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The hungry hummingbird

What would happen if we scaled up a hummingbird to human size? This is one thought, “A 2013 University of Toronto study concluded that if hummingbirds were the size of an average human, they’d need to drink more than one 12-ounce can of soda for every minute they’re hovering, because they burn sugar so fast.”

Yoga time

I’ve been practicing yoga three times a week for a few months.

Because you only have time to do a certain amount things, yoga has begun to shoulder out my practice of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

After about five years of BJJ I’d accumulated some minor but nagging ailments and I thought yoga might help.

It has helped but so has cutting out the BJJ. Some of the nagging ailments are probably age related, it’s definitely a young person’s activity. For me, the intensity of BJJ was ok, the problems came from the volume. Basically wrestling as hard as possible three time a week caught up with me.

How do shrinks think?

I’m curious about why people sometimes behave the way they do. Combine a psychologist and an MD and you’ve got a good start at figuring out people’s behaviors. But what insights into the human condition do shrinks have? And what enables them to help people who’re suffering from different forms of mental anguish? Do they know something most of us non-mental health folks aren’t tuned into?

Dereck Sivers jotted down some observations of psychiatrist G. Livingston as Sivers read Livingston’s book. These observations were gleaned over his life as a therapist. I’ve paraphrased and listed some of his ideas but in no special order.

I don’t have a clear idea of what people need to do to make themselves better. I am, however, able to sit with them while they figure it out. My job is to hold them to the task, point out connections I think I see between past and present, wonder about underlying motives.

The vast majority of your life’s results come from small behaviors, repeated thousands of times over the decades. Sure, habits are notoriously hard to change and some of us are compulsively self-destructive. But knowing is much more powerful than not knowing.

A staggering proportion of human activity is motivated by the desire to feel safe and secure.

Nothing outside your own mind can properly be described as negative or positive at all. What actually causes suffering are the beliefs you hold about those things. If your map doesn’t agree with the terrain, then the map is wrong, but It’s difficult to remove an idea with logic that wasn’t put there by logic.

There’re few solutions to life’s problems, only trade-offs.

The three components of happiness are: something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to. Get plenty of psychological sunshine. Circulate in new groups. Discover new and stimulating things to do.

Most people know what is good for them and what will make them feel better: exercise, hobbies, time with those they care about. They don’t avoid these things because of ignorance of their value, but because they’re no longer “motivated” to do them. They’re waiting until they feel better. Frequently, it’s a long wait.

Only bad things happen quickly. All the happiness-producing processes in our lives take time, usually a long time: learning new things, changing old behaviors, building satisfying relationships, raising children. This is why patience and determination are among life’s primary virtues.

We are responsible for most of what happens to us.

In judging other people, pay attention to how they behave – not to what they promise. Past behavior is the most reliable predictor of future behavior.

The statute of limitations has expired on most of our childhood traumas. Memory is not an accurate transcription of past experience. Rather it’s a story we tell ourselves about the past, full of distortions, wishful thinking, and unfulfilled dreams.

My favorite therapeutic question is “What’s next?” which bypasses the self-pity implied in clinging to past traumas.

Any relationship is under the control of the person who cares the least.

Life’s two most important questions are “Why?” and “Why not?” The trick is knowing which one to ask.

When confronted with a suicidal person I seldom try to talk them out of it. Instead I ask them to examine what it is that has so far dissuaded them from killing themselves. People in despair are intensely self-absorbed. Suicide is the ultimate expression of this preoccupation with self.

When people fall in love, no justification for their attachment is necessary. When people fall out of love, the demands for an explanation are insistent: What happened? Who’s at fault? Why couldn’t you work it out? “We didn’t love each other anymore” is not, in most cases, a sufficient response.

Nobody likes to be told what to do.

It’s possible to live without criticizing and directing everyone around us. I ask people in conflict to withhold that criticism to see if this changes the atmosphere. It’s amazing how radical this suggestion seems.

Awfulizing is the idea that any relaxation in standards or vigilance is the first step toward failure, degradation, and the collapse of civilization as we know it.

The ability to laugh is the most therapeutic.

Our feelings (anger, shame, delight) appear almost instantly, and, left alone, they don’t last very long. But inventing a narrative around an event or a person keeps the feeling going for a very long time.” If you’re not happy with the feeling, try dropping the narrative. It’s your narrative, the story you have to keep telling yourself again and again, that’s causing the feeling to return.

Parents have a limited ability to shape their children’s behavior, except for the worse. Our primary task as parents is to convey to our kids a sense of the world as an imperfect place in which it is possible, nevertheless, to be happy. Do this by example. Demonstrate qualities of commitment, determination, and optimism.

Parents can try to teach the values and behaviors that they’ve found to be important, but it’s the way we live as adults that conveys the real message to our kids about what we believe in. Whether they choose to integrate these values into their own lives is up to them. Kids have a keen nose for hypocrisy.

Behavior that’s reinforced will continue; behavior that’s not will extinguish.

Children raised in homes where parental control is severe turn out to have a poor set of internalized limits because they have experienced only rigid external rules. Conversely, in families where there are few constraints children do not have a way to learn those guidelines necessary to live comfortably with others.

“What can I do to make sure this kid turns out well?” Not much, but maybe cutting down on the fights and not trying to control your child’s every decision might help.

Enjoy life even as we are surrounded by evidence of its brevity and potential for disaster. Mental health is a function of choice. The more choices we are able to exercise, the happier we are likely to be.

Forgiveness is not something we do for others; it is a gift to ourselves.

If every misfortune can be blamed on someone else, we’re relieved of the difficult task of examining our own contributory behavior or just accepting the reality that life is full of adversity. Most of all, by placing responsibility outside ourselves we miss out on the healing knowledge that what happens to us is not nearly as important as the attitude we adopt in response.

The intruding guitar

Here’s the thing, you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.

I’m practicing the guitar and slowly getting better but I’m slowly blogging less frequently.

When I started learning the guitar last year I began practicing a little bit every day, so something had to make room for that practice time. That thing has been my blogging. My blog is a place where I can make notes to myself which means that not blogging as much doesn’t really impact anyone else.

Bananas

You need the right key to open a lock, and can’t be sure you have the right one unless you can try the key in the lock. So psychiatrists usually won’t make a diagnosis from afar. But sometimes a person’s behavior is unusual and problematic enough that a professional feels compelled to say something. Earlier this month, two prestigious psychiatrists sent this opinion piece into the NYT:

 ‘Protect Us From This Dangerous President,’ 2 Psychiatrists Say
March 8, 2017

To the Editor:

Soon after the election, one of us raised concerns about Donald Trump’s fitness for office, based on the alarming symptoms of mental instability he had shown during his campaign. Since then, this concern has grown. Even within the space of a few weeks, the demands of the presidency have magnified his erratic patterns of behavior.

In particular, we are struck by his repeated failure to distinguish between reality and fantasy, and his outbursts of rage when his fantasies are contradicted. Without any demonstrable evidence, he repeatedly resorts to paranoid claims of conspiracy.

Most recently, in response to suggestions of contact between his campaign and agents of the Russian government, he has issued tirades against the press as an “enemy of the people” and accusations without proof that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, engaged in partisan surveillance against him.

We are in no way offering a psychiatric diagnosis, which would be unwise to attempt from a distance. Nevertheless, as psychiatrists we feel obliged to express our alarm. We fear that when faced with a crisis, President Trump will lack the judgment to respond rationally.

The military powers entrusted to him endanger us all. We urge our elected representatives to take the necessary steps to protect us from this dangerous president.

JUDITH L. HERMAN
ROBERT JAY LIFTON, NEW YORK

Dr. Herman is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Lifton is a lecturer in psychiatry at Columbia University and professor emeritus at CUNY.

I’ve often wondered how mental health professionals evaluate their patients and arrive at the treatment options for them. What is taught in four years of residency, for example, that gives that young person deep insights into the mental state of another person? It seems like a short time to get (some) people tuned into what’s happening at a profound level in someone else. Anyway, in general that training is recognized as effective and these two high level practitioners sound very concerned about President Trump’s inner world and its possible negative effects on the rest of us.

Bike lanes and dispensaries

An elderly friend visiting Mexico from Colorado told me that whenever he goes to a party now people from all walks of life seem to use cannabis responsibly and without concern.

Were people not smoking pot, at least in public,  before Colorado’s legalization? Did they think it was bad because it was illegal, or maybe it was illegal because it was bad? Maybe they didn’t want to lie about doing something illegal or engage in the blackmarket to buy pot. Whatever the reasons, apparently more people smoke pot than owned up to it before it became legal.

Consider this, in the 1960’s Copenhagen was as car centric as any other city. Decisions were made a few decades ago to create a vast network of safe, segregated bike lanes criss-crossing the city encouraging people to use their bicycles. Looking at Copenhagen today, you’ll see a constant flow of healthy happy people heading from A to B by bicycle.

If we build safe, reliable and connected infrastructure more cyclists will appear. Likewise, if we enact laws creating a safe and legal situation for adults to use cannabis, more people will likely use cannabis responsibly.

Adams on Trump

getting-itScott Adams is the author of the comic strip “Dilbert.” A year ago Adams gave Trump a 98% chance of winning the presidency when experts were at 2%. His prediction was based on the persuasion filter, Adams considers Trump to be a “master persuader” based on Adams’ longtime interest in the art of persuasion and hypnosis.

I voted for Hillary and was as surprised as most people that Trump won. I’m pretty sure Adams didn’t vote for Trump either. But he has an interesting take on why Trump won and what will be different about Trump after he assumes the presidency. Here’s my edited version of a recent Scott Adams blogpost:

We live under a consistent illusion that facts and logic guide our decisions. They don’t.

I mean that in the limited sense of decision-making. If you make the wrong decision, the facts can kill you. That’s not in debate. I’m talking about the process of arriving at a decision.

The exception is when there’s no emotional dimension to a decision. For example, if a mechanic says it’ll cost you $1,000 to fix your car, and you can see no other option that makes sense, the facts and logic guided your decision to approve the repairs. But emotion-free decisions are unusual. You rarely see emotion-free decisions when it comes to politics, relationships, or even your career.

A Master Persuader – and anyone trained in hypnosis or persuasion in general – knows that humans don’t use facts and reason to make important decisions. Most persuaders prefer sticking to the facts when possible, but that is mostly to avoid looking like idiots. They know that sticking to facts will not persuade.

Trump just takes things one step further. He doesn’t pretend the facts matter when they don’t. He does the things that matter and ignores the things that don’t.

He just has a better idea than the public and the media about what matters. For example…

The public thinks facts matter for decisions. They don’t.

The public thinks being “presidential” matters for getting elected. It didn’t.

The public thinks Trump should have studied the issues more deeply. And he will, as needed. But he didn’t need detailed policy knowledge to get elected (evidently).

The experts said Trump needed more ground game. He didn’t.

I hope you see the pattern already. Trump ignores the things that don’t matter – even to the point of looking the fool – and pays deep attention to what DOES matter.

When Trump was running for election, facts and reasons and policy details didn’t matter to the outcome. He knew that. I knew that. Every trained persuader knew it. But the general public did not, and that’s the realization that is beginning to dawn on the world.

Once in office, facts and reason do matter more. Trump is moving from the job of talking about issues to the job of doing something about them. In his new role, he will pay attention to details and facts and reason as much as humanly possible, with the help of advisors. You already see this transformation happening as Trump moderates his positions on waterboarding, prosecuting Clinton, and even climate change.

If you have not studied persuasion it makes perfect sense to be in a panic about a Trump presidency. You see a pattern of irrational-looking behavior from Trump during the election and you assume the trend will continue into the presidency. But if you understand the tools of persuasion you see a Master Persuader ignoring what doesn’t matter and paying close attention to what does, for the benefit of the country. That is literally the safest situation I can imagine.

As president, facts do matter. Reason matters. Logic matters. But persuasion does too – and it is still hugely important to the job of being president. Don’t expect Trump to embrace any facts that are not important to “making America great again.” But I do think you can expect facts to influence Trump when they do matter.

If you are worried how a President Trump will address climate change, here’s what to expect. You can expect him to dissect the topic in terms of the facts that matter and the ones that don’t. You can expect him to eventually agree with scientists who say human activity is contributing to climate change. But when it comes to the prediction models, and America’s ability to fix the problem at a reasonable cost, expect him to be more skeptical than the general public.

That isn’t crazy. Complicated models that try to predict the future rarely succeed.

I don’t believe human brains evolved to understand reality at an objective level. The best we can do is pick filters that do a good job of predicting what’s ahead. The Persuasion Filter predicted Trump’s win when most other models did not. Now I use the same filter to predict that Trump will turn from totally ignoring facts (because facts don’t matter to elections) to embracing the facts that do matter to the country.

Are audiobooks cheating?

images-1The short answer is no.

A 1985 study found listening comprehension correlated strongly with reading comprehension.

From the perspective of the mental processes involved, there’s no real difference between listening to a book and reading it.

Some people feel that listening to a book is cheating because the listener got the reward without putting in the work. Also, maybe you’re missing out on something, or it’s not that the reading experience could be better for you.

The feeling is that you’re somehow cheating because you’ve avoided the difficult part, using your eyes, implying that to your brain, listening is less “work” than reading.

That is the case when you’re young. But it stops being true somewhere around the fifth grade. Listen on.

It’s already great

prayerThere’re always people telling us how crappy our lives are. Are you pessimistic or optimistic? Life is actually getting better,safer, and more free in the big picture. What time in the past would you like to have lived in (as a regular person)?

Be careful, don’t choose a time period with a strong chance of killing you. There are some not so great times in the past that you could find yourself in.

Consider this period from a long time ago. “Around 72,000 B.C., a volcanic super-eruption with the force of 1.5 million Hiroshima-size bombs occurred in Indonesia. A six inch layer of volcanic ash settled over Asia, there were traces of ash as far as East Africa, the homeland of humans. Skies darkened and global temperatures fell, creating a ‘long night’ lasting for many years. DNA testing indicates that the human population dropped to between 3,000 and 10,000 people.”

Pretty grim. But some people made it through that bottleneck and all 7 billion people today are descended from that tiny group of survivors. Eventually we discovered agriculture, leading to a life that generally wasn’t great for common folk.

“In the year 1820, life expectancy less than 35 years, 94% of the global population lived in extreme poverty, and less than 20% of the population was literate.”

After the industrial age got under way, followed by the information age, things began to get better for common folk, at least from a 30,000 foot perspective.

“Now human life expectancy is over 70 years, less that 10% of the global population lives in extreme poverty and over 80% of people are literate.”

The strongest force enabling human progress has been the fast pace of and  broad reach of technology.

Surprise is the key element of creativity and entrepreneurship defying every econometric model and socialist scheme. Creativity can’t be planned. Most entrepreneurs, from Sam Walton to Elon Musk, didn’t get to the top of a hierarchy. They created something new. Progress comes from the creative minority. And that’s growing.

Economic potential never drops because knowledge always rises. Technology (knowledge embedded in machines) gets better because we invest in research and development and never replace a good machine with an inferior one. Plus the abilities of the average worker keeps rising because average educational and training levels continue to rise.

The trend is that things get better. It’s already pretty great and if history is any indication of the future, it’s just going to get greater. At least in the big picture first and then for the common man.