The Power of Relaxation

March 29, 2005

I’ve been noticing a trend lately in my activities. It’s relaxation. It seems that being able to relax your body/mind is a crucial element to learning. When I am able to relax everything but the muscles needed for the activity I am performing, things always feel much better, and I am able to learn more efficiently.

When playing the guitar, relaxation is crucial to improving speed and dexterity. Relaxing my shoulders and arms, as well as my fingers, in between chord changes.

When typing, the same applies, relaxing my shoulders, and arms, and my hands/wrists, helps me type quicker, more accurately, and without any wrist or arm pain.

When running, being able to relax my muscles as much as possible helps improve my form. Letting gravity and my bone structure take most of the work load helps me run for longer and without pain.

In singing, relaxation seems to be the main focus overall. Relaxing the entire upper body, especially, the neck, shoulders and throat, actually changes the sound you are able to produce.

I feel like this reoccurring theme is like a meta-skill, that, if mastered, can improve your ability to take on new tasks, with less effort. Meanwhile, its surprisingly difficult. Even just sitting down or lying down, and releasing tension in your muscles doesn’t seem to happen naturally for me.


The Paradox of Choice

March 21, 2005

I just listened to an online lecture by Barry Schwartz, who is a professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College. His talk was about how we have an overabundance of choices in this country, and how this actually makes us less happy.

There is an online transcript of a different interview of his that outlines some of this thoughts, and therefore gives a brief synopsis of his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.

I have a hard time swallowing Dr. Schwartz’s conclusions, because he came to the conclusion that to avoid the pitfalls of too much choice, you should resolve that “good enough is good enough”. This goes against a lot of what I believe in. Strive for something better, don’t settle. However, it does tie in a lot to my post on how we measure ourselves. Here is a quote I found particularly disturbing…

“People who are out to find the very best job (“maximizers”) feel worse than people who settle for good enough. We’ve tracked them through and after college. Maximizers did better financially – they found starting salaries that paid $7,000 more than satisficers’ starting salary. But by every other measure – depression, stress, anxiety, satisfaction with their job – maximizers felt worse.”

Now the positive side of this, is that, like most things in life, this is not a black and white issue. Having no choices is horrible, and having more than one choice is usually good. Its when we have an obscene amount of choices that it starts to detract from our happiness. This is because we get frozen by indecision, and because its hard to make the perfect choice, you will end up being more dissatisfied thinking of the possibilities you missed out on the other choices (opportunity costs) you will end up feeling less satisfied than if there had been only one choice to begin with.

“There is no excuse for anything less than perfection in a world in which the choices are essentially infinite. When we experience relative failure and we ask the ‘Whose fault is it?’ question, we come up with answer ‘the fault is ours.’ This is the causal link between the profusion of choices we now face and the increase in clinical depression.”

Dr. Schwartz sited some interesting examples with things like sampling at the grocery store. The more types of sample available, the more people were attracted to try one, but the less they were likely to buy. I personally have felt this when I tried to buy a digital camera a year ago. I was so bewildered by all the choices, I didn’t get a camera for over 2 years. (of course, I didn’t realize this was why I wasn’t getting a camera at the time… Back then I was just “waiting for x model to come out”)

Another interesting quote from Dr. Schwartz:

“The paradox of all this is what really makes people happy is close relations to other people. That is the single most important determinant of well being that anyone has identified in 40 years of research. Close relations constrain, they don’t liberate. What it means to be close to someone is that you are not free to make all these choices yourself, you have to consider the needs, interests, desires of the others. So you are limited by the fact that you care about other people and other people care about you.”

This is interesting to me, because I definitely agree that close relations are what makes us happy… but I never thought of the constraints as being a positive part of it. This makes me wonder why I might ever have a fear of commitment in a relationship. Maybe its because I’m used to having so many choices, its hard to see that a simpler set may be more enjoyable.

The problem I had with all of this, is that it at first seemed like a whining statement of the Have’s. If you imagine the world as split into the “Haves” and the “Have nots” then you can imagine the “Have nots” being the ones that don’t have enough choices. This seems logical. However, the Haves complaining that they have too many choices and that they are unhappy because of it seems like complaining. Kind of like complaining that you have too much money. (After all, money is opportunity, so this statement is actually quite similar.) It just doesn’t go over to well with the general public. It does, however give a strong argument for living a simpler life. It also could explain why more money doesn’t lead to happiness. The premise of Dr. Schwartz’s argument would tell people to satisfy their basic needs, and then concentrate on your relations. More is not always better. I think I’ve heard that before…

Guiding Lights

March 16, 2005

I went to hear Eric Liu give a talk yesterday. He is a former speech writer for Bill Clinton, and now teaches in the Public Policy department at the University of Washington.
Yesterday, however, he was speaking on a completely different topic. Mentors.

Eric has written a book called Guiding Lights: The People Who Lead Us Toward Our Purpose in Life. He was an excellent speaker, and spoke about his interviews with great mentors around the country. He interviewed over 300 people over 2 years, and wrote about 15 of them in depth in his book. Part of what intrigued me was the topic, and even more so, that it seemed far from his original career path. He’s a local, and I promptly asked him out to dinner afterwards so I could hear some more of his story. I started reading his book yesterday, which is very well written.

Eric talked of a few things that stuck with me. He said that there were common elements in all of the great mentors he talked to, and that it was his belief that everyone is a teacher to some capacity, so understanding great mentors is central to becoming more effective in this role.

I like his story on failure, where he talked of a jazz master who encouraged his pupils to improvise off of their errors. I thought this was really interesting because this is a central principle to the Improv Comedy classes I’m taking. I find it so cool how I’m finding all these links in my interests.

I’m hoping to meet with Eric again, and talk to him about some of the ideas I’ve posted here. I think we have some common strains of thinking, in regard to why he wrote his book, and why I’m keeping this blog.

Corporate Ties, and Money as an Opportunity

March 8, 2005

I was talking with a friend yesterday about my ‘fear of commitment.’ She is looking into buying a house… and meanwhile I couldn’t imagine tying myself down financially like that. One of the things I like about my life right now is that the only thing limiting me is my mentality. I have paid off my debts, paid off my car, and am renting month to month. Even my furniture is cheap enough to be disposable. I’ve been asked multiple times if I feel like my rent that I pay each month makes me feel like I’m throwing away money. I’m sure I don’t feel that way. Yes, I know, I won’t see that money again, and if I was paying off a mortgage instead, than I could look at it like an investment. But honestly, I don’t care.

I see money as an opportunity. After all, thats pretty much what it represents to me. Opportunity to purchase something, donate it, invest it. Right now, the money I spend on rent is providing me with opportunities, simply by alleviating me of financial committments. At this point in my life, I value that alot. If for no other reason, it lets me explore my opportunities mentally, without having to think about alot of financial caveats.

It’s funny, I hear advice all the time about how to invest, buy corporate stock, start an IRA, 401K, etc. And, of course, like a good boy, I do what I need to do. But the mentality is what surprises me. My parents had pretty much no money until they were 30-35, and yet we now live in big house, go on vacation all over the place, my sisters and I all went to private colleges, etc.

Meanwhile, here I am, 23 years old, earning more money than I possibly could ‘need’ and the mentality around my workplace is all about what you can do to earn more. I’m not saying its bad to be financially responsible,… not at all. But there’s a fine line between living within your means being smart with your money, versus concentrating alot of your time and energy on how much more you can make. This is one of the main reasons I wish to leave behind corporate life for a while. The “money money money” mentality is suffocating, and I’m afraid that if I stay here too long, I’ll forget about whats really important. It’s already starting to feel more normal here than it did when I arrived.

Concentration on money is just a mentality I just don’t want in my life.

The funny thing, is the luxury I have in saying that. Thanks mostly to good fortune, I really have absolutely no financial fears looking forward in my life. I feel like I have the tools and mentality to make as much money as I need. Thats probably why I don’t care to buy a house. Sure, it might be better financially in the long run… but the way I look at it, financially, I’m going to be just fine in the long run.

I already know I can make money doing something I don’t really love. What I need to concentrate on now, is creating a life and career that I actually want instead of just a life that earns more money. I think that’s alot harder, and I fully believe that not enough people spend time trying to find it.

Grateful + Opportunistic

March 4, 2005

About a week ago I wrote “Seeing Beyond Money” about the ability to see beyond the paycheck to evaluate what I really want. I also spoke of the difference between being grateful for my good fortune, and still wanting to move on. Yesterday I had a talk with a few friends where we ended up in a very similar conversation.

I’m becoming more and more convinced of my point. With my friends, the conversation continued to go back to comparing where we are in our careers compared to the general population. I was arguing that that was a completely separate issue. Yes, I agree, we should all be grateful for a number of things. Starting out with being born into a free country, getting a good education, having enough to eat, etc.

But my point is that we should compare our current careers not with what those less fortunate have, but instead with what we ourselves are capable of having. We should continue to be grateful for what we have now, but its not a reason to not aim higher and continue to move forward.

I posed the question of job satisfaction. On a scale of 1-10 how do you feel about your current job. 10 being the most fantastic job you can imagine, and 1 being the worst situation. My friends all centered around about a 6.

My am convinced that there are 9 and 10 jobs out there for everyone. I don’t necessarily think that you will know what they are (I don’t)… but if you’re current job is not moving you toward them, aren’t you due for a change? First, however, you must be convinced about the existance of such a job. (as hypothetical as it is at this point.) I, personally, am convinced.

My last thought, as I continued to convince my friends of my viewpoint, is… why am I doing this? I believe entirely in what I am saying. I have no doubt of that, and so naturally I want to share my viewpoint… However, some small part of me is asking the question… Am I trying to make converts out of those around me so that I have company in taking this risk? I want to tell myself ‘no’… but how can I really be sure?

Support for Travel

March 2, 2005

My voice coach, Emily Greenleaf, rocks. She said something yesterday that I thought was worth putting down.
“Music is a unique skill in that it requires you to speak and listen at the same time… The world needs more people who can do that.”
She’s very supportive of my decision to go travel. She gave me the great idea of taking a mic to attach to my Ipod, and record sounds/music from my trip. A great music education, as well as a cool way to record parts of my adventures other than photographs.

On a separate note, I was discussing with a friend yesterday, whether its better to attack hobbies and goals in serial or parallel. I quickly find myself inundated with practice schedules and routines that I should do everyday to get full benefit. Another approach would be to devote myself fully to it for a set amount of time, achieve a certain level of proficiency, and then move on to something else. Of course, this likely means I won’t maintain that proficiency… but it probably won’t be completely lost either. Also, it allows me to achieve a higher level, than if I overload myself with so many tasks that I end up not being consistent with any of them.

This is an interesting idea, but for now, I’m not going to follow it. I think I naturally spend alot of time on something until I find I’ve achieved a level and then want to move on. A good example is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve stopped it for now, but I might return to it when I go back to Brazil. I think I’m pretty good at being consistent, but I need some work on not picking up hobbies right, left, and center. My natural instinct when I hear about somebody doing something cool, is to jump right on board and try to do it as well.

All in all… I can’t complain. Its a good problem to have.


March 1, 2005

I reread an article today entitled “Grow Up? Not so Fast.” by Lev Grossman in TIME magazine. It’s about “twixters” the in-betweeners of my age… In their twenty’s… not quite an adult, and not in adolescence any more.

It rang true for me in a number of ways… but in alot of ways, it talked about people who were bouncing from job to job, living with their parents, dating, going out alot, etc. I think from an external view point, I look very responsible. Graduated in 4 years, good job, financially independent and responsible… however, the mindset was very familiar.

Who are we?:
“Where did the twixters come from? And what’s taking them so long to get Where they’re going? Some of the sociologists, psychologists and demographers who study this new life stage see it as a good thing. The twixters aren’t lazy, the argument goes, they’re reaping the fruit of
decades of American affluence and social liberation. This new period is a chance for young people to savor the pleasures of irresponsibility, search their souls and choose their life paths. But more historically and economically minded scholars see it differently. They are worried that twixters aren’t growing up because they can’t.”

On growing older… :
“Twixters have all the privileges of grownups now but only some of the responsibilities.”

On relationships:
“The situation is analogous to their promiscuous job-hopping behavior–like Goldilocks, they want to find the one that’s just right–but it can give them a cynical, promiscuous vibe too. Arnett is worried that if anything, twixters are too romantic. In their universe, romance is totally detached from pragmatic concerns and societal pressures, so when twixters finally do marry, they’re going to do it for Love with a capital L and no other reason.”

On jobs:
“Twixters expect a lot more from a job than a paycheck.”

Some of this resonates with me… especially that last part. I definitely feel like I’m an idealist, and that I envision having all that I want, rather than settling for what is the norm, and acceptable. I think thats why I have an itch to leave this responsible life behind. I feel like I’m living out someone else’s expectations. It’s beautiful out today. I’m inside my office staring at a glowing LCD screen. There must be people doing more exciting things. I’m not okay with not being one of those people.