Clothes make the man

My idea that you can signal to yourself seems to have some echo in the real world: “People who were given a lab coat and told it belonged to a doctor were found to pay closer attention to what they were doing than people who were given the same coat and told it belonged to a painter. The researchers’ findings suggested that just as we wear clothes, our clothes wear us, changing the way we think, feel and behave.”

Read the article: https://www.ft.com/content/97fc83ba-85c7-11e8-a29d-73e3d454535d

Meanwhile, I have been active on instagram with skincare as piedbeautyx. What am I signalling to myself? Control? Routine? Adulthood itself? Who knows, but I am enjoying it.

Lessons from the May challenge: all about anxiety

How did the 16 days in May challenge go? Not to the discouragement of my readers, I admit defeat.

16 day mindfulness challenge

This really was a challenge, and I am not that happy with how it went. Why? Life got in the way. I was under a lot of pressure to get a project done with lots of codependencies and lots hinging on it. During the early days of the challenge, I received fairly disconcerting feedback, so everything else went on hold. Anxiety took over.

A lot of people suffer with anxiety. Many refer to a small study that was done among the elderly and asked them what their biggest regret in life was. Many said that they worried too much. Well, of course! With the benefit of hindsight, that’s easy to declare.

A lot of people also say that anxiety isn’t going to help the outcome. Of course it will, otherwise we wouldn’t have evolved it. Naturally, there is pathological anxiety – and I am not talking about that, but in these days of overmedicalising feelings strong anxiety is seen as needing to be gotten rid of.

Maybe the problem isn’t the anxiety? Maybe the problem is the thing that’s causing anxiety? Genius thought, I know. But it seems to be denied any viability in our society. [Then they ask how did we all turn out to be special snowflakes. Hmm.]

Well, I didn’t get rid of my anxiety or try to suppress it. Once I just admitted to myself that I was anxious, a weight came off my shoulders. This is that classic acceptance thing they talk about in mindfulness. Anxious. So what? It’s not a crime. It’s not a defect. It’s just my experience and right now, in this moment, it’s not actually that bad at all. Acceptance of reality gave me the opportunity to work on the underlying cause of the anxiety.

Right, closer to the point:

1. A day without assumptions

OMG. How do you live without assumptions? Occam’s Razor: the simplest answer is usually correct. When I got my worrying feedback, I immediately started mind-reading, mitigating the worst case scenario, assigning probabilities to possible outcomes and acting. Acting is such a drug against anxiety. The problem is of course that directionless hustle isn’t necessarily better than inaction. It’s exhausting and it is possible to do damage like a bull in a china shop.

2. A walking meditation

Definitely a win. Interestingly, it was my olfaction that work up by doing this. I spent most of my life living in a city and that’s not the sort of place where you want to expose yourself to smells. Also, a walking meditation is kind of more lighthearted than the more perfectionist sitting meditation.

3. Get one thing that you have been putting off done

I’ve emailed a bunch of people about a project we all committed too, but all left it to stagnate. Two of the three recipients were very helpful in moving it forward and now, somehow, we have a fourth, who just contacted me out of the blue. Coincidence? Providence?

4. Make a list of your habits

I was too nervous to do that with all my stress. What if I exposed something so disappointing or annoying that I would be too upset? I simply didn’t have the reserve to do it at this time. I will add it to my list (guess that’s a habit…)

lessons learnt from mindfulness

5. Ask: Why am I doing this?

W was easy. I know what I consider meaningful. I also know that this changes. I know why I am doing what I am doing though sometimes I wish the routes were straight lines. Ultimately, we have to adapt to our environment and respect the peninsulas of circumstance that we navigate around.

6. Wear the worst clothes you own

Haha, well that led to a clearout! (Anyone of eBay?) It wasn’t so bad at all. Where I live, in Dublin, clothes aren’t as much of a status symbol as they are in some places – like Russia, or I imagine China, or even the UK. I am very grateful for that.

7. Spend the day on your own, no social media

Fail. I can spend the day on my own, but social media – that’s tough. I have this sensation that I am about to get some kind of interesting news via social media. All it is in reality is a trained dopamine-mediated habit. I need to get out of it. It’s not that hard, but once again, it may expose things. For example, it can expose just how lonely I feel sometimes. And then, if I commit to not having social media, at least on certain days, then I am leaving myself to confront the loneliness. As a teenager, I used to travel a lot – and it would always be a connection flight. Sometimes, the connection would be 4 or 5 hours. This was before the kind of engaging social media we have now and certainly before widespread free wifi. I just remember that horrible mix of boredom and loneliness and I don’t ever want to feel it again. Having said that, I always say I come up with some of my best realisations in transit. Maybe then, I should just take the bandage of and be alone with myself, whatever may bubble up.

8. Write down the things that annoyed you

Fail once again. I was worried that it would put me in a foul mood. That’s quite presumptuous and possible wrong. It remains on the to-do list.

9. Go through the notification settings on your phone

Done. Much less distraction now. Best decision ever.

10. Try some mindful cooking

I couldn’t really do that. I was worried that I don’t have the time with my project. It also felt a bit wrong to be messing around with new recipes when things are shaky. Once again, pretty presumptuous, but hey, all I can do is all I can do.

11. Note how much of the stuff you do isn’t for you

This turned out to be a surprise. Even from a Machiavellian points of view, I can easily argue that everything I do for others is done as an investment into a relationship.

12. Look back at where you came from and see where you are now

What a magical thing to do. I thought of my parents, of where I was born, of where I started, of the role I had to play in where I am here today. I think so many of us get upset as we feel that life happens to us and that we don’t have any real control. To any human being, it is very upsetting to not be in control. But is it true? On the one hand, in the grand scheme of things we are small and insignificant. But in the context of our own lives, we are a big deal. Just like the Stoics would argue it’s important to focus on what you do or think as a person. Circumstances aren’t always a form of feedback about how well or poorly we are doing. Looking back at how we navigated our circumstances, even back when we were younger and much more naive, is bound to generate some feelings of pride and invigorate the perception of who we are people.

13. Pay attention to the people in the shop queue

Well, let’s just say I was dragged shopping in IKEA during this time. There was a lady in front of us in the queue who changed her mind on what she was going to buy and was hiding the goods she was going to just dump at the cashier under a pile of bags. Before sneaking the stuff away, she looked over at us a bit like a poorly trained dog looks at people passing by when it’s eating. But I really couldn’t be bothered judging. Maybe she has too much sense to just buy 3 French presses (that don’t filter anything by the way)?

14. Check email only twice a day

Fail. What if something super important happens and I don’t even know?! I need to work on this.

15. Look back at the last 5 purchases you made and whether you needed them

They were all quite optional. I’ve learnt the lesson of not having useless clutter a long time ago (moving dorm rooms every year in college will teach that fairly quickly). However, I was quite surprised at how I could have gotten away without having a lot of these things.

16. Thank yourself for trying so hard

This is a lot like looking back at where you came started. Yes, sometimes the seas part, the light shines, the lucky break happens and we should be endlessly grateful for these blessings. However, we should thank ourselves for working so hard and having faith even when things don’t look good.

lessons learnt from mindfulness challenge

Happy May Day

Happy May Day all.

Here are a few reasons to love May:

  • It’s actually warm and the days are long
  • The first of May is a day of celebration – no matter the reason, everyone finds something to celebrate on 1st May. I wonder if we could extrapolate this attitude…
  • Exams usually end in May and freedom begins
  • The most memorable Bond girl/villain is called May Day
  • … 1,000 other reasons
  • (I am biased because my Birthday is in May)

I have made a little gift for everyone. A gift and a challenge. I find 30 day challenges a little scary, so this is a 16 day challenge!

A list of reminders drawing on mindfulness, Stoic philosophy and just general common sense urging us to be more present.

I hope you enjoy it. Print it out and see how you get on. I will report on how I got on on 16th May.

16 day mindfulness challenge

How to not feel dirty all over after looking at the fake spirituality of the boho goddesses of Bali

Goddessism is big among our millennial ladies. This article isn’t about the fact that social media and real life are different. It is about the cheapening of real philosophy that happens on social media and goes unnoticed by too many people.

As you will know, I am not big into positive thinking, at least the inspirational Insta-motivation variety. I have yet another issue with Instagram. It is the one social network that makes me feel kind of icky, and for ages I couldn’t understand why. We all know that social media is a highlight reel, a filtered version of another’s life, etc – but Instagram accentuates this empty feeling. I think it’s because it lacks the option of having any depth.

You can link to a thoughtful article on most networks, but you deliberately need to judge everything by its cover on Instagram.

One could argue it is some kind of inferiority that I am feeling. And it is. It’s a fear that I could never be as perfect as the people in the pictures. Indeed, I couldn’t be. They couldn’t be either. In fact, the subspecies I will discuss below follows a very clear prescribed regimen specifying their clothes, food, wisdom, aspirations, art, fitness, other half and much more. But the point is the horrible fake “spirituality” of these accounts.

coping with fake mindfulness of instagram
Are the comments written by real people or bots? Fakeness traded between fakeness merchants

Instagram is so full of beautiful, minimalist, natural, spiritual, compassionate, eco-friendly yoga-practicing perfect people, women, to be specific.

They look out over the ocean and look so dreamy with the sunset backdrop. The pictures are full with gentle sunlight, smiles and smoothies made of the most righteous greens and the caption inevitably features love of the world, the followers or something trendy. Obviously, these “tropical feels” exist on other media, but Instagram seems to have thousands of accounts with virtually the same vibe. The content clearly has a lot of work dedicated to it, but I struggle to see why people enjoy it. Perhaps, some find that it is genuine?

Whenever I encountered these insta-perfect people in real life, they tend to be highly cynical and critical of others, curse like sailors, yell at their children in a way that makes me worry about the integrity of the windows, drink (not just the smoothies), are insecure about their appearance and just generally be far removed from the fairy tale vibe of their Instagram account.

Many of them go from one beautiful location to another; the further removed from the West, the better –  or at least create the impression that they do. More often than not, the photos are made over a few weeks (of what I assume is pretty hard work of shooting) and then released over the following months.

fake mindfulness of instagram positive thinking
Wisdom meets commerce

Their work is always something special, magical and sacred. There is much about happiness, love of simple things, spirituality, being natural, a wanderer, a wild child, a vagabond, giving hugs and so on.

By playing bingo with the above you can create a nice tagline for the top of the page: “Don’t let your dreams just be dreams” obtained Lisa Smith of @lisadanielle_ It seems that the expertise behind these statements is rather limited and largely repeated by/from other Instagram users in a nice Pacific ocean echo chamber. I doubt that the subscribers care very much. They look for pictures of a life

…from another place, tropical and blue,

We have never been to.

This is from Sylvia Plath’s “Finisterre”. I love the emotion behind these words: they got etched into my mind straight after the first reading. I doubt she would have liked Instagram very much.

fake mindfulness of instagram bali goddesses
Why wouldn’t you be wild and free?

These women tend to paint, create jewellery, produce their own make up lines or run seminars. The more competent ones paint and the really great ones photograph: weddings, editorials and so on. I shudder at their daily routine of waking up and knowing that they need to go out of their way to take shots of things that will appear good to thousands of people. Perhaps, they shudder at the thought of writing an essay, especially one that is clear to the point which can only be obtained by being honest. Not honest like an eco-friendly coffee brand is honest; honest like a best friend is honest. The high quality pictures make it into the Instagram feed; the less artsy are only dignified with a place in the Stories.

contrived mindfulness of instagram
“Be yourself, you’re beautiful”, but make sure you are young, actually beautiful and totally carefree

Their appearance is uniformly the sort that can only be obtained by strenuous HIIT and no carbs. Don’t forget the tan.

The goal is to look like the perfectly accepted idea of female beauty, but with a spiritual twist.

A half-naked woman in her late twenties with a body fat of about 18% with a dreamy smile will caption her photo with something like “Remember, everyone is beautiful. Accept your self fully. Love is everything.”

fake pretentious contrived instagram accounts
Soulful gratitude, it’s not for show

The more thorough Instagramers will have a story of how they used to hate their body/themselves/their failures, but came to be in a healthy relationship with themselves and now it is their life’s mission to bring this harmony into the world.

They frequently have a soul mate whom they tag in their Instagram and express their gratitude at least twice a week. Don’t be alarmed if some of these bits of wisdom have a tag like for some minimalist watch maker or a boho clothes vendor, usually with an eco-twist:

coping with the Instagram goddesses of Bali
Lost fishing nets with a purpose

The perpetual summer bodies don’t come easy, I am sure, but the Insta goddesses never bother to make a big deal out of it. However, a nice yoga pose with a “thoughtful” quote is a must. Mindfulness goes without saying. Are there still people who don’t practice mindfulness? Myself, I doubt that between reaching out to bikini manufacturers and running contests for a handmade fairtrade eco-friendly blanket and shooting non-contrived photos of their rigorous relaxation routines they have much “time” for real mindfulness.

Clothes-wise, less is more – because why should we hide? That’s just wouldn’t be that spiritual or close to nature. The boho-twise requires the addition of a hat and numerous bracelets to the bikini bottoms. The top is covered by the long beach-wave hair.

What do goddesses eat? It’s all vegan, raw, super-foody and green. Banish gluten, lactose and all other negativity. The tone of their remarks is so matter of fact, like they’ve never seen a BLT in their lives.

dealing with the fakeness of instagram
Apparently this is a smoothie. You learn something new everyday.

So for example, a goddess could start every morning with 20 sun salutations and a green smoothie. They charge her up with the sort of energy the no coffee could ever do (throw back to her life before she entered the true world of Bali). It is usually followed by the description of the unfolding life force of nature filling her within and she literally can’t imagine having it any other way.

how to stop feeling bad after instagram
Give and you shall receive

I have no reason to stick it to Lauren Bullen of @gypsea_lust in particular. They are legion. They come from all countries and write in all languages (though they all spend time in Bali). You know a few people like this. So alike, that you weren’t sure I wasn’t writing about them until you checked the username. They run Instagram-supported businesses, that’s fine, but it is the fact that they are selling something that isn’t real that bothers me.

It seems obvious that people would be able to tell that this is an account made for marketing. But because of this spiritual vibe, insidiously, this affects the moral compass for many otherwise bright people I know.

My millennial peers are often unable to see the difference between shallow marketing and deeper philosophy. Has it always been this way I wonder?

This kind of stuff makes me want to clear my head. So if, like me, you come across this phenomenon, don’t be down. Breath.

P.S. Sorry for the radio silence. I’m moving. It’s a journey. Many journeys back and forth between two houses, in fact. Lots of challenges of all sorts and remembering to breath has been my number one rule. I will write about the whole experience once the dust resettles on my suitcases.

Credit: inspired by Varvara Gorbash

The many ways the tail wags the dog

I first tried to read Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion a few years back. While the introduction is full of interesting facts, it is clearly a book written for a wide audience and has a slightly off-putting uniquely-American selling pitch quality despite being about how to not be sold to. I revisited it this Christmas, and I am very happy I did. My initial approach to it was as a book on marketing. I doubt I am the only one – learning to be good at marketing makes me feel a bit… fraudulent. Reframing it as learning about human behaviour – makes all the difference. It’s especially ironic as the book would explain why that is. In essence, it is a more dated (1984), less academic, but none the less brilliant rendition on the same issues as Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. The academic tone is probably my favourite, but it did, nevertheless, take me a particularly long time to read Thinking…, so if it seems too tedious – Influence is the perfect alternative. [Having said that, it is of a lower academic standard. For example, Cialdini’s description of S. Milgram’s famous experiment is inaccurate and his interpretation – sensationalist, but it’s still an interesting point of view that could be true.]

robert cialdini influence review

There are 6 rules of influence, Cialdini posits: Reciprocity, Social Proof, Consistency, Liking, Authority and Scarcity. The gist of it is summarised here.

Essentially, the entire book is about expectations – and how they reign over us.

I am tempted to go into a mindfulness/stoicism spiel here, but I’ll save that for later. I imagine reading this somewhat dated but still fundamentally brilliant book before the advent of social media would have been one of the best education investments one could make. Now, we are much more familiar with social proof, authority, etc as we see it every day. We probably have much sharper BS detectors for these particular marketing tricks than people did when this book was written in the 1980s. However,

this book explains the fundamentals incredibly well – and while we learnt a bit on how to not be BS’d when buying, most of us are clueless about these influence modalities in their applications outside of mechanical buying and selling .

Essentially, all of these 6 things set expectations: one feels obliged to reciprocate, one feels reassured by social proof, one trusts authority even more than one could ever imagine, etc.

Cialdini’s examples come from all areas of life.

Be it buying petrol, ordering desert, changing the behaviour of prisoners of war or navigating a romantic issue – Cialdini shows how expectations – rather than reality – determine our behaviour.

He moves from his selling pitchy voice to a much more ethically-charged discussion on how people deal with authority later in the book. He has incredible insight. He even discusses free will very briefly. It seems as though he would have liked to write a much more academically themed book, but felt he wouldn’t reach as wide an audience.

cialdini influence kahneman thinking fast and slow review

Here are some of my favourite chunks:

Consistency

This stretch below will make it easier to let go of your failed romances:

Take the bettors in the racetrack experiment. Thirty seconds before putting down their money, they had been tentative and uncertain; thirty seconds after the deed, they were significantly more optimistic and self-assured. The act of making a final decision—in this case, of buying a ticket—had been the critical factor. Once a stand had been taken, the need for consistency pressured these people to bring what they felt and believed into line with what they had already done. They simply convinced themselves that they had made the right choice and, no doubt, felt better about it all.

Before we see such self-delusion as unique to racetrack habitués, we should examine the story of my neighbor Sara and her live-in boyfriend, Tim. They met at a hospital where he worked as an X-ray technician and she as a nutritionist. They dated for a while, even after Tim lost his job, and eventually they moved in together. Things were never perfect for Sara: She wanted Tim to marry her and to stop his heavy drinking; Tim resisted both ideas. After an especially difficult period of conflict, Sara broke off the relationship, and Tim moved out. At the same time, an old boyfriend of Sara’s returned to town after years away and called her. They started seeing each other socially and quickly became serious enough to plan a wedding. They had gone so far as to set a date and issue invitations when Tim called. He had repented and wanted to move back in. When Sara told him her marriage plans, he begged her to change her mind; he wanted to be together with her as before. But Sara refused, saying she didn’t want to live like that again. Tim even offered to marry her, but she still said she preferred the other boyfriend. Finally, Tim volunteered to quit drinking if she would only relent. Feeling that under those conditions Tim had the edge, Sara decided to break her engagement, cancel the wedding, retract the invitations, and let Tim move back in with her.

Within a month, Tim informed Sara that he didn’t think he needed to stop his drinking after all; a month later, he had decided that they should “wait and see” before getting married. Two years have since passed; Tim and Sara continue to live together exactly as before. He still drinks, there are still no marriage plans, yet Sara is more devoted to Tim than she ever was. She says that being forced to choose taught her that Tim really is number one in her heart. So, after choosing Tim over her other boyfriend, Sara became happier with him, even though the conditions under which she had made her choice have never been fulfilled. Obviously, horse-race bettors are not alone in their willingness to believe in the correctness of a difficult choice, once made. Indeed, we all fool ourselves from time to time in order to keep our thoughts and beliefs consistent with what we have already done or decided.

Robert Cialdini's Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion review

Social Proof

It works even when it’s phony:

I don’t know anyone who likes canned laughter. […] The people I questioned hated canned laughter. They called it stupid, phony, and obvious. Although my sample was small, I would bet that it closely reflects the negative feelings of most of the American public toward laugh tracks.

Why, then, is canned laughter so popular with television executives? They have won their exalted positions and splendid salaries by knowing how to give the public what it wants. Yet they religiously employ the laugh tracks that their audiences find distasteful. And they do so over the objections of many of their most talented artists. It is not uncommon for acclaimed directors, writers, or actors to demand the elimination of canned responses from the television projects they undertake. These demands are only sometimes successful, and when they are, it is not without a battle.

What could it be about canned laughter that is so attractive to television executives? Why would these shrewd and tested businessmen champion a practice that their potential watchers find disagreeable and their most creative talents find personally insulting? The answer is at once simple and intriguing: They know what the research says. Experiments have found that the use of canned merriment causes an audience to laugh longer and more often when humorous material is presented and to rate the material as funnier. 

Together with Daniel Kaheman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Mark McCormack’s What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School, this book is essential reading in understanding human behaviour.

Here is the full book though I imagine this breaches copyright

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The rise and fall of social media

It seems that Twitter isn’t feeling so well. Last week, The Financial Times spoke about Twitter’s revenue – dwarfed by that of Facebook – and a few courting attempts by Salesforce et al that ultimately didn’t result in an offer. Gary V described the lack of engagement that he gets on Twitter – and an explosion of attention on Snapchat. Finally, Justin Kan who spoke at an event in the Computer Museum in Mountain View today put up a little tombstone for Twitter – anticipating a death in 2017. What is the death going to look like? Why is this happening? Of note, I saw all of these pieces (FT, Gary and Justin) as videos – on Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat). Hmm…

the-rise-and-fall-of-social-media

Twitter isn’t growing, but it sure is useful, even for people who joined late. A huge portion of traffic to my various websites comes from Twitter. It would never occur to me to advertise of Twitter. I think the reason people don’t like it is that it is full of bots and censorship. Gab.ai is evolving to take care of the censorship part. I wonder if it will fall on deaf ears if it is built to resemble Twitter and come out in 2017. Justin Kan suggested that it is down to the fact the Twitter didn’t have a “second act”: Facebook went from profiles to newsfeed, Snapchat added video, whereas Twitter didn’t. I am not sure I can 100% relate to that logic: I think the problem may even be that Twitter went in too many directions and didn’t really stand for any one single thing. Facebook can probably be accused of a lot of this kind of thing too. So yeah, I think it is down to the inauthenticity – the bots and the spam that is so prevalent on Twitter. You cannot go anywhere without getting followed by 10 social media marketing experts.

It is like a biological system. A new species evolves – with a new DNA. It takes time for the viruses to evolve to hack into that DNA – the viruses being the likes of bots and other spammy entities (including marketers!). There are fewer of them on Facebook – due to the nature of Facebook, and I think that’s why it has done better. Twitter has a particularly vulnerable DNA.

Millennials and generation Z have a special place in their hearts for authenticity. We don’t seem to respond as well to traditional advertising – or anything that spams our attention, anything that we didn’t seek out ourselves – and thus we *perceive* it as being manipulative. Of course, all it means is that we prefer to be manipulated in more elegant ways.

I think that in the last 10 years we’ve come really yearn for authenticity. Instead of accepting interruptions with TV ads, we’ve come to realise that we can curate our own content. From that point, advertising that interrupts and pushes things has become unacceptable and rude.

Let’s take 2 extremes. Snapchat seems more authentic compared to a TV ad. Why? There is a perception that if something is snapped live – it is less likely to be contrived and edited. It is different every time – and we all love variety. Let’s compare it to Instagram. It is more informational – a video says 1000^2 words. IG stories are catching up, but they seem to be an auxiliary feature. Having said all this, Snapchat’s revenue is still pretty small compared to the established behemoths. There will come a day when we are mourning Snapchat too. Snapchat has a vulnerable DNA, but it is far more niche than Twitter and hence has a more loyal crowd that are likely to stick with it. Perhaps people have a natural affinity for video – especially if we can get it in VR – that will happen in the next 10 years I assume. Snapchat is the new TV. For how long? It went books-radio-TV-blogging-YouTube-social. I hope the next step is something other than being plugged into the matrix. Promethean fears aside, the productivity of receiving information is constrained not just by the delivery method, but by our means of receiving it. **Elon Musk spoke about how he hopes to be able to expand the bandwidth of the human ability to perceive information.** Like, that’s genuine Matrix territory. Video seems to be winning in the social media game because how efficient it is as delivering information (entertainment, whatever it might be). VR is the natural upgrade from that. Justin Kan says that the big break in VR is going to be a computer game. They already exist of course. They aren’t as much fun as they should be because they constantly break immersion.

Matt Mullenweg, who developed WordPress at a time when there were already multiple blogging platforms, is a hero of the early naughties that is mentioned less often than Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, but may well end up a bigger deal. He says that VR is at stage of the hype cycle where the expectations are way out of proportion. The next few years of VR are going to be boring. My intuition is that we will see VR go mainstream, I mean Facebook-of-2007 kind of mainstream no earlier than 2020. Perhaps, VR is going to grow B2B rather than B2C at first.