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Know yourself

2012/12/12 - Author: Marco Neves

It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles;
if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one;
if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

the art of war –  Sun Tzu

If you’re at war, knowing your enemy is important, bung yourself is equally important.

But at times like ours, where there are no real open enemies, most problems in our individual lives come from incomplete knowledge of ourselves.

Know yourself is important in war, and even more crucial in peace. It’s by knowing yourself that you find what makes you happy, what gives you pleasure to run to, how you would like to live, who you would like to be with…

Only by knowing yourself you can find out what you need and what you have to give.

Most of the time we associate who we are, what we do and where we are with ourselves. We think about those things as if they were our identity, but would we stop to exist if we changed all of that?

Everyone have abilities that could be used in other places, to jobs/tasks completely distinct from those they identify with. And a name is just a name. A rose by any other name would still smell the same.

It’s always ok to present yourself in a way people would remember you – in some cases in a way people expect you to present yourself.

But you don’t have to present yourself to you following any rigid set of rules. Your name and what you do may be a good way to get you in other people minds, but that doesn’t mean you have to build all your identity around those temporary concepts.

Ask yourself… Who are you? What makes you smile? What makes you run? Where do you take your time – what do you like to do quietly, without rushing? Where do you relax? How do you relax?

Ask yourself… What wouldn’t you tell anyone about you? What would you like everyone to know about you?

Ask yourself… What did you learn about yourself today?

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2012/12/10 - Author: Marco Neves

We watch the world through our senses – mostly our eyes if we can see, but not exclusively – but it is our brain that see it, after filtering it to better fit in our image of reality.

We have bias – things we believe to be true, behaviors we think are universal, expectations people – specific or in general.

Our mind does the best it can to make the world around us fit with our view of the world, by applying what we believe over everything we see, ignoring as much as possible that contradicts that view and getting our attention to anything that enhances that view.

A lie repeated enough becames  true.” doesn’t mean that the true will change just because someone decides to repeat a lie as if it was a mantra. It means that if we hear the same “fact” from a few sources we start to believe it and after that it is a lot harder for us to see anything that says that we are wrong than anything proving us right.

And that is what bias are. Things we believe to be true, and that have an impact on our perception of the world.

Bias are not restricted to some subjects or types of information. Bias are not restricted to some groups of people and do go away with education. Even our behaviors and our interpretation of others behaviors are altered by bias.

Even our abilities are influenced by bias. If you believe that a subject is really hard to understand, you’ll not try as hard to understand it as if you thought it was really easy.

If you think a guy is a playboy you’ll see every time he talks with a girl as a flirt or a pickup attempt, but if you think that a guy is gay you would see the same conversations as normal.

If you think a brand is expensive, you’ll notice more the price differences if a product of that brand is more pricey that a concurrent product, but you’ll notice more the superior characteristics of the concurrent if it is cheaper.

Bias influence our decisions on a very large degree. We are more likely to buy a car from a more expensive brand if we believe that brand to be more reliable than the alternative brand (even if in the end both cars are made in the same factory using the same pieces).

Most of us today tend to believe in statistics and think they are serious, we were made believe that averages tell a story. However, more than 80% of all published statistics lays or misrepresentations of the facts (this was just made up – it’s a common joke in the internet, but not completely inaccurate). Most statistics published in the mainstream internet and in the traditional media are not really representative of the reality – averages (the common published metrics), median and modes often tell different stories, and often we see averages being used as if they were the modes, when they are two completely different things.

Often, and this is probably the most common problem with statistics, the sample used is too small to be really indicative of any true reality – statistics based in interviews of a hundred persons is only representative of a small universe – and sometimes it is even hard to understand which universe. One person goes to a shopping and asks people how much they usually drink – and found out that in average people drink 4 beers each day.  A second person tries to reproduce the study and ask the same question to the same amount of people – and finds out that in average each person drinks 1 glass of wine per day. What was never published is that on of them made the interviews before a game in the club in one of the sides of the shopping, while the other made the interviews after service in the church in the other side.

Even in small universes is easy to get biased statistics. Imagine that you are in college and want to make some statistics about the students of your college – let’s say you want to find out how much do your colleagues read. Most likely you’ll try to interview the people you know better, and if you spend a lot of time in the library you’ll try to interview people next to it, but if you go often to the bar next to the college, you’ll try to interview people there. Can you imagine how that will make a difference in the results?

But, more important, can you see what’s the most important part on the previous examples? More than anything else, they show my own bias – that people who go to bars read less and people who read more go less to bars – and that football fans drink more beer while religious people drink more wine. In the end, if you are aware of your own bias, if you manage to notice them, they tell a lot more about you than they say about anyone else.

But, the important thing about statistics is that we get them in a daily bases and those statistics create bias in our mind. And we even apply those bias to statistics we see. We end believing easily in statistics that confirm our bias than in statistics that contradict them.

And that’s why bias are most of the time self-reinforcing entities, entities that we are not fully aware of, and that make a huge difference in our lives.

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The Super Hero

2012/12/06 - Author: Marco Neves

Disney did bring us the Charming Princes with their Happily ever after, and Marvel bombarded us with the super heroes. Ok, it’s not true that Disney and Marvel have the exclusive on Charming Princes and Super Heroes, they are just two of the biggest companies in that business in the last century.

The super hero is someone with a very special ability, something that (s)he was born with, or something that (s)he got later on live. The super hero may be someone from a different planet, the result of a experience gone… not exactly wrong, but at least unexpectedly or someone with very special technology. The super hero always have special abilities, always can do something more than everyone else around them. Most of the time the super hero tries to remain anonymous – everyone is not to be trusted with the identity of the protector, so that the super power is not abused.

But the super heroes of this world only exist on Marvel comics, not in every corner of our cities. The heroes of our cities don’t have special powers, most of them are people like you and me, trying to live their lives, and making the lives of those around them a bit better. The heroes of our world are the firemen who jump out of the bed at anytime to help put out a fire, the anonymous person on their way to work that sees a child getting in front of a car and runs to save the kid, the… the normal person that looks around and finds someone who needs help and do it just because it feels right.

The culture of the “super hero” may give us the idea that it takes super powers to save the world, but the world will always be saved by ordinary people with ordinary powers, except, maybe, for their willpower.

Don’t wait for the super hero, get out and do your part. Don’t be a hero, but be as helpful when that is asked of you.

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Your feelings

2012/12/03 - Author: Marco Neves

Did you ever felt like beating someone? Did you ever felt like crying because of something someone else did? Did you ever tough that someone else has the responsible for the way of was feeling? Did you ever felt like there was nothing you could do but feel sad? Did you ever… felt like your feeling were someone else’s to change?

Those around us can have a huge impact on our live. And the closer they are to us, emotionally, more power over our lives they have. But your feelings are your own, and nobody, but you, can change the way you feel. No person, no matter how important you may think (s)he is for you have any power over your feelings, unless you allow it.

No feeling is shared by two person. Even two lovers (as in two people deeply in love with each other) don’t share a feeling. They may be both in love with the other person, but the love the first feels for the second is not the same love the second feels for the first. They may have similar and symmetric feelings, but still different feelings.

Yes, even the positive feelings, like happiness, love or friendship are your own, even when you see them as part of a shared relationship, those feelings are yours. But is not with those feelings that it is most critical that we understand that my feelings are mine only, and that your feelings are only yours.

Love doesn’t imply love, friendship doesn’t imply friendship. Feelings are not symmetric, even when they are truly reciprocated.  But, most important, the way you feel in the sequence of someone else’ actions are not those actions, and are not a direct and unavoidable consequence of those actions.

Even if the actions in questions are a direct critic at your person, most likely those critics may say more about the other person that about you. But the way you feel about those critics will say more about you that about the other person.

You can’t avoid that someone who doesn’t like you skin color call you on it, but that doesn’t say anything about you. You know that you’re not your skin color, but you also got to know that the other person is just a racist you unworthy of your time and attention. But if you get enraged and start a fight, that speaks for you, that speaks about your ability to self control.

You may see your flirty boyfriend/girlfriend as the source of your jealousy, but the true source is your insecurity, your expectations  of being the only object of his/her attention. You may see him/her as untrustworthy, but you expecting him/her to be someone that (s)he is not doesn’t help.

Maybe you can’t change the way your boss treats you, maybe (s)he will keep calling you incompetent, instead of pointing you what are the errors in your work and helping you improve, but that’s her/his fault. But you can always do your best, you can always ask what you can do to improve it, you can always learn as much as you can. And not let the way (s)he treats you influence the way you feel.

But, the most important thing you can do about your feelings is start to look at them from a different perspective. Stop looking at your feelings as something that starts outside of you and think about them as something that starts and ends inside of you. And feelings, when unattended build up, grow inside of us and become harder and harder to ignore and understand. If we keep ignoring our feelings they will grow, they will get stronger and will keep asking for our attention.

Emotions, when they are small, when we feel them first, are most of the time easy to associate with their source. But as they get stronger, the only thing we can see are those feelings and the external causes for them, that we can’t change or control. The external sources for our feelings is a trick of your mind, of our ego, that don’t want to be blamed for anything. But even then, if you look deeply under your feelings you may still be able to see why you feel the way you do.

But when your emotions are born, it’s most of the time easy to remember what was in your mind when those emotions started to show. Stop it at that point and try to understand what you’re really thinking.

Most of the time emotions, negative emotions, like jealousy, sadness or anger usually start from expectations or fear.  Expectations, negotiated or, most of the time, assumed – just because something is seen as normal in the society doesn’t mean that it can be assumed and that is automatically applies to everyone. But, still, we assume them. But still, we expect everything to go according with our expectations, but still we get jealous, angry, sad if something we don’t want happens, if someone does something we expected would not happen.

And we project those feeling in that person, and expect that person to fix our feelings, and forget that those feelings are not their to fix. They are our. Our to fix, our to understand and, most of all, our to own.

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