Plasticine

It’s the second law of thermodynamics that everything moves toward entropy; so you know that things aren’t going to remain static and things are going to be changing. And no matter what you are trying to accomplish in your life, you need to learn how to not only learn how to cope with change but actually how to harness it and leverage it.

-Dr. Norman Doidge

Most of us grew up thinking that our personality and inclinations begin the calcify process when we are about 7 years old and are solidified when we are in our early 20s. But that myth has been absolutely disputed and proven wrong–if you change your mind, you can change your body and transform the quality of your life. We’ve heard countless stories of what seem like anomalies of people getting over incurable disease or other disabling health issues with a thought–one thought–that they could be a better version of themselves.  When we think a thought over and over again, it begins to harden into a belief and our beliefs become our personality which determines the intensity and consistency of our moods from day to day. However, we are merely one thought away from growing, from healing, from becoming a new and improved version of ourselves, and neuroscientistfocus meme.jpg like Dr. Norma Doidge (quoted above) is demonstrating this in spades. They are showing that these beliefs literally rewire our neural connections and, indeed, we are plasticine in nature, with these new ideas shaping our bodies, ergo our reality as well with new synapses being constructed and old ones being pruned. This is a wonderful and simple explanation of your fantastic plastic brain explained, giving a lot of insight into how your brain changes.

Jean Piaget, one of the most influential cognitive psychologists of the 20th century, suggested that one’s intelligence is essentially knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do, implying discernment of our experience and wagering a risk to grow. Carol Dweck adds to this definition by reminding us to keep an open mind to meet challenges and put in the effort to overcome them as the essence of evolving one’s vision and developing life mastery. Her research on “growth mindset” vs. “fixed mindset” is catching on in schools and businesses, and is having a significant impact on changing the way people learn and companies conduct business. It has given license for people to take risks and make mistakes because doing so literally grows your brain and develops you cognitively.

On a personal level, earlier this year, I decided to apply the 2 minute rule to cultivating change in my physical health. I made it a daily goal to get some exercise and agreed that I could spend at least 2 minutes a day towards this goal. I believed that this small investment of time would be worth the effort and could create change. What’s interesting is that, over time, what appeared to be drudgery has now turned into a natural desire. My 2 minutes has easily turned into 20 minutes. And what is fascinating is how it has improved not just my physical state, but also my mental state. I am beginning to not just feel more emotionally content but my attitude has shifted to agreeing that I’m worthy of something better. In other words, I exercise because I’m worth it, and this self-improvement has made a great contribution to my quality of life. I’ve had to detach from who I have been in order to give birth to who I can become. The change in my waistline is just an inevitable outcome of these new physical and mental habits. And it all started with my thought that 2 minutes, well spent, could have health benefits. Now I believe this with every fiber of my being.

This is just one example, but this shift in one area of my life has cultivated momentum in transforming other areas of my life–a snowball is in motion, as I wonder what else do I think is impossible for myself which might actually be a probable outcome if I change my beliefs around it. I double dog dare you to experiment with this concept yourself–change a thought, repeat the new thought over and over again, make a new habit around it and observe the results. I think you will be surprised at you uproot long held beliefs and recreate yourself in a relatively short amount of time.

Remember, you are plasticine.

Innovate Yourself

There are many great people whose stories provoke me and have made me wonder if I was indeed doing enough with the gifts and abilities that I have have been born with. Currently, I am on the verge of one of a cathartic moment, as I read the biographical book Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. I know it wasn’t on A Tentative Reading Lists for 2017 but it’s a must read. I am so inspired by him that it’s actually taken me a while to even attempt to articulate why it is that I feel the way I do. His struggle to envision the future to me is heroic, on par with my other heroes of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, due to his infinite pursuit of a dream that is larger is than himself. Now I know what you’re thinking–you’re comparing him to those great men?  Yes, yes, I am. Why?-because he stares at the abysmal status quo and is willing to do whatever it takes to disrupt it in an effort to move humanity forward. He has created a movement in technology and innovation that so is understated and he continues to doggedly persist in solving problems that seem impossible.

I think there are probably too many smart people pursuing internet stuff, finance and law. That is part of the reason why we haven’t seen as much innovation.

Elon Musk

I mean, how many of you worked on, let alone sat and pondered these issues?

  1. Making life interplanetary
  2. Accelerating the transition to sustainable energy
  3. Artificial Intelligence

So many great scientists and engineers have asked questions that are beyond one’s comprehension. However, Elon staunchly believes that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they choose to make a commitment to asking insane questions in the quest of serving the needs of humanity. When your curiousity collides with your passion, a life’s purpose emerges and you can do things so much bigger than you could ever imagine. He challenges the assumption that innovation is a natural outcome of civilization as if evolution is set on an inevitable course. But without drive and intelligence, nothing new emerges and people and the planet languish in complacency’s wake. The notion that something is “good enough” is the antithesis to improvement and growth.

People think just automatically that technology gets better every year, but actually, it doesn’t. It only gets better if smart people work like crazy to make it better…otherwise it actually gets worse.

Elon Musk

As I reflect on these ideas, it appears obvious to me that when people accept what is average, what is the bare minimum and don’t demand more of themselves and each other, then they are ultimately in a death spiral. Doing the same thing over and over again is actually going backward (such as thinking that drilling for oil is the answer to our energy needs now and in the future). I remember a famous quote from Albert Einstein that stated, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”, which if Elon Musk was to rephrase it, it might be: It’s absurd to think that doing the same thing over and over again will yield innovation.

Of course, you might just be thinking that’s all well and good for the development of plasma TVs, internet speed and space rockets, but so what, What does innovation have to do with me. I’m not an engineer or scientist, and I certainly not a millionaire. That may be true, but there is NO area in life that couldn’t be innovated; it only takes a willingness to acknowledge that failure is a possibility and do it anyway.  Take, for instance, Gandi. He went against the British government and won India’s independence through non-violence. Non-violence?! This idea still is revolutionary and to my knowledge, Martin Luther King is the only other man who has attempted to use it against oppressors with success. But the idea works! And yet we still wage war–outdated, archaic and what should be obsolete methodologies–when you look at the power of this innovative strategy. It’s the equivalent of riding a horse and buggy to work, and yet so many people favor guns and bombs over the more impactful approach of non-violence. This astounds me. Yet I digress….elon musk

If you were to trace the trajectory of anyone who did anything amazing, they did things in spite of their fear and knew that the person who they were now was not the person they needed to be, thus they had to innovate themselves. Not only did they seek to educate themselves, but they supplanted their beliefs so that the importance of their cause was too cemented in order to slink away from daunting challenges. These people have loads of fear but their faith in the do-gooding nature of their intended movement has more power over them. Going back to Gandhi, he was a rather wealthy lawyer from India who transformed into an incredible man whose heart was impenetrable to the evils of his self-doubt and worry cast upon him from naysayers. He legacy still remains: Be the Change You Wish To See In The World. This could be a true mantra for a life worth living if we were willing to make small, yet extraordinary changes in our thinking. These incremental changes have a snowballing effect over time. There is a level of willpower that must be developed and exercised so that we can overcome the mentality of the status quo and accept a higher version of what we could create with the intelligence we were given.

Obviously, this is something that I am ruminating on diligently–what sort of mental program do I need to download so that my small-mindedness gets an upgrade? What am I capable of that I am allowing fear to be my obstacle? In what ways can I innovate myself so that I can pay it forward to humanity?

Perhaps you too are haunted by these thoughts as you examine your life. How about we give each other permission and get set to work to do something amazing?

 

Thank You, Pablo Picasso

Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.
– Pablo Picasso

Recently a colleague of mine was explaining that Picasso didn’t mean to invent abstract art, he just insisted that there were other perspectives that could be illumined by drawing and painting from different angles. Instead of drawing a face head-on, he thought about how it might look from the sdora-maar-potraitide, for example. Although this is a simple idea, it created a revolution in how we can represent life–at least from an artist’s point of view. However, I also feel, that this wisdom can be applied to multiple situations other disciplines.

Have you ever heard of the story behind the cure for stomach ulcers? An Australian doctor who challenged prevailing views, Barry Marshall simplymax-plank looked at the current medical paradigm that ulcers were psychosomatic and dared to ask, How do you know (this theory is true)? He proved in his research that it was actually caused by a type of bacterium H. Pylori and providing antibiotics was a simple remedy for patients. Yet no one believed him! For years people tried to discredit his cure; until one day, Dr. Marshall actually drank a broth chalked full of H. Pylori bacterium and caused himself to break out in stomach ulcers, which he treated successfully with antibiotics.  This move was so shocking and convincing that now it is taken as a routine treatment for ulcers. However, it has taken YEARS to shift the attitudes of doctors and can you believe that still there are medical practitioners who still think that ulcers “are in your head”?- They cannot look at this medical ailment from another perspective. (I love that quote from Max Planck that expresses how hard it is to change people’s minds about a long-held scientific belief, which seems relevant still today, whether it’s a cure for cancer, climate change or treating a post-traumatic disorder. The only way a new idea can come into mainstream awareness is that the old stalwarts have to die off. )

Discomfort, fear, doubt, uncertainty–these are all symptoms of a shift in one’s thinking. You know you’re out of the status quo when you experience these feelings. At least that’s how I see it. And when I look at a Picasso, it now makes me think, how often do I look at situations or ideas from a limited point of view, particularly that of the mainstream beliefs of my culture? And I wonder if I avoid taking different perspectives because I was culturally ingrained to be rigid with black -n-white thinking, or am I just trying to prevent discomfort? And, can I teach myself to be more pliable in my thinking? Also, can I hold multiple perspectives at one time, and both of them to be equally valid and true?

As I ponder these deeper questions, I feel appreciation in my heart for a man who provided a visual representation of the need to look at life from multiple angles and challenge pre-existing ideas with How DO I know this is the only way to look at a situation or problem?

Thank you, Pablo Picasso, not only for the enigmatic beauty you tried to represent but for your stirring of the human mind and soul.

 

 

Mystification

The adjacent possible is the map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself. It implies a different way of looking at things. It is not held back and will not be bound by what is but is always remixing how we can transform the material world into…these delightful future possibilities and literally pull the present moment to meet it.  -Jason Silva-

I haven’t been writing much these days because I have too many thoughts in my head and I’ve been trying to put a pin on one of them. It’s like watching a leaf float on a stream’s current, except that the leaf is bobbing along on rapids rather than a lazy river. Perhaps we all have times when our minds are engrossed in a state of chaotic peace.

It seems like every moment is full of some serendipity or idea that is pulling on my heart. That makes sense since I’ve been debating whether or not to stay in Wuxi, knowing that my husband is starting his career and creating our new life in Barcelona. rwemersonI knew that
this was to be my last year in China, a place that I never expected to love as much as I do, but here I am, conflicted, to stay and work here or go with him in January. So I said a little prayer earlier this week and now every time I open a book, hear a song or listen to a podcast, a similar message pops up: Take a leap of faith! That quote over there from Emerson–that was the message on my tea bag. I didn’t even know that that brand of tea even had little adages or quotes until I began steeping my tea a moment ago! How am I to ignore this all?

So here I am, trapped with my ideas about my career, thinking about “responsibility” and “duty”, which are begging to be redefined. Believing in new things and new realities takes diligence and fidelity to this “adjacent possible”.  Inviting novelty, stretching oneself, even when the outcome is uncertain, seems like lunacy when complacency can be so satisfying and cozy (read: steady paycheck).

I listened to a riveting discussion by Dr. Norman Doidge about neuroplasticity and I found it interesting that he recommended that we use ALL of ourselves (mind), listening to yourself carefully and then obeying your dreams in order to get things accomplished so you can cultivate your best self. I am taking all of this in, thinking about the gift of mindfulness. If I didn’t have this personal practice, I wouldn’t even recognize the awe and wonder that surrounds me and supports me in embracing the unknown. This gives me immeasurable courage to let go and be willing to take a chance, even if my options seem a bit precarious.

All I know is that there is infinite potential within me–as within everyone–and I have the capacity to express it. I have to trust that what is in seed, will take root and grow. There is so much that I do not know, however, to know that my “shoots” will go towards the light, gives me calm and determination. And I am confident that this confusion is temporary.

I just have to Keep Breathing!