Learn the unlearnable from people who won’t teach you

Learn the unlearnable from people who won’t teach you

Take a list of the most valuable skills a 21st century person should have. There’ll be technical stuff on there, like decent programming and project management stuff. I leave those for better-qualified folk to talk about, because I’m focused on the rest.

Most of the list would be so-called soft skills. Things like emotional intelligence, public speaking, innovation and leadership. It might also include courage, resilience and other personality traits.

This juicy stuff elevates the stellar above the merely good.

Can you learn these? Sure. There are plenty of online courses and workshops out there. The quality varies though, so I hope you find a good one.

Or you could try it a different way.

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The problem with personal development

The problem with personal development

If there’s one thing yours truly loves, it’s personal development. Sometimes I’m satisfied, often I’m happy, but I’m always hungry for more.

I know that the person I’ll be in six years (or six months) is so incredible that I can’t wait to meet him.

I’ve spend thousands and travelled across the world for the promise of self-improvement.

What I’m saying is that I’m a fan.

And, my friend, I love studying. When it’s the right material presented the right way, I enjoy it. It’s a chore for most people, but it’s how I relax.

So you might wonder how many personal development courses I’m doing right now. And maybe I have some recommendations?

Well, it depends on what you mean by that. I’m learning real, concrete skills in my spare time. But if we limit the list to courses promising to double your brainpower, confidence, income…?

That’s easy.

I’m learning zero of them.

And there’s a darn good reason why I avoid these courses like they’re radioactive:

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How to bypass meditation roadblocks

How to bypass meditation roadblocks

Take a typical meditation class. If you expect the same people to show up on the last day as the first, you’ll be disappointed.

Some of the learners will bounce straight away. They’ll feel awkward, stupid or embarrassed for even considering meditation. After turning up once, they’ll say it’s not for them and never come back.

People who show up for the second class aren’t out of the danger zone. Some will come back a few times. Maybe they improve a little. Maybe they think they haven’t improved at all. Either way, they haul their butts off the comfy cushions, never to grace them again.

Others stick with it for a while, get bored and give up. Just like they give up on everything else.

A small cohort knows what meditation can do for them. They put the work in. Some days they struggle, and they know that’s part of the process. They turn up early, ask questions and practice during the week.

These people will stick around… right?

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Meditation is my meditation

Meditation is my meditation

The funny thing about having a Google alert for ‘meditation’ is I hear about art. This painting is a meditation on compassion; that poem is a meditation on modern loneliness. Art is never just art and it doesn’t just carry a message. It’s always “a meditation” on something.

When you see this every day, it starts becoming a little pretentious.

(Hard to believe, I know.)

Amazing art can explore, expose, reflect, magnify, distort, enhance and consume. For the artist, I have no doubt that creating the piece was a meditative experience. If a painter says their latest work is a meditation on emptiness, I will gladly spend all night picking their brain about that.

But when every review, article, discussion and forum posts describes it as a meditation… well, that’s true emptiness right there.

It reminds me of when people say that exercise is their meditation. Like the artistic process, I can see how this is meditative. For some people, it’s all struggle and effort. For others, these are the moments they find peace.

Art, exercise and a hundred other things can be meditative.

But there’s a hierarchy to these things.

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When aliens land, you’ll be ready

When aliens land, you’ll be ready

There’s a great trope in scifi. It’s the idea that only the civilisation that invents technology is wise enough to use it. It usually goes like this: advanced aliens take pity on primitive ones. They gift them the secrets to unlimited energy. Then the primitive aliens use this tech to create weapons and blow themselves up.

Or they become crazed warmongers burning a path across the galaxy.

I love the idea that intelligence and wisdom correlate. I’m not so sure. I don’t think we humans were “ready” for the internet, even though we were smart enough to build it. A wiser race would use it to find dissenting opinions. Instead, we built echo chambers.

But as this idea works in science fiction, so does it work in psychology.

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Triggered by colour??

Triggered by colour??

If you’re interested in hypnosis, then great news! The internet is full of anonymous strangers looking to hypnotise you. Some of them are probably really good. Most are in the early days of their training (I did something similar way back).

A few are tiny losers looking for a cheap power trip.

How do I know? The internet is full of people complaining about them. Their subjects talk about feeling anxious, uneasy or worse.

Now, that can happen to the best of us. Usually it’s a temporary side effect to intense personal growth. These losers, though, are doing it on purpose. The only goal is to mess people up. I’ve heard everything from general unease to full-blown addiction to certain hypnosis audios.

A recent one I heard was someone, in their own words, getting “triggered” by a certain colour.

And all of these people end their stories with cries for help. Understandably so.

Thankfully, it’s not hard to avoid these pathetic individuals in the first place.

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Why you should avoid meditation apps

Why you should avoid meditation apps

Recently on Facebook, someone asked what the best meditation practices were. Most people answered with things like deep breathing and honing your awareness. In other words, most people had the right idea.

But a few too many said things like Headspace.

Honestly, I was surprised. The best meditation involves listening to someone telling you to meditate? That can’t be right. If it were, monks would train their rosary beads for iPhones.

Serious meditators master everything from mindfulness to metta. They don’t rely on other people to micromanage their meditation sessions.

So meditation apps aren’t “the best” practices around.

And I’d go further than that.

In fact, I’d barely call them meditation.

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How I learned to stop faking it and start making it

How I learned to stop faking it and start making it

I love Dr Strangelove. It’s a damn bizarre and tragic piece of cinema. It’s scarier than most horror films and funnier than most comedies. What’s not to like?

The highlight for me is Slim Picken’s character. Right from the first frame to when he rides the bomb to annihilation, every moment is perfect.

Is that character the funniest in the movie? Or is he the only serious character in a movie full of clowns?

Who knows. I’d rather keep that mystery alive. And speaking of questions I’d rather not answered, there’s a story about him rattling around my brain. I might be misremembering an urban legend or something. Two minutes on Google would sort me out.

Well, it doesn’t matter. Let’s say that it’s true.

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I’m not saying rationality is pointless…

I’m not saying rationality is pointless…

Fun neuroscience fact: 100% of your decision-making is emotional. Yep – everything. Even the stuff that seems so obvious that it doesn’t need it. If you damage the emotional centres of your brain, it can wipe out your ability to make decisions.

And this isn’t some hypothetical. It has happened to people.

Some unlucky folk, through infection or injury, lose all emotions. They retain their memories, intelligence and skills. They just don’t feel anything. It’s different from the flatness that some people describe depression as being like – they aren’t even capable of feeling that.

The strange thing is that they can still perform tasks. They can follow a recipe as well as anyone else can. And they’ll do it if someone tells them to. But they won’t choose to, even if they’re hungry.

Charles Duhigg spoke about a woman with this condition. She was sunbathing to the point of sunburn. She knew she should move. Her skin was roasting red. There were no tradeoffs to weigh – intellectually and instinctively, she wanted to get out of the sun.

But without that spark of emotion, she couldn’t so it.

It’s interesting to think about.

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Think walking over hot coals is impressive?

Think walking over hot coals is impressive?

Back in my university days, I spent time in a chemistry lab. That was a great experience. I might not have been great at chemistry, but it lead to a lot of great stories.

Like the time octanol fumes cured my hangover (or at least made me numb to the pain).

Or when I created a silver solution that clung to glass. Imagine a beaker with a smooth, metallic finish and you’ll know why that was cool.

I won’t mention the time I tried to stabilise a colleagues equipment and, in the process, knocked it over…

And there was that one time where I gave a carrot cancer. That was fun.

One of my favourite stories, though, is much more mundane than tumorous vegetables.

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