Saturday, 20 December 2014

Self-confidence based on realism and rationality

Learning karate has many advantages. The exercises build your muscles and improve your general health. The practice makes your body fit and your movements precise. Those benefits are indisputable and martial arts schools seldom forget to mention them in their advertisements.

However, if you ask experienced judo practitioners about the reason behind their enthusiasm for the sport, you will get a completely different answer. "The best thing about martial arts," they will tell you, "is that you learn to defend yourself in case of an attack."

Stop relying on false stories

Nothing could be further from the truth. People with no karate training are often better skilled at detecting trouble before it appears on the scene. Since they know that they are not trained for combat, they avoid physical confrontation. When they experience threats, they retreat. When they see danger, they keep away from it.

On the other hand, how often have you heard stories about some karate expert shot by a criminal in the street for refusing to surrender his wallet? In most cases, if the victim had tried to run away, he might have easily escaped. Realizing that few things are as lethal as a false sense of security has tremendous implications.

First, wrong perception. A strong belief in nonsense leads men to disregard the evidence of their own perceptions. When that happens, thinking becomes pointless, since it is no longer based on reality. Ignoring our own pain or physical discomfort is a recipe for disaster. When sensations contradict conclusions, it is high time to re-examine the latter.

Second, mistaken decisions. Relying on something that is not true is worse that confessing ignorance. Make-believe prevents individuals from acknowledging problems and looking for the right answer. Self-inflicted blindness destroys man's sense of direction and invalidates his ambitions.

How to stay out of trouble

When meeting new people, trusting what you see is the only way to form an accurate opinion about their qualities and ethical standards. Judging strangers by what they say or by their appearance is a losing proposition.

The most egregious errors are not committed out of ignorance, but by relying on false stories that we tell to ourselves. Accidents that tear apart families and companies could have been frequently prevented by reading the writing on the wall.

Being brave enough to acknowledge a gap between belief and fact is the foundation of personal integrity. There can be no honesty without courage, no serenity without consistency. Entrepreneurs trust their own perceptions and experience more than anything else. A man's ability to detect opportunities equals his willingness to focus on reality. 

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living


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Friday, 19 December 2014

Career opportunities: How to tell the propaganda apart from the truth

Do not waste your time trying to impress people who do not care for you. Most of the career advice that you will hear comes from ancient times that, actually, never existed. Make a commitment to discard what makes little sense. It is time to reshape your strategy according to reality.

Pick up a pen and piece of paper and write down the names of unsuccessful persons you know. Chances are that your list will be quite long. Look at the names and ask yourself some hard questions. Recall their individual circumstances, assess their challenges, and question their excuses.

The fundamental misconception

Some men and women in your list will be intelligent and educated. From those, a few might deserve being recognized as brilliant. Others will be highly motivated and enthusiastic. How come that they are not progressing in life? The primary reason of their failure might be their belief in false ideas, such as overwork and career planning.

Let me put forward some controversial truths. These are the kind of statements that you might have heard before but that you were too quick to discard. Reality can be disrupting, but you will benefit from acknowledging facts as they are. You might want to sit down before you read further. 

It is wise to recognise that some markets are actually closed to outsiders. Ignore the propaganda and examine the facts with a cool head. If you are trying to enter a market dominated by highly entrenched players, the undertaking might require too much effort to be worth it. People might preach openness and fairness to the gallery, while their actions show that outsiders are not welcome. Stay away from those markets. You have better things to do with your life.

Shiny things that don't mean a thing

You should also beware of seemingly attractive professions that actually offer little opportunity. College counsellors usually possess good statistics about the employment market. On that basis, they can tell students about the earnings that they can expect on their initial job should they choose, for instance, to become embalmers. 

The problem with this sort of advice lies in its short-term focus. Instead, go and talk to someone who works in your field of interest and ask how fast people can move upwards from their initial position. If the answer is unconvincing, stay away. There are plenty of professions whose markets are growing. Why on earth would you want to enlist in a losing legion?

A recipe for the next twenty years

It is also highly advisable that you steer away from careers that are heavily dependent on a particular local market. National economies and international trade are likely to transform the face of our cities in the next twenty years. 

Currencies fluctuate and importers might become exporters. Present territories of immigration might give rise to waves of emigration. Things are going to change massively in the next decades and nobody is quite sure how cards will be reshuffled. In this environment, thinking locally might bury your professional chances. Spread your risks and boost your career. Learn a foreign language and stay mobile.

Advertisements for jobs and training programmes always fail to tell you the ultimate truth: nobody cares about your career as much as yourself. Those who cheer you up with motivational talk frequently turn out to be exploitative. When it comes to your professional future, as for everything else, you will be much better off if you remain sceptic and think for yourself.

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living


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Thursday, 18 December 2014

The permanent value of rational living

We can learn a great deal from History. The details in old stories awake our curiosity. Knowing what has happened in the past gives us perspective. Trying to figure out explanations renders us thoughtful; comparing sources, insightful. Theories unconfirmed by facts prompt a man to stop, not to move. Doubts make us reflect and yearn for proof.

Teachings of permanent value

Giacomo Casanova's autobiography is an outstanding literary achievement that has elevated its author to the prototype of perfect seducer. Few novels or essays have equalled his vivid depiction of the best and worst in human nature. His portrayal of vanity and foolishness has remained fresh through the centuries, providing evidence of how little the world has changed.

Does Casanova's romantic advice still apply in the age of instant messaging and on-line dating? Are there practical lessons that we can draw from his experience? Would Casanova (1725-1798) have proven an effective seducer also in the era of mobile phones and blogs?

My answer might surprise you, but I am convinced that on-line dating would have not modified Casanova's results. His story would have been repeated, sequence by sequence, only faster. He would have become extremely successful in the short term, but eventually, as it did happen, he would have ended up in loneliness and financial ruin.

Despite the fact that Casanova was not particularly handsome, we can be sure that, if he lived today, he would have placed a fantastic photo on his internet dating profile. Through clever grooming, lighting, and composition, he would have managed to portray himself as irresistible.

Most people who date on-line don't take the trouble to do that, since they prefer to be themselves. They opt for looking as they usually do even if that makes them less popular.

Well-crafted but foolish

The text of Casanova's internet dating profile would have been well crafted. Most likely, he would not have mentioned many details about himself. Instead, he would have written what potential romantic partners want to hear. His internet chatting would have consisted of witty and flattering remarks. Empty words are as effective with foolish people today as they were two centuries ago.

We can also be sure that, in his internet dating, Casanova would have remained a relentless liar driven by short-term benefits. In the 18th century, he was a manipulator bent on immediate action. His tactics consisted of assailing preys with flowers and jewellery until the battle was won.

Would he have found contemporary romantic films too slow? Possibly. The real Casanova was as fast in charging as he was in retreating. His objective was to win and deplete the confidence of his victims. His effectiveness was measured in days. His purpose would not accept any delays. Even in the worst of times, few men possess Casanova's callousness.

Feeding the soul

Finally, we can also assume that Casanova's house of cards would have inevitably collapsed in a contemporary context. Romantic attraction without substance can never be sustained for long. If we trust literature and History, human nature has not fundamentally changed in this respect.

Extreme short-term orientation involves high psychological costs and deprives man of the possibility of attaining real affection. Being focused only on immediate benefits starves the spirit and destroys the soul.

Looking for a life's partner is an exercise in self-knowledge which needs just the time it takes. Remain true to your rational nature and learn from Casanova's mistakes. Discard a short-term approach to human relationships. It generates disproportionate costs and inevitably results in failure.

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living


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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Twice as productive, ten times more self-confident

Human beings have an innate tendency towards efficiency. Achieving maximum gains with minimum effort is in our genes. Even children, as soon as they can verbalize their thoughts, begin to show entrepreneurial traits. Their behaviour progressively evolves from the passivity of babies to the search of short-term benefits typical of adolescence.

Once we reach adulthood, most of our attempts to increase productivity take place in the realm of work. Industrial management researchers have been studying successful companies during the last forty years, trying to identify the keys to great performance. What conclusions have they drawn?

Universally valid recommendations

From the very beginning, the recommendations to be formulated by those studies were intended to have general application. Otherwise, it is clear that few would be willing to adopt them. Before accepting a lesson as scientific truth, we must prove the universal validity of its underlying propositions.

The problem with the main three recommendations in the field of productivity is that, to a certain extent, they are contradictory. What works in a certain environment often delivers poor results when transplanted to a different industry. In a sense, modern management has become the art of playing with these three formulas.

First, continuous flow. Car manufacturers have made this productivity approach their standard a long time ago. As long as the demand for cars is stable, just-in-time production works wonderfully. The trick is to keep the factory going at a steady pace. Other industries, like package-holidays retailers, are trying to implement similar techniques. The idea in that case is to use price incentives to spread the demand for package-holidays more evenly throughout the year. Continuous flow requires lots of preparation before production starts, but then, it frequently leads to spectacular results at enormous speed.

A questionable approach

Second, batch production. This method of streamlining production is the one that comes most easily and naturally to human beings. When children have to do homework consisting of several A, B, and C activities, they soon figure out for themselves that the fastest way to complete their assignment is to perform first all A tasks, then all B tasks, and finally all C tasks. Cooks in well-frequented restaurants usually keep a ready-made stock of the main ingredients that they will be needing for soups, sauces, and the like. Office cleaners tend empty all waste-baskets before they begin to vacuum the floor.

Third, multi-tasking. This approach seems to be part of the image of the contemporary professional. Accountants, lawyers, salesmen, or advertising executives speak on their headphones while they read e-mails. They exercise while they watch the news on television. They listen to audio-books while they commute to work. Indeed, performing two tasks at once gives the impression of high efficiency, but are the results in line with the image? High stress is, on many occasions, the dark side of multi-tasking. This is a method to be used with caution. 

Increased self-confidence

Productivity experts agree on which is the worst possible system of work. They call this method, or rather the lack of it, "chasing." It simply means that you are performing your tasks on the defensive, being forced to run from point A to B and then back to A in order to comply with a certain deadline. This way of working can lead to physical and business exhaustion.

Whether you employ continuous flow, batch techniques, or multi-tasking will depend on your objectives and on which resources you have available at a given time. Choose your method wisely in accordance with the situation, but become conscious of the advantages and limitations of each approach. By combining those techniques and through trial and error, you can grow into a more effective person. If you become twice as productive, chances are that your self-confidence will be multiplied by a factor of ten.

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living


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Tuesday, 16 December 2014

How to minimize annoyance and further your progress

Even when a recipe looks simple, actual cooking may demand a detailed selection of ingredients, quantities, temperature, and timing. From the hundreds of decisions that we make every week, most are automatic. We use routine to make life easy and predictable, so that we can concentrate on important matters. This is the efficient way to live. 

Dealing with contradictory information

The information we need to make choices is frequently unavailable, insufficient, or contradictory. Sometimes, we cannot even figure out what kind of details we are missing to make a picture understandable. New ideas are built on previous knowledge, which to a certain extent, has been randomly acquired.

Luckily, when solutions require complex reasoning, there are ways to shorten the process of analysing alternatives. Using our subconscious is a surprisingly reliable method to come up with correct answers. On many occasions, the conclusions we reach, will involve a new formulation of the initial questions. 

Our subconscious is specially well suited to assess situations where many elements are connected on several levels. How can we make optimal use of this approach to solve problems? These are the four steps you can take to exploit this capacity to your advantage.

Exploiting your capacity to the maximum

First, you can formulate long-term goals. Without a clear sense of direction, no one can make consistent choices. Long-term objectives allow man to minimize the impact of daily adversities and counter misfortune with rational action. The time you devote to defining your principal goals can be your best investment.

Second, you can place your problems in perspective. Few situations are really life-threatening. Exaggerating the seriousness of difficulties does not improve our ability to deal with them. Events should not be given more relevance than they deserve. Let your fundamental goals, not your feelings, determine the importance of present concerns.

Third, you can identify the driving factors of success. When dealing with trouble in unfamiliar areas, we might not even be aware of which aspects we need to consider. Each situation is driven by different elements and no man has universal expertise. Asking questions, visiting the public library, or consulting the internet will allow you, more often than not, to figure out what is crucial in the business at hand.

Fourth, you can take your time and let the information sink in. Take your time before making major decisions. Make a list of the factors that you have discovered in your initial research. Read what you can on related subjects and let your mind organize the information. Make notes and let them lead you to new details.

A new thinking pattern

After a while, you will begin to see the results of the process. The answers you were looking for might come when you are most relaxed, thinking of something completely different. It may also happen that you wake up at night and the solution occurs to you. Write it down and congratulate yourself of the good work.

Your most valuable achievement is that you have acquired a new thinking pattern. Over time, this method for surmounting obstacles can render you tremendous service. Use it to minimize annoyance from adversities and let it further your progress towards your chosen goals.

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living


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