Thursday, May 28, 2009

Leveraging the Three "Selfs" for Social Success, Part One

Turn on the TV and flip through the channels for a few minutes and there's one thing that becomes very apparent. Television networks and advertising companies want you to think poorly about yourself. Think about it. Every commercial tries to get you to buy something not because it's a good product and it may help your life in a productive manner, but because it's sexy, will make you cool, will help you pick up the opposite sex, and because you're worthless without it. Television networks are no better. Sure, I get some sort of sick sense of satisfaction from watching shows like Tool Academy and Tough Love, but what's the real message they're sending? You suck. Do what we say and suck less. Magazines are just as bad. Female models are waif thin (often due to eating disorders) and male models have abs that would make a washboard jealous (often due to steroid use). There are more pages of overpriced and over-hyped product than there is pages of actual articles. They're all designed to do one thing, make you feel bad about yourself so that you will purchase their products in order to make you feel good again. As if that weren't enough, most people reading this have been subjected to years of the unavoidable ridicule and torment that come along with being a child in America. You have good reason to feel like crap about yourself.

Here's the thing though, it's all crap. We are all worthwhile human beings who are perfectly ok just the way we are. Our bodies are wonders of engineering. Our genetic makeup is unique to us. Our personalities are developed over years. Of the over seven billion people on this planet, and the countless people who have lived and died, you are the only person who is like you.

Last week, I promised that I would talk about my concept of the three "selfs." These really get into the core of personal attitudes, but they also sound really kind of wu wei as well. I spent a solid three months investigating personal perceptions of ourselves. I asked people honestly how they viewed themselves and compared that do how I and other people view them as well. The results were astounding. In my entirely unscientific study, I found that a vast majority of people have a far more negative view of themselves than their friends or even strangers on the street. These negative self perceptions are the primary thing preventing us from finding the mate that we want and the mate that we deserve. Everybody wants a great mate. However, most people don't yet deserve one. Before you can deserve a great mate, you have to get your own internal shit together. As many people have truthfully said before, "You must love thyself before you can love another." No guys, this isn't referring to masturbation. It also doesn't go so far as the self love of the hippie flower child.

A solid love of yourself is based upon a solid understanding and possession of the three "selfs": self respect, self confidence, and self esteem. Though they may seem like similar things, they are distinctly different, and all three are required. I really like a line in Tim Ferriss' book The Four Hour Work Week where he says "If you can't define it or act on it, forget it." Let's start out by defining our terms.

Self Respect: Self respect is really the most simple of the three "selfs". In it's most basic form, it's a liking of yourself. Here's an example: say that you're a tennis player. You're pretty good at what you do. You're proud of your ability to serve well, and make an occasional tough shot. But, the reality is that you're not Raphael Nadal and could never beat him in a match. Does this change your self respect? Nope. You're still a good tennis player. The comparison to another doesn't change who you are.

Self Confidence: Not surprisingly, self confidence is also easy to define. Self confidence is the belief (and confidence obviously) in your future ability to do things. To go back to our tennis example, you're self confident in your ability to serve the ball because it's almost always in. However, you're not quite as self confident in your ability to make a tough shot because you only occasionally make the tough shot.

Self Esteem: This is a somewhat harder term to define. To esteem something is to hold it in high regard. But if what you hold in high regard doesn't live up to the standards you've set, the esteem falters. Your esteem for your self can rise and fall like a tide, dependent upon outside factors. We look again to the tennis example. You have high standards for your backhand shot. You place it well, with the proper speed and spin. When something comes to your backhand, you pretty well know that it will do what you want. You have Self Esteem when it comes to that backhand. Now say that you miss three or four backhand shots in a row. You're not quite as sure of your ability to hit those shots anymore, are you? You haven't lived up to the standards, so your self esteem fizzles a bit. But, in the next set, you rebound. Your backhand is back on. You hit three winners in a row of the back side. Your self esteem goes back up.

I can already tell that this is going to be one of those posts that runs really long. So, to save your eyes, let's take a few days break. Come back on Tuesday for an in depth look at signs of high levels of self respect, self confidence, and self esteem, as well as how to leverage them into creating a great social life.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How to Get a Phone Number Without Saying a Single Word

About two weeks ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop reading a book (Tim Ferriss' The Four Hour Work Week if you were curious) and a group of three rather attractive young women came in. After ordering and picking up their drinks, they walked by the couch I was sitting at to another table. As they passed, I noticed that they were looking at me. I glanced up, made eye contact with each of them, and smiled politely. A short while later, I received a call, set down my book, and went to an empty corner to take it. When I returned, I noticed they had gone. Later that night, I pulled the book from my bag, and a slip of paper fell out. It said this: "xxx-xxx-xxxx Call me :), Sam."

Without saying a word, an attractive woman who could have her pick from a number of guys had given me her phone number. I know what you're thinking, "Wow, that's interesting. That can't happen often." You'd be wrong. It's not the first time that I've been given a phone number by a woman, nor is it the first time that it's happened by her leaving it when I'm not there. But, it was the first time that it happened without my so much as saying "hi" beforehand. Now, I'll admit that I'm no Brad Pitt. I'm better looking than the average guy, but if I ever end up in the pages of GQ magazine, it won't be because of my looks. How did I do it then? How does an average looking guy get phone number without trying? The answer is pretty simple.

Let's get one thing straight. Get over the idea that getting a phone number is hard. It's easy. People who call themselves pickup artists pride themselves on the ability to get a phone number quickly. I once overheard a guy who thought he had skill say that he just got a number in under a minute. I ran into him a few days later and asked how that worked out for him. She didn't pick up the phone. Also, get over the idea that talking to beautiful women (or gorgeous guys) is difficult. If there's one thing I've learned in twenty five years of meeting famous people, beautiful people, and important people, it's this: they're the same people as anybody else. I've checked out Hooters girls with a NASCAR Sprint Cup star and taught art to a man who now plays professional hockey in Finland. They have the same fears, the same goals, and the same insecurities as you and I do.

In the world of social dynamics and pickup (the two are related, but separate terms) communities, there's a lot of talk about building a lifestyle that naturally attracts women. Some of the different courses and companies will teach you to cover up who you are, or to put the best "version" of yourself forward. It's a big load of crap. Building a lifestyle that naturally attracts women really boils down to three things. One is inner game, which is your inner psychology, emotional state, and relationship to the world through those. Another is outer game, which is quite simply how you talk to people. It's the social skills that your parents probably didn't teach you to develop. After so many years of being told "don't talk to strangers", it becomes very difficult to go out and do the opposite. The last part is appearance. I'm not talking about having the most expensive clothes, or being the best looking guy in the room. What's much more important is that you look like you give a damn about what you look like. It's about being comfortable in your own skin.

I like to address the inner game aspect of this with what I refer to as the three "selfs." I'll get into it further in a future post, but for know, it's enough to know that no matter who you are or what you think of yourself, you deserve a great mate. The other key to this part is to simply "be yourself". I know exactly what you're thinking. "Everybody says to be yourself, but it hasn't worked." Just because it hasn't worked yet doesn't mean that it can't work. What you're experiencing can most likely be described as a PR problem. Every person has interesting things about them. The secret is how to convey this information. If you're still having trouble understanding what I'm getting at, go back and read
this post and do the exercise listed in the fourth bullet. Another great resource is a book from fellow Michigan Tech alum Hajj E. Flemings called The Brand YU Life. He does such an excellent job at teaching how to convey who you are (aka personal branding) that he's worked with the Detroit Lions and Fortune 500 companies alike.

The other major reason that "be yourself" has failed for so many people in the past is that they don't know who they are. I know exactly what you're thinking. "Bryan, I know exactly who I am." Do you? Every place you turn you're being told what to eat, what to wear, what to watch, what to listen to, where to move, what to do, how to spend your time, how to spend your money, and what you do or do not need to own. How much of what you think you know is you is actually preferences that have been programmed by years of advertisement exposure? How much is the real you and how much is the artificial you that you became when you were told that you weren't cool enough, weren't good enough, or weren't popular enough? "Know thyself" is about more than knowing what the mask that you wear when you go out into the world looks like. It's about looking deep inside, finding out what's really there, and owning it. I'm a big geek. I admit it and own it. In addition to the key chain multitool that I mentioned before, my key chain also consists of a black Lego brick, and a Lego Darth Vader. I own not only every Star Wars movie and the Back to the Future boxed set, but I also own every James Bond movie in cannon and the extended additions of The Lord of the Rings. It doesn't get a whole lot geekier than that.

We don't need to be less of ourselves, we need to be more of ourselves. Put who you are out there, unabashedly, and don't apologize. If somebody decides to show a low social value and make fun of you, just remember that people only make fun of other people when they're insecure about themselves. It has nothing to do with you.

So, how did I get that girl's phone number without saying a word? It was easy. I was myself. I didn't put forward any social mask that was incongruent with who I am. I didn't hide my personality in any way. I possessed and showed the three "selfs". I lived my life how I wanted and made no apologies to anybody.

There are two ways to go about getting to the point where I am. The first, is to put in the time and effort to develop all of the qualities that I've talked about today. But, I know what a lot of you are thinking. "Seriously, I don't have 6 months, or a year, or two years to put into that. I want results and I want them faster." Ok, no problem. There's just the thing for you. Remember a while back when I had a guest post from Scot McKay? Well, he just released a new program a few weeks ago called The Master Plan. Scot spent over two years developing the only comprehensive program of this kind in the world. If you want to be on the fast track to improving your social skills not just with meeting and attracting women, but in every aspect of your life, he's the guy to learn it from. I warn you. The program isn't right for everybody. I'm not trying to tell it to you. But it's worth the few minutes of your time to hop over to his
website, read a few testimonials, and sign up for some free content. Read what he sends you and see if you like it. Then make your decision.

Come back for the next post, I'll be talking about the three "selfs" and how to leverage them to create the social life that your friends will envy" target="blank">
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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ten Items Every Modern Renaissance Man Should Own

Everybody loves lists. They make us feel good. They make things seem achievable. It's about time that I featured a list here on the Modern Renaissance Man blog. I spent a few hours scouring the internet for every kind of list of things that men should own. You wouldn't believe the useless stuff that is on some of those lists. This won't be your average list of things to own. With the help of a few of my best friends and most reliable sources I have, I've compiled a list of the ten items that every Modern Renaissance Man should own. Can you be a Modern Renaissance Man without owning a single one of these items? Of course you can, but this list would certainly help. So starting with number ten (ever notice how these lists always count down?), I'll give you not only what the item is, but also why and if applicable, where to find the items online.

Number Ten: Well Fitting Pants.
Guys, whether you want to acknowledge it or not, women look at men's butts. It's ok. It's only reasonable to expect this given how much men look at women's butts as well. Here's the thing, the pants worn by most men suck. I estimate that over 80% of men aren't wearing properly fitting pants on a daily basis. Their pants are too big, too small, cut wrong, worn out, or any number of other failures. Properly fitting pants don't have to cost a lot of money. Consider pants an investment. Your chances of success in any endeavor will increase dramatically if you are wearing pants that fit. Why? You will look more confident and educated in business situations, and women will notice your butt. It's that simple.

Number Nine: A Non-Baseball Style Hat. If there's one thing that the younger generations have that could be done without, it's the strange affinity that the guys have to baseball hats. More baseball hats are sold in America than any other style of headgear. Jeans, a t shirt, and a baseball hat have become the uniform for the average American man. Our forefathers had a wide variety of headgear to choose from. Our grandfathers and great grandfathers were much more fashion savvy than the typical guy is today. It's well beyond time that we reclaim our heritage and occasionally don headgear that is a nod to the past. My personal favorite is the fedora, as well as it's lighter weight, summer cousin, the Trilby. From a Pork Pie to a Gatsby to a Kromer, there is a perfect hat out there for every guy.

Number Eight: Original Artwork

The Modern Renaissance Man has an appreciation for many fields. The way he supports these fields is with his attention, time, and occasionally, with money. Every town in America has at least one artist. If you can't find them, go to an art gallery. You will surely find work by a local or regional artist that you enjoy. Works span the spectrum of art as well as price. Depending on how well known they are, you can pick up a small piece for under $50 up to a large piece from a well known artist (like the above piece from my art professor Mary Ann Beckwith) that costs several thousand dollars. It's a great feeling to know that you own a piece of art that is exclusively yours, not the same knock off poster than hundreds of thousands of other people have on their wall.

Number Seven: A Cookbook without "For Guys", "For Dummies", or "In College" in the Title.

This entry was suggested by my fiancee. As much as it's said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, it's even truer for women. Nobody expects a guy to be able to cook. Yet da Vinci was a master chef. Plus, the reality of the situation is that almost every guy has hat at least one daydream about being an Iron Chef. Every man, Modern Renaissance or not, should know how to cook one complete meal from scratch well. This doesn't have to be from memory, hence the book. Personally, I recommend Alton Brown's book I'm Just Here For the Food. This is the perfect cookbook for guys. It breaks things down simply enough for us to understand, but doesn't insult our intelligence. Rather than being sorted in the traditional method (dish type), it's organize by cooking method, which makes so much more sense to an engineer like myself.

Number Six: First Aid Kit

This should be pretty self explanatory. There is a difference between being a man, and being stupid. Playing through a skinned elbow in a pickup game is one thing, but not being able to give proper medical treatment for cuts, sprains, and headaches is unacceptable. You may never use it, but a basic kit runs about ten bucks from any Walmart, K Mart, or other mart in the country. This ten dollar insurance policy will pay off in the long run, even if you develop a collection of space blankets since of all the items in the kit, that's the one that I never seem to use.

Number Five: Sewing Kit

While I firmly believe a that having a great relationship with a tailor is important for anybody, there are some things that are either too menial or too last minute to take to the tailor. If a button falls off a shirt, the Modern Renaissance Man pulls out a needle and thread, and takes care of it. If a hem in his pants starts to come undone minutes before leaving for a wedding, a few quick stitches solves the problem. A Modern Renaissance Man is much like a Boy Scout in that he has enough skill in many areas of life to be prepared for most anything that comes his way.

Number Four: A Book

No, I'm serious, a book. However, I should clarify. A book from this list. I developed this list with the help of some of the most intelligent and well rounded individuals that I know. It represents a variety of subjects from personal branding to finance to fiction. We have culled through our personal (rather extensive) libraries, as as consulting with professionals in several fields. These books are nothing to shake a stick at, they're all good. Did I mention that you have to read this book as well? I suppose that's kind of important to mention.

Number Three: Physical Activity Equipment That Gets Used

Basketball, Football, and Baseball aren't for everybody, but being a Modern Renaissance Man is about more than mental endeavors. It's about total life renovation and balancing the mental and the physical as well. Our Renaissance model, da Vinci, was an expert horseman and was said to be able to bend a horse shoe with his bare hands. Personally, that's a little too strong for my tastes. However, getting exercise is an imperative in any Renaissance Man's life, Modern or otherwise. Whether it be a simple pair of running shoes or rock climbing equipment, every physical activity that can actually keep you in shape require equipment of one sort or another. Just do us all a favor and invest in some Febreeze. Nobody wants to smell your sweaty exercise equipment.

Number Two: Copies of At Least Two Religious Texts, That You've Read

I've mentioned in previous posts that the Modern Renaissance Man can come from any religious history. He also understands that fear of the unknown is one of the biggest causes of arguments, fighting, and war in the world today. While you might not agree with what other religions believe, it's important to understand what they believe. The only way to do this without clouding up your perception of the religion with the teachings and propaganda of religious leaders is to go straight to the source, the books that the religions are based upon. Here's a partial list of texts to consider: The Bible, The Koran, The Tao te Ching, The Upanishads, The Bhagavad Gita, or The Confucian Analects. I personally recommend reading the texts of an eastern religious tradition. They're a lot shorter, and a lot less cumbersome of a task than trudging through all of the begating of the Bible.

Number One: Keychain Multitool

If there is a single item that every man should own, it's this. Having one of these on your key ring turns you into an instant Boy Scout. Sure, many guys have a full contingent of tools at home, and one or more multitools in their vehicle. Those won't do you any good when you're on a date and a lens falls out of somebody's glasses. I highly suggest getting a scissors-centered version rather than a pliers-centered one. The number of times that you'll need a good pair of scissors far outnumbers the number of times you'll need the world's smallest pair of needle-nose pliers. With ten items (scissors, a ruler, tweezers, a bottle opener, a nail file, a nail cleaner, two standard screwdrivers, a phillips screwdriver, and the obligatory blade), the Leatherman Micra or the Gerber shortcut are the best options available, and each cost less than 20$.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Why Women Test Men, and Men Should Test Women

I try to avoid watching much TV. I watch hockey, and a very short list of shows when they're on. A vast majority of television today is negativity, contrived competition, and artificial drama. That, however, is an entirely different article. The other day, after an episode of House, I started to analyze the themes of the episode and how they apply to real life. Despite the fact that he's generally a jerk to everybody he knows, there's a lot to learn from Dr. House. One of the reoccuring themes in the show is how he doesn't trust patients. Here's one of his more memorable lines: "I don't ask why patients lie, I just assume they all do." He backs this thought up in most episodes when he orders a test be done that directly contradicts the patient's medical history. He does this for the same reason that women regularly test men and why men should be doing the same to women.

Though most women that you ask will tell you that they don't test men, they do. Many of the tests that women give men are subconscious. They don't even realize that it's happening. Women's magazines teach the skill of testing in every issue. Stop by any magazine rack and look at a few covers. Even money says that half of them will have articles with a title that reads something like "How to Tell if He...." The article is nothing more than a three page explaination of a way to get an answer to a question without the guy knowing that you're asking. How many times have you heard women say things like "I have a lot of guy friends", "All girls are bitches...I don't have many female friends", or "Why are you looking at her?!?" to a guy? These are some extreme ones, but they're all examples of some of the myriad tests that women give men.

Dr. House orders seemingly unwarranted tests on a regular basis because he has no way of knowing if what the patient said is true, or if there's something there that even the patient is unaware of. If you ask a man if he's the jealous type, almost all of them will say "no". Almost all of them are lying. To quote Dr. House again: "It's a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies. The only variable is about what." How then can a woman find out if a guy they're interested in is the jealous type? By testing him. She'll knowingly and unknowingly place him in situations that are likely to elicit jealous behavior and see what happens. If you want to know if an animal is dead, you poke it with a stick. This is no different. The tests that women give men are good. They are well designed, effective, and mostly harmless. Yet, they allow the woman to very quickly get a view into the inner character of the man. If the man has a good character, he passes the tests and she stays with him. If he doesn't pass the tests, she moves along. It's as simple as that.

Women don't stop testing men when they're in the relationship. Throughout the course of their relationship, she will continually test the man. I worked in quality control at a factory that manufactured diesel fuel injectors. It was my job to make sure that the test machines didn't drift over time, to ensure that the information from the test today is just as reliable as the information from the test performed the day it was put on line. The constant testing that women put men through during a relationship serves the exact same purpose. If a man starts to get more jealous than he has been in the past, it will show up in the test results. If he's become more overbearing, the tests will show it. If a man is taking the woman forgranted, she'll find out by testing him again.

Now guys, we haven't been living up to our end of the bargain. A vast majority of men are happy to get any woman. They don't test women for two primary reasons. First, he doesn't know how. He never learned from his father how to test a woman's character. Second, he's got what the social dynamics community refers to as "one-itis". He has such low self-esteem that he believes this is the one and only woman that he has a shot with and doesn't want to drive her away. The volume of knowledge regarding male personal development and social dynamics has exploded since the start of the 2000's. The publication of The Game by Neil Strauss sky rocketed the subject to national attention. I could wax academic on the subject for a while. However, that's not quite my forte. I highly suggest that anybody who wants to learn more check out two sources: Scott and Emily McKay and The Art of Charm Network.

Men should test women just as much as women test men. If a man's character can't be determined by asking him directly, neither can a woman's. This isn't to say that men and women aren't trustworthy. Both just put their best face forward in an effort to make a good impression. We emphasize the good parts and minimize the bad. Just as somebody who's buying a car is interested in more than just the paint job on a the vehicle, in a personal relationship, you need to know the inner character.

Now why would I suggest that men test women? Doesn't this lead to a big dishonest game likely to cause more harm than good? Really, it's quite the contrary. Rather than a dishonest game, it's a glorious dance between two individuals constantly in tune with one another's character, wants, and needs. The divorce rate in America is the highest that it's ever been. Among the many causes is that men aren't living up to their duties. I've said before that in my opinion, the women's liberation movement of the 1960's and 1970's swung the pendulum too far when it comes to relationships. One of the results of this is the problem we have today. Women test men to see if they're up to par, to see if they're really dating or marriage material and men don't return the favor.

When a woman tests a man for his inner character and he passes, and a man tests a woman for an her inner character and she passes, it's perfection. Not only does the woman know that he's the right guy for her, but he also knows that she's the right woman for him. They are the perfect match for each other. Isn't that what we're all after in the long run? Marraige or not, don't we all ultimately want to be with somebody who fits us just as much as we fit them? Relationships are a cooperative process. Guys, it's time to start holding up your end of the bargain. Don't let me down.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Why Personal Improvement is as Important as College.

A few days ago, I had a rather interesting conversation over Twitter. There's a small excerpt from it below.


Now, aside from omitting an "and" in my last comment, I started thinking. Recently, there's been a lot going on in my life that has made me think of the words that we use and what they mean. It all goes back to a TED video with Erin McKean titled Redefining the Dictionary. While I could spend quite some time discussing my fascination with words, their orgins, and their meanings, I'd like to focus on the words that we use when talking about learning.

When we think of someone who is an academic, the images that we conjure are often of professors wearing glasses and corduroy jackets with leather patches on the sleeves. We also often think of scientists, doctors, and engineers. The reason these images come about is because of the types of knowledge required for these positions. An engineer is knowledgeable in math, physics, and a number of other fields. Engineers are really the jack-of-all-trades of the professional world. They have their hands in a little bit of everything, hence the development of specific fields within engineering.

These traditional topics of study are the bedrock of modern education. Historically, an education included not only history, science, and mathematics. It also included art, music, and poetry. Etiquette and protocol was a part of regular education for boys and girls alike. Over the course of the past few hundred years, this has fallen by the wayside. Music and art programs are being cut from schools across the country on a regular basis. So what has happened is that the idea of what academic knowledge is has changed over time. Where we're left is with a rather modern association between academics and formal study of math, science, philosophy, and what are often called "higher studies".

To go back to our first reference, Leonardo da Vinci didn't have a whole lot of formal training. He studied painting techniques under a master, but for the most part, his knowledge was acquired on his own. I'm reasonably certain that most people would consider him to be an academic person. This brings us directly to the other term under consideration, scholarly. I want to address this because it's important to understand that acquisition of knowledge doesn't require college. It doesn't require formal training. Both of these things are tools that may be used, but they're not mandatory. Becoming a Modern Renaissance Man doesn't require you to become what most people today would consider to be an academic.

I'll be back to Leonardo in a moment, but let's take a moment to look at the word "scholarly" on it's own. One of the definitions of a scholar is a learned person. It's that simple. A scholar is a person who learns. The english suffix "-ly" generally means "like" or "in the manner of". So we have a root and a suffix. Now it's time for a little word math. Scholarly = Scholar + ly. Scholar = learned person. -ly = in the manner of. So with some substitution, we get Scholarly = (learned person) + (in the manner of). In simpler terms, scholarly simply means "in the manner of a learned person".

When Leonardo wanted to design a flying machine, he studied things that fly. What he did was the essence of scholarly study. A bird knows how to fly, so the way to learn how to fly is to study how a bird does it. To this day, every winged or propellered flying device uses principles that da Vinci learned from watching birds. What this means today is that any specific effort to learn a skill by a method other than simple trial and error is a scholarly effort.

Throughout the years, one of the most common obstacles that I've seen people encounter on their road to personal improvement is the people that they know before the process begins. How to deal with these people is a series of articles in itself. However, of all the insults that they tend to sling, the one I hear most often is that it's not worth your time, you should be focusing on more scholarly endeavors. Really, these are people who are stuck in the traditional work structure of working your ass off forty hours a week for forty or fifty years of your life, only to retire and life in semi-poverty for the last thirty years you're alive. They suggest focusing on work now and fun later. That doesn't sound like a very good life to me.

Set aside the pre-programmed beliefs about the relationship between academic study and personal study as well as those between work and play. Set aside your limiting beliefs, whatever those may be. Personal improvement of any kind is a scholarly endeavor. It is worth your time. Consider it an investment. By investing the time now, and allowing your skills to grow through practice and study, your return will be much greater in the end than if you start that investment in twenty years. To quote Ramit Sethi, "If not now, when?"

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Secret of Social Masters

I noticed something a little alarming at lunch today. I stopped by Taco Bell because I hadn't been there in quite a while and wanted some bad fake Mexican food for cheap. Now before I continue, it's important for you to know a little bit more about me. My father is a computer program. He does the exact same things, talks to the exact same people, goes to the exact same places, and orders the exact same things all the time. So suffice to say, that I've been subjected to the same restaurant for my entire life. So I get my food and grab a booth. When I looked down, I realized that I had in a way become my father. Every time that I go to Taco Bell, I get the exact same thing. There are a number of perfectly good options on the menu, but I've gotten myself stuck in a rut of ordering the same old thing every time.

How often does this happen to you? Do you ever just mindlessly go through the same routine, doing the same things every day? Why? Most likely, you tried something once and liked it. You tried it again, and liked it. Soon, it became your favorite. At that point, you kept going because it was what you liked the best. Take a moment to look back at those things you consider your favorites that you do all the time. Does your favorite food taste as good as it did the first time? Is your favorite movie as thrilling as when you first saw it in the theatre? They probably don't.

The reason that we don't try new foods off the menu is because over time, we've gotten used to them. They're comfortable to us. They're the ratty old hooded sweatshirt and torn jeans. Now I'm not saying that getting the same food when you go out to eat is necessarily a bad thing. However, it is an indicator of a potential bigger problem. Let's go back to the example of my father. Anything that breaks his routine throws him for a loop. My ability to go with the flow of things and not sweat the small stuff was entirely inherited from my mother and learned. If there is a poster child for a fear of change, it's my father. If there is a poster child for being afraid to step outside of one's comfort zone, it's my father. If there is one person who would benefit from reading this article, it's my father.

One of the traits that I pride myself on is that it's very difficult to put me into a situation where I feel uncomfortable for more than a few minutes. This ability to adapt to any situation and to fill whatever role is appropriate at the time is one of the cornerstones of living the life of a Modern Renaissance Man. Developing this skill takes time. The secret was best stated by David Deida when he suggests that one leans outside of their comfort zone. When we become comfortable with this new edge, we lean a little further. Before long, you'll find yourself relating to people from a wider variety of backgrounds and find yourself in a wider variety of situations that you've ever imagined.

Let's take a look at a semi-hypothetical case study. One of the stereotypes of my alma mater is the CS (computer science) major who never leaves their dorm. I know quite a few of these types, and while there's a nugget of truth to it (as there is to all stereotypes), there's a deeper root issue. Most of the anti-social computer guys at Michigan Tech were also nerdy computer guys in high school. High school is a vicious place. Unless you are proactive very early on, your social value becomes defined for you very quickly by a number of arbitrary material things. It never fails that the athlete with the cool car, a hot tub, and an older sibling who will buy them alcohol becomes the "coolest" kid in school. The computer nerds regularly get brushed down to the bottom of the pile. They get used to it down there. They didn't get invited to parties in high school because they weren't cool enough to go. It becomes very comfortable to them. Is it their fault that they never break out of this role and live up to their full potential? It is absolutely their fault.

College is a really interesting place. There are a fairly small number of times in your life when it is very easy to redefine your existence. College is one of those times. You're constantly surrounded by a group of people who are for the most part, just like you. Being a nerd at a Tech school isn't exactly an usual thing. I'm a huge nerd. I was easily the biggest nerd in my high school class. At Michigan Tech, there were people who were much nerdier than me as well as some who were much less nerdy. So how does the stereotypical anti-social CS major break the mold? One step at a time. First, he could find a group to play D&D with. Then, he could find a different group to play another game with. Then be can bring one or two people from D&D over to the other game. Instantly, he's just become the mayor. Slowly, he develops a whole social network. As he's doing this, he's constantly leaning outside of his comfort zone. You can't just take somebody who has no social skills at all and tell them to go up to a woman at a bar and introduce himself. It will be more than he can handle and he'll jump right back into his safety net and never come out. By taking small steps, going to an anime festival or to a Super Smash Brothers tournament, he can develop those conversational and social skills with people that he knows he has something in common with. The really tough part comes when he needs to make the decision to start interacting with people that he might not have something in common that's very obvious. For my father, the challenge would be to go to some gathering that has nothing to do with car racing.

The problem with always getting the same meal from Taco Bell is that after a while, you lose appreciation of the fact that it's your favorite. When you venture out and try something new, you may find something new that you like. You may not find something new that you like. Either way, the process of trying something new and expanding your comfort zone will bring you a new appreciation to that which you already know. It will remind you just why your favorite meal is your favorite.

Less than a year ago, I tried sushi for the first time. It was a scary experience for me. I've never been a huge fan of fish and the idea of eating something uncooked was appalling to me. A good friend told me to give it a shot. He said to trust him, I'd like it. I did trust him. I did like it. It took some getting used to. It was uncomfortable. It was glorious. If I hadn't tried sushi, I would have never tried tuna tartar. Tuna tartar has since become my favorite food and I've only had it once. I won't have it often. I don't want to spoil the experience.

Each day, wake up and make the decision to lean outside of your comfort zone. Decide to try something new and different. Today, I'm writing this article while sitting in a park. So far, I've been interrupted by people playing frisbee, two people walking dogs, a roller blader, and three joggers. It's uncomfortable to explain what I'm doing to them when they ask. Tomorrow, I will try something else. What will you do to lean outside of your comfort zone today?

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lessons from Leonardo: How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci Book Review

Who is the greatest genius in history? It's a question that can be argued about and conjectured about for years. Like most things that ask "who is best" or "what is best", it's primarily subjective. There's not really any way to determine other than opinion. That used to be the case. However, in The Book of Genius, the authors attempt to determine an analytical way to rank the world's geniuses. They ranked people in a number of categories, including "Originality," "Dominance-in-Field," and "Versatility." Who topped their list? None other than the original Renaissance Man, Leonardo da Vinci.

How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci is the first attempt by any author to analyze the maestro's genius and break it down into simple concepts that we can all develop and apply to our every day life. Leonardo da Vinci was both a man of his time and a man before his time. He developed the field of comparative anatomy, was the first to note that the age of a tree corresponds to the number of rings in its trunk, and made the first recorded observasion of errosion. Leonardo was the first to make note of a number of things later credited to other scientists. Four centuries before Darwin, Leo noted "Man does not vary from the animals except in what is accidental."

What's great about Gelb's book is that it's presented in a way that every guy can get behind. The first forty pages are so are spent giving a basic background of da Vinci and the times that he lived in, but then we get into the meat of the issue. The heart of the book lies in The Seven da Vincian Principles. Gelb has been able to pinpoint seven personality traits of da Vinci that allowed him to achieve a level of genius unmatched either before or after his lifetime. After thoroughly addressing each of these principles and providing multiple detailed examples from da Vinci's life, we're presented with with an assessment to determine how much of that trait we already have in our lives. Additionally, we're given a number of exercises to further develop this trait. I'll give an example exercise as I describe each of the principles later.

I could spend a great deal of time describing each of the seven principles and methods to introduce them into your life, but what good would that do. The only way to really get a feeling for what the principles are and how easy it is to bring them into your life is to go pick up a copy of the book and find out first hand. You do, however, deserve a short introduction. I present you with, the seven da Vincian principles, a very brief overview.

Curiosità: In a previous post, I mentioned that by developing an insatiable thirst for knowledge, we walk the footsteps of the maestro. Constant curiosity and a drive for knowledge are the core of da Vinian thinking. Every child starts out thinking like da Vinci. As soon as they can form full sentences, the start asking questions: "What is that?", "Why was I born?", "Where do babies come from?", "How does that work?" etc. The challenge is to not lose this childlike curiosity as we get older. Ask questions, and then go out and find an answer. I often get questioned about why I do certain things or why I do things a certain way. The most baffling answer that I can give is: "Why not?"

Example Exercise: Grab a pad of paper, sit someplace quiet, and start writing down questions. It doesn't matter what those questions are as long as they seem important to you. Don't worry about spelling, grammar, or repeating questions with different words. Just focus on getting questions on paper. Don't stop writing until you have a minimum of 100 written down. The book goes further into why such a large number and what to do with this list, but from the simplest perspective possible, it gets you into the habit of asking questions.

Dimostrazione: Think of the people that you've learned the most from in life. What makes those people great teachers? The best teachers in the world understand the importance of getting students to learn for themselves, that no amount of lecturing can replace experience and experimentation. Being willing to make an attempt, be unsuccessful, and learn from your mistakes is the fastest way to learn any skill. To quote myself from a previous article: "Failure does not exist. You either succeed, or you learn something that takes you one step closer to success."

Example Exercise: Grab a pad of paper (the book recommends keeping a separate da Vinci notebook for these exercises), and sit down. Ask yourself a series of questions about the idea of mistakes and learning from them. Write your answers down. Here's two to get you started. What did you learn at school about making mistakes? What did your parents teach you about making mistakes? After a few (at least five) questions, do a stream of consciousness writing. Ask yourself "What would I do differently if I had no fear of making mistakes?" and start writing everything that comes to your head. Don't worry about formatting, paragraphs, spelling, or grammar. Again just focus on getting everything that you think of on to paper.

Sensazione: Leonardo was no superhuman. He had the same five senses that we all do. While it's commonly known that people who have no sight develop much keener senses of hearing, there's absolutely nothing preventing us from developing our senses to maximize their ability. In one of his notebooks, Leonardo wrote this: "The five senses are the ministers of the soul." The emphasis that da Vinci placed on his senses was extrordinary. We must always be pushing our senses further and further. Just because we possess sight doesn't mean that we can truly see. Having hearing isn't the same as hearing.

Example Exercise: Everything that we hear has layers, but we usually don't identify them. I once attended a Styx concert. During the show, they played about 15 seconds of their biggest hit "Dr. Roboto" before going into a different song. I asked the singer about it after the show. He said the reason they don't play the full version of Dr. Roboto live is that there's just too many layers to make playing it live very practical. After going back and listening to the song again, I understood. Sit, once or twice each day, and listen. Close your eyes and concentrate. What are the first things you hear? After you identify what they are and where they're coming from, put them aside. What are the next things you identify? Identify them and where they are. Put those things aside. Keep repeating this process until you have identified and located the quietest thing that you can. Now try to identify one layer more.

Sfumato: One of the most common sources of fear for mankind is the unknown. When alone in the woods and you hear a sound in distance, you begin to get scared. You're scared not because of what is out there, but because of what might be out there. It is the uncertainty of the source of the sound that frightens us. Why are young men and women about to head to boot camp afraid? It's because they don't know what it will be like. Why is the guy sitting alone at the bar afraid to talk to the beautiful woman next to him? it's because he's uncertain of how she will respond. Being comfortable and even embracing uncertainty and paradox is the key to an open mind and open exploration of everything in life. Students brought up in a strictly Christian background had a lot of difficulties in the Eastern Philosophy course I recently took. Cheif among these troubles is how so much of Eastern thought (especially Taoism) doesn't provide concrete answers for the questions about life that they've deemed important. There are some things beyond the realm of human knowing. What happens after death? Even with the full force of a curious mind and willingness to make mistakes behind you, there is only one way to find out. When asked what I believe happens after death, I respond: "I don't know what happens after death, and I'm ok with it."

Example Exercise: Pay attention to your conversations for a few days. Note how often you use absolute terms like "always", "never", or "absolutely". How many of those times are really absolute. If you say "I always do X", is there even one instance in which you did not do X? Take note to how you end interactions with people. Do you do it with a statement or a question? Do you tie things up in a neat little package, or are some things left open to talk about later? In the social dynamics realm, this is an important concept. If you don't give someone a reason to want to come back and talk to you again, they're less likely to do it. Isn't a very simple way to do this by asking a question?

Arte/Scienza: Was da Vinci an artist or a scientist? Was he an engineer or a medical expert? The truth is that he was all of these things. The Vitruvian Man was an academic study of the proportions of the human body, yet is often regarded as one of Leonardo's greatest works of art. There is a reason why a large overlap exists between people who study da Vinci and people who study Taoism. Both emphasize balance in existence. One of the great failures in the American educational system is the loss of art and music courses in favor of more math and science. Our society has for many years emphasized the importance of left brain activities and margainalized right brain subjects. Art and science are inseperable. Da Vinci understood this and wrote: "Those who become enamoured of the art, without having previously applied to the diligent study of the scientific part of it, may e compared to mariners who put to sea in a ship without rudder or compass and therefore cannot be certain of arriving at the wished for port." Likewise, those who spend their days studying navigation and building ships without putting them into the water and setting out on them will never get to the wished for port.

Example Exercise: Create a mind map. Pick up a copy of the book for further explaination. What, you didn't think I would make it that easy, did you?

Corporalita: What body image do you associate with modern geniuses? Bill Gates is a skinny nerd with glasses. So are many of his peers. What do you assume of people who are in great shape and look like professional athletes? The common stereotype is the big dumb jock. Leonardo was neither of these things. He was well known among the citizens of Florence for his physical prowess. Vasari writes, "His great physical strength could check any violent outburst." He was also known for his poise and grace. This is yet another example of the balance da Vinci emphasized in his life. On breaks from his work, he would often go for a swim or out on a horse ride.

Example Exercise: Create balance in your physical self with posture and poise. Study the Alexander Technique, developed by F. Matthias Alexander. Here are two two exersices to create a balanced posture within the next five minutes. Imagine a string being attached to the top of your head, just above your spine. Imagine this string pulling upwards, straightening your spine. Walk with the string pulling you upwards. Notice that you are more upright and that your weight is balanced more evenly. Imagine a string attached to your belt buckle. Imagine as you walk, that you are being pulled along by the string. This forces your pelvis back underneath your spine and you will appear (and therefore naturally be) more confident. Combine these two exercises and practice them consciously for the next thirty days.

Connessione: Perhaps one of Leonardo's most famous qualities is the ability to note how things around him relate to one another. He developed the field of comparative anatomy and was the first to note that the bone structure of a bird's wing is not unlike that of a man's arm. He also drew comparisons between seemingly unrelated items. From his notebooks: "Observe how the movements of the surface of the water resemble that of hair, which has two movements, one of which stems from the weight of the hair and the other from the waves and the curls. In the same way the water has its turbulent curls, a part of which follows the force of the main current, and another abeys the movement of the incidence of reflection." The ability to see the connections between the objects and people around you will greatly assist you in your quest to become the best person you can.

Example Exercise: Thorougly examine a group of people that you're a part of. The two most obvious choices are your closest friends or your family. How do they relate to one another? What role does each person fill? How do the roles relate to one another? Do certain people change roles in certain situations? What outside forces affect the group? What patterns can you pick out from the way the group interacts? How can these relationships and patterns be utilized to your advantage? Practice this with many other groups as well. Soon, you will be able to analyze and determine very quickly the nature of the relationship between any group of people with astounding accuracy.

Don't think that reading this article is enough to turn your thinking around and set you on the path of perfection walked by da Vinci. This is merely a primer, though it should point you in the right direction. Gelb's book of da Vincian principles and exercises holds a coveted spot in my book case. It sits right between The Modern Gentleman and The Way of the Superior Man as one of my three most frequently re-read and referenced books. It should hold a sacred spot on your shelf as well.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tackling a Tough Topic: Religion

First Date Conversations to Avoid

Five Topics to Avoid on the First Date

Top 10 Topics That Can Ruin the First Date

These are just three of the 59 million responses that Google returns when you search "Topics to avoid on a first date". There's one thing that every single list that I've come across seems to include. I'll save you the time of looking, it's religion. Why is it that something so fundamental to the existence of so many people isn't talked about? Why is the topic avoided amongst friends and family alike? What relationship does a Modern Renaissance Man have to religion, and how does he deal with the topic?

I could very easily spend this entire article discussing what I believe and my personal relationship with religion. That, however, wouldn't be very helpful to any of you. I'm not going discuss what my beliefs are at all, and for one very specific reason. I'll get into that reason in a moment.

What is the primary cause of fear and hatred in the world? I bet that there are a number of topics that you could list off, but ultimately, everything boils down to a single cause. People fear and quite often hate that which they don't understand. A great deal of that lack of understanding comes from the preconceived notions that we all have towards people, things, and terms. This is exactly why I won't be getting into my beliefs. In order to describe them, I have to use common terms. The problem is that the terms that I must use are very often misunderstood.

Ultimately, everybody in the world fits into one of two categories: those who prescribe to a religion and those who do not. I find that a lot of hatred arises because of this. See, religions often have a defined set of beliefs, or a doctrine. This doctrine is often controlled by some overseeing organization. Even in religions that don't have this sort of overseeing body all have a central set of beliefs that are particular to that religion. Those that do not prescribe to a religion don't have this sort of a defined belief. This leads to assumptions and misunderstandings. So, let's clear that air up right now. The two most common terms that you will hear to describe people who do not prescribe to a religion are Atheist and Agnostic. I'll address each of these one at a time.

Atheist comes from the greek αθεός (atheos). A meaning "without", theos meaning "god or gods". Together the term is "denying the gods". There it is, in it's truest form. If you think about it though, we're all atheist in one way or another. One doesn't have to deny the Christian concept of God to be atheist. Denying the existence of any god makes one atheist towards that god. It's really not as bad as people make it out to be, is it?

Agnostic is similarly innocent. The American Heritage Dictionary defines the term thusly: One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a god. The only trouble here is in the term "know". Many people will say that they "know" that God exists. There is a difference between an emotional and a scientific knowledge. As with many things in the world, it doesn't make one better than the other, it just makes them different. This becomes a problem when we use the term in a definition. The term agnostic then really has several possible definitions. One may say the term can be more accurately described as "one who believe that it is impossible to scientificly know whether there is a god," while another my describe it as "one who believes that it is impossible to emotionally know whether there is a god." Knowing this difference makes it much easier to converse on the topic.

You see the Modern Renaissance Man doesn't have to come from a particular religion. Look to the original Renaissance Men for examples. Leonardo da Vinci and Abu Bakr and Galileo all come from different religious traditions. However, I believe that the Modern Renaissance Man interacts with religion in a particular way. Allow me to explain further.

The Modern Renaissance Man understands that all relgions are after the same thing. They all seek to answer the same set of questions. Remember that fear of the unknown and that which we don't understand that I mentioned earlier? Every religion seeks to answer that same set of basic questions. Where do we come from? What are we here for? What happens after death? And many others. Different religions all answer these same questions in a different way. Are the beliefs of a Roman Catholic more correct than the beliefs of a Muslim? Maybe, but maybe not. The truth is that we will never know. One thing that's critically important to understand is the difference between belief and fact. Just because one believes something to be true doesn't mean that it actually is. The fact is that we have yet to encounter a scientifically verifiable, 100% reliable account of what happens after death. We can believe that this happens or that happens, but we have no proof that would stand in a court of law or withstand scientific scrutiny. This is perfectly fine. What one believes is proof for them. This doesn't make it universally true for everyone else as well.

The human relationship with religion is a Schrodinger's cat experiment. For those unfamiliar, Schrodinger was an Austrian physicist. He developed a thought experiment as a way to demonstrate some quantum principles. It goes like this: there's a cat in an opaque box. Inside this box is a vial of poison. Above the vial of poison is a hammer. The hammer is connected to a Geiger counter. Next to the Geiger counter is a small bit of radioactive material. So, if a certain amount of material decays, the Geiger counter picks up the detection, triggers the hammer to fall, breaking the vial of poison, and killing the cat. While the cat is in the box, we have absolutely know way of knowing if the cat is alive or if it's dead without interacting with the box. As humans, we have no way of verifying the existence of a god until we encounter them. We can conjecture and theorize and debate all that we like. We can believe that the cat is alive or that the cat is dead. That belief doesn't get transformed into a fact until we interact with the box. Religion, is essentially whether we believe the cat is alive or dead. Having a different belief of the state of the cat isn't any more or less valid than the belief of the state of the cat that we have, it's just different.

I think that's where it all comes together quite nicely. The Modern Renaissance Man knows that even if somebody else has a different set of beliefs than they do, they're still a perfectly valid set of beliefs. They're quite simply different. To put it in a neat little package, my mother always used to use the saying "What works for me works for me, and what works for you works for you."

To bring us back to where we started, I absolutely agree that talking about religion on the first date is a bad idea. On a first date, you want to keep the mood light and fun. Religion is a bit of a weighty subject. However, there's no reason to not talk about the subject later on. Though the United States is supposedly a place where you have the freedom of religion, we've taken it a little too far. Why do we all feel that we're not allowed to talk about religion? Talking less about the subject isn't the answer. The only way to eliminate that fear of that which we don't understand is to talk about it, in a mutually respectful and understanding way.

I challenge you to talk with three people in the next week about what your religious beliefs are. Find out what theirs are. Find out what you agree on and what you disagree on. Learn why that person believes what they do. You'll be surprised what you find out.

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