Category Archives: Mind

The Word Made Flesh

According to Answer.com:

“The average person, in an average lifetime, speaks 370,110,001.3 words on average, averagely speaking.”

What did you say?

say what???Can you recall the last thing you said to anyone? If that was the last thing you ever say, would you like to be remembered for it?

Most of us cannot remember the very first word we ever said nor the last. We say so many things that it really is very difficult to keep track of what we say. But really we should keep track because words are powerful and they affect our daily lives far more than we would ever imagine.

A little on Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)

Subconscious MindWords and language are heavily associated with the logical side of the brain, so one might assume that words will have very little to do with our emotions and behaviour.  But the truth is the memory of a word is stored not only on the logical side of the brain but also on all parts of the brain that are activated when the word is heard or spoken.

In the real world, words always happen within some context. We experience words while we are talking to friends, while we read, while we argue with someone, as someone is grilling us (or vice versa) or when we watch TV. And so as words happen, feelings, emotions, images and other things that come with the experience, are all associated with these words as they happen. This is how we are programmed neuro-linguistically. Depending on how often and how intense the experiences that link to a word, the stronger the program will be. Even more interestingly, since all of this happens while we are deeply engaged or focused on something else, most of the “programming” occur subconsciously.

loveThe mere sight or sound of a word can trigger physiological and behavioural changes without your being aware of it. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink’, he discusses several studies done to see how words affect behaviour.  They found out that exposure to certain words associated with old age, for example, would cause people to walk significantly slower, than their normal pace. When made to read or listen to words associated with aggression, people were inclined to be more assertive after reading or hearing those words than when they were not to exposed to the words. When asked after the experiment, if these people were conscious of the change in their behaviour, they would reply that they weren’t.

Another study wanted to know if test scores would be affected by bias statements made to people tested before the exam.  When the group was told that women generally scored lower than men in that test (there is no real basis for this claim), women scored significantly lower than men. But when the group was not told anything, there was no significant difference in the scores of men and women. The bias statement became a self-fulling prophesy.

Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) harnesses this phenomenon for various purposes like training, psycho-therapy and even marketing. By creating, breaking or utilizing the natural associations that exist between words, images and emotions, NLP practitioners are able to direct behaviour towards those that are desired. Telemarketing scripts, sales-demos and adverts that make use of the principles of NLP can be very persuasive. I will discuss NLP in more depth future articles but for now, what you need to know is that words have a powerful effect on behaviour and whether or not you intend to, your words affect the world around you.

Why do words exist?

hieroglyphicHumans as a species could not have advanced as it did, had it not been for our ability to communicate at a level that we do.  Words can recreate an entire experience for someone who had never experienced it.  Who can say what the first word was, if it was a sound or a symbol? Whatever it was, I think we can safely say that it’s purpose was to convey and idea from one mind to another. Once the first word was uttered, we have never stopped talking since.

Over time we have super-refined our systems of communication and our words have acquired the ability to conjure up complex scenarios that can be transmitted not only across distances but also across time. And words have become both the boon and the bane of our lives. Although consciously our minds are able to filter through and validate information, unconsciously, which is how vast amounts of information are processed, everything else is absorbed, stored literally and assumed to be true. And so goes our adventures and misadventures with words.I am loved!

What do you say to yourself? What do other people say to you? What do you say to other people? Pay attention to the scripts in your life. It will unwittingly determine how your story unfolds.

Our problem with words comes from the very reason we use words in the first place. Words are spoken to create in the mind of a listener (or reader), a thought that wasn’t previously there. Words put thoughts into your head. Even if I say to you, “Don’t think of a purple tiger!” Your focus will inevitably jump to a purple tiger, the one that you are not supposed to think of. And the more you try not to think of something, the more it pervades your thinking. The only way you can stop thinking of the purple tiger is to think of a pink elephant or anything else as long as it isn’t a purple tiger.

Laugh more!This why when people tell you, “Please don’t panic.” you start to panic. Or when they tell you “I don’t want you think that I’m lying.” you begin to wonder if they are lying even if you wouldn’t normally think that. Whenever a person speaks from his fear, he transmits that same fear to his listener in part through his words. Since a great many people tend to speak mainly from their fear, it spreads like an epidemic.

Of Curses and Prophesies

I think I’ve made my point that words are powerful. Once they are said out loud or in your head, they have already changed the course of thought in someone’s mind. Now, the next thing you must seriously consider is what do you say to yourself and what you say to others, like your spouse, your children, your staff at work or the people you interact with.

All is well in my life.When a person asks you “How are you?” do you start a litany of things gone wrong in your life or do you say life’s been great? When your child is running around do you tell him he will fall and break his neck or do you tell him to be careful? When your spouse eats a lot of pork fat do you tell him that he will get a heart attack or do you tell him you really want him to stay healthy.  Do you tell your staff that your company is not making enough money, or do you tell them that your company’s goal is to achieve sustainable growth? The way you talk and the words you choose when you talk creates moods and tendencies around you.

Often, the intention is to make things better, but since the focus is on the problems and on the things that are feared, the scenarios created by saying them are all made real in the mind of both the speaker and the recipient. And if this is done habitually, the people who are the constantly receiving these messages are inadvertently programmed to accept them. These are the modern-day prophesies and curses. Without meaning to, these prophesies and curses are made by planting images in people’s minds through repeated hypnotic messages. A word when spoken cans set a chain of events in motion the impact of which you may never know.

Of Prayers, Affirmations and  Blessings

How then can you protect yourself and your loved ones from curses and bad prophesies? For one thing, you can make positive prophesies. From all the possible outcomes, choose the best one and declare it out loud for all to hear. The greater the number people who hear it, the more minds to carry that thought. Make it a point to wish people well whenever possible. A kind word, a simple greeting or a sincere compliment can change the course of a person’s day in ways that can never be quantified.

Irish BlessingAnother to way to protect people (including yourself) with your words is through prayers, spoken out loud or silently in your mind. Of course, prayers spoken out loud are more powerful because they involve more people. When praying (as when speaking) let your prayers come from your hopes and aspiration, not from your fears. Your prayer should be more like, ‘Keep us safe.’ or ‘Grant us success’ rather that ‘Don’t let us die.’ or ‘Please keep us from failing.’ Stating your prayers in the positive, expresses your faith in Divine goodness and draws the mind towards better things.

Get into the habit of making positive affirmations. While a prophesy is a statement of things to come, an affirmation is a statement of what is. Bless yourself and others profusely with positive affirmations. Much of our self talk are affirmations of beliefs mostly unverified and assimilated unconsciously and whenever you make positive affirmations, you plant seeds of good in people’s minds.

Can DoPay attention to what you tell yourself.  This is often difficult because when you try to listen to your self talk, you stop talking.  The best way to catch yourself in negative self talk is to try to catch the end trail of what you say to yourself when you are in a really bad mood. Try to find those sweeping statements that often contain words like ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘I am’. ‘He is’, ‘She is’ or ‘They are’. ‘I am such an idiot.’, ‘I always fall for that.’, ‘She never listens to me.’,’They are going to screw me, I just know it.’ Over time the person becomes so convinced that these are the only possible outcomes or conclusions that they become the default expectations. And because they expect it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Start  consciously replacing these negative affirmations with positive ones.  Negative self talk is a habit and in order to break that habit you need to replace it with a better one. You can train your self to habitually make positive affirmations by committing to do it everyday for a month (roughly the time needed to build a habit).

Also pay attention to your metaphors.  They are often the paradigm you use in life. When you think of your life as a battle, you are always metaphorically fighting some war, and people are categorized as enemies or comrades. When you refer to people as work horses, you are always metaphorically cracking the whip, to get people in line.  When you think of life as a rat race, you are always ‘running a maze’ to get ahead of the other ‘rats’. Anthony Robbins, a success coach, suggests that if you want to change your life, change your metaphors. Find the metaphors that are enabling not limiting or demeaning.

Of Forgiveness and Gratitude

I'm sorry, please forgive me.

Sometimes even with the utmost care and consideration, we still manage to hurt other people.  When that happens, asking for forgiveness (sincerely) is a very effective way to heal the hurt. Apologies are like a soothing balm that allows people to heal faster. Always be quick to apologize when you realize that you have cause someone pain. Your relationships will be better for it.

Thank youFinally, there is gratitude. Gratitude is the multiplier of blessings. Whenever you say “Thank you!” for anything you send out a message to the giver and everyone else around that you have been blessed by their gift or their actions and for some reason that sets in motion a flow of blessings. Our gratitude bestows on the giver the grace of giving and manifests the grace in receiving. Gratitude makes the giver a more willing to contributor and the receiver a more worthy recipient .

Words are powerful. As with all power it comes with responsibility. Let us be generous with praise and mindful of that our words should do no harm. The best way to track your words is to think before saying them, because once spoken, words can never be taken back and whatever good or damage it can do, it will have already done. The world can be a better place if more people used the power of their speech to express kindness, create and uplift.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”–John 1:1

Engage the Youth

Absorbed in video gamesIs our youth losing their interest in studying?

We are finding it harder and harder to get our kids to buckle down and study, which begs the question, have children lost their values? There was a time when very few individuals would challenge their parent’s expectation that they finish their education. But as we move deeper into the age of high-tech, more of our youth are rejecting this path. Teens seem to be very uninterested in their studies. Parents complains are that ‘children are too distracted’ or that ‘kids today don’t value education enough’ but is this really so?

I think not. It’s not that our youth don’t care about education or that they are too preoccupied with so many other things that they can’t focus on their studies. People are voracious learners, children more so, and given enough latitude, they will seek out things to learn on their own. I think the youth have already decided how they want to be educated and they are quite committed to educating themselves, only not in the places we insist they go to for education.

Our Educational Models are Flawed and Outdated

Student-defined LearningMany parents would be glad if their children would spend less time on Facebook, YouTube, Tumbler or the like, believing that these are taking away from their children’s study time. Parents need to understand the reason why their children spend so much time connecting with friends and watching all those videos. It is because videos are an incredibly efficient way to learn. Understand that I am not advocating that children be left alone to do as they please. What I am saying is that parents should allow their children to learn in an environment where they are most engaged and where they are most inclined to learn.

Studies have shown that children learn best when they study in groups. They direct their own focus of study based on the needs of the group. Individuals contribute their own understanding and everyone is brought up to speed by the members who already ‘get it’. Kids learn better and retain more information when they are allowed interact freely within diverse study groups of mixed ages.

Notably also, much learning is achieved by watching and doing. Children in a natural environment will learn most skills by watching other people do it. That is why YouTube is up there among the favourite ways teens choose to learn how to do something, whether it be to dance, to play the guitar, to skateboard or to turn their phones into a musical instrument.

Let the World be their Oyster

In a TED talks video, Chris Anderson discusses how web video powers global innovation. He notes how the arts and  sports have progressed so rapidly since streaming video became available over the internet. Dancers, musicians athletes and pretty much anyone could show off their ‘stuff’ on YouTube. Other people would watch, comment and build on their work and in turn post their own improvements. It’s collaborative learning on a global scale. Everyone has access to information from people who have already made significant headway in their particular field of interest, accelerating the learning process geometrically.

This has created a surge of innovation in almost every field especially in technology, art and sports because whether we will admit it or not, the best teachers are no longer found in the classrooms, they are out there in the world, making things happen and teaching us all through video and blogs and wiki if you would only care to learn.

I have therefore come to the conclusion that if there is only one thing that governments, schools and parents can do to impact education most profoundly, it would be to provide every child with a good computer and a high quality internet connection and allow the world be their school.  Give children the access to the best that is out there and you give them the opportunity to transform our world for the better.

I leave you with 3 videos. The first video discusses the flaw in our current educational paradigm and why it direly needs to be updated.  The second video makes an argument for “Crowd Accelerated Innovation” and how this could possibly turn the 9 billion people on earth into “net contributors instead of net plunderers”. The third video presents a radically new educational model that actually engages the youth, and makes them want  to stay in school. Watch and learn.

Education Paradigms

RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms

Video length: 11 mins. and 41 secs.

Learning in Real Life

Chris Anderson: How Video is driving innovation

Video length: 22 mins. and 3 secs.

The Studio School

Geoff Mulgan: A short intro to the Studio School

Video length: 6 mins. and 16 secs.

What People Want

Cliff-hanging

What motivates people?

There are several models of behaviour that try to explain what drives people to do things. I will discuss 3 models briefly.  Namely they are the Pleasure-Pain Principle, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Whole Person Paradigm.

The Pleasure-Pain Principle

The Pleasure-Pain Principle explains behaviour simply as a response to perceived  pain or pleasure. Depending on the nature of the stimulus, the resulting behaviour will be motivated by either the desire to get pleasure (the equivalent of reward) or compulsion to avoid pain (the equivalent of punishment). The human brain, on an instinctive level, is hot-wired to respond automatically to situations in the environment that would be associated with reward or punishment, most especially punishment. The fight or flight response is triggered within split seconds of sensing a threat, even before the person becomes consciously aware of that threat. It is an evolutionary feature that ensures survival.

This of course, is an oversimplification of man’s motives, and it cannot really explain complex behaviours that tend to defy this predisposition, like when a person risks his life to save a child with whom he has no ties or a person who intentionally endures immense physical strain to heighten spirituality or to gain fame. Behaviours like these do not quite fit the model. On these occasions the pain that a person wilfully endures tends to contradict the instinct to avoid pain or seek pleasure. When a person acts instinctively, his behaviour will inevitable comply with this principle, however the person can override this tendency by exercising choice, that is, he can choose to act otherwise.  This too, is an evolutionary feature that allows a human to consciously override an instinctive tendency when it is no longer appropriate.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow came up with his own theory, that human needs follow a hierarchy. In this theory a person’s needs are expressed in levels. See diagram below.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the most basic needs are the physical and biological needs  (at the bottom), followed by the need for safety. Above that is belongingness and love, then esteem and finally, the highest human need is for self-actualization. This model suggests that If a lower need is not yet met, then higher needs will not motivate.

This means that if a person has not yet completely met his very basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter, he will be motivated only by whatever meet his current needs, which is in this case, are the biological and physical needs. The higher needs for Safety, belongingness and love, esteem and self-actualization will not motivate him at this point, not unless his basic needs are first met. And as each level of his need is met, the higher unmet need becomes a strong motivator and the needs that have already been met will become a much weaker source motivation.

This appears to be a slightly more accurate model of human motivation. When a person lacks his most basic needs, he would tend to be oblivious to all his other higher needs, however as we move up the ladder of needs, the hierarchy it would seem, begins to blur and the actual progression doesn’t always follow the proposed order. People do seek out these higher needs but not always in the manner predicted by this model.

The Whole Person Model

Stephen Covey inEffectiveness to Greatness, discusses a different motivation paradigm, the ‘Whole Person Model‘. Covey does not claim this concept to be his own, but rather considers the whole person model as the application of timeless principles that have remained unchanged throughout time.  This by far to me, has been the most solid model of motivation that I have studied. his book the 8th Habit From 

The Whole Person Model
The Whole Person Model

The whole person model considers all aspects of a person as an integral part of the whole. A person’s physical (his body), mental (his mind), social (his heart) and spiritual (his spirit) aspects must all be given equal importance because when one part is neglected, the person’s life becomes unbalanced and he would suffer as a result of the imbalance. In this model, human motivation can be classified as one of four, to live, to love, to learn and to leave a legacy.

A person needs to sustain his body, that is, he needs to eat right, exercise and get enough sleep (physical). He will also need to love and be loved; to sustain sound and meaningful relationships with his family, friends and possibly a life partner (social). These 2 needs are very powerful and urgent. Their neglect will impact a person’s life almost immediately, which is why many people focus almost entirely on these two needs.  Some people resort to quick fixes like fast food meals to gratify hunger, caffeine overload or drugs to fight sleepiness or exhaustion. A person might also resort to illicit affairs or one night stands to soothe the sting of domestic turbulence or avoid unbearable loneliness. Quick fixes allow a person to go on with his life for some time without having to fully address the need.

The need to keep learning and mastering a skill is also a very fundamental need for people (mental), although often neglected. Very few people are even aware of this need because it is less urgent than the first two, and yet we all know the deep and profound satisfaction whenever we have mastered a skill or discipline. Video games are so popular and  addicting because with every level-up the need for mastery is satisfied and it leaves a person feeling ecstatic, however superficially. Often times we get by through petty indulgence but in time we do feel the impact of neglecting this need.

Leaving a legacy, or having a meaningful purpose for one’s life is yet another need that is often neglected. For the most part, spending life in routine work happens without much thought. Even if a job fails to engage a person’s passions or doesn’t provide the person with opportunities for growth, he can still be sufficiently occupied and sometimes even exhausted by the activities that the job requires of him.

In the absence on any meaningful purpose, crossing out items from the daily to-do’s list sometimes poses purpose for living. We can keep this up for a fairly long time without any apparent consequence, however being deprived of a meaningful purpose for so long will take its toll, often times reaching crisis proportions. At that point it will need to be addressed urgently.

Mid-life is payback time.

Sometimes, because of culture or circumstance, a person might neglect one or more of these aspect, and this would inevitably result in a person experiencing some form impairment . Over time this would result in a deterioration of the person as a whole. Unless a person continually addresses all his needs without neglecting any, he will not be able to sustain his well-being.

Enter mid-life. By the time we reach 40 years of age (give or take a few years) any of our needs that we may have neglected in our life thus far, begins to poke at us. Many find that at around 40 they feel stricken with panic or depression upon realizing that half of their life is gone and they have nothing to show for it. If a person neglected his health, this would be the period in one’s life where their doctor would diagnose lifestyle illnesses like hypertension, diabetes or worse.

For instance, a person who spends all his time working, trying to build wealth while neglecting to nurture the relationship he has with his family, finds that his marriage and family life is strained or broken. Or if a person fails to exercise or eat properly, his health will eventually begin to suffer. A person who neglects his need to learn, will find that he has stopped advancing in his career and all his skill have become obsolete. Eventually the void created by chronic neglect will cause so much discomfort, that the person will be compelled to focus on them or risk suffering painful loss if that has not already happened. The individual has to achieve balance in all the areas of his life. When he fails to do this he will experience distress and a deep sense of lack.

On the other hand, when a person manages to give ample attention to all of these parts of himself, he finds the most fulfilment in life. His health is good, his relationships are rewarding and his career is progressive and prosperous. He is at peace with himself and enjoys his life fully. You will also find this person fully engaged in purposeful service. These are the indicators that life is in balance. One cannot really put one part aside while he develops the other. All parts have to be developed simultaneously otherwise growth and well-being cannot be sustained.

What employers (and parents) absolutely need to know

Employers and parents need to understand this principle. Many focus on a single part of the whole person and disregard everything else.  An employer might pay their people handsomely, promoting them when they keep long hours and work through holidays and weekends. And this might actually translate into great productivity, but only for a short time. Some may focus only on making profits and this too might achieve positive results but it will only be short-lived. After some time, focusing only on only one aspect, the employer will find that the system begins to cave in on itself.  The workaholics burn out. And a company’s single-minded focus on profits would inadvertently give rise to many self-defeating practices in the workplace.

An interesting study shown in the video below,  illustrates this concept quite perfectly. It shows time and again, that human motivation is complex yet organized around the basic principles of the whole person model. People will seek to satisfy all the parts of their being, once their basic needs have been fulfilled. When people cannot fulfil all their needs completely at work, they will seek to fulfil it elsewhere. If they don’t, something breaks down.

Our general assumptions of what really motivate people are flawed.  The ‘Great Jackass Theory of Motivation’ doesn’t really work. You cannot simply use the ‘carrot and stick’ (reward and punishment) method to manage people even children. At best, this method can get compliance, no more. For many, the reward and punishment system is demeaning, because it fails to recognize that people can and will make impeccable choices when given trust, authority and a clear purpose, without having to be bribed or threatened.

Getting people to do their best work paradoxically requires less external rewards than employers and parents previously assumed. Often times, the quickest way to inspire excellence from anyone is to simply provide them with a clear direction and then get out of their way.

 RSA Animate – Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us

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