Eliciting hidden thoughts

I do not know if you have a similar experience. I have it from time to time. I am working hard; I am animated; I have hope, energy and vigor. And then, in one moment, I feel like I would fall in a pit. Suddenly I feel like I’m losing my energy, starting to be pessimistic and losing my zest.

Sometimes it is quite a deep hole. I feel I will never do it; I feel it would be too hard.

Why it happens? Maybe I am a bit tired, but for sure it is not only exhaustion. Maybe I met some problems, but it is not insurmountable.

It all looks incomprehensible and crazy.

But it is much easier to understand when you ask yourselves very simple question: What was just going through my mind? What kind of thought, image, or sensation went through my brain?

When it is hard to find the answer, use the opposite question, ask yourselves about the thought that for sure was not going through your mind. For example:

— Did I thought that I can do it well, and people will love it?

— No. I had quite the opposite idea. I was deliberating – just under surface of my consciousness, what if I fail?

Humility

There was a gap in the chain of this writing. It had several reasons.

Exaggerated expectations were one of them. I wished to have too much and too quick. Low down your standards. Expect less. It is a simple remedy. Do not imagine you can write. You can’t. You are only a novice. Your language is stiff, unskilled, you sound broken, like inept machine translation. What worse you learning very slow. It is bitter medicine, but live-saving. In such endeavors, humility forms the basis.

Be humble, but not sluggish. You have low skills, but this does not mean you can resign and avoid effort. Be around. Engage. Do not avoid what you can’t do. Do it, whatever effect will be. You produce rubbish: no problem. Shit is acceptable. But do this shit with all your powers and all skills you have at this moment. Try to exceed your possibility by a whisker.

Tiny expectations

Sometimes the problem is high expectations. It is natural that you desire to do something that can change your life. You want to write a magnificent book, to code a brilliant game, or to make a breakthrough in the numbers of clients for your company. You want it, it ignites you, but it is impossible. Not in general, not in a year or two, but today. Today the effect of your work will be only exhaustion and disappointment if you have it excessive.

Wait for impressive great effects, have an eye on a prize, but today expect tiny results. One hundred words, not an entire book. One client not, a herd of clients.

I promised myself to write one hundred words per day. Not perfect text, just any text longer than a hundred words.

That’s a very low expectation. But it builds consistency. Full concentration, flow, and energy will come later.

Success is pushing your limits every day

Somebody said success is what you do every day. Not exactly. If you will be making one pushup every day for five years, you won’t develop strength and stamina. If you will be learning English five minutes a day, even after five years you will be far away from fluency. If you will learn to code five minutes every day, after a year you will be still a beginner.

Repeatability is necessary, but insufficient condition. Remember about the quality of your daily repetitions.

Success is pushing your limits every day. Success is working today, harder and stronger than yesterday. It is attempting to be better than yesterday, using all your strengths.

Ticking your daily resolutions makes you feel good. Yes, I feel great when I can put a mark on my calendar. But have I really struggled? Have I made everything I could to be better?

New book rough idea

I want to write a book about self-discipline. What are my motives? I have got two princilal reasons. First, I have conducted training on this subject several times. I made it in several impressive companies, and they liked it. And foremost, during these pieces of training, there were many conversations with participants. It always teaches a lot. It makes that your knowledge undergoes some transformation. It became more solid and practical. But it was some time ago, and today I feel that I remember less and less. I want to preserve my knowledge. Writing a short book seems to be a brilliant opportunity. The second reason is more practical. I want to codify, for myself kind of a system that will allow me to obtain my most fundamental goals.

Self-discipline is the skill of managing your activities in such a way that you obtain your most important goals, notwithstanding your inner conflicts of pursuits.

I do not want to write “on the subject” of self – disciple, but to work out a set of practical rules. There are several such rules. Let’s grab the first one: Rule of the wiggle room. The bigger is the wiggle room, the smaller your discipline. I write this text not because I want it, but because I must. I decided to make it every day, no matter what. It makes no place for wiggling.

Self – discipline

What is self – discipline? For many of us, this word has a disturbing connotation. Discipline associates with army drills, yelling instructors, and other crazy things. Some people like it, but for most of us, it is rather repulsive.

Self-discipline, somebody could assume, is yelling yourself, treating yourself as trash. Such self-discipline does not sound good. 

But self – discipline can mean something else. There is a second kind od it, not negative but positive. The word discipline comes from the Latin discipulus “pupil, student, follower”. To be disciplined means just to learn and follow. And the teacher in self-discipline is your positive, high goal. You approach it not by hurting yourself but being attracted but something inspiring. 

Starting again

I have planned this project for 3 years. And it stopped after one month. What a shame. March 11th, when fear of pandemic has started from the ground, everything collapsed. Four months later I ask myself: is it the end or only the hiatus? Have I given up or only have felled down?
When I was a boy, I used to be an altar boy. The parish priest was a great man. But I luck steadiness and persistence. So after half a year, I stopped to serve the Masses. Accidentally, I met the priest.
— How it’s going? – he asked – I haven’t seen you for a long time.
— I am sorry.
— No problem. Do you still want to serve?
— Yes, but…
— But?
— But I am too shy to come back.
— It is better to be shy for one moment than to regret it for a year. You can always start again.
If you are still living, there is no reason to take any pause for a closedown. Stand up and move along. If you feel shame, be brave to endure it till you redeem it by strong deeds. And one more thing: make your expectations lower. If you had so long hiatus, probably your goals and expectations were too high. When it concerned such a project as this, when you are learning a lot of unknown things, it is much more important how long many days you endure than how much you do every single day.

How to gain more self-confidence?

How to gain more self-confidence? The simplest way seems to order yourself to be more confident. You tell yourself to be confident. Order yourself to feel calm and firm. You put pressure on yourself demanding from your mind to obey you. “Have confidence in yourself”, “Be brave”, “Have no fear”–that’s my command! Roger that!? 

Is this method effective? Not at all. Shoma Morita, Japanese psychiatrist from the beginning of XX century wrote:

Responding to such encouragement is like riding a horse against a wall while hurrying in vain to a destination or trying to wrestle with noren (a cloth curtain that is placed at the entrance of Japanese restaurants and shops). Paradoxically, attempts to induce a brave feeling to create more timidity. 

Your emotional mind does not care about the commands of your conscious parts. Sort of the opposite: when it hears “Be confident”, it develops insecurity. 

True confidence can’t be induced. True confidence occurs when one is not aware of it. Think of climbing stairs. Are you confident you can do it? Of course yes. Do you think about it, when you are on the stairs? Not at all. 

The first activity you can do with a lack of self-assurance is to acknowledge its existence. Feel it fully. Do not hide from it. It’s natural. Yes, I have fears inside me, I have doubts. I am not sure. But I can still do what needs to be done. Those fears are not whole of me. 

Habit – neurosis

Willian James said in 1906:

Most of us feel as if we lived habitually with a sort of cloud weighing on us, below our highest notch of clearness in discernment, sureness in reasoning, or firmness in deciding. Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake. Our fires are damped, our drafts are checked. We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.

He called these state ‘habit – neurosis’ and said:

There seems no doubt that we are each and all of us to some extent victims of habit-neurosis. We have to admit the wider potential range and the habitually narrow actual use. We live subject to inhibition by degrees of fatigue which we have come only from habit to obey. Most of us may learn to push the barrier farther off, and to live in perfect comfort on much higher levels of power.

Frightening story

Once upon a time, there lived a man. He had a little crumbling cottage and tiny crop field. He lived near the border of a poor country ruled by the evil king. On the other side of the border was the happy kingdom. The man looked every day in these directions with great longing in his eyes. He saw in the distance a beautiful palace and knew that it waits for him.

He felt that his life is not as it ought to be, that he is only half awake, and that here in this kingdom he is devoid of his full possibilities and flavors.

But the border was a perilous river. It was impossible to wade or swim across it.

The only possibility was to use a stone bridge. But on the bridge was standing bloodthirsty troll. Everyone knew that the major occupation of trolls is to kill and eat humans. So no one ever tried to cross the bridge. But the man waited until the moment the troll would sleep down or walked away.

He waited and dreamed that at that moment he will run through the bridge and on the other side of the border everything will be as it should be: he will feel fully awake, he will have the full capacity and everything will have the perfect flavor. Yet year after year piled, but the troll was standing right in his station.

Finally, the man got very old. When he had no strength to move, troll looked at him, took a great hammer and destroyed the bridge. Then he came close to the old man.

“Are you going to eat me?” Asked with a frightened voice the old man.
“I do not eat humans.”
“So why, all these years you have been standing on this bridge?”
“To help you come through it.”
‘And why have you destroyed the bridge now?”
“Because you were the only person who could cross it.”

Sometimes the main reason for the existence of something that terrifies us the most is to help us.

Delusions

“I should not be like that! I should not feel fear and insecurity. I should be confident and strong and courageous! Please show me psychological techniques that help me fight against these feelings.”
I asked what he is afraid of.

“I fear disease. I do not want to catch a virus.”

“And you think the fear is irrational?”

“Every emotion is irrational!”

” So let’s put it in another way: do you think these emotions are not legitimized or justified?

“Well… no, I have any other afflictions and contracting the virus could be hazardous to my health.”

That is the way we humans functioning: we fear a dangerous thing, we are uncertain when we try to do something difficult, we are insecure when we do not know what reception we will get.

Shoma Morita, Japanese psychiatrist living in twenties former age wrote:

A delusion develops in a person who wants to feel the coolness from a fire or warmth from water.

It is not rational to expect no emotions in an emotional situation. You suffer not only from fears, but mostly from delusions. When you fear illness, death or loss, it is nothing pleasurable, but you can live with it. You can still do what is necessary.

But when you add to this all delusions, when you fear your fears, when you try not to feel what you feel – you get paralyzed.

In such a situation of great usefulness is taking a big breath and allowing yourself to be human.

Yes, I feel apprehension. Yes, I feel insecure. Yes, my self-confidence at this moment is low. It is normal. I can live with it just as with many other inconveniences.

From Hagakure

There is a story in the old Japanese book Hagakure:

Once a group of ten blind masseuses were traveling together in the mountains, and when they began to pass along the top of a precipice, they all became very cautious, their legs shook, and they were in general struck with terror. Just then the leading man stumbled and fell of the cliff. Those that were left all wailed, “Ahh, ahh I How piteous!” But the masseuse who had fallen veiled up from below, “Don’t be afraid. Although I fell, it was nothing. I am now rather at ease. Before falling I kept thinking ‘What will I do if I fall?’ and there was no end to my anxiety. But now I’ve settled down. If the rest of you want to be at ease, fall quickly!” 

A compass

When I was a teenager, I went on a trip to the woods. It was not dark and horrid woods; it was not too vast, nevertheless, you could walk for hours without reaching its edge. It was a great walk. The weather was fine, the paths were smooth, so I walked and walked. Somewhere around 3 p.m., I felt that I am hungry, and it’s about time I come back.

The problem was, as usual, which way leads to home. I did not know. But I felt I should walk East, because till this moment I had a feeling I headed toward west. But how to set out the directions? I did not have a phone or any kind of GPS. But I had something cool: the newly purchased compass. I took it out of my pocket, hung its string around my neck and I hit the road.

I was marching, and from time to time I looked at my compass. I was sure I was quite smart doing so.

But after two hours I reached exactly the same forest clearing. How could it be? I had used my compass! It is impossible. But it was a reality. I had the compass and got lost at the same time.

I sat on the grass and looked at the compass. It occurred that in the etui was a little booklet with instructions. I started to read it. After a few minutes, it became clear that I used my compass wrongly. I had looked at the compass, and I was not paying even attention to the magnetic needle.

Not everyone who has a compass in a hand knows where to go.

It concerns, even more, our inside compass. It is not enough to have feelings, dreams, desired, etc. You need to know how to interpret it.

I would like to be like Jane!

“I would like to be like Jane!”

“Why? What she is better at than you?” 

“She can eat a lot of sweets, and she is still thin. Do you know how many teaspoons of sugar she put into her tea?”

“Two?”

“No! Five! I saw it, and she drinks tea three or four times a day. She also drinks coke, and every day she eats up several chocolate bars. I do not use sugar for tea, and I eat candy at most two times a week, and I am heavier than she.”

“Do you think she is in a better position?”

“Yes, I would like to eat sweets with no limits like her, and be thin like she is.”

“I am sure you are in a better situation. Sugar is not only a question of weight. Too much sugar is putting a terrible strain on many vital organs–pancreas, liver, etc. Jane lacks an important warning signal. The tendency to gaining weight protects you against all these dangers.”

I do not know if I convinced her, but I convinced myself that often we treat our blessings like curses. The tendency to going weigh is a warning signal. Your organism speaks: “Hey, slow down with calorie, sugar and eating junk, change something before it is too late!”. You can treat it as protection, not bad luck. 

Shyness? Protects you from making a clown of yourself and engaging in too many shallow relations. 

Migraines? Force you to regenerate your accumulators. 

Luck of persistence? Do not allow to devote too much time on not very promising endeavors.  

Think about your biggest disadvantage and try to find at least one positive side of it.

How you can use it? If it would be a signal, what would it be signaling?

Of course, the key is what you will do with this signal. First, you have to understand it. What my organism tries to tell me?

Second, be proactive. Do something with danger. Face it up. Stop whining and being envy, but instead take remedial actions. 

The downside of willpower

In one of many psychological pieces of research on willpower, the group of students undergone severe challenges. With an empty stomach, they had to constraint from eating freshly made chocolate cakes, and settle with eating radishes. That, as researchers assumed, depleted their sources of willpower. But how to check if their willpower level actually dropped? It is not enough to ask. We all sometimes declare willpower and just a minute after to fall into the temptation.

The scientists devised a much more practical measure. They asked the test subjects to solve a puzzle. It was a special puzzle. It was impossible to solve in any way. The measure of the willpower was the amount of time they tried to solve it. The longer one tried, the more he had willpower. The sooner one surrendered the lower willpower.

The research was a success; it occurred that constraining from eating the chocolate cookie, depletes willpower.

But for me, this is only part of the conclusions. The second part is that: if you have a lot of willpower you have a tendency to behave unwisely. What is smart about trying to do something impossible, here: solving the unsolvable puzzle?

I have rather a lot of willpower. And very often I try to solve problems just because I meet them on my way. Not because they are important, and their solving will change something. Just because someone or something put a problem before me, and something inside me catch it and hold tight till finding the solution. Few problems are unresolvable, but many are not worthy of loose time on them. Willpower can be the weakness if you lack perspective or let us say an aerial perspective.

Sometimes it is better to give up sooner and not to fight till the end. Being mindful is an obligatory complement to willpower.

Wait

They were cleaning train passenger cars from inside. They had to collect litter, sweep the floor, clean the ceiling, and wash all the windows and mirrors. A lot of things to do. It was a summer job, to earn some money for a trip abroad. They get paid piecework, so they worked quickly, without any breaks. But passenger car has many nooks and crannies and glass surfaces, so after several hours they had only two or three cars cleaned. 

“We have to work faster! I don’t want to spend here all night,”–said one of them. 

“Right, let’s move. I still have power,” the other said. 

Both of them, almost boys, looked exhausted, quite different than at the beginning. Third of them was an older man assigned to their team, who they saw for the first time, and who, as they supposed, he was full-time cleaner.

He looked the same, even though he worked faster and did more. When they rushed even quicker, he stopped and seated at the reclined seat, comfortably pulling his leg and closing eyes. 

“Are you tired old man?” asked the first one. 

“No”–he answered without opening his eyes. 

“So let us move, man, we do not have spare time!”

“I am waiting”

“Waiting for what?”

The old man opened his eyes, got up springy, narrowed his eyes and stared at the end of the car they came from. Young men looked in the same direction. The old man shook his head and opened the window. There was dark outside. He leaned out the window and looked for something.

“Who do you wait for?  

“Do you want to know?”

“Yes, if it will help us to move on.”

“I am waiting for your souls. You have lost it somewhere because you worked too fast. Just seat down next to me and wait for it. Your souls are a little bit slower than your mind and body. You need to wait for it. If you still be working without spirits, we will have to do it one more time, and we lost much more time. Just give your souls a chance to catch you”.

He grew up…

He grew up in a small cottage at the very end of the village. The house was ramshackle, and living in it was dangerous. His mother was afraid that some night walls would collapse and bury all the family. Five hundred yards from the place he was making his first steps was a border: barbed wire, the guards with machine guns and empty fields. When he came to school, other pupils and teachers laughed at him–of his dirty hands, holes in his socks and protruding, dirty ears. And he told them “I do not care you are laughing, but I care about me. I will fight, and I will change my situation”.

He started to fight, and he was stubborn, oh boy how stubborn he was. He cared, he had the motivation. He fought and fought, and he never gave up.

Eighty now, he still is poor and mocked.

This is a myth that says: “If you will have motivation if you will care strongly if you will fight tooth and nail – you will change your situation”. All Hollywood movies assure ascertain abut it. The underdog fights his way to the top with sounds of the symphonic orchestra in the background.

Have you ever sees a movie about a character who had the motivation and gained nothing? I doubt. But there a lot of such characters around us. But the reality is not suitable to sell.

We imbue with this myth. We are talking to ourselves: I have to be strong and motivated because everything depends on it.

Bullshit. Of course, motivation is important. Nobody says it is without meaning. But you can have a lot of motivation and no skill and possibilities.

All that personal development stuff concentrates on dreams and emotions. All these motivation challenges focused on “don’t give up”. You can be sturdy, persistent, gritty and stupid.

Dreams are important, but even more important is reality. If you want to change your situation, you need to assess meticulously your skills and possibilities and then take action building your possibilities. It is not about “not giving up” it is about wise development.

I have a feeling I’ve lost the first three weeks of this project. I have tried to build in myself the courage to hang in. But it was not that courage I needed the most. Much more I need the courage to confront my reality and asses my skills and possibilities. And bravery to find the ways addressing my weak points.

A lapse or a failure?

I have decided to introduce a new rule for my learning challenge. Maybe it is not fair, because the challenge is in progress, but it is more human, rational and realistic.

Until now, I assumed that I had to write a new text every day, no matter what. One day break would be a disaster and complete failure. That’s “all or nothing” thinking. Rather a neurotic attitude. Sometimes it is just hard, and you do not have power, sometimes you had planned it all wrong or you didn’t predict troubles. And then what? Crash? End of the project? It is not fair.

One day gap is not a failure. It is a lapse. You stumble against a curb, but you didn’t take a pratfall. There is no need for canceling endeavor, there is a need for regaining the balance.

But there is a plan dot te lapse. Not punishment, because it doesn’t help, but something that serves to come back on tracks. In my case, it’s an additional morning hour for English. If it happens, that I will not have a new test at the end of the day, the next day I will start with an hour with English.

I will remember also on self-compassion. With lapses, the main enemies are emotions. Especially being mad at yourself myself. At that moment you are like a bird in a trap, the more you try to free yourself, the more you tangled up. Do not be mad, just regain balance and come back on the track.

Do not be certain

My biggest failure last year was offering the training that nobody wanted. I was sure people needed what I prepared. I had put an offer on my webpage and waited. But nobody enrolled.

When we are doing any business, the most fundamental thing is to know what are people’s needs. If nobody needs your service or product, you do not have any business but a hobby.

Is it hard to find out what are the needs? Not very. Just ask. You can use a questionnaire, you can arrange an interview. It’s doable. But asking questions and listening answers is not the hardest part. The hardest part is not to be certain.

Why should I ask if I know I know? I know what is best for them, and what they need!

Such an attitude is the recipe for failure. You never know how people view the world from their perspective. You know only one–your perspective. Certainty is insidious stuff. You want it, you looking for it, you expecting that with it you will be safe, but when you have it, you are in a danger. You getting blind.

If you want to know, you have to ask. If you want to ask and understand, be creatively uncertain. Learn yourself to live with a dose of uncertainty. It is no good to know for sure.

First rule of focus

One of the basic learning skills is attention. If you cannot concentrate on one thing, it will be very hard for you to learn anything. The worst pupils, as we know from school, are those with scattered minds. If you want to learn fast, you need to learn deep and lasting concentration.

Till this moment we all agree. But what does it mean to be focused? One often deems that to be focused means immobilizing our mind on a single object. When you are paying attention, you sit like a statue, with eyes fixed on a book page. If you move, if different thought appears in your mind, one thinks you are not fully focused.

That’s a folk theory of focus. But it is not true. Focusing on something completely immobile is impossible. You can try it with visual attention. Draw a dot on a wall and gaze at it. Do not let your eyes to wander, Keep it still. You will notice, that at most after a few minutes, the image will start to fade and disappear. A still picture is impossible to focus through a long time. To be able to focus for any amount of time, something must be varied: the image or eyes (or both).

It all concerns visual focus, but the same law applies to the mind. We can concentrate only when the target of our attention varies or our mind is shifting the perspective.

It is easy to watch TV series, every second something changes, we can’t stop watching. It’s easy to read a detective story on every page there is a new surprise. But how to cope with a boring textbook or manual?

Try to shift the perspective. Do not pay attention by immobilization, but by varying the perspective. Notice differences, look for novelties, ask new questions.

For example, when you are learning history, you can ask yourself: How did it look from the perspective of defeated and how of winners? How did it look from women’s point of view, how of men’s? If you learn to code, ask: what I could change in it? What else it reminds me? Where I can use it?

Be active

You can hear sometimes: if you want to learn a language you need to listen and read. Right, it helps. But being passive is not the best way to learn.

That is a huge difference to learn something passively sitting and watching or listening and actively doing it.

A long time ago I have heard a story. In the park, at the tables, a group of chess players met regularly to play a game of chess. As usual, there were passersby. who stopped, watched and cheered. One of them was present during almost all games. Every player knew him.

After a few years, it happened that one of the players felt worse during a game.

“Wouldn’t you replace me?” – he asked the regular spectator.

“Me?”

“Yes, you’ve been watching our games for a few years now, I am sure you will play fine”.

“No. I do not know how to play at all”.

During all these years he trained himself to be a good viewer, not a good player.

When you only view something, you do not build skills needed during doing something.

It is rubbish that you can learn anything only by watching, listening or reading. Even when it is a great lecture, presentation or a book, it does not teach you practical skills.

Imagine, you want to be a programmer. You read books, you listen to lectures, you watch how other programmers work. Can you apply for a developer position? Of course not. To learn to program, you need to start writing code on your own. You need to make mistakes, you need to fight with failures, and to struggle with complications. Writing code on your own should not be the only addition to your learning curriculum, but it should be the basis of it.

Commit at least 80% of your learning time on producing, not receiving.

As soon as you master basic, you should try to do something on your own. Of course, you will meet obstacles, setbacks and make innumerable failures. But it’s ok. Fighting with them builds not only skills but also your self-confidence. You believe you can learn something when you overcome obstacles, thanks to your perseverant efforts.

You gain confidence when you can say to yourself and others around you:

“Look what I have done! I am proud of it. ”

Can you say so, even after a very enlightening lecture:

“Look, what I have listened to! I am proud of it.”

Whatever you are learning, be active. Do not only follow or observe. Try to do something out of the limited knowledge and skills you have.

Try to do something even if the effects are highly unsatisfactory.

You can gain practical skills only by practice.

Take it to the limit

It is not enough to start. It is not enough to set off on a journey, If you want to get somewhere you need to eagerly march forward. If you stop after a few steps looking around, lagging, it would be better not to start of the place. 

Regular practice is not enough. You need full attention and effort and concentration. It means you have to find a way to keep the same fresh feelings you had during setting off. It is like in a great marriage: after ten years, your spouse should still stir you. 

But as we all know, it’s hard. First we get accustomed, then wearied and cold. We feel bored. We yearn for novelty. We cut the corners and jerk around. 

It is normal. But you have to fight it, because without eagerness and enthusiasm, you don’t make any progress. 

It reminds me of the book I’ve read some time ago. I mean “Aquarium” written by former Soviet spy Viktor Suvorov. One chapter was especially fascinating. Suvorov tells in it about espionage agent training (they have to master fluently foreign languages, among other things). He finishes the chapter: 

Man is capable of performing miracles. A man can swim the English Channel three times, drink a hundred mugs of beer, walk barefoot on burning coals; he can learn thirty languages, become an Olympic champion at boxing, invent the television or the bicycle, become a general or make himself a millionaire. It’s depends only on training. But if you simply train your memory, your muscles or your mind regularly, then nothing will come of your efforts. Regular training is important, but training alone decides nothing.

There was the case of the odd character who trained regularly. Every single day he lifted a smoothing iron and continued this for ten years. But his muscles got no bigger.

Success comes only when the training, of whatever kind (memory, muscles, mind, willpower, stamina), takes a man to the limit of his capacity. When the end of the training becomes torture. When a man cries out from pain and exhaustion. Training is effective only when it takes a man to the very limit of his capacity. Each new training session is effective only when it becomes a battle to exceed your own achievement on the previous day.

Affirmations

My dad sometimes advised me: 

– If you do not feel self-assured, you have to repeat, time after time, to your coconut that you are confident, 

It looks like the simplest way to solve all psychological problems. Tell to yourself that you are happy, smart and reach and wait a moment until your subconscious will believe in it. Finally, you are the smart one here and what is located inside your skull has no alternative but to subordinate.

Really? 

I was trying with great commitment, but more I repeated my affirmations, the worse I felt. It didn’t work for me at all. 

After many years I read about researches on this technique. According to these researches, people who lack self-confidence felt repeating affirmations.

Why? Because with every repeated affirmation, you stimulate conflict between parts of your mind. The conflict makes you feel bad. You feel that not everything is all right with you. 

The only way to persuade your subconscious to give it real proof. Much better than affirmation is little success. Even minuscule success builds confidence. 

***

I was hard day. I was sure I will not prepare and publish my text. But somehow I did it. Text is bad, but exist. Maybe tomorrow I will improve it.

Do you believe you can learn it?

To learn effectively, you need to believe in your capacity for learning. You need to believe you exert control over your skills, abilities, virtues or assets. Unless you believe that your effort can change something important inside you, you have little incentive to persevere in the face of difficulties.

The problem is, many people believe that human qualities are carved in stone. You were born with a set of genes and you can’t change it by learning.

An acquaintance of mine never sings. When I asked her why, she said- “An elephant has stamped on my ear” – Polish saying meaning, you have absolutely no ear for music – I was born without music abilities, I have no ear for music, I have a terrible voice.

– How do you know? – I asked her – Have you tried and someone told you?

– No, I never tried, nobody in my family sings or even listen to music. It is obvious for us, we do not have musical talents.

– And what about kindergarten or schools, you had to sing there?

– No, I just pretended to sing. Believe me, I sing only when I completely drunk, but it is very rare.

Maybe she is impaired, it can happen, but I would not be so convinced. If you grew in the environment with no music, if you never tried to sing, if you never listened attentively to the music – it is not hard to be a terrible singer, even for a person with reasonable musical abilities. What makes impossible to check is her belief that people are born with the capacity for music or without.

The similar belief we can have regarding something much more crucial: intelligence. When you are lucky, you are an intelligent guy (or gal). If not, you are looser, and better prepare for heavy physical labor throughout the whole life, because no effort or training will change it. Professor of psychology Carol Dweck says about two mindsets: fixed and growth.

The growth mindset is a belief that your abilities are malleable, Nothing is carved in stone, your effort and hard work can change everything. You have the capacity for changing. And because of that, you are eager to learn and to struggle and to persevere when learning something new.

The fixed mindset is the opposite: one thing you can do is to discover your real possibilities because you have it or do not have. No effort will help. You are squirrel or turkey: you were born with the ability to climb a tree or gobbling. No learning will help.

We can have different mindsets in different areas of our life. The question is: what kind of mindset you have in the area you are trying to learn? Sometimes we struggle because part of us is afraid that we are deprived of important talent and we can do nothing about it.

Do you know how self-confidence looks?

We often treat psyche anatomically. We all know that inside our bodies there are different organs: liver, kidneys, heart, muscles, stomach, etc. When the organ is healthy, you feel good. When it does not function fine, we are repairing it–taking pills or using some other therapy. Each body part, although you cannot see most of them, is material and touchable (at least for the surgeon).

In a somehow similar way, people treat their minds. We cannot see self-confidence, optimism or positive attitude, but we assume that inside our mind is something like an organ responsible for it. When something goes wrong, look for we are looking for some kind of treatment.

Do I feel timid? I need to repair my self-confidence. Do I feel a depressive mood? I need to repair my optimism. Do I feel discouraged? I have to repair my motivations, etc.

But we do not have psychological organs. We do not have inside us anything like self–confidence and optimism or attitude. It does not mean they are unimportant and easy to change. It means that sometimes the therapeutic approach is less than optimal.

Then what is self-confidence or attitude?

Something a bit similar to the web page. When you see words, photos, colors or design, you could assume that the page is written somewhere on a distant computer disc. It used to be in this way, pages were written on in HTML code and stored on servers. The webpage was like a document in a drawer. Someone had put it there and it stayed, even no one read it. It was called static pages.
Today it all works in a different, active way. When nobody reads the page, it does not exist. Every time you connect with the page address, the page is constructed especially for you. On the server, there are two things: a database with sources of information (images, words, etc.) and a set of instructions (called a computer program or software). Every time someone requests the page it is constructed according to these instructions.

Something similar works in our heads. There is no drawer with prepared earlier (during childhood presumably) psychological features, but rather a set of instructions and sources of information.
Your self-confidence, boldness, motivation or any attitude is constructed in every situation from scratch.

If our software and data sources are stable, the effects are the same. But when one of these will change, the result will change as well.
Software is very hard to change (there is no mind-programming, and so cold neuro-linguistic programming is a scam).

But what is possible to change is a database–our source of information. And indeed, we change it almost every day. Don’t you feel in one situation self-confident and in others unsure? In one situation optimistic, in other downhearted? In one setting bold and assertive and eloquent, and in another contrary the opposite?
Your mind constructor took different sources of information and made something else.

There are many other sources of information that are taken into account during constructing self–confidence: memories, concepts, social influences, other mental processes, or sensual and emotional experiences.

If you know what kind of information sources it takes into account during construction self-confidence, you can change it.

In the next days, we will look closer at the five most important sources taken into account during the construction of our self-confidence.

My next failure

William E. Stafford was one of the prominent American poets. Every day he got up at 5 a.m. and wrote a poem. He left 22,000 poems, of which 3,000 were published.

What allowed him to be so consistent? What skills of features did he possess that enabled him to be so consistent?

In one of the interviews, he was asked: “What if the poem is not good?”.

I have built many habits or customs, and some of them are very easy. Sometimes they are burdensome, but still easy. Let’s take the morning gymnastics: it is enough to wake up, put training clothes on and start. The rest is easy. Or teeth brushing. It is enough to enter the bathroom in the evening and take a toothbrush into your hand.

But some habits are much harder and I struggle with them. It is, for example, regular writing. I can start the activity, but I can’t finish. Almost every time I am disappointed. I wanted to write something good and – look, what I have. At most several loose jottings.

If I would try writing a poem every day, I would give up because of disenchantment with my verses. It is impossible to get up every day when almost every day you feel like a failure.

Was Stafford genius writing a poem every morning for fifty years?
No. He hadn’t answer: I do not have weak mornings. He said something else: “Then I lower my standards”.

But his standards lowering had nothing common with sloppiness.
Stafford explains that writing is for him like fishing, you never know you catch anything, and to do it you must be receptive, mindful and willing to fail.

If you judge everything you wrote, you are like a fisherman who will see nothing smaller than a whale. Your judgment makes you blind. You have something important before your nose, but you can’t notice it.

Customs or habits are necessary if you want to learn something more complicated than making scrambled eggs or playing Black Peter. Being repeatable is essential for forging new pathways in your brain.
But you need also mindfulness–the ability to taking new perspectives, being open and withdrawing for a time your judgments.

It is not enough to be consistent; you have to be open and accept the effect just as it is.

When learning something new, day after day you feel like a failure, lower your standards. Say: something wonderful happens. My mistakes are just as good as a success. I just need to see it from a different angle.

Self-confidence during learning

Self-confidence is essential in many areas of our life. It is important when confronting obstacles, when meeting foes on your way, when presenting your work to the world, even when socializing. It is important also when you want to learn something new.

Many problems during learning do not stem from a lack of intelligence, talent, motivation or weak not learning techniques, but from lack of self-confidence. We do not believe we are in a position to acquire skills.

– I will never learn how to use a computer–says old lady–not at my age, you can’t teach old dog new tricks.

– I am not good in math, coding is not for me, I will never grasp it.

– I cannot learn a new language, I do not have the talent for languages.

If you say you can’t learn something, you will not learn it. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I do not put the whole heart in learning (or more, avoid learning) because I am afraid it will be fruitless. Because I am sparing myself, I don’t accomplish meaningful results and I get to conclusions that any learning is futile in my case.

But what it means to believe in yourself during learning?
In learning, self-confidence is the conviction that in the future you will do what you cannot do now. I can’t play guitar, but I am convinced that someday I will stand before a thousand fans and play great solo. I know nothing about business, but I will be a successful businessman. I can’t code, but I am sure I will work as a good reliable developer. At this moment I can be the worst guitarist, businessman or developer on the word, by it does not bother me, because I believe it will change.

However, confidence is not a passive expectation. Also, it is not fantasies of a marvelous future. When you believe in yourself you do not believe in the future or chain of circumstances that make you the new man. When you believe in yourself you believe that now, at this moment you have a seed of the tree that will grow because of your effort.

I have the seed and it is enough to water it by my effort and perseverance to allow it to grow.

It is too abstract

I woke up, did my everyday workout, took the cold shower and sat behind the desk. A thought came to mind, blurred recalls somewhere on periphery. I have read something yesterday, something important, but what it was? Where is the book? I searched in a tower built from books, standing next to my bed. The book said: 

This is because you are thinking on the level of discursive thought, like a water bug swimming on the surface of the water (from “Wild mind” by Natalie Goldberg. 

Does not matter if that’s “discursive” or another term, but this level…, this level made me thinking.  You can write on different levels. Let us call them experiential and intellectual.  We too often think abstractly omitting experiences. We say for example: 

Of great importance is to fight for your dreams and to believe in your capacities. When you face adversities, do not give up but persevere…

Claptrap, nothing else. Moves anybody. Don’t be the water surface bug. Take a deep breath, close your eyes and dive. Look for experiences. Do you remember a particular incident you felt in this way? Who was around? What have you heard? What colors you could see? What textures did you feel? Did you smell something? Spin a yarn and show instead of tell.  The best way to transfer any meaning is to evoke it by images. A good story evokes sensations and recollections and produces conclusions in the listener’s mind. Abstract conclusions are like headlines or tags. When you hear only a tag, you comprehend nothing. But when you feel sensations, you are ready to understand. 

How fast are you learning?

Have you ever felt envious of someone who made tremendous progress in a short time? When my acquaintance started to learn to skate, compared to him I was a quiet advance. By after several months, I am the beginner when comparing us both. When my daughter was starting to learn Spanish, I was the one who had more words. After a year, she is much further. When my colleague started to learn Python, he knew nothing about coding; I was the one who speaks computer language, but now after several months it is he who knows how to communicate with machines.

Peoples differ in how fast they can learn something. Some are quick, some slow, some average. In the same conditions, one will master new skills during a month, others will need year (if he will ever manage).

Why? What makes the differences?

People often presume that it is a matter of such factors as intelligence, talents or young age. If you are very intelligent, you will grasp everything in the minute. If you were born with special gifts–let’s say for music—it will be easy for you to learn to play the piano. If you are youthful, you will learn Spanish with a quickness. If you are an old dog, you must work harder and longer.

Actually, any of these factors are core when concerns the speed of learning. They can have some impact, but most often it’s not up to them how speedily you grasp something.

Intelligence is indispensable to learn some skills (i.e. coding), but it suffices to have it above average. If you have 150 IQ it doesn’t mean you will learn to code faster than someone who has 120 IQ. Have every intelligent person learn fast or learn at all? There are many intelligent students who can’t complete college.  

Inborn talent has a minor influence on learning, especially at the beginning. Talent can have influence if you want to be a true virtuoso, but if we speak about decent, but average level, it is not so important. Have every person with outstanding talent develops it? Many wasted talents are in the world. 

Age, as many analyses prove, is not a thing that causes people to stop learning. An adult can learn a foreign language at the same pace as a child, sometimes even faster.

So what differentiates fast learners from slow learners?

I see four elements.

First (but not the most influential) is our learning skill. Learning is a skill – just like riding a bike or swimming. If you have it strongly developed, you will move faster during studying. If you do not know good learning techniques, your learning will be slow. Many accelerated learning courses focus on this aspect: learn how to learn and you will be whoever you want. Right, but it is not all.

The second issue is self-discipline. You can have learning skills, but you can lack self-discipline. Learning is not a onetime effort, it needs consequence and grit. When you are disciplined, you make your learning faster. 

The third element influencing the speed of learning is motivation. Do you want to master it or not? If not, or so-so, probably you will be learning very slowly if at all. The weaker motivation, the slower learning. 

And fourth, but not least is self—confidence. What self-confidence in a context of learning means? 

I feel it is to hard for me

After seven days I do not feel I have learned anything. More, I am sure I have learned nothing. English language as a besieged city offers me only resistance. I know less, no more. I am tired and flustered. I feel embarrassed while publishing my text full of mistakes.

—What have you thought? — I talk to myself — Have you been crazy? As usual, you have bitten off more than you can chew!

When you start a project often first several days are full of energy and optimism. You believe in yourself and your capabilities. But after several days something begins to change. And one day—sometimes a month, sometimes a week, sometimes three days, but always long before mastering the job, you know that honeymoon has just ended. You feel discomfort and something seduces you to quit or at least stop caring so much about your endeavor.

This moment comes almost every time: when you are learning something difficult, when you are writing a book, when you are adopting to the new community, when you try to lose weight or when you search for the new job.

And this is one of the most important points in your life. So much depend on how you look at your feelings.

Discomfort is real and normal. You need to quit is understandable. You cannot change your sensations. There is no magic stick to make it disappear. You can say to yourself: “Do not feel it, be strong and happy. You can do it”—but it will not work. Discomfort will not disappear because there is the ground reason for it: you are doing something hard, and your organism has not accustomed to it yet.

The only thing worth doing is to reappraise your emotions. Look at what you feel from a different angle: It is not the sign that smoothing is wrong, and that you are in the dead end. Quite the opposite. You are on the right track. You fell resistance so you are moving forward.  Resistance is a sign that you are advancing, even something says to you: “It is too hard. It is impossible”.

Steven Pressfield  in the great book “The War Of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle” writes:

Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit. The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing.

We have to accept resistance. It will always be here—in more or less proportion. But it is ok. It is a good sign.

Of course, I can resign and withdraw from my undertakings, I am not a slave. But never because of my resistance. In the end: It is only resistance, let’s not dramatize. Feel it and do what you intended to do.

Think visual when you are learnig

Orhan Pamuk in his book “The Naïve and the Sentimental Novelist” (I have bought polish translation in a cut-price bookstore in Krakow) writes about verbal and visual imagination. He proposes a simple exercise:

Let’s close our eyes for a moment, focus on a subject, and allow a thought to form in our mind. Then let’s open our eyes and ask ourselves: As we were thinking, what passed through our mind – words or images? The answer can be either, or both. We feel that sometimes we think in word, and sometimes in images. Often we switch from one to the other.

Pamuk says that what kind of those two imaginations we use depends on the writer and the book we read. For example, Homer is a visual writer for him, and Dostoyevsky is verbal.

I think it is not only a question of the text you read. It also depends to a great degree on how your mind prefers to work. A reader himself can be more verbal or more visual.

This dichotomy – visual/verbal – is something different than the old concept of visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles. The theory of learning styles is wrong. Several pieces of research proved that we all are multimodal, we learn best addressing with both visual, auditory and kinesthetic areas of our mind.

Verbal does not mean auditory. It does not mean you have to hear voices. It rather means thinking in a more abstract, conceptual, more textual way or a flat way (sometimes).

I have the feeling that for me, thinking in words is easier than thinking with images. Sometimes to see an image, I have to force myself. It is not always easy. When I read a novel very rarely I know how characters look, how rooms are furnished or what scenery is outside the window (even if this a boo by “visual” writer).

But visual imagination is necessary when it concerns learning. When you are learning you have to be visual. You have to put your imagination to work. Without it, it’s very hard to remember new words, ideas or sentences.

For example, yesterday I was learning a new word: jaundice. I have tried to remember it means jealous or envy. It was hard to remember until I found that it also means an illness that makes skin and eyes yellow. I saw an image: man yellow from jealousy. Even though the image was not an example of a good mnemonic, the simple use of imagination was of great help to assimilate the word.

Be genuinely remarkable, not only at the first sight

I like Seth Godin’s writing and, I agree with many of his ideas. But I don’t agree with one of his stories.

In his acclaimed book “Purple cow. Transform your business by being remarkable” he urges us not to be mundane or dull, but different. He advises being “Purple Cow”. Why cow and why purple? Godin narrates:

When my family and I were driving through France a few years ago, we were enchanted by the hundreds of storybook cows grazing on picturesque pastures right next to the highway. Then, within twenty minutes, we started ignoring the cows. The new cows were just like the old cows, and what once was amazing was common. Worse than common. It was boring. A Purple Cow, though. Now, that would be interesting.

Sure, the purple cow can attract attention! And attention, as everybody knows, rules. It is so easy to make yourself atypical. You are taking a brush and paint and instantly you are one of a kind.

– Nobody else did the same! I am the first! Nobody has the same color.  I am the only one. I am the first purple cow in the word! Totally unique!

A few years ago, I read the advert whose author announced: “I am the writer of first in the world 2book which revolutionizes the printing industry It is a great innovation that nobody thought of before”. Great, but fellow, who cares? It passed five years and you are not only first, but still the only author of your bizarre book.

“Be one of a kind” is the wrong advice. You can be different when you would go naked on Market Square. So what? Would you be remark-able or rather gossip-able?

Going back to the story of French cows. Common black and white cows are boring. It is the purple cow that attracts attention. But whose attention? American, excusez-moi Seth, shallow tourists with a very short attention span, easily bored with everything. Is it so important?

Let us consider it from a different point of view. Let us say you are a farmer rearing cows. Would color be so crucial indeed? I do not think so. You would be rather interested in completely other features of cows.

To be genuinely remarkable, you do not have to be astonishing. There is no need to do the things that nobody ever has seen, No need to be fresh new, one of a kind, extremely creative, different from others and so distinctive that anyone cannot help but look at you.

Standing out in the eyes of tourists is not so necessary. Much more significant is to be useful and have great value.

Most of the authentically remarkable things are ordinary and normal.

The remarkable computer is like the rest of the computers but working better. The remarkable restaurant is usually similar to other restaurants but with much better courses and preeminent service. The remarkable book is not a bizarre formatted book, but the book well written with useful content.

If you’re a French cow, don’t worry about bored American tourists, worry about the farmer who feeds you. And for him, color is not important. Stand out in what is indeed important. And these are the values you bring to the world.

You can be common and dull from outside and for most of the world, but still remarkable and noteworthy, because of these few ones which life you enrich.

Write in the oblique way

And here is my problem: a blank screen to fill. If you wish to write every day, you need a way to deal with the blank page. What is the plan? What do I want to say today? What point should I make? What is my blueprint?

I am still accustomed to a direct approach: first the plan, then the work. But this approach often makes you waste your time and energy. You are laboriously preparing a plan, and when you have it, you are so exhausted that you can do nothing else. The best energy was used for something not breeding any result. Even if you would still have the strength to act often occurs that your plan was deficient: it didn’t take into consideration important aspects, it was too complicated, too impractical, too shallow, etc.

Instead of the direct approach, you can use the indirect or oblique approach. John Kay in book “Obliquity” writes:

When faced with a task that daunts you, a project that you find difficult, begin by doing something.

Do something that seems potentially relevant to the task. Do not wait for inspiration. Do not lose time on planning and preparing. Do not waste energy on elaborating and forecasting. Just start doing something minor, and during it have eyes wide open. What is of importance, what you really need to do, will show up.

Don’t wait with the blank page for the complete blueprint. Start filling it word by word. I call this “exploratory writing”. The main purpose is to discover what I want to write about. Usually, after it, in the next iteration I trim, add, change and strengthen. Just as with this text, written entirely with the oblique approach.

Practice not always makes perfect

I am utterly aware that what I am doing here can be ineffective. Regularity, repetition, being active – those are great things. Without it, you cannot change anything. But regular practicing is much too little.

Practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent. Great when you do something in a proper way, pity if you do it wrong. After one hundred repetitions you can engrave your mistakes as something immutable, as your second nature. Without practicing your mistakes are sporadic, with practicing are constant.

What saves us from this danger is feedback. Without sound information on what you are doing correctly and what needs improvements, it is very hard to learn anything well.

Here is the place for a teacher or at least someone who can look at your performance from a perspective, standing aside you and assessing how you are doing.

It is important even in such simple skills as morning exercises. Many people make squats or pushups wrongly, making more harm than benefits for their joints and muscles. The easiest way to ensure that your effort brings benefits is to meet a personal trainer, who can look at how you do it, and give you guidance.

But what if you do not have any personal trainer at hand? Or you cannot allow yourself on using him (or her)? 

That’s the situation I am in with my English. I do not have a personal trainer for my English writing and is not possible to have through the whole project (I can not afford proofreader for three years).

I am not sure if such automatic services as Grammarly (now I use the free version) will be enough.

For now, I do not have a good solution. It is not critical at this moment. For now, I aim to build the habit and get in the groove. But I am aware of the hazard.

Learning by confronting with hard places

Learning is all about the hard places. You don’t learn when everything is easy, cozy and obvious. You learn only when constantly trying to break into those hard to understand, clumsy and unfriendly parts. Only when you make these parts friends of you, when you see it as something crystal clear, you make a step forward.

When I read something in my everyday mode, I gloss over unfamiliar words and complicated paragraphs. What grabs my attention is what I can understand. But during learning, you have to do the opposite: gloss over the familiar, and focus on the obscure.

To do it, you need to slow down. No need to hurry. It is not important how fast you will be, it is important how deep you will understand.

Several techniques can help. Read the hard part several times. Close the book, put it down, close your eyes and imagine what you have read. Retrieve it from your memory without peeking into the book. Write it down on paper. Tell about it to someone, or at last to yourself. Chunk it and concentrate on small parts. Sing about it (why not?).

And most of all have courage. It is easy to think: “I will never grasp it, I will never be good at it. I am losing my time, It is too difficult for me”. Easy. Take a deep breath

Ernest Hemingway wrote in “Moveable Fest” that when he could not get going with his story, he would stand and look through window thinking:

“Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence.”

I am trying to do the same “Do not worry. You have always worked things out before and you will work it now. All you have to do to break through this paragraph. Do it”.   

Let us start then!

This is the page to document my project, which aims in English writing fluency.

Today is 1st February 2020, and this is the 1st day of my project.

Where does the idea come from?

In several minutes, I will publish on my Polish blog text concerning the value of investing in yourself, especially in your skills. I have started writing it two weeks ago. It was supposed to be a short post that helps to rank higher in search engines. I have it written fast. However, as happens often in my case, my unconscious mind started to take it over. Maybe I will change this? Maybe I will add that? And step by step, or rather gust of my inside wind by gust, it started to be the canvas for my profound needs. Disappointed of the too impractical first version, I asked myself:

–   What about myself? What kind of investment in myself do I lack? I am endlessly preaching about the value of building your skills and widening the borders of your abilities, but what skills I lack? What skills did I leave without proper attention?

One of the answers was: writing in English. I have published several books in Polish, and every time, when summed my selling I thought to myself:

– Why I do not have it in English, it would be so easier to sell it as a Kindle book on Amazon? All right, I have to learn someday to write in English and start to publish on the international market. It will be soon!

Day by day and years by years passed by, but I still haven’t started to learn it actively.

During writing this text I realized that now is the time to learn.

I have finished my text (now it waits for publishing) and decided to start this page.

It is not the blog I would like to promote. I am not going to look for an audience. The only public I am looking for is me. I am doing it for myself. That is the reason comments are blocked (anyway for now, maybe later it will change).

If so, why I do not hide it completely as a private page? Because I think, it might be an inspiration for other peoples, striving to achieve their goals.

The rules of this project are simple:

Every day, I will write and publish one post counting not less than 250 words (about one page) 100 words (it was to much, I changed it in June 2020). I hope I will do it for 1000 times. A thousand A five hundred pages should be enough to learn good command of writing. Of course not only writing is part of my project. I also plan to read English books (I have started from “Moveable Feast” by Ernst Hemingway), learn vocabulary and study grammar.

After that, I hope I will be able to write and publish books in English. It doesn’t have to be perfect English, the level of a typical eBook will be enough.

It going to be a long, three years journey, but I am excited. Let us start then!