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What should you do?

2012/11/26 - Author: Marco Neves

Sometimes we look around lost without knowing what to do. To do lists sometime help, but not all the time. When we really feel lost long to do lists don’t help – short to do list lists may help, but long linst don’t.

At this moments there is only one thing you really can (and must) do. Stop for a bit and ask yourself: “What is the thing I would really like to be doing?”

Sometime this question may result in dangerous answers (vengeance, hate and obsession are dangerous advisers) but whenever the answer doesn’t result in harming yourself or other, go ahead and do it.

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Under planing

2012/11/25 - Author: Marco Neves

There are two main problems you can have related with planing, over planing and under planing.

In this post, I would like to start by the simplest one, and most of the time the one that is simpler to solve, the one that you can find tricks and tools to make it more visible and less problematic.

Under planing implies planing really very little or nothing, as usually it doesn’t take a lot of planing to be able to have a acceptable money and energy flowing in your life – assuming you have a job, which nonexistence can make things a bit more trickier.

If you have an income source that is enough to pay for your bills and your food you are already better than most people, and with just a bit of planing you can get past the under planing boundary.

You have to plan to get out of bed early enough to get to work at the expected time, you need to pay all your bills before starting spending money in things that you don’t depend on, you need to sleep at least the minimum amount of time that allow you to do your job properly.

An under planner will do the opposite of this. You are under planing if you spend more money than you make, if you start spending money before you pay for your bills, if you constantly under sleep because you spend the nights in bars or watching meaningless tv shows or doing other purposeless things. You are under planing when you wait until the last minute to prepare your luggage and get ready to make a trip. You are under planing when you start to get ready when you are almost late for an appointment.

Under planing is common among the youth because… well, because they don’t know better, or if they do know better they don’t know how important it is for their future.

Youth, parents and planing is, however, the topic of a different post.

What about you, do you under plan often? On which areas of your life?

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The Madmen

2012/11/23 - Author: Marco Neves

I would like to start by quoting  Kahlil Gibran:

How I Became A Madman

You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen — the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives — I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, “Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves.”

Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.

And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, “He is a madman.” I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, “Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks.”

Thus I became a madman.

And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness; the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.

But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief.

by  Kahlil Gibran, in The Madman, His Parables and Poems (1918)

We all use masks. We have to. We were taught this way since we are really small – you shouldn’t say that, you should be polite, don’t run so much. But it is not just when we are small that we are told to use masks. It’s also when we are made fun of because we tell other what we think, it’s when we are made fun of because we use that extravagant shirt we like, it’s when we are looked strangely because we decide that shorts are the thing we want to wear to work.

We all are different, the problem is that we are also social animals, we like to interact with other people, but we also feel more comfortable around people that look more like us – we were taught that people who look different are not trustable.

Those are our mask, and the masks we impose on others.

Maybe we don’t want to take out all of our mask at once, that would surprise everyone too much, and would probably push away everyone who is around us and that don’t really care deeply about us, and those who really care about us would be scared and think we got completely crazy – well, to a point that would be true, but not the whole true.

But, maybe, we want to start taking some of the masks, finding those who get us together with people we care less about and start taking those, those masks that are not that important to our functional life – to our interactions with our friends, our family, our work. Before taking out some masks you may need to change parts of your life – if you work in a company that wants you to wear a suit and you don’t like that, most likely changing company will be required. Some changes may force you to get out slowly, first to those more open-minded friends, then to that special family member that is more eccentric, then… then you finally will get the courage to come out to your close family and tell them… and even then it may not go as well as you expect, other times it will go way better.

Taking out masks will change some of the people around you – but those are the people who were with you because of the masks – and sometimes those people are between those you care about more, sometimes those people are the ones you most wanted to take the masks for – a close friend you love, and that you lose because (s)he doesn’t have similar feeling for you, the relative who always told you to follow your dreams, and didn’t like where your dreams took you, the love of your life who doesn’t understand that money is not all in your life, the casual lover who doesn’t want to be exclusive with you, or the other who doesn’t understand that (s)he is not all you need. Taking masks will make you feel free, but it most likely will also cause you pain.

Life, however, will fulfill the void left if you are true to yourself and to her.

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Types of Tasks

2012/11/22 - Author: Marco Neves

Almost everything you may need or want to do belong to one of the following categories:

  • Practical Issues
  • Enjoying life
  • Small projects
  • Big Projects

The Practical Issues are those things that we all need to do in order to keep our lives going. Paying bills, buying food, cooking, cleaning, replacing damaged cloths (and to some point buying new) are part of this category.

The tasks in this category should be done as soon as possible, so that we can free our time and our minds  for other, more interesting tasks.

Enjoying life is the main reason for everything else – and also the most difficult category to define – what I enjoy is not the same that you enjoy, even if we may enjoy some of the same things.

For me a small group of people who like to discuss the meaning of life, the universe and everything, good food, the internet (the usefulness of it and building it) and books are four of the most enjoyable things.

Some people I know enjoys bars, others football, some computer games, others board games, some like to paint, other love music, some people love cats, others prefer dogs – and most people belong to several groups and enjoy doing several different things.

But enjoyable tasks don’t exist only on your personal live – you can most likely also find things that you would like to do, tasks that you would enjoy in your workplace, in college, in whatever your main occupation may be, you may find tasks that you want to do, something that you feel that need to be improved.

Maybe that task is not in your to do list, most likely it is not in any to do list. But most of the time that doesn’t mean you can’t do it, and better yet, even have fun while doing it.

Small projects and Big projects are two different categories because they mean different levels of commitment, different amounts of time, different levels of faith and generate different levels of expectation that you may need to keep under control.

Projects, however, big or small, are mostly lists of tasks, that need to be completed to complete the projects. Most of the time projects are also the result of an idea that we expect will improve our live, the live of those around us or the society in general in some way.

The problem with projects is that if you are the kind of person who is always getting new ideas, you may end with dozens of projects you are working on, you can get to a point where you are always starting new projects and rarely finishing them – and that is one of the worst things to your faith.

Juggling with a lot of projects without ever finishing any of them means that you can get the small increment in self-confidence (faith in your self) that comes from progression, but you don’t get the amazing boost in your own faith that comes from finishing, from completion.

Also, more projects mean more options to choose from every time you want to start a task, and often more options to choose from result in more doubts about whether the chosen task was the best option or not – I’ll talk about this in a future post.

Also, more projects mean more work in parallel, which means more time to finish each project and that results in less live testing. Less testing mean that we don’t really know if our ideas work in the real world or only in our heads, only in our dreams. Means that we don’t know if it works for others as we expect it to work, or as it work for us.

Sometimes we fall out of love with some of the projects we used to work on. That happens more when we keep starting new projects without finishing the current ones, but it can happen anyway, even if we have just one project we work on. When that happen, instead of keeping that project on the list of things you may work on, kick it out, transfer it to your idea box , if you think you may someday want to get back to it – or that someone may want to pick it up.

The same goes for your new ideas. If you already have more than a couple of projects you are working on, make sure that you can add a new one before starting working on it. And if you think that you don’t have time to work on everything you already have in your hands, don’t add a new project to that list. Adding it to your idea box instead is probably a good idea.

If you really want to start this project before finishing one of the projects you are currently working on, pick one of those open projects and move it to your idea box.

Careful, however. If you keep starting new projects and moving started projects to your idea box, you will never finish any of them, and that get you in the same place as having a lot of open projects you don’t have time to work on.

But, even when you have a limited list of projects you are working on, how do you choose between them, how do you balance the things you do for fun with projects that you expect to help improve your life, projects you are expected to work on – if the time frame you are planing is your work time – with the tasks you want to do?

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2012/11/20 - Author: Marco Neves

Our brain loves them and most of the time we go with it. Labels make it easier for our brain to make the most obnoxious choices without any evidence to support them but the labels and general bias related with those labels.

Categorizing everything is a mostly automatic process for our brain but if on one hand it allow us to decide faster with very little information, it also let us assume with very little evidence.

Everyone have bias, and when labeling others those bias are one of the first things that show up on the labels we use.

There are several problems with labeling people.

The first of those problems is assignment. We assign labels, most of the time, based on our perception of the other people, and perception doesn’t always match with reality. It rarely does, I would even say.

The second problem is that people are not static uni-functional tools/objects. People not only have multiple sides to their personalities, they also change with time as well as with their interactions with other people.

The third problem with labeling people is related with our bias. Our brain takes more attention to anything that confirms what we already believe in than to everything that denies it. And that means that the label we assign to people tend to stick, be very hard to remove or change.

And that also means that we tend to justify a lot more than we should with those labels. “joking around as always”, “do you always have to be so critic”, “stop being a pussy”…

But, the real question, I guess, is: Can we avoid labeling people and accept them with all they are? Can we at least avoid the single label?

Maybe it is too hard to you – as it is for everyone else – to not label everyone, but you can at least keep vigilant and when you understand that you did it, try to find other, more appropriate labels for that person – and with that make it a bit more difficult for your automatic brain to classify everything that person says or does as a consequence of that single label.

Can you do that?

1 Comment - Categories: Life

Groups and Rituals

2012/11/17 - Author: Marco Neves

Don’t do the rituals because of the group – join the group because of the rituals.

All groups have rituals.

Some groups smoke in some hidden place in the school playground, probably the same group that later smoke outside the bars, because inside is not allowed.

Other groups play football, wake up to exercise, run for hours, talk about the game day in day out, think about the game all day long, go to the bed imagining plays and dream with balls.

Some groups join once a week for a few games of chess, others for dinner and drinks.

Groups and rituals are deeply interconnected – every group have its own rituals, and rituals are easier to create and keep with the right group.

Often we join groups because of some of the people that belong to that group, because we like the way they look, because…

But with belonging always come the rituals. And the rituals are not always of our liking, but once we are part of the group it is harder to get out of them – peer pressure makes sure comply.

And that is why we should choose the group because of the rituals, choose the group because we want to do the rituals, because we want to be part of the activities.

The two best parts of joining a group because of the rituals – instead of the group or the people already in the group – are that we can meet great people that share some passion with you, and if the rituals are not what you expect you can always say this is not what I joined for and leave.

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Learned Fear

2012/11/16 - Author: Marco Neves

Fear may seem like a natural part of life, but most of the time fear is an intellectual construct of our minds.

What is initially called fear is a biologic reaction to the unexpected, the adrenaline rush that makes all of our senses alert and ready to react – ready but not necessarily reacting.

This biologic reaction, started by our automatic mind, allowed our ancestors survive in the jungle – making them aware of predators and enemies, making them alert and ready to fight or run for their lives.

But that is not how the 21st century men get to know fear anymore – and that is not the only thing we usually designate as fear.

As the original fear, the new one also tries to minimize pain, and have similar consequences on our bodies, but unlike the original fear, this one have social/cultural origins, and very rarely results from danger and unexpected events.

The biological fear is an impressive tool – and can also be an impressive drug (ask any adrenaline addict, if you are not one, you most certainly know at least one). It keeps you sharp when your live depend on that, it gives you the extra strength when it is most important, it improves your hearing when you need to understand what stands near you in the night, it is your survival tool above all others.

But then there is the learned fear, the fear of not belonging, the fear of not being good enough, the fear of rejection, the fear of not doing the right thing, the fear of doing the wrong thing.

The fear as a mostly automated reaction to unexpected changes in our immediate world is innate, most of all other fears are learned.

They are learned when parents scream with the children because they are doing something the parents learned to fear.

They are learned when other kids on the kindergarten or school make fun of us because of something we do, something we have or something we are.

They are learned when we are excluded from a group because we did something that is not acceptable on that group or because we didn’t do something that we are expected to do in order to become (or remain) part of the group.

Mostly because we grow up from punishment to exclusion, from being made fun of to being pressed, we learned through fear – fear of being punished, fear of being humiliated, fear of being excluded, fear of being alone.

But, fear is not the only option.

Unlike the original fear, who makes us move, alert and ready to react – yes, some people is blocked by fear, but most get a real rush and get more aware of everything – the learned fear almost all of the time just takes options from us.

All those things that we did in the past and were punished by our parents, our peers or the society in general, all of those options are not available for us anymore, or if we really have to do those things we are most of the time not able to fully enjoy those things because we are always afraid of the punishment, of being excluded because of them.

But sometimes those are really the things we need, the things we want, the things that make us happy.

Find your fears, search were they come from, find out if they make sense.

Don’t try to understand your fears. Fear, specially learned fear are often very good at hiding themselves in a very rational fashion.

Just observe them, whenever you decide not to do something, whenever you are afraid of doing something, just look inside of you and find out why you decided not to do it, find out what you are afraid of.

Just look at your fears and they will start to vanish slowly. Most fears are not rational (even if they show themselves as such), and they can’t stand being closely observed for long – you will start to see that around your fear is a very large set of things it is blocking from you.

Before anything else, be aware of your fears, maybe it is not time to face them yet, but keep observing them. A moment will come when you will cross the line your fear traced without even feeling the need to acknowledge that line. That’s when your fear starts to die and let you free to chose for yourself, fearlessly.

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Changing People

2012/11/14 - Author: Marco Neves

There is a saying I find interesting – “Men marry hoping that the bride don’t change, and she does. Women marry hoping that the groom change, and he doesn’t.”

The true is that both change, and both stay the same. It’s that we just notice what we want to notice, and ignore everything else.

Hope that others change is, more than a waste of time and energy, a dangerous attitude.

First because the things we would like to change are most of the time a small part of a bigger side of that person’s personality, and sometimes you can’t change one without changing the other.

Second because we only change on propose because we want, not because someone else forces change over us.

But, mos importantly, why would we try to change the others when we can change ourselves?

Most of the time what we don’t like on others is a reflex of something we may not like in ourselves or that we fell we don’t control. But if we can’t control ourselves, how do we expect to be able to control others?

Aren’t most forms of control evil or at least a waste of time?

Aren’t the parents who forbid the daughter from seeing any boys losing their time more than protecting their “child”?

Isn’t the state who forbids common behaviors losing time and credibility more than improving the life of those it should serve?

Trying to change others is a waste of time, specially because most of the time when we try to change someone we jump from seeing the behavior to trying to fix the behavior. And with that we miss the one step that would make us see that the behavior may not need to be changed or if it should change anyway, would help us understand how to change it effectively.

And that step is understanding the behavior, where it comes from, what makes it happen, why it happens and whether it is part of the other person personality or an escape  from some frustration or fear that may need to be addressed directly.

However, most of the time, more importantly than understanding the other person behavior, we should try to understand were our own need to change the other person come from.

Fear and unsatisfied desires are probably two of the most common catalysis for the need to change others.

Fear usually come from experience, often our own experiences, sometimes the experience of those around us, who we care(d) about and that had problems with what looks like similar experiences to those we try to prevent others from going through.

Sometimes we would, if we wished, be able to minimize the risks, instead of preventing the experiment, but for that we would need to understand where our need to change the other comes from, and most of the time we don’t know ourselves that well, most of the time we don’t know that well what is the driver of our actions – fear is quite good at hiding itself, of creating rationalizations for its choices.

If you can find really good reasons to change someone else, most likely your only reason is fear – it’s mostly fear that is really good at rationalizing behaviors.

When it’s your own unsatisfied desires trying to prevent other people from enjoying the same things you were not permitted, more than envy – that sometimes can exist – your reason to prevent others from doing what you were not allowed is the rationalizations you were given or that you created, and those are usually that complex.

Maybe that activity you wanted to do – ballet lessons, martial arts, equitation – was too expensive and you were not allowed to do it – maybe you were told that those were activities for rich people.

Or maybe in your family the activity you wanted to do was not acceptable for your gender – football for a girl or ballet if you were a boy – and now you’re projecting those same restrictions on your children, trying to avoid that they engage on an activity you learned was not right for them.

Maybe the activity was considered economically bad – artists of most types, writers, …

Maybe they are experimenting with their sexuality – god forbid it – and it is the wrong orientation (not yours), or the wrong age, or the wrong partner – or, hell no, partners…

Before moving on your crusade, now is the time to analyze why you feel the need to change the other person, and why you think it is important that the other person change.

If in the end you still feel that the other person should change, explain to the other person why you think changing is the best way to go, be specific about what you think the other should change, explain why you feel that way, and be ready to accept that the other person don’t feel the same way.

Make sure ahead of this discussion to think what is more important to you – your relationship with this person or the change you want to impose (you’ll be trying to impose a change) – and make sure to express that importance appropriately – never say that something is a deal breaker unless it really is – you may end breaking a relationship you want to preserve because of something that only annoys you a bit.

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Happily ever after

2012/11/13 - Author: Marco Neves

Happily ever after, or how the fairy tales screw our lives – another story about expectations.

Once upon a time the abused step-daughter was visited by her godmother-fairy, who played dress-up with her, sent her to the royal party where she met her prince. After some challange – finding the girl with the right feet – they lived happily ever after.

This is just one of the many fairy tales we were feed in the last centuries, as bedtime stories, as child literature.

Those were the stories taking many of us to sleep, those stories were the first thing in our mind when the time for dreams come, and from hearing those stories so many times we started to expect our lives to become those stories. Worst than that, from the weight of repeated exposure to this stories, we were made believe that those stories were the norm, that they described what love is supposed to be, what reward for good behavior is supposed to be.

But live is not a fairy tale, and true love doesn’t always win, and even when true, monogamic, heterosexual love wins – like in the fairy tales – it rarely is “happily ever after”, but it wouldn’t sound as good to end the stories “happily most of the time, except for the small fights over – most of the time the same old – insignificant things, and once in the bigger fights about more important subjects”  (or is it the other way around – small fights about important subjects and big fights about insignificant ones?).

Happily ever after in real life means a lot of dialog, a lot of negotiation, a lot of understanding that me, you and us are three different entities and that for us to be happy it takes me and you to be also happy.

And none of those just happen simply because we found someone we really love, someone we really want to be with.

The happily ever after of the fairy tales made us believe that it just happens because love conquers all. But it doesn’t, even with love, relationships only exist between people, and unless you are dating your twin, people are different and most of the time relationships, specially love relationships, start between people that are different – in some cases so different that can be hard to believe those persons found anything in common at all.

And that means that they often see live and the world with different eyes, in different ways. What is really important for one may not matter at all to other, what one likes, other can dislike, one may like to go to bed early and other sleep later in the morning – and love doesn’t change any of this.

Love, in the end, is just the excuse they find or ignore to make it work.

1 Comment - Categories: Life


2012/11/12 - Author: Marco Neves

Expectations – we create them, we set them, we break them, we are broken when they end up short.

Expectations are not a bad thing just by themselves. It’s what often come with the expectations that make life harder than it needs to be.

We create expectations that everything will work according with our plans and we not only start to plan exhaustively over the expected result as we also forget to look out for contingency plans.

It’s not really the expectations that bring pain into our lives. The pain only starts when we fail to realize that life is what happens while we make plans, when we fail to realize that our expectations are not the solid present over which we can build.

It’s a good thing to know what we want from life, but when we start to leave what is for what we expect, when we build our lives over what we hope will happen, that’s when we set ourselves for pain.

I’m not saying that you should not create expectations. Expectations are a normal part of live.

However, always check if the plans you are making are built over what you now have or over expectations of what can be, over wishful thinking – and if you find yourself planning over what you expect to happen, make also a different plan that do’t need that to happen – plan for a different route, even (or preferably) if it leads to the same final destination.

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The Next Step

2012/11/11 - Author: Marco Neves

Any journey starts with a single step, doesn’t matter how long the journey is.

This is the basic principle behind making anything happen. Big projects are made of smaller tasks, big goals are most of the time the sum of several smaller objectives.

It is important to look at the big picture, to know what is the objective, but only to help pick the one thing that we can do now that will take us closer to our goal.

Whenever you are done with a task, stop and look around for a moment.

What is the thing you would like to do next? What is the one thing that is most important for you and for your goals from everything that needs to be done, from everything that can be done?

You, most likely, belong to one of two groups:

  1. the group of people who have too many things to do
  2. the group of people who thinks that all they want to do is blocked by someone else.

If you belong to the second group (people who don’t have anything they can work on now), the next thing you have to do is create a list of things you want to do, things you want changed, and that there is at least one thing you can do about them – NOW!

A list of things that you will be able to do some time in the future can be useful, but not for our current needs.

At this moment your task is to create a list of things you can act on right after you finish your list. The tasks must be as specific as possible, they must be actionable, and they should be as measurable as possible.

“Get a job” is not a task for that list, it is a wish, and wishes are a different thing about which we will talk later.

“Find a job offering I am qualified for and that I would like” is a possible task for the list.

The difference between the two is that you can complete the second without anyone else help, while the first implies that someone else will employ you – you depend on someone else’ actions, it gets out of your control – and that is where anxiety, depression, delusion and desempowerment start.

Now, back to the list – go do it now. I wait, as well as everyone from the group who have too much to do next. Go, go make your list of things you want to do and that you can do now! Take your time, whatever time you need, but do it now, don’t stop and don’t do anything else until you’re done.

Ok. Now that you have your list, I bet you just become part of the first group, you have too many things to do, don’t you?

So, if you are part of the second group, if you have too many things to do, you just have to pick one ans start doing it.

Easy, isn’t it? You choose one task from that list that is the most important thing you can be doing right now and do it. Easy, isn’t it?

Well, if you can’t decide what from your task list is the most important thing to do now, maybe your list needs some trimming.

First, there is anything in your list that you don’t want to do and that if it is not done nothing wrong will happen? – Move them to your not to do list. If you don’t want to do it and it doesn’t need to be done, don’t lose time with it.

Second, is anything in your list that you can do in just a few minutes and be done with it? Why are those in your list in the first place? If something can be done in a short time, just do it as soon as you can and be done with them.

The things that remain in your list now, most likely belong to one of four categories – practical issues, enjoying live, small projects and big projects.

In a later post I will take a deeper look at this categories, the type of tasks in each of them and how to select them in a more methodical way, but I would suggest  that you resolve any practical  issues – those things that have an immediate impact on your daily live as soon as possible, and then try to alternate items from the other three types according with availability of the necessary resources and personal preference.

The important thing is that you get to the next step as soon as you finish the previous one, and that you always know, not only what you are doing next, but also why you are doing it. If there is no need and no wish to do something, you will delay doing it, it’ll take more time to finish and most likely will not be done with the same quality.

If you don’t need and don’t want to do it, just don’t do it – get a different next step.

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I trust you

2012/11/10 - Author: Marco Neves

When you say “I trust you” what are you really saying?

Because what I ear most of the time is “I expect you to do what I think you should do – or what I told you to do – and I will be really disappointed if you do something else” .

That is not trust, it is authoritarianism.

That is not the way to teach anyone what the right thing to do, it is just pointing and forcing your will.

Even if you’re right and what you expect is the right thing to do, it doesn’t explain why, it just points it. The next time the something similar happens, the next time a similar choice needs to be made, the trusted one is no better prepared to make a choice alone.

If someone is capable of understanding the meaning of “I trust you”, is also capable of making the right decision – even if with some guidance. Are you capable of asking a few questions and try to understand the reasons behind the choices – or saying “I trust you” is the best you can do?

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