Humans usually remember things best when told as a story.
Stories that are emotional are engaging and memorable, while an overwhelming list of facts generally is not. And because of this simple fact of human psychology, we find ourselves drawn to stories of our favorite heroes, and attempting to analyze their lives in order to validate what we do.
The narrative fallacy, as popularized by Nassim Taleb in The Black Swan, states that humans have a tendency to oversimplify and explain past events from the bias of their worldview.
Any past event can be explained in an extremely large variety of different ways, and the explanations can be unbelievably far apart. In fact, how many times have you heard two people make two conflicting points from the exact same story?
It’s a common thing to say that the dots always connect looking backwards, but more often than not, they connect because we find some way of explaining the dots so that it supports our hypothesis.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with telling stories. Stories are a great way to inspire and emotionally connect with others, but it’s also easy to get blind-sighted when we take the story-teller’s interpretation as gospel.
I’ll be the first to say that the dots don’t always connect looking backwards, and I’m completely okay with that.
In kindergarten, I was the shortest kid in my class. In fact, I was so short that I was less than one percentile of males my age.
As a result, I couldn’t do what most of my peers could physically. I had difficulty shooting hoops, I ran slower than everyone else, and was usually one of the last people to be chosen for kickball matches.
And as I grew up, much of the feelings of being the shortest and slowest stuck with me. Even though I was no longer the shortest kid around in high school, I often downplayed myself and felt uncomfortable around people.
I gave myself a lot of negative self talk. I told myself that I wasn’t the smartest, fastest, or the best at any skill. In fact, I didn’t even give myself the chance to apply to more prestigious schools because I “knew” that I wouldn’t get in.
How many of us sabotage ourselves with this kind of negative self talk? We tell ourselves that we aren’t good enough, smart enough, or that we’ll take action after some magical event happens, even though deep down we all know we want to be given the opportunity. The fear is that we’ll be found out for our inadequacies.
The truth is, many of us go from our day to day lives trying to prove something, either to other people or to ourselves. I’ve been there, and in many ways still am.
I can’t say that I have it all figured out, but here are a couple things I’ve realized along the way, written out in clear bullet points because I’m not a fan of fluffy, abstract advice:
- Know Yourself – This is a comment that one of my mentors made to me, and has stuck with me ever since I heard the words come out of her mouth. Knowing and admitting your strengths and your weaknesses make for a very powerful understanding of how to be yourself.
- Be present – People who are the most uncomfortable with themselves will often focus heavily on the future or on the past. There’s nothing wrong with looking back and reflecting or looking forward and preparing, but when you’re ignoring what’s in front of you on a day to day basis and enjoying where you’re at and what’s around you, you’re likely uncomfortable.
- Watch Your Language – Instead of saying things like “I can’t” or “I’m not”, try things like “I haven’t yet” or “I’m learning to”.
- Put Yourself Out There – Post something online. Share something vulnerable. Because it’s not until you take a step to be vulnerable that you really see how people respond. I can almost guarantee you that it’ll be different than you expect.
If there’s any age that a person is the most tolerant to risk, it’d be their twenties.
When Nick Woodman took the stage at a UCSD alumni event to talk about the company he founded in school, he talked a lot about his personal relationship to risk, and how he approached finding his “passion”.
GoPro started as nothing more than a film camera in a plastic box used to take pictures while surfing. And from those humble beginnings, Nick took risk after risk until he built out a company that has forever changed the way people do film.
But if there was anything that stood out to me during the session, it was the simple fact that taking risk gets harder the older I get. Many people tell themselves that they’ll take a risk after they earn enough money, meet the right person, get the right credentials, etc.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with being wise about the risks that you take, and mitigating risk as much as possible to increase your success. But never let yourself get in the way of dreaming as big as you possibly can.
GoPro would never have gotten to where it was today if Nick Woodman started it in his 40s.
What’s stopping you?
Everyone has hundreds of thoughts everyday, and for most of us, it can be extremely paralyzing.
But as I’ve learned from a basic meditation training I’ve done recently through headspace, navigating your can be summarized in this analogy.
Consider that your mind is like a street, and each thought is like a car on the street. Instead of chasing the cars when the come by like we usually do, having peace and control over your thoughts and emotions is about just sitting on the side of the road and observing the cars that come by. Observe and acknowledge the cars, but let them pass.
The point of this exercise is to allow you to have more control over where your energy and thoughts go, instead of being tossed around and stressed out by all the different things on your mind.
And even if you don’t meditate in the traditional sense of the word, the essence of meditation is nothing more than being present and mindful about yourself.
At the beginning of this summer, I decided that I wanted to read one book a week.
The reasoning behind this was simple. Books are a resource that authors spends years crafting and compiling their knowledge and experience that I can pick up for less than $20 and learn about what they learned in a mere couple days of reading. The vast wealth of information, experiences, and perspectives are so immensely large that not reading books would mean missing out on a great deal of learning.
It hasn’t always been easy, however, to fit in reading time in between all the different things that I have been working on this summer, but I did my best to be intentional and consistent with my reading time.
So in no particular order, I’ve had the opportunity to read the following books this summer:
- Inner Game of Tennis
- The Promise of a Pencil
- Zero to One
- The Obstacle is the Way
- The Art of Learning
- I’m Feeling Lucky
- In Defense of Food
- Jesus’ Son
- Black Swan
From the engaging narratives of The Promise of a Pencil, I’m Feeling Lucky, and Jesus’ Son to the deep philosophy of Black Swan and The Obstacle is the way, reading has definitely given me a better perspective of the world and how I approach things. It’s given me frameworks to think about everyday choices, and how I can better myself and the people around me.
This is a habit that I hope to continue for years to come, and perhaps I’ll write my own book one day. Feel free to follow me on goodreads, I love chatting books!
When looking at an outcome and trying to replicate it, I often try to break it down by analyzing the things that contributed to it’s success. It makes logical sense that if I can break down everything that happens, I can figure out the reasons that things happened the way that they did.
People do this all the time. Books are written, talks are given, and curricula are organized all with the intent of formulating a step by step process to achieve a certain goal.
But it’s rarely that simple. As The Black Swan argues, “no evidence of black swans does not mean evidence of no black swans.”
In my experience, I find that even when I follow all the rules, and do everything that I theorized based off what I learned from other people, that the outcome is rarely the same outcome as someone else. Human life is so complicated that taking a specific habit or routine directly out of someone else’s life will work when applied to yours.
For instance, consider the area of health and nutrition. In my recent study of nutrition (reading In Defense of Food), it was brought to my attention that the results of eating natural, organic vegetables is completely different and much more positive than eating the exact nutrients known to mankind within the vegetables. In other words, having a healthy diet is much more than simply counting the nutrients in the foods, even though much of nutrition-ism claims equivalence.
The truth is, most things are so utterly complex, circumstantial and unpredictable that simply trying to sum parts together will leave gaping holes and blind spots that are impossible to be aware of.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that people should stop learning as much as possible from as many people as possible. The value in sharing experiences and learning from people isn’t in applying things verbatim, but having a wider range of perspectives in how to approach your own endeavors.
On one end of the spectrum, having too much information can be paralyzing and overwhelming, but with the right attitude and framework for learning, a vast wealth of information can be used to create a breadth of understanding that allows a person to be well rounded and wise in all areas, being open to the vast ranges of possibilities of things to come without the expectation of a single outcome.
Summing the parts you know doesn’t always result in the outcome you want, but it’s better than nothing.