I decided to (finally) write something in this blog after a short (email) discussion I had with a friend. So, thanks!
I really like the idea of mental rehearsal. It can be briefly described as the envisioning of future actions. During this rehearsal, an individual can execute a mental plan about the mode of action in certain situations, such as a traffic accident or an oral presentation. In sports, motor imagery can help athletes improve their physical performance. Additionally, defensive pessimism, a cognitive strategy that is using this scheme, can be used to avoid anxiety provoking events: “by envisioning possible negative outcomes, defensive pessimists can take action to avoid or prepare for them”. It sounds like a solid strategy, but sometimes the real world is hard to predict.
This is especially true if the actions involve interaction with other individuals. Although one can observe certain patterns, is really hard to know the current state of a human with full precision. And without this current state (along with all the ones that came before that), prediction of the future ones becomes challenging. I would go as far as to say that human behavior is somewhat chaotic: very small changes in the initial conditions might cause very different outcomes.
The failure of prediction can be associated with frustration or a “mental block”: you created a plan of action, but it failed to execute it, so now you are helpless before the situation. Although it doesn’t sound very terrible, it is crucial in outlier cases. In rare events, such as accidents, one’s survival might be affected of their the affective state and, consequently, their ability to act.
How does one improve their prediction ability? It is possible to mentally segregate real life situations in many “atomic” states (one could also call them eigenstates – states that can describe well the variability of all possible outcomes). Then, one can create a short-term plan of action for each of those states, bounded by the point where they are most likely to diverge (or become harder to predict). From there, plans for the divergent states can be created by considering the initial state as the point of divergence; the process can then be repeated ad infinitum. This heuristic solution provides an individual with many models for the state repertoire. As a result, if there is a failure in prediction, one can ignore it, observe the new initial state, and update their plan of action with a more relevant one.
The main problem of this approach is that it is hard to have models for everything. The repertoire is huge and the time you can spend rehearsing is only finite. The most difficult part though is to identify those points of divergence. To get them out, one has to carefully identify, in a stepwise manner, multiple alternatives of the current situation. But it is something that you can always work on.
Finally, I think that another way to improve mental predictions is to collect more data and construct better models as a consequence. Ageing usually achieves that, because mental rehearsal is happening in one way or another (unconsciously, let’s say). “Experienced” people are able to sample real world states for a longer time, that’s why they have better estimations.
Occasionally, questions arise in my mind. It must depend on the stimuli I’m getting during that moment. I’m referring to informative-style questions, like “how do you change a bike tire” or “why the sky is blue”. When this happens, I try to find an answer. A good one.
Naturally, many of these questions are formed during my interaction with people (as a student, as a friend etc). Not blaming them, people’s explanations usually disappoint me. They aren’t fit for my standards. If a question is interesting enough, I’ll search later whether someone else has asked the same question online. What’s more I’ll try to find the most informative answer.
After acquiring a smartphone, I got a nice way to solve my “problem” on the spot. Whenever a question forms in my head, I immediately search the Internets about it. I’m good at searching, so the answer comes up really fast. That stopped me from asking questions physically, especially in the case I really want an answer (I sometimes “ask questions” to express interest).
Only recently I realized something wrong about this approach. I tend to forget the answers I get online. Probably it’s due to the effects that the Internet has on my mind (as it is perfectly described in Carr’s book, The Shallows). Maybe it’s something else. What is also interesting is that I tend to remember the “good” answers I get from “real” people (not mediated through a screen) better. Moreover, I tend to remember the disappointing answers and their “good” counterparts (the ones I searched for after my physical interaction).
That’s why I decided to use this to my advantage: ask first, search later.
Before writing this post, I watched a cool talk by Vsauce. I’m off to learn whether it works this way for other people too.
As promised in day 31, I will give you an update on my progress (habits established etc). Starting from day 1, I’m looking at each post to find little “promises” that I’ve made to myself.
In the beginning of the challenge, my main goal was to become more accustomed to writing. I completed the challenge and I desire to write, and this post is a proof of that. I also started working on a scientific project that I’ve neglected for a long time, mainly due to my difficulty in writing. I now aim to write more blog posts. I already have something in mind.
In days 3 and 4, I wrote about a habit I’d like to establish and a habit I’d like to eliminate. Let’s start with the success. I wanted to start reading more, but I couldn’t decide about the steps I needed to follow. Time went by and I wouldn’t read a page. After the end of my exams, I discovered that there was a lot of free time available. I was getting bored of procrastinating all day, so I took reading up again. I just finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, an amazing book that I started reading 4-5 months ago. Today I read a small book, a birthday gift. I’m planning of reading one more before going to bed. I’m far from a formed habit, but I’ve made some steps forward. However, I couldn’t control my Impulse Control Disorder. To assign a negative feeling to my habit, I formed a rule the day I wrote the post: every time I tried to mess with my skin, I’d use the “skin picked” hand to squeeze the forearm of my “picking” hand really hard. It didn’t work. I’m thinking of following a different approach. I’ll create a spreadsheet in which I’ll track my habit. I have to search for possible triggers and eliminate them.
Sunday walks were supposed to help me get in touch with nature and become a badass Magician. I did it only twice. I haven’t been so strict about it. To give a meaningless excuse, he weather was always awful and I don’t feel like walking in the rain (I particularly hate that my feet can get wet and my shoes dirty). I will try next Sunday though.
That’s all. I could have commented on more. This post completes the post category “AoM Journaling Challenge”. Farewell.
I made it. I’m awesome!
Reflect on the last 30 days of journaling. Did you enjoy the experience? What did you learn about yourself? What was most difficult? Will you continue the practice? If so, take some time to map out how you’d like your journaling habit to continue. It can be entirely up to you; don’t worry about following a set of rules. Maybe you want to write every day, maybe you’re okay with a slightly longer session every month or so. Just make sure it’s something that you want to do.
That’s my last post for the AoM Journaling Challenge. My first post was on January 4th. My aim was to write for 31 consecutive days, but that didn’t work out so well. But I’m still satisfied from myself. I actually completed a goal that I set. It feels amazing at the moment, although it’s nothing that important.
Through this series of posts, I remembered the importance of self-reflection. I rediscovered some of my feelings and actually thought about how I can improve my life.
Surprisingly, being consistent was not the most difficult part of the challenge. After the first posts, everything started rolling. I struggled more with my journal’s publicity. I had to think more in order to avoid stuff that could be of potential harm, personally or professionally (given that my blog isn’t anonymous). I tried to make abstractions of my thoughts, where applicable.
Although I really enjoyed the experience, I don’t plan to continue the practice regularly. Now that I’ve developed the skill, I will use journaling as a tool in case of an upsetting personal situation. It will surely help to clear up my thoughts.
I plan to post an update about certain things I wrote during the challenge, the habits I implemented etc.
I hope that my journey has inspired some of you. Now it’s your turn.
One day to go. I can’t believe myself. Let’s get this down:
Jot down a list of all the things you’re grateful for. It could be as simple as “Family, Job, Home…” or as detailed as “The bacon I had for breakfast, the weather being warm today, the chance to sleep in this weekend…” When we aren’t feeling chipper, thinking about what we’re thankful for can help get us in the right mindset. No matter how down and out you may be, there is always something to be thankful for.
There’s no particular order. I’ll write whatever comes to my mind. I’m grateful for the following:
My health and well-being (students in medical school learn to appreciate that).
Access to water and healthy food.
Today’s success for a friend.
The exam period went relatively well.
I have a partner to support me with my medical school journey.
And many more.
Try writing out your own personal manifesto. I’d describe the benefits and the how-to, but this short post does it much better than I could.
I hope that this manifesto will help me in my difficult times, just like a manly guest contributor to AoM wrote:
With a manifesto, it’s like you always have access to a calmer, more rational you.
It will be a short one. I just wrote down its categories. Here we go:
I will pursue my dreams, in any way possible. To get there, I will set goals that I consider achievable, regardless of what other people believe. I will work towards them as frequently as possible. I will work on any new goal I set, without forgetting my older ones.
I will only commit to challenges that I believe I can complete. Whenever I undertake any task, I will be reliable. I will be a trustworthy person, someone who people will ask for help.
I will take good care of my body. I will listen to its needs and follow them accordingly. I will prevent any condition that is preventable. I will stay strong until my days are over, without being physically dependent on others.
Ending the mini-series:
Finally in this three-day journey, you need to gather the tools necessary to make your life a masterpiece. Take a look at the article, and define the various tools that you will need and use to work towards those purposes and goals you laid out a couple days ago.
Two days ago, I laid out some goals. According to AoM, I could benefit from gathering a list of tools, so that’s what I’ll write about.
I could use some help. Especially in pursuing my dream: becoming a neuroscientist. There is one person available (being a neuroscientist himself), but I feel I have betrayed him. I will set things straight by dealing with one of my stressors, an unfinished neuroscience project he gave me. By doing this, I will be able to look him in the eye and ask him to guide me, as I’ve done in the past.
A Mastermind Group
I’ve tried in the past to create one based on my academic interests. I failed. Maybe I haven’t searched enough for members, but I’m thinking that the place I live is not the right one. The only mastermind group I use is a reddit community concerning my physical training.
I just started journaling. Online. I prefer it this way. But a pocket notebook could be nice. I currently use my smartphone as one. I find that writing is better though, especially when writing down ideas.
Discipline, The Most Important Tool of All
Of course. I was never disciplined. I’ve just started to change this, mostly thanks to physical training. Consistency is one of the major components of training, and I think that there is a “transfer” happening: my other endeavors benefit. The AoM Challenge is also helping.