Friday, 28 April 2017

Why reason and prudence are preferable to unbridled positive thinking

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"Just do it, go for it, do not hesitate." Those pieces of advice are omnipresent in our culture. Will you follow them, and place your life at risk? Will you act now without thinking of tomorrow's consequences? 

I very much hope you don't because, instead of solving your problems, you would only be placing your future at risk. Instead of improving your life, you would only be jeopardising your assets. 


Wisdom starts and ends with reality. Opportunities need to be rationally assessed, investments carefully researched, alternatives prudently weighed. If you make important decisions on the spur of the moment, you will commit grievous errors. Blind enthusiasm is not the way to go. 

Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher who lived twenty-six centuries ago, already warned us against exaggerated pursuits. “A wise man does not rush,” he wrote. Wise men are prudent and steady, not foolhardy and over-anxious.

Calmness, realism, and patience may not be popular these days, but they work a million times better than hot-headiness, rashness, and wishful thinking.

You will do much better if you assess the distance before you jump. You will advance much faster if you look ahead and circumvent obstacles, rather than crashing against them.

Japanese management techniques provide us detailed prescriptions about how to enhance our prudence and effectiveness. And those prescriptions do not require us to maintain a cheerful appearance at all times. 


Rationality, not enthusiasm, is the key to getting things done quickly, with high quality, and without errors. In particular, you want to avoid the three major negative consequences of unbridled positive thinking, three consequences that the Japanese have named "muri,” “mura,” and “muda." 

"Muri" means excessive physical or mental strain, which tend to have detrimental effects. We all know that over-stressed individuals often experience anxiety, insomnia, and a higher propensity to infections. Do not allow yourself to fall into the “muri” trap. If you avoid over-commitments, you will do much better in life. Keep a cool head. Protect your health, and be realistic about how many hours you can work.

"Mura" is a synonym of "unevenness" or "irregularity." It means that, on Monday, you perform a fair amount of work; on Tuesday, you do a bit less; and on Wednesday, you do three times as much as on Monday, with the result that you feel exhausted, irritable, and out of control. Although unevenness can make you look creative and enthusiastic, it will inevitably drain all your energies. Definitively, this is not a good way to live.

"Muda" means "waste" and includes all types of actions that consume our resources, but fail to advance our cause. Typically, those are errors we commit when we give more weight to your enthusiasm than to our logic. Examples of “muda” are performing unnecessary tasks, engaging in unnecessary travel, and establishing unnecessary requirements. A little less positive thinking and a little more cool-headed planning can go a long way.

Unfortunately, some individuals trust their positive thinking so thoroughly that they overlook the signs of "muri,” “mura,” and “muda" until it is too late to avert reality's harsh revenge. It is always sad to witness disasters that could have been prevented if people have kept their eyes open, but without a rational philosophy, who can resist the pressure of exaggerated emotions? 


The story of a man who was afraid of his shadow is attributed to Lao Tzu: The man tried to run away, but could not escape. He ran and ran, trying to get rid of his shadow, until he eventually dropped dead out of exhaustion.

Those who guide their lives by unbridled positive thinking are no better off than the man in the story. They run and run without caution, measurement, or planning. And in doing so, they render themselves highly vulnerable. 

There is a better way: the way of reason and prudence, the way that I present in my books. By learning and practising the principles of rational living, you can spare yourself plenty of trouble, increase your chances of success, and maintain an optimistic, but still realistic outlook.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: photograph by John Vespasian, 2017.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

 
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 Here are the links to six media interviews, just published:

Friday, 14 April 2017

The most frequent obstacle to personal growth -- and how to surmount it


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Few people know that sharks change their teeth all the time. New teeth grow on the back of a shark's denture, and then the teeth move progressively to the front side, until they are eventually discarded. Sharks have evolved into constant tooth changers for a reason essential to their survival: They need to keep their teeth sharp for hunting purposes.

If sharks were to lose their razor-sharp teeth, they would be unable to hunt, and it would not take long before they disappear as a species. We human beings don't need such sharp teeth, but we do need to think accurately if we want to thrive. We need to stay alert and proactive if we want to improve our lives. We need to pay attention to what's going on, draw logical conclusions, and implement them consistently.

Unfortunately, we stifle our personal growth all too often because we let emotions distort our perceptions, weaken our alertness, and undermine our understanding.We grow too rapidly discouraged when we encounter failure. We view setbacks too readily as final. We regard obstacles too quickly as insurmountable.

The underlying cause

The underlying cause for this problem --in fact, the underlying cause for our excessive willingness to give up-- is our tendency to think inaccurately,  fragmentarily, and short-sightedly. While evolution has led the shark teeth to grow constantly and automatically, it has not granted us the power to think accurately without effort.

We really need to push ourselves if we want to exercise this capacity, and surprisingly enough, we even have difficulties to remember in daily life the lessons taught by 4500 million years of Planet Earth history, and from the animal evolution in the latest 500 million years:
  •  Even nature can make mistakes in the sort term and have animals evolve into suboptimal shapes and functions, but in the long-term, it will correct those mistakes in an endless pursuit of perfection. Nature has no qualms about acknowledging errors, and reverting to previous shapes (e.g. fish developed legs and become reptiles, and then some reptiles discarded their legs and became snakes). Why on earth would you be reluctant to acknowledge and correct your own mistakes?
  •  Nature has no problems to apply in a new context solutions that have already proven successful in a completely different  context, even if those solutions seem unorthodox and weird (e.g. some species of turtles have developed beaks, similar to those of birds. The beaks make those turtles look weird, but they also make the turtles highly effective in their environment). Is your demand for orthodoxy preventing you from solving your problems, and accelerating your personal growth?
  • Nature tends to operate multi-dimensionally, allowing animals to accentuate useful shapes and functions, even if those are totally unrelated (e.g. while reptiles were learning to fly 300 million years ago, they were also evolving into warm-blood creatures). Is your tendency to think uni-dimensionally preventing you from achieving your goals in unrelated areas? 
Best chances of  success

I recently read the diary of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), and I must tell you that I was not impressed by the depth of Beethoven's philosophical insights. Sure, the man was a musical genius, but an accomplished thinker was he not. I had assumed that excellent skills in one area mean excellent skills in other areas, at least in those that appear closely related, but I was wrong, totally wrong.

Indeed, I was making the quintessential mistake that frequently prevents our personal growth. I was thinking too linearly.  I was interpreting facts incorrectly. I was making unrealistic assumptions. Exercising our capacity to think accurately is a daily and never-ending challenge, but it is our best chance to maximise our creativity, innovations, and achievements.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: photograph of ancient mosaic; photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2016.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

 
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 Here are the links to four media interviews, just published:

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The puzzle of intellectual integration

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Have you ever wondered why so many people engage in patently counterproductive behaviour, the sort of behaviour that nobody can fail to view as foolish and irresponsible?

Consider these three examples: Individuals who routinely drive their car too fast, too dangerously, too aggressively. People who spend their earnings on frivolities, and fail to set any money aside for a rainy day. Persons who eat unhealthy food day after day, until they eventually fall sick.

Many of these people are bright, talented, and highly educated. They cannot fail to know that their behaviour is counterproductive: that they should not drive their car in ways that endanger other people's lives; that they should set some money aside for contingencies; that they should adopt a wholesome diet, and avoid unhealthy food.

And yet, these patterns repeat themselves on a large scale day in and day out: road accidents that should not  have happened, financial straights that could have been avoided, illness that could have been prevented.  

The key to solving the puzzle is a message that few people want to hear: intelligence is not enough, talent is not enough, education is not enough. All those factors remain inoperative whenever the human mind refuses to draw logical conclusions.

It is not enough to know arithmetic if you consciously or unconsciously refuse to put two and two together whenever the outcome becomes inconvenient. 

Life offers too many temptations to ignore the facts, too many occasions to deny uncomfortable truths. And yet, we all know that we will be better off in the long run if we push ourselves to do the right thing today.

The best way to protect yourself against those temptations is to adopt the habit of intellectual integration. If you adopt day after day the practice of accepting facts as they are, and drawing logical conclusions, you will spare yourself plenty of heartaches down the road. 

Intellectual integration is not a luxury, but the key to human survival, success, and happiness. Sadly, too many efforts are being devoted to look for excuses for counterproductive behaviour. Let us rather devote those efforts to doing the right thing from the start.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: photograph of classical painting; photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2016.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

 
Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter


***********
Here are the links to three interviews, just published: