Mind

Watch What You Say! (Your Brain is Listening)

Have you ever made a mistake? Maybe you missed an important deadline, or embarrassed yourself in public. Whatever the case, we’ve all had times whenwhat we did wasn’t up to par with what we wanted to do.

Making errors is a fundamental aspect of the human experience. Plus, it’s good for us. Humanity’s greatest achievements are born out of lessons we learn from our mistakes and missteps.

But in the moment of that failure, many of us begin to beat ourselves up. As people who pursue peak performance, most of us set very high standards for ourselves. When we don’t measure up, we “punish” ourselves like a tough coach would. It’s as if we cannot believe that we would make such (seemingly) simple mistakes, we say things to ourselves like “you’re an idiot,” or “damn, you messed up again.”

These words are meant to motivate us to succeed, but in reality, we may be doing more harm to ourselves than good. This self-criticism is a form of something called negative self-talk, and it isn’t just limited to when we experience failures.

Facing a tough challenge, having moments of difficulty or memories of bad experiences,
even looking at ourselves in the mirror can spark an internal tirade of self deprecation.

Sometimes we even vocalize these negative thoughts. For example, I used to be terrible with names. Every time I would meet a new person, I wouldn’t be paying enough attention to remember their name. So when I saw them again, I would apologize and say, “sorry, I’m terrible with names” while asking them to repeat themselves.

This inner (and sometimes outer) monologue of negative self talk becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Jim Kwik of kwiklearning(dot)com says that “your brain is a supercomputer, and your self talk is the program it will run.” In a similar vein, Henry Ford (you may have heard of his company, Ford Motors) is credited with saying, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t — you’re right”

Both of these men are touching on the same idea – that your brain is listening to how you think about yourself.

If you tell yourself “I can’t” at every uncomfortable challenge, your subconscious will believe you and you will be much more attuned to any evidence that supports your attitude. Even when the task in front of you isn’t all that difficult, your brain will habitually make it seem harder than it really is — you’re unintentionally making mountains out of molehills.

The good news is that self-talk also works in the opposite direction. We can re-wire our brains with the belief that we can do all of the things that we dream of doing. If we do this, facing the trials that we must inevitably face becomes less daunting. Every hiccup in the process will be another obstacle that we surmount, adding to our momentum so that we get stronger as the journey gets harder.

But there’s no such thing as a free-lunch in life. You have to put in the work to instill the habit of positive self-talk.

Every time you feel yourself beginning to fall into negativity, replace the negative phrase or thought with a positive one. Do this Every. Single. Time.You have to be vigilant. Repetition and consistency are the keys to habit development and this is no different.

A good way to remind yourself to practice positive self-talk is to wear a rubber band around your wrist. Every time you begin to dwell on negative thoughts, snap yourself with the rubber band and deliberately re-frame the thought into a positive.

This may sound weird, and it definitely looks weird when you do it (I got a lot of strange looks when people saw me snap myself with the rubber band), but it works.

After a couple weeks (it took me around a month), you’ll notice that you’re being less negative about yourself. This, extrapolated over many months, will become your default mode of thought. Positive self-talk will become effortless. Try it out, you may surprise yourself.

Joe

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On Being 100% – Working Through the Slumps, Dumps, and Hump Day

What’s up guys? It’s been a couple weeks since I last posted. I’ve been super busy and it’ll been all I could do to keep up with the newsletter, so the blog was put into a couple week’s hiatus. I’m back now! If you’re reading this, that means that you’ve taken some valuable time out of your day to check out my stuff, even though I’ve been gone for a while. So before I get into the “stuff,” I just want to say, thank you! :]

When was the last time you felt like you were at 100%?

Here’s the honest truth: even though I write about optimal human performance, I haven’t been able to get myself running on all cylinders in a while. It’s hard to remember the last time I felt 100%. 

For the past few weeks, I’ve been stressed out, under slept and haven’t been able to get to training as much as I would like. I’ve also been struggling to generate ideas for blog posts (hence the hiatus). Before that, I was training and writing a lot, but my diet was all over the place. Like a game of whack-a-mole, it seems that whenever I get one area of my life sorted, a problem pops up in another.

This has been the source of a lot of stress and frustration. I feel a huge surge of resistance whenever I’m about to take action in the areas where I don’t feel my best. It almost never feels like I’m really ready to start writing a new blog post, or go do a BJJ tournament. 

I know I’m not alone in this. I have this one friend that keeps putting off starting crossfit because he doesn’t feel ready yet. There’s another that says that he’ll come back to BJJ “once his cardio is ready.”

After years of this, I started to recognize that we are seldom at our full capacity. And while it would be nice if we could always be on point, we still have to get things done while we’re off our game.

In The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield says that the difference between a pro and an amateur is that the pro will show up to work everyday regardless of how he or she feels. In contrast, amateurs only work when they feel “inspired.”

Perhaps Pressfield was echoing Faulkner, who said that, “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.”

More often than not, it is our ability to consistently work through the slumps that determine our rate of success as opposed to the percentage of the time that we are at 100%. This is because “our best, most inspired” performances don’t happen as often as the days when we’re tired, stressed out, and not feeling like it. 

The muse is fickle. We have to accept that creative blocks, burn out, and dips in our performance are part of the terrain – only then will we be able to find the best way to navigate through our personal journeys. 

Faulkner and Pressfield both recognize that taking action trumps waiting for the “right moment.” The future is uncertain. There is no guarantee that tomorrow, let alone the “right moment,” will ever come. Taking action is always grounded in the present, and it is the only thing that actually produces results.

So take action on that thing you’ve been putting off until later. Don’t worry if you don’t feel ready or at your best. In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, just “do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Joe

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Tools for Courage: Two Ways to Better Face Your Fears

Personally, fear is one the main things I struggle with. If I’m off my game, it can usually be traced back to me being afraid of something. Take this blog for example. I put off starting it for over a year because I was afraid and, even after I began, didn’t post more than five posts until a full year after that. Right now, I’m afraid that I don’t have enough time between Jiu Jitsu, teaching summer school, and my blog to do anything effectively.

Being afraid doesn’t feel good, but the thing that really sucks is that eventually, if we want to see the realization of our goals at all, we all have to face our fears.

It’s true that may be able to get away with avoiding them for the mean time. Maybe we rationalize our avoidance, or tell ourselves that we will face the fear later. By doing this we momentarily escape from our fear and regain comfort and peace of mind, but there is an unseen consequence of this behavior. When we avoid facing our fears, we reinforce the habit of shrinking in the face of something we are scared of.

Inevitably, sometime in our lives, something we want will be behind the barrier of fear. That something could be anything, but most likely it will be big – a dream job or opportunity, an amazing idea with potential to change the world, the love of your life. As life would have it, usually, the more we want or need something, the more fear we feel about going after it.

Unfortunately, by then, if we haven’t taken an active role in facing our fears, avoidance will have become our default reaction. How could it not? We’ve been practicing it at every turn. If we don’t hurry up and start practicing, facing our fears will be much harder when it’s time for the big show.

This past week, I re-read one of Sci-Fi’s all time great novels, Dune. In dune, when the characters are faced with mortal danger, there is a prayer they recite. It’s called the Litany Against Fear,and it goes like this:

“I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.

Only I will remain.”

Think of mortal danger. The stakes are steep, the life or death of you and your loved ones. What is required of you? Nothing less than everything you can possibly muster; and you must concentrate. A moment’s distraction could cost you and they their lives. That’s what the Litany is about – focus under fire. 

The Litany exposes the true nature of fear. And once we can understand fear for what it is, we can mount a defense against it.

THE NATURE OF FEAR

Fear, in essence, is data. Our bodies and minds are telling us that we are confronting something dangerous or important. It’s a signal that we need to pay attention! Fear is important. Without fear, many of our early ancestors would not have run away from a scary bear or avoided a sketchy cave, and we may not even be here today.

However, in the modern era, there aren’t as many immediate threats to our lives or wellbeing. There is no more bear coming after us (usually), and the things we are afraid of pose no real threat to life or limb, yet our brains are still wired in the same way. But remember, fear is just data. There is no tangible obstacle blocking you from what you want to do – it’s all in your head.

But still the fact remains that we still feel fear, and as such we must find ways to dispel this illusion of the mind.

Two Weapons Against Fears

1. Negative Visualization – Imagine the worst possible outcome.

In, On the Shortness of Life, Seneca advises his readers to:

Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ” Is this the condition that I feared?”

Tim Ferriss this tactic “negative visualization.” While you don’t have to go as far as Seneca did and live in poverty for a week,  if you find yourself afraid to act because of the possibility of a negative outcome, try to imagine the worst possible result of taking action. While this outcome is probably highly unlikely to happen, it’s still usually not as bad as we thought it could be. At the very least, having an established “bottom” that you can watch out for gives you more peace of mind than endlessly mulling over the possible bad-ends.

2. Habituation

This one is less sex appeal and more grit, but it’s the best way to overcome fear. The truth is, no matter what manner of tips or tactics you employ, you’ll always feel some sort of fear. Being afraid in the face of danger or difficult task is a sign of a healthy psyche. And since you can’t get rid of it, the next best option is to get used to it. Eleanor Roosevelt said to, “do one thing every day that scares you.” In other words, practice.

If you proactively face your fears every time they rear up, you’ll eventually train yourself to react the same way by default. One way you can hack this strategy is to up the intensity (link) of the fears you tackle. By overcoming scarier obstacles, you’ll feel less afraid when come up against lesser ones.

That’s it! As with a lot of the tactics I share with you on this blog, they’re easier said than done. But really, what choice do we have? When we find ourselves separated from the lives we want to live by fear, the only viable option is to face it. Choosing otherwise means that we’re forfeiting what we want – don’t do this. Don’t sell yourself short. Face your fear. What’s the worst that could happen? Chances are, it’s not the end of the world.

Till’ Next Time

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Be Better Than You Were Yesterday

“What a man can be, he must be” – Abraham Maslow (1908-1970)

Hey guys! Hope all is well with you! Today’s post ended up being more conceptual than my usual stuff. As someone with a Type A personality (anxious, proactive, rigidly organized, ambitious), I’ve always struggled to balance my hunger for improvement with being present and enjoying the moment.

It’s hard to “stop and smell the roses” when you feel like you’re falling behind anytime you take a break.

This post is as much about me sorting out this struggle on paper as it is about putting out good content for you guys. If you’ll indulge me a little, I hope that reading through this helps those of you who, like me, have trouble with this.

Self Actualization

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who conceived of the idea of “self-actualization” – which refers to a person’s realization of their full potential. Maslow believed that all humans have a “hierarchy of needs.” He envisioned this concept in a pyramid, with physiological needs like food and water laying the foundation, and safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization stacked atop the basic needs of the human body.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Many of us are lucky enough to have the bottom brick accounted for. The abundance of modernity means that finding food and water no longer dominate our day-to-day lives. If you are lucky enough to live in America, or any of the countries that we include in the “first-world,” you are relatively safe. You don’t have to worry about being eaten by a tiger, or bitten by a cobra.

The very fact that I’m able to write a blog about optimizing the human potential speaks to this good fortune. If I had to worry about where my next meal was coming from, I doubt I would have time to be concerned with becoming the best version of myself.

The Upper Layers of the Pyramid

With our physiological needs and safety more or less met, our need for love, belonging, esteem from others and ourselves, and self-actualization rise to the top of our concerns. But unlike the bottom two bricks , the upper three layers of Maslow’s pyramid are not sequential in nature. That is, while we need to have food, water, and safety to even start worrying about love, esteem, and self-actualization, we do not need to have love to yearn for esteem, nor esteem to yearn for self-actualization.

Despite this, we cannot reach self-actualization without having the preceding layers in check. That’s because the fulfillment of our human potential is interconnected with loving and being loved (love and belonging), being cherished by others (esteem), and cherishing ourselves (self-esteem). You cannot reach your maximum potential without loving, belonging, being praised, and having a sense of self worth. There would be “something missing.”

My own belief is that this is because humans are social animals – most of the levels of the pyramid are interpersonal in nature.

The stereotypical “highly successful person who is miserable” embodies this idea. He or she could have superhuman levels of productivity and performance yet it would be inaccurate to say that they have reached their human potential.

If you ask me, being our best selves is not just about maximizing our skills, productivity, and performance, but also about having a sense of wholeness. True self-actualization requires the ability to stop and reflect on your life and say: “I am enough. This is good. I am happy.”

This is not to say that you shouldn’t be driven. Actually, it is one hundred percent possible to be hungry for the highest level of achievement and at the same time be fully satisfied with your life. 

This might seem paradoxical. The question is, “If I were fully satisfied, then why would keep striving for higher peaks?” Some of us (myself included) are actually afraid of becoming satisfied with our lives, and for a (seemingly) good reason, it feels an awful lot like settling.

Redefining Self-Actualization

The truth is, it’s not settling. It isn’t even a paradox. The reason it seems paradoxical is that we are looking at “our best selves” as a destination to be reached. It’s a definition issue.

As humans, we are wired to feel a brief sense of satisfaction whenever we complete something. This is an impulse that we evolved to help us get motivated to forage for food, track game, and build shelters. Whenever we successful complete one of these tasks, our brains get a hit of dopamine, making us feel good and forming an association between pleasure and performing tasks that ensure our survival.

It is this same association that drives us to do more, be better, and reach higher, but we run into problems when we start thinking that completion can be found through accomplishments. We do feel a brief feeling of satisfaction whenever we see the fruits of our efforts, but it would be a problem for the human race if we became satisfied for good upon completing a task.

Imagine it! If our ancestors had stopped after building a shelter and said, “Well yeah.. I’m hungry, but I feel pretty good after making this hut so I’m not going to go looking for berries,” we would’ve died off for sure! Most likely, the cavemen and women who were wired this way did die off! As such, after our brains taste that dopamine rush, the pleasure quickly fades and we are driven to search for more ways to spike dopamine.

Given this neurological mechanism, it’s natural for us to think of self-actualization as a goal to be reached, but it is this same mechanism that makes it impossible to do so. However, if we look at ALL of the other layers of the pyramid, it’s clear that we don’t think of them as destinations.

Take the bottom layer for example, it would be laughable to think that we could just eat food or drink water once and be done with it. Having our physiological needs in check doesn’t mean that we no longer have to meet those needs. Instead, it means that we have structures and resources in place so that those needs can be addressed as they arise.

The same goes for safety, love, and esteem. Why would the topmost layer be any different? Following this line of thinking, self-actualization is not just about “becoming our best selves,” but the establishment of robust structures that allow us to keep striving to become “our better selves.” This redefinition requires that we change the language we use to that of a fixed point (because there is only one “best”) to that of a continuum (always getting better).

Distilled down to its essence, this entire concept becomes a simple mantra: “Become better today than you were yesterday.”

I hope that this post gave you some food for thought about the drive to improve. I of all people can understand the desire to be better, but I’m slowly learning that “being better” is not a destination to be reached but a path that we choose to take. Thank you for reading.

Till’ Next Time

Joseb Baik

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Why Ferris Bueller is Cool Part 2: Seeing the Gift in Yourself

Hey guys! Hope you’ve been well. This past week has been a bit of a struggle for me, but I’m grateful that I have this opportunity to share with you.

Last week, I wrote about the role of value in successful relationships. Today, I wanted to expand on the conclusion that I reached last week and explain some of the nuances of putting this concept into practice. It’s easy enough to see how giving value is important when building a good relationship, but its much harder to actually apply this principle in real life. Concepts without execution are useless at best and in worse cases, just plain pretentious.

Knowing how to give value is one thing. Actually going about doing it is another animal altogether.

The 2 Cornerstones of Giving Value

1. You give value when you recognize the value of other people.

This can also be read as: You must first recognize the value of other people before you can earnestly give value to them.

Giving value needs to come from the heart. Take the act of complimenting for example. Giving a compliment is one of the simplest, lowest investment ways that we can give value every day, but it’s common sense that getting an empty compliment doesn’t feel as good as when someone compliments you earnestly.

This is because at its core, giving value is an expression of your self. If you don’t really feel that the person is worth giving to (i.e. see the value inside of them), any “value” that you give to them will come off as fake. This isn’t giving value. It’s flattery.

Now the question is: how can we bring ourselves to see the value in others? This brings us to the second cornerstone:

2. You can only truly begin to see the value in others when you can see the value in yourself.

Another way to say this is that: Before you can give value (give the gift of yourself), you must first reach a point where you can consider yourself to be a gift.

The best way to start seeing value in yourself is to actually be someone with value. Of course, it’s also important to build the self-esteem required to look within yourself and see value. Without self-esteem, you could have all of the good qualities in the world and still not be able to see them. But personally, I think that taking action and building more value within yourself is more efficient. This way, you can work on both the total amount of value that you have and your sense of self-esteem at the same time.

Building Value in Yourself

But how do you build value in yourself? What does it even mean to have value?

Quite simply, it means that you have qualities that can be of benefit to other people. Value comes from within, so it only makes sense that we would have to work on what’s inside of us to increase our value.

Remember the intangible value that we talked about last week? Confidence, a skill that you are good at, enthusiasm – these are all qualities that can help enrich the lives of the people around you. When you work on yourself, you are building value. Because you are improving yourself day-by-day, your sense of self-worth increases as you continue to grow.

I’m aware that it’s possible that this idea may come off as arrogant. As a society, we have a strong aversion to people who talk themselves up and overvalue themselves. We have words for these kinds of people: narcissist, conceited, vain. But thinking of yourself as a gift doesn’t make you any of these. It’s not vanity because it’s all about other people.

Gifts, by definition, are mean to be given and received. When you recognize yourself as a gift, your very presence becomes a vehicle for giving value. It’s not something that have to go out of your way to do, it’s just a part of who you become. As people, we unconsciously recognize this fact. Take the phrase, “being there for someone” for example. When we are “there for someone,” we are giving them ourselves as a gift so that they may lean on us for support.

“Thinking of yourself as a gift” It’s all about self-worth, not selfishness.

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