The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People: How to succeed at self-sabotage

13 01 2014

Just read this BRILLIANT article by psychologist Cloe Madanes on the website www.alternet.org. Cloe Madanes is a world-renowned innovator and teacher of family and brief therapy and one of the originators of the strategic approach to family therapy. She has authored seven books that are classics in the field.

The article is written very tongue-in-cheek, and makes you think!

Enjoy 😉

Quinton

 

The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People: How to succeed at self-sabotage

November 18, 2013

 

Most of us claim we want to be happy—to have meaningful lives, enjoy ourselves, experience fulfillment, and share love and friendship with other people and maybe other species, like dogs, cats, birds, and whatnot. Strangely enough, however, some people act as if they just want to be miserable, and they succeed remarkably at inviting misery into their lives, even though they get little apparent benefit from it, since being miserable doesn’t help them find lovers and friends, get better jobs, make more money, or go on more interesting vacations. Why do they do this? After perusing the output of some of the finest brains in the therapy profession, I’ve come to the conclusion that misery is an art form, and the satisfaction people seem to find in it reflects the creative effort required to cultivate it. In other words, when your living conditions are stable, peaceful, and prosperous—no civil wars raging in your streets, no mass hunger, no epidemic disease, no vexation from poverty—making yourself miserable is a craft all its own, requiring imagination, vision, and ingenuity. It can even give life a distinctive meaning.

So if you aspire to make yourself miserable, what are the best, most proven techniques for doing it? Let’s exclude some obvious ways, like doing drugs, committing crimes, gambling, and beating up your spouse or neighbor. Subtler strategies, ones that won’t lead anyone to suspect that you’re acting deliberately, can be highly effective. But you need to pretend that you want to be happy, like everybody else, or people won’t take your misery seriously. The real art is to behave in ways that’ll bring on misery while allowing you to claim that you’re an innocent victim, ideally of the very people from whom you’re forcibly extracting compassion and pity.

Here, I cover most areas of life, such as family, work, friends, and romantic partners. These areas will overlap nicely, since you can’t ruin your life without ruining your marriage and maybe your relationships with your children and friends. It’s inevitable that as you make yourself miserable, you’ll be making those around you miserable also, at least until they leave you—which will give you another reason to feel miserable. So it’s important to keep in mind the benefits you’re accruing in your misery.

• When you’re miserable, people feel sorry for you. Not only that, they often feel obscurely guilty, as if your misery might somehow be their fault. This is good! There’s power in making other people feel guilty. The people who love you and those who depend on you will walk on eggshells to make sure that they don’t say or do anything that will increase your misery.

• When you’re miserable, since you have no hopes and expect nothing good to happen, you can’t be disappointed or disillusioned.

• Being miserable can give the impression that you’re a wise and worldly person, especially if you’re miserable not just about your life, but about society in general. You can project an aura of someone burdened by a form of profound, tragic, existential knowledge that happy, shallow people can’t possibly appreciate.

Honing Your Misery Skills

Let’s get right to it and take a look at some effective strategies to become miserable. This list is by no means exhaustive, but engaging in four or five of these practices will help refine your talent.

1. Be afraid, be very afraid, of economic loss. In hard economic times, many people are afraid of losing their jobs or savings. The art of messing up your life consists of indulging these fears, even when there’s little risk that you’ll actually suffer such losses. Concentrate on this fear, make it a priority in your life, moan continuously that you could go broke any day now, and complain about how much everything costs, particularly if someone else is buying. Try to initiate quarrels about other people’s feckless, spendthrift ways, and suggest that the recession has resulted from irresponsible fiscal behavior like theirs.

Fearing economic loss has several advantages. First, it’ll keep you working forever at a job you hate. Second, it balances nicely with greed, an obsession with money, and a selfishness that even Ebenezer Scrooge would envy. Third, not only will you alienate your friends and family, but you’ll likely become even more anxious, depressed, and possibly even ill from your money worries. Good job!

Exercise: Sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, and, for 15 minutes, meditate on all the things you could lose: your job, your house, your savings, and so forth. Then brood about living in a homeless shelter.

2. Practice sustained boredom. Cultivate the feeling that everything is predictable, that life holds no excitement, no possibility for adventure, that an inherently fascinating person like yourself has been deposited into a completely tedious and pointless life through no fault of your own. Complain a lot about how bored you are. Make it the main subject of conversation with everyone you know so they’ll get the distinct feeling that you think they’re boring. Consider provoking a crisis to relieve your boredom. Have an affair (this works best if you’re already married and even better if you have an affair with someone else who’s married); go on repeated shopping sprees for clothes, cars, fancy appliances, sporting equipment (take several credit cards, in case one maxes out); start pointless fights with your spouse, boss, children, friends, neighbors; have another child; quit your job, clean out your savings account, and move to a state you know nothing about.

A side benefit of being bored is that you inevitably become boring. Friends and relatives will avoid you. You won’t be invited anywhere; nobody will want to call you, much less actually see you. As this happens, you’ll feel lonely and even more bored and miserable.

Exercise: Force yourself to watch hours of mindless reality TV programs every day, and read only nonstimulating tabloids that leave you feeling soulless. Avoid literature, art, and keeping up with current affairs.

3. Give yourself a negative identity. Allow a perceived emotional problem to absorb all other aspects of your self-identification. If you feel depressed, become a Depressed Person; if you suffer from social anxiety or a phobia, assume the identity of a Phobic Person or a Person with Anxiety Disorder. Make your condition the focus of your life. Talk about it to everybody, and make sure to read up on the symptoms so you can speak about them knowledgeably and endlessly. Practice the behaviors most associated with that condition, particularly when it’ll interfere with regular activities and relationships. Focus on how depressed you are and become weepy, if that’s your identity of choice. Refuse to go places or try new things because they make you too anxious. Work yourself into panic attacks in places it’ll cause the most commotion. It’s important to show that you don’t enjoy these states or behaviors, but that there’s nothing you can do to prevent them.

Practice putting yourself in the physiological state that represents your negative identity. For example, if your negative identity is Depressed Person, hunch your shoulders, look at the floor, breathe shallowly. It’s important to condition your body to help you reach your negative peak as quickly as possible.

Exercise: Write down 10 situations that make you anxious, depressed, or distracted. Once a week, pick a single anxiety-provoking situation, and use it to work yourself into a panic for at least 15 minutes.

4. Pick fights. This is an excellent way of ruining a relationship with a romantic partner. Once in a while, unpredictably, pick a fight or have a crying spell over something trivial and make unwarranted accusations. The interaction should last for at least 15 minutes and ideally occur in public. During the tantrum, expect your partner to be kind and sympathetic, but should he or she mention it later, insist that you never did such a thing and that he or she must have misunderstood what you were trying to say. Act injured and hurt that your partner somehow implied you weren’t behaving well.

Another way of doing this is to say unexpectedly, “We need to talk,” and then to barrage your partner with statements about how disappointed you are with the relationship. Make sure to begin this barrage just as your partner is about to leave for some engagement or activity, and refuse to end it for at least an hour. Another variation is to text or phone your partner at work to express your issues and disappointments. Do the same if your partner is out with friends.

Exercise: Write down 20 annoying text messages you could send to a romantic partner. Keep a grudge list going, and add to it daily.

5. Attribute bad intentions. Whenever you can, attribute the worst possible intentions to your partner, friends, and coworkers. Take any innocent remark and turn it into an insult or attempt to humiliate you. For example, if someone asks, “How did you like such and such movie?” you should immediately think, He’s trying to humiliate me by proving that I didn’t understand the movie, or He’s preparing to tell me that I have poor taste in movies. The idea is to always expect the worst from people. If someone is late to meet you for dinner, while you wait for them, remind yourself of all the other times the person was late, and tell yourself that he or she is doing this deliberately to slight you. Make sure that by the time the person arrives, you’re either seething or so despondent that the evening is ruined. If the person asks what’s wrong, don’t say a word: let him or her suffer.

Exercise: List the names of five relatives or friends. For each, write down something they did or said in the recent past that proves they’re as invested in adding to your misery as you are.

6. Whatever you do, do it only for personal gain. Sometimes you’ll be tempted to help someone, contribute to a charity, or participate in a community activity. Don’t do it, unless there’s something in it for you, like the opportunity to seem like a good person or to get to know somebody you can borrow money from some day. Never fall into the trap of doing something purely because you want to help people. Remember that your primary goal is to take care of Numero Uno, even though you hate yourself.

Exercise: Think of all the things you’ve done for others in the past that haven’t been reciprocated. Think about how everyone around you is trying to take from you. Now list three things you could do that would make you appear altruistic while bringing you personal, social, or professional gain.

7. Avoid gratitude. Research shows that people who express gratitude are happier than those who don’t, so never express gratitude. Counting your blessings is for idiots. What blessings? Life is suffering, and then you die. What’s there to be thankful for?

Well-meaning friends and relatives will try to sabotage your efforts to be thankless. For example, while you’re in the middle of complaining about the project you procrastinated on at work to your spouse during an unhealthy dinner, he or she might try to remind you of how grateful you should be to have a job or food at all. Such attempts to encourage gratitude and cheerfulness are common and easily deflected. Simply point out that the things you should be grateful for aren’t perfect—which frees you to find as much fault with them as you like.

Exercise: Make a list of all the things you could be grateful for. Next to each item, write down why you aren’t. Imagine the worst. When you think of the future, imagine the worst possible scenario. It’s important to be prepared for and preemptively miserable about any possible disaster or tragedy. Think of the possibilities: terrorist attacks, natural disasters, fatal disease, horrible accidents, massive crop failures, your child not getting picked for the varsity softball team.

8. Always be alert and in a state of anxiety. Optimism about the future leads only to disappointment. Therefore, you have to do your best to believe that your marriage will flounder, your children won’t love you, your business will fail, and nothing good will ever work out for you.

Exercise: Do some research on what natural or manmade disasters could occur in your area, such as earthquakes, floods, nuclear plant leaks, rabies outbreaks. Focus on these things for at least an hour a day.

9. Blame your parents. Blaming your parents for your defects, shortcomings, and failures is among the most important steps you can take. After all, your parents made you who you are today; you had nothing to do with it. If you happen to have any good qualities or successes, don’t give your parents credit. Those are flukes.

Extend the blame to other people from your past: the second-grade teacher who yelled at you in the cafeteria, the boy who bullied you when you were 9, the college professor who gave you a D on your paper, your first boyfriend, even the hick town you grew up in—the possibilities are limitless. Blame is essential in the art of being miserable.

Exercise: Call one of your parents and tell her or him that you just remembered something horrible they did when you were a child, and make sure he or she understands how terrible it made you feel and that you’re still suffering from it.

10. Don’t enjoy life’s pleasures. Taking pleasure in things like food, wine, music, and beauty is for flighty, shallow people. Tell yourself that. If you inadvertently find yourself enjoying some flavor, song, or work of art, remind yourself immediately that these are transitory pleasures, which can’t compensate for the miserable state of the world. The same applies to nature. If you accidentally find yourself enjoying a beautiful view, a walk on the beach, or a stroll through a forest, stop! Remind yourself that the world is full of poverty, illness, and devastation. The beauty of nature is a deception.

Exercise: Once a week, engage in an activity that’s supposed to be enjoyable, but do so while thinking about how pointless it is. In other words, concentrate on removing all sense of pleasure from the pleasurable activity.

11. Ruminate. Spend a great deal of time focused on yourself. Worry constantly about the causes of your behavior, analyze your defects, and chew on your problems. This will help you foster a pessimistic view of your life. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by any positive experience or influence. The point is to ensure that even minor upsets and difficulties appear huge and portentous.

You can ruminate on the problems of others or the world, but make them about you. Your child is sick? Ruminate on what a burden it is for you to take time off from work to care for her. Your spouse is hurt by your behavior? Focus on how terrible it makes you feel when he points out how you make him feel. By ruminating not only on your own problems but also those of others, you’ll come across as a deep, sensitive thinker who holds the weight of the world on your shoulders.

Exercise: Sit in a comfortable chair and seek out negative feelings, like anger, depression, anxiety, boredom, whatever. Concentrate on these feelings for 15 minutes. During the rest of the day, keep them in the back of your mind, no matter what you’re doing.

12. Glorify or vilify the past. Glorifying the past is telling yourself how good, happy, fortunate, and worthwhile life was when you were a child, a young person, or a newly married person—and regretting how it’s all been downhill ever since. When you were young, for example, you were glamorous and danced the samba with handsome men on the beach at twilight; and now you’re in a so-so marriage to an insurance adjuster in Topeka. You should’ve married tall, dark Antonio. You should’ve invested in Microsoft when you had the chance. In short, focus on what you could’ve and should’ve done, instead of what you did. This will surely make you miserable.

Vilifying the past is easy, too. You were born in the wrong place at the wrong time, you never got what you needed, you felt you were discriminated against, you never got to go to summer camp. How can you possibly be happy when you had such a lousy background? It’s important to think that bad memories, serious mistakes, and traumatic events were much more influential in forming you and your future than good memories, successes, and happy events. Focus on bad times. Obsess about them. Treasure them. This will ensure that, no matter what’s happening in the present, you won’t be happy.

Exercise: Make a list of your most important bad memories and keep it where you can review it frequently. Once a week, tell someone about your horrible childhood or how much better your life was 20 years ago.

13. Find a romantic partner to reform. Make sure that you fall in love with someone with a major defect (cat hoarder, gambler, alcoholic, womanizer, sociopath), and set out to reform him or her, regardless of whether he or she wants to be reformed. Believe firmly that you can reform this person, and ignore all evidence to the contrary.

Exercise: Go to online dating sites and see how many bad choices you can find in one afternoon. Make efforts to meet these people. It’s good if the dating site charges a lot of money, since this means you’ll be emotionally starved and poor.

14. Be critical. Make sure to have an endless list of dislikes and voice them often, whether or not your opinion is solicited. For example, don’t hesitate to say, “That’s what you chose to wear this morning?” or “Why is your voice so shrill?” If someone is eating eggs, tell them you don’t like eggs. Your negativity can be applied to almost anything.

It helps if the things you criticize are well liked by most people so that your dislike of them sets you apart. Disliking traffic and mosquitos isn’t creative enough: everyone knows what it’s like to find these things annoying, and they won’t pay much attention if you find them annoying, too. But disliking the new movie that all your friends are praising? You’ll find plenty of opportunities to counter your friends’ glowing reviews with your contrarian opinion.

Exercise: Make a list of 20 things you dislike and see how many times you can insert them into a conversation over the course of the day. For best results, dislike things you’ve never given yourself a chance to like.

—–

I’ve just listed 14 ways to make yourself miserable. You don’t have to nail every one of them, but even if you succeed with just four or five, make sure to berate yourself regularly for not enacting the entire list. If you find yourself in a therapist’s office—because someone who’s still clinging to their love for you has tricked you into going—make sure your misery seems organic. If the therapist enlightens you in any way or teaches you mind-body techniques to quiet your anxious mind, make sure to co-opt the conversation and talk about your misery-filled dreams from the night before. If the therapist is skilled in dream analysis, quickly start complaining about the cost of therapy itself. If the therapist uses your complaints as a launching pad to discuss transference issues, accuse him or her of having countertransference issues. Ultimately, the therapist is your enemy when trying to cultivate misery in your life. So get out as soon as possible. And if you
happen upon a therapist who’ll sit quietly while you bring all 14 items on this list to life each week, call me. I’ll want to make an appointment, too.

 

 





Recognising your Sphere of Influence

28 10 2011

Recent psychology research shows that when you are influential – or at least when you believe you have a decent amount of influence on the people around you – you tend to be happier. Researchers, Drs. Sommer and Bourgeois from Baruch College and Florida Gulf Coast University, clearly showed that the more influential you feel you are, the greater your overall subjective well-being (http://bit.ly/nFTedf). Being influential leads to a sense of worth, feeling in control and a belief that life is purposeful.  Thus, thinking of yourself as influential leads to well-being or happiness. 

 

So if you want to increase your levels of happiness and life satisfaction, how about working on either (1 increasing your influence on those around you, or (2 increasing your awareness of just how much influence you DO already have?

Popular business coach Robin Sharma is famous for saying “we are all leaders, whether we know it or not, and whether we have a title or not”. Most of us do not even begin to comprehend the level of influence we have on the people around us, and the level of impact we can have on our immediate circle of friends / family / loved ones / colleagues, and how that impact can radiate out into the wider world. “Social network” studies have also been conducted on the effects of attitude changes in one person, and how those effects travel from one person to another, often up to three or four ‘degrees of separation’, almost like a virus. So if Johhny becomes very upbeat and positive for a week, his cousin Mark will be more like this too, and pass it on to his girlfriend Nina who also passes it on to her work colleagues, etc.

Given the above, how about trying out a simple exercise. Stop for a moment, get yourself a pen and paper (or a Word document!). Start writing a list of everyone in your ‘inner circle’ – i.e. those you would want at your wedding, those closest to you. And think about their lives, what they are struggling with at the moment, the weaknesses they have, the encouragement they might need. Think about how you could contribute more and better to their lives, and how you could use your closeness to really benefit them. Next, move to your outer circle, and start listing the people who you know but may not be so close to. This will take much longer, so it may be easier to just think about them rather than write them all down. Go through your phone contacts, Facebook friends, and email contacts – that should be a pretty comprehensive overview.

You will probably find you will have 20-40 people in your ‘inner circle’, and 100 – 300 in your outer. How is that for numbers? By sheer volume alone, you can’t deny that no matter who you are or what your position is in life, soceity, the world, YOU HAVE INFLUENCE. If you dramatically changed your behaviour, it is GUARANTEED to have an impact and an influence on the world around you. Everyone has a certain degree of influence – and remember, influence is not all about being able to tell people what to do. It’s about the living reality that if you change your behaviour, or attitude, other people NOTICE and will be affected, whether they want to be or not.

Think about how much influence you have. What potential you have! With great power comes great responsibility. Make a decision today to become more aware, and more proactive, in the way you live and operate in relation to the people around you. You might just be surprised by the effect you can have on your world – and the increased levels of satisfaction, purpose and meaning you can experience as a result 🙂

– Quinton





Facebook vs Friends: Losing Ourselves in the Info Age

17 02 2010

Excerpt from “The End of Solitude”, a paper by William Deresiewicz,  associate professor of English at Yale University.

Originally published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Washington, D.C

With the social-networking sites of the new century—Friendster and MySpace were launched in 2003, Facebook in 2004—the friendship circle has expanded to engulf the whole of the social world, and in so doing, destroyed both its own nature and that of the individual friendship itself. Facebook’s very premise—and promise—is that it makes our friendship circles visible. There they are, my friends, all in the same place. Except, of course, they’re not in the same place, or, rather, they’re not my friends. They’re simulacra of my friends, little dehydrated packets of images and information, no more my friends than a set of baseball cards is the New York Mets.

I remember realizing a few years ago that most of the members of what I thought of as my “circle” didn’t actually know one another. One I’d met in graduate school, another at a job, one in Boston, another in Brooklyn, one lived in Minneapolis now, another in Israel, so that I was ultimately able to enumerate some 14 people, none of whom had ever met any of the others. To imagine that they added up to a circle, an embracing and encircling structure, was a belief, I realized, that violated the laws of feeling as well as geometry. They were a set of points, and I was wandering somewhere among them. Facebook seduces us, however, into exactly that illusion, inviting us to believe that by assembling a list, we have conjured a group. Visual juxtaposition creates the mirage of emotional proximity. “It’s like they’re all having a conversation,” a woman I know once said about her Facebook page, full of posts and comments from friends and friends of friends. “Except they’re not.”

Friendship is devolving, in other words, from a relationship to a feeling—from something people share to something each of us hugs privately to ourselves in the loneliness of our electronic caves, rearranging the tokens of connection like a lonely child playing with dolls. The same path was long ago trodden by community. As the traditional face-to-face community disappeared, we held on to what we had lost—the closeness, the rootedness—by clinging to the word, no matter how much we had to water down its meaning. Now we speak of the Jewish “community” and the medical “community” and the “community” of readers, even though none of them actually is one. What we have, instead of community, is, if we’re lucky, a “sense” of community—the feeling without the structure; a private emotion, not a collective experience. And now friendship, which arose to its present importance as a replacement for community, is going the same way. We have “friends,” just as we belong to “communities.” Scanning my Facebook page gives me, precisely, a “sense” of connection. Not an actual connection, just a sense.

What purpose do all those wall posts and status updates serve? On the first beautiful weekend of spring this year, a friend posted this update from Central Park: “[So-and-so] is in the Park with the rest of the City.” The first question that comes to mind is, if you’re enjoying a beautiful day in the park, why don’t you give your iPhone a rest? But the more important one is, why did you need to tell us that? We have always shared our little private observations and moments of feeling—it’s part of what friendship’s about, part of the way we remain present in one another’s lives—but things are different now. Until a few years ago, you could share your thoughts with only one friend at a time (on the phone, say), or maybe with a small group, later, in person. And when you did, you were talking to specific people, and you tailored what you said, and how you said it, to who they were—their interests, their personalities, most of all, your degree of mutual intimacy. “Reach out and touch someone” meant someone in particular, someone you were actually thinking about. It meant having a conversation. Now we’re just broadcasting our stream of consciousness, live from Central Park, to all 500 of our friends at once, hoping that someone, anyone, will confirm our existence by answering back. We haven’t just stopped talking to our friends as individuals, at such moments, we have stopped thinking of them as individuals. We have turned them into an indiscriminate mass, a kind of audience or faceless public. We address ourselves not to a circle, but to a cloud.

It’s amazing how fast things have changed. Not only don’t we have Wordsworth and Coleridge anymore, we don’t even have Jerry and George. Today, Ross and Chandler would be writing on each other’s walls. Carrie and the girls would be posting status updates, and if they did manage to find the time for lunch, they’d be too busy checking their BlackBerrys to have a real conversation. Sex and Friends went off the air just five years ago, and already we live in a different world. Friendship (like activism) has been smoothly integrated into our new electronic lifestyles. We’re too busy to spare our friends more time than it takes to send a text. We’re too busy, sending texts. And what happens when we do find the time to get together? I asked a woman I know whether her teenage daughters and their friends still have the kind of intense friendships that kids once did. Yes, she said, but they go about them differently. They still stay up talking in their rooms, but they’re also online with three other friends, and texting with another three. Video chatting is more intimate, in theory, than speaking on the phone, but not if you’re doing it with four people at once. And teenagers are just an early version of the rest of us. A study found that one American in four reported having no close confidants, up from one in 10 in 1985. The figures date from 2004, and there’s little doubt that Facebook and texting and all the rest of it have already exacerbated the situation. The more people we know, the lonelier we get.

The new group friendship, already vitiated itself, is cannibalizing our individual friendships as the boundaries between the two blur. The most disturbing thing about Facebook is the extent to which people are willing—are eager—to conduct their private lives in public. “hola cutie-pie! i’m in town on wednesday. lunch?” “Julie, I’m so glad we’re back in touch. xoxox.” “Sorry for not calling, am going through a tough time right now.” Have these people forgotten how to use e-mail, or do they actually prefer to stage the emotional equivalent of a public grope? I can understand “[So-and-so] is in the Park with the rest of the City,” but I am incapable of comprehending this kind of exhibitionism. Perhaps I need to surrender the idea that the value of friendship lies precisely in the space of privacy it creates: not the secrets that two people exchange so much as the unique and inviolate world they build up between them, the spider web of shared discovery they spin out, slowly and carefully, together. There’s something faintly obscene about performing that intimacy in front of everyone you know, as if its real purpose were to show what a deep person you are. Are we really so hungry for validation? So desperate to prove we have friends?

But surely Facebook has its benefits. Long-lost friends can reconnect, far-flung ones can stay in touch. I wonder, though. Having recently moved across the country, I thought that Facebook would help me feel connected to the friends I’d left behind. But now I find the opposite is true. Reading about the mundane details of their lives, a steady stream of trivia and ephemera, leaves me feeling both empty and unpleasantly full, as if I had just binged on junk food, and precisely because it reminds me of the real sustenance, the real knowledge, we exchange by e-mail or phone or face-to-face. And the whole theatrical quality of the business, the sense that my friends are doing their best to impersonate themselves, only makes it worse. The person I read about, I cannot help feeling, is not quite the person I know.

As for getting back in touch with old friends—yes, when they’re people you really love, it’s a miracle. But most of the time, they’re not. They’re someone you knew for a summer in camp, or a midlevel friend from high school. They don’t matter to you as individuals anymore, certainly not the individuals they are now, they matter because they made up the texture of your experience at a certain moment in your life, in conjunction with all the other people you knew. Tear them out of that texture—read about their brats, look at pictures of their vacation—and they mean nothing. Tear out enough of them and you ruin the texture itself, replace a matrix of feeling and memory, the deep subsoil of experience, with a spurious sense of familiarity. Your 16-year-old self knows them. Your 28-year-old self should not know them.

Facebook holds out a utopian possibility: What once was lost will now be found. But the heaven of the past is a promised land destroyed in the reaching. Facebook, here, becomes the anti-madeleine, an eraser of memory. Carlton Fisk has remarked that he’s watched the videotape of his famous World Series home run only a few times, lest it overwrite his own recollection of the event. Proust knew that memory is a skittish creature that peeks from its hole only when it isn’t being sought. Mementos, snapshots, reunions, and now this—all of them modes of amnesia, foes of true remembering. The past should stay in the heart, where it belongs.

Finally, the new social-networking Web sites have falsified our understanding of intimacy itself, and with it, our understanding of ourselves. The absurd idea, bruited about in the media, that a MySpace profile or “25 Random Things About Me” can tell us more about someone than even a good friend might be aware of is based on desiccated notions about what knowing another person means: First, that intimacy is confessional—an idea both peculiarly American and peculiarly young, perhaps because both types of people tend to travel among strangers, and so believe in the instant disgorging of the self as the quickest route to familiarity. Second, that identity is reducible to information: the name of your cat, your favorite Beatle, the stupid thing you did in seventh grade. Third, that it is reducible, in particular, to the kind of information that social-networking Web sites are most interested in eliciting, consumer preferences. Forget that we’re all conducting market research on ourselves. Far worse is that Facebook amplifies our longstanding tendency to see ourselves (“I’m a Skin Bracer man!”) in just those terms. We wear T-shirts that proclaim our brand loyalty, pique ourselves on owning a Mac, and now put up lists of our favorite songs. “15 movies in 15 minutes. Rule: Don’t take too long to think about it.”

So information replaces experience, as it has throughout our culture. But when I think about my friends, what makes them who they are, and why I love them, it is not the names of their siblings that come to mind, or their fear of spiders. It is their qualities of character. This one’s emotional generosity, that one’s moral seriousness, the dark humor of a third. Yet even those are just descriptions, and no more specify the individuals uniquely than to say that one has red hair, another is tall. To understand what they really look like, you would have to see a picture. And to understand who they really are, you would have to hear about the things they’ve done. Character, revealed through action: the two eternal elements of narrative. In order to know people, you have to listen to their stories.

But that is precisely what the Facebook page does not leave room for, or 500 friends, time for. Literally does not leave room for. E-mail, with its rapid-fire etiquette and scrolling format, already trimmed the letter down to a certain acceptable maximum, perhaps a thousand words. Now, with Facebook, the box is shrinking even more, leaving perhaps a third of that length as the conventional limit for a message, far less for a comment. (And we all know the deal on Twitter.) The 10-page missive has gone the way of the buggy whip, soon to be followed, it seems, by the three-hour conversation. Each evolved as a space for telling stories, an act that cannot usefully be accomplished in much less. Posting information is like pornography, a slick, impersonal exhibition. Exchanging stories is like making love: probing, questing, questioning, caressing. It is mutual. It is intimate. It takes patience, devotion, sensitivity, subtlety, skill—and it teaches them all, too.

They call them social-networking sites for a reason. Networking once meant something specific: climbing the jungle gym of professional contacts in order to advance your career. The truth is that Hume and Smith were not completely right. Commercial society did not eliminate the self-interested aspects of making friends and influencing people, it just changed the way we went about it. Now, in the age of the entrepreneurial self, even our closest relationships are being pressed onto this template. A recent book on the sociology of modern science describes a networking event at a West Coast university: “There do not seem to be any singletons—disconsolately lurking at the margins—nor do dyads appear, except fleetingly.” No solitude, no friendship, no space for refusal—the exact contemporary paradigm. At the same time, the author assures us, “face time” is valued in this “community” as a “high-bandwidth interaction,” offering “unusual capacity for interruption, repair, feedback and learning.” Actual human contact, rendered “unusual” and weighed by the values of a systems engineer. We have given our hearts to machines, and now we are turning into machines. The face of friendship in the new century.

Excerpt from “The End of Solitude”, a paper by Socioligist William Deresiewicz.

Originally published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Washington, D.C.

Source http://chronicle.com/section/Opinion-Ideas/40/





The Psychology of Passive Barriers: Why Your Friends Don’t Save Money, Eat Healthier, or Clean Their Garages

21 01 2010

Ever procrastinated? Ever been frustrated at your apparent inability to do some basic task that would leave you much better off if done? It’s a strange aspect of human psychology that the simplest barriers or inconveniences can deter us from doing things that we know we should, and that we know we would benefit from immensely at the cost of only10 minutes of our time, or a miniscule amount of effort.

On the top rated personal finance and entrepreneurship blog iwillteachyoutoberich.com, Stanford-educated NY Times best-selling author Ramit Sethi Today gives some powerful insight into WHY we behave like this, as well as some tools to help us DOMINATE these issues.

Note: in the post, Ramit refers to “401(k) plans” – this is the US equivalent of superannuation / KiwiSaver plans in Australia and NZ, where you have the option of contributing extra to your retirement savings plan.

Read on and STRETCH your mind.

Quinton

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A surprising thing happens to people in their forties. After working hard, buying a house, and starting a family, they suddenly realize that they’d better start being responsible with their money. They begin reading financial books and trying to learn how to set up a nest egg for themselves and their families. It’s a natural part of growing older.

If you ask these people in their forties what their biggest life worry, the answer often is, quite simply, “money.” They want to learn to manage their money better, and they’ll tell you how important financial stability is to them.

Yet the evidence shows something very different. In the table below, researchers followed employees at companies that offered financial-education seminars. Despite the obvious need to learn about their finances, only 17% of company employees attended. This is a common phenomenon: As Laura Levine of the Jumpstart Coalition told me, and I paraphrase, “Bob doesn’t want to attend his 401(k) seminar because he’s afraid he’ll see his neighbor there…and that would be equivalent to admitting he didn’t know about money for all those years.” They also don’t like to attend personal-finance events because they don’t like to feel bad about themselves.

But of those who did attend the employer event, something even more surprising happens:

– Of the people who did not have a 401(k), 100% planned to enroll in their company’s 401(k) offering after the seminar. Yet only 14% actually did.

– Of those who already had a 401(k), 28% planned to increase their participation rate. 47% planned to change their fund selection (most likely because they learned they had picked the default money-market plan, which was earning them virtually nothing). But less than half of people actually made the change.

This is the kind of data that drives economists and engineers crazy, because it clearly shows that people are not rational. Yes, we should max out our 401(k) employer match, but billions of dollars are left on the table each year because we don’t. Yes, we should start eating healthy and exercising more, but we don’t. Why not? Why wouldn’t we do something that’s objectively good for us?

Barriers are one of the implicit reasons you can’t achieve your goals. They can be psychological or profoundly physical, like something as simple as not having a pen when you need to fill out a form. But the underlying factor is that they are breathtakingly simple — and if I pointed them out to you about someone else, you would be sickened by how seemingly obvious they are to overcome.

It’s easy to dismiss these barriers are trivial, and say, “Oh, that’s so dumb!” when you realize that not having an envelope nearby could cost someone over $3,000. But it’s true. And by the end of this article, you’ll be able to identify at least three barriers in your own life — whether you want to or not.

Why people don’t participate in their 401(k)s
If you’re like me, whenever you hear that one of your co-workers doesn’t participate in their 401(k) — especially if there’s an employer match — you scratch your head in confusion. In my case, I feel a rage boiling up that reminds me of the ruins of Pompeii. Even though this is free money, many people still don’t participate. Journalists will cite intangibles like laziness and personal responsibility, suggesting that people are getting less responsible with their money over time. Hardly. It turns out that getting people to enroll in their 401(k) is just plain hard. Yet using simple psychological techniques, however, we can dramatically increase the number of people who participate in their company’s retirement plan. One technique, “automatic enrollment,” automatically establishes a retirement plan and contribution. You can opt out at any time, but you’re enrolled by default. Here’s how it affects 401(k) enrollment. ”AE” = automatic enrollment.

From 40% participation to nearly 100% in one example. Astonishing.

Today, I want to talk about one of the ways to drive behavioral change when it comes to your money. I call them barriers. While I do this, I’m going to ask you for a favor. You’ll see examples of people who lost thousands of dollars because they wouldn’t spend one hour reading a form. It’s easy to call these people “lazy” — and there’s certainly an element of that — but disdainfully calling someone lazy doesn’t explain the whole story. Getting people to change their behavior is extraordinarily hard — even if it will save them thousands of dollars or save their lives. If it were easy, you would have a perfect financial situation: You’d have no debt, your asset allocation would be ideal and rebalanced annually, and you’d have a long-term outlook without worrying about the current economic crisis. You’d be your college weight, with washboard abs and tight legs. You’d have a clean garage. But you don’t. None of us are perfect. That’s why understanding barriers is so important to changing your own behavior.

“Just spend less than you make — duh”
There is something especially annoying about the comments on personal-finance blogs. On nearly every major blog post I’ve made in the last year, someone has left a comment that goes like this: “Ugh, not another money tip. All you need to know is, spend less than you make.” Actually, that’s not true. If that were the case, as I pointed out above, nobody would be in debt, overweight, or have relationship problems of any kind. Simply knowing a high-level fact doesn’t make it useful. I studied persuasion and social influence in college and grad school, for example, but I still get persuaded all the time. These commenters make the common mistake of assuming that people are rational actors, meaning they behave as a computer model would predict. We know this is simply untrue: Books like Freakonomics and Judgment in Managerial Decision Making are great places to get an overview of our cognitive biases and psychological motivations. For example, we say we want to be in shape, but we don’t really want to go to the gym. We believe we’re not affected by advertising, but we’re driving a Mercedes or using Tupperware or wearing Calvin Klein jeans.

There are dramatic differences in what we say versus what we do. Often, the reason is so simple that we can’t believe it would affect us. I call these barriers, and I’ve written about them before: Last weekend, I went home to visit my family. While I was there, I asked my mom if she would make me some food, so like any Indian mom would, she cooked me 2 weeks’ worth. I came back home skipping like a little girl. Now here’s where it gets interesting. When I got back to my place, I took the food out of the brown grocery bag and put the clear plastic bags on the counter. I was about to put the bags in the fridge but I realized something astonishing:

…if I got hungry, I’d probably go to the fridge, see the plastic bags, and realize that I’d have to (1) open them up and then I’d have to (2) open the Tupperware to (3) finally get to the food. And the truth was, I just wouldn’t do it. The clear plastic bags were enough of a barrier to ignore the fresh-cooked Indian food for some crackers!! Obviously, once I realized this, I tore the bags apart like a voracious wolf and have provided myself delicious sustenance for the past week.

I think the source of 95%+ of barriers to success is…ourselves. It’s not our lack of resources (money, education, etc). It’s not our competition. It’s usually just what’s in our own heads. Barriers are more than just excuses — they’re the things that make us not get anything done. And not only do we allow them to exist around us, we encourage them. There are active barriers and passive barriers, but the result is still the same: We don’t achieve what we want to.

Active barriers are physical things like the plastic wrap on my food, or someone telling me that it’ll never work, etc. These are hard to identify, but easy to fix. I usually just make them go away.

Passive barriers are things that don’t exist, so they make your job harder. A trivial example is not having a stapler at your desk; imagine how many times a day that gets frustrating. For me, these are harder to identify and also harder to fix. I might rearrange my room to be more productive, or get myself a better pen to write with.

Today, I want to focus on passive barriers: what they are and how to overcome them.

How to destroy the passive barriers around you

Psychologists have been studying college students for decades to understand how to reduce unprotected sex. Among the most interesting findings, they pointed out that it would be rational for women to carry condoms with them, since the sexual experiences they had were often unplanned and these women can control the use of contraceptives. Except for one thing: When they asked college women why they didn’t carry condoms with them, one young woman typified the responses: “I couldn’t do that…I’d seem slutty.” As a result, she and others often ended up having unprotected sex because of the lack of a condom. Yes, technically they should carry condoms, just as both partners should stop, calmly go to the corner liquor store, and get protection. But many times, they don’t. In this case, the condom was the passive barrier: Because they didn’t have it nearby and conveniently available, they violated their own rule to have safe sex. Passive barriers exist everywhere. Here are some examples:

Barriers in e-mail
I get emails like this all the time:

– “Hey Ramit, what do you think of that article I sent last week? Any suggested changes?”

– My reaction? “Ugh, what is he talking about? Oh yeah, that article on savings accounts…I have to dig that up and reply to him. Where is that? I’ll search for it later. Marks email as unread

– Note: You can yell at me for not just taking the 30 seconds to find his email right then, but that’s exactly the point: By not including the article in this followup email, he triggered a passive barrier of me needing to think about what he was talking about, search for it, and then decide what to reply to. The lack of the attached article is the passive barrier, and our most common response to barriers is to do nothing.

Barriers on your desk
A friend of mine lost over $3,000 because he didn’t cash a check from his workplace, which went bankrupt a few months later. When I asked him why he didn’t cash the check immediately, he looked at me and said, “I didn’t have an envelope handy.” What other things do you delay because it’s not convenient?

Barriers to exercise
I think back to when I’ve failed to hit my workout goals, and it’s often the simplest of reasons. One of the most obvious barriers was my workout clothes. I had one pair of running pants, and after each workout, I would throw it in my laundry basket. When I woke up the next morning, the first thing I would think is: “Oh god, I have to get up, claw through my dirty clothes, and wear those sweaty pants again.” Once I identified this, I bought a second pair of workout clothes and left them by my door each day. When I woke up, I knew I could walk out of my room, find the fully prepared workout bag and clothes, and get going.

Barriers to healthy eating
When I was in college, I loved those Ramen Cup of Noodles. Unfortunately, I stored them in my closet, so each time I wanted one, I would have to walk to another room, reach up to the top of the closet, open the package, and prepare it. Ridiculous! Instead, I created this:

– Obviously, that’s a ridiculous example because I was a college student, but imagine how you can apply this to eat healthier (which we all routinely lie about): If you find yourself snacking on Cheetos all day at work, try this: Don’t take any spare change in your pockets for the vending machine. Even if you leave quarters in your car, that walk to the parking lot is barrier enough not to do it. Give yourself an alternative:

How do you think that’ll affect your eating behavior?

Applying passive barrier theory to your life
As we’ve seen, the lack of having something nearby can have profound influences on your behavior. Imagine seeing a complicated mortgage form with interest rates and calculations on over 100 pages. Sure, you should calculate all of it, but if you don’t have a calculator handy, the chances of your actually doing it go down dramatically.

Now, we’re going to dig into areas where passive barriers are preventing you from making behavioral change — sometimes without you even knowing it.

Fundamentally, there are two ways to address a passive barrier.

  • You’re missing something, so you add it to achieve your goals. For example, cutting up your fruit as soon as you bring it home from the grocery store, packing your lunches all at once, or re-adding the attachment to a followup email so the recipient doesn’t have to look for it again.
  • Causing an intentional passive barrier by intentionally removing something. You put your credit card in a block of ice in the freezer to prevent overspending. (That’s not addressing the cause, but it’s immediately stopping the symptom.) Or you put your unhealthiest food on the other side of the house, so you have to walk to them. Or you install software like Freedom to force yourself not to browse 50 websites in a day.

Personally, here are a few passive barriers I’ve identified for myself: I keep my checkbook by my desk, because for the few checks I receive in the mail, I tend to never mail them in. I keep a gym bag of clothes ready to work out. And I cut up my fruit when I bring it home from the store, because I know I’ll get lazy later. Let’s see how this can work for you.

  1. Get a piece of paper and a pen, or open up Notepad on your computer.
  2. Identify 10 things you would do if you were perfect. Don’t censor —just write what comes to mind. And focus on actions, not outcomes. Examples: “I’d work out 4 times per week, clean my garage by this Sunday, play with my son for 30 minutes each day, and check my spending once per week.”
  3. Now, play the “Five Whys” game: Why aren’t you doing it?

Let’s play out the last step with the example of exercising regularly:

  • I say I want to exercise 3 times per week, but I only go twice per month. Why?
  • Because I’m tired when I get home from work Why?
  • Because I get home from work at 6pm Why?
  • Because I leave late for work, so I have to put in 8 hours. Why?
  • Because I don’t wake up in time for my alarm clock. Why?
  • Hmm…Because when I get in bed, I watch TV on Hulu for a couple hours.

Solution: Put the computer in the kitchen before you go to sleep —> sleep earlier —> come home from work at an earlier time —> feel more rested —> work out regularly.

That’s a gross oversimplification, but you see what I mean. Pick ten areas of your life that you want to improve. Force yourself to understand why you haven’t done so already. Don’t let yourself cop out: “I just don’t want to” isn’t the real reason. And once you find out the real reasons you haven’t been able to check your spending, or cook dinner, or call your mom, you might be embarrassed at how simple it really was. Don’t let that stop you. Passive barriers are valued in their usefulness, not in how difficult they are to identify.

Summing it up: Passive barriers in your life

Passive barriers are subtle factors that prevent you from changing your behavior. Unlike “active” barriers, passive barriers describe the lack of something, making them more challenging to identify. But once you do, you can immediately take action to change your behavior.

You can apply barriers to prevent yourself from spending money, cook and eat healthier, exercise more, stay in touch with your friends and family, and virtually any other behavior. You can do this with small changes or big ones. The important factor is to take action today.

A caveat: Sometimes people take this advice to mean, “The reason I haven’t been sticking to my workout regimen is that I don’t have the best running shoes. I should really go buy those $150 shoes I’ve been eyeing…that will help me change my behavior.” Resolving passive barriers is not a silver bullet: Although they help, you’ll be ultimately responsible for changing your own behavior. Instead of buying better shoes immediately, I’d recommend setting a concrete goal — “Once I run consistently for 20 days in a row, I’ll buy those shoes for myself” — before spending on barriers. Most changes can be done with a minimum of expense.

Thanks for reading.

This is a guest post from Ramit Sethi, the founder of iwillteachyoutoberich.com, a blog on personal finance and entrepreneurship. Check out his new book here: I Will Teach You To Be Rich.





Free your mind – let it be

12 11 2009

free_your_mind_small 

I found this article while browsing SuccessConsciousness.com – a great site full of thought-provoking articles and resources. One of the realities of life is that, if we don’t live intentionally, deliberately, we won’t get very far. Life is a verb more than a noun, in the sense that it is not a placid state, but a “thing” that is always “happening” – no matter where we are at in life, we and our circumstances are undergoing some kind of transformation! The key to actions is found in your thoughts – so if you want to act and live deliberately, then you need to first learn to THINK deliberately. This involves, sometimes, choosing what to think and what not to think. A very challenging task in the age of multi-media information overload! Enjoy the article.

Quinton

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– Are you aware of the thoughts that pass through your mind?

– Do you remember what you thought a few minutes ago?

– Do you know how many thoughts pass through your mind in 24 hours?

– Do all your thoughts originate in your mind? Are they your own thoughts or other people’s thoughts that you think are your own thoughts?

Thinking is very useful in every area of life, but people go too far with it. It has turned into some sort of slavery. Instead of thinking on what you want, when you want, you think all the time, every hour of the day. Every word you hear, everything you see brings thoughts to your mind. The mind is always busy, most of the time thinking meaningless thoughts as a reaction to external stimulus.

People have lost the ability to stop thinking when they don’t need to. Thoughts come and go whenever they want, distracting the attention, spoiling concentration, and keeping the mind in a state of endless mental activity. It is like a machine that is never switched off.

Many of these thoughts are negative, causing anxiety and worries, wasting one’s time and energy.

Instead of using thoughts to help in your affairs, you are being used by thoughts. They take your time and they take your energy, without giving you anything in return. They constantly produce noise in your mind, preventing you from experiencing real inner peace.

Are you able to stop thinking negative thoughts? Are you able to stop all those thoughts that keep moving your attention from one thing to another? Do you keep worrying, and do you expect the worst? Does your mind keep busy with what someone said about you, and do you keep thinking how life is bad for you, because someone at work got promoted, and you were not?

 

Do you keep thinking about other matters while studying, talking with someone, driving your car or travelling by bus or train?

You deserve to give your mind some rest, at least for some moments during the day. You can learn to resist the temptation to be always thinking. When thoughts stop for a little while you don’t lose consciousness! You become more conscious and more aware. You become more alive. The mind is afraid to stop thinking, afraid of what will happen if it becomes quiet. There is great peace and happiness inside, but constant thinking hides it, like the clouds hide the sun.

When the number of thoughts go down, there is no vacuum, instead of the mind’s activity, there will be inner peace and inner happiness, which can be experienced even in the midst of activity, at work, at home and everywhere else.

Here is a basic exercise that will help you learn about the process of thinking:

Stop what you are doing, and for ten minutes watch your thoughts. You don’t have to be alone in practice this exercise. you can practice it at your work, in a park, at home, or wherever you happen to be, but not while driving.

For this exercise you don’t need to relax your body, sit in a certain pose or breath in a special way.

All you have to do is try to be aware of your thoughts, and find out where they came and how. Don’t analyze them, just watch the process, how they arise in your mind, and how they change or are being replaced by other thoughts. You will be surprised to discover that many of them arise as a reaction to events, environment or other people’s words or thoughts. Some of these thoughts that arise automatically in certain circumstances, triggered by certain people, events or other external stimuli.

After going through this exercise, I want to ask you, are you free? Is your mind free? Do you experience inner peace or a state of endless thinking, often unaware of what you think? Do you choose your thoughts?