Failure by Psych-Out

Yesterday I went to a climbing gym with my co-workers for our summer staff party.  It’s been at least five years since the last time I tried rock climbing, and over a decade since the last time I actually climbed a rockface.

The experience was interesting.  On the one hand, the venue is great, and the staff were awesome.  My co-workers were all super supportive, and in no way did I feel like I didn’t belong because of other people.  I did, however, felt like I didn’t belong because I’m a 325lbs mass of meat that doesn’t have the greatest cardiovascular system and a nervous suspicion of gravity.

I made two attempts to climb a fairly easy 5.5 wall.  The first attempt, I chickened out about a quarter of the way up.  A little while later, I made a second attempt and got around 80% of the way up before I stopped, thought about things, and promptly started climbing back down.  In other words, I psyched myself out before I reached the top.

I was really bummed out about it afterward, because I knew that if I pushed through the mental barrier and went up the last 5-10 feet, I could have made it.  Instead, I saw that I still had a bit to go and felt that I didn’t trust the auto-belay device to support my weight, and the hand-holds near the top would have been tricky to climb back down on.  So, instead I decided to turn back and climb down until I was a safe height up from the ground where I could let go and still not injure myself if the auto-belay device didn’t arrest me.

It’s really stupid to let myself succumb to this kind of thinking.  I know that the equipment is safe, and I know that I won’t injure myself if I slip.  Nevertheless, I let my fear get the best of me, and I turned back before the end.

We can’t win them all.  I’ll try to do better next time.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

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The Animated Bibliography

*Update: I’ve added bullet points to the bottom since the time of original publication.  New points are identified as “New.”

I’ve made references to the concept of the “animated bibliography” in a few recent instagram posts.  I first started conceiving of the idea when I wrote a short self-reflective critique of my habit of reading self-help books.

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-/16 The Achievement Habit by Bernard Roth. The concept of design thinking and Stanford's "D School" has been on my radar for a few months. The book was listed in an article I read so I checked it out. Given what I've read over the last year, it's pretty par for the course. It was refreshing that it wasn't an animated bibliography of research like other books I've read in the genre. Instead, it is written with a lot of anecdotes from the author's life as a mechanical engineer and professor, which I found quite enjoyable and a nice change. To be honest, the thing I was more excited about was that I listened to this for free on the #Libby app using my @kitchenerlibrary membership. While I like my Audible subscription, I love my library more and am glad they offer this for audiobooks. #books #reading #selfimprovement #books #nonfiction #productivity #habits #learning #audiobook

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I doubt I’m the first person to notice this trend in publishing, and I’m not entirely confident that this is a new trend at all.  The more likely explanation is that this is something that has gone on for a while and I’m just too stuck in reading the same books listed on every “must read” list to see the broader context.  Were I to read books that were published earlier than the last decade, perhaps I would see that book have always used this strategy to convey information.

Nevertheless, it would be fun to take on a bit of a research project to see whether this trend has proliferated from a certain point in time, who the early adopters were, and how quickly it’s accelerating.

For the moment, here are my early observations:

  • The animated bibliography is a style of nonfiction where the author uses a micro expression of some authority to explain or contextualize some broader universal “truth.”
  • The authority is either scientific studies or biographical case studies.  Biographical case studies are not always literal examples, but can also be mythical or metaphorical examples.
  • The material is rarely discussed from the negative; that is, the material is presented as a causal relationship to explain a phenomenon, but less commonly are counter-examples, counterfactuals, or false-positives discussed.
  • The author is usually repackaging the work of someone else, rather than the original author of the micro expression.  For example, there is a difference between Daniel Kahneman writing a book reflecting on behavioural economics and his original studies, and someone invoking a study published by Daniel Kahneman to explain an phenomenon.  The animated bibliography would be the latter, but not the former.  The animated bibliography is a presentation of the things the author has learned.
  • The animated bibliography has parallels to how research papers are written at the undergraduate level.
  • The animated bibliography can be thought of as a narrative stitched together.  A series of vignettes (chapters) that bring stories together under a broader meta-narrative that provides a unified theory.
  • The animated bibliography is a method of delivering nonfiction, but it is not necessarily meant to be a moral lesson.  It is protreptic in aim – it attempts to be explanatory, if not educative.
  • The animated bibliography typically falls under a few key genres of nonfiction: business, productivity, leadership, personal development or self-improvement.
  • In isolation, the animated bibliography is merely a geneology of ideas, but taken as a genre it becomes self-referential.  The same studies and case studies start popping up over and over.  These, in turn, get meta-referenced by popular authors who write about them.  For instance, a reference could take the form of a book referencing another author’s book about a series of published studies.
  • Hypothesis: this phenomenon (if it is a new phenomenon) is an emergence from the overlapping worlds of start-ups and founder idolization, social media-fed ennui, high technology, scientism, and people’s inability to move from idea to action.  The books are proliferated as instructionals and how-to’s to solve a behavioural problems.  They paint an ideal way forward, but the fact that they keep getting published, and that a market still exists, means that no one book can actually be held up as the definitive voice.  The plurality exists because they singly do not provide broad answers.
  • The market creates a series of urtexts that spawn and inspire secondary and tertiary levels of reference.
  • *New* The author takes on an authoritative tone in the books, but uses the references to others as the source of their authority.
  • *New* Rarely is the book the result of a lengthy period of research or work in the field as a practitioner.  Instead, the book is the product of some period of immersion or research in the topic at hand (e.g. the author spent a year working on the topic and is writing a book about it).

I’ve deliberately kept things vague in terms of which authors and books I have in mind when I make the observations above.  Perhaps in time, I’ll have more courage and name names of those I find to be the biggest offenders of the genre.  For now, though, I choose to remain silent.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

 

Honesty and Trust

The weekend after the last wedding experience I wrote about, I was fortunate to attend a second wedding.  Much like my last post on the topic, I want to reflect a bit on something the officiant said during the ceremony.

Warning: philosophical thoughts ahead!

Midway through the service, the officiant was offering some words of advice and wisdom for the couple.  He was discussing values that make for a strong, lasting relationship, and he commented that honesty is an important value to hold.  However, he speculated that beyond honesty, trust is something worth considering as a higher value.

His message was a little tongue in cheek, alluding to the impossible questions a partner is faced with, such as “does this make me look x,” but he also meant it in a more sincere way.  He was driving home the idea that the partnership can’t rely on honesty and transparency alone, but it also requires both partners to recognize the union of their lives, and that they must trust their partner in the journey.

While I won’t say I fully endorse the idea that trust must always be placed above honesty, it nevertheless gave me food for thought.  I mulled over what trust means to me in a relationship, and whether you can have deserved trust paired with deliberate dishonesty.  I donned my philosopher’s cap and thought about it.

For instance, (hearkening back to Kantian ethics), should we always tell the truth?  Certainly, I’d prefer to live in a world where I’m never (maliciously) deceived, but I can imagine cases where deception can be useful.  If my partner deceives me in order to seek to surprise me in a way that would bring me pleasure, then I think that kind of dishonesty can be permissible (Christmas and surprise birthday parties hinge on this being permissible).  Setting aside considerations about the differences between deception and omission, so long as the deception is for the benefit of the deceived, and that revealing  the nature of the deception results in increased happiness, then I think in most instances this can be thought of as a good thing.  On the other hand, deception that is used to maximize the pleasure of one person while building harm at the expense of the other person (especially if the deception is revealed) is likely to be uniformly wrong in all cases.  Feel free to check my thinking in the comments down below.

The implication I realized during the ceremony is that it is possible to knowingly be deceived by your partner and be fine with it if you trust your partner explicitly.  That is to say, if my partner chooses to be dishonest with me (or, to a lesser degree, if my partner is not fully transparent with me), and I suspect them to be as much, then the only instance where I would be fine with this is if fully trust my partner.

This is not to say that I think this gives license to one’s partner to be deliberately deceitful if a full trusting relationship is present.  I still believe that honesty and transparency ought to be the norm in a relationship; that the relationship is built upon its foundation.

But, if my partner judges that deceiving me is in my best interest (however temporary that might be) and it is indeed in my best interest, then full trust is the only way that it could be managed.  Of course, there would need to be some sort of resolution to the deception.  I don’t think a state of perpetual deception or ignorance is possible while being in a person’s best overall interest – the two run contrary in my mind.

Then, if it is the case that the thought of my partner deceiving me causes me discomfort or some other negative associative feeling, then it cannot be said that I fully trust them (or, that honesty and transparency are not things I care about – but how would a relationship work in that case…?).  A breach of trust and a breach of honesty would both transgress the relationship.

It’s an odd sort of thought experiment to run, especially during a wedding.  I had a lot of fun at that wedding, and I’m glad to have gotten some interesting philosophical thoughts to mull over while I celebrated more friends starting a new chapter in their lives.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

Locus of Control – I Re-Assembled the Elliptical!

While I have recently joined a new gym in our new city after the move, I have used it once as of writing.  I have yet to work out a schedule that allows me to easily pick up the habit of exercising.  This is, of course, a terrible excuse to not exercise.

Exercising at the gym will either be something I do before work, or something done after work.  Each of these options have complications that provide just enough friction that implementing them is stopped by my slothful lizard brain.

In order to exercise at the gym before work, I’d have to wake up earlier.  This is hard for me for a few reasons:

  • Because I work at the bar a few nights per week, my sleep schedule is variable, so keeping a consistent bed and wake-up time is challenging.
  • I’m a heavy sleeper, so finding a way to wake me up without disturbing my partner is difficult.
  • I’ve developed a habit of snoozing when my alarm goes off.
  • Being late to work is bad, so if I’m late to get to the gym, it throws things off for me.
  • I’m lazy.

In order to exercise at the gym after work, I have a few barriers that I’d need to overcome.  Ideally, I’d go straight from work, but:

  • On days when the dog is at daycare, I’m usually the only one who can pick him up before they close since my work is closer.
  • On days when the dog is at home, I need to go home first to take him out to relieve himself.
  • Because I’m the first one home, it makes more sense for me to start dinner.
  • I have the habit that once my “pants come off,” or if I sit on the couch, it’s hard for me to get up and go again.
  • Exercising after work is challenging if I’m tired from work.
  • I wouldn’t be able to workout on days after work when I also work at the bar or have board meetings (mornings are more likely to be clear of other scheduled activities).
  • I value spending time with my significant other over going to the gym.

These are all excuses.  They are in no way real impediments to going to the gym.  Instead, they provide just enough friction to stop me from making a change.

Another option would be for me to workout at home.  Until recently, we’ve been limited in what we could unpack while the renovations were ongoing.  However, now that the renos are done, we are in a position to reclaim more space in the basement.  The disassembled elliptical was buried behind boxes of stuff, and there was little extra floor space that could be used to set up the machine.

Last week, I decided that I wanted to finally set up the elliptical so that I had no excuses for skipping some form of exercise.  I wanted to take back some locus of control for my fitness.  Everything listed above is coded in language that suggests I have no control over my situation.  There’s always a reason outside of myself that prevents me from committing to exercise – “if only things were different, I’d exercise.”

But this is wrong.

In truth, there is nothing stopping me from exercising.  I’m making excuses on why I’m not modifying my behaviour.  Instead of whining and whinging about why I can’t exercise, I need to address the nagging feeling that I am drifting about in my day to day life.  I don’t feel in control of things, but this is false.  I tend to react, without intention.  I act as if I don’t have an active agency in how I spend my time.  By not making decisions about how to fix my behaviour, I’m still making a decision – only now I’m pretending to be a victim of circumstance and pushing off ownership of that decision to do nothing.

And so, last week I decided to take back some locus of control and re-assemble the elliptical and go for a run.  This is not a behaviour change, but merely a first step.  (Or several steps according to my FitBit…)

Now, I must be responsible for continuing to take those steps.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Within the Sound of My Voice

I attended a wedding this weekend, and have been reflecting on the service.  Specifically, I reflected on the nature of ritual and custom.  I often find that I take certain things for granted that are ubiquitous (and therefore, mundane).  Photography can sometimes feel cheapened because technology removes  the need to conserve resources like film in order to capture perfect moments.  DJ-played music fades into the background because the setlist is nearly endless.  And, thanks to social media, it would seem that everyone in my age bracket is getting married – my awareness of the intimate details of people’s lives blurs time together into a calendar of weekends punctuated with staged, curated pictures.

But this weekend felt different.  Maybe it’s because it’s my first wedding of the summer.  Maybe it’s because I’m preparing for my own wedding.  Or maybe because I’ve been more mindful lately of meaning in my life.  For whatever reason, the wedding this weekend felt special.  I didn’t concern myself with taking photos to post online (though, I did post one during the night).  I allowed myself to be fully present in the day and to pay attention to the details that infuse weddings with meaning.

There was something the officiant said  that has been playing out in my mind – “and let those know, within the sound of my voice…”  His voice was amplified for the benefit of those in attendance, but something about that sentiment stuck with me.  The wedding was a community of loved ones who came out in support of the couple.  It was a serious and sincere declaration of commitment, and a sharing of values.  We bore witness to a promise, and in doing so added weight to it.  It was not just a promise they made to each other, but it’s a promise made real by our attendance, within the sound of the minister’s voice.

While at the outset, I suggested that technology can cheapen moments like this, but I reflected on how technology intersected with this promise.  There is the obvious case where the officiant’s voice was amplified, so in principle his voice could reach more people.  But during the ceremony, there was another kind of amplification happening.  The bride had family in the UK who were unable to attend.  Rather than missing out, cellphones were used to stream the ceremony live to family abroad.  It widened the community by being inclusive.  More people were captured within the sound of his voice.

Technology wasn’t used to mediate the experience, but rather to amplify it.  The promise of love and commitment was strengthened because it allowed for more people to experience it in a meaningful way.

It may sound painfully obvious to people more mindful than I, but I saw the wedding in a different light.  We weren’t giving a gift because it’s expected.  We were sharing so that the couple could start their new life together on the right foot.  They weren’t just feeding us food because it was expected – they were sharing so that we could join them in celebration.  We didn’t put on dress clothes because it was expected – we put on our best so that we could signal that this moment was special.  And after dinner, the music wasn’t being played because that’s just what you do.  There was more meaning behind it.  The music and dancing was a way of expressing the joy within, taking the joy and putting it out in the world.

This weekend was the first time I appreciated that weddings aren’t something “you just do.”  Everything has a reason.  Everything is purposeful.  Everything is designed for one objective: to acknowledge a promise of commitment for two people and strengthen its resolve.  I had a chance to share in that moment and I was glad I could be included within the sound of the minister’s voice.

Congratulations to the lovely couple.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

The Joy of Unboxing

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This weekend, I finally unpacked all of our boxes of books.  We were having some people over and thought it would be good to ensure the entire main floor was settled, which meant hauling all the books up from the basement and setting the office up.  I didn’t have the foresight to count them, but I estimate there were 20-30 big boxes of books that have been tucked away since the move last month.

Even before the move, we had boxed up a few bookcases in order to stage the house for sale, so some books have been in boxes and storage for almost three months.  As you can see, we have a lot of books – the natural result of the union of an English major and a Philosophy major.

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Humorously, when I started unpacking, I noticed several extra copies of Harry Potter books floating around.  After collecting them together in one spot and sorting them, I discovered a lot of duplicates.  We had *five* copies of the last two books in the series alone!

One side benefit I noticed in unpacking my books is that seeing the shelves full was making me happier as I went along.  When I started packing the books up a few months back, I noticed that not having my library on hand was affecting me.  I wouldn’t say it made me sad, but not seeing the books while in the office brought the mood down a bit.  It’s a hard feeling to articulate.  On the one hand, I don’t use the books everyday, so it didn’t impact my day-to-day life.  However, having my life and possessions stored away in boxes brought my mood down a bit, and I’ve been feeling it all through the moving experience.  Now that we are unpacking and setting up a new life in the new house, I’ve found myself feeling more optimistic, and my outlook feels a little brighter.

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Now that the books are all out, the only thing left is to start arranging them on the shelves and pick a theme for sorting.  It’s the little things that make me happy.

Stay Awesome,

~Ryan

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Honest Gym Update

Earlier in July, I joined a new gym.  It had been some time since I went to a gym, and indeed I had cancelled my last gym membership due to not attending in months.  I researched some of my local options, and I settled on a non-chain gym to join.

My first workout was July 5th.  The gym has 24-hour access for members, and I wanted to blow off some steam, so I went out to run on the elliptical and do some light weight lifting.

All in all, I like the gym so far.  The layout is different than what I’m used to, but I like the aesthetic and vibe.  You have a decent mix of people using it, from muscle-heads to grandmas, and everyone seems welcome.

However, since July 5th I have not been back to the gym.  Despite wanting to get back into the routine of exercising, I have yet to make any progress towards forming a new habit of going to the gym.

Granted, things have been hectic as we dealt with the fallout from the move, the renovations, wedding planning, etc.  Still, this is not a good excuse and I should be doing better.

I figured this accountability post would be a good thing to share, because it’s going to take some work before I change my behaviour.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan