A flask makes you feel old and young at the same time.  One one hand, children rarely carry flasks.  They're reserved more for serious alcoholics and snobs.  On the other hand, you can now sneak alcohol into any event.  It gives you the exhilaration of possibly doing something secret and wrong that reminds me (at least) of younger days.  Carrying a flask around you for a couple weeks (if you don't already) will give you a new perspective on public and private spaces.  If you don't drink alcohol, fill it with apple juice.  It doesn't matter!

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This is step one in Marc Allen's The Millionaire Course, a book which I'm currently reading for the first time due to reading some interesting interviews and book reviews on Steve Pavlina's blog.  Writing out your own personal ideal scene for the future (for the next 5 years or so) seems like great advice, and advice that I for one am surprised is so difficult.

Most people would assume that they've got some kind of concrete vision for their lives.  One might say things like "I want to have that job, be madly in love, move to a tropical island, and have a million bucks."  Or, "I want to have my own restaurant, and drive a fancy car, and have a mansion full of hot love slaves."  I think there are a few things that get confused with an "ideal scene" as described by Marc Allen.

Fantasies

A fantasy is something that you daydream about, but who your inner critic doesn't actually think is for you.  These are the things that come out when you ask people what they would want in life if they could have anything.  Ask yourself.  And then, as soon as you utter your greatest dream for life, wait for that second voice to pop up (it can never stay quiet).  It'll say something like "Yeah, all I need to do is win the lottery." or, "That would've been nice 10 years ago, before X."  A fantasy that you believe is impossible is a dangerous thing to have because it feels like you have an ideal scene for your life when really it's just a fake placeholder that you would never actually try to make manifest.

"Practical" Scenes

These are scenarios that your inner critic comes up with.  Rather than a tropical island and a world famous rock band, you come up with "get promoted to assistant to the assistant manager within the next two years."  Or, "retile the bathroom sometime in the next year or so."  Sure, you've got crazy unrealistic fantasy above, but what's more immediate and makes more sense is a baby step scene that takes the smallest possible step of self-improvement that still qualifies as not standing completely still.

So, if these things aren't ideal scenes, then what is?

The Ideal Ideal Scene

Think on a five year time period.  This is a useful trick that helps you avoid generating false fantasies and scenes that are too limiting or practical.  Five years is a period of time that's long enough to be able to imagine great change in yourself, but also a period of time where you can imagine yourself looking similar, having the same personality, and general keep you from trying to wait for time travel and flying cars in order to acheive your goal.  If you want big change to happen in five years, it might help to start working on it now.

Be as creative as you can be.  The biggest limit to our own lives is our imagination.  For example, take your fantasies and your practical scenes.  How many other people would give the exact same answer to those questions as you do.  Yes, everyone would like to win the lottery even though studies have been made that lottery winners are rarely happier after 5, 10, and 20 years than they were before… in fact, Timothy Wilson in Strangers To Ourselves gives some interesting evidence that lottery winners are less happy after winning than they were before.  Try coming up with an ideal scene that fits your personality more than it fits anyone else's.  Something custom-tailored to your passions, dreams, and view of the world.  Let it get as wild as you wish… the imagination likes to be stretched.

Write it down.  Draw a picture.  Even if you can see everything perfectly in your mind for the ideal scene, write it down and keep it somewhere safe so that you can come back and read it in the future.  This ideal scene should eventually become the dominant vision for your life.  Stronger and more familiar than your doubts about it, more obvious as an eventual reality than as a forgotten daydream.  Do everything you can to make this ideal scene feel real, tangible, and certain.  Add to it over time, draw more pictures, fill in the details, and think about it often.  Marc Allen claims that as soon as this ideal scene is burned into your consciousness, you can begin making concrete steps towards it.  For now, just make the scene and see what comes out.

Some questions from the book to ask yourself that might help flesh out the ideal scene:

  1. What kind of work and career do you have?
  2. What is a typical day for you?
  3. What are you doing to contribute to a better world?
  4. Where do you live?
  5. What are your most intimate relationships like?
  6. What is your family life like?
  7. How would someone close to you describe you?

I've borrowed the term "mutual-improvement" as a twist on the traditional field of self-improvement, and originally inspired by Benjamin Franklin's description of his amazingly productive Junto:

I should have mentioned before, that, in the autumn of the preceding year, [1727] I had form'd most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual-improvement, which we called the Junto; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss'd by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased. Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory; and to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.

If you can get past the stiff puritanical tone of this passage, it talks about something pretty radical.  Where in our society today do we have an opportunity to meet regularly with our peers to work on the mutual-improvement of all members?  From this Junto that Benjamin Franklin put together (and which continues to this day in the form of the American Philosophical Society) sprouted the volunteer fire department, lending libraries, improved security (night watchmen), and a public hospital.

A similar, but slightly more corporate-sounding and slick, term that is familiar to most people is the "win-win" situation where all participating members benefit from a given situation.

The power of mutual-improvement and win-win situations is that all members of a group can act selfishly and selflessly at the same time.  There's no need to implement a complicated set of forced rules or ethics that keep people in line, as the situation itself allows everyone to come out ahead merely by acting out of their own self-interest. 

Did you learn about the three levels of listening in school?  If not, here's a good summary from a book called Co-Active Coaching:

In Level I the listening is internal.  We hear the words of the other person, but the focus is on what it means to us.

Level II is focused listening.  The attention is laser-focused over there: on the other person.

Level III is a global range of listening: hearing that picks up emotion, body language, and the environment itself.

Levels I and II listen primarily for words.  Level III picks up everything else including all of the sensory data as well as mood, pace, energy.  

A pretty simple breakdown that makes easy sense.  However, doesn't everyone know people who only ever listen at Level I?  And aren't there times when we ourselves feel like we're trappen in our own heads and aren't listening very closely to the people we're talking to?  Next time you're talking to a stranger or friend, ask yourself which level you're listening to them on.  Practice listening at Level III, and bring into the conversation information that you're picking up from emotion, body language, and the environment to see how that impacts the conversation.  

Our culture has become highly favorable to the conscious, deliberate, weighed decision as favorable to making “gut decisions” or decisions “on a feeling”, which are left more as anecdotal or possibly superstitious practices for quality decision making. However, we’re slowly finding scientific studies that validate and illuminate techniques for incorporating our subconscious into making decisions regarding complicated problems.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the magical number 7 plus or minus 2 that George A. Miller proposed in 1956 as the limit for the amount of information that we can hold in our short-term memory at a given time. I just read via wikipedia that this has been found to be slightly inaccurate. The real limit may actually be time-based: the amount of sound that we can store in our working memories. Rather than 7 chunks of data, the real limit may be about 2 seconds of sound. For example, the limit for people who speak faster (such as the Chinese) is closer to 9 plus or minus 2, and for the Welsh the number is closer to 6 plus or minus two.

In any case, most cognitive psychologists do believe that the short-term memory (or working memory) that we use to manipulate information with our consciousness differs structurally and functionally from long-term memory. To move information from working memory to long-term memory requires a physical change in the neurons of the brain to occur… something that can occur while awake, but is also strongly linked with the activities of the brain during sleep.

The implications of this are pretty interesting and can be practically applied to your own decision-making. Say that you’re trying to decide whether or not you should move to a new city. Recent studies show that decisions which have fewer than 10 factors or so are better made the old fashioned way: consciously and deliberately. However, for decisions which have more than 10 or so factors, people who “sleep on it” are more likely to make a better choice, and less likely to regret their choice, than people who don’t sleep on it, or even people who make their decision based on a long lists of pros and cons.

However, a key distinction here is that the problem must be introduced before you sleep. So, to try this out, simply review a difficult problem in your life for a few minutes before you go to sleep. Try to conjure up as many of the factors involved as you can, warming them up in a way. Then, fall asleep and when you wake up, check how does your gut feel about the decision?

To read more about the exact studies conducted in this area, check out these additional articles:

Just found an interesting article from a few months ago that nicely summarizes some of the current ideas and studies that are being done to find out just how useful it is to "think problems through":

In a study I conducted with Dolores Kraft, a clinical psychologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and Dana Dunn, a social psychologist at Moravian College in Pennsylvania, people in one group were asked to list the reasons their relationship with a romantic partner was going the way it was, and then rate how satisfied they were with the relationship. People in another group were asked to rate their satisfaction without any analysis; they just gave their gut reactions.

It might seem that the people who thought about the specifics would be best at figuring out how they really felt, and that their satisfaction ratings would thus do the best job of predicting the outcome of their relationships.

In fact, we found the reverse. It was the people in the "gut feeling" group whose ratings predicted whether they were still dating their partner several months later. As for the navel gazers, their satisfaction ratings did not predict the outcome of their relationships at all. Our conclusion? Too much analysis can confuse people about how they really feel. There are severe limits to what we can discover through self-reflection, and trying to explain the unexplainable does not lead to a sudden parting of the seas with our hidden thoughts and feelings revealed like flopping fish.

It goes on to talk about how overanalyzing a problem when we're currently feeling down is especially damaging.   Self-reflection just makes you more depressed because the activated part of your brain is a negative filter, and will have no problem coming up with more and more things that are going wrong, some that aren't related at all to the current problem, and it will send you into a downward spiral.

Read the whole article here: Don't think twice, it's alright

What is the difference between being in a rut and being on vacation? Why do the streets seem different in Paris than they do in your current city? Why do people in Paris have to go somewhere else on vacation? It all comes down to what your mind chooses to filter out and what it chooses to let through. Consciousness only registers change… things that stay the same eventually disappear from your consciousness (even if you liked those things and want them to stick around) and a little subconscious robot stands guard next to that unchanging thing and waits for it to move. As soon as it does (BING!) a little message gets sent to your mind telling you that that sign you walk by every day is now a new color (even though you don't remember what color it was before). This is a subtle point: there is no direct way around this. You can't stare at a dot on the wall forever without it disappearing. This is your brain being efficient… it's a tool that we cannot control that helps us have enough resources to pay attention to things that matter right now.

The twist with this tip is that even when you're on vacation, you're still with yourself. How do you see yourself as if you were visiting yourself for the first time? How can you take that feeling of exploring a new city and focus that feeling on yourself in such a way that you notice all those things about yourself that subconscious robots are standing guard at and keeping from your conscious mind?

The first exercise that is an easy one to do (and which future exercises will be more specific about) is to simply find some way of changing your appearance. Shave that beard. Grow a beard. Dye your hair. Paint your fingernails. Lose 10 pounds.  A simple change like this will send ripples of subconscious robots sending messages to you whenever you see yourself in a reflection as you're walking down the street. Hey, that's me! I look different!

A curious side effect is that other people will see you as well. Some people say that doing things like this is "merely for attention" and in a way they're right. Attention is the primary currency of the consciousness… it's more valuable than money and can't be saved in a bank. People who fight for attention are simply addicts for the rush that attention brings… attention is what creates revelation and analysis and change. Most people aren't attention whores… and I would only advise this tip to someone that typically resists or is afraid of attention. But for the right person, mixing up your appearance and getting a little attention could be just the thing that makes you realize that there are a lot of things about yourself that you've stopped noticing. Sweep out those subconscious robots and maybe you'll catch a glimpse of what's actually going on with your appearance, your presentation, your body language, your tone of voice, and your approach to life.