We are increasingly surrounded by things what we want to hear and see, which traps us into a small circle of our own echo chamber. Before internet targeting something for someone is quite hard, a person has to do a great deal of research to find something useful about a person. Now it is just a click away and we are giving it away in a few clicks.
We are in an era that our attention has been targeted like never before and with great precision. We are giving away a lot when we message someone, when we talk to someone, when we read news articles, when we like our friend’s photos, when we order food, when we buy something, when we watch a movie, when we use maps, when we use search engines; there is not a place where we can control what we can give unless we put in deliberate effort.
All this creates a profile of us and then feeds us what we have liked and used so far. I chose to listen to jazz music one day in an app, from that day onwards I keep getting jazz music prompts and I have to wrestle my way out to find something else. Music was obvious, news is not. If I had clicked on a type of news in Facebook then I would keep getting the same kind of it and subconsciously I will be primed to think that is the only thing happening around me. The same applies for anything I can think about, as a first step I unsubscribed to all the emails and thanks to GDPR it made my life even more easy to unsubscribe. I also uninstalled Facebook from my phone and use it as a way to find some old friends and get their contact through the browser.
The next steps I began to do was to go under the radar. It may be hard to go under the radar especially when we use social networks and messaging apps but we can control a lot of things what we do on the browser. I stumbled on a link that helps us to stay private in the era of mass surveillance, I started cutting down on ads & trackers; it is easy to do even if you are not a full time developer. Privacy is getting increasingly hard, if we don’t seek it we will get stuck in an echo chamber, listen and see only what we want to not what is happening around.
During my school days, I have noticed doctors prescribing glucose to patients with weak digestion due to a recent illness. I was curious and asked one of the elders about glucose and got to know that it readily provides energy, you need not to wait for it to digest like food. I got so impressed that I decided to have glucose instead of food. Bought a box of glucose from my pocket money and started having it instead of my regular meals. Just within a day I fell sick because of not having enough food.
I did not realise why I fell sick but the elders at home scolded me a lot and made me eat regular meals. A few years later I studied more about the digestion system and nutrition in my biology class. We do not need just energy like how cars need only fuel to run, we need a balance of minerals, nutrients, some complex compounds and energy food in terms of not only glucose but also complex carbs, fat, protein and also undigestible roughage.
Undigestible roughage? Why would someone eat something that cannot be digested, I came to know later that it is as necessary as any other nutrient you have because our systems are designed to process food moving through the digestive system and roughage is the train that passes through the system unbroken. We are not machines, we are an assembly of symbiotic cells.
On a parallel; for people who are deep into work and only work for a long while, we can see them taking a wild break sometimes not even returning back to the same intensity that they were involved earlier. Similar to our digestive systems, our mind also requires roughage; we can’t keep hammering on high intensity work for ever to achieve great heights. Our mind should get a sense of living through the days instead of working through the days. Roughage for the mind can be anything that is done in leisure but not on targets and deadlines. It can be reading, gardening, walking around, playing etc. Go ahead and go easy on those long days. Find the balance, have enough roughage.
All work and no play makes anyone a zombie.
I have completed 35 trips around the sun last November, I remember vividly my younger pre-teen years a lot and that seemed to be much longer and eventful journey compared to my twenties and thirties which I feel just breezed past. There are several factors that contribute to this feeling of perceiving your childhood to be longer in comparison to adult years.
- We perceive time in percentage of conscious elapsed time against our life span so for a 13 year old the next year is going to be around 10% of life time so far. One of my friends introduced me to this theory but I could not find any notes anywhere in the net, seems to be a valid argument to me.
- The number of things that can gain the attention of the conscious brain has increased dramatically so that there is not enough leisure, me time or family/friends time for people. This will result in less things that go back to permanent memory and most of the day’s happenings are just processed and thrown away.
- We also lack predictable milestones and increases in ability like we did in childhood. Every year in childhood is new because we became bigger, stronger, understood our world better and there was a planned path to do newer and newer things day by day. Once we start to work, the growth is limited only to our social and neural development which is not so obvious. The long holidays are also gone where there were many meaningful friendships born and many events happen at its own pace.
- The last one I see is simply refusing to grow up, trying to relive and remember the past & losing track of all the things that is happening now and should happen now.
We can change the perception by cutting out timepass distractions as much as possible, removing the things in life that is only for others to appreciate us than provide a utility to us and blocking personal me time/family time everyday. Some simple non negotiable rules like breakfast and dinner with family together will go a long way in improving quality of life. When living becomes easy and very less distractions in place, we suddenly have a lot of time to look outside the window and enjoy the coffee than gulping it down and running to catch the next connection. We will also spend a good deal of time in personal growth and the growth of people around us.
In the film ‘Sully’ when the captain is interrogated about what measurements he made that made him decide to ditch the plane in the river instead of taking it to the airport, he responds by saying ‘I eyeballed it‘. This has been written about by many authors like in ‘Hare brain and tortoise mind’, ‘Thinking fast and slow’, ‘Blink’ etc. It is hard to prove as a ton of processing happens completely subconscious.
I also happened to read about this in the book ‘Maverick’ by Ricardo Semler, who was the CEO of Semco. Semco is one of the most unique workplaces that had piloted very radical ideas in the 1980’s when management by the book was in its peak. It was very successful for the political environment that was in Brazil at that time and that company’s model has been studied by many people. Semler has an habit of throwing detailed reports in the dustbins and ask for headline summaries from his managers. He also says in another book that many of the times that his managers’ headlines seems to be right about forecast and prediction than those that were backed by solid research and numbers. He practically asks everyone to eyeball the situation.
Eyeballing is not easy, it comes with years of dedicated practice in an area. It is not possible to ask a football striker to explain how did that person know that the goal keeper is going dive to the right. They just eyeball it, that skill gets improved with tons of feedback and dedicated effort to improve.
At desk work also many times these situations happen, people will develop muscle memory (otherwise eyeballing skills). They will know just by a glance that something is wrong, it will be hard to prove but letting them make a call based on their hunch and giving them space to learn from their action will improve the effectiveness multifold. We have been conditioned that we can be wrong as long as we are backed by reports and numbers, but I learnt that there is no substitute for experience and gut feel.
The innate laziness of our mind will make us very efficient in heading towards right decisions. We can train this by creating mental models (some examples here) deliberately that will keep improving our eyeballing ability.
I started writing this when I saw a meme floating around saying ‘I am neither a night owl nor a morning lark, I am a permanently exhausted pigeon’. I see a few people this way anytime I meet them.
More and more work has become brain based and less muscle based, brain based work also keeps increasing in complexity. Not alone that, even the entertainment and pastimes seems to cater only to the brain.We have not been built this way, we were built over 1000’s of years to rely on muscle strength and only recently it has shifted to mind. Numerous studies show the link between exercises and brain function. If we want a sound mind, it is better we have a sound body to support it. There is also a theory that brain evolved to be complex as humans took more and more complex muscle tasks. Brain is a physical entity, mind is just the arrangement of molecules in a certain way. Without the fitness of the physical ones, the volatile mind has no option than to mirror the physical state.
Monica Seles was the best player in professional tennis until someone stabbed her, from there on she never went to recover her form. Nobody relaxed the rules because she was stabbed, fitness is never an optional item in professional sports even when things happen that are not in our control, it adversely affects. Desk jobs may not require athletic fitness but everyone should take care to avoid preventable diseases or over exertions.
Eating right, maintaining fitness, not over exerting unnecessarily is all a matter of self discipline and desire to pace one’s life well. The saying ‘Health is wealth’ is still applicable, the progress made in career and life is directly related to how fit someone is. The 20s and 30s are supposed to be a human’s peak health and if people are exhausted most of the time at this age, then should be prepared to lose out and settle for less.
A nice life is result of a healthy mind, healthy mind is possible only if we can manage to have a good career and to have a rewarding career health is very much necessary.
Though there are exceptions to this, if you ignore good health then be prepared to ignore a nice life.
We will always try to make meaningful perceptions in a seemingly random setting. This is one thing that is right now a major differentiator between humans and bots, so that captchas rely on how well we can perceive something in an image. Gestalt in German language means shape or form and a branch of psychology that deals with perceiving things is called Gestalt psychology. Due to this ability, we have grouped random set of stars in different places as constellations; we perceive a human smile when we use a colon and a bracket.
When we take an eye test, the optometrist writes down the values for how well we can see. It is technically called visual acuity test. Visual acuity values determines what glasses you need to wear to have a normal vision. Similar to visual acuity, our ability to perceive things from seemingly random settings is called perceptual acuity. Sadly there is no way to measure one’s perceptual acuity but increase in that is directly related to business success.
On our day to day life our ability to form hypotheses based on our perceptions, testing it out and holding on strongly to validated hypotheses contributes to our growth. Our ability to come up with hypotheses is directly proportional to the way we perceive our world. Our perceptions become better only when we expand our interests to a wide variety, not just the in the field of work we are involved.
All the time we spend time on sports, current affairs, politics, technology, music and many more will collectively help improve the way we perceive our world. Of course spending dedicated deliberate effort on a field makes one an expert in that field, but that makes someone a doer not a creator; we need to be an expert in a field as well as be able to create something. Our world is a perpetual puzzle, those who solve larger pieces gets the better reward.
Image courtesy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/double-m2/
Too often I come across in discussions where the listener does not accept a view point from a person but accepts the same point when someone else says it.
Example: There is a conversation in the team about ‘Is September a good time to travel to coorg’? Novi says strongly that it is generally misty and rains a bit but not to the extent to spoil a good vacation. The others in the team quickly look up weather patterns in the internet and conclude what Novi said is not right, it is not easy to travel in rains to hill stations. Novi tries hard to convince about the previous visits but no one is in the mood to listen. At this point Ivon an avid traveller enters, looks at the argument and says Novi is right, it is a good time to travel. No one refutes, they agree to Ivon.
Why did they agree to Ivon but not Novi when both of them are saying the same thing?
Dave Gray explains in his work ‘Liminal Thinking‘ that we carry a lot of beliefs from what we observe from our experiences; we then keep validating that our beliefs are right by choosing only the relevant data from experiences that will validate our beliefs again and again in a vicious cycle. This vicious cycle creates a shortcut in our brains so that we directly map the experiences without a conscious thought to conclusions. The example I had given about Ivon and Novi are very small in impact compared to what we encounter every day.
What we perceive as ‘I am saying that the same thing as the other person, but they trust the other person’ is nothing but people’s mental model about us is different as they do not know what our experience has been. This is the reason that more the people in a group are willing to understand each other’s experiences and talk out loud about their beliefs and assumptions, the better they communicate.
The video below is a nice explanation on why our experiences shape our beliefs. The narrower our experiences are, the narrower our beliefs will be. If we are not able to communicate right, first we should expose our experience; no one will buy our beliefs. If we need to understand someone better, we should have had similar experiences that have created their beliefs or we should be exposed to their experiences by suspending our judgements.