Not Taking the Easy Way on This One

So I was looking at something on Engadget.com on the relative activity of links on the Internet over time. Based on where the content was housed, links got most of their activity within a certain, very small, window of time. Most links reached their activity zenith within half an hour to half a day. Solid evidence that you should update your blog more often than I do if you want traffic.

At the bottom of the post was a video that had gone viral, receiving over 35 million hits on youtube. I watched the first half and then skipped ahead to see if something actually changed before the end. I was not rewarded. I recommend the first minute to get a sense of the whole thing, so you know what I’m talking about.

You may be saying that I’ve just wasted your time. In essence, yes I have, but I did so for a reason. It would be too easy to say that this video is a complete and stupid waste of time and leave it at that. The question is why it’s a waste of time, and why have over 35 million people wasted their time watching it.

Why it’s a waste of time seems easy. You’ve not gained anything by spending the time. You’re not smarter. You’re no closer to reaching your professional goals, and the laundry’s not any closer to being done. Some might argue that the whole experience has made you dumber, but I can’t agree with that. It’s not like I made you watch Jersey Shore, which has been shown to cause you harm. Some others might argue for the palate cleansing benefits.

The question I’m trying to ask you here is “Is there an objective standard for what is a waste of time?” What’s your definition? Or would telling me be a waste of time?

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The Fishbowl Metaphor

For the past year or so, I’ve been working on a visual metaphor of what goes on in a person’s head that will explain why people get things done or don’t. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far: a fishbowl.

Let’s start this metaphor by saying that the bowl is your head, psychologically speaking. In this bowl, filled with water, are objects. These objects are things to do. Things you have to do, want to do, could do, should do, with a fox, in a box, etc… In sum anything you think of doing is represented by an object in this bowl.

Swedish Fish, gummi bears and gummi worms

Just need some whale butter, now.

Doing your taxes would be one thing, eating a sandwich another. What isn’t represented in the bowl are things you would not or could not think of doing. For example, rubbing whale milk butter mixed with Gummi Bears on the bottom of your feet while singing La Vida Loca is, I hope, something you’ve never thought of doing.

These objects have a certain level of buoyancy. Some float right up to the top as if they were inflatable pool toys, others drop like rocks, and many float right in the middle. Buoyancy is affected by two things. Actually more, but we’ll start here. The first thing is urgency. Extreme hunger makes the eating objects rise. I say objects, because there are objects for eating pizza, squash, ravioli, etc… Each of those is it’s own object. They all rise, because hunger makes us much less picky about what we eat.

The second thing that affects buoyancy is the complexity of what the object represents. Scratching your ear would be a light object. Getting a Master’s degree would be much heavier, because it is made up of many other objects. Pick off one of those objects, and that new object is smaller. Finding out about Master’s degree programs is a much smaller task/object.

Buoyancy is important because of what the top of the fishbowl represents. The top is the space in your mind where you choose what to do next. We constantly reassess what we are doing based on what is in this space. We choose one of the options available and only from that available list. If an object is not up there, we can’t choose it. If you can’t think of a thing to do, you can’t do it.

Here then, is one of the first differences between being productive or unproductive. Productive people have the options in front of them, so that they can make the decision to do the productive thing. If you walk by your basket of dirty laundry and don’t even notice, because you are thinking of something else, you can’t make the decision of whether or not to do the laundry.

How does knowing this help you if your laundry is of the invisible type? Remember, the point is to be able to make the decision to do the productive thing. The top of the bowl is where your options are, so you need to either widen the top of the bowl, so that more things can rise to the top, or you need to bring more productive things to the top, so they can crowd out the less productive things.

The former option is accomplished through mindfulness. It is always easier to make the right decision about what to do with your time when you are aware that you are making that decision. Often we abdicate our responsibility by blaming the situation. When we decide to continue watching a TV show merely because it hasn’t ended even when we aren’t enjoying it or have something dramatically more important to do, we are saying that we don’t have a choice, so we stop thinking about the choice, and the top of the bowl disappears.

The latter option is about controlling your environment to direct your attention

dirty laundry

Assuming you can find a basket under all this.

to more productive tasks. Putting the laundry on top of the TV remote forces you to make the choice between watching Jersey Shore and heading to the washing machine. One makes you less dirty, and one makes you more so. You know which is which. A to-do list is another good example. It forces you to consider many productive options at the same time, crowding the top of the bowl with things you’ll feel better about choosing.

So there’s my productivity metaphor in a nutshell. Coming up, but maybe not next time, I’ll talk about how you can further use this metaphor to help your productivity without too much effort on your part. This is the Lazy Porcupine after all. Feel free to recommend this to your friends, neighbors, and postal carriers. Until next time.

The Whole Point…:Part 4

The Carrot over the Stick

I can't stop paying attention to this man's ears. Image by CarbonNYC via Flickr

So, after not paying any attention to my blog for the last few weeks, I’m back to post about something very important.  Attention.

Attend your ideal.

We’ve already covered the personalization of goals and how you need to have in your mind the picture of your best self that you want to actualize.  If you haven’t read the first three parts, you may want to start with Part 1.

But now we need to get to the gas that’s going to drive that car down the road.  Of course if you haven’t gotten the right direction or the right driver, you might just take it right off a cliff, so that your ideal part is pretty important to start with.

Everybody knows what attention is, but nobody pays attention to it.  The main reason for that is that people assume that they are really good at paying attention.  We assume we will remember everything we will need to pay attention to at just the right time, but that really just isn’t the case. In fact, our attention is dangerously weak in certain cases, as is evidenced by the need for cell phone use while driving laws. You may disagree with the need for these laws, but the research indubitably shows that the effects of talking on the phone while driving are nearly as bad as driving drunk. On the other hand.

A sign along Bellaire Boulevard in Southside P...

Get distracted trying to read this sign, not by talking on the phone.

But I don’t really want to talk about how bad our attention is, rather I want to talk about how good we are at paying attention to certain things. For example, you would find it very easy to pay attention to me if I stood in front of you and yelled in your face to pay attention to me. You would also find it very easy to pay attention to your feelings of hunger if you hadn’t eaten in two days. These two are examples of external and internal triggers for attention. (I’m simplifying quite a bit here, as people who have taken at least an introductory Sensation and Perception class would know.)

External triggers include things like shiny, moving, distinctive, or loud objects like…Snooki. Internal triggers involve need states such as hunger, uncomfortable temperatures, lust, or poopy in the pants like…no, I won’t go there. Internal triggers can also include cognitions or thoughts. If I’m thinking about cars, that may trigger me to remember that I need to get my oil changed.

So we have our personalized ideal state, as we talked about in the first part of this particular series. How do we focus our attention on that? We do that by using internal and external triggers to constantly bring us back to that ideal through planning and execution.

Planning makes use of internal triggers. When we plan, we focus on the ideal, what it means, looks like, feels like, and is. When we plan, we are making decisions for the future, so when we are in that future, we have an easier time choosing the productive, valued option.

Execution is the external realization and implementation of the plan. Execution is calendars and to-do lists, which are directly controlled external triggers. “Do this now, do this later, do this when near a phone, and do this the next time you are at a computer.”

The point of this series has been to say that success is actually quite simple. One hard part is avoiding what Drew Rozell calls “The Big Lie,” (yes, he even capitalizes it), which is the idea that you should be what everyone else should be to be happy. Another hard part is moving in that direction once you know what that direction is. More on that later.

While you’re moving, feel free to comment on this post or any others here or on my new blog with Neuropsychologist Ed Schicatano, TwoPsychologistsWalkIntoABlog.com.

The Whole Point in a 3-Word Sentence: Part 3

Venn diagram ABCD RGB

Image via Wikipedia

Part two of this series kept me up late finishing it.  As a result I had it in my mind when I went to bed, and I ended up having an interesting dream about it.  In it, I was a psychic detective who was trying to determine the connection all of these people had to making it rain.  What I realized in the dream was that if I collapsed all of the places it rained (everyone lived in a different place), it rained every day.  What this dream made me…understand?/realize? about the ideal self concept is that each of these different selves is responsible for behavior at different times, and if we collapse our behavior across these selves, we get who we are in total.  Of utmost importance, then, is that we know which of our selves is driving the car and when.   So, on to the next installment…

Attend your ideal.

It’s easy for me to say that you need to personalize your ideal self and your goals.  That’s kind of a throwaway statement, like “do your best.”  It doesn’t tell you where to go from here or how truly important it is to your productivity to know yourself as well as you possibly can.  I’ll keep coming back to this topic in the future, but for now I’ll mention two different areas that you really need to focus on.

First, you need to get an accurate picture of your strengths and weaknesses.  To do this, you need to do more than just sit on your butt and think about it.  What you need to do is sit on your butt and go to Marty Seligman’s website.  Marty, if I may call him that, is one of the biggest names in the field of Positive Psychology and has put his Strengths test online at the remarkably low price of free.  From personal experience, I can tell you it’s remarkably accurate.  My profile ranked modesty and humility very low.  Uncanny.

In addition to strengths, you can get a measure of your optimism, happiness, grit (perseverence), and some relationship stuff as well.  Yes, that is the scientific term.

The reason you need to know your strengths and weaknesses is that, while it is important to know what you should be doing, it’s more important to know what you should not be doing.  There are a few things, maybe a good number, that you are good at, while there are an almost infinite number of things that you are not.  It’s important to know to what you should be saying no, because sometimes it’s not easy to tell.  An economics example will make it all clear.  Ha ha, I  used economics and clear in the same sentence.

This is an example I read once, don’t remember where, and am too lazy to track down.  Oh, all right!  Give me a minute…nope.  Let’s consider Alan Greenspan and Britney Spears.  Let’s say Alan can produce 150 points of economic shepherd goodness and 100 of singing goodness, and Britney can produce 50 for economics and 80 for singing.  By these measures, Alan can sing better than Britney, which may be true for all I know.

Pop singer Britney Spears gained her second U....

Not the best economist in the world

But just because Alan can sing better than Britney, doesn’t mean that he should have stopped being Chairman of the Federal Reserve.  He should have stopped that, because he was bad at it.  If they both do what they are best at, it creates 230 productivity units.  If they switch jobs, they create only 150, although we are robbed of a likely humorous and ironic version of “Ooops, I did it again,” from the man who helped give us the housing bubble.

When we consider just ourselves, we have individual strengths competing with each other.  We need to let the strongest one win, and we need to stay away from the weaker ones.  It doesn’t make sense to work on those weaknesses, because that just takes time away from using your strengths.

The second area you need to consider is what motivates you. Human beings are motivated by some very similar things at the most basic level of our needs. None of us wants to be hungry. None of us wants to not have shelter when the weather is bad. What makes us animals is that we make efforts to address these needs. What makes us human individuals is how we address them, and what needs we have beyond them.
There have been several “higher” needs described in the field of psychology.  Need for achievement, need for affiliation, and need for power are among the more popular ones, and they’ve been studied quite a bit.  If you’d like to take tests to measure yourself on these go right ahead.  I’m sure you can find them online.

There is, however, a shortcut for learning what your needs are.  That shortcut is to figure out what motivates you.  If what gets you off the couch is a chance to be with you friends, you likely have a need for affiliation.  If someone tells you aren’t allowed to do something and that makes you want to do it even more, you are probably high in need for power.

The biggest advantage in knowing what motivates you, what needs you need to fill, is that you can use it as a carrot or a stick to complete the tasks that don’t motivate you.  Not everyone is motivated to finish school assignments for the purpose of a good grade, or approval from friends, or recognition from their teachers.  Some people are motivated to action to be able to be around people, some are motivated to escape.  Use who you are to become what you want to be.

So two down and one word to go.  This next one is a biggie too.  Attention is the very thing that creates our world.  Our senses take in everything, but it is attention that decides what we notice.  This may be more than one post.

Good luck, feel free to comment, and make sure you sign up for my RSS feed to be notified when my next bon mots arrive.

The Whole Point part 4

The Whole Point in a 3-Word Sentence: Part 2

Attend your ideal.

As I said in part one, the most important aspects of successful productivity can be encapsulated in one, three-word sentence.  “Attend your ideal.”  This time I’ll be starting with the last word, ideal, because it’s better to know where you are going before you start the trip.

The concept of the ideal self comes from the work of E. Troy Higgins in his hot and steamy, at least to psychologists, Self-Discrepancy: A Theory Relating Self and Affect.  Higgins, when not siccing his Dobermans on Magnum, built a theory for how we view ourselves.  We have an idea of whom we actually are, whom we believe others think we are, whom we think we should be, and, among others, whom we want to be.  We have an ideal self that is the person we want to be more than anything else.

Mug shot of Craig, 2007

Image via Wikipedia

When there is conflict between the different selves, that is when we have a problem.  If whom we know ourselves to be is different from whom. we think others want us to be, a la Larry Craig, one of those selves has to win out.  Usually, the actual self wins out, because the pressure to be whom you are is always with you.  You are always there to remind you of whom you are.  The other people in your life are not.  Which brings us to the self that we want to win this little contest, the ideal self.

Now you may be saying, “but wait.  Don’t we want to accept ourselves and be whom we are and have our actual self win the psychological cage match going on in our skulls?”  To which I say, “no.”  Although I would hasten to add, “maybe.”

Some people are happy with themselves, their lives, their jobs, how much they make, who their friends are, and whom they are.  Those people have actual and ideal selves that overlap to a greater degree than most.  The question for you becomes, “to what degree do your actual and ideal selves overlap?”  It is the non-overlapped part of your ideal self that you want to focus on, because that is whom you want to be that you aren’t.

The best way to illustrate why it is important to focus on the ideal self is to give you an example.  I want to be a professional writer.  Currently, my actual self does not believe that I am a writer.  My ideal self is that I am.  Writers write.  If I focus on my ideal self I will write…which I obviously am right now.  If I focus on my actual self I will be eating chips and salsa.  My actual self seems to be hungry.

Another way to look at the ideal self is to consider it the personal manifestation of all of your goals in every area of your life.  I want to write a book.  That goal’s manifestation in my ideal self is that I am a writer.  I want to lose 10 more pounds, and that is manifested in my ideal self as me weighing 165.

Which brings me to the point where I tell you what I told you.  To be someone else, you actually have to behave as that person you want to be.  You must find out what that person does and do those things.  If that person exercises three times a week you must exercise three times a week.  If that person is a web designer, you have to design websites.  You must tell yourself you are that person, and then keep telling yourself until you believe it.  You have to let your ideal become your actual.

Which brings me to the second word, “your.”  Next time I’ll talk about how to prevent your ought self from creeping in and sabotaging the process.  You know you should be moving toward your ideal self, but what is it?

The Whole Point part 3

The Whole Point in a 3-Word Sentence: Part 1

Is it possible to encapsulate all success advice into one sentence.  I think so.  In fact, I think that sentence needs to only be three words long.

Spotlight on

“Attend your ideal.”

I’ll assume you want more, so I’ll explain.

One of the main thrusts of this blog is that people already know, to a degree, how to be successfully productive.  Unless they have something out of the ordinary going on, people tend to actually do stuff all day.  This includes eating, sleeping, watching ‘Jersey Shore’, which only deserves single quotation marks, go places, complain about their bowels, etc…

People also tend to be very productive on certain of these goals.  I, myself, have not gone a day without eating, which is important as you know, for I don’t know how long.

There are an infinite number of things we can do with our time, however.  You could have stopped what you were doing and rubbed peanut butter in your hair, but you didn’t, partly because you didn’t think of doing that until I told you about that possibility, but also because you had no reason to do so.  In essence, you didn’t think of it, and you didn’t want to do it, and that is the key to it all and the key to my sentence.

In three upcoming posts, I will dissect what this sentence means one word at a time, starting with the last one first.  In these posts, I will discuss what I mean by it and how others have integrated the concepts into their own systems.  Stay tuned, sign yourself up to follow me, and keep existing.

The Whole Point Part 2

The Whole Point Part 3

The Whole Point Part 4