Tuesday, April 15, 2014

235 ~on happiness


“Why should we want to control our futures?
It feels good to do so—Period.
Impact is rewarding. Mattering makes us happy.”

Stumbling on Happinessis not a useful book on how to be happy but one that describes what science has to tell us about how and how well it can predict which of the futures it will most enjoy.

This book is divided into six parts: Prospection, Subjectivity, Realism, Presentism, Rationalization, and Corrigibility.

The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future

Daniel Gilbert tells that if you were asked to name the human brain’s greatest achievement, you might think first of the impressive artifacts it has produced. But he thinks differently.

“In fact, there’s really only one achievement so remarkable that even the most sophisticated machine cannot pretend to have accomplished it, and that achievement is conscious experience.

The greatest achievement of the human brain is its ability to imagine objects and episodes that do not exist in the realm of the real, and it is this ability that allows us to think about the future.”

What is the conceptual tie that binds anxiety and planning?

“Both, of course, are intimately connected to thinking about the future. We feel anxiety when we anticipate that something bad will happen, and we plan by imagining how our actions will unfold over time.

Planning requires that we peer into our futures, and anxiety is one of the reactions we may have when we do.”

People can be wrong in the present when they say they were wrong in the past

The author ofStumbling on Happinessshows research that demonstrate that once we have an experience, we cannot simply set it aside and see the world as we would have seen it had the experience never happened. He puts an example of Lora and Reba, that, having been joined at the forehead since birth, claim to be happy. And why don’t we believe them?

“Our experiences instantly become part of the lens through which we view our entire past, present and future, and like any lens, they shape and distort what we see.

This lens is not a pair of spectacles that we can set on the nightstand when we find it convenient to do so but like a pair of contacts that are forever affixed to our eyeballs with superglue. Once we learn to read, we can never again see letters as mere inky squiggles.

If Lora and Reba were separated for a few weeks, and if they told us that they were happier now than they used to be, they might be right. But they might not.”

Can we believe we are feeling something we aren’t?

 “Our brains are designed to decide first whether objects count and to decide later what those objects are. This means that when you turn your head to the left, there is a fraction of a second during which your brain does not know that it is seeing a wolverine but does know that it is seeing something scary.”

Daniel Gilbert explains how that can be.

“Research demonstrates that there is enough information in the very early, very early stages of this identification process to decide whether an object is scary, but not enough information to know what the object is.”

Why do we so often fail to know what will make us happy in the future?

Stumbling on Happiness says that imagination is a powerful tool that allows us to conjure images from ‘airy nothing.’

“The best way to understand this particular shortcoming of imagination (the faculty that allows us to see the future) is to understand the shortcomings of memory (the faculty that allows us to see the past) and perception (the faculty that allows us to see the present).

The shortcoming that causes us to misremember the past and misperceive the present is the very same shortcoming that causes us to misimagine the future. That shortcoming is caused by a trick that your brain plays on you every minute of every hour of every day—a trick that your brain is playing on you right now.

Daniel Gilbert tells us the brain’s dirty little secret.

“Our brains take millions of snapshots, records millions of sounds, add smells, tastes, textures, a third spatial dimension, a temporal sequence, a continuous running commentary—and they do this all day, every day, year after year, storing these representations of the world in a memory bank that seems never to overflow.

How do we cram the vast universe of our experience into the relatively small storage compartment between our ears?

We cheat.

The elaborate tapestry of our experience is not stored in memory—at least not in its entirety.. Rather, it is compressed for storage by first being reduced to a few critical threads, such as a summary phrase (‘Dinner was disappointing) or a small set of key features (tough steak, corked wine, snotty waiter). Later, when we want to remember our experience, our brains quickly reweave the tapestry by fabricating—not by actually retrieving—the bulk of the information that we experience as memory. This fabrication happens so quickly and effortlessly that we have the illusion (as a good magician’s audience always does) that the entire thing was in our heads the entire time.”


Click to order I say Who, What, and Where!
an inspirational novel about the courage to be oneself freely.

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a thought-provoking novel about infatuation.


Copyright © 2014 by THE PYTHAGOREAN STORYTELLER. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 31, 2014

234 ~on talent


“Over and over the researchers found few signs of precocious achievement before the individuals started training.”

InTalent is Overrated , Geoff Colvin tells how even though most people spend a great deal of hours working, they perform just okay—not awesomely, not amazingly, not world-class excellent.

When asked to explain why a few people are excellent at what they do, most of us have two answers. The first one is hard work. If you work hard, you’ll be fine. And those get along perfectly acceptably but never become particularly good at it. Second, the great good fortune to discover their natural gift (usually early in life).

But is that true?

New findings on great performance

Geoff Colvin shares some conclusions—given by scientists around the world who have looked into top-level performance in a wide array of fields, including management, chess, swimming, surgery, jet piloting, violin playing, sales, novel writing, and many others—that directly contradict most of what we all think we know about great performance.

“Some researchers now argue that specifically targeted innate abilities are simply fiction. That is, you are not a natural-born clarinet virtuoso or car salesman or bond trader or brain surgeon—because no one is.

In many realms—chess, music, business, medicine—we assume that the outstanding performers must possess staggering intelligence or gigantic memories. Some do, but many do not. For example, some people have become international chess masters though they possess below average IQs.

Deliberate practice is not what most of us do when we think we are practicing golf or the oboe or any of our other interests. Deliberate practice is hard. It hurts. But it works.”

Talent is overrated

The author of Talent is Overrated tells that shown five groups of students, one of which won positions at a top-ranked music school and one of which gave up even trying to play an instrument, we would all say the first group is obviously immensely more talented than latter. But the study showed that—at least as most of us understand ‘talent,’ meaning an ability to achieve more easily—they were not.

The Mozart of Golf

“So here is the situation: Tiger is born into the home of an expert golfer and confessed ‘golf addict’ who loves to teach and is eager to begin teaching his new son as soon as possible. Earl’s wife does not work outside the home, and they have no other children; they have decided that ‘Tiger would be the first priority in our relationship,’ Earl wrote. Earl gives Tiger his first metal club, a putter, at the age of seven months. He sets up Tiger’s high chair in the garage, where Earl is hitting balls into a net, and Tiger watches for hours on end. ‘It was like a movie being run over and over and over for his view,’ Earl wrote. Earl develops new techniques for teaching the grip and the putting stroke to a student who cannot yet talk. Before Tiger is two, they are at the golf course playing and practicing regularly”

Said that, the author of Talent is Overrated remarks two facts. First, he had been practicing golf with tremendous intensity, first under his father and after the age of four under professional teachers, for seventeen years, till Tiger achieved outstanding performance. Second, neither Tiger nor his father suggested that Tiger came into this world with a gift for golf. Asked to explain Tiger’s phenomenal success, father and son always gave the same reason: hard work.

What suggested that Bill Gates would become the king of all computer geeks?

 “It’s clear that Gates’s early interests led directly to Microsoft. The problem is that nothing in his story suggest extraordinary abilities. As he is the first to note, legions of kids were interested in the possibilities of computers in those days. Harvard at that time was bursting with computer geeks who well understood what a technology revolution was happening.

So the answer is nothing in particular. On close examination, it was probably not his software expertise that was most critical to his success. The more relevant abilities were the ability to launch a business and then the quite different abilities required to manage a large corporation. And Traf O Data notwithstanding, one looks in vain for signs of those abilities in world-class proportions, or at all, in the young Gates.”

The true role of intelligence in high achievement

Talent is Overrated tells that many of the most successful people do seem to be highly intelligent. But what the research suggest very strongly is that the link between intelligence and high achievement isn’t nearly as powerful as we commonly suppose. Most important, the research tells us that intelligence as we usually think of it—a high IQ—is not a prerequisite to extraordinary achievement.

“Besides prodigious memories, high-performing businesspeople often seem to have tremendous intellects. Warren Buffet is famous for doing complicated math in his head. He claims not to own a calculator, and given his reputation for honesty, there’s no reason to doubt him.”


Click to order I say Who, What, and Where!
an inspirational novel about the courage to be oneself freely.

Click to order  Deconstructing INFATUATION
a thought-provoking novel about infatuation.


Copyright © 2014 by THE PYTHAGOREAN STORYTELLER. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 24, 2014

233 ~on plotting a novel


“Plot n.
1.    A small piece of ground, generally used for burying dead people, including writers.
2.   A plan, as for designing a building or novel.”

James Scott Bell presents Write Great Fiction - Plot & Structure telling us how he has wasted ten years of prime writing life because of the Big Lie. Because writing can’t be taught. Until he himself discovered that the big lie was actually a lie.

The LOCK system

James Scott says that after analysing hundreds of plots, he has developed a simple set of foundational principles called the LOCK system.

“L is for Lead.
Imagine for a guy on a New York City street corner with a Will Work for Food sign. Interesting? Not very.
But what if the guy was dressed in a tuxedo, and his sign said Will Tap dance for Food? Hmm, a little more interesting.
The point here is that a strong plot starts with an interesting Lead character. In the best plots, that Lead is compelling, someone we have to watch throughout the course of the novel.

O is for Objective.
Back to our Will Work for Food guy. What if he tossed down his sign, put a parachute on his back, and started climbing the Empire State Building?
Interest zooms. Why?
This character has an objective. A want. A desire.

C is for Confrontation.
Now our human fly is halfway up the Empire State Building. We already know he’s interesting because he has an objective, and with a little imagination, you can think up a reason why this is crucial to his well-being.
Is there anything we can do to ratchet up the engrossment level? Yes! New York City cops are trying to stop him. They have plans to nab him around floor 65. Worse yet, a mad sniper across Fifth Avenue has him in his sights. Suddenly, things are a lot more interesting.
The reason is confrontation. Opposition from characters and outside forces brings your story fully to live.

K is for Knockout.
A great ending can leave the reader satisfied, even if the rest of the book is somewhat weak (assuming that the reader decides to stick around until the end). But a weak ending will leave the reader with a feeling of disappointment, even if the book up to that point is strong.
So take your Lead through the journey toward her objective, and send the opposition to the mat.”

Ways to get hundreds of plot ideas

The author of Write Great Fiction - Plot & Structuregives twenty fast, simple, and fun ways to develop your own unique plot ideas. Here are some of them.

“1. The What-If Game.
The What-If game can be played at any stage of the writing process, but it is especially useful for finding ideas. Train your mind to think in terms of what-if, and it will perform marvellous tricks for you.

2. Titles.
Make up a cool title, and then write a book to go with it.
Sound wacky? It isn’t. A title can set your imagination zooming, looking for a story.

3. The list.
Early in his career, Ray Bradbury made a list of nouns that flew out of his subconscious. These became fodder for his stories. Start your own list.”

Hook readers with your first page

Jack M. Bickham counseled in  The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes‘Don’t warm up your engines. Start up your story from the first sentence.’ He warns of three beginning motifs that can stall your story of the first page.

“1. Excessive description. If description is what dominates the opening, there is no action, no character in motion.

      2. Backward looks. Fiction is forward moving.

3. No threat. Good fiction starts with someone’s response to threat.”

How do you know what obstacles to throw?

 “The first step is to conceive an opposition character. I use this term rather than ‘villain’ because the opposition does not have to be evil. The opposition merely has to have a compelling reason to stop the Lead.

Three keys will help you come up with good opposition:

1.      Make the opposition a person.
2.     If it’s a group, select one person in that group to take the lead role for the opposition.
3.     Make the opposition stronger than the Lead.”

We all have a core self

Write Great Fiction - Plot & Structuretells that most of the time we’re not really thinking about who we are. Yet the core is there.

“It is the product of many things over the years—our emotional makeup, our upbringing, our traumas and experiences, and so on.

And we will do what we can to protect this core because, by and large, people resist to change. So we surround that core with layers that are in harmony with our essential self. Working from the core outward, these layers include: 1. Beliefs; 2. Values; 3. Dominant attitudes; and 4. Opinions.

If you think about it, these layers get ‘softer’ as they move away from the core. Thus the outer layers are easiest to change. It is much easier to change your opinion, for example, that one your deeply held beliefs.

But there is always a ripple effect when a layer experiences change. If you change an opinion, it will filter through the other layers. Initially, there may not be much effect. But change enough opinions, and you start to change attitudes, values, and even beliefs.”


Click to order  I say Who, What, and Where!
an inspirational novel about the courage to be oneself freely.

Click to order  Deconstructing INFATUATION
a thought-provoking novel about infatuation.


Copyright © 2014 by THE PYTHAGOREAN STORYTELLER. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

232 ~on introverts


“I am a horse for a single harness, not cut out for tandem or teamwork... for well I know that in order to attain any definite goal, it is imperative that one person do the thinking and the commanding.”

—Albert Einstein

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking presents exciting discoveries on the dichotomy between introverts and extroverts. Many psychologists have been arguing over these two antagonistic concepts since Carl Jung stated the central building blocks of personality in Psychological Types.

Susan Cain tells us that one out of every two or three people you know are introverts, and that some of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there.

Our personalities also shape our social styles

The author warns us not to fall into the trap of defining an introvert as a hermit, and describes how our personalities shape our social styles.

“Extroverts are the people who will add life to your dinner party and laugh generously at your jokes. They tend to be assertive, dominant, and in great need of company. Extroverts think out loud and on their feet; they prefer talking to listening, rarely find themselves at a loss for words; and occasionally blurt out things they never meant to say.

Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish there were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than talk, think before speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”

The extrovert ideal

The author of Quiet explains that the extrovert ideal is not a modern invention.

“America had shifted from what the influential cultural historian Warren Susman called a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality—and opened up a Pandora’s Box of personal anxieties from which we would never quite recover.

In the Culture of Character, the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private.

But when they embraced the Culture of Personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them. They became captivated by people who were bold and entertaining.”

The Myth of Charismatic Leadership

Susan Cain visited Harvard Business School, a place once called the ‘Spiritual Capital of Extroversion,’ to search for an introvert with interesting outcomes.

“Even at Harvard Business School there are signs that something might be wrong with a leadership style that values quick and assertive answers over quiet, slow decision-making.

In one study, groups of college students were asked to solve math problems together and then to rate one another’s intelligence and judgment. The students who spoke first and most often were consistently given the highest ratings, even though their suggestions were not better than those of the less talkative students.”

What do introverted leaders do differently from—and sometimes better than—extroverts?

 “Introverted leaders create a virtuous circle of proactivity. Extroverts, on the other hand, can be so intent on putting their own stamp on events that they risk losing others’ good ideas along the way and allowing workers to lapse into passivity.

Studies have shown that, indeed, introverts are more likely than extroverts to express intimate facts about themselves online that their family and friends would be surprised to read. The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice. ”

When collaboration kills creativity

Quiet tells how from 1956 to 1962, the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research at the University of California conducted a series of studies on the nature of creativity.

“One of the most interesting findings, echoed by later studies, was that the more creative people tended to be socially poised introverts. They were interpersonally skilled but ‘not of an especially sociable or participative temperament.’ They describe themselves as independent and individualistic. As teens many had been shy and solitary.

These findings don’t mean that introverts are always more creative than extroverts, but they do suggest that in a group of people who have been extremely creative throughout their lifetimes, you’re likely to find a lot of introverts.

But there’s a less obvious yet surprisingly powerful explanation for introverts’ creative advantage—an explanation that everyone can learn from: introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation.

In other words, if you’re in the backyard sitting under a tree while everyone else is clinking glasses on the patio, you’re more likely to have an apple fall on your head. (Newton was one of the world’s great introverts.)”


Click to order I say Who, What, and Where!
an inspirational novel about the courage to be oneself freely.

Click to order  Deconstructing INFATUATION
a thought-provoking novel about infatuation.


Copyright © 2014 by THE PYTHAGOREAN STORYTELLER. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 10, 2014

231 ~on self-control


“Self-control is more indispensable than gunpowder.”

—Henry Morton Stanley

Willpowerhas become one of the most intensively studied topics in social science. Researchers around the world have found that improving willpower is the surest way to a better life.

While self-esteem is fundamental to our personal welfare, I believe, as researcher Baumeister exposes inWillpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strengththat major problems, personal and social, center on failure on self-control: compulsive spending and borrowing, impulsive violence, underachievement in school, procrastination at work, alcohol and drug abuse, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, chronic anxiety, explosive anger.

Willpower look much more than a metaphor

Researcher Baumeister has arrived to the conclusion that willpower is like a muscle that could be fatigued through use and warns us:

“If you’d like some advance warning of trouble, look not of a single symptom but rather for a change in the overall intensity of your feelings.

If you find especially bothered by frustrating events, or saddened by unpleasant thoughts, or even happier about some good news—then maybe it’s because your brain’s circuits aren’t controlling emotions as well as usual.”

Sure enough, Baumeister does not try to make you repress your feelings but be aware of what those feelings can mean, because ego depletion results in slower brain.

“Ego depletion thus creates a double whammy: Your willpower is diminished and your cravings feel stronger than ever.”

Focus your energy on the task at hand

The author ofWillpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strengthsorts out four different types of willpower and suggests to stick to one challenge since you have only one supply of willpower.

“We can divide the uses of willpower into four broad categories: control of thoughts, control of emotions, impulse control, and performance control.

Emotional control is uniquely difficult because you generally can’t alter your mood by an act of will. You can change what you think about or how you behave, but you can’t force yourself to be happy. To ward off sadness and anger, people use indirect strategies, like trying to distract themselves with other thoughts, or working out at the gym, or meditating. They lose themselves in TV shows and treat themselves to chocolate binges and shopping sprees. Or they get drunk. We can’t control the impulses, which is what most people associate with willpower, but how we react. Performance control is focusing your energy on the task at hand.”

Where does the power in willpower come from?

One of the reasons that cause to succumb to frustration and anger, even though having self-control of a saint, is the lack of glucose.

“Glucose depletion can turn the most charming companion into a monster. The old advice about eating a good breakfast applies all day long, particularly on days when you’re physically or mentally stressed.

If you have a test, an important meeting, or a vital project, don’t take it on without glucose. Don’t get into an argument with your boss four hours after lunch. Don’t trash out serious problems with your partner just before dinner.”

The first step in self-control is having a clear goal

 “The result of conflicting goals is unhappiness instead of action, as the psychologists Robert Emmons and Laura King demonstrated in a series of studies.

By asking people about their goals and then monitoring them, the researchers identified three main consequences of conflicting goals:

First, you worry a lot. The more competing demands you face, the more time you spend contemplating these demands. You’re beset by rumination.

Second, you get less done. It might seem that people who think more about their goals would also take more steps to reach them, but instead they replace action with rumination.

Third, your health suffers, physically as well as mentally.”

The problem of the decision fatigue affects everything from the careers of CEOs to the prison sentences of felons appearing before weary judges

“The link between willpower and decision making works both ways: Decision making depletes your willpower, and once your willpower is depleted, you’re less able to make decisions.

If your work requires you to make hard decisions all day long, at some point you’re going to be depleted and start looking for ways to conserve energy. You’ll look for excuses to avoid or postpone decisions. You’ll look for the easiest and safest option, which often is to stick with the status quo: Leave the prisoner in prison.”

Can willpower be strengthened?

If the depletions of willpower leave you with less self-control, can willpower be strengthened?

“Emotion regulation does not rely on willpower. People cannot simply will themselves to be in love, or to feel intense joy, or to stop feeling guilty.  Emotional control typically relies on various subtle tricks, such as changing how one thinks about the problem at hand, or distracting oneself. Hence, practicing emotional control does not strengthen your willpower.”

Even though emotion regulation does not strengthen your willpower, the author ofWillpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strengthexplains how other exercises do help.

          “The key is to concentrate on changing a habitual behaviour.

One simply way to start is by using a different hand for routine tasks. Many habits are linked to your dominant hand. Making yourself switch to your left hand is thus an exercise in self-control.

Another training strategy is to change your speech habits, which are also deeply ingrained and therefore require effort to modify. Break the adolescent habit of peppering your discourse with ‘like’ and ‘you know’ constantly.”


Click to order I say Who, What, and Where!
an inspirational novel about the courage to be oneself freely.

Click to order  Deconstructing INFATUATION
a thought-provoking novel about infatuation.


Copyright © 2014 by THE PYTHAGOREAN STORYTELLER. All rights reserved.