Month: December 2019

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Tools for Reasoning: Authority bias


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Have you ever found yourself cursing over a stupid decision that you knew was not the best one, but you did it anyway because an “authority figure” in your life such as your mom, teacher, father or older brother told you you should? How could you say no to the mighty voice of experience, right?

“As to the wise man, we shall see. What concerns you and me, who are still a great distance from the wise man, is to ensure that we do not fall into a state of affairs which is disturbed, powerless, subservient to another and worthless to oneself.” Seneca 

Don’t follow someone just because he or she is an authority or anything else. What served him might not serve you, taking circumstances and many others into account. This is the authority bias, which consists of making decisions basing your reasoning on authority alone, like a robot, not taking account of your specific situation or other factors that would make up for better reasoning and a more informed decision. 

It’s impressive how it is so annoyingly common to find yourself on your 30’s or 40’s wanting to change your career because, at the moment of choosing it, you went with the voice of “experience” without listening to yours, the person that would find himself doing it for the next 40 years. 

This is one of the consequences of the authority bias. In Stoicism, I picture Epictetus telling you, that more than authority bias, it’s more the “being a slave to other people reasoning bias”. Now, one thing is to choose a career path not suitable for yourself, but another paramountly different is to kill thousands of people just because you were told to, as happened in Germany during WWII or in Vietnam. This lures you to think: How harmless really is it to let other people do your thinking, however small the decision?

The obedience experiments. 

Stanley Milgram proved how weak our will becomes when we find ourselves in an authoritative situation with his famous “Shock experiment” at Yale University. You can find more about it here or watch the movie on Netflix if you prefer. 

In the experiment, Milgram tricked people into thinking that they were going to participate in an experiment that measured people’s ability to learn for the fear of being punished, while in reality, he was measuring their compliance to authority. They were told that they were needed to administer shocks to a person in another room (an actor) if they got the answer wrong, and subsequently, raise the volts (45–100–100–200) administered with each wrong answer. The actor got them wrong on purpose and at the same time started yelling that he was in pain and wanted the experiment to stop when the shocks got high enough. The authority figure was a doctor (actor as well) in a coat that gave orders such as:

Prod 1: Please continue.

Prod 2: The experiment requires you to continue.

Prod 3: It is absolutely essential that you continue.

Prod 4: You have no other choice but to continue.

Note that the subjects of the experiment were allowed to leave at any moment but do to the context, most didn’t and the majority gave the “learner” painful shocks until required to. This was no doubt a dark experiment with even darker implications. 

How often do you comply without even thinking about it? Without even knowing that you find yourself in an authoritative situation? 

Back to us and normal life. If you have ever taken a decision that proved to be wrong just because someone you deemed capable and admirable told you to do so and then went on and did it, and then fucked up. You know what I’m talking about and you know how much it sucks. 

So now that you know the bias. Be smarter. I’m not claiming that you don’t have to hear the opinion of an expert, that would be stupid and would just be another bias, but you have to be able to take everything else into account as well. Such as your situation and the interests embedded in your choice. Ask yourself, who is ultimately affected by my decision and how? Once that is done, challenge authority and question them. 

Be free. 

Until next time, 

Ricardo 

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How To Actually Become Your Ideal Self


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Close your eyes and think for a moment about your ideal self, the highest you could get, be it in your finances, in your Stoic practice, family life, take everything into account. Do it now. 

How do you see yourself? On the top of Everest with your best buddies? Or maybe taking a son that’s on his way to a great life, that admires you and loves you, to his Sunday football match? How do you see yourself, how does it feel to be your ideal self? It’s a nice feeling, isn’t it? I’m sure it is. How awesome would that be? How amazing would it feel? 

Yet, you keep saying that you are going to do it, you plan it, you do some stuff here and there, but nothing really happens, years pass and you stay the same, this is a reality for most people. But not for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be yours either, as you are the one that decides whether becoming yourself happens or not. It’s on you.

Arriving at your deathbed knowing that you did not do your best must be an ubercrappy feeling. Not something you want. Remember Memento Mori, death is just around the corner. 

Ok, so, now that we know what you want, and that we know what you don’t want, how do we get towards what you do want?

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson

A process

I remember when I decided I wanted to speak german. I think everyone can picture themselves speaking 5 languages while enjoying the admiration of your girlfriend/boyfriend when you order your filet mignon on the fancy french restaurant, plus all the job opportunities and higher pay that speaking a foreign language gives you. I felt pretty pumped up about it, with all these images in my mind, but sticking to it was hard, really damn hard. I never came to a point of success, I still haven’t, sure, I can order food and talk about a movie, but I cannot read Goethe in german yet. It was, and it still is, a process. Remember the word process, for it is key, print it in your mind. 

When you imagine your ideal self, it’s common to imagine a static image of a writer, mountaineer, perfect dad, perfect this perfect that. You see yourself as a timeless victory. What you don’t see, however, is that you are bound to time and to change. You are not static, you are not a medal or a title. In real life, you don’t win when you cross an imaginary line, such as in a running race. 

You either win or lose at every single moment. 

This is because you are a process of something that is happening through time. It’s never over, not until you are dead at least. When you think of your ideal self, you need to think of your ideal self, not as an image or a painting, but rather you need to think about the ideal self on the level of action and actual moving, changing reality. 

 Your definition of self is bound, more than to what your egoic mind thinks you are, to your behavior. Your behavior determines your identity. You can go ahead and say that you are going to be a writer, a mountaineer or anything, but if you don’t write, climb, or work, you are not being your ideal self. You are just imagining it. 

“If you wish to be a writer, write.”

Epictetus

The correct striving for the ideal self

Now. When you sit yourself down to write, or to learn a new language. You have to be careful with how you see yourself as you do it

Everything you do for the first time sucks. 

“The first draft of anything is shit.” Hemingway 

Becoming your ideal self is a moment-to-moment decision. You either are or you aren’t. Your first draft is shit? It doesn’t matter, what matters is that you are working on your behavior. 

You’ll get yourself into trouble if you judge you’re being a writer with having or producing a great book. You might do, you might don’t, it doesn’t matter. A writer writes, focus on that and you’ll be a writer. See yourself as a process. Don’t depend on the perfect draft or the perfect anything, better depend on the journey you decide to embark on by yourself on. The achievement of your ideal self is in doing what the ideal self says it is. Victory is sitting down to write, victory is being a good parent and hugging your son, victory is sitting down to work on that business idea. Winning at anything is a plus, true winning is being able to do it and keep doing it in the face of failure or victory, not depending on either. 

There will never come a point when you are done. Life just doesn’t work that way. Anything you want to be, you either are or you aren’t. If you want to be a writer, again, sit down to write if you want to do anything, do it. 

Habits

Think of your identity as a conglomeration of fires that, together, form your entire identity. Each fire represents one characteristic of your identity. Your good parent identity, your stoic identity, your greedy identity, your magnanimous identity, your calmed and poised identity, your anxious identity. Every characteristic you can imagine, imagine it as a little fire in your head. 

Now, as you sit in your head looking at the distance all the fires, know that you are on your realm, within yourself, inside your head, the only place you are truly free to do whatever you want. The only place in which you can decide what happens and what doesn’t. Your inner citadel. 

It is in this inner realm full o fires where your identity forms and grows, this is where your ideal self happens or not. Everything you do matters, as everything you do kindles one of your inner fires. The fires grow bigger or smaller depending on which fire you feed with wood. 

Don’t think in terms of: “Oh I remember that time I did something greedy” as if it were something that happened in the past and has no consequences as it was tiny, inconsequential even. The fire you feed burns bigger and brighter. 

If you act stoically in the face of challenge enough times, your stoic identity will eventually burn brighter than all the other fires within your head. The only way you can turn the fire off is by not feeding it anymore, the only way you make another fire bigger is by putting more coal in it. 

You are a never-ending process. Your identity is a never-ending process. Your ideal self is not a victory or defeat in time but through time. The way you become your ideal self is in doing what your ideal self is enough times until that ideal fire is the only fire burning in your head.

 No matter how crappy your writing is, no matter how crappy anything you do is, be it good or bad, you are kindling a fire.

This is great and this is bad for obvious reasons. Eat enough Mcburritos and you’ll see why it is bad. Every decision you make, every attitude you choose to feed, compounds over time and affects everything else. Nothing, absolutely nothing is isolated. Be careful with the fires you choose to burn. 

As a Stoic, you know what’s under your control, and you don’t need nor want anything else but that. Now, think of your ideal self once again. Done? Great, now let keep that fire burning, make it a fiery fire my friend. 

Until next time,

Ricardo

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