Go Forward with Geoff Fitchett
Expert Training and Consultancy services from a sales genius

big fish little fish

 

Do you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?  

The answer may depend on what you need out of life at the time when the question arises.  If you’d like to feel good about your status, bask in the glow of some admiration, win, be top dog, then the small pond is the place to be.  But if you want to grow, learn, develop, mature, you’re better off in the big pond.

Darn it!  That first list sounded so appealing but sadly it will hold you back.  Not everyone else, just you.  For anyone not as good as you – you little-pond-big-fish, you – they have someone to learn from (you), but what do you have?  Well, you do have something, but we’ll come back to that.

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Apart from the low-level glory of being the big fish in a small pond there is one other potential benefit, that being how it can propel you into the big pond. It’s a different route.  If you’re the best computer programmer in China (pop. 1,439,323,776) that might be a little different to being the best in Iceland (pop. 364,134), because statistically at least, there are 1,205 Chinese programmers at your level.  But… if there is some kind of international event where all the best programmers from around the world get to together, the specialist from Iceland might get the chance to attend whereas the handful of Chinese representatives is unlikely to include all of those lower down the programming ladder.  It’s like country singer Miranda Lambert says, “Everybody dies famous in a small town.”

By the way, it’s amusing that we have that figure for the Chinese population.  Assuming their census is 100% accurate, a 1% error would equal a difference of more than fourteen million people so it’s actually claiming to be 100.0000000% accurate.  Meanwhile there is an average of 36 births and 20 deaths every minute of every day in China so it’s a moving picture and if that number was ever accurate, it was certainly out of date within a second or so of being calculated.  

The first obvious learning point to consider then, is being amongst bigger fish will help you learn, because you are surrounded by people you can learn from.

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Human beings generally learn in spurts.  We get some more knowledge or skill and then spend some time plateauing and applying it.  After a while, we naturally acquire some more and then plateau again and we do this over and over.  Where do we get the learning?  Information is all around us so there’s never a shortage of sources, but if we focus on work for a moment, you’ll be attending training sessions of one sort or another, being sent information by your manager or your head office and you’ll have colleagues who know a bit more than you, or do things with a little more finesse and by being with them, you learn.

Watch and learn.  It’s more than a turn of phrase, it’s a process and the ingredients are:

An example from whom you can learn.  In academic circles we get used to reading about the masters of whatever discipline is occupying us, we would read what Shelley wrote, we can’t sit with him at his desk in Florence and eavesdrop his musings any more than we can get physics lessons from Isaac Newton at Cambridge University anymore.  Apparently he left some time ago and his answerphone makes no mention of a return date.  Now we collect their wisdom second-hand, by reading, watching video footage of more recent experts, listening to lecturers who pass on the master’s wisdom by performing the role of go-between.  We can also listen to audio books and throughout it all we can take notes, circle passage in books using highlighters in a bewildering a myriad of hues.  There are multiple sources of information and we just need to find the ways that suit us best.

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Curiosity or interest.  Or both.  You can learn things without paying attention.  There’s even some evidence to suggest people can learn while asleep, but the effects are a bit varied and the quantity of things ‘learned’ doesn’t really make it a prime channel of information-gathering – although I’m sure those people selling audio tapes of French dialogue buried in white noise to help you learn the language would disagree with me – but it stands to reason and there’s plenty of evidence to prove that being interested will help.  

This is why I have little patience with salespeople who do not know their product knowledge.  There are kids who know endless animal facts, some know all about cars, planes, dinosaurs or anything else that fascinates their amazing little minds, while people whose profession pays their bills sometimes come unstuck on basic information.  

Being interested in a topic helps you learn.  I mean properly interested, like if you were buying a car, you might end up knowing more about it than the salesperson selling it.  You might, and that salesperson is underdelivering, because he should still know more, it’s his product, his livelihood, “Oh forget it, if you can’t answer my questions send me a link to the website and I’ll talk to you about the money if and when that time comes.”  Because of that paradigm, many salespeople end up thinking the only thing the customer is interested in is the deal.  Why?  Because attempts to have conversations with the salesperson about heritage, values, qualities, design and development or small technological advancements often end up one-sided and the customer gives up asking.

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Abilities.  If you’re learning a physical skill your body and its history will play a big part here.  Many things can be acquired and developed, like dexterity, balance, speed, strength and flexibility, but there’s no doubt that the genetics you start with and how you’ve treated your body will be a factor in how far you can go – physically.  If you want play basketball, it helps to be tall and no amount of practicing tallness will really fix things.  If you want to run a marathon, you can, but to win one, you need a level of fitness that will be difficult to attain if you’ve damaged your lungs, or your heart, or your arteries, or if nature blessed you with Ronnie Corbett’s legs.  

The genetics we get given, but the rest is the result of the deals we strike with ourselves and our future when we live our chosen lifestyle.  

Choose typing instead of basketball and all you need are a number of fingers and thumbs, not even a full set and you can still get a good words-per-minute speed.  Want to fly a plane?  Go for it!  Douglas Bader re-learned after losing his legs.  Daniel Kish is blind but uses echo location in order to ride a bicycle.  He rides in traffic and turns street corners unaided by anything other than the clicking noise he makes with his tongue and his ability to interpret the sound as it bounces back to him from buildings and traffic.  Check him out on YouTube, it’s fascinating.  Helen Keller was blind and deaf but earned herself a Bachelor of Arts, became an author, a political activist and learned to talk so she could give lectures.  There are many more examples, and while they will always be a minority among billions, they are also proof that physical limitations need not be as limiting as that first reactive assessment suggests.  Sometimes it seems, people lack that little je ne sais quois to be something more than they already are.  And if someone with seemingly insurmountable barriers can do great things, what is your excuse? There but for me go I? (Quote #7).

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There are a few additional conditions which apply.  Age, weight, size, gender (because of its usual effects on size and weight, plus how male and female hips and shoulders are different), muscle mass and whether those muscles are ‘long’ or ‘short’, flexibility, strength and leverage, lung capacity, heart efficiency and other things we can certainly work on to change and improve, but which will be ultimately limited by how much we can do with what nature initially granted us.  

Then there are the mental aspects of physical skills like spatial intelligence which can affect our judgement about time and space (and therefore the speed of an approaching ball for instance), tenacity, resilience, courage and recovery rate.  Again, none fixed, but you soon recognise that what some people work for years to achieve, others seem to start with as a baseline.

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I like riding motorcycles and I like motorcycle racing as a sport.  A few decades ago, the limit to speed through a corner was adhesion.  The motorcycle leans and turns into the corner because the tyre grips and creates very high levels of friction while physical forces exerting on the mass of the bike try to push it straight on.  The more it leans the tighter (or faster) the motorcycle can corner but the greater level of friction is required to overcome the increasing shearing forces.  Lean too much (or go too fast) and friction is overcome by force and there’s a crash.  That’s no way to win a race.  But nor is going slower than the absolute maximum, because if you don’t find the limit, someone else will.  So, that particular ability to judge exactly how fast it is possible to corner without crashing would have been a key skill of a 1970s motorcycle racer and it would have more to do with feel through the seat of the pants than interpreting visual input.  There would be lots of other things too of course, including being brave enough to risk death or serious injury constantly and far more likely than for a car racing driver for instance.

Back in those former days of my favourite sport, for my heroes taking their machines to their limits lap after lap, finding that last degree of lean or that last mile per hour of speed meant risk and experimentation.  Consequently, among the hopefully infrequent crashes, every competitor had slides now and again, momentary losses of adhesion where a crash seemed imminent but somehow was avoided.  Luck maybe?  Not so much.  Lightning reactions to twitch their bodyweight and change the balance, lift the bike a degree or two, roll off a fraction of the power to put more weight on the stable front tyre and save the sliding rear, or a fraction more throttle to take weight off the sliding front and give it to the stable rear – intuitively rebalancing the bike.  Almost inevitably though, a rider saving a slide would lose forward momentum, so years ago slides cost racers places and wins.

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Then everything changed.  New tyre technology and the next generation of racers began to slide their bikes more.  Tyres no longer slid for a nanosecond then pitched the rider into the metal crash barriers, those days were mostly over, now they slid a bit, then a bit worse, then a bit worse, then…?  Who knows?  Maybe a bit worse or maybe you crashed having exceeded the limit of the slide.  Slides could still cost speed, but the fastest lap of a track now included almost constant sliding.  If the wheel isn’t spinning a bit out of a corner, you’re not giving it enough gas.  If the front wheel isn’t pawing the air while the bike is cranked over exiting the turn, again; you’re not giving it enough gas.  If the bike isn’t trying to backflip down the straight, with 260BHP powering 157kgs of machine and you controlling the wheelie with gentle pressure on the rear brake, guess what?  You’re not giving it enough gas (incidentally, that power to weight ratio is about 60% more than a Formula 1 car).  If the rear wheel isn’t lifting and wagging from side to side as you brake into the next bend, leaning in, front brake on hard until it starts to slide, rear landing and helping you steer, brakes off at the apex, gas on, rear sliding, front lifting and off you go again, well, you’re simply not braking hard enough.  The two wheels are almost never in line and rarely revolving at the same speed.  If the both wheels are on the tarmac it’s temporary and if one isn’t sliding, you’re going too slow and you will be passed.

Like anyone at the top of their game, winning races and championships, the best people have it down to a fine art.  I’ve been riding for 43 years and a handful of slides a lap are all I can cope with.  Meanwhile I help sponsor a fifteen-year-old female racer who after three years is already faster.  N-a-t-u-r-a-l- – -t-a-l-e-n-t.  It’s definitely a thing.  Learning to go faster? Also absolutely possible.

Just to close this loop, do the best racers know how to slide all the time like this without crashing?  Yes and no.  There’s still A LOT of crashing, but now they rely on protection from better riding gear and the bottomless budgets of their teams to fix and replace their damaged bikes.  In one weekend of racing, including practice and qualifying there can be a disturbing amount of crashes; 140 at Misano (Italy) a couple of seasons ago.  Even the best racers still crash.  British rider Cal Crutchlow finished 7th in a championship which included him personally crashing 26 times with repair bills ranging from €15,000 to €100,000 every time he fell off.

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Mental skills require only a brain and while younger ones are more ‘plastic’ and can develop areas for specific needs more readily, it’s something we can all do at any age, as long as our own brain remains healthy enough.

It’s an amazing bit of kit, ready to serve you, loyal to your commands, literal in its understanding of your wishes and working constantly to keep you alive and behaving in accordance with your deeper self-beliefs.  It’s those (largely sub-conscious) beliefs which help you continue to be good or bad at things like spelling, maths, remembering names and so much more.  So if someone says, “I’m a bit rubbish at spelling!” their mind will continue to support that contention and they are less likely to improve than if they say, “I’m getting a lot better at spelling.”  

Saying you are better is known as optimistic autosuggestion and its origins go back to the French psychologist and pharmacist Émile Coué and his “Tous les jours à tous points de vue je vais de mieux en mieux” (Every day in every way I am getting better and better).

A new belief, plus a wish or some desire, plus a process (which you get from the example from who you would learn a mental skill) and some practice and you can become good at the things you once thought you were bad at.

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Practice fires synapses and creates new pathways or opens-up pre-existing ones.  Consider adding up columns of numbers as an example.  If someone thinks they are bad at this kind of maths, they’ll find it hard, give up, make a few mistakes and discover they were right.  But working in a shop or bar a few decades ago would have forced them to keep at it, to go slow, check twice, memorise totals and gradually learn the relationships between numbers, how they take on patterns which repeat, how numbers are actually beautiful.  The jungle of synapses which before would fail to properly connect, slowly manage to do so, and pathways through the jungle become well-trodden trails, then roads, then great six-lane autobahns.  The synapses fire more readily when the pathway is frequently used.  You now know without hesitation that numbers ending in 6 and numbers ending in 7 make new numbers number ending in a 3, short-term storage of numbers improves and before you know it, adding up numbers becomes easy and with a shot of dopamine for a right answer, pleasurable too.  

Reading has to be learned but for you reading this, it’s difficult to remember what it was like before the jumble of letters took on recognisable shapes and started to make silent sounds in your head.  Now, with years of practice, the shapes on the page are understood and connected to the real-life thing they represent so quickly, the word chocolate (might be an Aero or a Flake!) can make your mouth water and that’s amazing.  It’s just a word!  It tastes of nothing.

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So imagine learning to read music (and my apologies to those who can do so because this example won’t be as useful for you), at first the crotchets and quavers are just more squiggles on a page, but eventually, you need to interpret sheet music – along with its words of instruction in Italian – instantly.  Only this way can you see entire sections and have your fingers automatically dance along keyboards, fretboards or any other part of your chosen instrument.  You get faster with repetition and practice.  Something alien becomes a permanent part of you.

This is where the idea practice makes perfect comes from and while it’s mostly true, it’s all too easy to draw a very incorrect inference from it.  People tend to assume that if they learn a thing and practice a lot, they won’t simply perfect that act, they will automatically be good at whatever the underlying skill is too, and that’s an entirely separate matter. 

You see, the phrase practice makes perfect is applied in circumstances where the practitioner could quite easily ignore the quality of the example from whom they are learning.  Because it’s possible to learn to do a thing badly, if you do just that and practice it, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll perfect the wrong way.  So it’s true, practice does make perfect, but what you’ve perfected is bad practice, not best practice!  To avoid misunderstandings the quote should be, Perfect Practice Makes Perfect Perfect and for that you need a good model to copy after.  The better the master, the better the lesson.  The better the student and the better the master and lesson the better the final outcome.

If what you want to learn has a demonstrable physical aspect, invest heavily in the input stage because it can be doubly hard to un-learn bad habits.

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Social skills are all those things we do with others, the engaging, listening, entertaining and informing, placating and hypnotising.  Learned and practiced through socialisation, but starting with the first hard-wired social skill we demonstrate as babies; building rapport.  This one allows us to fit right in with others around us, communicating that we are no threat, that we are not in competition, but rather that we are off their likeness.  We are alike.

Social skills are crucial and can be greatly enhanced or inhibited by aspects of a child’s formative years.  Later, we continue to develop via interactions with others through puberty and beyond but with a thousand obstacles and opportunities for humiliation, rejection, exclusion and schoolyard bullying, it is no wonder many reach adulthood having lost their infantile trust in others and eagerness to socialise in any and all settings.  Yet because these skills remain crucial for our adult lives, they are worth developing, perhaps for some; fixing and repairing, to get them to some sort of zenith. 

“People seldom improve….”  

Goldsmith is being suitably vague here.   You’ll note he’s not saying people never improve without a model to copy after, and I hope it stands to reason by now that if they copy the wrong model, they won’t improve either (might get worse!), so can people improve without a model?  

There are two opposing forces pulling at each other within us.  One is that we do have an inherent and underlying drive to succeed.  I say ‘we’ in the context of the displayed behaviour of most people most of the time.  So it’s entirely possible that Robinson Crusoe finding a trombone, but having never heard one nor seen one before, might still learn how to play it.  The experiment would get spoiled by its impurity – he has heard music and he will know some tunes and so these are the models he will apply to the unfamiliar instrument, but he might still manage to make it happen.  The other force is one which causes people to seek easier methods and which causes decay in many areas.  You can think of it as laziness if you like, but unless rigor is introduced, most people will do a little less and see what happens.  If the results are acceptable, they become the new norm.  Sadly, acceptable can mean not-as-good-as-last-time-but-it’ll-do and so without a compelling need to improve or a system of monitoring and measurement creating some sort of discipline, many people in many circumstances will let whatever it is gradually slide.

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Without some motivation or personal tenacity, the search for an easier life can equate to laziness and the skill decays.  You might not ever forget how to ride a bike, but without practice, other skills fall away.  Which skills haven’t you been practicing much these last few years?  Are there things you used to be good at but which you would now need time to polish up again?  It’s a common thing for most people but notice how it doesn’t fit, “Every day in every way I am getting better and better.”  In some ways we are allowing ourselves to gradually get worse.

There are two things to think about here.  One is that at some point you were improving and then slowed down, stopped or gave up entirely.  That happens.  The second is that without the activity, the skill can fall away, not vanish, just become less finessed.  So if you were reading this and thinking quite simply that practicing a skill creates improvement, you now need to add an element of maintaining it too.

Improving with a good model to copy after is such a shortcut, trying to do so without one, or with a poor model is plainly and dramatically inferior – don’t.  Unless you have no option.

Hang out with big fish as much as you can.

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Every athlete, team player, competitor, amateur or professional knows what it’s like to come up against super-talented opposition.  The likelihood is you get beaten by them, but that’s not the issue here.  It’s the common consequence of some small village cricket team playing a much, much better team and although they get severely beaten, two things are notable:  One is that the inferior team players all agree it was an amazing experience to play against the much better ones and the other is that they typically play much better than usual.  

They lost, but they played better than ever before.  They raised their game.  It’s not Hollywood so they didn’t beat the champions by one point/run/second/goal, but they miraculously played better than ever before and while also rubbing shoulders with such impressive talent, that felt great.

You see, the common experience here includes rapidly improving with one or more good models to copy after.  It can just happen.  This I found to my own advantage many years ago in that motorcycle racing phase.  Andy, a quick rider and my mentor at the time, took me to a circuit for practice ahead of a forthcoming event there.  While he lapped, I operated the stopwatch and recorded his times:  Quick and getting quicker.  While I lapped he did the same for me; not quick enough and not getting quicker.  “Try harder!” I did and went slower.  “Go faster!” I did not.  His turn next, a fraction faster until the limits of adhesion were overtaken by shear force and he crashed – ouch.  I ended the day with a lap-time that would put me midfield.  Not good enough, but I had no idea where to find the extra speed to knock off the two seconds a lap that would make all the difference.  I had tried hard and gone as fast as I could, all to no avail.

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That is until the event itself.  During the actual officially timed practice session, haring round with the other competitors in an attempt to get a good grid position, I lapped sufficiently quicker to shave off the extra couple of seconds.  Trying harder and thinking that I must go faster achieved nothing under those circumstances.  Following faster people was all that was needed.  That was news to both of us back then whereas in these more enlightened times, it’s simply obvious.

Modelling is the term used for closely copying another person’s behaviours in order to accelerate the process of improving at a discipline.  Johnny Weissmuller was born in Europe but swam for the United States in several Olympics.  He won five gold medals and fifty-two US national championships and set sixty-seven world records.  He was a faaaaaaast swimmer!  He’s often better known for playing Tarzan in twelve movies between 1932 and 1948 so if you’ve seen a black & white Tarzan movie, you’ve probably seen Johnny Weissmuller.

After Weissmuller’s five Olympic golds, Mark Spitz won nine between 1968 and 1972 and Michael Phelps won er… twenty-three between 2004 and 2016.  Twenty-three?  What’s going on?  I’ll tell you what’s going on; it’s modelling. 

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First, someone figured out that videoing a winner and closely watching his (or her) technique might be useful.  It turns out it was.  How about their training regime?  Yes, useful.  How about their diet?  Yes.  Sleep pattern?  Check.   Thoughts which focus the mind on victory prior to diving in at the crack of the starting pistol?  Absolutely check.  These days everything becomes part of the regime down to the last little detail.  To swim like Johnny Weissmuller, Mark Spitz or Michael Phelps, first start with the right basic body-building-blocks, then absolutely maximise its swimming potential through a micro-managed process of modelling success.  We’ve mechanized it and while it might take a little random romance out of entering the Olympics for the hell of it and because you did quite well at school sports day, it is the best way of exposing yourself to the risk if success.  

This modelling process is how you can still hang out with winners when they aren’t physically present.

In Quote 5, Von Clausewitz’s, “What genius does is the best rule and theory can do no better than explain why and how this ought to be the case,” I referred to those father-son F1 dynasties like Graham and Damon Hill.  It might be assumed that wealth and opportunity would make it possible for Damon to follow his father’s footsteps to world glory, but the bigger factor here is years of modelling.  Damon would learn to drive by modelling his father from the child seat in the back of the family car.  Posture, head carriage, breathing, attention, reaction and response to hazards all absorbed from an early age and replicated at the first opportunity.  Damon would start driving after years of first-person masterclasses from an F1 champion.

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It seems we need to fill our lives with Johnny Weissmuller, Venus Williams, Tiger Woods, Einstein, Shakespeare, Lionel Messi, Jessica Ennis, Malala Yousafzai, Isaac Newton and Mahatma Gandhi.  Well, yes and no.  We are sort-of doing that here with the collected wisdom of all these quotes, but there’s something else to keep in mind which I promised to return to from the end of the second paragraph.  That is EVERYONE has something you can learn.  No matter who they are, what age they are, what experience they have, how good or otherwise they are in other ways, you can learn something from themOpen yourself, dispense with your ego and learn from the best, because they are already the best at something when compared to your immediate colleagues.  What they possess to a high level may be a small thing but we are all a combination of many, many microskills, all of which contribute to the whole.  They are a living lesson from which you can learn something useful.  So if Einstein doesn’t show up today, it’s okay, you still have everyone else.  Don’t miss out, every day is a school day and apparently, those are the best days of our lives so make every day the best day.

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Epicurus, a Greek philosopher born 341 years before Jesus who lived until he was 72, in biblical numbers, three score years and twelve.  He would have lived longer if they’d known how to remove stones from the urinary tract back then.  The first known operations for that excruciating condition were in the 16th century and poor Samuel Pepys had it done in 1658 without anaesthetic.  And if you are surmising that would have stung a bit, you’d be right, but no need to guess, he wrote all about the diabolical pain in his famous diary.

As philosophers go I especially like Epicurus because he freely allowed females to attend his school, which he called, the garden.  This was uncommon at the time because ancient writings (written by men) typically cast women as inferior or even as the sinful yang to male purity.  This was a theme later expounded by Christianity and as a direct consequence we are still dealing with a gender-pay gap more than two thousand years later.

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I’ve picked this quote though because it’s a continuation of Number 8, Goethe’s “If you wish to draw pleasure out of life you must attach value to the world.”  If you’ve recently finished that one, well done, lay down and have a rest, it was a long one.  This I promise will be shorter, but then I always set out that way, so maybe not.  Maybe I should use a smaller font?

To re-cap, we get a dopamine hit for achieving a task.  It’s something most people experience when shopping and for some, it’s a powerful enough reward to start them on the road to a shopping addiction.

Bringing home the bacon is an achievement in itself and there’s usually more satisfaction in bulk-buying and having plenty than in just getting the minimum for the next meal.  This is because one of the things we like to achieve is accumulating things.

Psychologists tell us we are genetically predisposed to collect things and that whatever it is you hoard in the twenty-first century is a throw-back to accumulating deer hides, foodstuffs, wood for the fire, pebbles for our catapults and herbs for our many clever poultices.  These are the things we might need as stone age beings and well done you for getting all this stuff because running out of supplies might mean doom.  More food meant better health and a safety margin for survival in tougher times while running out of pebbles when there’s a bear sniffing at your cave entrance is a bit of a bummer.

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Just as powerful, the caveman with the biggest pile of swag might attract the best choice of mates and keep in mind, in those days human societies weren’t monogamous, so attracting a mate wasn’t something you did just once or twice.  Well, yes you’re right, human societies are not really monogamous now, but the difference is that now we have established institutions and they guide us in (or seek to restrain us from) our unfettered, consequence-free aspirations and behaviours.  We know the family arrangement was a bit different back then.

Meanwhile, back to recent history; Anyone with a grandmother who lived through post-war rationing will probably have noticed they tend to stockpile groceries.  Once you’ve queued for hours for an ounce of butter, it’s tempting to pick up extra when supermarkets have so much of the stuff on display.

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That’s understandable isn’t it, but collections aren’t limited to essential foodstuffs.  People amass stamps, spoons, antiques, vinyl records, comic books, coins, toy cars, watches, wine, fine art, bottles, autographs, the serial numbers of trains or aeroplanes, badges, maps, baseball cards, motorcycle helmets, branded beer glasses, beer mats, Lego (the world’s best toy), seashells and cuddly toys.  Jay Leno collects cars and motorcycles, Johnny Depp collects Barbie dolls, Janet Jackson – porcelain pigs, Kiefer Sutherland – guitars (I’d like to see them Kiefer), Tom Hanks – typewriters, Rod Stewart collects model trains (which must be awesome) and my favourite is the fact that Penélope Cruz collects coat hangers.  I’ve got some she can have, so just nip round and pick ‘em up if you’re reading this Penny, hun.

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Serious collectors will know it’s virtually an addiction.  Trying to find the missing items which will make the collection complete can become an obsession and through analysing what’s going on here we can witness the combination of:

  • Living a life with purpose, being on a mission. The collection absorbs attention and becomes motivational in its own right
  • The dopamine-fuelled goalsetting of identifying which train, guitar or coat hanger is being sought next
  • The anticipation of acquisition when the target has been located at some auction, antique shop or on ebay
  • The joy arising from acquiring it and achieving the goal
  • The pleasure and pride of ownership, knowing you have it, feeling your collection is bigger, better, nearer to completion

…and isn’t it all just a little bit nuts?  How much gets spent on all these collections? Here’s a clue:  Pelé’s collection of soccer memorabilia fetched £3,600,000 at auction.  Bill Koch sold his wine collection at Sotheby’s for £16,300,000.  One of those Russian oligarchs bought a collection of Fabergé eggs for £37,300.000.  Elizabeth Taylor collected jewellery and in 2011 it sold at auction for £116,800,000.  Meanwhile, someone bought a Leonardo da Vinci painting at auction in 2017 for £341,000,000.  That last one is not a collection, it’s just one painting to add to your collection!

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What’s going on here?  Aren’t there hungry children in Africa anymore?  Answer: Yes, and in England too, but that’s another matter entirely and you’d only ask that question if you weren’t burning with desire for the painting, the rare guitar, the special Hornby train, an unusually delicate porcelain piggy, or that elusive nineteenth century Ritz hotel coat hanger you’ve always wanted.

Collecting things is natural and the solution to World hunger isn’t for some old lady to sell two-hundred spoons she’s acquired in a lifetie of travel and diligent searching and send the money to “Fifteen, Yemen Road, Yemen.”  She can be generous like that if it gives her pleasure, but it won’t solve the problem of world hunger.  Climate, corrupt dictators, religious conflict, ignorance, family planning and giant international corporations destroying the local environment are higher priorities.   Improving food distribution would make a huge difference.  Plenty of food gets wasted in Europe and North America, much of it eaten by people who have already eaten more than enough that day.

Off topic.  Reset.

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If you love your collection and adding another bit enhances the joy, you’re doing fine.  If the one you don’t have becomes an obsession and the sparkle has worn off all the ones you already own, that’s not so good.  Stop and think, didn’t you lust after those early ones every bit as much?  If they don’t satisfy you now, what makes you think the next one will?  It won’t.  Return to the start, attach value to what you already have, imagine this is it, there are no more, you’ll never expand the collection and if you can take a breath and think that would be fine, it’s more than enough to make you happy, fine, go get another one, but if you’d feel like it wasn’t enough and you may as well ditch the whole collection if you couldn’t expand it further, then things are out of kilter, the want has overtaken the pleasure of ownership and acquiring more will achieve nothing beyond a very transient dopamine rush.  You’ve lost the plot my friend, you crossed the line.  You don’t own the collection, it owns you!

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Years ago, when you were getting your first pay-packet it was pretty good wasn’t it?  Mine was £22 before deductions because it was way back in nineteen-canteen.  Soon though, you felt like some more dosh would be helpful, so you asked for a raise.  That’s what I did and it went like this.

Pondering my skinny brown packet of cash on a Friday I asked a work colleague how to get a raise and he said he didn’t know, it just happened automatically every year.  That was an unsatisfactory answer so I pushed him harder and he said that maybe if I really wanted more money I should ask the boss.  Because I tend to take people literally, I missed the sarcasm in his advice.  At the time, I worked in an iron foundry, one of those places with fifty-foot gantry cranes and swinging giant crucibles on chains filled with molten iron, fizzing, spitting and smoking as they poured into moulds.  It was hot and smoky like a war zone or Dante’s back garden.  Nothing like Epicurus’s lady-filled garden.

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The boss was called David Bond.  He had a big car and an office the size of a first-class lounge in an airport.  I downed tools, walked across the factory floor to the office block, hard hat and fireproof gloves off, up the stairs, past all the ladies in the typing pool who froze as I passed (it was not a Coke-Cola moment, I just shouldn’t have been there) and knocked on his door.  “Come,” he said, I entered.  He looked up through his eyebrows, a good-looking man in his late thirties, nice blue suit, a frown appeared, “What do you want?” the emphasis was on ‘you’.

“I want a raise.”  There it was – out.

Out was the word: “GET OUT!” he firmly instructed, and so I did.

When I returned to the factory floor my older work colleagues assumed I’d just been for a pee and didn’t believe that I’d been to see the boss about a raise, but gradually my persistence in explaining it convinced them the incredible story was true.  Their collective opinion was not only that a raise would not be forthcoming, but that I should prepare myself for unemployment.  Their mood was one of amazement and humour combined.  They were doing a sort of half laugh, half cough, looking at me and shaking their heads.  They’d have a funny story to tell their wives during Crossroads tonight.  BTW, Crossroads was the ‘other’ TV soap, the one to watch if you didn’t understand the accents on Coronation Street, or found the story lines about Ena Sharples too gritty.

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Some hours later, the foreman approached and told me, “Mr Bond wants to see you.”  The hard-hatted fraternity with their blackfaces and white panda eyes stopped shovelling sand, stopped pushing fresh moulds and filled moulds around the mini railway, stopped breaking them open ready to knock the flash off and forming a small crowd, loudly agreed that it was time to say goodbye to young Geoff.  They did so with a laugh.  It wasn’t a joke I felt able to share.

I passed the pretty ladies once more (still no spectacles being removed, no hair shaken out of buns and no lips getting licked as far as I could tell), knocked that big door, which in case anyone was unsure whose door this might be, had David Bond, Managing Director  etched on a plaque .  “Come!” he called.  Déjà vu, but this time with more nerves.

I stood before him, straight backed and smutty faced, with my helmet under my arm like a good soldier.  He shuffled papers and leant back in the wheeled leather chair, on dampened springs it leaned some more because it was a really super kind of office chair, and with hands clasped behind his head he said, “I’ve been looking into your file and I didn’t realise the embarrassment of your circumstances.  I’m giving you a five-pound raise starting this week.  That’s all.  Back to work!”  And off I went, pleased as punch.  See?  I knew it!  Good looking people are more successful AND nicer, just like on the telly!

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I said nothing for a while, just worked silently while shouts of, “Still ‘ere then?” “When you off then Geff-err-ee?”  “End of the day or end of the week?” were fired at me from all quarters.  When I told them I’d been given a rise of nearly 25% they seemed to adopt either or two mindsets; those delighted for me and those seething with regret that they hadn’t thought of the idea before me.  With inflation added, that £5 is the equivalent of about £40 now, good for a youngster.

But the £27 a week soon got used up and wasn’t enough and you know the rest of the story because you’ve lived it yourself.  You soon get used to the new amount and although you correctly anticipated it being great, you failed to predict how brief the greatness would be.  Your lifestyle and outgoings adjust accordingly and in no time at all, more money is needed.  And more.  One day, you have to reflect on it and come to a realisation that more money won’t sate the underlying desire for cash and unless contentment is found in the present circumstances, there will never be real contentment, ever!  Plus, what kind of life are we living if we are just waiting for things to improve?

In Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, he has Mr Micawber say,

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure, nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness.  Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

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The difference between happiness and misery is one shilling (5p in today’s money, or £45.76 as an equivalent percentage of the average UK salary).  That’s not the financial value of the difference between those two human conditions though is it?  The point is that overspending creates misery and having a bit left at the end of the week creates happiness.  It was a Canadian salesman with a great sense of humour who I first heard say, “There’s too much month left at the end of the money,” and so the point is less about how to get more and more about how to manage well (and be happy on less).

Will the person be happier earning an extra shilling?  No, if he didn’t learn the lesson, he would be inclined to spend two and be even worse off than before.

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We’re back to the bankrupt and miserable lottery winners of quote #8 and I’ll bet, knowing it’s true that money doesn’t bring happiness and believing those stories about the big wins ruining people’s lives (just Google I wish I’d never won the lottery if you’re in any doubt), most of us would still like to win because  WE would know how to have the money AND be happy, not screw it up the way so many people do.  We would be the exception, wouldn’t we?

Numerous studies carefully calculate how much money is the right amount.  If poverty makes for a s#!t life and extreme wealth is the route to a different kind of misery, where’s the sweet spot?  The results are as modest as £48,000 PA and up to £160,000 with a lot coming in around £60K – £80K.  There are all sorts of caveats but in the end two things are worth remembering:

  1. Money and happiness are not the same thing, not even close
  2. Judicious use of money can solve problems and allow you to do good things, but as true as that may be, ruin lies just a little further down this path. It’s like Buckaroo, one more chunk of cash and things aren’t necessarily so sweet anymore

There’s an explanation used in psychology classes to explore the thinking behind earnings.  The professor engages the class in a thinking experiment.  “If there was a job posted on the notice board advertising £2,000,000 earnings for a two-year contract, who would be interested?  Hands up if you would.”  Lots of hands go up but some people have questions, “No questions, hands up if you’re interested, you can drop out later if you don’t like the terms, I’ll give you more details in a moment.”  Almost all the hands are raised.

“Okay,” says the professor, “the job is based in Antarctica.” A few hands drop. But a couple that weren’t up originally go up, it seems some people are attracted to the location while others are immediately put off.

“It’s a straight two years.  No time to come home, you stay there for seven hundred and thirty straight days.”  There are cries of whaaaat? But he overrides them.  “You get weekends off, you just don’t get actually holiday.  Come on ladies and gents, two years for two million!”  Even so, some hands drop, that’s a long time away.

“Oh, and you’re on your own.  No one else there, it’s a solitary position.”  Hands drop.  “No TV, no radio, no internet, but you can take a laptop to work on, you can write, play any video games you have loaded, read any books you’ve put in the memory,  you can also take some books and magazines, obviously… not too many, you’ll be flown in, so just what you can carry of your own stuff.

Most of the hands have dropped, but a few hardy folks remain steadfast.

“There is work to do.  It’s a job, five days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, two years.  Here’s what you do.  You go to a predetermined spot with an ice pick.  At 08:00am you start hacking away at the ice.  At 1:00pm you stop for lunch.  At 2:00pm you carry on and at 6:00pm you finish for the day but you take a photograph with the camera supplied, It is the only thing with internet connection and it automatically sends the picture back.  Day two, you dig a second hole a few yards further from your accommodation.  And take a picture.  Day three another hole and picture, five holes and five pictures by Friday, two days off, start again on Monday.  Seven Hundred and thirty days, seven hundred and thirty holes, two million pounds.”

There is a lot of loud groaning and challenges, but the professor is steadfast.  “That’s it, simple, absolutely no variations and no concessions.”

“What if we get ill?” shouts one person.

“Good question,” says the professor, “You are being paid around £2,740 per day.  You can buy a visit from a dentist or a doctor if you need one but it will cost you an entire week’s wages.  You do that by sending a picture of your teeth or itchy feet and they will turn up within 48 hours, faster if it’s a dire emergency.  They will visit only for as long as the consultation requires.  Try not to get sick though because it’s expensive.”

“What if we give up?” shouts another.

“Yes, you can do that.  You take a picture of a hand-written sign saying you want to come home and it’s all over.  You then get paid for the time you’ve put in, forty-five hour weeks at the current minimum wage, it’s about £290 a week.”

There are only a couple of hands up now.

“Well then.  Just how badly do you, each of you want the money?  At what point did you drop out?  What was the piece of information that was one bridge too far for you to stay in? “  They pondered the point, almost all of them had wanted the deal to start with, virtually none were left at the end.

“Was it being away from home for two years?  How much less would you have been willing to take if you’d been allowed to visit home?  How much less for how often?  Where’s your personal balance on that point?  Was it being alone?  How much would you have done the job for if you had been part of a team or been able to take one friend, work together, share the money maybe, would that have worked for you?  Was it the absence of TV or your devices and internet access?  How much are you saying that was worth?

“You see, it’s not just the money,  It never is and if you go in blind chasing the money you may find you don’t like the conditions, that you don’t like the cost of the money.”  Money always comes at a price.

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Thinking about the sad and destitute lottery winners and knowing you wouldn’t be like that, maybe you figured out there’s a problem with getting so much money so suddenly.  In the U.S. the lottery win is taxable and federal taxes can be as high as 37%, plus you might be liable to State taxes on top of that.  Being the United States, nearly all lottery wins are accompanied by law-suits.  How? you ask being an innocent-minded, non-litigious Brit.  I’ll tell you, because if you’ve ever said, “If I win a million I’ll split it with you,” to a friend, a work colleague, someone you knew twenty years ago, they have a case.  That’s a bona-fide verbal agreement.  You win, and one of the first things that happens with your money is you’re paying the exorbitant hourly rate of a decent lawyer, you’re not in the Caribbean, you’re in court!  Maybe you’d negotiate a payment to stop it going that far.  Well done.  Now watch the queue form of people with a hazy memory of a similar conversation, all with their hands out.

Big U.S. lottery wins can also be paid in thirty rising, annual instalments until the full balance is paid, guaranteeing you income for thirty years, so you can’t be broke in the meantime, right?  Actually, people do go broke in the meantime, hanging on and massively in debt waiting for the next instalment to partially satiate their creditors.  And it’s only the income which is guaranteed for thirty years, not your happiness, not your relationships, in fact none of the real things that might make you happy with or without the money.

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I was talking to a chap in New York a few years back and he was filling me in on his life story.  He sold timeshare and had done well for himself, earning a good income over an extended period and winning promotions.  This was a good, legitimate product of fixed-week, fixed-unit condos in the Poconos, a favoured beauty spot popular with New Yorkers for skiing in winter and Honeymooners any time of year.  An easy two-hour drive down Route 80, off the freeway at the Delaware Water Gap and ten minutes later you were somewhere utterly delightful.

For the salesman (who we’ll call Timothy because I can’t remember his actual name) selling timeshare was a mission.  It gave families mostly from Queens and Brooklyn a week in beautiful surroundings once a year, in a unit they bought, at the time of year they also bought, with great facilities.   Guaranteed good times for years to come.   I learned that within certain parameters, timeshare can work really well, but that’s another story and not for now.

I wore a nice suit with a label unknown outside of the clothing trade while Timothy wore a fancy Hugo Boss suit.  My watch cost a few hundred pounds, his was a Rolex.  He also had an expensive car with extra spent on the chrome wheels and music system.  His life was full of nice things, of cash to spare.  And yet he wasn’t happy.

I’ve seen this so many times and often it’s a simple matter of whether someone’s in love.  Poor guy or girl in love – happy as can be.  Wealthy person who’s lost their lover – miserable as sin – and isn’t there a powerful lesson right there?  Another time!  Anyway, that wasn’t it.

Sure, he was between girls at the moment, but he had lots of girlfriends he dated and he preferred being single for now and the one long-term relationship he’d had in the last few years had ended amicably and he wasn’t sorry about it.  The problem was…. well, everything else.

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As he’d moved up in the world, he’d moved out, moved on, lost touch with a lot of his old friends.  He hadn’t done well at school, but it wasn’t the kind of school it was really possible to do well at.  Instead he’d been proud of himself for never being arrested, keeping out of gangs in spite of intense pressure and threats of violence that he had to join and had escaped a life of drugs, crime and prison.  Some of his old friends had gone that way, others were now working here or there in regular jobs and many of them had frequent contact with the police via stop and search or being pulled up when driving.  Timothy was sanguine about it.  One of his work buddies was an Hispanic ex-cop who explained that all cops, whether Hispanic, black or white, were not being racist, they were following their noses and playing the odds.  Timothy was polite, proud of his success and had a police-supporters badge in the back window of his car and another one in his wallet.

He’d found himself unable to have money and live in his old neighbourhood.  His first decent car had been broken into, his second was stolen, although only driven two blocks before being searched, emptied and abandoned.  They wanted what was in it, the music system and other items, not the car itself.  He moved out of the ‘hood and on to Staten Island.  Later he moved to Long Island, to an area with virtually no crime and that’s where he lived now.  Unhappily.

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When he moved in, food turned up on his porch in true American welcoming fashion.  All of his neighbours were white, bar one very black, very African guy who was a doctor.  The white folks were mostly Jewish, but that wasn’t obvious from the start, it was just a fact.  By comparison to the African neighbour, Timothy, although African-American himself, was just tanned but anyway, out here colour was less of an issue, everybody was kind regardless.  Enquiries about Mrs Timothy were answered in the negative and no, there were no weekend custody children who could come to pool parties at his neighbours’ houses.  Nor could he attend for a burger and beer because he worked weekends and in fact, he soon found that their whole lifestyle was at odds with is.  They worked nine-to-five, Monday to Friday, they had wives and children, they vacationed in Florida or sometimes California, their cars were made by Buick, Mercedes-Benz, Acura or Lexus and every weekend was a party, an anniversary, a birthday, 4th of July, Superbowl, Memorial Day, and he didn’t fit in.

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Fulfilling a lifelong ambition, he’d gone to a school reunion, but he admitted to playing it wrongly, making it too obvious he’d done well and rather than attracting admiration, he’d offended people and found it difficult to mingle.  “It’s like they thought I was there to make them feel bad about themselves.  I also started worrying about my car again and even thought I might get mugged for my watch and wallet.  I feel bad just saying that, but I know the look.”  He mustered up a few old friends and suggested a drink – he knew a place.  He took them somewhere quite nice and when they hesitated to go in because of the cost, he revealed it was his treat, he’d pay for all five; himself, three guys, one girl he had liked a lot at school.  She was the one who reacted worst, gave him some harsh words and stormed off.  Two guys left with her and one gave him a hug and just said, “You’ve changed man.  You never used to be this… fake,” and was gone.

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He didn’t fit in there anymore and he didn’t fit in with his neighbours.  “So Geoff, what do I do?”  We talked a long time, drank Coors Light, had a meal, split the bill and discussed how to stop money and success ruining his life.  This involved moving house again across the Hudson River to New Jersey and into the suburbs where his money would go much further and he could have the same type of house without a mortgage.  He would change his car and buy American.  He would dress well, rich but not gaudy because right now he favoured gaudy.  He was not dressing for quality, he was dressing to make a statement and it shouted too loudly when it should speak kindly and quietly to the observer.

Finally, being a regular church-goer, in a moment of clarity he said to me, “You know the bible says, money is the root of all evil, right?”

“No, it’s better than that.  Cleverer, more insightful.”  I don’t go to church, I’m not a fan or organised religion, but I am a fan of wisdom and knew the quote.  He was misquoting it, so I suggested he read it again and reflect deeply.  It’s in the book of Timothy and it says.  “The love of money is the root of all evil.”  Money is like all stuff, collect it with caution, appreciate what you have, avoid craving more.

World Growing

 

It’s the meaning of life!  For a lot of philosophers, pleasure is why we are here, it’s the meaning of life and here’s Johann Wolfgang von Goethe telling us how to get it.  That’s pretty big!

Some philosophers refer to happiness instead of pleasure and a few tell us that although it isn’t necessarily why we exist as such, it’s certainly what we should be doing while we are here, while others turn the amplitude down a notch from happiness and pleasure and instead suggest we settle for some kind of contentment while forbearing our lot.  It is a common theme though; to seek pleasure, to find happiness, to be contented.

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Are we discussing pleasure or happiness or contentment then?  All of them, and this is not to dismiss the fine distinctions afforded by our bountiful language, but rather to recognise that depending on your choice of philosopher, great quotes of this ilk started mostly as Greek, French, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese or German and were later translated into what we English speakers read today.  Vast distances, the passing of many centuries and the evolution of language itself means we have to interpret the original sentiment.  We can’t always know, we might have to think and draw conclusions.  Ooh, get us being properly philosophical!

Taking Goethe’s quote as a genuine piece of guidance could mean we have the purpose and the pathway for our earthly existence right here concisely described by these sixteen words (or thirteen in his original German; Willst du dich des Lebens freuen, so must der Welt du Werth verleihen).

Get your hedonist out of your assignment.  Wait!  Those philosophers who tell us pleasure is our purpose, our sole raison d’etre, surely cannot be right, because if so, we are inadvertently validating the worst kind of hedonist.  Relax dear reader, we are not, and Goethe definitely isn’t either.

First of all, there’s the if in his quote.  Saying ‘If we want to…’ is leaving us a choice about whether we do so or not and then there’s the whole bit about attaching value which we haven’t even got to yet.  His quote isn’t, “Drop everything and go and get pleasure!”

“I hate quotes!”     –     Ralph Waldo Emerson

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But I fancy this is where we can lose people, it’s why some people don’t get quotes, because it can seem like there’s one for every occasion (nearly true) and a fool can say anything they want, substantiate everything they want with a twisted quote, find some misguidedly published nutter like David Icke has said something which supports their idiocy and so for those quick to jump to conclusions, the merchants of black-or-white-and-nothing-in-between, all quotes become worthless, or at least enfeebled.  Well throwing the baby out with the bathwater may be a common human failing but we are not about to do that here, this bathwater is special, it’s the Yorkshire Tea  of bathwaters so stay right where you are!

All of that is the reason why this is number 8 of what I am aiming to complete at 101 (but may come back and edit that to some other convenient number at some point), because these quotes, these fantastic chunks of utter genius insight and wisdom, cannot be taken in isolation, you need some others to join with them to complete an entire way of thinking; the collected philosophy of four thousand years of the best philosophers.

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Genius Grand Central.  Imagine for a moment, that we bring them all back to life, Socrates, Plato, Seneca, Abe Lincoln, Buddha, Aristotle, Spinoza, Zalmoxis, Emerson, Shakespeare, Anne Frank, Epictetus, Goethe, Ghandi and Dale Carnegie (to name but a few), put them in a room together with the live ones like Richard Flint, Will Monteiro and Julian Richer, explain politely to David Icke, The Donald, George W and a few others that they’re not allowed in but there’s a nice burger joint down the road which has some really dreadful daytime TV and that they might like to go there instead, and then wait.  A month later, all the philosophers emerge and announce they’ve agreed a unified theory of the meaning of life.  That’s what we’re aiming for here.  Nothing more grandiose.  Just that.

So seek pleasure, yes, but not by exploiting others, not at the permanent detriment of the environment, not out of kilter with the bigger picture.  The crack addict’s high comes at enormous cost to the addict personally as well as to society as a whole, explained beautifully by Ed Sheeran’s ‘The A Team’ lyrics; ‘cause in a pipe she’ll fly to the motherland and sell love to another man.  By living a life guided by an interwoven nest of wisdom, building your own internal, intellectual internet you can get it all.  ‘ALL’ as in your share, the balance, your dues, the best YOU, living your best life (as they say).

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Pleasure is a piece of the jigsaw.  A one-hundred-and-one-piece jigsaw seems relatively easy to assemble, so that’s what we’re doing here, piece by piece.  Like taking the one or two best pieces of art from all the world’s art museums and putting it in one gallery, we’re collecting the Beaulieu Motor Museum of quote-wisdom, or making the absolute best ever 101 song mixtape with Strauss, Linkin Park, Beethoven, Def Leppard, Fleetwood Mac, Miranda Lambert, Abba, The Foo Fighters and Sarah McLachlan… ah, music is very personal, we’ll never agree on that list, but I’m sure you know what I mean.

Taken not in isolation, but as a clue to a better existence, this particular quote therefore strikes right at the heart of our being.  If it is possible to learn something practical from understanding it, you might be appreciably happier (etc) for evermore.  How about that for a result!

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The root of all pleasure.  The condition is to attach value to the world, so that needs exploring in a little while.  First though, let’s try a little analysis about where pleasure comes from, and that’s easy, it’s the nucleus accumbens, next question!

More detail?

Okay, the nucleus accumbens is a little cluster of brain cells which sits under the cerebral cortex.   It controls the release of dopamine which makes us feel happy.  More than that, it also makes us feel alert, motivated and focused.  As clusters and chemicals go, these are pretty useful then.  Things get a fraction more complicated here because it isn’t simply a drug-like substance in the normal sense, it is also a neurotransmitter, meaning it aids the synaptic function of the brain.  In conjunction with other brain chemistry it helps memory function, blood flow, motor control, digestion, pancreatic function as well as heart and kidney function, sleep, motor control, your response to stress and other aspects of your emotional state and mood.  In bigger doses it causes euphoria (when exactly were you last in a state of euphoria?  If you can’t remember, allow me to recommend my mixtape.)

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Mine’s a Dope, and make it a double!  Hey!  This dopamine sounds great, how can I get some more?  You can smoke pot (it’s called dope for a reason), you can also smoke regular tobacco because nicotine activates dopamine by pretending to be the real thing, albeit on a smaller scale, meanwhile cocaine temporarily overrides the system which does away with excess neurotransmitters and allows much more than is normal to do its euphoric stuff, so there are a few ways to get you started.  Or not.  You really don’t want to do any of those things, because even if we ignore all the huge and mostly very negative side-effects and just concentrate on the wonderful dopamine, the body doesn’t simply accept all the extra dosage without some unwanted consequences.

To realise why not, it would help to understand the cycle of how dopamine works as a reward.  You like chocolate?  There’s a coincidence, me too.  So you eat some (I’m thinking Aero) and it tastes nice and a teeny-weeny bit of dopamine is released, clever you.  More than that though, you probably had a little squirt of dopamine when you just thought about getting some choccy-woccy, then again as you walked in the shop and saw it on display, maybe again as you unwrapped it.  The whole process is one of a dopamine speckled experience of anticipation and reward.

Having picked chocolate as an example, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that the bigger effect will be the blood-sugar rush from ingestion which starts a few minutes later, spikes and then drops below stasis levels due to your pancreas producing a slightly-too-large dose of insulin to counter the sugar.  Now your blood sugar is lower than normal and your lizard brain craves sugar as the fastest cure to this situation.  The solution?  More chocolate, gimme, gimme, gimme!  You’ll never get enough, but you will get fat and diabetes too (oh dear, your prehistoric pancreas just couldn’t keep up with your modern lifestyle).

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Returning to our Aero hunt, Dopamine was involved in the process to add something beyond the basic thinking about finding chocolate, it gave you a chemical reward for successive steps and a decisive ”Well done you!” for succeeding.  It supports your motivation to chase a target and rewards you for achieving the goals you set.

How much dopamine do you get?  It’s regulated to achieve the desired result and artificially high levels have a long-term dampening effect, so that larger doses are required for the same level of response.  In medical terms, this is tolerance.  As you become habituated, normal levels don’t impact on you in the same way they used to so you need MORE.  Drug abusers seek higher highs not necessarily because they are trying to get even higher, but because eventually, repeated doses don’t generate those early highs when the brain was properly overwhelmed and before it decreased its sensitivity.  Like a forty-year-old going to Ibiza, they may be hoping to relive the magic of something  remembered but lost and yet they are ignoring the fact that a big part of its magic was inherent in it being the first time.  They wanted to go back to that time, but all they could do was go back to Ibiza.  It’s not the same thing.

While natural levels of dopamine can be felt for a lifetime, artificially high doses can eventually cause the system to become tolerant to the point of barely registering them, and that’s not all, it gets worse.  Can we assume the brain and body have a better idea of what the right amount is?  For most of us who haven’t abused our systems the answer is yes, but sadly not for all.  A few unfortunate people have too much while others have too little.  Wider humanity always includes variations.

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Mummy Bear’s porridge.  High levels of dopamine have been associated with Tourette’s, schizophrenia and hallucinations while unusually low levels are associated with depression, catatonia and Parkinson’s.  When the system malfunctions there are consequences and we can bring these problems on by messing with it.  Ironic isn’t it, that the dope-seeker who artificially amplifies his dopamine levels can end up unable to get enough to experience ‘normality.   A reformed cocaine addict once told me that one of a great many bad days was when he nipped out of the hospital room where his girlfriend was giving birth to their first child because he realised he felt… nothing.  He needed to snort a line to engage with the magnitude of the moment.  To the non-user, the event is normally enough to produce elation, tears, awe and get marked down as one of the most momentous of their lives.  Nature had it covered.

Along the way, it’s entirely possible that the hardened dope-fiend will have suffered from the catastrophic consequences of too much of the magic chemical, and also risk suffering from the effects of having too little.  Apparently, if you repeatedly groom a cat with one of those pet brushes, there’s a possibility it will reduce its interest in self-grooming and maybe even stop washing altogether, at which point you might be obliged to groom it forever.  People meddling with their brain/blood chemistry can find themselves in the same predicament.

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It seems nature allows us a certain amount of pleasure and no more, while inflicting a few poor souls with a system which is slightly overloaded and others with too little.  Let’s assume you are largely normal and carry on.

How you get your pleasure is up to you.  Anticipating something special, working in a motivated fashion towards a goal, achieving the goal you have strived to accomplish, learning something, eating something, cooking something, singing, exercising, painting, gardening, reading, just doing something you enjoy and let’s not forget the powerful dopamine release of doing something you especially enjoy with someone you especially enjoy, I’ll say no more, wink, wink.  Back to Goethe.

What this all means is:

  1. Seeking pleasure makes sense, it’s a good idea and it’s a perfectly worthy pastime
  2. The sensation is a consequence of brain chemistry and while we can certainly manipulate the goal-anticipation-achievement-and-reward process, adding external chemistry has limitations and serious long-term side effects

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So Wolfy, ‘Attach value to the World’, you say?  This is the main part of the message and it’s a simple concept, readily grasped and easily understood intellectually but one which most people prefer not to live by.  It must be one of those do as I say, not as I do things.

No pain – no gain?  No pain – no pain!  The strongest motivators for human beings are often cited as seeking pleasure and avoiding pain with the latter being the more powerful.  It means that while people might spend their time wondering how to get more pleasure, they will often forego the reward if the acquisition process requires some pain.  Or discomfort.  Or sometimes even the risk of discomfort.  We could be fit and toned, but oh, all that time in the gym, no thank you!  There’s a lot we could achieve but it would mean an empty sofa or getting up in the morning and for a lot of people, it’s simply too high a price to pay.  This safer and more comfortable way of living dribbles down into other aspects of our lives to small things like, “There’s no point washing the car today because it’s going to rain again later.”  Or, the people who pay for a Sunday roast in a pub, grumble it’s not quite right but would rather not invest all the time and effort (and personal risk) in doing it themselves.  Or vow to learn more Spanish when they’re on holiday there but lose interest in the idea back in Britain where cerveza, bronceada and vacaciones are replaced by long queues on the M25 and the rhythmic slapping of windscreen wipers.

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Yet we all know that rising from the sofa and achieving something is worthwhile.  The last flick of the chamois leather before we stand back and appreciate that the car has a colour other than grey-brown-road-grime feels good and some people even claim a clean car is nicer to drive!  The huge popularity of cooking and baking shows supports a new generation of home chefs who have realised that food tastes better when you’ve invested time and effort into it and who doesn’t take satisfaction in getting by in a foreign language, or feel some admiration for those who can, especially when it’s a Dutch person who has better English than we do.  By the way, while Mandarin Chinese has the most native speakers of any language on Earth at more than a billion, when taken as a first or second language, it’s English of course.  But here’s the interesting thing.  There are more people learning English as a second language than grow up with it as a first.  That’s one successful language!

To achieve something, we may need to commit and the reluctance to do so is the counterbalance to the repeated cycle of dopamine hits.  Reluctance because we sometimes anticipate it’ll be too much trouble, not worth it and most likely end in bitter disappointment.  So basically the spirit of adventure, our motivation, our get up and go is replaced by  Aykarrntbeearrsst.

“And which one wins grandfather?”  Well, we’re all different, so for some people, their routines are full of effort and energy and a great deal gets done, much of it unnoticed, thankless, overlooked.  Their pleasure comes from personal pride, a job well done, and if you insist on asking them their secret. they shrug and tell you they don’t really have any other way of functioning, it’s just their nature, their habit, the routine they have followed for so long they wouldn’t know how to stop.

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For other people (you probably know someone like this) no job is so small that it can’t be postponed indefinitely and of all the tasks that need attention, most are never undertaken and the rest remain unfinished.  Their most deft skill seems to be the manufacture of excuses while practicing the hands-on-hips-cheeks-puffed-out-with-exasperation look, which they have down to a tee.

Attaching value to things puts us at risk.  Hoping for good weather doesn’t change the result, but it does set us up for disappointment (I should point out that I’m writing this in England).  Throwing yourself wholeheartedly into winning that new job might mean that it’s all the worse if the younger, handsomer chap with the piece of paper but no experience pips you to it.  Falling head over heels in love rather than playing it cool might mean your heart gets pulverised when the object of your dreams reveals a preference for your hopeless, lazy, smells-of-farts, ex-best friend.

And yet – you’re there before me, aren’t you? – if you don’t put absolutely everything into getting that promotion, you’ll reduce your chances of getting it and if you hold back on the relationship – measuring out pieces of your heart like tokens – maybe your idol will ‘go party’ with someone less inhibited.  And while you can’t control the weather, if you don’t care about it, it won’t mean so much to you when it’s good.

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So which is it to be?  Will you live a life of wanton, unrestrained enthusiasm and get your heart broken more often than not, be frequently disappointed, learn that some outcomes have nothing to do with talent or fairness and find yourself questioning the principles of justice, of the existence of Karma or wondering whether your God is some kind of sadist?  If you do, you’ll also collide with the biggest natural doses of dopamine you can get.  Or will you play it safe, hold yourself back, wait, watch, learn, miss out quite a lot but not get hurt so often, do your best to avoid the conclusion that you wasted some opportunities, make yourself feel better by deciding things probably wouldn’t have worked out anyway?  If you take that path don’t join the SAS (because their motto is “Who Dares Wins”), don’t Carpe Diem and to avoid relationship problems get yourself a car sticker that tells folks you prefer dogs to people.  By the way, while I can’t dictate how you feel about that, it’s not intended as an insult, your dog will probably never let you down.

Inevitably then, there are plenty of good people who take the latter, safer route and therefore while recognising the truth in Goethe’s words, don’t live by them.  It’s understandable, but is it the best way to live?  I’m not judging either, I’m just, well, philosophising.

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Hindmoaners.  One thing I will be judgy about is the people who won’t attach value beforehand, but then won’t let go afterwards.  I don’t think that’s a good way to carry on at all.  Here’s a made up example: Let’s say Dave decides to enter a mini, sprint triathlon.  He swims, cycles and runs and is pretty fit.  He goes to the gym several times a week but puts more effort into pumping iron than endurance.  He’s advised to modify his training but claims not to be that bothered about the result as he’s just doing it for fun.  Folks that know him find this hard to believe because he’s ultra-competitive at everything.  His main preparation was to spend £800 on a new bike and more dosh on various bits of clothing.  After the event, Dave sounds like a broken record grumbling about national level triathlon competitors who dominated the field.  He’s critical of their win-or-die focus, their expensive triathlon bikes which he doubts they paid for themselves and their string-bean physiques, which he thought looked unhealthy.  Thoroughly thrashed, he announces that if he does it again, he’d do the full Iron Man thing because he feels that would play to his strengths better.  It takes Dave a long time to get over it because he’s decided to attach a lot more value afterwards than he did beforehand, and that really doesn’t make sense at all!

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How many Billies in a billion?  I am particularly familiar with salespeople struggling with this concept.  Because success in sales is always a combination of everything the salesperson does plus the relative situation of the potential buyer, salespeople naturally prefer a client who is more interested, more willing, more able.  This can lead to what is known as ‘cherry-picking’, waiting for buyers (aka ‘hands-up-Billies’) and this is a mistake because there are never enough hands-up-Billies to be successful at sales.  The essence of sales is developing cold leads into warm ones and warm ones into hot ones and hot ones into buyers.  Waiting for hot ones isn’t the skill they are being paid for, it’s lazy and dumb.  And quite common and quite natural too.

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Being like most other human beings, people who have selected a career in sales find rejection uncomfortable, and because of the nature of the job, most salespeople get quite a lot of it.  We could spend several pages now discussing how to deal with it, ignore it, use it, reframe it, blah, blah, but we’re on a different track because what’s also happening here is salespeople are trying not to waste their energy.  They don’t want to invest too heavily in an enquiry that demonstrates early on that a purchase is very unlikely.  Rather than work hard on it, they ‘pace’ it, watch it and wait, stay in touch, maybe abandon it move onto a better prospect.  Here then, they don’t want to attach value to the prospect because it makes the disappointment worse.  Putting a lot more effort in and coming out with nothing is worse than realising from the outset that it wasn’t going anywhere and cutting your losses early.  And anyway, salespeople often attribute weak enquiries to poor marketing.  Now if only the marketing department knew what they were doing they’d send us buyers!  Of course, because everything is that simple.

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Just do it!  The truth is, every single enquiry needs the full beans.  You could (rightly) argue that the strong enquiries don’t need the effort, just the weak ones, but salespeople inevitably invest more energy, effort and hope (attaching value) to strong enquiries, their ‘hot’ leads.  Doing anything less than their best every time is a mistake, putting the most effort into the strongest enquiries and the least into the weakest one is a form intelligent efficiency, like picking your battles, but it’s also wrong.  It’s the same kind of wrong as a doctor deciding not to bother resuscitating a patient because he looks like it’s going to be too difficult and unlikely to survive anyway and toddling back to the lounge to read The Lancet instead.  It’s wrong for many reasons, but just one of them is they never really know who the hot prospects are.  Every experienced salesperson has a hat full of stories about being surprised by someone they didn’t expect to buy, doing just that.

Attach value, do your best, then let go.  But it’s still not as easy to do as to say and partly because we are creatures of habit.

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Just another day in paradox.  In the UK, the average female lives to around 30,500 days, men, about 1,000 days less.  That allows quite a few habits to form and routines to set in.  The lives we settle into often dictate them – or seem to.  Most mornings there are a lot of people heading off to work, same job as yesterday, same starting point now for many months or years, same commute, same route, same colleagues, same furniture at home, same family to come home to, a day with much more familiarity in it than surprises, more repetition than new experiences or learning.

Another benefit of this repetition is that by treading a familiar path the risk of great disappointment or pain or shock is managed and minimised.  On most days, for most people, it’s very unlikely there will be any.  It’s not a bad life.

Which is why while thousands go to work, just a few walk out of the house with their suitcases packed and head off around the world to find themselves, excited that ‘out there’ is the thing they were born to attach themselves to, certain that their purpose and happiness isn’t to be found right here under their noses.  A few will shut down their laptop and stare out of the window, then open it again to write a letter of resignation.  No new job to go to, just one they need to leave.  Just a few will wave their chap goodbye as he sets off to work, then scan the papers for ‘apartments to let’, phone the number in the ad and in answer to one of the questions say, “Today.”

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That kind of behaviour takes us right out of our comfort zone.  Not only will most of us not hit the road unsure where we’ll be in a month or two, most of us won’t go somewhere new without the hotel booked in advance, thoroughly reviewed on TripAdvisor and closely studied via internet images.  It seems that as a society we don’t even like surprises anymore.  Most will suffer the wrong job because well, it’s a job, it pays the bills, most will suffer the wrong spouse because better the devil you know and if she really wants to leave him she’ll do her best to push him in some other poor girl’s arms in the hope that he’ll do the leaving and save her the hassle.

Routines rarely attract maximum personal investment the way new experiences do.  Those same routines feel safe, they are easier and make for a more comfortable existence, but they are also just one step removed from the boredom that can undermine our happiness completely.

Because of the easy, comfortable familiarity, people take their possessions for granted, worse still, they take their spouses for granted too.  Routines and familiarity may be comfortable, but they can cause inattention and an insulting lack of effort.  “What?  Surely, you know I love you!  I don’t have to keep telling you, do I?” might be a signal that something’s missing and that not telling tends to coincide with not showing either.  Not doing either isn’t just being forgetful.

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Are you a pioneer or a settler?  A life organised around repetition can undermine the novelty and excitement which encourages attaching value and so sometimes we need to force ourselves out of it.  I used to work with a chap who liked going out to lunch.  He liked the odd Frascati or Chianti too (cue Anthony Hopkins doing that grumage thing “Slurp, slurp, slurp!”)  He’d ask where we should go, I’d inevitably make a suggestion based on places we knew and he’d say, “What are we, Pioneers or Settlers?” and off we’d go to somewhere we’d never been before.  Being a pioneer adds something to the experience qualitatively and also in terms of risk.  Choosing a restaurant is a great example of this issue if you think about it.

Are we there yet?  Nearly dear reader, nearly.  Plenty of people can claim to put their effort into goalsetting and enjoying the anticipation of a thing, but there’s a trap here too.  We’ll call it:

The focussing on a panacea error.  The idea that everything would be alright if only (insert any number of answers here) can also be a distraction.  Not only does it remove the useful focus from the here and now and place it at some point in the future, but it’s very often poorly thought out.  Right now, this very moment you are in, with all its compromises is the time you have, it’s real, you are alive and in it so do your best to appreciate it.  The wished-for future event may never happen, but if it does, are you certain it will be better?  And how much ‘now’, how much real life was lost waiting for the next thing?

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Some things are obvious aren’t they?  Like a big lottery win would obviously be a big life-changing, mega-positive event for most individuals, because couldn’t we all do some amazing things with a million or more quid?  But what of all the stories of the unhappy, destitute and friendless lottery winners, what’s that about?  Did you know that 70% of the big winners go broke within five years so maybe being wealthy isn’t the answer.  Being happy is the goal and while money helps, money and happiness aren’t one and the same.

It’s fine to seek new experiences, new things, milestones of success, but forfeiting the pleasure to be had from undertaking the task and instead solely focussing on the end in anticipation of what it might bring us turns out to be a mistake.  How cruel is it that our brains are wired to pursue success only to find that when we get there it is somehow lacking and that the highlights of our lives were some of the early, simple, hopeful times?  That epiphany prompts the ‘life is a journey not a destination’, line of thought – and quite right too.

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The novelty wears off more quickly than we could have expected and the object of desire is reduced to its material components.   Its aura, the magic power of what we wanted and spent so long dreaming of having, convinced it would make our life so much better is soon re-allocated to something else, the next big thing.  This happens until one day it dawns on us that we’ve moved away from the real source of the pleasure we have been seeking and that we either already have it or did so at some time in the past.  So we find the McLaren driver who prefers zipping around in a battered Renault Clio, the owner of a large property who is never more ‘at home’ than when he’s in his Frinton-on-Sea beach hut and Sophia Loren, up to her armpits in rescued animals.  It’s not new information, they are three among many who have climbed to the top of their own version of Maslow’s ego/status level in his famous ‘hierarchy of needs’, found it wanting and progressed unburdened into that top bit of the pyramid he called self-actualisation.

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Wouldn’t it be great to learn that without needing to waste all the years chasing something vacuous?  So if you already get your pleasure from simpler things, things available in abundance in nature or from the things you already have, then you’re more enlightened than the average person, congratulations, except you don’t need me to congratulate you do you, because you’ve grown beyond that primitive desire for the applause of an audience too.

What that means in Goethean terms is that you attach value to the birds visiting your garden and so take much more than the average amount of pleasure in their company.  You didn’t need a beach holiday in Bequia to put a smile on your face, a Robin singing to you from a branch a few feet from your face provided you with a whole morning of delight.  Maybe somewhere on your shelf of albums is Sinead O’Connor’s, I do not want what I haven’t got.

Enjoy the journey.  Enjoy the moment-by-moment pleasure of being here, alive.  Enjoy each part of aiming towards a worthwhile goal and throw yourself completely into it.  And thank you Dick Vermeil for modernising Goethe’s words: “If you don’t invest very much then defeat doesn’t hurt very much and winning is not very exciting.”

 

Oh-oh, absorb this one for a little while and you might think we’ve gone all Karmic and pop-science-weird.  Maybe Geoff; normally Mr. can’t-stop-quoting-psychology has fallen off the edge of reality.  But panic not, there is plenty of legitimate behavioural science underpinning this idea and more than enough reasons why you ought to consider adopting the wisdom the quote can bestow upon you.

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First, Brian Tracy, who he?  Canadian public speaker and author of around 70 books of the self-help, ‘be the best you’ variety.

Next, what’s this quote all about?  What does it mean, you’re a magnet?  There’s a whole global industry about the effects of magnetism on the body, but it remains outside of proper medical practice and so is termed ‘pseudo-scientific’ and ‘alternative medicine’.  All of that magnets-affect-health stuff is kind of interesting but it’s not what Brian is referring to.  From a properly scientific perspective, given the options of similar magnetic poles repelling and opposite magnetic poles attracting, the idea of human beings attracting specific things through the power of magnetism is poppycock.  Obviously, this whole magnetism thing is simply a metaphor for some other natural law.  Yes indeed, and it’s a good one.

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You don’t need to be on this planet for long before you notice that people seem to bring things upon themselves.  Stuff keeps happening to them, and not just random stuff, but a certain kind of stuff.  There’s a pattern or some notable repetition in their lives, they seem to be blessed with good luck or cursed with bad (people say of them that if they didn’t have any bad luck they’d have no luck at all), some people fall on their feet every time, others never seem to, things happen at the right time, just in time, things happen for a reason and in the end it’s all proof that Karma exists or that God works in mysterious ways.

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Ask any psychologist and they will tell you; the human-race is superstitious by nature and prone to seeking (and finding) patterns, even where none exist.  We like coincidences and we like making connections between things, sometimes discovering a genuine phenomenon but mostly just trying to make some home-spun theory force-fit because it would be nice if it was true.  The idea that events are random and that we are alone, adrift and just muddling through because of some accident of nature is less comforting than believing there is a reason and purpose to our existence and best of all, that a loving, caring, paternal guardian watches over us.  Thinking too much like a victim of abuse, we’d rather conclude that a bad harvest is because we’ve annoyed our God and must do better, than some particular combination of natural forces.

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This is also why conspiracy theories have such traction.  If some tragedy isn’t random, then why did it happen?  Which government ordered it? In response to what?  Did the North Koreans frame the Chinese by releasing Covid-19 because they were angry that Iranian gun-runners had murdered Princess Diana, who Kim Jong-Un had wanted to kidnap so that she could live with Elvis and Lord Lucan in his secret underground lair riding Shergar all day?  And, by the way, Shergar was behind the assassination of JFK; you need to be careful which horse you don’t bet on, because it makes the horses very angry and horses love revenge.

 

What other bad events might this bad harvest be connected to?  Who benefits by this disaster?  Where is my oven-foil helmet?  I must block out the government scanners before they realise I’m onto them.

You might note with some sadness that sinister motives have more traction that altruistic ones.  This is because a larger part of society is dissatisfied and frustrated than content with their lot.  If things aren’t as good as they should be then someone must be to blame (not me, obviously), whereas if things are going well, I did it, yay, go me!

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Once a person detects what seems like a pattern in events, they search for the hidden meaning, in particular, the cause.  If it rains, it’s because we did a rain dance or the gods are pleased with the sacrifice we made.  If it doesn’t rain, either our rain dance was pants or the virgin, er… wasn’t.  It’s all linked.

It’s 2020 and surely we’re way past that kind of mumbo-jumbo now aren’t we?  No more rain-dances.  Except when someone refuses to watch their football team take a penalty in case they jinx it, or has to wear their lucky socks at a job interview.  This level of superstition is still very common.  Whatever our thoughts on why a thing happened, we believe what we believe and it’s impolite to refuse someone else space to believe what they like, or to thrust our own beliefs upon them without a proper invitation.  Ask around and modern, popular explanations typically revolve around fate, intelligent design or Karma.  Consequently, it’s pointless trying to understand Bryan Tracey’s clever quotation without understanding how strongly connected it is with these deeply ingrained and highly emotional topics.   I’ll be as delicate as I can.  Here goes:

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The idea of fate was given a sophisticated back-story by the Greeks who determined that there were three lady weaver-goddesses who prescribed a person’s entire life at the time of their birth.  Their names were Clotho (the spinner), Lachesis (the allotter) and Atropos (the inflexible).  Clotho spun the thread, Lachesis dispensed it, therefore ‘allowing’ the person to live their fate and Atropos decided when to cut it, ending the life with a snip.  Don’t be surprised there were three, we human beings have an affinity with three.

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The Roman equivalents were Nona, Decuma and Morta, while in Norse mythology they were Urd (what once was), Verandi (what is coming into being) and Skuld (what shall be).  The Chinese had the four pillars of fate (not three you’ll notice and four is a more viable quantity for most areas of psychology, especially in psychometric models) but also believed in an invisible red cord of fate tied around the ankles of lovers.  The Japanese believed there was a red cord tying a couple together between the male’s thumb and the female’s little finger, while the Koreans thought the chord tied the little fingers of both parties.  Cute isn’t it?

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And so it goes on.  Depending where you found yourself born, you’d be indoctrinated into how fate operated in your culture.  Don’t fight it, it’s all predetermined and meant to be.

If we invented fate now, we wouldn’t have weavers, we’d have programmers and their names would be Trillion, Persephone and Anakin.  Trillion would write the program, Persephone would code in the options and Anakin would press ‘Game Over’ and laugh like someone with a mouth full of sherbet.  Meanwhile, in one of my clients’ offices, there’s a plaque on the wall to their certified programmer and his name is… Galahad Longshadow!  Isn’t that the coolest name ever?  If your surname is Longshadow, you simply can’t call your son Dave or Bob.   Young Master Longshadow was born to be Galahad of Java/Wordpress or whatever.

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When it comes to intelligent design Christianity remains the biggest of the 4,200 religions on the planet. Just one-sixth of the population of the world considers themselves to be atheist or non-religious so most people believe in something ‘out there’ or ‘up there’.  Christians and followers of Islam account for half the world’s population and Hindus account for another billion (13% of the total).  Hinduism is the oldest of the main modern religions and Christianity is fairly recent by comparison.  The term ‘modern’ excludes all the sun-worshipping which we know went on before people found something more organised to focus on.  Intelligent design means people trust in a greater purpose, that there may or may not be free choice but that this is the sideshow to something better and more important.  Generally it means that even our secret actions and thoughts are observed or known and that we might need to account or repent.  So while Catholicism burdened its peoples with original sin, it also offered them confession and indulgences, where financial contributions could create a pathway to absolution.  For others whose religions offered a more straight-forward concept of right and wrong, actions could be understood in the light that they were already written.

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Karma exists within Hinduism and Buddhism as a central concept and instils in a person the understanding that their thoughts and deeds have consequences.  Every word adds to the balance, every thought and every act, including the acts a person causes another to take, because those acts add to the overall tally of the person instigating the action, not just the one who was ordered to carry it out.  Good thoughts and deeds turn into something beneficial later in life, bad ones have the opposite effect.

There is a popular legend which originated among American aboriginal tribes – most commonly attributed to Cherokee folklore – which goes like this:

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.  He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.  One is evil, it is anger, envy, jealousy, doubt, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.  The other is good.  It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, forgiveness, truth, compassion and faith.”  The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”  The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.”

That’s pretty close to Karma although the metaphor can resonate with virtually any religion and parallels can no doubt be found wherever you’d like to look.

Keeping it simple, we have the fates at one end and Karma at the other.  Is everything pre-ordained or do you have choice?  If you have choice, does it matter, does it make a difference?  If it makes a difference, do the consequences make themselves felt in this life, in the afterlife, or in your next reincarnation?  Some of that I’m not qualified to answer and who can know for sure, but for the purposes of making sense of our modern lives, let’s take these next few things as very, very probable:

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9 steps between personal responsibility and happiness

  1. It’s your brain. It’s you who decides what thoughts to have and the quality of those thoughts
  2. Your thoughts have the potential to turn into deeds. For one thing, repeatedly thinking about a thing increases the chances of you doing something about it
  3. You may not plan to act on your thoughts but consciously held thoughts will influence subconscious behaviour – and a surprising amount of behaviour is driven subconsciously
  4. Once your thoughts are acted upon, your actions will create ripples, there will be consequences, possibly small, possibly bigger than you ever imagined or thought possible
  5. The ripples caused by your behaviour will come back to you at some time, in some form, small or large, good or bad
  6. This is an important one so make sure you agree with it before moving on: More negative actions are likely to generate more negative responses.  More positive actions are more likely to generate more positive responses.  No guarantees and sometimes a short-term gain turns into a much bigger long-term loss and vice-versa.  The long game is often a very different thing than the short one
  7. Your thoughts and actions become part of you in the way they form habits, mark out your character as the type of person that does certain things and/or does them a certain way
  8. Because you live in a society among other people and your actions may have a public aspect, what you do can determine your image and your reputation. These things go on to influence how others interact with you, including whether they interact with you at all
  9. Ultimately, because of all this, your simple personal thoughts have affected your social status and the quality (as well as the existence) of your relationships: You are a living magnet!

Earlier, I mentioned ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ and said that ‘have-nots’ are more likely to be conspiracy theorists.   Now then, anyone can be a conspiracy theorist, but taking a helicopter view of all this philosophy presents you with this question:

“Is it me?  Am I doing it, or is it the world doing it to me?”

Believing in fate (or equivalent belief systems) means you think it’s the world (your god or gods) doing it to you.  Believing in a Karma (or equivalent belief systems) means you think it’s you making it happen.  These are opposite ends of a continuum and you don’t have to be at an extreme end, you can sit somewhere on one side of the middle if you like.  But… self-made people typically believe they did it all themselves, which is why they write books and announce that, “Anyone can do it, and here’s how; buy my book and make me a bit richer (and you a teeny bit poorer) and learn the secrets of my success and how you can make a million dollars in three months by…”  sorry, my mind went blank at that point…

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Studies suggest that successful people often have what some people would consider luck, but also pre-existing circumstances firmly on their side.  It is quite often apparent that particular events have conspired in a special and rare way.  Further, that decisions made long ago which cannot have been taken with a specific outcome in mind, led the person to a point where it all just clicked.  That can feel caused, because it absolutely was caused, but the results are much grander than could have been predicted and for someone else, they may well have been much less so, and so often are.  But only by degree, not normally by absolutes.  Take many thousands of people who feel an affinity with making music and who at some point begin to feel, “Maybe this is what I should do with my life!”  The vast majority fail, a few do okay, one or two nearly make it and a small handful achieve something spectacular.  Those who utterly fail may think, “I was mistaken.” The few who do okay say, “I had fun but it wasn’t to be.” The tiny handful who so nearly make it think, “I was robbed, cheated out of my deserved success and lesser talents were granted underserved riches;” and the spectacular successes may say, “I always knew I’d make it.  You just have to believe, want it enough and with a little bit of luck it will come to you.”

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Equally importantly, we cannot (as far as we know) choose our own genetics.  We don’t absolutely predetermine our predisposition to all of the potential conditions that can shape our lives or how they end.  People don’t choose their birth defect or their disease, but they do choose how to relate to it and what they do with the time they have and the abilities (however comparatively limited) they possess.

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People also invite ill-health by their habits which is why there’s so much information about our diets and in particular, sugar, salt, the various and confusing good and bad fats, E-numbers (surely E is a letter?) and apparently poisonous substances like Aspartame and Sodium-Benzoate which make big corporations richer and do us significant harm (allegedly, obviously!)  And why should gazillion dollar industries worry about our health more than their own profits when we drink so much alcohol, when some folks still smoke in spite of everything they know about it and when rather a lot of people spend a lot of money so they can pump dangerous chemicals into their systems?  Quite a few of us don’t even bother to exercise.  Surely a little corn syrup, palm oil or salt is small fry compared the bigger unfolding picture of human health?  Why stop smoking, I might get run over by a bus tomorrow?

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But intuitively we know it’s up to us.  It’s just that it’s hard to do all of it all the time, especially when you hear of a fit cyclist or marathon runner having a heart attack – statistically, it’s bound to happen to some, or of some sweet little kid with leukaemia, or the person who never smoked a single cigarette in their life dying of lung cancer while 60-a-day Myrtle keeps coughing her lungs up but is still going strong at 86?  With 6.8 billion people on the planet, every possible outcome will occur somewhere to someone, for the most part, so it’s about working the odds.  Do better things, have a better outcome. “You are a living magnet!”

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So if self-made people feel inclined to take personal credit for their success, why do those whose life has been such a struggle drift towards fatalistic ideas?  You’ve probably arrived before me.  Who wants to have a hard time putting food on the table and simultaneously think it’s their own fault?  Who wants to get passed over for promotion or turned down for a job and think, “That was me, I did that to myself!”  And there are some dark corners to this realisation.  Psychiatrists and therapists are familiar with victims of abuse escaping one abusive relationship only to find themselves in another one.

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Abusers, those miserably slick people who harm others weaker than themselves are attuned to the unconscious micro-behaviours of victims.  The bully who hits women with his fists isn’t attracted to a powerful, confident woman.  He zones in on the meek and vulnerable girl in the corner, the one making herself look small and trying to hide in the group of girlfriends who have dragged her out to the pub now that she’s finally free of Earl.  (Google ‘Goodbye Earl’ by the Dixie Chicks).  She is precisely what this unpleasant bloke wants since his last missus escaped to a safe house some months ago and issued an injunction against him.

The police know muggers pick out their victims using similar criteria, so if you’re a confident cage-fighting champion-turned-vigilante, going out in search of some muggers to rip apart, the muggers will spot you and avoid you completely.

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There’s a saying you’ll certainly have heard before, There but for the grace of God, go I, which being a Christian reference (but not one that appears anywhere in the bible) , attributes the passage of events and the distribution of favours, hardships and punishments to God’s will, as opposed to the more modern notion that the Christian God allows free will so that people are able to create their own fortunes.  It fits better with the idea that God helps those who help themselves but if you thought that too was a Biblical quote, I have to disabuse you of the idea once again as it never was.  A version of it is in the Quran though along the lines of, Trust in God but tie your camel, which suits us nicely here I think.

Remove the deity from There but for the grace of God go I and put the onus back onto the individual to make good decisions and take responsibility for their own actions you get something quite profound.

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What Brian Tracy is saying with this superb eggcup of words amounts to this:

  • If you have positive thoughts, more positive things will happen to you
  • If you have negative thoughts, more negative things will happen to you
  • If you break the law, you might find the police at your door
  • If you get your car serviced regularly and properly, it’s less likely to break down
  • If you disinfect your toilet there will be less bacteria in there waiting to jump back on you
  • If you attend to your appearance and odour, your date might get a better first impression
  • Apparently, if you live by the sword, you’ll die by the sword
  • If you study hard and revise for your exams, you’ll almost certainly get a higher grade
  • If you smile at someone in a friendly way, they might stop and talk to you (hopefully in a friendly way), but if you never smile at them, they may never stop and talk at all, that’s the point
  • If you practice safe sex, you’re less likely to become a parent
  • If you beat your dog, it might bite you
  • If you work hard, your boss might notice and you might get a pay-rise

And let’s stop right there because that last one is very often not true and if we’re not careful, it’s life’s little and persistent inequities which can undermine our faith in what should be a simple and natural conclusion; that this causes that, that good causes good, that hard work causes success.

Doesn’t it?

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Sadly, we all know (or think we know) of instances where evil deeds have gone unpunished; where crime paid; where hard work simply made you a reliable beast-of-burden for a boss only too willing to take advantage of your good nature and reliability, meanwhile some slick-talking, lazy-arse interloper, walks in and steals your promotion; where decades of devotion by a loyal wife preceded her utter git of a husband sneaking off with some young bint he met in the queue at Gregg’s, or any number of real-life’s incalculable injustices.

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Don’t give up, don’t give in.  You can’t expect everything to work out the way you think it should and sometimes it takes a little longer.  The idea that things will be alright in the end and if things aren’t alright, it isn’t the end applies here.  Have a little patience.  Eventually the criminal will either be caught, or his life will fall apart.  Constant hard work will lead to greater success in the long run, but maybe not instantly and not when you especially wanted it.  Being a loyal spouse may not keep a philander in check, but it’s a quality that will be appreciated by the right person when that time comes.  Be kind to animals (and people because they are animals too), maintain your equipment, if you have a sword, don’t live by it, you’re better off living by a river, or a cycle path, or a field of poppies or sunflowers.

And to conclude with the words of the utterly brilliant and much missed Dave Allen;

 

“Goodnight, thank you and may your God go with you.”

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I once got reprimanded by a delegate on a caravan sales course for spelling Shakespeare incorrectly, putting Shakespear under one of his quotations – possibly this one.  It being a Shakespearean error, I bowed theatrically and apologised for the offence I had caused the learned sire.  It was an honest mistake, almost certainly influenced by having listened to some excellent music by Shakespear’s Sister in the car on the way to the venue.

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We carried on with  me showing uncharacteristic restraint as I avoided being a smart-arse.  It would, I felt, have been bad form to correct him in front of his peers, so said I nothing.  These days I’m far less reticent, unleashing the smart-arse frequently enough to deserve the sweatshirt.  Probably.

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The thing is, you can spell Shakespeare almost any way you like, and it won’t be far wrong.  There are six of Shakespeare’s signatures in existence and not one of them is spelt the same.  There are a further seven different spellings where contemporaries have written about him and spelled it differently still.  All these varying signatures led to one of those conspiracy theories that he might never have lived and instead the bard might just be the amalgam of a number of other play-writes.  Rest assured he did exist and Shakespeare is the most common spelling, but not by him personally.

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To say the man was a wordsmith is grossly underestimating just how brilliant he was at utilising, manipulating and reinventing the language.  English has more words than any other language, currently listed at 171,476 in the Oxford English Dictionary twenty-volume set, plus 45,156 obsolete words.  Add in technical terms and every other possible variation old and new, and the total rises above a million.  The average Brit uses around 8,000 different words in normal conversation but knows between 10,000 and 30,000 depending on education.  Meanwhile studies of (American female) telephone calls shows that everything that needed to be said can comprise as few as 400 different words.  Shakespeare used 31,534 different words in his works and is estimated to have known many more than that, not only good by contemporary standards, but extraordinary for the era, when the scope of the language was much smaller.  It is likely he had virtually the entire lexicon in his head, an idea supported by the fact that he invented 1,700 of the words we use today because what he wanted to say, had no simple label at the time.  He gave us fashionable, addicted, barefaced, arouse, lacklustre, swagger, worthless, grovel, excitement, bedroom, obscene, epileptic, grovel, remorseless, accused, compromise, mimic, frugal, gloomy, bump, dawn, tranquil, pedant, majestic, label, lonely, advertising and champion to name but a few. What a writer!  What a mind!

Rich not gaudy.  Let’s start with the ‘rich’ part and how rich it should be.  If we are satisfied that rich means well-dressed and with it, well-groomed, looking rich means Shakespeare is recommending some pretty fine clothes for your next business meeting or maybe it’s a fancy frock for a ‘do’.

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Getting the balance right depends upon the context and the other attendees, very few people enjoy finding themselves completely over or underdressed, so it’s about the art of pitching it correctly.  In most sales environments that means dressing in line with the market position of the brand; high-end brand means better clothing, budget brand, a little less so.  In other settings it means adjusting the standard to reflect the expectations of the customer.  The headmaster of the exclusive college needs to dress well, the fabulous Professor Robert Winston, turning up at a hopeful young couples’ house to offer advice on conception, should look like an eminent doctor, rather than someone on their way to a squash match, but the equally fabulous Professor Alice Roberts is fine in something more casual when she elucidates on  ancient human remains on the BBC.

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A double-glazing salesman visiting a retired schoolteacher’s house would do well to not overdo it.  If it looks like he’s raking it in selling UPVC windows, the potential customer will assume the profit margin is set to ‘greedy’ and either lose trust in the vendor or expect to negotiate the price down considerably.  Too scruffy means you have no credibility, too flash means you’re grabbing unjust piles of the filthy lucre.  And here are those two main points again:  Flash is something other than rich, it’s the gaudy reference and it means that quality and taste have been substituted for bling and obscene crassness.

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And why is the silly salesman wearing it today?  It’s one thing to strap the Rolex to his wrist for the annual sales awards event, but another thing entirely to wear it on a sales call.  It says, “You, Mr Customer, may have worked hard all your life being a schoolteacher but I’m making more money than you’ll ever have by flogging you this stuff.”  The truth might be that the watch was itself a sales award and that actually, the poor salesman is struggling with his mortgage, two car payments and a stack of credit-card debt, even though he recently raided his pension to make ends meet.  To the customer, that just means, “Hello, I’m a blithering idiot whose priorities are inverted.”  An alternative (and not better) scenario is that the watch was bought on a lad’s trip to Thailand and is actually fake.  Like the dyed hair, the Not-Hugo Boss suit and the ghastly overdone salon tan, it suggests, “I’m basically a fake from head to toe so please take everything about me with a pinch of salt.”  In these sorts of setting, trying to find the sweet spot between being smart enough for credibility, but not so smart that you outclass your customers is the objective.

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The penchant for ‘nice’ things is understandable in others even if you don’t want to join in yourself.  A salesman who has dragged himself up from modest beginnings will want to celebrate and use the symbols of his home turf to make a statement.  As a boy, fast cars and fancy clothing labels were the obvious clues to getting on and getting out, so these are the first purchases made when earnings allow.  It’s not necessarily smart, but it is entirely understandable and look around, most of us do it one way or another.  We may not need the thing to be quite that good, but if we can afford the best then most of us will.  But what you wear to work is a uniform even if it isn’t officially sanctioned.  And what you wear anywhere else you go, makes a statement about the real you inside.  Make rich relative and throw gaudy in the trash

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Theory:  A supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained.

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I’m a theorist.  I have to be to be able to provide training courses.  It is necessary for me to completely understand the ‘something’ and also to know ‘the general principles independent of the thing’.  Often overlooked, is the complex methodology of conveying the information in a way that allows differing styles of learning to access it relatively equally.

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What often interests delegates more though, are my own credentials as a salesperson and the answer to the question, can I do it myself.  Luckily, I entered this way of life on the back of a very good track record in sales, but it was always the theory that interested me most.  Why did that work?  How is that a better way?  Is there an even better one?

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Principles and theory are the basis of academic education and that is a fairly recent phenomenon.  In England, schools appeared as early as the sixth century, Scotland from the twelfth, Wales from the fifteenth, but there weren’t many and access was reserved for the wealthy, the privileged and of course, you had to be male.  Why, why, why?

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The first proper schools we know about were started by Greek philosophers around 500BC.  They were democratic, not elitist but focused on physical exercise, strength and stamina.  This was partly because the schools – known as gymnasiums incidentally – were preparation for military service, but also because the Greeks believed that fitness was desirable for improving one’s appearance now, and for health in later life.  Music and dance, lyrics and poetry were soon added, and within a hundred years, tutors who were both Greek and foreign, paid and unpaid, were adding more academic topics.  It was a model of education to admire and copy.  At the time, there was opposition from some dark and dusty quarters who feared that educating the masses would cause a breakdown in society.  It didn’t.

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That should have been the start of something incredible, but it was not to be.   The fear that widespread, democratic education would lead to civil unrest was felt in the Vatican in the sixth century, a whole thousand years later.  Teachers and teaching needed to be limited for reasons of control.  Manipulating knowledge granted them power.

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In the Middle Ages, monks were busily hand-copying books, including the intricate designs and illustrations that marked the era.  Not only were they inherently expensive, but they were heavily edited and distribution was strictly restricted.  The numerous Greek and Aramaic religious texts were first reduced to an approved twenty-seven books, then carefully transcribed into Latin.  Translation into other languages was not permitted because even though few souls among the great unwashed could read, limiting The Word to the Vatican’s own tongue reduced the chances of it falling under the wrong eyes.  To manage things still further, the Catholic church banned the laity (that’s you and me) from reading the bible at all, so even if we could read, we weren’t allowed to. Believe it, obey its doctrines, but don’t be getting above your station and expect to read it yourself.  We will tell you all you need to know during your thrice daily, bent-knee, head-bowed visits to church – all donations welcome, thank you!  As late as 1527, William Tyndale was burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English.

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This denial of education for the population at large lasted for a millenia, although schools were beginning to appear in places as diverse as Morocco and Sweden (modern names for the locations), but nowhere did they spring up in such numbers as in England.  The real turning point came with Henry VIII’s self-appointment as the head of the Church of England and the establishment of large numbers of schools with the support of the church.  By this time, the Vatican’s position was shifting too, which was just as well because an enterprising German called Thomas Gutenberg had recently invented the printing press and relieved all those monks of their rather exhausting shift.  They could rest their smouldering, withered quills and return to brewing ale and whatever else took their fancy.

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Academic education now meant some learned fellow would instruct a class of young boys using books, chalk and blackboard, pen and ink.  The lessons might sometimes include objects for demonstration but were generally one-step removed from the world they explained.  That’s the nature of a classroom lesson, it’s mostly theory, it sometimes has practical elements, but it’s rarely the real thing.  Education was for boys; the future workforce, because the law restricted women’s rights with regard to education and pretty much everything else – a complex matter also rooted deeply in the religious beliefs of western and middle-eastern regions.

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For those still excluded from the limited number of schools, the best they could hope for was an apprenticeship and parents did much to get their children ensconced with a tradesman.  Child labour was typically free; the price of eventually learning how to be a shoemaker, chimney sweep, bookbinder or blacksmith.  And the resulting skill-level of the post-graduate apprentice would be a combination of natural talent and the skill-level of the master, not only to perform the art but to pass it on.  Put a promising pupil with a great master and spectacular things might happen.  Think Socrates and Plato, Plato and Alexander the Great, Graham and Damon Hill (there are lots of other father-son F1 dynasties), while in musical circles there’s Reba McEntire and Kelly Clarkson, Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus, Neneh Cherry and Mabel or for the more classically minded, Johan Strauss I, II & III.

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Not all teachers have Dolly Parton’s assets.  Simply being able to do a thing to a high standard does not guarantee being able to pass on that skill.  And so, even the best pupils would struggle with poor teachers.  A few hundred years ago, if you were lucky enough to be apprenticed to one of the great cobblers of your region, your future might seem assured, but what if that great talent did not have the wherewithal or patience to teach?  I remember maths lessons with one master at Grammar school where I felt I understood less about mathematics when the bell rang to end the lesson and rescue us than when we were ushered into the dingy chamber of horrors forty-minutes earlier.   I also knew a plasterer who insisted his labourers left the room when he did the actual plastering because he didn’t want them to acquire the secrets of his highly paid skill.  He’d spent a few months teaching one lad only to have him leave and set up in competition, “Never doing that again!”   And there’s another thing – a process is needed; somewhere to start, what to do next, how to progress to higher levels, for what if the master’s teachings were too advanced and what you needed was something a bit more basic?  Ladybird Book 1 existed for a reason and is a better way to start your life as a bibliophilic than Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History Of Time’.  You can save that one for a rainy afternoon.

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We are now so used to formal education being the norm, that the idea of learning directly from the master of the art itself seems like something else entirely, and yet on-the-job-training is a part of many development programmes and apprenticeships are on the rise yet again as the need for skilled workers, particularly in engineering, has grown.  In that workplace arena, selecting the right mentor to pass on their skills is as crucial as it ever was.

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One way of thinking about formal, academic education is that you find the very best chimney sweeps you can find, form them into a panel with the most senior in overall charge, agree the underlying principles of chimney sweeping, commit the knowledge of processes, best-practice and everything else a sweep might need to know to book-form.  Write lessons, make it a process which accelerates the learning of a lifetime into a much shorter syllabus.  And remember, this isn’t simply the accumulated knowledge of your average, local chimney sweep, it is distilled from the best chimney sweeps in the land.  This way you can reach a larger audience and share higher-quality, peer-verified information.  This is ideal as long as you keep in mind that what is being shared is mostly theory.

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One other change is that in recent generations jobs have become more specialised.  When Einstein was young it was still considered just about possible, to know a lot about everything.  Those blessed with a very-above-average brain might be able to learn much of that which an expert might know in his or her field and then add all the other major fields of learning too.  This means having extensive knowledge of each branch of science, of history and geography, literature and music, philosophy and art and being an expert in all of them.  Einstein himself struggled with mathematics and sought to remedy this as an adult, feeling it was his weak point.

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But Einstein himself predicted he would be among the last to come close to this; that discoveries were occurring at an increasing rate and that fields of science were becoming increasingly focused.  He said that the future would be of specialists with high levels of knowledge in narrow fields and not only is that where we are today, but it’s still where we are going.  Whether it’s programmers and their particular code/language, plumbers who know about some boilers and not others, vehicle mechanics who can do electrics and adjust valve-gear but not rebuild a gearbox or doctors who specialise in one particular area of medicine to name but a few examples.   Meanwhile, I always thought navel doctors were the most specialised until I realised they were actually naval doctors.  Naval, not navel – a shame.

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With so much to learn about a particular thing, professionals are constantly being trained and retrained and this is where Von Clausewitz comes in.  The Prussian Major-General of Cavalry wrote a great book about military strategy upon his retirement and although still unfinished at the time of his death, it has been much quoted (and courtesy of some dubious translation) mis-quoted, since.  This particular one, “What genius does is the best rule and theory can do no better than show why and how this ought to be the case,” is a reminder that classroom lessons, when done well, are the sharing of the work of geniuses.  They are not the teacher’s opinion, but something far more important; the agreed highpoint of the matter in question.  The original source may be on another continent, may have lived and died in another century, but through the academic process, their knowledge, discoveries and the short-cuts to acquiring their talents may become available to us, preferably via a talented intermediary.  It may be a while since the military instructor himself rode a horse in combat, but no matter, what the student needs to think about is the efficacy of the information.

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The D-Day assault on Pegasus Bridge in France by a glider-borne company of the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry is still taught in military academies around the world.  Such was its significance to the D-Day landings, the precariousness of the battle itself, the bravery and skill displayed by those who took part and the near-perfection of the operation from start to finish, that it stands out even among so many worthy examples. And yet, would the lessons be clear without another ‘expert’ to break it down step-by-step and explain it?

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Were I to take my guitar off the wall and recommit to learning how to play it, I’d like to fill in the many gaps around my attempts at mimicking the style of Gary Moore.  A lack of natural talent might be a hindrance, but simply watching the late, great man play on video isn’t enough, I would need a sympathetic (and extraordinarily patient) teacher.  Gary Moore was the genius, the teacher becomes the conduit.  It helps if the teacher can do what Gary Moore did, but the most useful thing is he can convey the ‘how’ in a method that works for the student.  So, let’s sum this bit of wisdom up:

  • Learning directly from the master is definitely a distinct advantage, but it can be wasted on dim-witted students
  • Because there are a lot more students than masters, that direct teaching/learning process will always be limited by time and access (and cost too)
  • Great students will be restricted in their progress by inferior ‘masters’ and by masters who are personally proficient but who don’t know how to pass on their wisdom and skill
  • Masters and teachers are not always the same person. When they are, it’s special.
  • Theory isn’t the skill itself, but it can explain the how and why
  • It’s up to the student not to waste the lesson, but to convert the theory into practice and so replicate it for their own, personal success. They might be the next master!

Richard Flint is an unusual man.  He operates across the United States out of Florida as a conference speaker, coach, management trainer and more.  He’s unconventional not just in that he continues to work way past the point most people would retire, nor in his penchant for the very loudest of loud Hawaiian shirts (I’ve never seen him in anything else), but in his style; very American.  VERY.

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Buy yourself a book about behavioural economics by Nobel prize-winner Daniel Kahneman and many heavy chapters later (plus hundreds of pages of research data) you’ll understand a bit more about why people buy the things they do, how they make those purchasing decisions and what sometimes stops them.  Listen to Richard Flint talk on the same subject for half an hour and you’ll arrive at the same place.  He won’t quote the research and his justifications for his thinking bear no resemblance to those of the academics because they are personal to him.  His lists of “five main reasons…”, “three ways people…” or “four aspects of human behaviour when…” are arrived at from his personal observations and in that respect he’s an academic’s nightmare.  But he’s still right about so many things.

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He’s like some maths genius whose exam papers have all the right answers but whose workings-out are unfathomable to the examiner.  There are whole areas which make perfect sense and the conclusion is bang-on, but it’s full of unconventionality and some things here and there don’t quite add up.  Never mind how he got there, pay attention to the bigger message and you’ll learn something invaluable.

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I met Richard through one of my bigger U.S. clients who had used him for years and trusted his judgement implicitly.   Richard became the final part of my interview process; he needed to approve me before my sales training could begin.  After the meeting my client said Richard liked me a lot and, (put on your best southern-states-drawl for this), “That young man’s got all his ducks in a row.” Well, good to hear.

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I’m not sure Richard could say anything without using metaphors and analogies and if you heard him and weren’t familiar with the one he’d just used it might well be because it was one of his own… and he has lots.  Go online, you’ll find him easily.  His delivery style may not be to everyone’s taste, but I promise that while his ducks might seem to be in a muddle, they are really great ducks!  Jeremiah Muddleduck.

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I can’t be certain that Richard is the original source for “Don’t let people live in your head rent-free.” but I think it’s likely.  I heard it from him twenty-five years ago, quoted him on it many times since and never heard anyone else say it until the last five years or so.  Just a few weeks back I heard it on TV, so it has spread into a wider consciousness now for sure.

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The principle is this.  We have thoughts about people and those thoughts have qualities.  For instance, Sarah might think of her slightly-stern mother and remember the many little lessons she gave her, of her father and feel warm and fuzzy because he’d adopted the hands-off, co-conspirator approach and always made her feel better, of her brother, whose premature death leaves her sad, of her college sweetheart who betrayed her so caustically that it took her years to get over the pain, of a neighbour who gives her the creeps because of the way he looks at her and of the new chap in her life who gives her goose-bumps and tummy-wobbles.  There are thousands of others, each attached to an overriding emotion and possibly other minor ones too.  They’re all in there and can be accessed at will and when they are, the attached emotions flood in behind and take over.  So, Sarah can go from happy to sad to angry to creeped-out, to warm and fuzzy, just by thinking about all these different people.  We can all do likewise using our own catalogue of friends and acquaintances.

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Now remember something; whose brain is it?  It’s yours!  So, if you want to feel happy, thinking about someone who makes you feel happy would seem to be a good idea and easy to do too.  Equally, if you want to feel more resourceful, thinking about someone who was always good at making you believe in yourself and dig deep, might be just right to get you started on a difficult project.

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Imagine Sarah is staring at a mountain of work and a difficult deadline.  She’d much rather be doing something else, anything else in fact but this is what she has to do because it’s her job.  She’s not a fan of her new boss and thinking about him whining about the work being late and knowing full well he’ll take the credit when he uses all of her stuff at the next Heads-of-Department meeting almost makes her want to quit, but a new thought takes over:  It’s payday on Thursday and she’s using a chunk of it to put a deposit on a forthcoming trip.  She’s taking her new man to Paris, her favourite place in the world and somewhere she knows well. He, on the other hand has never been and she can’t wait to share the City of Light with him.  This is why she’s working so hard right now.

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Thinking about all those people except her boss was useful, so in respect of this quote, they are paying their rent.  Sarah keeps them in her head and thinks of them and gets something (rent) each time she does.  But is her new boss paying rent?  It seems not as he’s draining her energy, making her want to give up.  Maybe we can twist it around to make those negative thoughts useful, but don’t bother, just find someone else in there to achieve that end who doesn’t drag you down.  Maybe she can’t forget him because she has to deal with him a lot at work, but whose brain is it?  Hers, so she needs to generate new thoughts about him and neutralize the negativity, maybe like this:

“At forty-four, he’s more than ten years older than me, he’s been over-promoted and is clearly struggling in his job because he has to rely on everyone in the department to support him and he has very little idea of what they do, or more to the point, how they do it.  No one likes him (poor sod!), although that’s not quite true, Jim likes him but then no one likes Jim so that figures and look at them together – pathetic!  Plus, I heard a rumour his marriage is a bit pants, someone overheard one half of a private telephone conversation and said it sounded pretty bad.  Aw, I almost feel sorry for him.  The last three people in that job have all struggled and the only one we liked was Pete and he retired early because his wife’s family had money.  It won’t end well, it’s only temporary, if I cut him a little slack and stop hating his guts it’ll be better for me.  Yes, I like that plan.  That feels better already.  What do I think of him now?  Um… nothing really, I guess he’s out of my head.”

Good because he was in there rent-free.

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Who’s bugging you?   When you think of someone and it’s just negativity and pain, that’s not good.  It’s not some kind of useful motivational pain (whatever that might be) but just a fun-sucking, energy sponge.  Whoever they are, evict them.  They have no place in your thinking other than self-abuse and/or because it’s a habit.  Spring-clean!  Get them out if they aren’t paying rent.

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Sometimes it can be a matter of unfinished business.  It might be someone is haunting you (living in your head) because you owe them a call, the return of their wheelbarrow you borrowed (and broke), an apology, an overdue catch-up (you used to be such friends but drifted apart), or all manner of things.  If so, weigh up the pain and strain of accommodating them in your head versus just doing the thing which needs to be done to get them out, or to turn them into a positive rent-payer and keep them.   This quote then, might also be the spur to sort out some of your overdue baggage.  If so, good!

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Let’s just examine this process again.  Maybe it’s obvious to you but I know from experience that this is harder for some than for others.

  1. You think about someone, they just pop into your head. Notice what comes with them, the internal dialogue (what you are saying to yourself), the emotions which arise.  Useful?  Pleasant?  Motivational?
  2. Evaluate the result. For people you know well, there may be dozens of facets, so you can think of them in a variety of ways which produce an equal variety of emotions.  That’s fine, just learn which is which so you know which one to access for what desired outcome.  If there are some facets of an otherwise good person you don’t like so much, evict those facets (those versions of the person) and keep the others
  3. Neutralize the negative ones by rethinking and dismissing their meaning. It might seem easier to say than do, but if you find their hold over you to be difficult to shake, resort to telling them to get out, that they’re not welcome, that it’s your brain and you’re in charge (aren’t you, because if not you, then who is?).  When your mind goes there, redirect it somewhere else
  4. Practice and repeat
  5. Learn who to think of and when. Fill your head with useful people paying good rent.  Some give you belly laughs, some make you smile warmly, some make you feel valued and important, some make you want to be better, some make you sigh, but then get off your backside and do what you know needs to be done.  None should suck your energy or simply make you feel bad about yourself and leave it at that.  That type has all gone now

Not long after making this part of your normal thinking, it’ll dawn on you that it applies equally to stuff.  So don’t let stuff live in your head rent-free either.

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If you’re lucky enough to own a motorcycle, there’s a chance that you only have to think about it to feel better.  But that can apply equally to anything.  We could say your horse or your cat and it would be every bit as true but I’d like to focus on inanimate things here.  If your sofa makes you happy when you think about it, then think about it!  Particularly when you’d like a quick hit of ‘happy.’

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Maybe it’s the book you’re reading, the trip you have planned, the TV show you are binging on, the meal you plan to cook, your car, shoes or a whole new outfit, a song you love, something you are making, your adult colouring book, Lego Technik, a jigsaw, Cards Against Humanity, YouTube cat videos, your collection of china pigs, an instrument you are learning to play or a language you are learning to speak, a painting you are doing, or a room you have decorated or an old piece of furniture you have restored or the patio you have laid.  Get it?  Anything at all, whatever works for you.

And evict the bad stuff.  Maybe there’s something which annoys you every time you see it.  Maybe it’s cluttering up your bedroom (a thing BTW, not a person!) or it’s in the way in the utility/garage/shed.  Get rid of it, you’ll feel better.  It annoys you to look at it so bye-bye!

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An example I came across back-along was to do with someone selling and old games console.  These things cost hundreds and then get outdated pretty quickly as technology develops.  He had games, a console and loads of accessories and it was taking up valuable space in the wardrobe of his smallish home.  Calculating what it all cost he knew he wanted something back but baulked at the verbal offer from one of those high-street used gear shops.  Prices were a bit better online, but he decided to stay local because it was such a big pile of stuff and so put it in the local advertiser.  No response.  He lowered the price but still no response and started to bug his friends and especially his girlfriend with stories about how much it all cost, how hard it had been to get some bits of it, what a profiteering villainous industry it is, how people are fools because they are only interested in the latest stuff (ignoring how he’d behaved when he bought it all in the first place) and how he couldn’t possibly let it go for the pittance he’d been offered.  These random people and bits of plastic stuffed with electronics occupied his head.  His girlfriend, took it all to the shop, accepted the derisory offer, added some extra cash and told him she’s sold it to someone at work.   He was happy, she’d rid herself of the stuff not paying rent to either of them…  …which is exactly what he should have done much, much earlier.  We get trapped, by memories, by stuff, by people, but most of all by our own confused thoughts about it all.  So, Spring-clean!  Get it out and get it gone.

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During training, I will ask people what they’ve learned so far.  This is a proper training technique (who would have thought…?) designed to focus minds, especially those folks who tend to drift along nodding in all the right places and it helps people take responsibility for learning something, or realising what’s key to them personally.

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One day while working in the U.S. I fired off the question at the end of the day and a lady repeated this quote, with emphasis.  It meant a lot to her.  Six months later she got in touch again by email and reminded me of the training and reiterated how that one quote had impacted on her.  She’d realised her head was fully occupied by freeloaders exerting a negative influence, that she’d become a suppository for other peoples’ problems, failings and demands, but that she herself had no power over her life.  She’d gradually been strangled by events and circumstances and it was time to take back her brain.  This was why she now lived in a different state, worked at a different company, but most of all, was a long way from her (now) ex-husband.  Thankfully, this was all good, her life had turned around and she’d found herself again and with it, real happiness.  Phew!

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It doesn’t need to be that dramatic.  This is a quote which can help in smaller ways just as usefully as changing your entire existence.  It’s your brain and it comprises 100 billion neurons which create valuable real estate and a potentially high rent-yield.  Take charge, enjoy your paying tenants and evict the negative ones.

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One for our times.  There is no limit to looking upward – thank goodness!  But why upward?

Because our emotional state (internal) affects our behaviour (external) and thinking affects our emotional state – often generating a sequence of changing emotions as we process whatever thoughts we are having at the time – thinking ends up being a whole-body activity.

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Wrapped up inside of ourselves, the way we are when thinking about a thing, we are often unaware of our own behaviour, of what our body is doing during that time.  But others can notice and pass comment, “Penny for your thoughts.” or, “You’re going to catch a fly with your mouth open like that.”

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As a species, our behaviour is similar to each other whether schooled in Switzerland or born into a remote New Guinea tribe, never to leave.  We smile, laugh, frown, grind our teeth, clench fists and stamp our feet, hold our head in our hands, rub the back of our neck, pout, shuffle our feet and dance with joy like one big, close-knit family.

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At another level entirely, our hearts race or slow to their lowest rate, we blush, dilate and contract pupils, lose blood from our extremities at times of danger, pump it elsewhere at times of passion (lips and earlobes to name just two locations), generate and release into our own bloodstreams whole ranges of exotic hormones powerfully and rapidly and with precise timing, our hairs stand on end, we salivate or dry up, muscles tense or relax and our eyes dart about in patterns which match large numbers of others (but not all).

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By any measure, there’s a lot going on and one aspect of it is our more general posture.  Like the small details, the bigger picture conveys meaning.  Imagine then, a person shuffling along slowly, with hands in pockets, head down and seeming to be looking at his own feet as he kicks small stones along in front of him.  What’s going on?  Deep in thought yes but what kind of thoughts is he having?

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Consider the opposite, the lady walks briskly, her small handbag clutched in her left hand, swings with her gait as she takes each step, so light in her feet she’s almost skipping.  Her arms are out at something of an angle, her gaze is upwards and maybe, she does a flamboyant twirl and laughs at herself, although it wasn’t necessary for the purpose of our mind-reading exercise.

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He’s down, literally.  He’s down in the dumps, downcast, downright miserable. She’s up because things are looking up.  So, the phenomenon is encoded in our language too.  Our knowledge about this stuff is not new to us scientifically and nor is it new to you.  It’s as old as the written word (consider the alleged locations of heaven and hell) and so maybe, it’s an unnecessary lesson.  As soon as the situation is described, you know what it is, you’ve seen it, experienced it first-hand.  It’s simple really; in terms of attitude and emotional state, looking up is positive, looking down, negative.

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If behaviour was only ever the consequence of state, we’d have a way of interpreting internal state from external behaviour (useful), but no more than that.  But that’s only half the story.  At some point, we’ll interrogate Socrates’ “The soul and the body…” quote and approach this same discussion from another perspective, but suffice to say for now, that the way you behave, influences your thinking too.

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Perhaps you are processing dull paperwork and make an error, correct it, make another one.  Reach for an earlier document but can’t find it.  You search among the piles of papers and it’s nowhere to be seen.  Now you’re frustrated and as usual, a task you don’t enjoy much is stressing you out even more than it really should.  You get up from your desk and put the kettle on and while looking out the window, see a bird pecking the grass for food.  You open the window and allow a gentle breeze of fresh air to waft in and toss out to your little feathered friend the remnants of something Mr Kipling made.  Tea is poured and you spend a few moments watching nature, breathing fresh air and sipping the elixir.  Returning to your desk you see the missing piece of paper and can’t imagine why it wasn’t obvious earlier.  You are now able to continue the dull work at a much better pace and with accuracy.  The brief interlude with its change of behaviour, transformed your state.

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So, what if things are difficult?  What if events have conspired to send you down?  Slumped and downcast, trapped in the loops of thinking which seem to have no agreeable solution is a bad place to be and quite ineffective too.  States are sticky and staying like that for extended periods will make it increasingly hard to escape and can actually be harmful to your health.  For some people this kind of misery can begin to become the norm and in the most serious of cases, their brain becomes considerably less active and struggles to generate useful thoughts.  Their brain/blood chemistry is more harmful than healthy and they sit alone in their cold, broken-down car on a dull and rainy roundabout.  There are no exits, just a loop and they can’t get their car started and don’t have the energy to walk.  Other cars, bright-coloured ones with happy people inside, flash past, on to, and through their little grey world, but they know they can’t follow the happy folks to Sunnyland.  No fuel, no spark, exit closed.  They are depressed, the far, far bottom of the place we call ‘down’.

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It’s okay though, those clever Japanese offer a useful piece of advice for everyone whose experiences of life include a mixture of ‘up’ and ‘down’, that is, There is no limit to looking upward. You are free to simply do it, to treat it like an act of creativity, or as a cure, or some armour against whatever slings and arrows fate tosses your way.

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Take a moment to look at the clouds and the blue, blue sky, swallows swirling at a great altitude, buzzards circling while making that peeping-whistle call.  See the vapour trails of an aircraft, notice the moon is visible white on blue in broad daylight.  At night, count your lucky stars (there’s a lot) and see, like a good omen, a shooting star – more common than you think – and do all this because it’s good for your mental health and because this behaviour will generate better quality thinking.  And states.  And behaviours.

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You’re not stuck on a roundabout.  This road has a fabulous display of flowers, a rockery, even a waterfall (Sponsored by Percy Thrower’s Garden Centre) and the roundabouts you navigate all have an endless choice of routes to exciting destinations.  If you take it slowly enough to enjoy the journey, you’ll have time to look up through your sunroof.  And aren’t sunroofs and skylights the best windows of all!

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It was tempting to do this one first, such is the importance of the message it carries.  But, congruence parallels efficiency, a bit of a mouthful isn’t it!  So, we started with something more straight-forward and here we are at our second instalment and I couldn’t wait any longer.

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The quote came directly from the mouth of the great doctor himself, not from anything he’d written, but by me frantically scribbling notes as he explained something to a group of therapists.  I got a lot from him like that and wished he’d written them down himself.  The man has so much wisdom there must surely be one good book in him but when I asked him, he simply said, “You write it.”  I am lucky to count Will among my friends and have known him for about 30 years.  Remove from my brain what he taught me and what’s left wouldn’t be enough.  I count him as one of five personal acquaintances who have been major influences in my academic and business life.

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As a globe-trotting psychiatrist he might well have the credentials of someone with an insight into the human condition and what makes it tick, but that’s underestimating Will Monteiro’s contribution to all things psychological and psychiatric.  Throw Sigmund Freud into the blender with Derren Brown and you’re getting close; the man’s a magician and his name will appear in this series again from time to time.  If he’d lived a couple of millennia ago, he probably would have had disciples.

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Congruence then, what’s that all about?  In human behaviour, a state of congruence suggests alignment.  You act with purpose, speak with conviction, focus without distraction, you are quite literally single-minded.  And the important thing about this is how rare it is.  There is little that we feel passionate about that doesn’t have some negative aspect, no matter how tiny and equally, there’s not much we oppose or dislike which isn’t slightly ameliorated by some saving grace, no matter how miniscule.  Most things in life are a combination of qualities, good and bad, or good but with downsides, compromises or costs.  Or bad but with something useful or worthwhile buried deep inside somewhere.  Maybe it’s a fabulous holiday if it weren’t for the miserable airports, or a sports car except for the limited luggage space, or a football team except for the recent loss of a great player to a foreign squad.  It’s all so normal we get used to it being just how life is, surely everything is like that, everything has a downside, a cost, nothing is perfect or pure is it?

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When we think of things we like, love or enjoy, our bodies change because our emotional state has an impact on our behaviour.  Of course, our bodies change when we think of things we don’t like too, but I’m focusing here on the difference it makes when you are passionate about a thing in a positive way.

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Face-to-face communication is more than the words used to explain the concept.  It is the (more important) tonality that delivers the words, the speed, volume, pitch, emphasis and rhythm.  It’s also the accompanying behaviour, a list too long to make comprehensive here, but think primarily of the facial expressions and eye contact, pace of behaviour, body posture, head tilts and gestures and while words may be sometimes rehearsed, tonality tends to convey more inner truth and behaviour, even more than tonality.

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So, if a person says something on the telephone, but their syntax is sort of, you know, kind of, um, well, basically not ever so definite, you can be left unconvinced.  They didn’t sound sure, so you’re not sure.  They weren’t convincing so naturally you’re not convinced.  And why weren’t they convincing?  Because they aren’t convinced either!

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It doesn’t have to be on the telephone.  A weakly worded email, “Some people have suggested that it might be time to begin thinking about…” is quite different to, “It is crucial that these steps be taken immediately,” when the aim is to generate action.

Now bring that person in the room.  They hesitate, struggle to maintain eye contact, shuffle their feet and rub the back of their neck while stuttering out a half-baked suggestion.  Why so feeble?  Because they aren’t impassioned about it.  Attach passion and you get stronger syntax, better word choice, more definite language, stronger adjectives, the pace picks up, the talker’s face looks different, eye contact is laser-like, they are a bit louder, more emphatic, you can see they mean what they say in their muscle tension, colouration, emphatic gestures and you have little doubt they believe it themselves.

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To communicate at a high level (fast, lots of information received and understood so no misunderstandings) you need rapport, but with good rapport everything gets transmitted, the words, the tonality, the behaviour and the emotional state that supports the communication.  It’s not the same thing by any means, but for the purposes of avoiding too many layers of complication, let’s assume there’s rapport in the situation.  Now we have a sliding scale: a convincing talker, makes for a convinced listener.  But what makes for a convincing talker?

This is as simple as it can be.  A thoroughly convincing talker is one who themselves is thoroughly convinced.  They believe. 

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It would be helpful to conclude that the stronger your beliefs, the more powerful your communication, but that’s not quite right.  Assuming good levels of rapport, you’ll convey a pretty accurate model of your beliefs whatever their muddle.  If you’re convinced about a thing, you’ll be more convincing, if you have doubts, you’ll be every bit as effective at conveying those doubts as you were about your convictions.  This is why salespeople generate repeated patterns of objections among a variety of customers.  The salesperson is the common denominator.

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If the salesperson themselves has issues over aftersales service, the way they present that aspect and how they answer questions about it (and naturally they get more questions about aftersales service than their colleagues!) will leave doubts in the customers mind.  It’s not a matter of how much they said about aftersales service, in fact the more they said, the more they revealed – through tiny incongruities – that there was a lack of personal conviction when compared to other aspects of the thing they were selling.  Salespeople with doubts often try to overdo that aspect of the presentation and simply make the situation worse… because of a lack of congruence, do you get it?

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Salespeople who have issues over cost get more than their fair share of price objections and salespeople who procrastinate get customers who won’t make their minds up.  It’s like painful sales Karma.

So, congruence is the complete alignment of your communication; words, tonality and physiology, making a very powerful, passionate (congruent) style of speaking (actually more than just speaking – communicating as a whole).  Your congruence is dependent upon your beliefs so ultimately, the more you communicate and the better rapport you have, the more you’ll give people an accurate insight into your beliefs.  If they can be persuaded, this will do it.  But did you persuade them of the thing you wanted, or just plant your own combination of potential benefits along with your own doubts?

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Congruence parallels efficiency when it comes to achieving your outcome because if your outcome is to sell a product, the stronger your favourable beliefs are, the easier it will be to get your customer to that point too.  If you don’t like it, you’ll have a harder job selling it.  If you wouldn’t buy it or you wouldn’t recommend a good friend to buy it, again – difficult job.  But if you love it, if it’s your favourite and you want one, if you would have one if you could or if you were in their shoes, then it gets much, much easier to sell.

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Salespeople experience this all the time and sales managers notice the effect at work in their teams, it’s so natural it’s just accepted in some circles.  But for any aspiring salesperson wanting to do well, don’t underestimate for a minute the power of this aspect of the way -human-beings function.

  1. Sell something you believe in. It’s so much easier, more fun, more rewarding in every sense
  2. Learn to be at ease with compromises. Because nothing’s perfect and virtually everything comes at a price, or with inherent compromises, learn to be at ease with these things so they don’t trouble you in the least.  In fact, turn them into positives – it’s part of the joy, the experience of ownership
  3. Be an expert. Ignorance breeds doubt and there are a lot more inexperts spreading uncertainty and scepticism than true experts disseminating ‘the word’.  When a customer meets an expert it’s already a special occasion because it’s so rare
  4. Live a life of passion. Keep that fire burning, not by flitting from one shiny thing to another, but by holding on to the core values that mean so much.  You can evolve and you can progress to greater things, but remain true to what’s important to you and those around you will feel it too

You can sell more by working harder (yes, do that if you want) and you can sell more by being congruent.  Oh you should definitely do that!

 

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This is the first of many of my favourite quotations which I intend to thoroughly investigate one by one.  For me, nothing could be more natural than unravelling the deeper meaning in the short phrase handed down, perhaps by some giant of philosophy whose wisdom has survived some 87 generations of potentially withering academic scrutiny.   Not only survived, but prospered to become famous, commonplace, part of the shared sagacity of a population, possibly many populations.

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If not from ancient thinker, the quote may be straight from a contemporary (or not long passed) author, blessed with an elevated intellect which he or she shared via their writing.  Otherwise it might arise from a business book written by a leader in their field, whose extraordinary clarity of vision proves their success was not simply a matter of luck.  And sometimes, a politician, a popular public figure or even someone like you and me can say something inspired in a flash of pure genius.  It might be a once in a lifetime thing so thank goodness it was recorded.

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I’ve collected, filed and organised them all and to me, their weight in meaning when compared to entire books (which I also adore) is like rhodium compared to the random contents of a wheelie bin.  But I have learned courtesy of blank stares, puffed cheeks and frowns of disdain that not everyone is as impressed by these things as I am.

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For some people, these quotes are little more than stating the bleeding obvious and so this little misunderstanding is where we will start.

Why exactly does anyone need to be told that where the road bends abruptly, (we should) take small steps?  isn’t that just plain common sense?  Yep, and you know what they say about common sense (if not, fear not it’ll be the subject of one of these musings in the future).  The answer lies in human behaviour in its normal, daily functioning.

Here are four of many aspects which can compromise our actions:

  1. Our basic estimation of ourselves is flawed. What we think we would do in a given situation, isn’t always what we actually do when the time comes
  2. Thinking and doing don’t always coincide. With our minds engaged to an idea we evaluate a situation and come to some sort of conclusion, but in everyday life, we often operate on a kind of autopilot, not actually engaging at all.  That’s one reason why when we think about it we would do something different to when we don’t think about it
  3. Movers and shakers versus, being moved and shaken. In order to actually cause some sort of outcome, we generally have to take action to be at cause, but much of the time people are at effect, simply suffering the consequences of events and the actions of others
  4. Here I go again! We are creatures of habit and so mostly repeat ourselves.  As do others and so we do what most other people do in similar circumstances most of the time.  It’s what makes us familiar and somewhat comfortable to others and also allows us to be a bit predictable.  That’s fine, unpredictable people can sometimes be unreliable or unsafe so what you sacrifice in terms of excitement, you get back in dependability.

 

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So, where the road bends abruptly, take small steps say the Japanese.  Most quotes are self-explanatory, especially if they’re good ones and this is a good one and not especially dense so at the surface level it quite clearly means when things get more difficult, slow down, take a little extra care and to borrow a western version of the same sentiment, look before you leap, except that conjures up slightly more drama.  Don’t we all know to slow down for a sharp bend?  Apparently not, otherwise fewer vehicles would need pulling out of the hedge.

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For one thing, we get complacent, simply carrying on numbly as if everything is blending into a mush of opaque mundanity and this tendency to repeat behaviours can lead us into trouble.  We make the same mistakes more than once, sometimes over and over like a broken record, hoping that one day things will turn out better and the universe will bestow the reward we have surely earned from all of our trouble, toil and failed attempts!  Well you know what they say about doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result right?

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We also walk right into fresh problems because we missed the warning signs and thought things would be okay.  Sometimes that’s because we frequently possess a sense of immortality about ourselves, especially when young (it could never happen to me) and sometimes it’s because we have another bias which is to trust people even when we shouldn’t.

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So what this Japanese proverb is saying is first: Recognize what’s different in a situation.  Eyes and ears open, be alert, life’s more fun for people who notice and time passes more slowly when you are engaged with the world so pay attention.

Secondly, take small steps, so slow down, think, then act (test) notice what happens as a consequence, think, adjust, act and so on.  Fools rush in, you don’t have to.  Probably…

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At some point in this series I’m certain to endorse another quote urging action, bravery and faith in your abilities, countering this one which advises caution and so seeming to contradict it.  Well, that’s the thing about quotes, there’s one for every occasion pretty much.  Of course the thing is; bravery sometimes, caution mostly, so you need to know when to apply which behaviour and that’s quite different from just wandering mindlessly into something and repeating your mistakes because you weren’t aware it was necessary to engage your intellect.

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This also suggests a level of control and responsibility:  You are the driver in your life, paying attention to the road and slowing down for a sharp bend, not the passenger staring out the window and just letting all pass you by until you wake up upside down in a ditch.  Your life, your road, your journey, take charge, be responsible and enjoy it.

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