thing? It’s all a matter of perception. What about if your dog dies? All a matter of perception. As humans, we have the power to perceive what we choose. Now since I mentioned earlier that perception is a powerful piece to being able to control your emotions, I will argue that it is in your best interests to choose to perceive things in a way that is most productive to you.

Tony Robbins on Perception: “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”

Thoughts
One type of a thought is really nothing more than a picture, a sound, a phrase, a sentence, or some other small bit media that pops into your head. Studies have shown that we can have upwards of 40,000 of these short thoughts every single day.

Another type of a thought is where you consciously think something to yourself. It’s essentially an inner dialogue with yourself. I’m having this type of thought right now as I write this post. I will consciously think of a sentence, determine its value and level of appropriateness and then type it.

Our thoughts define our focus. What we focus upon is what we will see. Therefore, our thoughts determine what we see. Here’s a famous example:



You didn’t catch it the first time through, did you? That’s the power of your thoughts and the power of focus. You’re constantly thinking “team in white, team in white, team in white” so that’s all that you focus on. Then, you miss the important part of the film.

Here’s another example. Picture yourself being in a very large dark room. You have a flashlight. The only part of the room that you can see is the part of the room that you shine your light upon. That light is your focus and thoughts. So what do you want your focus to be towards? The one ugly part of the room, or a part of the room that is beautiful? What will you let yourself think? Will it be “This situation sucks”, or will it be something more productive? One exercise that I first heard about from Pickup Podcast (who’s online forum I moderate) is this: whenever something bad happens, immediately think of three positive outcomes that are going to come from it. This intentional thinking sets your focus in a positive direction.

Tony Robbins on Thoughts and Focus: “One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular.”

It started with a simple prayer on a living room wall and became a solution to stress in life. The BE APT System is easily the simplest way to understand what we can fix, what we cannot, and how to eliminate needless stress of all kinds from our lives.

Note: I want to put out there as a disclaimer that while he is one of the most powerful personal instructors in the world and I admire his work greatly, I am in no way associated with Mr. Tony Robbins. I have included quotes from him in this post solely because he has excellent quotes on each of the five things that we can control. If anyone is interested in further study of Mr. Robbins’ work, I direct you to his 2006 TED talk, Amazon, or Tony Robbins’ personal website.

Living a Stress Free Life with the BE APT System

My mother was raised in a strictly Roman Catholic household with eight children. Her favorite prayer has hung in our living room for as long as I can remember in a cross stitching that my sister made. The text of that prayer is this: “God grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

For years, every time that I was in that room, I’d look at the prayer and think “How great would it be if that were true? How little stress would I have if I could just write things off with ‘I don’t have the power to change that’?” For a long time, I tried to figure out a way to make that happen. After a while, I forgot about it.

Years went by. People started coming to me for advice on all kinds of topics. Though I’m an engineer by trade and not a counselor, psychiatrist, or psychologist, I do everything that I can do help them. I don’t claim to be an expert in any subject but being Bryan. I do, however, love to learn new things and love to study all subjects.

In the course of giving advice, I found it necessary to find one universal way to address all problems that were brought to me. After remembering that prayer from my mother’s living room, I had the answer. If I could just come up with a list of everything that is within the realm of our control as humans, everything would fall into place. It took a few months, but I managed to distill everything down into five categories. From these, I developed my system for living a stress free life. The hardest part of this whole process was coming up with a name and a way to remember it.

I’m debuting this system for the first time, right here. You are among the first to hear and learn the BE APT system. This is a remarkably simple way to eliminate nearly ALL stress from your life. Based on the prayer from my youth, There are three elements to the BE APT system. First, accept that there are things in the world that are not in your control and that it is not only counter productive, but also unhealthy to fret over them. Second, know what IS within the realm of your control. These are the only things that you can stress, fret, or worry about. If it’s in the past, you’re not allowed to worry or fret about it. All that you can do at that point is learn, and avoid doing the same thing in the future. Lastly, learn to tell the difference between the things that you can control and the things that you can’t.

By now, you’re wondering what BE APT means. Do you remember those five things that I said are within the realm of human control? Those five things are Beliefs, Emotions, Actions, Perceptions, and Thoughts. B.E.A.P.T.

The system is really that simple.


Stay tuned this evening for descriptions of the five controllable elements of life and how to go about eliminating stress for good!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Eye Catching Knots

I occasionally have bouts of what I call short term obsession. There will be something that I see, hear, or read and it will pique my interest. For a week or two, I won't be able to get it off my mind and I obsess over it a bit. I usually just let these things run their course and come out of it with a new skill or something interesting to show for it, so I don't mind when they happen.

Two weeks ago, I had one of those periods of short obsession. I had been watching The Matrix: Reloaded as part of a Bad Movie Night and noticed something interesting about a character known only as The Merovingian. The knot on his tie was done in a way that I had never seen before. Now since I am a bit of a tie nut, I had to look into it. For the next week, I scoured the internet for interesting ways to knot a tie. I practiced, modified, and even went so far as to customize a pair of ties specifically so that I could get the effect that I was going for.

This all culminated last weekend, when I debuted my new tie and knot at the banquet for my Fraternity's National Convention. Within minutes of walking into the room, I heard a variety of comments all expressing the same general sentiment of "holy s#!+". I won't lie, I loved it. The attention was great. I had decided that until I heard somebody ask in an appropriate manner, I wouldn't divulge the secret to anyone. Finally, a Brother from UNC-Chapel Hill asked the question. So, I now present to you, the top three eye catching ways to knot a tie with tips for each from myself.

1.) The Ediety Knot
This is the knot (with custom tie) that I used last weekend. It takes a little getting used to doing the knot with the small blade of the tie rather than the large one, but after practicing in the mirror a few times, you should get the hang of it.



A few tips for this knot:
  • If you customize a tie to get the two color look that Justin does in the video, remember a few things. Ties are made by folding the fabric around a thick inner membrane-like fabric. Do not sever this inner membrane. Instead, peel the fabric back, cut, and transfer the outer layer only. This maintains the tie's strength. Also, don't forget that cutting your tie will cause you to lose about 1/4" of length. Lastly, don't measure out a specific distance. Instead, tie the knot (while wearing a tucked in dress shirt) and mark where you need to cut with a fabric pencil. Give it a little extra space because you're losing some length.
  • The secret to getting the right length is this: since you will be pulling the wide blade to adjust the length, you only need it to be about two inches higher than you want it to finally rest.
  • This knot also looks great with standard ties. I've tried it out with solid colors, paisley, stripes, and other designs as well. I wouldn't recommend doing it with a "club" or "university" tie, as the little crests between the stripes come out looking funny.
2. The Merovingian Knot
This is the knot worn by The Merovingian in The Matrix: Reloaded when he's first met in the restaurant. An excellent knot, but requires a tie tack to keep the small blade from moving about too much.



For those of you keeping track, that is indeed simply a Full Windsor knotted with the tie facing the opposite direction and then reversed so that the front of the tie faces outward again.

3. The Eldredge Knot
Unlike the two previous knots, the Eldredge does not have any sort of a tail hanging down afterward. It is a very large knot, much like a Full Windsor. This knot is my mother's favorite.



Notice how he dealt with the problem of having the tail not fully restricted in the knot? The reason to use a bobby pin instead of a safety pin is to prevent unnecessary damage to the tie from piercing the fabric. Again, this knot works great with many styles of tie, but avoid the "club" or "university" tie.

There are a few other ways that I've found to knot a tie and with a quick Google search you can find some as well, but these are the most eye catching and easy to execute ways out there. Since I'm always interested in finding new ways to do things, please post links to other ways to knot ties in the comments.

A special thanks to YouTube users SimplyJustHen, frank77dk, and cwtrain for developing these great knots and posting them for us all to learn.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Letter to the Editor

On Saturday, I had a letter to the editor published in my local newspaper. You can check it out here: http://tinyurl.com/dcejmq. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Changes Soon to Come

Within the next few days, expect to see major changes around here. There will be a new layout, color scheme, regular updates, and hopefully some new followers.