Josh Waitzkin

Why Your Brain Can’t Decide Everything

Why Your Brain Can’t Decide Everything

It takes just seven numbers to break you down.

Psychologist George Miller revealed this back in 1956 and wrote a paper entitled "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two". 

Quit Relying on Reaction

We need to stop wishing the cute barista at the coffee shop is going to come up and talk to us. Or the hot girl at the ice cream shop. Or the hot guy playing fetch with his dog at the park. Sure, you might make some good eye contact and even catch a smile. But what if you were doomed to live a Groundhog's Day existence where no one would ever approach you again? My guess is you'd learn pretty quickly that the way to get what you want is not by wishing you could just react. You need to be proactive. You need to stand up. You need to open your mouth. 

Too often we're caught talking out the side of our mouths explaining how much we hate to be told what to do. No one wants to have orders barked at them. We want to be in control. We want to do what we want to do. And then we wake up to jolting alarm clocks. We roll over and surrender our beautiful morning thoughts to checking the emails, texts, and tweets we didn't see when we put our heads to the pillow the night before. We spend our primetime hours at work delivering on tasks for our managers and relinquish our nights and minds to all kinds of entertainment on screens. The day is lost in responding too often to the outside world.

And it makes sense. There is comfort in our routines and there is fear when it comes to certain decisions. It's much easier to react to the alarm clocks of our days then pick with assurance from the infinite amount of pathways available. If you've ever cracked open Netflix with your friends for a movie night you can follow. 

We want what we want and we don't want to choose. But, in the end, the choice is yours and it's being made one way or another.

Josh Waitzkin, author of The Art of Learning and the chess champion inspiration for the book/movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, calls this the multitasking virus when it comes to the learning process. In an article titled The Multitasking Virus and The End of Learning? on Tim Ferriss' blog Waitzkin wrote this:

"We obviously live in a world that bombards us with information, and we feel the need to respond to stimulus as it comes in. The problem with this is that we get stretched along the superficial outer layers of many things. I believe in depth over breadth in the learning process."

Yes, we are social creatures, so the "need to respond" is real. You're not going to simply ignore everyone that doesn't fit your mold; you're not a sociopath. The trouble, psychedelic explorer and author Terence McKenna would say, is that we are programmed by culture. McKenna takes it to a spiritual extreme although the essence was there when he lectured that culture "invites people to diminish themselves and dehumanize themselves by behaving like machines.

We're spending all of our time putting out fires ignited by other people that we barely take the time to really dive into what's inside us, what we want from life when all the chores and notifications fade away.

Questioning yourself is uncomfortable, no doubt. You need to consider the very real and very short time you have on this planet to understand what you really want to do with it. Your dreams have to be thrown around your mind and set in front of the mirror, examined from all sides. You have to go deep.

But when all of that is said and done, you have one added benefit: There is strength in knowing what you want and going for it. Deciding for yourself gives you the determination and confidence to attack. Waitzkin explains it like this, "One of many problems with multi-tasking is that the frenetic skipping leaves little room for relaxation, and thus our reservoir for energetic presence is constantly depleted." There is no true hack for the to-do list. Sometimes you just need to throw it away. Wake up and take action.

Because there is no kill switch. And if you're honest with yourself, you wouldn't pull it anyway. Life will more than likely blindside you with a couple of curveballs here and there, but it's only half the fun and challenge in reacting to them, don't make it everything.

The Problems with Personal Development

We can be better.

It's not that you're not good enough as it is, it's not that any of us can be perfect. It is the fact that there will always be problems and we need to deal with them. You can't wish away problems like you can't wish away the seasons, illness or death. They will happen. 

And because there is no magic bullet to your problems, there is only one way to handle them - be better. Personal development guru Jim Rohn used to recommend not wishing for less problems, but wishing for more skills. 

And yet there are some people in this world that ignore this reality. They might accept the endless problems but they constantly complain and point them out to the rest of the world without doing anything. Some, arguably worse, don't even see problems with solutions. They dream of a utopia where problems float away for no rhyme or reason. 

There is serious denial in believing that you don't need to work on yourself to better deal with the problems around you. The backlash is everywhere. There are people in this world that pull back from personal development. They discourage you from writing out your goals. They question your adventures. They shake their heads in disbelief.

And I know, I've done it myself. To myself. 

Writing notes from a podcast while on the subway I could feel the eyes of the person sitting next to me, staring down at my phone with the folds of skin on his forehead crunching together. "What is he doing," I can feel him asking himself, almost annoyed and aggravated that I would stand to make myself better, making notes like "Meditation is as deep and as powerful a tool as any I can possibly describe" from Josh Waitzkin, the chess world champion and inspiration for the book and film Searching for Bobby Fischer.

What is the big deal? What is the backlash? Why is there such a stigma with wanting to improve yourself? I have some ideas.

Success is easy and it's not. 

It's simple to see why it's not. The models of success we're given are beyond our grasp - Bill Gates, Michael Phelps, Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan. They appear larger than life, talented from birth. But if we take an extra second to ponder it, we know it's not true. We just know they put in enormous amounts of work to craft their genius.

And yet, success is easy. Why? For exactly the same reason. We dress it up with tips and tricks, but the truth can't be said more clearly than through the words of Jim Rohn: "Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day." That's some boring shit right there. Most of us are successful brushing our teeth every morning and eating some kind of dinner every night. Big deal. The real success is preparing yourself for the challenges down the road and meeting them with everything you have and have practiced for. You don't arrive crowned champion, it is a test. Or as Ryan Holiday, former Director of Marketing for American Apparel and author of The Obstacle is The Way, has this to say: "Make it happen. Nobody cares what it will take, what problems this causes for you, what personal stuff you have going on. Just get it done.

White Guys in Suits

The Eighties were a weird time. And the story we seem to still tell ourselves is personal development is white guys in suits doing workshops. You can envision the over-excited, high-volume figurehead on the stage, shouting down to businesspeople mantras and acronyms while they drank it in, dreaming of their salaries jumping each year. 

Cliches abound and we need to get past it. Personal development is not a white man in a power suit. Personal development is not just about numbers - bonuses, salaries, or sales figures. It doesn't mean you have to step on people to get anywhere. You're competing with no one but yourself. This is the truth.

You're Scared

When it comes down to you, why not be better? You're scared. It is never as simple as self-help authors say it is. You need to act. It's easy and it's not. And if you do manage to reach the top of the mountain, you'll find yourself oddly alone. Or so you think.

George Bernard Shaw wrote, "There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it." We stay in our bubble because we're afraid of what's outside. We prefer safety to the amazing wonders we can find pushing ourselves to become someone we don't even recognize - a powerhouse of potential.

Where does that leave us? Was there ever a leg to stand on against making yourself into someone better? You know it's not easy and you know it's not hard. It is whatever you make it. 

There is no denying there will always be problems, so why not swallow that painfully simple truth and enjoy working on the solutions? After all, we're in this together, for better or worse.