psychology

There are an unfortunane number of people prone to thinking that they are in on something that everyone else is blind to. You’ve met these people; they’re usually quick to tell you what they know and, more importantly, what you don’t. They will immediately trust the word of anyone aligned with their beliefs, but refute every qualification held by anyone with a differing view. The problem with people who are suceptible to this is that, aided by a little fear, they can be convinced of nearly anything—and some falsehoods, once believed too deeply, can be perpetual.

A vulnerable person desperate for status and meaning will clutch onto the closest belief which makes them feel intelligent and in control. For some, that results in turning to faith. Religion offers the vulnerable a socially acceptable way to become ‘enlighened’: believe, and you get to join the we know something you don’t club. In this way, religion is a kind of conspiracy; it binds tightly those who believe and arms them with infallible premises to dispute with those who don’t. Religions, like all organised conspiracies, generate a cognitive bias which cannot be challenged by the logical standards of truth.

“Science adjusts it views based on what’s observed. Belief is the denial of observation, so that faith can be preserved.”

Tim Minchin

Conspiracy is attractive to vulnerable people because it arms them with an illusionary safety net: they are the ones who see and understand, and those who don’t are wrong by default. They never have to risk the embarrasment of being found out or losing an argument; your disbelief of their premise makes you wrong by default. The visciousness of this thinking is that it self perpetuates; feeling like you’re ‘right’ all the time feels good. So good, that just talking about the conspiracy can become its own form of self-gratification.

The sad result is that these people become insufferable to those who don’t share their delusions. The deeper one falls into conspiratorial thinking (which was meant to increase their status and likability by making them feel wise and in control), the further they isolate themselves from anyone outside of their conspiratorial bubble. For some, this works just fine. There are plenty of people who live entire, happy lives within two degrees of separation from someone who attends their church or mosque. But, in times of doubt, it may prove more difficult for those tricked into believing that malevolant reptillian humanoids walk among us to find meaningful engagement and community.

To return to reality, a conspiratorial thinker would have to accept the observations of the experts they have learned to distrust and denounce. If they wished to reclaim their place in the logical world, they would first have to admit to themselves that the ‘special knowledge’ at the root of their illusion of superiority was a lie; that they have been tricked, deceived and likely exploited by people and sources they have grown to love and trust; that the world might not be out to get them in the ways they feel it is; and that much of the fear they have been publicly projecting might actually reside within.

The problem with illusionary knowledge is that it leads to illusionary superiority. The problem with illusionary superiority is that it isolates you from those not under the spell of your brand of conspiracy; and the problem with that isolation is that, in order to give it up, you have to revoke the comfortable, infallible power you’ve grown dependant on weilding.

Tragically, this is often too painful. Its easier to believe that you’re a misunderstood genius than a delusional fool. Instead, they stay stuck in their unpopable bubbles of delusion, frustrated at the world for not understanding.

Never waste your time arguing with someone who has learned to believe in the things which make them feel good, instead of the things which they can prove. Facts won’t persuade someone to give up superiority which is grounded in illusion. Their knowledge and, in fact, their entire conception truth is not governed by logic or reason—their knowledge is governed by their insecurities.

Intelligent people love being wrong; every time it happens, they get wiser. It’s the foolish who can’t bear it; their fragile egos deny their ability to grow.

Robert Sterberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence suggests that intelligence exists across a spectrum which involves three distinct forms: analytical intelligence, practical intelligence and creative intelligence.

Analytical intelligence is what we typically associate with ‘smart’ people. It’s book smarts. Specifically, it’s the ability to understand, recall and develop ideas which aid in problem solving and decision making.

Practical intelligence is all about how we interact with our environment. How to we change ourselves to suit it, and how to we change our environment to suit us? Practically intelligent people are excellent lifestyle designers.

Finally, creative intelligence is about extending beyond analytical ideas and into the generation of ideas which react effectively to new situations. People with high creative intelligence are those who are comfortable developing new approaches to problems which may not always align with conventional thinking.

Each of these forms are multiplied by one another. If we excel in one but are deficient in another, our overall intelligence still suffers.

If we’re honest with ourselves, can we spot our weakest link?

How much could we be benefit from focussing on improving it?

There’s a lot of research which suggests that we can foster any one of these forms with a bit of dedicated practice.

If that’s important to you, find your weak spot and begin building a habit.

Don’t wait.

Start now.

In his worthwhile book, The Hapiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt argues that the advantage optomists have over pessimists naturally compounds.

It’s true that the world is structured such that the rich tend to get richer as the poor get poorer, but it’s also true that the happy are likely to grow further happier than the sad.

When it comes to dealing with circumstances which are making them unhappy, “optimists expect their efforts to pay off, [so] they go right to work fixing the problem.”

Even when things fail, they have an inherent understanding that things tend to work out for the best.

When things go wrong, optimists naturally seek out the potential benefits buried within misfortune.

The narrative optimists write for themselves then, is one of constantly overcoming adversity.

Pessimists, on the other hand, live in a world with more apparent risk and less confidence to deal with it.

From the pessimist perspective it’s natural to feel trapped within a narrative wrought with hopelessness; one where bearing the consequences of injust circumstances seems more natural than attempting to change them.

Optimists and pessimists can be dealt the exact same adversity and each write opposing translations.

What’s frightening is that the way each retells the events in their own internal narrative has ripple effects on the remainder of their narrative.

Optimists are more likely to grow from adversity because they can antipate rewards for their efforts.

Pessimists are more likely to be enslaved by adversity because they spend more time managing their pain than resolving their adversity.

This doesn’t mean pessimists can’t grow from adversity. It just means they find it more difficult to do so on average.

“The key to growth is not optimism per se, it is the sense making which optimists find easy.”

Optimist, pessimist or anything inbetween, find a way to make sense of adversity. Come to terms with it. Relish it. Grow.

The first time a toddler attempts to lie is a huge psychological landmark.

While it might seem counter intuitive to be proud of a kid covered in crumbs while they’re promising they didn’t raid the cookie jar, it’s actually one of the first indicators that they have developed theory of mind.

This is the point at which a child realises that their thoughts, emotions, beliefs, intentions and perspectives are seperate from those of other people.

Almost unimaginably, this is not our default mode.

It doesn’t occur to a young child to lie, because their natural state is to assume that you already know what they know.

When a young child gets worked up over something seemingly trivial, it’s often because they don’t yet understand that the wants and needs of others can conflict with their own.

When there is a dissonance between what they are experiencing and what others are doing, they can’t process it. The result, as all parents will know, is an intense experience of pain and grief.

We begin our lives assuming that humankind shares a singular, unified consciousness and every experience we have from then on slowly proves us otherwise.

So slowly in fact, that even some adults default back to this mode when the views of others don’t align with their own.

When their cognitive expectations aren’t met, when the perspectives of others stray too far from their own beliefs and desires, it becomes too much to process. The resistance they feel gives way to tantrum in the same way a toddler spits out its dummy when nobody’s paying it enough attention.

Long story short, I’m trying to put on a little bit of useful weight. Skip to the bottom for the delicious recepie I’m using to jam breakfast back into my mornings.

Unfortunately, I’m not bulking up just for the hell of it. In order to continue being competitive in higher level jiu-jitsu competitions, I need to be stronger than I am.

As it turns out, this is harder do than I thought. First of all, getting strong hurts. A lot. Which doesn’t make training jiu-jitsu any easier either.

In spite of the pain, I’ve just started the Stronglifts 5×5 workout program. A number of muscly people I trust have reccomended it as a good starting point for building the type of strength required for jiu-jitsu.

The program consists of two alternating body weight workouts, each comprised of compound free weight exercises with the intent of progressive overload.

If that was gibberish to you (like it was to me a few weeks ago), what this means is that the program has you switch between two workouts which don’t involve any machines or special equiptment. You show up, lift free weights and progressively add a tiny bit more weight each session until you can no longer complete 5 reps at a given weight in an exercise.

Avoiding machines at the gym and focussing on free weights means there is a whole lot more balance and posture involved in the lifts. Because Each exercise activates (and agitates) a big portion of your body, so you have to focus on keeping your whole body activated throughout each lift, and need to focus on less total exercises to get results.

I’ve never been one to get motivated by superficial physical incentives. Muscles are nice, but if I were desperate for them I would have started going to the gym a long time ago.

I’m going to the gym primarily to hone the tools I take to war on the mats.

But what I’ve found out is that in order for all that work to mean anything on the mats, I need to pay a lot of attention to what I eat while I’m off them.

If I want to gain muscle mass, I need to be consuming roughly 4000 more kilojules than I’m used to eating every day and a large portion of that needs to be protein. At my current size, I’m simply not putting in enough food to offset all the energy I expend exercising. Which is a good problem to have. But still…

As someone mostly disinterested in the prospect of breakfast most mornings, this was a troublesome fact to uncover.

However, I think I’ve stumbled across something which is going to solve my problem; peanut butter protein shakes.

Luke’s Peanut Butter Protein Shake

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2 scoops vanilla flavoured protein powder (whey or plant based)
  • 1 banana
  • 2 table spoons 100% peanut butter
  • 1 table spoon chia seeds
  • 1 table spoon honey
  • 1 date
  • 3/4 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2 cups milk of choice

The best thing about this recepie is that you can prepare it ahead of time.

Just put everything except the milk into a container or zip lock bag and pop it in the freezer. When you’re ready to have it, empty the contents of a container into your blender, add your milk and blitz away!

I’ve prepared a batch of these in advance, and am now looking forward to each morning when I get to slurp down a meal which feels like a treat, even though it’s a necessity.

The other day I genuinely heard an adult human complain after someone mentioned that blueberries were only $2 a punnet. This person felt hard done by because they had paid $5 only a month or two ago. They seemed honestly upset by this $3 differential. For the purposes of this post, I’ll call them Bob.

There’s a couple of interesting things to unpack here.

Firstly, Bob’s frustration didn’t spring from the initial $5 price tag on the blueberries he purchased. In fact, at the time, he was quite happy to pay the money.

Bob only became upset once he realised someone else had been offered a better deal, and felt like he’d been treated unfairly; the Blueberry gods had shafted him, and he wasn’t having a bar of it.

The reason this all seems silly is that of course, Bob hadn’t been treated unfairly at all. The availability of blueberries, like most fruits and vegetables, changes throughout the year. At times when they are less abundant, prices go up. It’s sad that mass supermarket availability has shrouded this commonly understood natural fact, but here we are.

What I find interesting about this whole thing is that while it’s not grounded in any truth, Bob still experienced the same frustration he would have if he had been mistreated. The emotions he went through were based purely on the perception that he had somehow been maligned.

This frustration was only possible because Bob had preconceived assumptions about blueberries, supermarkets, supply and demand. These assumptions informed expectations which did not align with his experience.

By nature, all expectations involve the risk of emotional pain.

It’s easy to laugh at Bob for not understanding that fruit costs different amounts at different times. But before you do, ask yourself; when was the last time you became upset or frustrated because someone didn’t go as I expected it to? When was the last time you experienced road rage despite not being put into any immediate danger? How often are you frustrated when a USB doesn’t go in on the first attempt?

These reactions are as useless as Bob’s being upset by cheap blueberries.

When we experience resistant cognitive dissonance over things which do not threaten the safety or security of our lives, the unpleasant experience of those feelings is by our own design.

Dilute your expectations of the world. It’ll never make as much sense as we’d like it to. And even when it does, you might find yourself sulking over $2 blueberries you have no reason to. Worst of all, you might not even realise that you’re being a fool.

We have a cognitive bias towards the things we were involved in making.

We place more value on an $80 table we had to build ourselves than we do one that we purchased whole.

This psychologial phenomenon is what IKEA’s empire is built upon.

It’s why premade cake mixes didn’t sell until the company who invented them started making people mix in their own eggs.

It’s why some community theatre groups feel like they’re owed Tony awards.

And why parents have been building ugly teddies with their kids at Build-A-Bear workshops for over 20 years.

We care more about things we’ve had a hand in producing because when we invest our time and energy into something, we earn a sense of ownership over it.

Your IKEA furniture is yours in a way which goes beyond the fact you paid for it.

It’s yours because you dedicated a small part of yourself to it, and you enjoyed the process.

Imagine that your life were a table.

Would you want someone else to build it for you; eliminating all creative choice?

Maybe you’d like a box full of resources and directions to get you started? And maybe you feel great putting it together. Maybe design is fine… but it’s not your design.

Perhaps you go even further. You take the risk and carve it yourself, knowing full-well that there’ll be bumps to smooth out along the way.

I know which I choose.

“Become the best in the world at what you do. Keep redefining what you do until this is true.”

Naval Ravikant

In both art and business, we are usually defined by those we can be likened to.

We’re lumped into genres or styles, niches and roles.

When competing for success, we are often assigned a category.

Maybe you were proactive enough to assign yourself the category which best defines you.

This is great news, on one condition;

That you’re the best in class.

If you’re going to allow yourself to be defined by a category, ensure that you’re the best fish in the pond.

When in doubt, dig your own pond.

Don’t be a slightly-above-average animal photographer when you can be the world’s best Quokka photographer.

(Photo: Natalie Su)

Never call yourself a ‘pretty good’ sales assistant when you could be the best speckled beanie salesperson in the state.

Why would you be a writer with a blog when you could be the only young West Australian writer with a BJJ blue belt who publishes original work daily?

(If there’s another one, someone let me know, I’d love to meet them.)

You do you.

I only ask that you do us all a favour and do it brilliantly.

“How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable.”

Seth Godin

We associate the quantity of choice a person has available to them with the amount of freedom that person possess.

Freedom is good. Therefore, we assume that choice must also be good – and to an extent, it is. However, there’s a turning point at which our freedom to choose from a growing list of options no longer increases our level of happiness. In fact, over saturation of choice can actually diminish our happiness.

In the early 2000s, a scientist name Barry Schwartz popularised this idea with a challenge western society’s obsession with generating freedom through an ever increasing number of options.

Image result for paradox of choice schwartz

After conducting multiple studies, he wrote a book called The Paradox of Choice which argued that while abundance of choice provides some short term satisfaction in the moment (and keeps us coming back for more), the more options a person has available to them, the less likely they are to be satisfied with the result of their choice.

To demonstrate, imagine that you have to choose between two restaurants. You have no way to look at the menus, but you know that the first restaurant features a menu with four main courses, while the second has sixteen main courses on theirs.

Which restaurant are you more likely to try?

Statistically, you’d probably go with the second, and there’s a lot of sense in this; if there’s four times as many main dishes at the second restaurant, there’s a better chance that they’ll have a meal perfectly suited to your taste.

At first glance, it makes logical sense to give yourself as many options as possible. We are hardwired not to limit ourselves, even when it comes to something as basic as dinner.

But when we take a closer look, Schwartz’s paradox of choice comes into play.

He discovered that in circumstances where people had to decide between an outlet with more choice versus an outlet with less, it was true that those who opted for more choice, the ones who went to the second restaurant and scoured over the ingredients in all sixteen dishes before finally making a decision, reported being more satisfied with their choice than those who limited their options and made a quick dinner selection. But only by a tiny margin.

What’s fascinating is that while the group who went to the first restaurant didn’t think about the choice again, when asked about their decision after the fact (once the meal was over) those who went to the second restaurant started to second guess the choice they made. Their satisfaction, despite being mildy higher at the time of consumption, took a hit once they started to consider all the options they opted not to choose.

As our options increase, so do our expectations that we’ll be able find the perfect option.

The more options we have to forgo when making a choice, the higher the possibility that we’ll make the wrong one.

More choice does not equate to more happiness because choice itself is a double edged sword.

When we are constantly saturated with choice, it’s not uncommon to experience choice paralysis. A sensation which often results in no choice being made at all.

While sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, we have a lot more control over the choices we present ourselves with than we feel like we do.

Do your best to find a balance.

Are you a writer?

How would you know?

Writers tend to write, right?

But how often, who for and how well?

This line of questioning is ambiguously annoying for a reason; there are no hard and fast metrics which dictate what a writer is or isn’t.

If you write anything at all, you have a case to state.

Whether or not you’re a writer depends entirely on whether or not you think you’re a writer.

The same goes for dancers, photographers, fighters, models, philosophers and nearly everything in between.

You become a writer (and cease being an ‘aspiring-writer’) the second you decide to mold your definition of what a writer is to include yourself.

I believe you should do this with everything you’re passionate about.

The ‘aspiring’ part of ‘aspiring writer’ is a safety net. It shields your work from scrutiny and justify mistakes.

Unfortunately, the shield perpetuates itself.

There’s not much use in considering yourself an ‘aspiring’ anything. Making mistakes and processing critique are both essential to growth.

‘Aspiring’ implies that the goal is to get good enough to shed the preface. It implies a destination which is an absolutely arbitrary definition.

It’s better to be a bad writer than an aspiring one.

Nobody is going to respect your work or hold it to a professional standard until you do so yourself.

Being bad at stuff is great. The worse you are, the more you have to learn.

Those who identify as ‘aspiring’ tend to be the most fearful of failure.

Become petrified enough of failing, and you might just scare yourself out of ever getting the practice you need to reach your destination.

Stop aspiring, start doing.

Find what you love.

Show up.

Do the work.

Embrace the failure.

Grow.