Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Say "NO!" to perfectionism

I’ve always been envious of productive people—people who accomplish things and make things, even if blighted by imperfections. I’ve often wondered why some people are able to get more done than others. I mean, why are some people the producers and some people simply the spectators? A lot of people I know that produce things, whether it be a novel, a business, soap, books, music, jewelry, clothing etc are not the perfectionist types. Many of these individuals are willing to humbly deal with their mistakes and move on with new attempts.

 You get less done when you’re a perfectionist. You procrastinate and decide not to do things because they aren’t “great” or the degree of “great” that you had in mind. This is self-sabotaging behavior. Please remember, you have only one life, your time is already short. If you are privileged to live to be old—70’s, 80’s, 90’s, the chances of you being able to fully use your brain and body are low. The time to think, create and produce is now. The time to devote yourself to your interests is now.

 In 2009 when I was taking a Psychology 101 class my Psychology professor discussed something that I will never forget. She said, “There are a lot of students out there who purposely won’t study for tests and quizzes because if they do end up doing poorly on a test or quiz, they are able to then psychologically reassure themselves, “Well, I didn’t study for the test/quiz anyways”. By doing this they don’t feel as badly about their test results than had they studied and then done poorly or mediocre on the test. She went on to say how this was a perfectionist mind-set and how self-sabotaging it is. In other words, it is sometimes more psychologically reassuring not to try (produce/create etc), then to try and experience failure. Even if you do study hard and then do poorly or mediocre—yes—if can be a sharp blow to one’s self-esteem more than if you didn’t study at all and did poorly or mediocre, but this isn’t what education is about. Education is about retention of information over the long-haul and being able to apply it somewhere else in life or translate it to some other subject. Studying might not yield an excellent or even mediocre test score but the chances of you storing some of that knowledge in your memory bank to utilize in the future is much greater than had you not studied at all.

 We all do this from time to time. We give up doing things because we aren’t anywhere near the best. We see others who are far, far better than we are so we think, “Why bother? I’ll just be a spectator. I’d rather not try at all than potentially endure criticism (or low test scores).” This behavior is much easier and you definitely endure less criticism, but can you ever experience your potential? What about all the opportunities that emerge as you study, learn and improve? When you consider the brevity of your own life and the highly improbable natural sequence of events that brought you into existence, shouldn’t you try? You might develop something lasting or bring an idea into the world never thought before----- and the harsh criticisms of your adversaries will one day be as dust.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Just because a person feels strongly about a certain belief (or any belief system) doesn't mean we should simply decide "Okay, I'm not going to question that belief. That belief must be true for them." If the person's belief is ultimately true, it is going to be true for me too---so I better understand that belief, I better think about that belief and ask questions about it. I need to make an informed decision about it (granted, there will always be a need to learn continually about said subject as I will never possesses all knowledge of it). The person who jumps in and says "Don't make waves, you're going to hurt someone's feelings....you're stirring up hate, you're being divisive" isn't helping. In the end, someone is going to be hurt, because reality doesn't entertain all possibilities.

Every time I hear someone proclaim with absolute confidence that "God answered my prayer", I always think about the average 36 thousand CHILDREN who die each day of hunger on our planet. Either you have to question the priorities of your deity, or you have to push this question aside because it makes you feel uncomfortable (or you make up a very complicated theological explanation for why this happens and why your friend sitting in his air-conditioned office just got a promotion and a raise).

There are inequalities. These are present not because of the "sinful nature" that plagues all of humanity (not because there is a God who elects some and dismisses others)---but because of WHERE you were born, your parent's socioeconomic status, the economic and political status of the country you were born into, the climate and crop growing conditions of your country, whether you have easy access to a relatively clean and plentiful water supply (waterborne illnesses and malaria cause untold numbers of death each year), your I.Q. and the job opportunities you have later in life...etc etc etc. There are physical explanations for why there are inequalities on planet earth. We don’t need to consider mysterious supernatural explanations when we can barely exhaust the list of available physical explanations to these conditions.

Now that we know the answers to our world’s problems are physical and not supernatural, we know that the solutions will also be physical. There are answers, we just have to keep on looking—but they will always be physical.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Disorganized brains.....better or worse?

Thoughts today were inspired by reading Steven Johnson’s book
“Where Good Ideas Come From”

Would you say that your brain is more often disorganized than not…or, does it proceed from one thought to the next in a methodical, organized, planned and sequential order?

What is your instant response to the above question? Be honest here. You at least have a rough grasp of how your thinking process unfurls. Now, hold onto that answer.

Turns out, the neural networks in our brains go though oscillation cycles. One of these is the phase-lock state and this occurs when the neurons in our brain fire in a synchronized fashion. In the phase-lock mode, the brain “executes an established plan or habit” and thoughts proceed in a sequential, orderly fashion. The brain also goes through cycles of what is called chaos or noise; this is where the neurons fire out of sync.

Robert Thatcher is a brain scientist at the University of South Florida and wanted to see if there was any correlation between I.Q. and the oscillation cycles of phase-lock and noise in brains. He did a study on dozens of children and found that some of the Children had longer periods of noise and other children had a tendency to remain longer in the phase-lock state.

When Thatcher compared the brain-wave results with the Children’s I.Q. scores, a direct correlation emerged. What he found was that the longer the child’s brain remained in the noise or chaos state, the higher the I.Q. The children who spent a longer time in the phase-lock state actually had comparatively lower I.Q scores.

Researchers are beginning to see that the more disorganized your brain is, the smarter you are. The longer your brain is able to reside in the disorganized mode, the more able it is to combine different ideas, to make novel associations, to learn new things from disparate data, to strategize on how to respond to a changed situation etc; this process occurs less often in the more organized brain state. Smarter brains simply remain in the chaos phase slightly longer than average or dull brains. Now this is fascinating (and counterintuitive too, as Johnson notes) and I LOVE counterintuitive!!! One would think that a more methodical thought processing would result in better, more robust and accurate thoughts.

My humble, (potentially faulty) assessment of this conundrum: It would seem that in a disorganized/chaotic brain state, the brain would have greater access to a wider, more diverse pool of thoughts zipping about. Thus, the probability of fusing one thought to another and discovering a potentially new, useful concept or innovation would be more likely.