Tickets Still Available: Four Movements in Time - Tonight, 7pm, Chicago: 1335 S. Michigan Avenue

Please join us if you are in chicagoland: http://www.pianofortefoundation.org/concert/four-movements-in-time

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One Resolution for 2015: "Race Your Strengths"

"Race Your Strengths" was a refrain repeated daily for decades by Mike Walden, the head coach for a small cycling club in Detroit Michigan. During those 25+ years, this small club produced over 120 national champions, 12 world champions, 10 Olympians and 4 Olympic medals. There was no mysterious talent pool in Detroit during this period, and all of the athletes were local. Nonetheless, by a relentless focus on helping people find their strengths as athletes, this one club produced more than 25% of all national cycling medalists for a 25 year period. walden

For 2015 I propose we make only one resolution - the kind of resolution that "floats all boats." For 2015 I propose that we follow Mike Walden's advice and extend it beyond athletics. Let’s design our lives to align closer to our strengths and natural talents, and design around those activities that are true weaknesses. When we are operating in sync with our native capabilities, we are more resilient: we can handle greater amounts of stress because we are filling our bucket with energy and positive feedback. When we are pursuing activities that are in line with our strengths, we experience more moments of "flow" where time speeds by in the present, buts creates a treasure trove of significant memories. When we are "racing our strengths" we have more and greater chances to have life-defining moments of "really living," experiences of such meaning and gravity, that time slows, stops, or even expands.

Life is short: time to race your strengths. 

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Do Your Strengths Have a Color? Synaesthesia and Talents

Synaesthesia is one of my new favorite words and concepts. As Wickipedia defines it, synaesthesia (or synesthesia) "is a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes."

Synesthetes often experience this phenomenon in the course of every day life - vowels, for example for many synesthetes have colors where as consonants don't. But I'm particularly interested in the intersection of synaethesia and strengths and talents. What if your strengths and areas of talent have a color or a sound, or both?

For years I've been describing my feelings when in a state of "flow" or deeply immersed in an area of strength as having a color - often a vibrant blue or yellow or orange and conversely moments of weakness as colorless, black or red. What I never talked about and never knew how to articulate is that in these "photisms" or "chromesthesia" episodes I actually SAW these colors, tasted and heard these colors. In fact, my personal form of synaethesia involves color and sound - a hum, or thrumming permeates my brain and I see what I'm doing tinged with vibrant colors of orange, yellow and violet blue that has a fractal nature about it. Examples:

"The pixels of light and darkness captured in the mind’s eye are filled with the pallet of color of the results – hence the memories of winning somehow pull from the yellows, blues and golds, success and color implying a relatively easier effort, while the losses are inevitably painted with the charcoals of those chiaroscuro efforts – blackened, brutish, pain and disappointment closely linked."

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"I choose to repaint this race differently. And in so doing what I did accomplish was a unique mastery of the instrument of my body. For over two hours, I played it like the first violinist – drawing out of it with every lash of the straight bow every possible note, every emotion, every tremble of resonance the space of ribs and air and bones was capable of producing."

Conversely when I'm suffering or pursuing a weakness, color and sound disappears... an example:

"The halls of pain echo for an experienced athlete. The suffering is nothing and yet is everything. The pain is white. It is black. It lacks color or sibilant sound – just reverberations reflecting off the porcelain tiles of the stony discipline of the psyche. But blood, glittering red-black blood, pulses through hidden rivulets in the gutters of the mind."

As a kid when I would ride my bike - whenever there was a sprint or an acceleration I would hum inside my head. In the early days it was sort of a motorcycle sound and I assumed it was an artifact not dissimilar to putting a playing card in the spokes to sound like a motor, but over time I just realized I did the same thing when skating or when painting or when working certain subjects in school. Now I get it when I'm writing, riding, racing or traveling.

So an oft repeated question is, "how do I know if something I'm doing is a strength?" "How do I know if something I'm doing is a weakness, or just a skills gap?"

Perhaps one way to know might to be to simply ask, "what color is it? what does it sound like?"

I close every speech on finding your strengths with the following advice: When seeking your strengths, "pay attention to your internal hum: you'll know it when you see it, feel it, hear it."

PS: this whole post was a medium blue, tinged with some yellow.

An Event Horizon Moment: Guest Post by Neil Sprackling

A Moment of Really Living I grew up with an undying passion for soccer and in particular my team Crystal Palace FC, the club where I was born and raised in South London. This has everything to do with my father and my obsession seems to have become greater the older I have become.

Fast forward 40 years and I have a son of my own, Julen, born and raised in Australia and now living in the United States. No reason at all that he should either like soccer or be a blossoming Crystal Palace FC fan. Fortunately for me he is both (which might have a sneaky bit to do with me).

As his loyalty with the club increased, I realized I wanted to do something special for him that I never did at his age: be a match day mascot. Now of course when I was 11, being a mascot was not the experience it is today. So on the eve of the 2012/13 season I called the club to inquire about Julen becoming a mascot. I was told that as long as I wasn't looking for a game in the coming months, it would be no problem. So I chose a game towards the end of the season, mindful that I would need to organise a weekend and flights to London for the occasion.

I waited for a special moment at one of our traditional family Sunday evening roast dinners to tell him. I wasn't even sure whether he knew what a mascot was but on sharing the news of our impending weekend, his face said it all as he broke out into a huge beaming smile. I'll never forget the moment.

Fast forward a couple of months to our weekend together in London. I was intent on making it a weekend we'd never forget so on arrival in London, we spent the afternoon at the Natural History museum and then caught a sci-fi movie. The next day we did an open top bus tour of London, visited the Tower of London and finished the day with my brother and best friend at the theatre seeing Beatlemania. We spent so much quality 1:1 time together, just chatting about anything that came to mind.

We saved the best for last of course. On Saturday April 13, we headed to Selhurst Park, South London, home of my beloved Eagles. We got there 3 hours before kick off to be greeted at the players' entrance and taken to the VIP lounge for lunch. Julen changed in to his full Palace gear  and was shepherded away to meet the team in the dressing room (the only part I couldn't join!). He returned beaming from ear to ear, with the white T shirt we had bought (that said "Love Palace, Love Football") signed by all the players and manager.

I had also arranged for my Dad and my brother to join us on the day and they arrived as Julen disappeared back into the dressing room to prepare for the team's pre-match warm up on the pitch. I was allowed to go pitch side to take photos and much to my delight, I was even given permission to stand by the players' tunnel with my video camera as both teams entered the stadium. As Julen came out hand in hand with the club captain, I had tears in my eyes.

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It was a wonderful game that finished 2-2 and the icing on the cake was that Palace went on to the play off final that year, won the game and got promoted back to the Premier League. The stuff that dreams are made of.

On our last day in London we met up with my Dad and step Mum and they took us on a mini road trip around the area of South London where I was born including the town where my Dad was raised . This was made all the more special by stories from my Dad about growing up in London during World War 2

On our return to the US, I had his signed T shirt framed together with photos from the day and the ticket stub. It was a day that neither of us will ever forget and was truly a "moment of really living".

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"Time" is the most common word in the English Language

It is time. It is time to either get busy dying or get busy really living

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It is time to get dirty, to get sick, to burnout and recover, to fall in love, to have a broken heart, to fall apart and then get back up again

Time to eat a Moruga scorpion pepper without milk.

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Time to get back out there, get back in there,

Time to get off the hedonic treadmill,

Time to unclimb the corporate ladder

I want to climb the ladder of my internal clock

I want to clock the ladder of my internal climb

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I want to slow the hands of father time

And time the slow hands of my fatherhood

Your life is 90% over... when you think it is half done

You think you are half done with life or even less? No, only 10% of your experiential time is left for you to save

You have one foot, a torso, two hands, and a watch in the grave

Be safe, stick with your routine, be comfortable, live “the dream”

and die in a few temporal seconds. Goodnight, you’re dead, end of scene.

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How to Speed Through Life With Nothing to Remember:

So… Go ahead, avoid the highs and lows of life – and here’s what you are going to get: Each September will come faster, leaves piled at your feet

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and no one, NO ONE will warm you or sing you to sleep

Want to speed through life with nothing to remember?

Here’s how to reap another pale September:

Watch lots of tv, sit on the couch,

Eat the exact same foods, develop a pouch

Meet no new friends, become a stay at home grouch

Do the same damn thing every single day, walk with a slouch

Your arm chair? The gauze of advil, and air conditioning, Your staid routines and complacent pace?

These things are the warp drive to temporal hyperspace.

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What About Your Life, Is Time Speeding Up or Slowing Down

What about your life – is time speeding or slowing down? 98% of adults feel life is accelerating, I don’t know about you, but that brings me down

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HOW.IS.THAT.OK?

Who ordered the code red? (who let tom cruise in this monologue? – he’s too short – just like your life)

You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth

Here’s your code red:  Here’s the truth:

Experiential time, absent aggressive action to reverse it, will keep speeding up

So… Go ahead, avoid the highs and lows of life – and here’s what you are going to get:

Time Stops When it Speeds Up

Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 9.39.26 AM Physics teaches us the theory of relativity:

In a massive gravitational pull there’s a change in activity

As we accelerate towards the speed of light

That there is an “event horizon” where we lose all sight.

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Time inside stops relative to the outside world

Under the massive forces and compression, time itself is swirled

It’s a slinky on a staircase, a complex blue fractal

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It's a radical rollercoaster, string theory in a cats cradle…

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It is bellows and helixes and event horizons at the ends

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Time stops when it speeds up, it accelerates when it bends

Thinking Fast and Slow: A Paradox We All Know

Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 1.21.02 PM Neuroscientists tell us that the experience of time is relative

And that the drivers behind its flexibility are cognitive

Kahneman calls it, “thinking fast and slow”

Csikszentmihalyi, he calls it Flow.

Regardless, it is a paradox we all know

That when time accelerates in the present, it expands in retro

Your Brain Has No Clock – It Does NOT Tick Tock, Tick Tock

This thing here Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 4.59.17 PM

is quite different than this thing here

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As it turns out, this thing

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doesn't have one of these

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or more accurately it has a whole bunch of these running at different speeds

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Time in our brains doesn’t tick tock tick tock with equal density

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Time in our brains is dependent on our experiences - and their relative intensity

Time is Like a River, Right?

But wait, time, time is like a river right?Sure time is a river all right, but not this kind of river:

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No, time is river; that ebbs and flows, from trickles to rapids, waterfalls and pools, They bend, they bow, they curve, they dry up. In the brain it is the same game, the river of time is to blame, The fact is that we don’t experience time always the same.

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Your Clock Has Been Lying to You...

FullSizeRender This things here: they're a lie.

We’ve been lied to, side-tracked, distracted, manipulated

This ticking, this tocking – this terrible terminal tracking of the ticking of time teaching us trivial untruths:

It taught us that each second is exactly the same,

That each minute, each day, progresses in a linear way

That each is the same distance from the last

That these clicks are an equal measure of the past

How Long Did Summers Last as a Kid?

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 3.24.04 PM How long did summers last as a kid?

Splashing into the lake, riding bikes across busy streets.

Crushes, broken hearts, bruises and dirty knees.

We all know summer lasted “forever” as a kid..

Everything was new - we really lived everything we did.

And now? How long do they last, in this world of the mundane?

I don’t know about you but I ache to live endless summers again.

When Quitting is Good

Is quitting ever good? If so, how can you know when it is the right thing to do? Screen Shot 2013-03-24 at 4.26.40 PM

IDEA IN BRIEF: There may be a natural window of time in which it is appropriate to quit which is longer than most people are willing to invest, but shorter than most highly motivated people take. Specifically if you put your best efforts toward something, such as a sport, activity, talent, job, career or relationship, and fail to see growth and returns from your investment of time within about 2 years, then it is probably time to quit – or at least re-frame your approach.

Ample empirical evidence demonstrates the importance of the “don’t quit” advice.  Anecdotal evidence is provided simply by watching typical children grow up around you.  Many of them are excellent quitters. My own daughter wanted to quit basketball, soccer, speedskating, the cello, choir, art and drama camp, all after the first day. Half of these she ultimately quit for the right reason – she did not have a natural talent for the activity. Per my last post, she did not have enough “myelinated circuits” to build from to demonstrate speed or skill in those areas. Conversely, with basketball, art and drama – after some diligent practice, she has exploded with talent in these areas, capabilities she would never have known had she followed her early instincts to quit.

For scientific support and quantitative evidence, the Stanford Marshmallow experiment, conducted since 1972, is perhaps the most famous behavioral research corroborating the idea that to be successful, one must be able to delay gratification and persevere through challenging circumstances: in other words, “not quit.”  In this longitudinal study (still going on) children who were able to delay eating a marshmallow in order to earn two marshmallows a few minutes later were shown repeatedly to have greater success in life – higher SAT’s, greater incomes, great levels of educational achievement and happiness.

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It works. I suspect most of the readers of this blog have mastered the capacity to delay gratification and struggle through a tough present for the promise of a more rewarding future. Yet, for some of us, perhaps many of us, I think this childhood guidance has had unintentional consequences and has subsequently become a collective adult neurosis unintentionally designed to rob us of success and happiness.

Yes, I said it, “a collective adult neurosis. “Wait,” you might say, “That’s crazy!” Exactly. To paraphrase Scott Adams, the author of Dilbert who has wrestled with some of these same questions, “Perseverance is great… until it is stupid.”

The problem emerges slowly. As we master the ability to “tough it out”, we tackle ever larger obstacles and delay gratification ever farther.  At some point a mindset and momentum takes over such that overcoming obstacles becomes the defining drive, and gratification is delayed indefinitely. This is the “graying” of man, a transition away from a life of color and sound and passion into a life like that of Sysiphus – a routinized passionless pursuit pushing a rock up a hill with no promise of joy or completion.

Hearkening back to our marshmallow experiment, it appears that some of us have traded not one marshmallow for two but an infinite number of future marshmallows for an undefined future date.

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When discipline completely replaces inspiration, a kind of desperation sets in – a “quiet” sort as famously described by Thoreau. It is not exactly failure, but what is it then?

“Most men live lives of quiet desperation” - Thoreau

Interestingly, two bits of conventional advice put this quandary directly into perspective.  The first is some commonly used childhood guidance, and the second is some cliched adult wisdom.

1) “If at first you don’t succeed… try, try, try again.”

Now, contrast this with

2) “The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and over again, and… expecting different results.”

The inherent conflict between these statements is striking. I suspect much of the population needs more focus on the first rule. But there’s another huge cohort of people stuck in the second, banging against the wall.

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Maybe it is you? It certainly was me. I spent years trying to develop endurance as an athlete to no avail.   [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MfZ6Rkk-oI[/embed]  I spent years in consulting as a program manager, not realizing that I’m not wired to be high on follow through. We see these people all around us, middle managers that never quite make it, mid level competitors that can’t seem to reach the podium, artists with no sales, musicians that never gather a following, and would-be lovers pursuing relationships that never blossom.

Introducing the “Two Year Rule.” Through my own experience and observations of others, it seems to me that when you pursue something fully and completely for up to two years and do not reach a “break-through” level where you feel momentum and have experienced significant improvement and real success, then it is time to quit. Quit that job, quit that sport, change instruments or start composing, write magazine articles rather than novels, and break up with that not-so-romantic partner. Sometimes you even have to break it off with a platonic friend.

One exception – only parents can’t really quit.  If you don’t have a talent for parenting, make sure you surround yourselves with family and friends that can help provide guidance and model the way.

I once read a “success story” of a woman who tried writing a book for 35 years. She struggled, did odd jobs and eventually published a manuscript that received some critical acclaim and sold reasonably well. I don’t look at this as a success.  This seems like an abject failure – someone who missed her true calling and whiled away a life trying to perfect and overcome her weaknesses.

Here’s the final thought.  We all know people who have quit for the right reasons – and they always say the same thing, “That was the best decision I ever made.” This is almost always true because they latch onto something better, something closer to their strengths, something that resonates within their spirit. Maybe it is time for you to quit, to escape the gray chrysalis of weakness and find that place of passion, strength, light and color. Time to fly!

Next post – when quitting is bad… and why the most talented often quit early and often.

LOVE = SPEED (of connections)

Friendship (Love) = Talent (Strengths) = Electricity (Speed) Every once in a great while, that magical rare occurrence happens when you sit down with someone and instantly connect, the conversation lights up with electricity and time flies. You look at your watch a half hour later, and realize it has been three hours... Conversely we often sit down with acquaintances or business partners and an hour or two later into a plodding forced conversation realize it has only been 20 minutes.

What's the difference? As it turns out it is sometimes you have a natural talent for people: and that talent is predicated on speed: the speed of the neural connections begin triggered in your interaction. The good news is you can develop a "talent" for just about anyone. The bad news is it can take a lot of time and effort and it all has to do with the science of myelin:

The field of neuroscience is filled daily with new discoveries. One of the most important in recent years is that of myelin – a mysterious substance in the brain that with practice or focus actively wraps itself around select neural circuits with multiple layers. The more practice and the greater the focus, the greater the number of layers of myelin wrapping the circuits. Myelin then acts as an electrical insulator, causing those neural pathways to accelerate their ability to send signals to other parts of the brain by up to 1000 times faster. Myelin is the gray matter of the brain and was previously thought to be “inert” and in many ways it is, but through this act of wrapping axons it is now known to play a major role.

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Here’s where the brain science gets interesting. Myelin exists in the brain in two forms – 1) Naturally accumulated and insulated circuits formed from an early age which are quickly labeled “natural talent” (which may in itself be a combination of genetics and exposure to certain stimuli during childhood) and 2) Myelinated circuits developed and accumulated through “diligent practice” – any repeated activity where the brain’s attention is focused.

Here’s the thing - a myelinated circuit is a myelinated circuit - it doesn’t matter how it is formed, it shows up the same way: as a strength or “talent” - the ability to process and understand a complicated set of inputs at incredibly high speeds. In particular, one common factor of highly myelinated circuits is that they operate at speeds significantly faster than the functioning of the neo cortex or “rational brain” which is where some of the mystique comes from. When we are able to do something without “thinking” we consider it talent, a strength.

Myelin explains many things: it explains how professional baseball players who have watched 1000’s of fastballs can know exactly where a fastball will land by looking at the stitching of the baseball before it ever leaves the pitcher’s hand. It explains how athletes or musicians who practice 10,000 hours or more have the opportunity to hone high-speed circuits that allow them to be predictive of the next move on the field or play notes with such synchronicity that only milliseconds separate them from the average skilled player.

Developing a talent for people: I think Myelin also explains something much more near and dear: the nature of our love affairs and friendships. I believe that the same process of developing a talent for a skill or sport through the accumulation of myelinated circuits exists in the relationships we build with people. Sometimes we have a naturally occurring “talent” for people in the form of pre-myelinated circuits that creates an instant resonance, and sometimes we develop those same circuits over time through “diligent practice,” in this case through repeated exposure to these people in an environment that requires you to learn their ins and outs. Sometimes we light up with electricity when we meet someone new and time flies and we operate at light speed in their presence and sometimes it is the opposite: it starts via a tedious and mind numbing learning process to get to know their ins and outs… BUT eventually, if forced together through circumstance long enough, and intense enough, we reach the very same place – a place of high speed intuitive understanding, friendship, and love. For example:

Diligent Practice --> Friendship. Exhibit A: Steve Shoemaker. Steve is one of my oldest friends and now one of my best friends. Foisted on each other in 9th grade in a carpool arrangement, and finding ourselves attending most of the same classes, we began spending large amounts of time together. Steve and I couldn’t be more different. Steve craves predictability and stability, I’m more of an adventurer and risk taker. Steve’s a bit of a Luddite and likes to tinker and fix old things. I love new technology and when something stops working I sell it or throw it away and buy a new one. Steve is an avid and knowledgeable collector of antiquities and has a house that is like a museum full of dozens if not hundreds of green bank teller lamps, brass portholes, early American oil paintings, and guns amongst other things. I care nothing for things and have collected close to nothing worth keeping except my bikes. Steve travels to the exact same places at the same times of the year and does the exact same routines year over year. I never vacation the same place twice and avoid routine like the plague. Steve’s father was the president and dean of a religious university and Steve is a theology professor at Harvard teaching grad students how to look to the past for universal guidelines about how to live today. I am an innovation consultant and a professor as well, but I teach grad school students how to explore the infinite possibilities of the future based on the innovative capabilities of man.

These days Steve and I get along famously despite our stark differences, but it wasn’t always so: we had to “learn” or “practice” how to get along. Through carpooling, debate, dialogue, arguments and understanding we overcame our differences and found synergy in some of our similarities including a love for speed, love for the outdoors, and intellectual curiosity. We also found a host of complementary benefits from seeing each other’s perspectives. In time we overcame the dissonance of our different approaches to life and now joke about and even admire our “eccentricities.” Said differently: through our brain chemistry, Steve and I have developed a “talent” or strength for each other by wrapping myelinated circuits to weave connections over our years together.

It’s like riding a bike. One of the magical indications of a true strength or talent, is that those talents reside perpetually even when un-activated. Once you know how to ride a bike, you always know how to ride a bike. Myelin sheaths never unwind so as soon as those circuits are reactivated, the skills and speed of the connections resume. I can (and have on occasion) spent nearly a decade without seeing Steve but like all true friendships when we see each other it is as if no time has passed and the conversation picks up without losing a beat. When we are together in the flow of the moment, time does that interesting counterintuitive thing: it both speeds up and slows down. Immersed in the rich present of the conversation time seems to stop, yet at the same time four hour dinners disappear in a flash. Always, though, afterward I’m left with a rich databank of memories and impressions, visual, verbal and emotional: of real, deep conversations about important things. This property – of time speeding by in the present only to expand in the past is another hallmark of these high speed myelinated neural circuits at work. When leveraging our strengths, when in a state of flow it is like we have a high speed camera recording the light, color, and sound.

My friendship with Steve is the “learned” talent gained through “diligent practice” talked about by Daniel Coyle in the “Talent Code,” Geoff Colvin in “Talent is Overrated” and Malcolm Gladwell in “Outliers.” I liken my relationship with Steve to the very successful if unpopular construct of the “arranged marriage.” As it turns out, divorce rates for arranged marriages are lower than traditional marriages. In some sense it makes sense – a matched couple, over time, without high expectations, develops a skill, a talent, a “love” for each other through the development of high speed circuits that allow friendship, partnership, and yes, love to blossom. But..

But… but what about “native talents” – skills from youth as an athlete, musician, singer, dancer, comedian… that seem to exist from childhood. Suddenly one child excels in an area and begins to blossom. Again using construct of myelin what most likely is happening is that certain circuits in the brain were wrapped and accelerated either through genetics or through a form of adjacent practice and suddenly a child finds his or herself with an advantage in some field of life.

These kids, with proper guidance and support go on to become Olympians, play professional sports, become musicians or artists, or become the Bill Gates or Steve Jobs of business. Does a corollary exist with relationships?

You bet – think about that time when you met a great friend or romantic prospect for the first time and talked for hours and hours and “connected” in an electric way – “like you had already known each other.”

I think that we occasionally have a natural “talent” or strength for other human beings and our pre-myelinated circuits begin firing at high speed. These sessions are noted for the following: 1 ) they happen organically and we don’t realize it is happening until.. 2) time suddenly simultaneously slows down and accelerates at the same time (flow), and the interaction starts happening at multiple levels and takes over all other stimulus and 3) at the end there is always moment of looking down at a watch or phone and suddenly realizing that 3, 5, or 7 hours have gone by it is hard to understand how so much time has passed so quickly. With the high speed circuits firing it feels like we are unwinding a river of deja-vus as the rational brain tries to catch up with the flow of the neural interactions.

Natural Talent --> Friendship (faster). Exibit B: I met Matt Dula at work one day in my first “real” job at Omni Tech in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. We talked briefly in the hallway one day and hit it off so well he suggested coming over for a glass of wine that evening. I think it was a Wednesday. We sat down on the chairs on the stoop of his porch around 7pm and talked and drank some wine. The conversation gained speed and momentum and quickly we were making patterns and leaps and finishing each other sentences and each thread of the conversation was woven deeply into a tapestry of shared meaning and understanding. We jumped from literature, travel, philosophy, religion, training, discipline, and relationships… A short time later I looked at my watch in the dark and realized it was 5am. We had talked for 10 hours straight and had to wake up for work in less than 2 hours!

This is the miracle of a native “talent” or strength for another person. Once in a great while a pattern match emerges where high speed pre-myelinated circuits are naturally aligned and interactional dynamics – verbal, non verbal, intonation, content and context – are put into warp speed. These magic connections allow you to jump past all the normal “get to know you” artifice and skip right to meaningful conversations about passions, shared experiences, and vulnerabilities.

I would say half my strong friendships are of the “instant friends” variety and the other half were gained through time and practice. In time they feel very similar – no time passes between meetings, they feature high speed verbal and non-verbal exchanges, a deep intuitive understanding of who they are and what drives them. Interestingly though, NONE of my female love interests ever took the “time and practice” route, which is an interesting note I will explore in a future post.

One thing that is notable about cases of “natural” talent for friendship is that these cases present the possibility for a great deal more drama than that of the “learned” friendships. Steve and I had a series of minor conflicts through the years as we got to know each other, but we never had particularly high expectations of being lifelong friends and also never had any serious conflicts because the stakes were low.

Conversely, the instant connection of my friend Matt and my best friend Kevin who I bonded with instantaneously created a whole different set of dynamics and expectations. When so many circuits are firing at once and everything is high speed and synchronous, a different expectation is created. Suddenly there are a couple of factors and expectations at play, 1) We will be “fast friends” and 2) We (think) we truly understand each other.

Well, despite the synchronicities, no person can truly understand the true depths of another, so when the frissons in the relationships emerge, sudden and unexpected conflicts surface that tend to carry far greater meaning than the depth or length of our relationships would suggest. This pattern gets exponentially more difficult when the dynamic emerges in a male / female relationship with the possibility for love.

Matt and I had years of great connectivity until conflict between our spouses intervened, exacerbating some areas of difference. At that point we ended up going several years without talking. But when Matt showed up for my birthday last summer everything was back 100% full speed. We bonded over chili peppers, gardening, cycling, literature, and deep philosophical musings regarding the nature of man and the meaning of life. It was like “riding a bike.”

Kevin and I also had a series of falling outs in college before we established a true baseline of our friendship that usurped all the minor drama. Like my relationship with Matt, Kevin and I fired on all cylinders and every conversation had multiple layers of nuance. As the poet Laureate at Stanford Kevin was exquisitely gifted verbally and our salvos would span ranges of complex creative conversational calligraphy – emergent patterns of alliteration, consonance, puns and poetry flowing and then ebbing into some frenetic filigree. Sadly Kevin went missing a few years ago after battles with his own internal demons.

I miss you Kevin and look forward to our next bout of wordplay, hypknowcriticism, and “nice nights” when you heal and re-emerge.

In the end I believe all these relationships come down to the same simple word: speed. Speed of understanding. Speed of the intuitive response. Speed of the body language, presence, nuance, leaning in, leaning back, eye contact or thoughtful gaze. It is electricity and 1000 things happen simultaneously in an interaction with someone you love and most of it is captured by the high speed lens of your emotional camera and then reflected through the rational brain for explanation. With the lens of trust gained through longer term exposure, the assumption of positive intent guides intentions and interpretations and the relationships deepen and accelerate further.

LOVE = SPEED (of connections)

Leveraging the base of understanding that myelin gives us of neural circuits, In the next two posts I’ll examine the notion of quitting: specifically when quitting is good, and when it is bad: jobs, activities, sports and relationships:

PT 1: KNOWING WHEN TO QUIT: THE TWO YEAR RULE

PT 2: KNOWING WHEN NOT TO QUIT: THE PROBLEM OF NATURAL TALENTScreen Shot 2014-09-21 at 6.03.47 PM

The Fiction of Chronological Time: The Reality of Experiential Time

“I don’t believe in chronological time, I don’t believe in chronological time.”

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I have written over and over about the expansion and compression of experiential time: that time, as experienced, does not follow the rhythm of the chronological ticking of the clock and instead has its own counter-intuitive yet predictable set of rules. I’ve dedicated my energy to studying these patterns and trying to understand the laws that govern the experience of time in order to maximize our perception of “experiential time” and “really live” longer.

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Recently though, I realized something. That like someone born into a religion, cult, culture, creed or time, I have been an unknowing believer in something exactly contrary to the laws that actually govern our existence. I’ve believed the equivalent of “the sun revolves around the earth.”

Specifically, my counter Galilean “theology” is that I count seconds and minutes and days as though they are equal. Part of this makes sense considering most of my life has been chasing them (seconds). That said, I have spent years gaining a very real understanding that experiential time is not linear and that it ebbs and flows based on its own set of laws. Despite this, I, the priest of this new thinking, continue to let this old school chronological thinking dominate my thoughts and planning. Somehow I continue to predict that my experience with time will be linear and chronological and meter out my expectations based on this flawed logic.

Specifically, when it comes to time intervals between key events, my stress or joy about the proximity of an event continues to arbitrarily be valued by the distance measured by chronological time. I do this despite the ample evidence that I should be using a different scale.

EXAMPLE: “If we sail too far west, we will fall off the edge of the earth.”

EXAMPLE: “I won’t see you for 2 weeks: I love you so much so I’m falling apart.”

I have time with my daughter every Wed, and every other weekend. From a chronological point of view, this means there is the possibility that I’ll go 8 days without seeing her on my off weekends. Chronologically, 8 days is a long time and after each of my long-interval Wednesdays I have this terrible moment where I get sad and anxious about our parting.

The reality is, just like any “real” friend, those eight days speed by and in the actual experience of it very little time passes between visits w/ my daughter and we pick up right where we left off. Its just like that best friend you see every few years – “its like no time has passed…” Well that’s right – no “experiential time” has passed. Life is really about the set of experiences that create impacts on your mind and heart, the rest is just noise and should be discounted and compressed.

EXAMPLE: Remember when you had a girlfriend (or boyfriend) that you were crazy about? And maybe he or she was away at college or traveling for work. In chronological time you don’t get see her that often – one, maybe two evenings a week due to travel or even less if colleges are far apart. Using the “the earth is flat” belief system, these gaps in time tend to create intense stress, sadness, “missing her” feelings. But using the logic of experiential time, the massive gravity of the experiences created when you are together are like the event horizons in a black hole – time both accelerates in the present, yet slows, even stops at the same time when you are together creating significant experiences and a sense of expansive time in memory. After you bounce out of orbit time enters a fast forward when you are apart until the next gravitationally intense meeting.

The next time I have to say goodbye to someone I love, I’m going to try and unwind my beliefs in chronological time and coach myself that no matter the interval, I will see her in “no time” – in a few experiential seconds…which will expand into days, weeks and even months of “experiential time” during our time spent together.

Repetition is the key to coaching: “I don’t believe in chronological time, I don’t believe in chronological time.”

6. The Inversion of Experiential Time: Example 1

time-travelImagine a job where your sole activity is to enter a series of randomly generated strings of letters, numbers and symbols into a monochrome computer screen. Day after day, hour after hour, minute by minute you task is to sit there reading a string of numbers off an endless stack of papers, typing them slowly, complete with mistakes and backspaces and corrections onto the screen, losing your place almost every time, and then you review and double review for accuracy, before finally pushing “enter,” whereupon the flashing code disappears, and then you type the next 30 – 50 digit letter and number combination. As you can imagine, while performing such a mind numbing repetitive task alone, each hour begins to stretch on for an eternity, each minute expanding, bloating with the boredom, the tedium, the lack of purpose. After a while, the ticking of the second hand on the clock starts to slow, and as your eyes twitch watching it tick, you realize that time has nearly stopped… (This, by the way was my college job – entering the long strings of periodical codes for the thousands of obscure journals into the school computer at Stanford’s Green Library.)

indexContrast this with another scenario. It is a Friday morning and you have just arrived to work full of manic energy. You have a huge list of to-dos for the day, because on that afternoon, after a half day of work you are flying south to the beach, or driving up north, or heading west for vacation. You work for about 5 minutes of experiential time and are horrified to look up and see 2 hours gone. You focus more intently and as you race through your tasks, the hands of time race around the clock. Seemingly 20 minutes after you arrive (but actually 5 hours later) it is time to go and you run for the elevator… Then, perhaps you forget your tickets,  go to the wrong terminal, or your daughter throws up in the security line – (it seems it is always something) but a few hours later, you manage to arrive at the resort or cottage or campsite, explore your room, go for a hike, walk down to the beach, have a cocktail, watch the sunset, have an amazing dinner, take an evening swim, have a great conversation, read a few chapters of a great book – whatever and…yet…somehow the day seems to be over as quickly as the ephemeral and fabled “green flash” of sunset over the water…

Both of these examples include about 12 hours of linear time… But in the perception of the conscious mind (the part that lives in the present), the first scenario initially felt like an eternity and the second initially felt like a fleeting moment in time…

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Now here’s where it gets interesting. Contrast the real-time experience of the ‘eternity’ and ‘fleeting moment’ scenarios with the subsequent memories of those two periods a month or a year later when they have become part of your “temporal past.”

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Odds are good that the 12 hours of the first example (typing numbers & letters) disappears altogether leaving no trace in the software of our brains and hence takes up no actual memory time (in contrast to the “eternity” it was in the present). Is it fair to say that except for its role in enabling the second scenario that that time was lost? There is more to this scenario too - when you include anticipation and planning, experiential time goes through another inversion. More on that soon.

Screen Shot 2013-06-01 at 10.30.56 PM This scenario is simplistic example of The Second Law of Temporal Dynamics: The Law of Inversion. In the next post I will describe the law in detail.

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