The Hacker Mind - A.L.T.E.R. #3 - Transform

Easy to confound A.L.T.E.R. for one of these 5-step-something acronym for a self helpy series. Unfortunately, though an acronym, and a 5 step process, it won't help you in anything. This is a careful observation of the development, maintenance and improvement of a hacker mind. A.L.T.E.R. = Amplify, Link, Transform, Endure and Rise.


STRUCTURE + STORIES

In the last post, we established how important stories are. They are the lattices our mental life thrives on. They determine what and how we remember things, skills and ourselves. I believe for instance one reason why the new testament is more popular than the old testament is because it's a single more compelling story:

  • Partly because it's centred around a single quite interesting hero: A man comes to earth in a bizarre way. An alien. He has powers. 
  • But also because it's more structured: It leads the reader and the audience from a to z.  The man grows his power and waits for the right time to unveil it.

How much easier it must've been for the disciples to spread the word compared to the jews. Interestingly, the Jesus story relates to a more universal story structure. Here's one video about that structure, Ben, his father and cancer:

The author explains the structure of the dramatic arc and concludes as to what a universal story structure might look like:  

  1. Exposition
  2. Rising action
  3. Climax - "How can a father have fun with his cancerous kid when he knows he is dying?"
  4. Falling action
  5. Denouement

STRUCTURE + SKILLS

In the very first part (Amplify) of the series. We've mentioned how the mind deconstructs and reconstructs material continuously.  That same cycle of deconstruction and reconstruction is also what enables creativity. That is where, I believe, 'everything is a remix' stems from.

And the confirmation came however while learning html on my own, copying the tutorial videos' lines of codes. In itself, that single act felt enriching but I only felt like learning when I digressed, improvised and tried new things on my own correcting my mistakes thereafter by going back to the video. So the rule to learn and the route to creativity is 'copy' but the imperative is 'transform'. We need to push the limits of our knowledge, in a sense, to truly grasp what we already know. We need to take a courageous stare at the unknown to understand the known.

Peek off the cliff

Peek off the cliff

 

The question that came to mind was much more 'when do we best learn?' and I believe that is the moment when we 'peek over the cliff'. We stand on the shoulders of giants yes and we must. But it's only by jumping off them that we make progress. It makes me realize why we spend millions on telescopes more powerful than the Hubble. We need that peek over the cliff, out of the known. And the kid inside us starts jumping at the prospect that we might one day 'see' the borders of the universe! But I digress :)

 

There are so numerous skills one can hack or master: Style, Diet, Focus, Connection, Empathy and even Happiness. Happiness for instance, once deconstructed, yields the following:

  • Happiness is relative. We conclude we're happy when we see others' feelings of happiness
  • Happiness stems from several precursors
  • Happiness is personal
  • Happiness involves a time factor in that it builds up with duration and more time investment
  • On that time trajectory, one needs a repeatable process to make sure happiness actually builds up. That is a very procedural or scientific aspect. Happiness becomes the proven result of a repeatable "experiment"

STRUCTURE + SYSTEMS

 

 

So the hacking mind is a scientific mind: It needs a repeatable process that is re-usable and repeatedly effective. And for our purposes, what will make us take that leap and jump from "copy" to "transform" is comparison. Comparison could very well be a universal door to understanding and a starting point to hacking anything. Appropriately, from the book "You can do anything!":

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The process by which you reason is known as logic. Logic teaches you how to derive a previously unknown truth from the facts already at hand. Logic teaches you how to be sure whether what you think is true is really true. … Logic is the supreme avenue to intellectual truth. Don't ever despair of possessing a logical mind. You don't have to study it for years, read books and digest a mountain of data. All you have to remember is one word – compare. Compare all points in a proposition. Note the similarity – that tells you something new. Note the difference – that tells you something new. Then take the new things you've found and check them against established laws or principles. This is logic. This is reason. This is knowledge in its highest form.

Comparison is the leanest deduction tool: Light, fast and effective. It is certainly the best way to reach a reliable conclusion with minimal effort. Comparing one's work to others' work is the best way to advance from "copy" to "transform" as transformation is effectively a synonym of differentiation. Just as in science, one realises they've 'made science' after the fact, same with ideas. This is a key to creativity. And to cite a creative 'you can only connect the dots looking backwards':

Echoing Steve Jobs, who in his own fantastic commencement address famously cautioned that "you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards," Patchett urges these new graduates to be sure to return at some point – this, she argues, would let them reflect on the series of small choices which, as William James put it a century ago, "[spin] our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone." 

The repeatable or scientific aspect leads us to our fourth blog in the A.L.T.E.R. series which is endure. Once we've made the step to start transforming, we need to make the habit sink in. This is the first step towards automation.

 

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The Hacker Mind - A.L.T.E.R. #2 - Link

Easy to confound A.L.T.E.R. for one of these 5-step-something acronym for a self helpy series. Unfortunately, though an acronym, and a 5 step process, it won't help you in anything. This is a careful observation of the development, maintenance and improvement of a hacker mind. A.L.T.E.R. = Amplify, Link, Transform, Endure and Rise.

 


 

 

DOT CONNECTION > STORIES

 

How can I be more creative ? A lot has been written, even more has been stipulated. A single conclusion stands out: Learn how to connect the dots. And it's down to 3 steps:

  • Collect. Obviously you need dots prior to that. Reading, traveling and meeting new people can create a rich soil. Take notes.
  • Connect. Then you need a routine. A time and an activity especially focused on sifting through the dots you've found or the notes you've written down.
  • Challenge. Try to connect dots that are un-related and distant. Up the game and the ante. What does Wen Chu have to do with photography ?

The collision of multiple, different, disciplines has shown efficient, time and again, in bringing about new insight and creative outcome. It's similar to creative dot connection and the reason why metaphors - the ability to draw similarity between two distant concepts - are the main ingredient behind all our stories. Mythology is essentially one over-sized metaphor. But only efficient metaphors survive our imaginary and time to become traditions or millennial stories. They are linkages and lattices our minds remember best. Quality is king when it comes to dot connection.

Dots Connect , an additive game... seriously

Dots Connect, an additive game... seriously

 

This inherent ability to appreciate good stories might be ingrained in our very nature. Philippa Perry in "how to stay sane" from 'the school of life' series writes:

As we get older it is our short-term memory that fades rather than our long-term memory. Perhaps we have evolved like this so that we are able to tell the younger generation about the stories and experiences that have formed us which may be important to subsequent generations if they are to thrive

 

STORIES > PROXIMAL DEVELOPMENT

 

It doesn't come as a surprise then that our understanding of our selves also hinges on story building. Peter Shallard writes about "Why the stories you tell yourself decide your success". In his article, he draws a Maslow-like pyramid of the self:

Environment -> Behaviour -> Capabilities -> Beliefs -> Identity

Identity is at the top of the pyramid and it's a deeply connected to the stories we tell ourselves. Call it perception, self-branding, persuasion or even mumbo-jumbo-who's-the-man but let me call it personal story for now. Turning mistakes and hardships into challenges rather than obstacles and opportunities rather than roadblocks goes a long way. Dramatising and / or building a narrative around your choices and actions is the equivalent of big brand framing. In building and acquiring new skills, this can be a very valuable technique.

 

I remember playing Final Fantasy X back in the time and 'unlocking' extra-powers only after I had acquired some other powers:

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One's story can be a tale of personal evolution and a step-by-step journey to a better self. Mostly however, the trick is in finding new story patches that complement the current story a person is running. Paulo Coelho calls it the 'personal legend'. I like to call it OS 4 Life. The story we run to progress on a personal level.

This equates personal evolution to how evolution actually happens through "proximal development" i.e. the adjacent possible. This reminds me of Gary Marcus who wrote about Gregory Bateson and the term deutero-learning he coined in the 1940s to refer to the organisation of learning, or learning to learn:

[The 'zone of proximal development' is] the idea that learning works best when the student tackles something that is just beyond his or her current reach, neither too hard nor too easy. In classroom situations, for example, one team of researchers estimated that its best to arrange things so that children succeed roughly 80 percent of the time; more than that, and kids tend to get bored; less, and they tend to get frustrated. The same is surely true of adults, too, which is why video game manufacturers have been known to invest millions in play testing to make sure that the level of challenge always lies in that sweet spot of neither too easy nor too hard.
adjacent-possible.gif

 

 

You need to reach for a level just beyond your current level. You do that by "downloading" a new mental story. This concept of "proximal development" is also reminiscent of "flow" in that the task at hand matches our level of skill (not too hard, not too easy). One can write the following equation which the creators of FFX probably had in mind:

 

 

Proximal development = Flow + Adjacent Possible

 

 

PROXIMAL DEVELOPMENT > DYNAMIC LINKAGE

 

There is a risk however. If one is following a given path, reaching for superior levels, building on his current capabilities and choosing challenges different but not too far from his current zone of development, it's likely that mental blinders will end up clouding hi judgement. His choices will try to pre-fit his mould and self-criticism will fade away. With no attempts to question every single though, the big picture is forgotten and soon one forgets why what is being done is being done.

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There's a fine line between dot connection and mould fitting. The latter is an unconscious attempt to fit every single new idea into an existing paradigm. NN Taleb refers to this y using Procrustes bed metaphor. Dot connection, as a skill, should be a way out of vertical thinking and paradigm fitting. It should be a window opener. a way to bring fresh air into the room of one's thoughts.

In all honesty, reading brain pickings, one has the impression there's an attempt to stick and relate every new idea or author's input or book into an existing paradigm such as the importance of routines, the hedonic treadmill ... and it feels new paradigms struggle to come about.

I love Brain-pickings. But this is an mad argument here. The second element of A.L.T.E.R. is Link. And it's not just a synonym of connect. It's a manifesto in defence of irrational logic. Some might find it dumb to spend an hour figuring out how Banksy's work and Einstein's ideas might be connected. But it is a form of lateral thinking. Irrational logic is a form of meta-thinking. It means you've gotten to a level of thinking mature enough to question your own thinking. David Byrne's "Arboretum" is a crazy application of that. Brain-pickings features the following work:

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 It's the equivalent of self-ridiculing oneself. It's the greatest sign of confidence. There's no fear putting yourself down because you understand that this in itself holds strength. The power of your Self lies in its resilience, not its resistance, to change. Practically, this means: The application of logical scientific rigour and form to basically irrational premises. To proceed, carefully and deliberately, from nonsense with a a straight face, often arriving at a new kind of sense.  

 

The Hacker Mind - A.L.T.E.R. #1 - Amplify

Easy to confound A.L.T.E.R. for one of these 5-step-something acronym for a self helpy series. Unfortunately, though an acronym, and a 5 step process, it won't help you in anything. This is a careful observation of the development, maintenance and improvement of a hacker mind. A.L.T.E.R. = Amplify, Link, Transform, Endure and Rise.


The mind, a Penelope ... with OCD

Some might know Odysseus's wife Penelope, faithful wife, cunning woman, courted for years by suitors while Odysseus was away drinking banana juice in Tahiti:

She has devised tricks to delay her suitors, one of which is to pretend to be weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus's elderly father Laertes and claiming that she will choose a suitor when she has finished. Every night for three years, she undoes part of the shroud, until Melantho, one of twelve unfaithful serving women, discovers her chicanery and reveals it to the suitors.
Wikipedia
Penelope, desperate (but faithful) housewife

Penelope, desperate (but faithful) housewife

So Penelope spent twenty years or so weaving and unweaving a single piece of fabric. And our minds really do the same with memories, obsessively and compulsively. Dan Gilbert writes:

The elaborate tapestry of our experience is not stored in memory-at least not in its entirety. Rather, it is compressed for storage by first being reduced to a few critical threads, such as a summary phrase ("Dinner was disappointing") or a small set of key features (tough steak, corked wine, snotty waiter). Later, when we want to remember our experience, our brains quickly reweave the tapestry by fabricating-not by actually retrieving-the bulk of the information that we experience as a memory. This fabrication happens so quickly and effortlessly that we have the illusion (as a good magician's audience always does) that the entire thing was in our heads the entire time

And just as Penelope's work is a hopeful, though sad, longing for a better future with her Odysseus, the brain's weaving and unweaving of memories is also a forward-looking task. Daniel Schacter explains:

We have argued in recently that memory plays a critical role in allowing individuals to imagine or simulate events that might occur in their personal futures. We have further suggested that understanding memory's role in future event simulation may be important for understanding the constructive nature of memory, because the former requires a system that allows flexible recombination of elements of past experience, which may also contribute to memory errors

Chunking, weaving, un-weaving, re-weaving. A 24 hour job. And yes, that includes dreams (check out The Twenty-four Hour Mind: The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in Our Emotional Lives). Obviously, the humans we are weave more than just facts into that fabric. As Virginia Woolf reminds us how we build on feeling, our looking glass to the world:

And even if the results are abhorrent and our judgments are wrong, still our taste, the nerve of sensation that sends shocks through us, is our chief illuminant; we learn through feeling; we cannot suppress our own idiosyncrasy without impoverishing it.

The mind, a map ... with hyperlinks

So the mind is this chunking machine that keeps only traces of what we encounter in our lives, only to re-weave them into some fabric when the time comes to use them. It is from that same realisation that "The Internet is making you dumber" criticism spurs ... And other such nonsense, as Lifehacker makes clear in the following:

The reason we find it easy to believe the internet is making us dumber is because, in some ways, it's making us less self-reliant. Our GPS devices navigate for us and we neglect to remember things because we have Google search. That doesn't make us dumber, necessarily, but rather causes us to rely more on what psychologist Daniel Wagner calls transactive memory. This type of memory is actually very useful because it allows us to, in essence, store more data in less space. Instead of remembering the contents of an entire article, we can simply remember the name or a few key words that we can enter into a search engine to pull it up.

Let me draw this for you in such a horrific way it won't leave your mind in a while:

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What leads me to the first letter of A.L.T.E.R. : Amplify. We're in a unique era where it is no longer necessary to struggle and store information with as much precision as possible. Quite the opposite, one needs to become skilled at storing "mental hyperlinks" to external material, in other terms, at drawing smart maps of the world.

Nanominded has already mentioned how Kundera describes friendship as a way to situate ourselves relative to others and the world. Situating oneself might have made us the creatures we are. Brainpickings explains how Adam Gopnik echoes Richard Dawkins in Mapping Manhattan: A Love (and Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers. Dawkins had speculated that maps may have "boosted our ancestors beyond the critical threshold which the other apes just failed to cross," and Gopnik goes on to write:

Cognitive science now insists that our minds make maps before they take snapshots, storing in schematic form the information we need to navigate and make sense of the world. Maps are our first mental language, not our latest. The photographic sketch, with its optical hesitations, is a thing we force from history; the map, with its neat certainties and foggy edges, looks like the way we think.

The mind, a parrot ... with docility

There's this tremendous article in Wired from a while ago that tells the story of Piotr Wozniak. A man who found the algorithm to remember anything. In effect, he created a program that is able to figure out, based on his own learning curve and skills, when to learn best. He called it supermemo. The system, as the article describes, automate learning and does away with the need to over-think when and how to remember information as it will push an article to you on the exact right day for your brain to register it best. A picture is worth a thousand clumsy sentences:

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This is what exactly the aim of this series. Leveraging, among other things, the insight from an accomplishment such as Supermemo, how can we master anything ? I chose to break the process down into Amplify, Link, Transform, Endure and Rise. This first article tackles Amplify and goes on to show how to use, in consort with today's technologies, the chunking and weaving nature of our brains to our advantage. To back up this initiative maybe, a reminder of what Charles Duhigg, author of the Power of Habit jots down:

This process—in which the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine—is known as “chunking,” and it’s at the root of how habits form. There are dozens—if not hundreds—of behavioural chunks that we rely on every day.”

We are our minds. And if our minds rely on these chunks, then there's a need to become better at the process itself and. This first article is an invitation, among other things to be mindful of this constant task our minds are at. In the 'School of Life ' series, Philippa Perry, author of "How to stay sane" stresses the importance of this meta-thinking the A.L.T.E.R. series is championing:

We need to look at the repetitions in the stories we tell ourselves [and] at the process of the stories rather than merely their surface content. Then we can begin to experiment with changing the filter through which we look at the world, start to edit the story and thus regain flexibility where we have been getting stuck

Chunk, Weave, Amplify. Let's do this :) 

 

uFAQ Volume 1 - un-Frequently Asked Questions : Porn star physiques, Mother insults and dating promiscuous boys and girls

Un-Frequently Asked Questions and some un-common answers ..

 

 

UFQA#1 - Why do Porn Stars have great Physiques ?

 One might think it is a professional prerequisite. As such it wouldn't be a correlation but rather a causality : The job requires a great physique, hence the actor or actress will strive to obtain a great body through nutrition and fitness. However, the problematic can and should be flipped as it is highly unlikely one strives for a great physique solely hoping to act in a porn movie.

Rather, and most probably, there aren't that many outlets for a girl or boy with an astounding body and looking to use that physique as a means of livelihood. Considered as such, modelling is one opportunity but much too competitive. The odds of winning a beauty contest are even lower. So the woman or man who spent time and money in the gym and on supplements is in search for ROI (Return On Investment) but see no viable opening.

Once confronted with the modelling and beauty industry's benchmarks they might realize they aren't part of the A-list. Hence, the 'reasonable' fall-back option is one of a high-paying, labor hungry industry a bit less demanding when it comes to body perfection.

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UFQA#2 - How do I react when someone insults my mother ? 

Instinctively one feels she / he owes a lot to one's own mother. Anger and/or aggression are common reactions to 'mother insults'. One finds analogies between prostitutes and one's mother very insulting. One approach would be to consider prostitution a job like any other and hence downplay the insult. Another way to avoid a frontal position or a fight is to "rise beyond" the insult and consider it unworthy of attention.

The problem lies however in that the insult might be perpetrated in the presence of other people whose perception of that very insult is different. These might, on the one hand, perceive prostitution as a vile job, or might not see anything noble about "rising above" such an insult. In which case, one needs to "rise beyond" these perceptions as well, regardless of how much the opinion of these persons counts for one-self's esteem and in one's life.

Considering the complications this weighting process might ensue and the slowness of decision it might entail, a different approach is worth considering. Romain Gary, winner of the prestigious Goncourt price for French writers (twice !), tells the anecdote of how his mother reacted when he told her someone at school had insulted her and how mildly he had reacted:

"La prochaine fois qu’on insulte ta mère devant toi, la prochaine fois, je veux qu’on te ramène à la maison sur des brancards. Tu comprends ? (…) Je veux qu’on te ramène en sang" // "The next time someone insults your mother before you, the next time, I want them to bring you home on stretchers. You understand? (...) I want you back all bloodied"

In the instance where someone insults your mother, your reaction should be based on the fact you are the upbringing of the efforts of the person that is being insulted. You need to consider that insult not from the point of view of your present surroundings, not even from your own point of view. Even if that insult would not affect your mother, you need to regard it as an attempt of vandalism towards that grand act of love. It is an attempt to your very being.

If anyone insults your mother, do not over-think the consequences or recreate by contemplating what maturity means in such situations. The question worth asking here rather becomes: Why am I avoiding a fight ? Keep it simple:  If you can, send them bleeding to somewhere safe. If you can't, attempt to hurt them badly. If you're hurt, take your bruises and scars back home and smile back at your mother in tears, something somewhere, in a place you don't understand, is proud of you.

 

 

UFQA#3 - Should I date a girl / boy with a promiscuous past ?

 

Yes. Give yourself a second and consider your reaction when first reading this question: "A promiscuous girl / boy will let me down", "I'll be nothing more than a tool / toy". Now flip that reasoning. The promiscuous girl / boy chose you. Given their promiscuous past they should able to access a much larger spectrum of boys / girls by virtue of their experience and subsequent confidence and expertise.

Choosing you should be perceived as a great compliment. You have something no other prospect had. More so, to even consider the hassle of giving you time, it means none of the past boys / girls they dates had what you had or at least you might have something all the precedent ones never had. One other possibility is you have something nice and reminiscent of one or more of these precedents which in itself is also positive since, considering the cheer volume, that must be one extremely unique and sought-after feature. The future is looking good.

In retrospect and to push the reasoning further, now that it's obvious promiscuous girls and boys are a much more interesting prospect, you might have been selling yourself short if you've went out with a girl / boy who has only been with 3 guys / gals. The future is looking good however.

 

What questions are

A receptacle for discovery

"Chance favours the prepared mind" said Louis Pasteur in 1854. As way of illustration, he experimented with wine growers in France to try and improve the fermentation process and devised the first "pasteurisation" (that's where the word comes from) in 1862 which effectively extended the life of both wine and milk. One might wonder however what makes for a "prepared mind". The following quote by Christensen struck me as enlightening:

“Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go. It hits your mind and bounces right off. You have to ask the question – you have to want to know – in order to open up the space for the answer to fit.”
Clayton Christensen

What an insight! Questions are precursors to comprehension! Pasteur's "chance" is life suggesting an answer. But if there isn’t a question in the first place, answers are useless. One might even assimilate it to Paulo Coelho's "signs of God” : The Alchemist's apprentice sees two birds fighting in the desert and foretells an upcoming attack on the oasis and the tribe with whom he's staying. Regardless of the religious connotations, if there wasn't a question either in Pasteur's or the young Alchemist's mind, they wouldn't have ever read an answer in the seemingly random events they encountered. 

 

Questions are our mind's "positive antibodies" helping it bind to answers

Questions are our mind's "positive antibodies" helping it bind to answers

Christensen, during the interview goes on to talk about the power of questions:

“Questions are your mind’s receptors for answers. If you aren’t curious enough to want to know why, to want to ask questions, then you’re not making the room in your mind for answers. If you stop asking questions, your mind can’t grow.”

Rilke, the poet, echoes that same intuition and confirms the importance of questions in creating about a "prepared mind":

“Your preparation for the real world is not in the answers you've learned, but in the questions you've learned how to ask yourself.”

A trailblazer of possibilities

Elon Musk, entrepreneur extraordinaire, in an interview, explains how important “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams in evolving his understanding (courtesy of Quora):

I guess when I was around 12 or 15…I had an existential crisis, and I was reading various books on trying to figure out the meaning of life and what does it all mean? It all seemed quite meaningless and then we happened to have some books by Nietzsche and Schopenhauer in the house, which you should not read at age 14 (laughter). It is bad, it’s really negative. So then I read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy which is quite positive I think and it highlighted an important point which is that a lot of times the question is harder than the answer. And if you can properly phrase the question, then the answer is the easy part. So, to the degree that we can better understand the universe, then we can better know what questions to ask. Then whatever the question is that most approximates: what’s the meaning of life? That’s the question we can ultimately get closer to understanding. And so I thought to the degree that we can expand the scope and scale of consciousness and knowledge, then that would be a good thing.
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This is reminiscent of Steve Johnson’s “adjacent possible”. Evolution, research, discoveries are the fruit of a constant remix at the fringe of the known and into the unknown. The hard part is not the discovery but rather the meeting, mingling and mating of ideas. What expands the realm of knowledge into the adjacent possible is a risk-taking attitude which favours precisely that primal soup where entities collide freely. On an intellectual level this equates to cheer curiosity: The pressing feeling that a leap of faith is necessary.

And this might not come naturally. Questions are a kind of problem. And problems are a dispensable element in any individual's life. So questions might be the appanage of some of us, for instance, the first Americans who went looking for the new frontier west of the continent. As such, they're the trailblazer of possibilities for those among us who realised it'd be interesting to see what's on the other side:

“Far more interesting than problem solving is problem creation.”
Chuck Close

The upshot of internal emergence

 

Google Images makes my life so much easier :)

Google Images makes my life so much easier :)

This blog is about practical takeaways for everyday life. An interesting thought and process amount to little if not enacted into one’s routine and turned into habits. Beveridge’s input goes on to create a great thought framework and a solid foundation for a potential process (courtesy of brain-pickings):

Claude Bernard distinguished two types of observation: (a) spontaneous or passive observations which are unexpected; and (b) induced or active observations which are deliberately sought, usually on account of an hypothesis. … Effective spontaneous observation involves firstly noticing some object or event. The thing noticed will only become significant if the mind of the observer either consciously or unconsciously relates it to some relevant knowledge or past experience, or if in pondering on it subsequently he arrives at some hypothesis.
W.E. Beveridge

In trying to create a process consistent with the MED (Minimal Effective Does) it so happens Tolstoy has this incredible take on where the right questions come from, (courtesy of brain-pickings … again):

A thought can advance your life in the right direction only when it answers questions which were asked by your soul. A thought which was first borrowed from someone else and then accepted by your mind and memory does not really much influence your life, and sometimes leads you in the wrong direction. Read less, study less, but think more. Learn, both from your teachers and from the books which you read, only those things which you really need and which you really want to know. (January 9 … I have no idea what year)

One might argue the importance of serendipity here as only learning what you want to know seems to counteract the premises of a prosperous “adjacent possible”. But that’s misreading Tolstoy as passion is the stepping stone of curiosity and a fuel for purpose. Think more, learn what you like and an internal universe will spur: A large chaotic mix, conducive to emergence. Learn what you like, think more and the questions will come.

Should be re-consider total chaos in favour of directed chaos ? Questions, questions :) 

Should be re-consider total chaos in favour of directed chaos ? Questions, questions :) 

 

Ego - Volume 5 : Devising a survival vaccine

This is the fifth and final volume of a multi-volume series aiming at hacking the 'ego'. It doesn't mean I solved the 'ego' piece yet. Simply that I found the steps and processes to move forward and 'hack' away.

 


THE ENEMY

Battling the ego stems from a deep conviction that living free of it is a big step towards well-being. The biggest enemy in thriving towards any personal goal however is oneself. The phenomenon is wide-spread, well documented and has a name.

"Greenspan might have been a hero - just by being lucky. But there seems to be some failing, some pernicious gene that drives the lucky to acts of self-destruction."
Bill Bonner from 321gold
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 Self-sabotage or self-destruction is the action or habit of un-consciously creating the conditions conducive of failure, especially when one is getting nearer to accomplishing one's goals.

  1. Inadequacy - Such a condition could be due to the fact said goals don't correspond to the true nature of the self
  2. Procrastination - Or that said goals' long-term payout is lost of sight or no longer relevant. That's a form of procrastination
  3. Pseudo-perfectionism - It might be that personal improvement hasn't lived up to one's standards and a make-perfect-the-enemy-of-good attitude leads to a radical tabula rasa
  4. Success Stress - Another reason could be that succeeding at personal improvement is inherently stressful as it pushes us away from our comfort zone
  5. Lack of Acceptance - One last reason could be a lack of acceptance as it creates the environment for negative willpower. Not accepting who you are at a given moment will lead to an attempt to join another (maybe sub-optimal) personal status-quo

That might sound like a bunch of spiritual blablabla for lack of a better Oxford dictionary word. However this covers examples as practical as dieting, waking up earlier, sticking to a productive schedule. Amazingly, the very demon we're fighting might hold a solution to this problem in its genes.

Ego is the name of a 'living planet' in Marvel comics - proof that Lee did read Freud maybe

Ego is the name of a 'living planet' in Marvel comics - proof that Lee did read Freud maybe

 

 

THE VACCINE

 

Vaccines are viruses that were stripped out of their viral components. Same for ego. What if we shouldn't throw the baby with the bath water ? What if some aspects of ego are actually beneficial and should be kept and leveraged. Ego is most probably a product of evolution. If it's there, it's for a reason and imho it's mainly to give us purpose.

 My friend Klaus struck me with the following some days ago : your "story" is your ego, your purpose. Consider how you sometimes try to frame your personal story by bleaking its beginning and making your past sound harsher. Maybe our 'culture' has something to do with it. Consider Walt Disney movies where the lion king, who lost dad and got kicked out of the kingdom, then rose to claim it again. Look at Mulan and Snow White and how the beauty of their success stems from how hard their beginnings were. 

Ego is the driving narrative of the self and an acute perception of it. So it may be that ego is a means of self-acceptance and a way to solve burden #5 in the quest for self-fulfilment mentioned above. Ego helps you love yourself. One needs to inoculate against its nasty sides however : When self-love becomes the default way of interacting with others.

Ego Leonard - Guerilla art showing how we are all essentially (L)EGOS

Ego Leonard - Guerilla art showing how we are all essentially (L)EGOS

Can Ego help overcome self-sabotage and become a solution to the pyromaniac fireman inside us all ?

 

THE GOAL

A discussion with a friend yesterday opened my eyes to the importance of a large driving force in life. A purpose that encompasses all aspects of one's existence. I drew, or tried to draw, the following in my journal some days ago.

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Purpose, willpower and structure are an interacting trio making sure one is on track and moving forward. Ego has its role to play in forming a purpose at a personal and spiritual level. It shouldn't be present however in any other aspect of one's life: Mental, emotional, financial or emotional.

The ego is something to be kept for oneself. It's a mirror one can look into and smile when alone. Self-contemplation during social interactions or in thriving for a physical / health goal is a pity. It should be a personal lens and a judge. Ego can serve as an internal feedback mechanism and ensure compliance high standards on oneself. The second it starts spilling over, it gets smudgy.

 

 

 

Ego - Volume 4 : A recipe for nothingness

This is the fourth volume of a multi-volume series aiming to hack the 'ego' 


The next step in hacking the ego is re-wiring the brain. This means coming up with new habits which will replace the old Ego habits, in the long run. In many ways, it rests on awareness and challenging oneself's established opinions and ideas. Practically, it means sitting one's ass down, alone with one's thoughts and going through several strains of thought relevant to targeting the Ego.

A primer here : I've always been skeptical of meditation and still am. Meditation is a practice aiming at personal improvement from an emotional, spiritual and mental point of view. That's great. The way meditation is practiced however is that it occurs at a time of the day where it's irrelevant to the acting self.

Now, obviously, its very aim is to improve a person so that she is primed once the necessary situations arise. I do believe however that there is a missing link between meditation and actualisation. I'll try to bridge that in the following. The 3 paragraphs try to tackle the Ego's most to least obvious manifestations.

You are not invincible

Ego thinks it's invincible. You are not invincible nor do you want to be really. Let's start with a shocker and converge to some insight : If you feel reducing your vulnerability will increase your confidence, you're driving a formula one car into a wall. To keep it simple, vulnerability manifests when asking for help or recognising I'm wrong. It's not easy. It is the single best indicator of personal improvement however. It's the flowering of humility.

Asking is un-ego. Apologising is un-ego. By embracing vulnerability, one takes a step further towards self-acceptance (which I'll tackle further in Volume 5) and lays down a sound foundation for confidence. Osho calls this 'Maturity' in his book by the same title. It's the difference between growing old and growing up. The moment you realize you don't need to imitate anybody and step up your game to assume the responsibility of being yourself. Brene Brown, story teller / researcher, drills through vulnerability in her talk.

A daily practice to bring about that aspect of yourself and destroy that side of Ego is self-ridicule. Strive to mock yourself in a group or during a conversation every day for the next three weeks. Let me know what happens in the comments below :)

You are not in control

The Ego thinks it's in control. A good way to remind ourselves of how fallible we are is Milgram's experience. However dark this might be, it's an experiment sticky enough one can't forget. It was aimed at understanding how Nazi officers executed in-human orders. Have a look at the video below for further details :

Another way to make it impossible to forget how absurd the idea of control is, is Neil de Grasse Tyson's amazing reflection about the universe and the Ego :

And our galaxy, the Milky Way, is one of 50 or 100 billion other galaxies in the universe. And with every step, every window that modern astrophysics has opened to our mind, the person who wants to feel like they’re the centre of everything ends up shrinking. And for some people they might even find it depressing, I assert that if you were depressed after learning and being exposed to the perspective, you started your day with an unjustifiably large ego. You thought more highly of yourself than in fact the circumstances deserved.

You are not unique

Last and most certainly not least is the fact you're not unique. I think this is the least obvious one and the most difficult barrier to break. It is truly however. Some might say uniqueness is a western disease. We're brought up thinking we're a beautiful snowflake. I think Tyler Durden does a great job reminding us we aren't:

Ego is thinking you're unique. As François Ricard writes in the after-word to Kundera's "Jacques et son maître", this is a residue of teenage-hood. You are a variation. That's all. And as terrifying and despairing as that might sound, it only is because so because of the framework we've been taught to evaluate our self-value.


At the end, you're not invincible, you're not in control and you're not unique. You're decaying matter prone to the mood of the world. You're foam on top of a random wave. Nothing more.

Let go / Float / Exist less / Be nothing

Ego - Volume 3 : Two blue lines ?

This is the third volume of a multi-volume series aiming to hack the 'ego' 


Ego is a subtle beast. Often it's hard to notice as it manifests in very specific situations and, as described in Volume 2, serves as a side-kick. Since nobody fires a side-kick, the latter being useful in critical situations, the Ego hangs around like a buddy. In many ways, it can be likened to a cancer : Its effects don't become obvious until very late in life, it feeds on one's own nutrients and resources, it is a mis-behaving mutation of one's own organism. Ego is a part of our character that grows along with all other personal "modules" and "mind-wares". For anyone who's been on the other side of ego and experienced humility deeply, it becomes obvious Ego is a mis-behaving aspect of oneself that needs to be hacked.

Hacking is a matter of deep understanding in a first instance. That means recognising and singling out the workings and the manifestations of a given phenomenon. Like everything else obviously, Ego is a habit. It is rooted in and manifests through small personal behaviours and actions. These are the elements to identify as they need to be then overridden for the hack to be successful. That might explain the post title. Two blue lines refers to a positive pregnancy test and what follows is an attempt at creating an Ego test.

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If it was as simple as peeing on a stick and getting a message back saying "Now you know why people are avoiding you", that'd be great. Unfortunately, that Kick-starter campaign hasn't started yet. So the best way to go about is probably introspection. One needs to put his Ego radar on for a couple of weeks and turn awareness level up. You then start noticing during discussions, social interactions and personal behaviour some peculiar Ego outbreaks.
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Following is a series of observations. Some are funny, some are concerning, most are pathetic. Some are personal, some I picked observing other people. Let's not say which is which :)

  • Ego is when you don't listen to people speaking to you and rather formulate your next sentence based on what you said, merely trying to shove some of the other person's words to camouflage the fact you don't give a fuck about what they're saying, are simply enjoying the sound of your own voice and admiring your line of thought.
  • Ego is looking at yourself in the mirror and confusing your statisfaction with your looks for some kind of personal accomplishment, blatantly forgetting the mirror reveals jack shit about your soul unfortunately 
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  • Ego is when you'd wish some one did a photoshoot of you or a fashion designer noticed you on the street and suggested a stroll down his next catwalk. In its advanced stages, Ego will hope your next girlfriend is a photogtraph since the only person who will realistically give enough of a fuck to bother with this is someone who loves you and might feel obliged or, ideally, pleased to do it
  • Ego is when your eyes wander to the corner of the Skype window and you find yourself looking more and more at your video projection on Skype instead of the other person's video. Try and notice your or the other person's gaze during your next Skype call

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  • Ego is when you can't lift the bar off your chest anymore and though it's lingering there on your chest, threatening to crush your torso, you don't shout for help. Or maybe that's just stupidity
  • Ego is avoiding to talk to someone younger, smaller, lamer etc. in a group so as not to de-value one's relative worth in the group. In its malign manifestations, the Ego will openly ignore some people so as to demonstrate relative value.
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  • Ego is self-promoting oneself. When in lack of raving fans, and especially when confronted with a new crowd, you will consciously try and direct the conversation to shove in a personal story or accomplishment i.e. how crazy about you your ex was, "not that one, the other, other one, the blonde. No the other blonde". You get it. In its uber-nasty manifestations, Ego will even brag in front of an easy-to-impress, low-ego person, when normally it shouldn't feel the stress of demonstrating value in such an environment where no 'race' to higher value is being held
  • Ego manifests through snobbism and a judgemental attitude as well. De Botton defines a snob as being a person that defines you through a single aspect of your being i.e. "What do you do ? / I'm a plumber / ..." Notice how what your mind pictures when you think of a plumber. Ego is self-worship and in that sense needs to constantly reduce surroundings to grasp its size and elevate itself

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  • Ego also manifests through negative affirmation i.e. failing to self-ridicule oneself. That means, besides being unable to take oneself less seriously, it'll show its teeth whenever someone tries to de-value you. In a much darker incarnation, Ego will even get beastly when a raving fan fails to praise you properly ! i.e. Actually, there were 800 persons (not 650 - you idiot) in that room and they were all on their feet when the play was over. I had to bow six times (not 4 - were you fucking sleeping - silent f)
  • Ego in its last and fiercest manifestation is gearing a skill towards the soul goal of feeling praised. It's also the most common as it refers back to "the hedonistic treadmill" and the common disease of orienting one's life to achieve dreams some one else thought out instead of you. Tolstoy cites an example "It is better to know less than necessary than to know more than necessary. Do not fear the lack of knowledge, but truly fear unnecessary knowledge which is acquired only to please vanity"
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This list might be inaccurate or incomplete obviously. Your comments are much much more than welcome :)

 

Essential Bohemia

Ancient Cynics, African fulas, wandering medieval poets, eighteenth century literary Hacks, the beat generation, Hippiedoms, Gypsies, the Beat generation, Burners, Rainbow people, contemporary alternative squatters ...

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Though the origins cannot be traced, it feels the world has always had and will never lose Bohemia. Gypsies in french are called "les gens du voyage", meaning "the people who travel" or more literally, "the people of travel". For travel is the very nature of their lifestyle. It's never about the destination. It is all about the journey and only about the journey.

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Can Bohemia survive in our world ? That's the wrong question. Bohemia is a life choice that carves its way into and through existence. The world has nothing to say and nothing to do with its being. It emerges within it like an essential alternative and an eternal alter-ego of the sedentary urban men and women who calm the urge to move and dumb it down with walks in the parks.

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The question is rather : Can the world survive without Bohemia ? What happens the day where our essential reminder of a possible otherness disappears. What happens the day where alternatives are not there to make sure we understand it is a choice we're making. An escapable choice. That fatality is a low-life excuse and that life has no remote control. One needs to get his ass up and go change it.

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Recovering lost synesthesia

In his "Jacques et son maître", Milan Kundera explains the difference between a "rewriting" and a "variation". And the excellent François Ricard goes on to add in the postscript how some artwork is an outwards epopee while "variations" are an inward meddling. Kundera, in effect, single-handedly introduced in literature what Mozart presented to the musical world when he created his "variation" of Beethoven's work. A variation is a reflection on the artwork itself through another artwork. You need to think of a tasteful hairdresser re-designing a beauty's hair and looking at it in the mirror as if he re-created the creature itself. It is his now. That is a variation.

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Then, in parallel, Brain pickings adds its review of Alexandra Horowitz's "On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes". And this terrific passage where Horowitz re-explores the city with artist Maria Kalman:

The artist seems to retain something of the child’s visual strategy: how to look at the world before knowing (or without thinking about) the name or function of everything that catches the eye. An infant treats objects with an unprejudiced equivalence: the plastic truck is of no more intrinsic worth to the child than an empty box is, until the former is called a toy and the latter is called garbage

A friend mentioned during a discussion yesterday how kids don't box things. And it's true. Stuff don't have words yet and the brain hasn't organised everything into lattices for easier latter access:

The perceptions of infants are remarkable. That infants reliably develop into adults, who for all their wisdom or kindness are often unremarkable, blinds us to this fact. The infant’s world is a case study in confused attention. … The world is not yet organised into discrete objects for these new eyes: it is all light and dark, shadow and brightness.
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Children see things as blocks of brightness and shadow with no frontiers. And in many ways, that is reminiscent of a neurological condition, Synesthesia:

Infants, in fact, seem to experience synesthesia as a baseline sensory given. (Perhaps MoMA's Juliet Kinchin touched on a bigger cognitive truth when she reflected that "children help us to mediate between the ideal and the real.") But, eventually, they grow out of this wondrous multidimensional awareness, which William James called "aboriginal sensible muchness," and we, the sensible and selectively attentive adults, emerge

And the question is how to revive this condition, once one reaches adulthood. For in many ways, it is a lens to look at the world without ever being bored of it again. “If you don't like something, change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it. ” says Mary Engelbreit. And "variations" in many ways are a lens. A remix of the world around us. A way to revisit, with one's own taste and mind another's idea or a given idea, only through different lightings.

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And it's no mystery, like everything else, industry is key. One has to put the time into it. No lens is innate and one needs to develop it time after time, after time ...

 

Of natural selection in populations of public bikes

Who says evolution is limited to biological creatures ? See here Paris' Velib bikes. I challenge you, I dare you, I double-dare you to find public bikes during the day as good as the bikes you find very (very) early in the morning. Often they'll have deflated wheels, broken pedals or emit all kinds of strange sounds.

Why ? 3 reasons I presume:

  1. The travellers who make long voyages by bike across the city or even into the suburbs are very select of the quality of their bikes. They need a trustworthy mount and hence choose the best
  2. Having to travel long distances for long times, they need to wake up early and will often grab the best bikes to head to their destination.
  3. You end up with good bikes relocating at very specific areas at veyr specific times. The best are near residential areas at the outskirts of the day (very early or very late) and near the working areas during the day (where the voyagers park to go to work)

The Public bike species is evolving as we speak. The worst bikes are getting worse because they're mounted by the worse cyclists (the amateurs who travel short distances) and the best are preserved near the stables of excellence where long-distance travellers pamper them to stand yet another day of power-biking. 

Choose your camp and choose wisely !

 

 

 

Ego - Volume 2 : From glass to sand

This is the second volume of a multi-volume series aiming to hack the 'ego' 

 


Ego is grease

The ego is obvious though not explicit. it's a smell everybody perceives and grins about but never mentions. The ego is similar to a fart. Sorry, I couldn't find another metaphor. So ego is a fart. It ferments in one's innards. It reveals something's wrong inside or not working well. It means the person is ingesting and hence being exposed to some bad things and influences.

Ego is self-promotion. It is what ego does best. And it's indiscrete. Very. It's when someone tells a personal story and tries to camouflage it in randomness whereas the sole goal is to paint a brighter picture of himself. Ego will invariantly lack subtlety, at least to subtle eyes. It's an oily stain. Try as you might to take it off, it'll remain. And in a way it's good that it's greasy. As it makes it easier to find. when you think of your week, ego moments, such as when you down-talked your colleagues, are clearer than all the rest.

Ego is hunger

Ego means more. It's a form of hunger. A mutation, if you will, our species got as part of that exceptional 'self-consciousness' package we bought in throughout evolution. A person gives you attention and you ignore it. Why ? Because you want more of it. A person gives you her love and you give little back not because you don't want it but rather because you want more. You're looking for raving fans. You want to be hailed and the ego is that inner emperor with a stiff nose waiting for every one to bow. You need to feel worshipped. And it's the worship that you cherish ... or worship. Your ego is eating itself.

Kundera has an amazing conception of friendship which, though cruel, hits the nail on its head in some case. You see, according to Kundera friendships are a way to cultivate memories, to feel more like oneself. Friendships are a reminder for the self of a part of it. Individually, they act as time capsules.

“Remembering our past, carrying it around with us always, may be the necessary requirement for maintaining, as they say, the wholeness of the self. To ensure that the self doesn’t shrink, to see that it holds on to its volume, memories have to be watered like potted flowers, and the watering calls for regular contact with the witnesses of the past, that is to say, with friends. They are our mirror; our memory; we ask nothing of them but that they polish the mirror from time to time so we can look at ourselves in it.”

 

Kundera then stipulates that in our post-modern society, friendships might be dying because we don't face dangers together anymore. The fantasy of two or some brethren's united against the world is fading away. Of course, it still pops up from time to time, be it in super-hero movies with Batman and Robin against all the world's evils as well as in phenomena such as "bromance" or "the bro code".

Still, the foundations aren't there to counter the weight of the underlying trend: Friendships, conceived as companionships, are disappearing.  Rather than fighting tigers and physical enemies like we used to, today we're fighting organisations, big abstract masses of power and control. And friends have no power to help us in that struggle.

Ego is a side-kick

Regardless of whether it is disappearing or not however, perceiving friendship as a mirror is pretty bleak and supportive of the hunger-nature of the ego. That innate mechanism we have of ignoring others' outreach to attract them even more is half-reminiscent of the economic principle of scarcity (the less available it is, the more expensive a commodity becomes, given it is still as desirable) and half-reminiscent of kids' tyrannic strategies to pull their parents' attention. And here the dilemma arises: 

For the child is thought to be ego-free. A child won't ignore another person's text or attention or delay his answer to a Facebook message to convey an un-neediness or play an immature push-pull with the other. The child doesn't hide in each question and remark a way to route the conversation back to himself. The child accepts criticism easily. he absorbs and learns. He knows he can be wrong and accepts it. 

So maybe people with the smallest egos are the ones who were most loved in their childhood ? The ones who never had to ask for more. Or maybe all this ego-less child is only valid for kids younger than a given age ? Maybe ego grows with time and develops like a reflex. 

In a way, one develops a reliance Ego slips into the slits of behaviour and acts as a filler. You're trying to attract a person and you ignore her by times because that's your fall back option. That's the thing you do when you can't do anything else. The ego becomes your side-kick. You're talking to a friend and suddenly, during a conversation down-time, you fit in a story about yourself and a bragger race begins.

Ego - Volume 1 : Missile lock-on

This is the first volume of a multi-volume series aiming to hack the 'ego' 


 This is the first of many attempts to explore, de-construct and hopefully find a way to bring the ego to an end. The project is the product of a double encounter. Both out of a distant past : Osho and Ben Vautier.

 Osho is an Indian born meditation master famous for books such as 'Maturity' and 'Courage'. Both amazingly simple to read but easy to overlook while growing up as one puts them 'on the side' and moves on, thinking he 'gets it'. 

Ben Vautier is the ultimate 'provocateur'. And one of his favourite targets is the ego. He is famous for his child-like white writings on black canvas and sentences such as 'Tous ego' ('All ego' in French with a wink at 'All equal').

 

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 What really, and shamefully, got me thinking however is this simple quote:

If you're working out in front of a mirror and watching your muscles grow, your ego has reached a point where it is now eating itself. That's why I believe there should be a psychiatrist at every health club, so that when they see you doing this, they will take you away for a little chat.

Osho has a wonderful quote about ego :

Where does the ego get its energy? The ego feeds off your desire to be something else. You are poor and you want to be rich – the ego is absorbing energy, its life-breath. You are ignorant and you want to become a wise one – the ego is absorbing energy. You are a wretched nobody and you want to become powerful – the ego is absorbing energy.
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And it related to another excerpt, courtesy of Brainpickings and stated by David Wallace during a commencement speech he gave:

If you worship money and things – if they are where you tap real meaning in life – then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already – it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power – you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.
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If you're secretly waiting for compliments after a presentation or a job you did, you're staring at your muscles growing in a mirror. And your ego is feeding on itself. At its core, it feels as if ego means taking oneself seriously. It has nothing to do with taking one's thoughts seriously as this is the essence and the produce of an individual. Taking the self seriously however means raising a barrier and fleeing self-ridicule. Osho writes:

As the ego becomes strong it starts surrounding intelligence like a thick layer of darkness. Intelligence is light, ego is darkness. Intelligence is very delicate, ego is very hard. Intelligence is like a rose-flower, ego is like a rock. And if you want to survive, they say – the so-called knowers – then you have to become rock-like, you have to be strong, invulnerable. You have to become a citadel, a closed citadel, so you cannot be attacked from outside. You have to become impenetrable.

Ego is isolation and correlates with a lack of confidence (which often manifests through self-ridicule). Realizing ego is self-devouring is the first step. The solution however is constant mindfulness: "The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness". Like everything else, Ego is a habit. The brain is plastic. And just as ego builds up, ego can be destroyed through incremental and constant progress.

The anchor, the breeze, the shark - A letter to Joya

My dearest Joya,

I’ll never forget the discussion we had in front of the Sorbonne. It was the height of our trip together and the moment where we truly and deeply connected. I saw the depth of your thoughts, your joy of living and the strength of your will. And I had to share with you what felt like a personal milestone in my understanding of life.

I think I’ve mentioned the importance of matrices. Frameworks of thoughts to clarify one’s thinking and tackle new concepts and ideas. For a long time, I’ve searched for a universal lattice: one that would serve as a guidebook for life. Any time I get lost, I’d be able to read through it and I’d be on my way again.

And I was happy I was able to convey it in both a symbolic and a practical manner. So here’s a mutual reminder to both of us. Of that beautiful Sorbonne discussion that marked the end of our European trip together and the beginning and the rest of our shared trip through life.

The anchor

The anchor is who you were yesterday. It’s the Joya who sat down in her favourite place and dreamt of who she will be tomorrow. The anchor is the iron body of your dreams. Joya, the anchor sinks deepest. It’s this big piece of metal, iconic of life at sea. To many it symbolizes stability. Especially when the ship reaches new shores. The word anchor in itself has come to signify a point of reference. It’s there on your right arm to remind you why. Why you’re here. Why you’re waking up in the morning, why you’re moving and why you’ll keep doing so.

But the anchor isn’t something you’re born with. Dreams stem from a deep understanding of oneself. It’s only after you’ve erased the white board many times and sketched out all your thoughts that you’ll truly grab what Joya is all about. The anchor is stability, yes, but it’s a form of solidity born out of a constant self-disruption. The anchor sinks deepest, of course, but only because it is your relentless self-questioning made iron. It ensures that our matrix of thought is right because it constantly tests it and tries to break it down. The anchor is the product of a deep introspection. A profound understanding of yourself. Only then are your dreams truly yours and nobody else’s.

The breeze

The breeze is who you are right now. It’s your attitude to life and specifically to the present moment. The breeze is this gentle gust that sweeps your hair on a hot day. Few notice it. A handful appreciate it. And rare are the ones it leaves with a smile. A breeze is free of charge yet it’s a tremendous gift. The breeze is life. All-embracing, all-connecting. Grab it, see it, make it yours and smile, smile, smile. This is your constant reminder that life is not a race to the finish line. It’s a stroll in a Japanese garden or a millennial Italian city where every detail is filled with beauty and grace.

But just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, appreciating the moment is each one’s responsibility. Every time you feel your happiness is hanging on something happening (that dress on sale, this job offer, that guy’s next text…), remember the breeze. Happiness is not conditional. Happiness is an attitude and a habit. Happiness is the pursuit of happiness. It’s the journey itself. The steps to your dreams. Enjoy it. And be mindful. You are your best accomplice. The one who’ll always prompt you that the moment is all you’ve got. That there is life in every breath.

The shark

The shark is who you will be tomorrow. So the anchor is the dreams and projects you’ve set and the breeze your way up the steps to reach them. The shark is a bit more subtle. You see, sharks are constant movers. If a shark were to stop moving, water would stop going through its gills, oxygen would stop flowing through its body and its death would be imminent. Sharks must keep moving. They have no choice. If a shark could tattoo something on its fin, it’d be the word ‘forward’.

Sharks are here to remind us that tough times are a means to toughen us. If you fall, it is only to rise stronger, faster and better. Your drawbacks are the building blocks of a better self. Nature is amazing in that it has feedback mechanisms built in to make sure its next iteration leads to a better outcome. Resilience is good. Self-improvement is better. Mistakes are transitory. Movement is eternal. Rise always. Rise stronger. Forward and upward.

I love you Joya, Sky Priority my dearest, 

Yours affectionately and for ever, 

Halim

Physicality - Volume 3 : Necessary evils

You probably never heard of dwarf tossing. And you probably won't forgive me for letting you in on one of humanity's sickest hobbies. That's OK. At least you'll keep reading :)

Dwarf tossing is a bar attraction in which dwarfs wearing special padded clothing or Velcro costumes are thrown onto mattresses or at Velcro-coated walls. Participants compete to throw the dwarf the farthest. A related activity was dwarf bowling where the little person was placed on a skateboard and used as a bowling ball.

Wikipedia

You thought I was kidding :) Non. Just as our Roman ancestors used to enjoy gladiators slaying each other, we still enjoy large men running into each other to defend inches on a green field and an odd looking ball, or make animals fight to death (cooks, snakes and rats, dogs) in underground arenas.

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There is a taboo larger than gay adoption, money or men's vulnerability... and that is that you have been deprived of your right to shout. Your inner violence has been censored. As essential as it might be, as inherent as it is to your humanity, you have no right to express it. You'll be thrown in jail for such an animal behaviour.

Isn't it strange that the volume of your voice will never cross a certain threshold ? In your life. Day in and day out, you put up with pressures you didn't evolve to handle and are offered no escape. No catharsis. So you take on Yoga ! Or boxing, or lifting... And the overwhelming emotions . Caveman Klaus, a great friend, described how most of us are like ducks in a pond. On the surface we look calm and proud but underneath the water, our feet are struggling to keep us moving.

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We need to exorcise our souls and project our violence through a catharsis. we cannot shout in this world. we are born and go silent. We cannot shout. it is forbidden. So here it is the conclusion of the 3 physical volumes:

As a kid, I used to think there was a real business opportunity for 'violence venues' where people could rent a room with dummies where their shouts and screams can't be heard and explode instead of soothing emotional excess with cigarettes, alcohol or food. We fill our stomachs and our lungs so our system gets busy with something else. Until the next working day starts.

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We need centres to shout ! Project our violence in a safe environment ! Maybe that'll calm down all the sick people beating up other people. As a species, we used to enjoy blood ! People fighting and making each other bleed ! And now, suddenly, we're civilized and are able to handle our savagery... The way we calm our violence today is through mental and social pinching: We hurt and terrorize people subtly.

Whereas beating up your neighbour is probably not the best idea, there's ample space to rediscover one's physicality and the world's matter. We live too much in our minds.

 

Physicality - Volume 2 : The perfect beauty of imprfction

Wabi is a Japanese word with no equivalents in other languages. It means identifying beauty with unpretentious, simple, unfinished, transient things [PS: The two 'e' in the title are missing on purpose :)]. Suffice to look at how rugged traditional Japanese tea cups are, or see a Japanese monk enjoy the falling snow to understand what Wabi is. Alain de Botton tells the story of a Japanese traveller walking in an English man's garden and seeing how the leaves have covered the alley. He turns to his host and congratulates him for his beautiful garden. As soon as he does that, the English man points out he's hiring a cleaner to get these leaves out of the way !

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Despite the difference between these two men's perceptions, we generally enjoy and have a taste for imperfection, though not too often. We see beauty in old photo filters and worn-off vintage clothes, we are in wonder in front of old, broken toys, amaze in front of quirky things and are puzzled at how we're not really attracted to a flawless man or woman. "We begin to enjoy [things] when the glitter is worn off" writes De Botton. There is joy in seeing nature taking its toll and witnessing its power over man's work. However, on the opposite side, we also see beauty in that which surmounts nature's power: a large bridge that goes beyond a ravin for example or a ship fraying its way through the sea. Where then does our perception of beauty lie ?

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Of course, there is no single conception of beauty. There is however a valid meta-definition in that "beauty is the promise of happiness". But don't go thinking that entails some kind of superior purety clothed with morality and deep values. Living together has led us our inner human taste to diverge from the values we prone. Even our most valorous emotions are not as immaculate as we think they are. Enter Kundera Milan:

Incident-ally, somebody's filmed the life of a foetus inside a pregnant woman. In an acrobatic contortion we could never imitate for ourselves, the foetus was fellating its own tiny organ. You see, sexuality is not the exclusive property of young, well-built bodies that arouse bitter envy. The foetus's self-fellation will move every grandmother. In the world, even the sourest ones, even the most prudish. Because the baby is the strongest, the broadest, the most reliable common denominator of all majorities. And a foetus, my dear friends, is more than a baby - it's an archbaby, a superbaby!'

'A foetus with a sex life, imagine! It has no con-sciousness yet, no individuality, no perception of anything, but it already feels a sexual impulse and maybe even pleasure. So our sexuality precedes our self-awareness. Our self doesn't yet exist,,but our lust is already there. And, imagine, all my colleagues found this idea touching! They had tears in their eyes over the masturbating foetus!'

Genius Kundera winks at existentialism's "existence precedes essence" and affirms that: "sex precedes existence" or at least consciousness. Inherently however, he is destroying the sanctity of a grandmother's love. He is staining of the purest human emotions: caring.

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Flip this analysis however and whereas the emotions we thought beautiful about can be stained by some sick strangeness, we are able to perceive beauty in things we'd, at first, think of as repulsive.

Take Ego for example, in its common conception rather than its common one. There are quotes galore to describe how ugly ego is. It's nearly impossible to find a writer who elevates ego. Nietzsche famously (?) wrote "Whenever I climb, I am followed by a dog called Ego". Ego is ugly and repulsive. It is a darkness that shrouds and clouds your essential wits. It mislead your judgement and often leads you right into dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Yet, ego is attractive to a lot of people for reasons they probably can't control. Osho writes "for centuries, man had to struggle to survive and the idea has become a fixation, a deep unconscious conditioning, that only strong egos can survive in the struggle of life".

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The beauty of imperfection, the imperfection of beauty, the strangeness of our perception ... Hard to see how it relates to physicality [I personally struggled :)] if it wasn't for Steffen Zweig and a small excerpt in the "Confusion of feelings":

England rose before our eyes; the island girdled by the stormy waters in which all the continents of the globe are laved. In that sea-girt isle, the ocean holds sway. The cold and clear gaze of the watery element is reflected in the eyes of the inhabitants. Every one of the dwellers in that land is one of the sea-folk, is himself an island. The storms and dangers of the sea have left their mark, and live on to-day in these English, whose ancestors for centuries were Vikings and sea-raiders. Now peace broods over the isle. But the dwellers therein, used to storms, crave for the lie of the sea with its daily perils.

Pure genius. An outer element so persistent it transmits its most edgy feature to the world within us. We are primarily physical beings and we interiorize the physical world around us. In its imperfection. We live in an era where our the ratio of mind to body function is, say, 4:1 whereas only some 1000 years ago, it was 1:4 ... This is bound to create some problems. But more on that in Volume 3 :)

The post start-up children : A manifesto for the next generation

Manifesto for the next generation:

  1. We believe the hedonic treadmill and imposed ambition and borrowed goals have ruled for far too long
  2. We believe fun is the next big thing
  3. We believe edgier crazier behaviours are becoming more permit-table as the benchmark for madness is driven higher through our inter-connections
  4. We believe that, when dancing in a bus, one invites others to join, others are now more likely to do so then ever before
  5. A long cycle of un-coolness is coming to an end. Get ready to smile more

Two books struck a chord lately from magnificent publishing house "Gestalten".

  • "A delicious life: New food entrepreneurs" : The book fleshes out how a so-called 'organic & natural' hype is manifesting and influencing people's lives. These are young entrepreneurs who either hit the road on a custom built coffee brewer or opened their own chocolaterie. The book description goes a long way: "Creative young people who used to want to work at start-ups, advertising agencies, or investment banks are now increasingly likely to become organic farmers, bee-keepers, speak-easy bartenders, or owners of mom-and-pop grocery stores". A personal friend, resistant to write a blog about his experience, hit the road after graduating from a top Parisian business school in order to pitch in at self-managed farms all over the country. I'm still in admiration.

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  • "Introducing: visual identities for small businesses" goes on to show how design and brand is not the panache of big brands any more but rather a concern for many businesses, especially the SMEs. Now the kind that'll go to stretches to have a coherent communication is probably run by the same breed I described above. A young generation that understands the importance of local and sees it as a platform to change things.

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Building on the above (This is a very 'bullet-ed' post ^^) :

  • And it's generation S. For Stop because it understands life is not a race (or Self because it now fixes its own goals). Life is multi-form and Life goals ought to be as well. We're not running towards the same finish line so there's no point in looking down on each other. Nobody wins at Life and nobody loses.

Help stop the Little League arms race. Kids' sports are becoming ridiculously structured and competitive. What happened to playing baseball because it's fun? We are systematically creating races out of things that ought to be a journey. We know that success isn't about simply running faster than everyone else in some predetermined direction. Yet the message we are sending from birth is that if you don't make the travelling soccer team or get into the "right" school, then you will somehow finish life with fewer points than everyone else. That's not right. You'll never read the following obituary: "Bob Smith died yesterday at the age of 74. He finished life in 186th place."

  • It's generation U. For Unruly. The 'boss' is a decaying concept. If we work, we work for people who are smarter than ourselves or we don't .. and just start our own companies. In that sense, maybe we've all become Marxists, but in our own way. The revolution is not about depraving entrepreneurs from capital and giving it the the proletariat. It's about turning the proletariat into a bunch of entrepreneurs.
  • The new generation is generation D. D for displaced. Not that it's a generation whose far from its country or nation, though it often is. Rather that its home is no longer defined by a place. 'Heimat', that un-translatable German word, is no longer a rock construct or an apartment. 'Heimat' is deeply buried in one self or it is not. Today's young need to find an inner core at the risk of getting lost and disoriented. I am weak when I move on moving ground. Evading soil. Lost when my departing point disappears. Though I know where I'm going, I forget where I came from and thus the present moment feels like a fleeting instant, a transitory state, an insignificant time whose weight dissolves as it passes. Then I've lost the liberty of being. The line is no longer here and no longer mine. Never forget what 'Heimat' is and where it lies.

De Botton writes in the Architecture of Happiness : "Culture is the word we have assigned to the force that assists us in identifying which of our many sensations we should focus on and apportion value to". A new culture is in the making.

Growing up before growing old

In the midst of a day, there are a number of things for which we find it is worth interrupting 'whatever else we're doing' and dedicating our time to. What comes to mind unfortunately are timely emergencies : A parent is sick, a friend is depressed, a child got kicked out of school ... And the reason why we do leave everything else to cater to these is because their very nature is interruptive. These are unexpected incidents we need to fix for everything to go back to normal. And 'normal' is probably the culprit here. Your career not being aligned with your life goals or your very soul is not as urgent as these matters. Our happiness being in-existent in our current lifestyle is in no way something we need to pay attention to right now. A beautiful quote by Bill Waterson, courtesy of  Brainpickings:

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it's to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential – as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth. You'll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you're doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you'll hear about them. To invent your own life's meaning is not easy, but it's still allowed, and I think you'll be happier for the trouble.

Brainpickings explains how this text here distinguishes between "having an enviable career" and "being a happy person". It falls under what the dot-connecting blog calls the "hedonic treadmill" of achievement. An aimless run where we lose sight of the goal and end up drugged by the overwhelming feeling of fatigue and ticked boxes in a needless to-do list. And what better to echo this than Alain de Botton's Architecture of Happiness explaining how difficult it is to refuse an out-of-the box house a real estate agency would suggest to us:

We would be sternly reminded that to scorn their designs would therefore be to ignore commercial logic and attempt to deny others a democratic right to their own tastes, bringing us into conflict with two of the great authoritative concepts of our civilisation, money and liberty

Sitting in a bus on my way from Paris to London, happy to be writing, with just a single luggage as a belonging, I saw a group of young people sitting outside a store they seem to be painting. They're laughing and clearly happy. On my right, people are lying in a park, putting an end to the week-end under a rare London sun. And it all feels like an oasis in a large desert where the dominant colour is that of the tyranny of money and liberty.

It might seem money is the real peccant. But it's not. Money is advertised as a means to more liberty and freedom. It is the promoted conception of liberty and freedom that hence needs to be questioned. Criticism aside, in times where a program such as PRISM is defended with says such as "PRISM is there for us to be free", one wonders if freedom means primarily 'free of something', be it fear or war or famine. An environment where our basic needs and emotional stability are guaranteed. And once that environment is secured, whether freedom is nothing more than a smiley nap in a park or the liberty to paint a store or write to your heart's delight in the back of a rocking bus.

But just like happiness, freedom is something we measure relative to a personal scale. A prisoner is freer than anyone else because he might have felt free in prison at one point. Regardless, this is an emergency. Whether at any given moment we are free is a question that should make us jump out of our cubicles and rolling chairs, go for a walk and, in case alignment is missing and the big picture is screwed, plan ahead, to make it all work again. "To invent your own life's meaning is not easy, but it's still allowed, and I think you'll be happier for the trouble."

In defense of iron : Life lessons from the gym

The body-builder world can be extremely judgemental of outsiders. Suffice to watch some show figure videos and read guru trainer articles to understand it looks at the rest of the world with some contempt. This is a form of snob in so as one takes a single aspect in a given person and uses it to form a global judgement of that person. Basically, if you're above 12% body fat, in the mind of a trained individual, you're an aimless creature with a willpower near nil. Body condition often gets associated with moral values. A common quote in the body-building world is : "obsessed is a world the lazy use to describe the dedicated". a.aaa

Of course, the world pays it back to the 'fit' community quite well :) Body-builders are seen as obsessive mindless freaks with a brain size affected by muscle size. "When you spend so much time in the gym, when do you read ?" Shallowness is a prime characteristic. A guy with veins popping out from his calves probably won't even consider a girl who doesn't squat. People even wonder if these guys speak ! They never speak when they're lifting in the gym... They just groan. They must be so boring. Oh and of course: They eat all the protein on Earth and are responsible for the extra cows we need to feed and the gas emission and, in extension, global warming. Obviously.

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And please, there's no 'truth be told' here. And I'm not even trying to sketch a truth between parties. Both sides will find specimens in the other camp to corroborate their arguments. Except the global warming bit maybe. All this aside however, body-building per se is an intriguing activity. For instance, is it a sport ? It's solitary and doesn't involve team work but you do get better at it with time and practice. You lift more and more weight for example.

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Now, some might ask for example if you master anything with time ? And contrary to common misconceptions, you do. Heavy squats (mimicking a person sitting down with a loaded bar on your shoulders) and dead-lifts (pulling a bar with your back straight basically) are not a given. These take practice and mastery can be reached. Below are Mr. Olympia Phil Heath and worldwide crossfit champion Rich Froning. I'm curious whose able to do more pull-ups ...

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At first, improving physique is the goal for a new gym-goer. But as you struggle against the weights and try to get better at it, mastery (proper form, higher weights, more explosive movements) becomes the primary goal and physique fades in to the background. It becomes a nice by-product of your favourite sport. This mental perspective took a year and a half to set into my mind. More interestingly however are the universal lessons the gym can deliver. And I do mean life lessons :

  • Commitment and discipline. Let me get the obvious ones out of the way. The gym has saved more than a life : Teaching some prisoners dedication and giving them a sense of purpose, giving confidence to bullied skinny kids, teaching discipline to people who lack it ... Some stories on the bodybuidling.com forum can be quite touching. Increasing your weights from a week to another, or failing to do so then succeeding in a heavy lift, understanding the randomness of performance and the importance of grit and focus ... Body-building might not be perceived as a sport but it's hard to argue it's not a craft. You are the sculptor of your physique and by doing so, you notice how important repetition and, by extension, determination is. Going to the gym regularly translates into results and you understand the importance of "showing up". But the next stage is discipline : That is when you've tested long enough to understand that though repetition is fundamental, planning workouts and segmenting muscle groups can shift results upwards.
  • Progress and Optimization. This echoes and parallels the difference between determination and discipline. Progress is binary. If I show up, I will grow in size. Optimization is not: If I show up x times a week, I will grow faster. No 0/1 here. Discipline kicks in and attention is paid to details. You see, progress is about whether you're gaining size or not. optimization is about how much size you're gaining based on how much you're eating and training. It's the difference between 0/1 and an actual 0,4cm extra in shoulder width.
  • Resilience. You might have heard that "Pain is temporary, glory is eternal" or "No pain, no gain" from the lips of a gym goer. The latter has been questioned a lot in the body-building world. The duration, intensity and focus of the pain has been put to trial. But rather than the scientific side of it, "no pain, no gain" reminds us of Nicholas Taleb's anti-fragile which applies nicely tothe biological world. A muscle put under extreme stress better grow if it wants to survive the next load. Just like Taleb's hydra, a muscle grows through hardships. That same gym routine then becomes a blueprint for any skill that one wants to develop. The frequency,  repetition, effort can be replicated in the world of the mind (which in some sense is also a muscle) to learn new skills.
  • Push and pull.  Least obvious maybe. When it comes to gym work, you either push a bar or pull a bar basically. Wildly creative I know. But still, the is the couple of interactions that structure our world at the atom level for example. Now, interestingly, when pulling you can cut the effort or stop without danger of getting hurt. You're lifting a bar from the ground, realize you were stupid to load so much and just let it go. You can back out when pulling without too much collateral. However when pushing, you need to be consistent as the weight can hurt you if you stop pushing mid-way. You're lifting a bar from your chest, the weight is slightly above your max, you can't follow though. Still, you will. Because if you let go, it's going to crush your chest. Simple: you have no alternative. Same in relationships come and think of it. When pulling someone towards you, it's you taking the initiative, and there's no real consequence if you stop mid-way. No-one gets hurt. And it's probably better to stop there and then if you're not sure you can pull through. When pushing some one out of your system however (some one you previously puled in), you need to be consistent. Hesitate, bullshit, fake and your push is not genuine or credible any more. If you fail, it'll come back crashing on your chest.

Body-building is often perceived as the hobby of the vain but looking back at its core, and maybe pre-steroid time (Arnold Schwarzenegger was actually one of the first to break that boundary to gain size faster), there was pride and manliness in overcoming iron. It takes years to build up a worthy physique and natural (steroid-free) body-builders are laudable for their line of conduct. There's no overnight miracle. As for every other skill worthwhile, 10,000 hours is probably what one needs to put in to reach a certain strength goal. But contrary to other fields, it's probably not enough. With time, one realizes it's a lifelong practice. It becomes clear how humbling this sport is and, just as every obsession you eventually overcome, how little physical appearance means in the big picture, where passion gets involved.

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