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A Push Forward

We must constantly reevaluate what we do and not let habits and past wisdom blind us to new possibilities.

Apple just launched their newest operating system, OS X Lion, last week.  Like any new idea, people are excited about the change, but weary of its unfamiliarity.  Just like people who are fretful about the idea of switching from PC to Mac, the unknown holds an unsettling feeling for the potential of both positive and negative consequences.

But to ignore a source of innovation because of the possibility of misuse would be senseless.  In Mihaly Csikszentmihaly book on the psychology of optimal experiences, Flow, he writes, “If mankind had tried to ban fire because it could be used to burn things down, we would not have grown to be very different from the great apes.”

Embracing the unknown has been civilizations igniting force continually pushing it forward.  On a smaller scale, the very same ideology can be broken down on an individual level.  What is common and routine now, was at one time unfamiliar and unknown.

Using what was once a part of our tactics to crawl, lead us to stand on our two miniature legs for the very first time.  Entering a building full of classrooms, friends, and considerably taller, unfamiliar adults was our first experience of structured learning.

Growing up was full of firsts.  And although the idea of walking could lead to the very realistic possibility of falling, it wouldn’t stop of us from taking hold of our latest ability to explore new surroundings.

Entertaining new possibilities is a visceral drive.  We look back and view a child learning to walk or going to school as a natural part of growth.  It is because growth is an innate drive.  Breaking through to new areas of our life is a state of being and it does not end with childhood abilities.

We constantly drive to push ourselves forward.  But we also establish a frame of reference and a list of habits to go with it, and so breaking into new areas becomes risky.

Fresh life ideas contain learning curves, time, consequences, and chances of failure.  But does that mean we should ignore them?  And even if we do, growth is our state of being.  To ignore possibilities would create a dissonance as our beliefs and our actions would not align.

To act would evoke fear, while not acting would create dissatisfaction.  I find we are better fear facers then dissatisfaction creators.

If life is a an array of dots, the ones behind us connected, the ones in front of us an unpredictable sequence – then we must learn to trust that the dots will connect.  Our first day of school might have been our scariest challenge at one time, but now we see it as a connection to what has brought us to where we currently are.

The same can be said about the future. Although those dots may seem like leaps and bounds away right now, they will connect and make the intricate and extraordinary sequence of the life you have the potential of living.

How to Identify Worthwhile Actions

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How do you know which actions are worthwhile and which are not?  Anyone who has an appetite for the taste of success thrives to take meaningful steps towards it, but what do those steps look like?

The most pivotal and overlooked component for success is its starting point.  Teddy Gross, founder of Penny Harvest, has helped raise over $7 million by collecting the tiniest denomination of currency in the US fiscal system.

But where did Teddy begin?  It started with one single penny.  Something so common and tiny most of us don’t even bother to pick one up as we pass it in the street.  And yet the collection of pennies has culminated into something truly extraordinary as millions of dollars have been raised for people in need.

None of this would have not been possible without that starting point, without that initial penny. And so one component to what makes actions so valuable is to not underestimate the value of our actions. What at first may seem as trivial and inessential could very well be the building blocks to an extraordinary breakthrough.

When we look at our actions, the only part of it that is truly factual is the action itself.  You take a job, you sell your house, you travel to a different country, you make a sales pitch.  Those are all facts. What comes after the action is our interpretations and perspectives.

The reasons you take a job could run the gamut.  Money, benefits, boredom, satisfaction, travel, fulfillment.  As well as whether or not you actually like this new occupation.  Variables such as co-workers, location, workload, tasks, interaction, and administration all have their respective roles to play.

The reality we create on how good or bad our job is – is formed by the perception we create. And so all our interpretations of our actions feed into whether or not something is worthwhile.

But after actions occur what do you think we tend to focus on?  Look at the front page of todays newspaper, turn on the news, or simply listen in on a conversation at work.  The general scope of perspective is pointed in a negative view.

Out of the 30 most common emotion words in the English language only 6 of them were positive.  This focus on the adverse has put on blinders to countless positive possibilities.

When trying to identify choices and actions that have the most value, focus in on the bright spots of those actions.  In the beginning stages of Penny Harvest when a few hundred dollars of pennies had been raised, Teddy Gross could have thought, “this is barely anything, this certainly won’t make a difference.”

But instead, he looked at the same few hundred dollars and saw peoples desire to help and built off these bright spots.

Identifying the worthwhile actions isn’t about a full proof plan designed to give you the right choices. It is about finding value in the reality we create.

Shakespeare said, “There is no good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Realize that behind every decision we make and every action we take there are positive potentials and bright spots to be found. These actions may not seem valuable alone, but together, can create an outcome that is truly worthwhile.

The Fox and the Hedgehog

There is the common misconception that with the influx of information there is an increase in knowledge.

We live in a world of rationalizers. I am going to tell you right here and now that openness is the remedy to a fixed mindset.  Now let me momentarily diverge to give clarity to this idea of filtered conceptualization.

Politics.  The argument can be made that the acquisition of information can be directly related to decrease in partisan bias.  But knowing more about politics doesn’t necessarily accomplish this.  Voters tend to assimilate facts that confirm what they already believe.  They think they’re evaluating candidates, but what they are actually doing is inventing or ignoring facts so they can rationalize decisions already made.

It is as if voters twirl a cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want.

This filter effect, which is so prominent in politics, extends into every aspect of our life.  We tend to look for information that already confirms what we already believe.  We edit the world to fit our ideology.  Imperative as focus is, we must make the distinction between a focused mind and a disregard for certain possibilities.

Historian Isaiah Berlin used animalistic mentalities to exemplify this very point.  While a fox knows many diverse things, a hedgehog knows one big thing.

When attacked, a hedgehog rolls itself into a ball so that its spines point outward.  A fox, on the other hand, does not rely on a single strategy.  A fox adjusts its strategy to a particular situation.  Accepting a situation as ambiguous, the fox relies on tailor-made approaches when conceptualizing possibilities.

The difference between the fox and the hedgehog is that the fox evades the seduction of certainty, while a hedgehog reassures itself with a foregone conclusion.

The fox’s abilities to think further than its preconceptions about a situation, make it a cunning and sly predator.  Foxes live in the unknown, constantly adapting to and evaluating different possibilities.

We take comfort in certainty.  Building blocks and cornerstones exist on this very premise.  The weakness of certainty is when you know you are right, you stop listening to perspectives that say you may be wrong.

Cognition is a powerful human asset. Like any muscle of the body we need to practice to strengthen it.  Foxes are notoriously cunning because they think about thinking.  They study their own decision-making process and gather information from a wide variety of sources.

It seems that the acquisition of knowledge lies in the openness of perspective.  We must be willing to entertain new thinking.  As effective as that spike defense may be, we do not want to remain complacent in certainty, satisfied with status quo.

Like the fox, we must be willing to accept ambiguity and charter the unknown.  That is where the true comprehension of knowledge spawns from, and the willingness to navigate ambivalence carries with it the potential for extraordinary possibilities.