Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The importance of asking why

Richard Feynman goes wild about "Why?" questions when the reporter asks him about magnets in this short Video. (not required for reading on, but simply awesome)

I love this concept of Why questions on various levels and I want to argue that thinking about communication on various levels can help you understand yourself, others and especially the frequent misunderstandings between human beings.

It is believed that we perceive stimuli (auditory, visual, etc) through various filters: the main two being your current (emotional) state and what you have been occupying yourself with recently.
I think we can relate to this - we know about the "pink glasses" when we are in love and about the increased frequency of something when we are currently involved in a specific subject. For example a friend of mine who was working on lighting of rooms a lot, suddenly only saw lights everywhere.

The maze we call brain
The stimuli then wanders mostly subconsciously through our neural circuits, is evaluated based on these filters and will result in (sub-) conscious thoughts or reactions.

On a good day when you have recently been reading about personal tragedies you walk past a bum. You look at him and think he might fall into that category, besides that you feel like spreading joy. You are not completely broke and feel like he could use some money so you make the decision of giving him a couple of bucks.
Stimuli: Bum
Why-Question: Why is he sitting there? Answer: Accident (Influenced by your Filter)
Reaction: Giving him Money (Influenced by your state)
If you had seen a documentary about drunks that lose everything, or if you had a bad day the reaction might have been different.

Layers of reasoning
This was an extreme simplification with just one layer of reasoning, it gets interesting when you go further down the line and add complexity through multiple interpreters:
Smoking, I think is a perfect example:
Smoker: I enjoy smoking
Non-Smoker: Idiot!

This is often as far as communication goes, because the two obviously disagree.
If you start asking why does he say this, it might look something like this for the non-smoker:
  • Know smoking is bad for your health
  • Know smokers smell
  • Someone who smokes is an idiot
The smoker might think something like this:
  • Know smoking is bad for my health
  • Know I will smell bad afterwards
  • Will have a disgusting taste in the morning in my mouth
  • Have associated smoking with happy times
  • Smoking gives me a break from something I hate doing
  • Need nicotin
  • Smoking is fun and gives me satisfaction
If you look at it through those perspectives and understand the various layers of "whys" are involved in these decisions they both make sense and are correct for each individual. And more than that, you can actually find consensus in the two statements - not absolute consensus, but at least partly, which can be a starting-point for a conversation.
The big issue here is that most of our why questions are answered subconsciously and we often are not aware of them. And if we are not aware of them, we simply project them on people around us. For example it is obvious to me that there should be no difference in rights for men and women and it is one of the things that I base my reasoning on, when it comes to a subject that touches this area. And I project this on other people. It took me a while to figure out that some people still think differently about this issue, which then helped me understand decisions they made.

Influence on teaching
A problem is that we often teach and say things in absolute factual form like: Gender Equality but not the why behind and if we don't do that, misunderstandings start happening. Like the belief that men and women are equal, which is not correct as everyone who had a relationship, or a parent of the other sex should know. It is not that they are equal, but that they should be treated equally.

Explorer of the Whys
What I learned from all of this is that exploring the why's of yourself makes you understand yourself and that knowledge opens up the possibility for change. Even more importantly you can try and explore the why's of other people which you then can try and verify by listening to them.

Why not try being an explorer of the whys?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Concept of Time Perspective by Philip Zimbardo

One of the most influencial TED-Talks for me over the last year was Philip Zimbardo on Time Perspective.

I won't go into explaining it since he does such a wonderful job in just six and a half minutes but I will tell you about something that I missed when watching it the first couple of times about a year ago.
I got that you can divide your perception into three time frames, past, present and future and you can either have a positive or a negative perspective on them (on average).

I got that you should go for high on past positive. So I started thinking and talking about the positive things in my past and re-framed the bad things into helpful experiences.
As Randy Pausch said in his Last Lecture (Absolute Must-See Best of the Web Talk)

"I probably got more from that dream and not accomplishing it, then I got from any of the ones that I did"

How can there really be anything "bad" in your past when it is from those experiences that you learn the most?

I got that I should be moderately high on future positive. And I thought I had understood that I should be moderate on present-hedonism, but I didn't. I didn't pay much attention to it anymore during the past two month, I had become a future as he describes it. After all I have all these plans for organizing an amazing TEDx Event, being a great friend, son, brother and boyfriend. I remember myself saying a couple of times, that I was "empty" and that I had no energy left.

Watching the talk again today really made me understand why it is that I had regained my drive. As I said, I was so focused on achieving these things that I had forgotten to do the stuff regularly that provided me with energy like reading, watching TED-Talks / Vera Birkenbihl, cooking, playing the guitar, thinking, talking, dancing. When I did those thinks I often couldn't enjoy them because I thought I had to get all these other things done.

"Any time perspective in excess has more negatives than positives" Philip Zimbardo

Balancing Time Perspectives is key part of this model, the part that I didn't get the first time around. And it is such a powerful model. Can you think of situations where it applies in your life?

Zimbardo gives this example:

"I'm here as a future-oriented person who went over the top, who did all these sacrifices because teachers intervened, and made me future oriented. Told me don't eat that marshmallow, because if you wait you're going to get two of them, until I learned to balance out. I've added present-hedonism. I've added a focus on the past-positive. So at 76 years old, I am more energetic than ever, more productive, and I'm happier than I have ever been."

It goes perfectly well with a quote from Dan Gilbers Talk "Why are we happy?"

"But when those preferences drive us too hard and too fast because we have overrated the difference between these futures, we are at risk. When our ambition is bounded, it leads us to work joyfully. When our ambition is unbounded, it leads us to lie, to cheat, to steal, to hurt others, to sacrifice things of real value."

Zimbardo ends his talk like this:

"So I want to end by saying, many of life's puzzles can be solved by understanding your time perspective and that of others. And the idea is so simple, so obvious, but I think the consequences are really profound."

Agreed and like that, there are many models and concepts out there that solve so many puzzles in our lives. And we do teach many of them in classrooms all over the world but I guess we are often so excited about it, that we don't consider the impact of HOW we teach it.

Vera Birkenbihl (I describe her as "TED in German" to my friends) says in her DVD "Denkstrategien: Listendenken" (I translated this, hope I got it right) "Absolute statements stop the thinking flow". If statements are presented absolute,  you often just accept them, maybe don't engage in an associative process with them, which could be the real key to understanding and ingraining them into your neural circuits.

This is part of the reason why I keep showing videos like these to my friends, so we can talk about them. If that's not possible I just write about them, make Wallpapers (one of the things we look at so much but that is often not used at all) or translate them.

If you have come this far I would love for you to engage in an associative process by comment on this blog post. What are your first associations? Is the writing style interesting/boring? Does the trying to connect different ideas from various cool people work? Any other comments?


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Celebrating the first Birthday of the TED Open Translation Project

I haven't written a blog post because I am swamped with TEDxRheinNeckar organization, finishing my Bachelor and other personal stuff.
I figured I'd at least post the TED Blogpost(inclusing some comments from me) for the 1st Birthday of the TED Open Translation Project, something I care deeply about and that really broadened my horizon:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My depressive Mind that haunts me and how I control it

As I have previously mentioned in my Blog, I was in a depressed Mindset for half my life and most of my conscious life. Now what does this do to you?

Let me start out by explaining the perspective I have on a person, his personality, traits, values and beliefs.

We are our brains, plural.

I will refer to one of my Idols, Dan Gilbert for this:
“The brain is a beautifully engineered get-out-of-the-way machine that constantly scans the environment for things out of whose way it should right now get. That's what brains did for several hundred million years -- and then, just a few million years ago, the mammalian brain learned a new trick: to predict the timing and location of dangers before they actually happened.
Our ability to duck that which is not yet coming is one of the brain's most stunning innovations, and we wouldn't have dental floss or 401(k) plans without it. But this innovation is in the early stages of development. The application that allows us to respond to visible baseballs is ancient and reliable, but the add-on utility that allows us to respond to threats that loom in an unseen future is still in beta testing.”

This article says three brains, but I have simplified it to two brains in my model.

The old brain is the thing that creates emotions, that makes you move and love. It is responsible for the experience you have, called life. This is old; animal’s live too. This is where you subconscious decisions are made, like do I drink that extra beer or do I eat that extra steak? It is taught very much like you train an animal. Through our life we are constantly rewarded or punished for certain behavior and through that training we develop a personality that likes certain types of music or enjoys specific subjects.

If you live your life just letting things happen to you and react accordingly you basically are letting your old brain run the show. And that isn’t necessary a bad thing, it is actually a driver for creativity. The problem only occurs when things go wrong, and when they do in a bad way, we call it mental illness.

Let me explain this with Depression as I experienced it. I had this self image of being fat and when I heard people laughing I thought: They are laughing about me. I thought that when people look at me they see this ugly fat kid. As I kept having those thoughts I trained them into my subconscious. I developed brain patterns that strengthened this belief that I was a less worthy human being. After month and years of this thinking I ended up seeing most of my interactions with other people that way and I basically trained myself to be depressive.
I wasn’t aware of this happening, because I had let my old brain run me.

Now almost three years ago I went on this journey of discovering the newer part of my brain. Through TED Talks, books, lectures and conversations I learned about the capabilities of humans.
We have this awesome machinery between our ears, that is one level above the old brain, that can actually understand it and control it. And it looks something like this:

I started to train my old brain. Like I blogged about eating habits that I have consciously trained my brain to make decisions on what food I want to eat. And I made those decisions based on what was best for me and what would continue to steer me into the directions I want to go in life.

The thing with training your old brain, is that it is hard and takes a long time for these behaviors to be really ingrained. And sometimes when you are tired, your brain kind of falls back to the old patterns, the things that you have used for years. That’s what I mean with the depressive Mind that haunts me. It comes back from time to time and takes over the steering wheel of my life.
In the beginning, again, I was not aware of this happening and didn’t know how to handle it. It made no sense because all of a sudden I was back in this mindset of the depressive after having had joy for weeks or month. But I crawled back out of these holes by fighting back the old brain and giving the wheel back to my new neuron driver.

And then I started to learn to deal with these episodes. I set triggers that made me be aware of when it looked like I might fall back into old patterns. With those triggers I am then aware and can react.
One thing I do for example is to stop what I am doing, try to go home, sit on my comfortable couch and watch 1-2 TED Talks; play the guitar for about half an hour and then I write diary about what is going on. That way I am within an hour out of an almost depressed state in a happy and inspired one.

You don’t always have to look for external cures. There is a reason placebos work and I would argue that you can consciously produce the result from placebos, simply with your new brain. We have this capability within ourselves and spreading the knowledge about this is something that I ingrained within myself to inspire and motivate me every day.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Today there is just a link in German


There is a transcript and mp3 file on the right, worth reading if you know German. It is on Social Justice in the 21st Century.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Losing weight, the three stages of life and a broken beer glass

I will talk about three things, Losing weight, the three stages of life and a broken beer glass.
And in the end it should all make sense (hopefully :) ) (Thank you Juan Enriquez for that line ;) )

1. Losing weight

Over the last year or so I have lost about 30kg (~60lbs) and people ask me "How did you do that?"
Let me start out with the regular approaches: Diet and Sports
The way people usually see diet is like this: "I have to eat less of what I love and more bad tasting healthy (ewww!) food." This notion of having to give up something we love and replace it with something we don't is simply a bad approach to this entire topic.
Lets look at the Wikipedia definition of this:

"In nutrition, diet is the sum of food consumed by a person or other organism. ... Dietary habits and choices play a significant role in health and mortality, and can also define cultures ..."
A great short look into the importance of this matter: http://www.ted.com/talks/jamie_oliver.html
"We, the adults of the last four generations, have blessed our children with the destiny of a shorter lifespan than their own parents. Your child will live a life ten years younger than you because of the landscape of food that we've built around them. "

These are the causes of death in USA. The red ones are diet or obesity related, the Grey are other.

So yes, diet does in fact have a huge impact on your health and on the health of future generations. It is a problem, I think we can agree on that, now what do we do about it?
Do you really have to give up something you love to prevent this? I want to argue that you don't and I would love to reshape your perspective on this.

Now when you simply eat less, or do sports to counterfeit the outcome of your unhealthy diet, what happens when you stop doing either of those things? We call it Yo-Yo-Effect. Because it is merely something to fight the results not the actual cause of the problem.
What if I told you that you can take the unhealthiest food you love and replace it by something healthy? For examples instead of grabbing a bag of chips you would actually feel the need to grab an apple and it would taste just as good, if not better because it also reminds you of the benefits you gained from making this change.

You are better off physically and mentally because you do something that you love. The first reaction to this would be to say: No! I like burgers! I am just that way.
Yes you are that way; you are just that way right now. Temporary, not permanent.

Now what I did is to start eating less and simply add something healthy from time to time, and after a while I noticed how I started really enjoying it, and I started being able to cook veggies better, eat healthy things in restaurants.
I noticed that I didn't miss anything and instead that I actually was looking forward to eating good things. Read a book by Anthony Robbins (Ultimate Power) and using some NLP helped as much as seeing inspiring and interesting TED talks.

And now I have really implemented this perspective on food into my day to day life.
This is what I cooked about 2 hours ago. You have fresh onions, carrots, tomatoes and zucchinis. Add some water, tomato paste, herbs and some rice and you have a healthy, very tasty meal:
For about 2 € prepared in 20 minutes with healthy ingredients. And I love it way more, because I spent 30 minutes preparing and eating it without distraction, instead of heating the oven, watching a TV show while shoving the pizza into me. It is so much more rewarding and good for me.
So this is my message: Don't just cut something from your diet, instead replace it with something that is good for you. The losing weight and being healthier will come by itself.

2. The three stages of life

The general idea of the three stages of life are so embedded in our culture that we don't even think about it. It is something that seems as unchangeable as the weather.
Those three stages are:
1. Childhood / Learn
2. Adulthood / Work
3. Retirement / a) Relax b) Philanthropy

This is exactly what you are being prepared for from the beginning of Kindergarten. You are taught to follow the rules, to fit in.
If you do well in School, you get into a great college, find a decent job that you probably don't like because its work..., earn your living, found a family, have kids, retire then either relax the rest of your life or you do something philanthropic.
Or you can do badly in school, get into trouble, maybe become a criminal (work) and then spend the rest of your days in prison (retirement).
These are just two possible ways with many many more in the middle and around it.

Now there are many things about this that I feel are not necessary the best way to see it, but I want to go into one part specifically. The transition from Learning to Working.
As a college student close to graduation the topic of "What now?" comes up so much in conversations with my best friends, with my family and with random strangers you meet in the plane, at the airport or in hostels.
The amount of smart people out there looking for ways to live their life is huge. They are unsure; they are lost in the sea of opportunities. There are no rules or system in place that can navigate us through this vastness of choices. But that, following rules and systems, is everything we are taught in school, from media and from our society.

That is something that bothers me deeply and I am glad I was lucky enough to find the people around me and the web that gave me the Red Pill

Now instead of me seeing the way through life like this:
The red pill enabled me to pull the camera back a bit. To see the life a bit more like this:
The red pill is the mind shift that you can actually do what you want with your life. You don't have to blindly choose one direction
Your view isn't blocked anymore. You see a beautiful sea to explore, many mountains to climb, trees to plant and flowers to admire. You can now go and decide to take a swim to exercise but if you see a fish that looks interesting, take a dive!
You set out to do something that might interest you, that's great! Maybe it is what you want to do with your life and also, keep your eyes open, maybe along the way you find something that you love even more. Don't be scared to take that chance, it might be worth it.
See the journey of self discovery as something great and don't let yourself be bothered by the fact you haven't found it yet, you will get there if you simply put your mind to it.

Maybe that 1=>2=>3 logic is something to rethink? Maybe you want to do something philanthropic now? ( http://www.ted.com/talks/katherine_fulton_you_are_the_future_of_philanthropy.html )
Maybe you want to invent to help Innovating to Zero ( http://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates.html )
Maybe you want to be part of inventing the future of medicine? ( http://www.ted.com/talks/eric_topol_the_wireless_future_of_medicine.html )
Maybe you can do what you love as a job (#2), keep on learning through the web ( #1), enjoy your life (#3a) and do something philanthropic (#3b) at the same time for the rest of your life.

This entire mind shift sounds huge but just start. Right now. How?

3. A broken beer glass

Start with little things. It is not important (in most cases) what happens, it is what you make of it. After cleaning up the kitchen, I was almost done. A beer glass I had rinsed and put on the drainboard fell over and broke into a thousand shards on the floor. That's what has happened. Fact. Now let's see how you can react to this incident in three inner monologues.

a) The Depressive

"You stupid idiot, can't you fucking watch what you are doing? Everything you do breaks. You can do nothing right. Now I have to clean this up, will probably cut myself on the shards, will miss some pieces on the floor, my roommates will step into it and they will hate me even more than they already do. They will laugh at me. I suck."

b) The Factory Worker

"Man, that stupid idiot that put the drainboard there is such a stupid fool. Now his idiocy will prevent me from doing what I wanted to do and I have to stay in and clean this mess up. But to teach him a lesson I will put the shards on his desk. He will know what he gets for being this careless."

c) The Linchpin

"Sigh. Alright time to put shoes on, turn up the stereo, get broom and clean this mess up.
This glass really was thin, and shards are everywhere. I might as well use this mess, get all the chairs and whatnot out of the kitchen and mop the floor. Had to be done anyways and I get to spend some extra time listening to great music and thinking about writing a blog post."

The decision how you perceive and react to events is yours. You can apply it to diet, to work and even to normal day to day events. I showed you a couple of the things I did, but I don't want you to simply adapt them; what I would wish is for you to think about issues that bother you in your life, don't complain. Think about solutions and start producing them. If you fail, so be it.
Like JK Rowling said in her TEDTalk on The Fringe Benefits of Failure Embrace the failure, learn from it and try a different approach.

All you have to do is take the wheel and drive!


Thursday, February 25, 2010

1 year in 6 pictures

Finished unpacking after an intense traveling month and decided to decorate my room a bit:
6 pictures
1 year of awesome memories and more
Thank you everyone for creating these life changing experiences!
Can't wait for another year like this.