Why You Should Design Fear and Suffering Into Your Vacations

The Art of Really Living - Time Dilation Tip #1:

Want to expand time? Want to create lasting memories that leave notches in your brain creating an ever-expanding temporal yardstick? Well, you won’t like the following advice, but this is one of the most effective tools to impact “chronoception” or perceptual time.

Design Fear and Suffering Into Your Vacations.  “What?!” you say, “why would I intentionally ruin my blissful escape from the day-to-day grind? “I’ve worked hard and suffered to earn this respite – why would I ruin it??”

Here’s why: vacations give you a freedom to escape the routine, to generate experiences that are new, different, and intense. The kind of experiences you can recall with in uncanny detail months, years, even decades later. But here’s the rub: almost always the best and most expansive memories we have involve incidents of suffering that, in the moment, were a crisis or a struggle, but with the patina of time and under the golden gloss of memory have subsequently become the highlights of the stories you tell. The human brain is wired to identify with the hero’s journey or monomyth and each hero’s journey contains elements of stress and crisis as the center of the plot. Odds are good, your best vacation stories include some sort of challenge or crisis.

Breaking it down:

  1. We, as humans, are wired for stories – facts and data are easily forgotten, but stories we remember.
  2. All stories, particularly the most memorable, have a plot.
  3. All plots have a crisis: a struggle often involving fear and suffering.
  4. If you don’t have a crisis you don’t have a plot.
  5. If you don’t have a plot you don’t have a story.
  6. If you don’t have a story you won’t have anything to remember.
  7.  ∴ (Therefore) you must design fear and suffering into your vacations. It is simple logic.

Conclusion: Sure you can go to the all-inclusive resort, lounge calmly by the pool sipping cocktails. But, when you return home a week later, and you are asked “how was your vacation?” there most likely will be moment of awkward silence, a pause as you search your memory for the thread of a narrative, and then, absent a plot, a crisis or a story, your answer will be a slightly chagrined “great!” End of conversation.

PS: Here’s an example http://www.johnkcoyle.com/taorlblog/2015/04/30/the-key-to-memorable-really-living-vacations-fear-and-suffering 

 

The Key to Memorable “Really Living” Vacations? Fear and Suffering - Part 2: Vultures in Baja

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Want to go on unforgettable, time-stopping vacations that create an indelible stamp on your memory? One guaranteed way: design in, or stumble onto some form of fear and suffering. Almost always the best and most primary memories have incidents of suffering involved that in the moment were a crisis or a struggle, but with the patina of time and under the golden gloss of memory have subsequently become the highlights of those stories you tell. The human brain is wired to identify with the hero’s journey or monomyth and each hero’s journey contains elements of stress and crisis as the center of the plot. Odds are good, your best vacation stories include some sort of challenge or crisis. Part 2: Vultures in Baja.

As a part of any vacation I always do a search online as well as ask people who have been to the destination about “secret” destinations at the locale, specifically either swimming holes, hidden beaches or dramatic overlooks that are not full of people. Back when we lived in Arizona, Baja beckoned as its vast emptiness was only a 3 hour drive from Phoenix (call to adventure) and in my research I had stumbled upon a secret swimming hole and camping spot oddly positioned dozens of miles out into the desert. It was a bartender in San Felipe, Mexico that originally told us about it in secretive tones (assistance).

A month later we drove across the Arizona - Mexico border at Yuma (departure) and immediately our senses were overwhelmed with new sights, sounds and smells. In the border town of Los Algodones the most noticeable details were the innumerable scraps of garbage flapping in the breeze and the cute barefoot children shouting for our attention as they hawked gum and tissues anytime we stopped for a streetlight.  Open air taco stands emanated blue smoke and the aromas of cilantro, onion and grilled carne asada. We exited the town to a new pattern of emanations: patches of arid desert and the dry smell of sage and dust, contrasting with blooms of humidity near stream fed cotton fields redolent of damp earth and clay. For the next 20 miles we traversed the dying entrails of the Colorado river feeding the farms serving the maquiladoras lining the border. Eventually we passed out of the farmland into the moonscape of the Baja peninsula, traversing switchbacks up into stunted outcrops of twisted rock, aprons filled with smooth white sand.

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After climbing the cordon of foothills guarding the peninsula we descended to a 100 mile stretch of dead straight tarmac across the salt flats - remnants of the tidal swings of the Sea of Cortez. Visibility was probably 50 miles in the desert air. With no other vehicles in sight, we set the convertible's cruise control at 105mph and, watching the sun start to sink to our right over the rising ramparts of San Pedro mountains, we flew south on eagle's wings.

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30 miles from San Felipe was the crossroads I had read about in advance - a paved road heading inland and climbing across the cordillera of the Sierra San Pedro before descending to the Pacific ocean.

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We turned right and headed inland for twenty miles before the key decision point from my research: "as the road bends north there will be a number of sand roads heading towards El Diablo - the tallest peak - choose one and just keep heading west."

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We were in a low slung BMW, and we were worried about bogging down, but my source had assured me, "this is a salt flat - most of the way will be like a highway until the final wadis and streams near El Diablo". We headed west on a parallel set of sand tracks. El Diablo, a 10,000 foot peak rising straight out of the sea level salt flats, grew with each passing mile. Soon we entered a 10 mile section of salt flats. To the left and right it stretched for dozens of miles but straight ahead, the "devil peak" grew ever larger and darker as the sun began to sink behind it.

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On the salt flat I let the straight six of the BMW roar and decided to see how fast we could go, hitting 110, 115, 120, 125mph before letting out the clutch and coasting towards the encroaching greenery as we entered the shadow of El Diablo.

My directions, scoured online from several sources, suggested we would skirt a horse farm before hitting the boulder strewn foothills at the base of El Diablo. There were dozens of forks in the road and we ended up circling for a while (trials) and getting nervous as the sun continued to set but after trial and error I found another fairly light set of tracks heading west and we followed them. True to the guidance, we passed a crumbling horse ranch and stable, and then finally started gaining a bit of elevation as we neared the foot of the peak (approach).

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Soon the sand lanes converged, and we entered a copse of trees in a circular space with no exit without 4 wheel drive. We had arrived. We were speechless with excitement. Above us reared a mountain that went from scorched desert to snow capped tips nearly straight up. Out of its maw was a "river" which, at this time of year, was a small trickle of a stream. As we were to discover later, in a desert with no sources of water, this trickle was a main artery for life of all sizes and kinds.

We layered ourselves with sleeping bags and pads, food and wine, and hiked 1/4 mile into the ravine where the mountain formed a cleft protecting its water source. Soon we could see it, hear it and smell it - sudden humidity in the dry desert air. Then, there it was: pools of crystal clear water flowing down from on high and heading out to dissipate in the salt and sand. We climbed onto a giant -  and I do mean giant - boulder perhaps 15 feet high, 30 feet long and 20 feet wide. It was smooth granite with a flat top and provided a space to sleep and light a fire. There was only one fairly difficult route onto its surface so we felt safe from predators.

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We did not bring a tent - this was part of the magic of desert camping - no rain and no dew. The air was cooling quickly but our boulder radiated the heat of the day to warm us even as the sun disappeared behind El Diablo. We sat and watched the desert and salt flats light up yellow then orange from the shade of our perch. We were safe and warm, dozens of miles from the next human being, but not, as it turns out, from other living things.

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After dark we lit a fire and made dinner. Then we stretched out on our sleeping bags on the smooth granite as our fire died. There was no moon yet. The Milky Way emerged so brightly that we noticed we were casting shadows from the stars. We watched satellite after satellite traverse the skies and then a meteor shower so bright we could see the smoke trails behind the burning meteorites in the deep black sky. We then fell asleep.

An hour or two later we met our first wet sticky thing. It was a frog. A tree frog. On my face. My fiancé screamed, "what is it….?? (trials) Oh Its a cute frog… oh, there are lots of them…" Over the next 15 minutes several hundred sticky wet green and yellow-eyed tree frogs hopped across our campsite, traversing our boulder lair in the sky to ponds or trees unknown. One of them, sadly, landed in a mostly empty wine glass and we discovered his drunken cadaver the next morning. We were later reminded of him by his red police chalk outline at home as we loaded the dishwasher.

An hour passed and then a new intrusion waking us up (trials): cattle. A whole herd. With bells on. They came to drink at the clear font at the base of our boulder and then continued their starlight trek south. They stayed, noisily, for an hour.

More sleep and then another interruption: another set of strange sounds but this time familiar: the sound of horsemen straight out of the movies. Lots of them. Now we were scared. Bandits? (trials) In the dark, 3 dozen horses suddenly appeared surrounding us at about 3 am. But there were no saddles and no riders. Just a band of wild horses there to drink. Another hour, and they clopped their way over the rocks and past us, straight up the mountain to places unknown.

We slept uneasily for a bit until my fiancé screamed again (trials). She was sitting up, eyes wide, and pointing.  With the flashlight I found the 8 inch long "stick bug" that had alighted on her arm in the dark. I was transfixed.

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She transferred him to me and I was fascinated - I had always wanted to see one of these strange creatures and here he was, just lounging on my arm looking exactly like a twig, but moving with robotic movements across my wrist. I let him go and we laid back down wondering what was next.

No more intruders woke us, and we slept well into the burning rays of the dawn until the desert sun heat started becoming uncomfortable. We rose, stretched, packed and climbed down to the car, loading everything swiftly and then driving the narrow track back past the horse farm and onto the salt flats. I was feeling cocky and let the engine roar again. We approached 100, 110 mph before an intuition caused me to slow… too late - a Wadi (creek) stretched before us and even after locking up the brakes, the BMW bounced down and then back up the cut in the salt flats at 50mph. We were thrown against our seat belts as we bottomed out, and as we emerged onto the salt flat the sound of the engine changed and the temperature gauge immediately began to rise as smoke started from the engine. I knew something was terribly wrong and stopped and jumped out of the car to witness all of the remaining motor oil in the engine block gushing out onto the dry salt. Peering underneath there was a baseball sized hole in the aluminum oil tank punched through like tin foil from a rock in the Wadi.

We grabbed our remaining water (slightly less than 1 gallon), and began walking, knowing full well that San Felipe was about 60 miles away and that the nearest paved road was about 11 miles further, and that it was 11am and already 100+ degrees. (Crisis) We walked. We talked… for a little and then got quiet. About an hour later we noticed the wake of vultures that had started circling us (real name for a group of vultures). I thought it was circumstantial, but after another hour the initial 2 or 3 became more like 15 and stayed directly overhead – it stopped being funny. I cursed them.

Our hope lay in the possibility of hitchhiking for the highway, but there was no rest from the burning sun. The heat was unbearable with absolutely no shade. We finished our water within two hours. Thoughts turned to returning to the car to wait until night or me running ahead to try to find help. We were beyond terrified that we could die out there and I was feeling guilt and terror that I might have killed us both.

Then suddenly… in the distance we saw it. Two dust devils, contrails of sand wisping vertically out on the salt flat and then, the faint sound of motors. Like a mirage, two motorbikes appeared in the distance across the salt flat out of nowhere. They sped directly toward us.

They were naturally curious as to our situation. "If you don’t mind me asking, why are you walking through the desert in over 100 degree temperatures?" They asked. We shared our story empty water jug in hand. They conferred, and then shared some water, then they saddled us on their bikes, turned around and rode the 6 miles back to our car. They conferred again, and then pulled out some tubes of  "liquid steel" goo, mashed two packs of it together, and slid under the car. They patched the hole with the clay-like silver material and then gave us the 2 quarts of oil they were carrying. (treasure) Our relief was palpable.

"Let it cure for an hour. It should get you to San Felipe - you can get it fixed there. Here’s some more water." Our good fortune and gratefulness was lost in their smiles and the willful adventure calling them forward - they sped off in the desert in a trail of dust. An hour later we started the car, peering under the chassis to determine that the patch was holding. It held. We drove, slowly, with only two quarts in an engine that holds six.

We drove slowly and made it to San Felipe without overheating (results) . We bought more oil and inquired about repairs. 7 days for the part they said, another day to do the repair. That wasn't going to work, so we spent a day at the beach and an evening on the town, reveling in our good fortune.

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The following day we drove all the way home at 45mph… 7.5 hours to Phoenix on a drive that normally took 5, with a band-aid of liquid steel holding our oil pan together but made it without event (return).

Home at last we began to unpack and re-discovered the outline of the upside down drunken frog in one of our wine glasses. We marveled about that trip for years and wanted to recreate it, (new life) but our next visit found us barred by the Mexican military as the area had started to become a drug trafficking center (result). I suppose it was for the best - any return would only have diminished the magic of that starry starry night, casting shadows from the stars.

A Really Living / Event Horizon Moment: Four Movements in Time

Core to the philosophy of the Art of Really Living is creating those intense, memorable moments that slow time. Designing the "Four Movements in Time" performance did exactly that and became a fractal of itself. By performing a show about about really living and creating event horizon moments we simultaneously created a really living event horizon moment in the form of the show. Time slowed dramatically in preparation for the show. The intensity was probably the highest for me as I had two roles and the lion's share of the content. The event featured all 5 components associated with an event horizon moment:

  1. EMOTIONAL INTENSITY: Talk about terrifying. I've never written poetry before, much less performed it as a rant in front of an audience. 81 lines to memorize while flipping slides, changing the lighting with a remote, holding up props, and then changing roles and personas to the TED talk 5 times during the show. That said, hearing Ani play and watching Tess interpret the message flooded me with joy to be associated with such talent and see it come to life.
  2. PHYSICAL INTENSITY: not for me, but certainly Tess (and Ani) were putting it out there physically as you can see in the photos below. The volume of Ani's playing and dramatic dynamics literally gave me goosebumps. Tess's movements are startlingly athletic and flexible.
  3. UNIQUENESS: This was not like anything I or we had done before and really stretched all of us I think. The mix of piano concerto designed in flow with a TED talk about time, syncopated with a poetry rant interpreted through modern dance was unforgettable.
  4. FLOW: I had moments of flow in preparation - especially when I memorized the rant / manifesto and then once on stage I experienced it most of the time I was up there - I assume the same was true for Ani and Tess. It was 80 minutes long but was over in a second.
  5. BEAUTY: The endless sustain of the final chords of the prologue, Ani's elegant black dress and cheekbones, the lights and colors of the slides and lights with the gorgeous face and movements of Tess and a message I believe is beautiful as well: all this fractalized into a micro of the macro message.

Below are some photos from the event. We also captured it in video - not sure when or how we might share it. Regardless we will do it again.

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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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How To Maximize the Non-Linear Nature of Experiential Time and Live (almost) Forever

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNhyOYv2ejw[/embed] Are you Killing Time or Making Time? This is my life's passion, please comment and let me know your thoughts.

-John

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A Perspective on Time and Speed: Guest Post from Tom Stat

Tom is a great friend, colleague and former partner at IDEO in Chicago and an horologist in his own right. A few end-of-the-year thoughts from Tom: ---------

As the Earth completes its orbit around the Sun, marking what we call one full year, and we somewhat arbitrarily celebrate the beginning of a new year (there’s no start or finish line in our orbit around the sun), I thought I'd try to put all this in perspective.

First, we make up this thing we call "time." Someone once said we did so this so that everything doesn't happen all at once. There is no now, no past and no future. Time exists only as our sensory experience of mass and space. And mass and space depend on distance - where things are, so to speak, in relationship to other objects, how fast you may be moving relatively, etc.

In the vast expanses of the Universe, we are tiny little beings gravitationally stuck to the surface of a tiny little planet, orbiting an average star 93 million miles away. And our star is one of over 200 billion stars in a relatively average galaxy of stars (we call our galaxy the Milky Way because on a very clear night a swath of "milkiness" seems to span the sky - this is us looking at the billions of other stars that make up our galactic disk "edge on"). There are over 100 billion other galaxies in our known Universe. There may be other universes (I suspect they are made up mostly of lost socks, keys, wallets and mittens)

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Despite our isolation, we're moving pretty fast.

The Earth's rotation on its axis (one day) means that you're moving at 1000 mph.
The Earth's rotation around the sun (one year) is at a velocity of 66,000 mph. 
In our galaxy's local neighborhood of stars, our solar system is moving at a out 43,000 mph.
 And our whole galaxy is spinning (one galactic year) and based on our location, we’re moving at about 483,000 mph.

Add all that up and at some point, with respect to some other Galaxy, we're all moving at close to 600,000 miles per hour through space!

Sounds fast, but our galaxy (the Milky Way) is about 100,000 light years in diameter (that’s 587 quadrillion (after a trillion) miles across). So even at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second!) it would take 100,000 years to get to the other side. At a mere 600,000 mph, better pack a lunch.

So, if time seems to sometimes fly by and sometimes stand still, perhaps this is why.

It is Time: To Slow Time, to Expand Time, to Create Time

FullSizeRender I want to climb the ladder of my internal clock

I want to clock the ladder of my internal climb

I want to slow the hands of father time

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And time the slow hands of my fatherhood

I want to kiss my young child’s forehead and wake to find her still a child

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I want to love the loves of my life and live a life that I love

I want to sleep the dreams of heroes and be the hero of my dreams

I accept this kind of life may mean suffering for me

I will choose this suffering rather than let it choose me

It is time to create event horizons where meaning supersedes all

It is time…. to create moments of such gravity where time ceases to exist at all

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For the people we truly love, this one sacred gift we can give

The gift back of time:  It is time… to “really live”

 

"Every man dies, not every man really lives"

"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

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

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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.

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