Here are SIX things I learned, thought were interesting, or found useful.
We Are Products Of Our Environment
Jack Nicholson’s opening line in The Departed: “I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.” Whatever our wants, we are shaped by our environment. “One of the most important discoveries in recent years,” cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman writes in Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, “is that the environment triggers gene expression…The environment is inseparable from our genes. Every trait develops through the interplay of genes and the environment.” What’s going on inside you is shaped by what’s going on outside you. (File under or next to: The Michelangelo Phenomenon). Let me show you…
How Chantek Lost 250 Pounds
The orangutan Chantek was fat. Really fat. Raised in a human setting at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Chantek was taught sign language and developed a vocabulary of over 150 words. His favorite sign language symbols were “food-eat” and “drink.” He ballooned to over five hundred pounds, about three times the weight of a wild orangutan. So he was put on a strict diet. During this time, he rarely used any sign language symbols except “candy.” When he was given crayons to draw with, he ate them. When he got a chance, he escaped. He was found next to a tipped-over 55-gallon barrel of food. He was returned to his cage and entered a pretty dark depression, signing repeatedly for his caretakers to get car keys and to take him home. Finally, he was moved to Zoo Atlanta where he had several acres to roam. In this larger domain, Chantek walked to get his food, he swung from trees, and because orangutans are territorial, he spent much of his time patrolling the perimeter of his turf. He wasn’t on a diet—because of his new surroundings, Chantek lost some 250 pounds. In their book Mean Genes, Terry Burnham and Jay Phelan talk about Chantek in a chapter about how things like weight gain and laziness are not products of low willpower but “zoo-like environments.” “Sleepy lions will sprint if there is a gazelle to be chased or a hyena to attack,” they analogize. “If we can set up the appropriate situations, we can similarly shed the cloak of laziness.” (File under or next to: The Paleolithic Theory of Procrastination).
Order In Your Surroundings, Order In Your Head
Rafael Nadal says the toughest opponent in professional tennis is his internal dialogue. “What I battle hardest to do in a tennis match,” he writes in Rafa, “is to quiet the voices in my head, to shut everything out of my mind but the contest itself and concentrate every atom of my being on the point I am playing.” One of his weapons in this battle? Ordering his environment. Before every match, he takes off his white warm-up jacket, places his tournament ID card on his bench facing up, sits, takes a sip from a bottle of water, takes another sip from a second bottle, then he places the two bottles at his feet in front of his chair a little to the left, one neatly behind the other, diagonally aimed at the court. “Some call it superstition,” he writes, “but it’s not. If it were superstition, why would I keep doing the same thing over and over whether I win or lose? It’s a way of placing myself in a match, ordering my surroundings to match the order I seek in my head.”
A Wonderful Technique For Being Yourself
With the Grateful Dead-offshoot band Dead & Company, John Mayer says he’s trying to sound just like the late Grateful Dead legendary lead guitarist Jerry Garcia. He was asked, how do you get those twenty minute Jerry Garcia guitar solos almost word-perfect yet with your own unique flair “That’s just me trying [to play like Jerry] and not doing it well enough,” he said, “which is a wonderful technique for being yourself. Failing to sound exactly like the person you want to sound like is a wonderful way to sound like yourself…You try to sound like who you want to sound like, and you just will always end up sounding like you.” As the 18th century German writer Goethe said, “We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.” Choose wisely.
You Are The Sum Total Of Your Choices
The economist, professor of finance at Harvard Business School, and professor of law at Harvard Law School, Mihir A. Desai, says there’s two common types of people early in their careers: “optionality-obsessed” and “lottery ticket buyers.” The optionality-obsessed look at career decisions through the lens of, what will maximize my options in the future? The lottery ticket buyers through the lens of, what might put me one payday away from securing the resources I need to begin my work toward my true ambitions? The emphasis on maximizing optionality and buying lottery tickets, Desai writes, “can backfire in surprising ways.” Acquiring options and trying to win the lottery become habitual and the more you acquire and the more you try, the harder it is to stop. So, he continues, “while the serial option and lottery ticket buyers seem like different creatures, they are, in fact, close cousins. Both types postpone their dreams and undertake choices that they think will enable their dreams. But they fail to understand that all of these intervening choices will change them fundamentally—and they are, in fact, the sum total of those choices.”
The Pygmalion Effect
In the 1960s, the psychologists Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson went to 18 classrooms and told teachers that some of their students had an “unusual potential for intellectual gains.” The students identified as having unusual potential, in reality, were selected at random. When later tested, the “unusual” students became unusual, showing greater gains in IQ than their classmates. Rosenthal and Jacobson dubbed this the “Pygmalion effect,” named for the Greek myth of Pygmalion, the sculptor who became so obsessed with a statue he carved that the statue came to life. Expectations, Rosenthal and Jacobson conclude in Pygmalion in the Classroom, are a self-fulfilling prophecy. High expectations shape high performance. Low expectations shape low performance. Surround yourself with the former. Enter environments with high expectations.