Public Enemy #1 – Immediate Gratification

PublicEnemy

Jim Harter, Chief Scientist at Gallup may not have set the Internet alight in his TED Talk on Well-Being, but 13mins and 29 seconds into his 15 minute talk I had an ‘Aha’ moment.

Jim’s book, ‘Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements‘ recommends we take a ‘Holistic’ approach to our Well-Being by nurturing five dimensions of our life.

  • Career – Enjoy what we do.
  • Social – Connect with friends & family
  • Financial – Earn enough
  • Physical – Keep active
  • Community – Engage in our community

It was when Jim identified the Well-Being ‘blockers’ that I had my ‘Aha’ moment.

‘Immediate Gratification’…..gets in the way…… Boy, doesn’t it just!!

WhatGetsintheWay

To the best of my ability I try to plan and watch my days. And almost every day I get tripped up by that old chestnut, ‘Immediate Gratification’. If I am tired, hungry or feeling down it’s pretty much a dead cert I’m going to fall.

We all know what’s good for us, and we all devote our good intentions to gazing at the golden rainbow on the far horizon. Instead we should be looking for the snags & snares that lie hidden in our next step.

Before we start nurturing the Five Essential Elements, we should find a ‘methadone’ replacement for our own personal ‘Immediate Gratification’ hit. After all, the pursuit of pleasure is hard wired into the human condition, its neural pathways are the super highways of our brain.

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Jim wasn’t the first person here.

Life in this mundane world with its craving and clinging to impermanent states and things is unsatisfactory and painful.

Buddha, The First Noble Truth – 500 BCE

While Jim calls it a ‘blocker’, I believe it’s ‘Public Enemy Number One’, it’s the barrier we need to climb over to get to the other side.

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Public Enemy #1 – Immediate Gratification

No Sticky Distractions

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In my last blog I asked, “what is the one thing that will change everything in your life?” Well for me the answer is simply ‘No distractions!’

In this digital age distractions have become a constant background noise, but I want to be more specific and talk about ‘sticky’ distractions.

‘Sticky’ distractions are our attachment to virtual connections, the connections we make when we email, message, post, comment, like, ping, nudge, wallop, whatever. It might be social media, it might be online games, it might be web communities or mobile apps. It’s when we put ourselves out into the virtual world and wait for something to come back in return. It’s attachment, albeit virtual!

It’s also extremely addictive, Dr Judson Brewer of UMass Medical School believes Facebook is more addictive than Crack Cocaine. (1m 25s)

The problem with these ‘sticky’ distractions is that they create a ‘peace wall’ that  hide us from stillness. They are cyber pied pipers leading us off on a merry dance down the back alleys of fantasy. They block off the few opportunities we get to discover a place of peace and quiet in which to spot what is elusive, but most important in life.

Why the hell are sticky distractions so damn addictive? As a leading Neuroscientist and Sociologist (not!) I have come to the conclusion that it’s not just our brain that talks to us but it’s also our body. And as our sole purpose as a fully paid up member of the human race is to protect and further the species, we are rather drawn to the social and the sexual through our connections with others.

Up until the introduction of the World Wide Web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, connections pretty much required a face to face communications format. (OK, I admit I’ve conveniently forgotten Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone age from 1876 to 1989). However, the reality is we can now pretty well connect with anyone else on the planet, quote ‘FaceBook friends’, unquote.

When we connect our human drives and desires both conscious and subconscious with the internet, ‘wham’ the whole world suddenly becomes wired. Add a few social psychologists into the mix to design sites, games and apps that become progressively more addictive and suddenly you have more ‘sticky’ distractions than you can wave a wireless mouse at.

I’d like to say that the design of hooks and snares to make websites progressively more addictive is insidious, in fact I think I will. When we are presented with a gallery of our friend’s smiling faces who will miss us ‘if we leave’, it does tug on our heartstrings but it’s just another snare to modify our behaviour.

The problem is I do love my distractions, if only they weren’t so …… well addictive! But as much as I enjoy being distracted I find that when I finally drag myself away, I feel a little bit empty, a little bit queasy, and a little bit disappointed. I regret I didn’t spend my time doing something a bit more fulfilling. It suddenly feels like a waste of time and when it becomes a habit, it feels quite despairing.

I have been journaling more recently, which is a wonderful way of observing my behaviour, moods and emotions. And I’ve discovered that when I go through a period of no distractions I am much happier and strangely I even become a fun person to be around.

Wolf Singer describes the brain as lacking any decision making ‘coherence center’, like an orchestra without a conductor. It seems to me that when we allow ourselves to follow ‘sticky’ distractions we just get a cacophony of noise. But when we stop the distractions we create a stillness in which we can play beautiful music. We nourish our very souls.

By stopping our ‘sticky’ distractions we create time to deepen our relationships with our significant others, to strengthen our friendships, to discover our own inherent creativity, and to enjoy the sights, sounds, and tastes of the world we live in. We raise the tide mark of our own personal happiness and we become more resilient in dealing with the challenges of Life.

It’s why for me, the one thing that will change everything is ‘No Distractions’.

At least No ‘sticky’ Distractions.

No Sticky Distractions

On Suffering and Boomerangs

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Photo Credit: Jeroen Krah via Compfight cc

If suffering brings wisdom, I should wish to be less wise.

William Butler Yeats

It’s a little known fact, but one of the biggest causes of suffering is from accidental boomerang strikes.

Let me elaborate on what I mean here.

This is when we get hit in the head by a boomerang we threw, but at the time we didn’t know it was a boomerang and we certainly didn’t know it was going to come back and smack us on the head.

In that sacred of all self development books, ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, Franklin Covey reminds us, “When we pick up one end of a stick, we pick up the other”. In other words, “While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of those actions.”

A boomerang is a stick we would have been better off leaving well alone. Here are four causes of accidental boomerang strikes.

The Sands of Distraction. In this connected world we are constantly bombarded by distractions; newspapers, radio, television, computers, tablets, smartphones, they are simply unavoidable.

Once distraction gets into our mind it soon clogs up our focus and attention. Its not so much that distraction is bad, its the fact that it takes over and before we know it the tail is wagging the dog.

This is a mild form of boomerang strike, but nevertheless we usually come out of it dazed, and disappointed at the hours we’ve lost.

Fatal Attraction. This is distraction with hooks, it comes in many different forms, want and desire being the most common. This is where our inner angel meets our dastardly inner devil.

It’s the human condition, and fighting it is like taking a tricycle up against a steamroller. Its the slippery slope that leads to all our bad habits and addictions and yet we constantly underestimate the beauty and draw of the siren song.

Attraction can be a particularly painful boomerang strike especially if it leaves us with that that most horrid of all feelings, #despair.

The Niggle. This is the self propelled boomerang that keeps coming back and clipping us on the head, again and again. It can be experienced as an underlying feeling of irritation, anxiety or dissatisfaction. I often experience it as a feeling of being overwhelmed.

Often the cause isn’t always apparent. However, deep down there is a persistent little voice reminding us of a belief we hold that conflicts with reality. Until we accept reality and let go of the belief, we will remain in the flight path of that circling boomerang.

Procrastination. Procrastination is like getting hit by a boomerang that we never threw in the first place. In that sense it’s hard to imagine it as painful, yet not doing something because we feel blocked is a particularly painful and frustrating experience.

So if like Yeats and you wish to to be less wise, then at the very least before you pick up a stick, make sure its not a boomerang that will just come back and wallop you.

On Suffering and Boomerangs

Why mindfulness?

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What we think, we become

The Buddha

Mindfulness is defined as nonjudgmental awareness, but what does this mean?

It’s the ability to be aware without the instinctive need to attach our opinion or feeling to the experience. Its developing the skill to become an impartial observer of our thoughts, senses, and experiences.

Here are six reasons why mindfulness is important.

1. To change. The Holy Grail of all personal development blogs, books, and courses is the ability to change ourselves. So many of us seek to become happier, healthier and wealthier, yet even the smallest change is elusive and remains just beyond our grasp. In contrast, change is not an objective of mindfulness, indeed a core principle of mindfulness is to stop our incessant striving. We are always running after one thing or running away from another. Paradoxically, when we stop striving and find stillness, metamorphosis begins.

2. To learn to live with ourselves. Do you live with an underlying dissatisfaction of your life, a sense that if only a few things could change then it would be much happier and more fulfilling? This sense of dissatisfaction is real, it has a bitter taste, it sits heavily on our stomach. It can weigh us down even when there is no apparent cause. In developing mindfulness we learn acceptance, gratitude and compassion. These three gifts dissolve dissatisfaction and can bring joy.

3. To heal our wounds. As we go through life we pick up physical and emotional knocks and bruises. The truth is that few of us make it far through life without experiencing pain and hurt. These experiences stay with us, we keep them in our scrapbook of slights and injustices. Emotional pain can often be felt as acutely years after the event as it was felt at the time. Mindfulness is a tool for dealing with suffering. It’s a poultice that we can apply to a physical or emotional wound. It allows us to experience it as it is, and by bringing our attention to pain we softens its intensity and create the conditions for healing to occur.

4. To deal with distractions, habits & addictions. The smartphone in our pocket is a means of instant communication and information, but it can also be a source of constant distraction. When we repeat distractions we form habits, and habits that are out of control become addictions. The fight for our online attention is now a trillion dollar business. It’s no wonder that every form of psychological trick is used to hook and hold our attention. What is more scary is that we are unaware of the traps that are set for us. Mindfulness can bring us to a place of stillness, a respite from the constant distraction of our modern, technical world.

5. To discover who we are. In many ways who we are is hidden from us. We can look out but rarely do we look back in at ourselves. We can describe in detail our friend’s personalities and their endearing and annoying quirks, but can we describe our own? It is remarkable that the person we know least about is often ourselves. By becoming an impartial observer of our thoughts, words, actions and feelings we begin to get glimpses of our true self. Not who we think we are, but who we truly are.

6. To live another life. There is another life out there waiting for us. It’s much simpler and involves a lot less doing. It requires us to find moments of stillness throughout the day. It means learning to just be and this is much more difficult than we can possibly imagine. For thousands of years the way to this alternative life is to simply wake up. Mindfulness helps to open our eyes to a richer, peaceful and more fulfilling life.

Why mindfulness?