Keep Self In Perspective My Meditator

Why do we have a sense of self and where does it come from? It’s a common and natural question. Yet, how useful is the question itself?

In fairness, it’s healthy and natural to be curious about how things come to be. Humans have done well by asking questions and figuring out what things exist and how those things work together. So, it’s natural to ask a question like “why do we have a feeling of self?”

As someone who has studied human motivation, the brain, psychology, and meditation for years, it’s tempting to keep on diving deep into the “why” and the “how” when it comes to the mind and the brain. Let’s give ourselves a sample taste of such.

Sample Taste of Diving Into The “Why” and “How” of the Brain

The sense of a self comes from our various systems. An example serves here. It’s possible to effect the Vestibular system so that you get a sense of moving even though you’re standing still. A sense of moving or standing still contributes to the sense of self. As shown on Sensory Illusions (SKYclip), these senses of moving and being can go wrong and cause accidents such as a plane crashing into the ground.

That addresses some of the “why is this happening and how does this happen?” kind of questions.

Recognizing No-Self

However, let’s take a step back. In the meditation world, when we say “sensing” or “observing”, we mean there is a knowing. When I do an open awareness meditation, I am just taking it all in. There is a simple knowing of all there is to perceive. You may have noticed that I did not respond with things like:

  • I perceive everything before me.
  • There is a knowing of all that is around me and my body.

For day-to-day use, it’s convenient to use words like “I” or “me.” It cuts down on confusion in conversations. At the same time, those words emphasize a sense of self. The use of the “I” / “me” words highlight the illusion of the self. If you are trying to see past the illusion and into no-self, you could try a different way of thinking.

Joseph Goldstein, a meditation teacher, shared a great tip. One hour and forty eight minutes into the Sam Harris podcast episode titled The Path and the Goal, Joseph Goldstein highlights a way to recognize “the ordinariness of selflessness.” The instruction to someone would be to not say “I am moving my arm.” Instead, you can say that the motion of the arm is being known. As he puts it, you are:

Reframing the experience in the passive voice.

Instead of saying I am moving my foot, you can say “movement being known.” That’s about as deep as you need to go to get a great amount of utility out of the concept of selflessness aka no-self.

How can one recognize this no-self throughout their day? In Busy Life Meditation, Annaka Harris does a fantastic job in outlining a strategy that only takes nine minutes a day. She calls it ‘the nine-minute-a-day path to enlightenment!’ To fully use this, one needs to do this in addition to their daily meditation.

Talking About It vs Doing It

Mentioning the daily meditation practice highlights another important idea. As the saying goes, there’s a difference between talking about golf and playing golf. Until you’re really swinging that golf club in your hands, hitting the ball, and sinking it into the hole, you won’t really know golf. The same goes for meditation.

It’s important to meditate and experiment in the lab of your own mind. If you dive too deep into the why / how of experience, you can’t see the forest for the trees. A perfect example is the following video What Is Life? Is Death Real? video. It’s a fun video to watch. Does it answer any questions for you? No. As the video says, asking some questions “..makes us feel alive and gives us some comfort.” However, just asking questions is not sufficient.

Consciousness

“What if I take it up a notch into examining what consciousness itself is?”, you ask? At least you’re at a level higher than viruses. It is certainly fun to examine what is meant by a conscious entity. For example, there are programs that can give clever responses. As said in the What is Consciousness video below:

We wouldn’t consider it [the software program] conscious, because it doesn’t have a sense of itself.

Does intellectual exploration of consciousness help you see past the illusion of the self? Anything is possible. However, based on my own experience it feels like quite the scenic route. Meditating and diving into the resources available about meditation is a more direct approach, in my opinion.

Daylight Is Burning

Contemplating consciousness is fun yet hasn’t helped me do better at the office or help people in general. I meditate and teach meditation to help fulfill my personal mission. Also, time may be shorter than you think.

As I said to a new friend that I met at an airport recently, there are seven billion people on earth to help. We have a limited number of years on earth. So, let’s get busy and start making a difference. One way to do that is to actually meditate and share with others meditation resources such as this blog post and awesome meditation apps like the 10% Happier meditation app.

Don’t miss the awesome opportunity of exploring your own mind and gaining a better life. Although not easy, Mindfulness meditation is simple and happiness is yours for the taking. Enjoy the journey.

Two wolves are playing

Test Anxiety

Feeling stressed about a test is natural. After all, what is a test but an artificial stress test on your knowledge? Stress is not a bad thing by itself.

Eustress Stress Is Not Distress Stress 

When a person exercises, you’re applying stress on your muscles. Since it’s on purpose, your body reacts differently. As Eustress vs. Distress points out, you feel energized. If someone else had applied the same kind of stress on your muscles as a form of torture, you would be experiencing severe distress. It’s your mindset toward the experience that matters. From back when I was a kid to now, my mindset has been a growth mindset. Tests are challenges to overcome.

Playing the Game

Although important, education is a game and doing well in a test is a way to get a high score. Yes, to pass the test you have to learn. It’s also true that you’re going to want to learn much more than what is needed to pass a test. If your time is limited, swear to yourself that you are a life-long-learner and that for now you will do what is needed to do fantastic on the test. You’re taking the test to get a score. Just don’t forget to learn more later in life when you can! Learning and applying what you learn helps you succeed in life.

So when getting my Bachelors and later Masters in Computer Science, I played the game and overcame the challenges. I scored quite well. Fortunately, I was able to learn beyond just getting the good grades. I had the time and used it to make progress in my goals for the sake of my personal mission. More about my mission and my mindset is in Gamification Journey of FinneyCanHelp.

If you read the Gamification Journey above, you know I view life as an important game. So, how did I do fantastic in the game of taking tests? How did I take a fear of failure and shift it over to a growth mindset? I did what any self-respecting game-player would do. I role-played that I was part of the next stage of human evolution. That’s right. I pretended to be an X-Men superhero.

 

Although Storm and later Wolverine were my favorite X-Men superheroes, I didn’t pretend to be them specifically. My powers were yet to be discovered and my goal was to uncover them by pushing myself to the limit. Although I know I’m not really a mutant, pushing myself to the limit is still my goal. It taps into the warrior instinct.

Warrior Instinct

As part of the warrior instinct, it’s important to exercise the mind and body. For the body, I walk every morning. For the mind, I meditate. Often, I combine the walking and meditating. For anxiety, there is a specific approach you can take which is covered in “Anxiety? How Does One Start To Meditate?”

This wholistic body / mind approach comes from the days of Gymnastics and the beginning of my meditation journey. It goes beyond just exercise though.

Nutrition, sleep, and everything you do or think matters. It’s all about restoration, reflection, growth, and taking action. To get all of that, one must be disciplined. As touched upon in discipline around energy yields productivity, a warrior is disciplined.

Like Jocko Willink says, “Discipline is your best friend.” Watch What Discipline Really Means:

Proper Sleep

Some people presume they can win the game by not sleeping. However, that’s a horrible strategy. Sleeping sweeps away the useless garbage that you pick up in your mind. Sleeping helps one retain and recall the important bits of knowledge. In other words, it strengthens the important memories. The article 7 Ways Sleep Affects The Brain (And What Happens If It Doesn’t Get Enough) covers the benefits of sleep well.

Eat To Win

When choosing between a banana and candy, go for the banana. A banana has the right amount of sugar to help you when learning. In short, it’s like making your body and mind both happier. As Bananas As Brain Food says, bananas help with alertness. You don’t get the energy spike and then crash like you do from candy.

Study

Study to win. Spread your studying out. Don’t cram. Also, figure out what strategies work best for you. For me, I love flash cards whenever appropriate. If it’s software development we’re talking about, I create code-katas. Although those might not fit your specific circumstances, it might give you some ideas. The 10 Study Methods for College-Bound Teens has the usual tips with an item or two you might not have considered.

Take Great Notes

While taking notes, I would watch for excitement in the teacher’s voice, body language, or any clue as to whether an item is something they extremely care about or not. I mark such items with a star on my notebook as a prime test candidate question. Something to know well.

Ask Questions
Use the office hours and / or ask questions during and after class. Say you want to be sure that you are ready for the test. Say what you’re focusing your time on and ask how close you are to hitting the mark. When done, thank the teacher for their time. Also say with a smile what they want to hear and what you believe: “I care about doing well in this class.” It shows you take this serious. Although most feel that way, most people will not say such a thing. You’re in this thing to win and working with teachers helps.

If you have questions during the test, ask. You’re not asking them for the answers. You want to be sure you understand the question and what they are looking for. I remember getting up three times during a test once and asking a question to make sure I understood what was being asked for. I decided: “So, what if this is the third time? I’m in this to win!” As long as you are just asking for clarification and not criticizing the question itself, you’ll do fine.

Seek Out Allies

Find others (allies) in the class to compare notes with. Study groups can be a great support. Having at least one other person to study with helps. When selecting what classes to take and with which teachers, ask around. Pick the teachers with the best reputation whenever you can. Not the ones that like to be “tough” just to inflate their ego.

Keep in mind, you want the teacher to be an ally of yours as much as possible. Many teachers care about helping you learn. Some might not though. If you ever feel a teacher is the worst monster to walk the face of the earth, recognize that they are a human being who has had their wiring wired wrong (either by birth or by life’s impact on them) and forgive them. Hating a teacher will not serve you well. Of course, take action if a teacher is abusive.

Sedalia For Stress Relief
Consider Sedalia or something like it. Please read the product information before using Sedalia. It has a warning for those pregnant and / or breast-feeding. Don’t give it to a child that is under 12. I didn’t have Sedalia available when I was at college. However, I wish I had. For me, it’s like Chamomile tea but won’t make me have to go to the bathroom in the middle of an event such as when taking a test or giving a presentation. I occasionally use Sedalia in high stress situations. If someone asks me what I am taking, I say it helps calm the stomach which is true. The Sedalia product information says “Relieves digestive symptoms caused by stress” among other things related to stress. As demonstrated by this blog post, I have no problems with people knowing that I sometimes take Sedalia for high stress situations. However, I don’t have time right before a presentation to have the more in-depth conversation that careful use of legal drugs such as caffeine and Sedalia are just tools of humanity. You’re not weak for using a tool. You’re smart.

Practice Getting Used To Taking Tests

Practice. Even though you have already taken the test or quiz, Ask the teacher if they can give you a blank copy so you can get used to the feeling of taking tests. They may not since sometimes they re-use tests. If they do, make copies for yourself. If not, just write the answers on another sheet of paper. Take the test over and over again. Take it until you’re almost bored. Take the test until you feel it in your bones that a test is just a thing to do. It’s a piece of paper that you are putting information on. Make Change and Habituation your secret weapon.

I recognize this might not be possible due to time constraints. However, try it at least once. There is way too much hype that people give around test taking. That hype feeds into a storyline.

Practice Taking Tests

What Stories Do You Tell Yourself?

Recognize the stories you are telling yourself. Are you dooming yourself by saying to yourself over and over that “you are not good at taking tests”? Stop that. Instead, tell yourself the real truth such as “I have struggled with taking tests and quizzes. However, I will do my best and eventually win.” As expanded on in Lose Negative Self Talk By Losing Yourself, negative self talk does not serve. It encourages procrastination and drains you like an energy vampire.

All that said, I noticed that if I went into a test situation without some stress (think eustress) then my scores were lower even though I was completely calm. In short, I was overconfident. So, going in with some healthy eustress is a must.

Keep Perspective

Like Steve Jobs said, you’re going to die someday no matter what you do in life. While you are on earth, give the world the best of yourself that you can. Be the happy and uplifting song that echoes in the minds of others long after your life-song as ended.

Why Am I Sharing All This?

In the 10% Happier app, George Mumford shared the Law of the jungle,  “For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.” Not only have I tried to live that law, I have had the good fortune to experience it where I currently work at CARFAX.

There’s a connection between an individual and their community. I recognize all humans as belonging to a community that has challenging times ahead. May we all support each other in our desire to learn, grow, and make life better for all.

Two wolves are playing

Two Wolves Playing

Ah hah! That's it!

Gamification Journey of FinneyCanHelp

What has been my life’s journey through Gamification and what interesting things did I see or do?

There’s a podcast episode for that. With Erik van Mechelen, an awesome writer that I met through Octalysis Prime, we explore this.

Below, I expand on this podcast episode which let’s me share links and lets me expand on some items. It even has juicy nuggets of knowledge I didn’t mention! However, there’s no substitute for listening to the podcast.

How Did Gamification Come To Me?

I grew up knowing that life’s a hardcore serious heck-of-a-game. With that mindset, I grew up with video games, programming computers, sports, psychology, and spiritual exploration. Combined all together, I decided to actualize my potential, level up in life, and to help make paradise on earth. Maximizing human flourishing is the goal. This tweet sums it up nicely:

First Exposure To Gamification

Some teachers are shining stars. One of them was a seventh grade teacher of mine who taught computers on the side. I’ll never forget her. She did it for free, bless her. It was a learn at your own pace and earn the right to unlock the next challenge approach. It was a level up and unlock strategy. In Octalysis, we would say she combined Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience (CD6) with Core Drive 2: Development and Achievement (CD2). It was my first taste of Gamification before Gamification was even a thing.

What’s the Word, I’m Looking For?

So, I had a mission, goals, steps to take, and wanted to ensure that I positively reinforced myself by applying behavioral psychology. That’s quite a mouthful. What would it look like if I combined all that together? The answer was Gamification.

Ah hah! That's it!

Ah-hah!

Inspirational Gamification Videos

In late 2012 / early 2013, I saw the famous Ted Talk by Jane McGonigal, The Game That Can Give You 10 Extra Years Of Life [SuperBetter]. Although this didn’t give me the word Gamification, it showed others are out there who believe in using the power of game design and behavioral psychology to make life richer and more humane. I still needed to find that google-able word.

“Keep searching! C’mon! Get creative!”, I told myself. It was quite a challenge! Finally, I found Goals Become Games: Gamification for High Achievers, presented by Jon Guerra at GSummit, a Gamification conference. I had found my word and a new world. Although not perfect, Gamification was a term we all could easily google.

All of this searching also led me to a fun and inspiring Jesse Schell video from DICE 2010 about integrating technology and game design into your daily life. It was extreme, crazy, and fun. Craziness aside, I knew that Gamification was google-able and could tie together some fantastic people and their ideas!

Maximizing human flourishing is the goal.

Learn, Learn, Learn 

Looking for the fantastic people, I found and took a free Coursera Gamification course by Kevin Werbach. I also read many of Jon Guerra’s Living for Improvement blog posts since I was strongly interested in applying Gamification to my personal life.

Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis

Googling more like crazy for Gamification, I found Yu-kai Chou’s awesome Octalysis videos and TEDx talk, Gamification to improve our world. “Here’s a person who truly gets it!”, I said. I memorized the 8 Core Drives of Octalysis, co-founded an Octalysis Explorers group on Facebook and went to GSummit 2014 where I had the honor of meeting Yu-kai Chou in person. I even got to go to Yu-kai’s awesome and exclusive three day Octalysis workshop.

Nir Eyal’s Hook Model

From a product perspective, I also got to watch a fantastic presentation by Nir Eyal about the Hook Model. Although I also started a Facebook group called Hook Model, it has grown inactive. As I highlight in Communities in Nonsocial Mobile Apps, you have to dedicate multiple people and continuous marketing resources to support an online community.

Gamification Books

At the authors’ request and to my delight, I was able to read and provide feedback on Gamification and Product Design books. Often it was before the material was even out to the general public! These great books are:

All the Way

Books are great. However, there’s a deeper self-improvement experience called Octalysis Prime which applies Octalysis to your life. Yu-kai Chou kicked off the kick-starter and I joined right away:

Apply, Apply, Apply Gamification At Work

Extreme Programming Software Development Methodology

Extreme Programming (XP) is a Software Development Methodology. The requirements you implement have story points associated with them. When a feature is done, you’ve earned those points. You count them up every week or two and see how many points you got. Since XP supports fundamental values and is fun, I have introduced and championed it in several companies. Where I currently work at CARFAX, our software development roots are in XP.

ZTEP – Zombie Technology Elimination Project

At CARFAX on a side project that I created and managed, ZTEP – the Zombie Technology Elimination Project had a strong story narrative. In other words, it was strong in Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling (CD1). If you killed a zombie, you unlocked some zombie narrative. Getting rid of a certain type of technology meant that you would unlock a different kind of narrative. It was very creative. Credit goes to the fantastic author, Sean R. Frazier. There’s more about ZTEP in my old blog, tagged as ZombieTechnologyEliminationProject.

Technology Mentor Program

The mission of the Technology Mentor Program (TMP) was to share technology and agile knowledge in a fun way. People from multiple departments played / participated. Although we had PBLs (Points, Badges, and a group level Leaderboard), we also had strong social support. For one department, we would personally shake the hand of the person who had either shared or received an extraordinary amount of knowledge. They had leveled up. There’s more about TMP in my old blog, tagged as Mentor Program.

Instructor and Student Mentor Heroes

Mentor Heroes (Names Blurred Out)

Remember Me? Name / Face Matching Game

I didn’t mention it in the podcast, but there’s a side project at work that I am product managing called the “Remember Me?” app. It’s a name / face matching game aka training app. The app presents a face and a name. It then asks you if it’s lying. You can tap Yes or No and it will let you know if you were right or wrong. If you’re wrong, it tells you the correct name. Although still in the early stages, it holds a lot of promise and there’s plenty of excitement from people across the departments!

Apply, Apply, Apply Gamification To My Personal Life

On to the personal stuff! My personal life revolves around meditating and getting things done.

Meditation

A specific example of Gamification applied to my life involves my son’s interest in meditation. We started with a Mindful Minecraft Meditation technique and then later used Headspace which has cartoons and more explicit Gamification techniques. There’s more about Headspace in the blog post Anxiety? How Does One Start To Meditate? As a side note, my go-to for suggesting a meditation app is 10% Happier even though both apps are very good.

For my daily tasks and activities, I use the Gamified Habitica and Argus respectively. Both have a strong social aspect. For the Gamification part, you have to look deeper in Argus to see the Gamification than you do Habitica.

Habitica

Habitica is explicitly a Gamified to-do app with support for teams aka a party. You can have a party of players defeating monsters by those same people just getting their own tasks done. There’s accountability in that if you don’t get your daily routine tasks done, the whole party suffers damage from the monsters! There are multiple classes (roles) that you can adopt if you wish such as healer, warrior, rogue, or mage. For example, you can cast spells that help the whole party if you’re a mage (wizard).

Book glowing as if magical

Magic Book

Habitica deserves its own article that uncovers the social and creative aspects of the to-do list game. Unfortunately, I don’t see a great one out there. While keeping in mind that there is a strong social aspect if done right, I recommend going to the Habitica section of the following article Why You Get More Done When You Gamify Your Life to learn a little more about Habitica.

Argus

Argus is a dashboard on your life. It’s tied into a social network and has a news feed.

Argus Dashboard showing meditation and other items with each item in a six figured shape

Argus Dashboard

Since there is so much to share about Argus alone, I wrote Argus and Octalysis to help keep this post short enough.

CARROT To Do App

It should be noted that I used to use the CARROT To Do app daily. It’s a well done and funny Gamified to-do app. I cover how impressed I am with their marketing in CARROT iPhone App Video Marketing Done Right. However, CARROT lacks the social features which are so much more enjoyable.

Shift to FinneyCanHelp

How did FinneyCanHelp come about? In every online account I approached, Finney was taken. So, how to solve the unique identifier problem? After some deep introspection and reflecting on my calling to help make paradise on earth, I initially came up with “LoveFinney.” The idea was to express the idea of unconditional love. I got strong feedback that LoveFinney was a horrible idea. Since love has many meanings, I needed another word.

In Star Trek The Original Series’ episode The City on the Edge of Forever, there’s a scene where Captain Kirk said the words “Let me help” is recommended over anything else. “Let me help” is even better than “I love you.” So, I went with FinneyCanHelp. As a result, I am FinneyCanHelp on Twitter and have this blog of FinneyCanHelp.com.

Final Tips for People Who’ve Gone Past The Beginning Parts of Learning About Gamification

If you’re just starting out, I would say learn and apply. As you advance, form allies with others and write what you learn. I’ve formed allies by co-creating communities and joining other key ones such as Octalysis Prime.

Definitely write about what you have learned. When you write, the ideas will crystalize in your mind. You can get synergy between the different concepts. It lets you later search your own content for old ideas which can help make new ideas.

As soon as you can, get your stuff out there for all to see. Publish. People will come to you with their ideas too. Go all out.

Summary

As someone said to me at a Gamification conference, Gamification is a tool to use. It’s not the whole thing. A wise person named Yu-kai Chou said Gamification is Human-Focused Design. Although Gamification is not the whole thing, designing everything in life with humans in mind is still quite a bit!

We’re a social species that need each other. The human race is an extended human family. If each of us use our talents to their fullest and design experiences that support human flourishing, we can truly make paradise on earth.

Argus and Octalysis

Argus is powerful and extremely popular. As mentioned in a section of the Communities in Nonsocial Mobile Apps blog post, Argus is a dashboard on your life. Since I look at many things in life through an Octalysis lens, I will be referring to the Octalysis Core Drives here.

Argus Dashboard showing meditation and other items with each item in a six figured shape

Argus Dashboard

Argus is tied into a social network and has a news feed. An example will serve best here. When I get done meditating, I can share how long I meditated and associate an image with it. A six sided “meditation” indicator shows on the dashboard and into a news feed similar to Twitter. The kinds of things I can share are food, cups of coffee or tea, sleep patterns, almost any activity you can think of, and it even syncs with my Fitbit to get the steps.

Since we can see each other’s posts in the feed, there’s a strong people aspect to it. We can share messages, images, and give each others’ posts “likes.” We personally can hold each other accountable, learn from each other, or even just ask how it’s going.

Argus News Feed

Sometimes when a person has not had much sleep and if they share their sleep data, we can say that we hope everything is going ok. There are some wonderful and supportive people in Argus. There’s clearly a strong Octalysis Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness in there.

We personally can hold each other accountable, learn from each other, or even just ask how it’s going.

On a creative note, one person has even held weekly philosophical discussions in a challenge using the Challenges feature. Another person used Argus to get over apathy in life. That’s huge! Here’s a word of caution though. Please, see a Mental Health professional when needed.

Sharing Personal Data

As long as you choose your online friends carefully, there is a continuous sense of support from the group. Yes, I saw at least one scary person in there and that person was reported. Like any online social app, my advice is to control what Argus data you share. For myself, I am just careful to not share exactly where I live.

Through the app’s search feature, I’ve met others and through them learned more about different customs around the world. For example, I learned about an Asian holiday known as Tomb Sweeping. That’s fascinating! I’ve also learned about other customs and people from Spain, other parts of the USA, Canada, and many others.

Accomplishment and Curiosity

Since the app also measures things like the number of steps you’ve taken and tracks goals, you get a strong sense of Octalysis Core Drive 2: Development and Accomplishment. As you know, you never know what you’re going to see in a Twitter-like feed. So, there’s Octalysis Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity at work as well.

Speaking of curiosity, there’s a new Meals section of the app that I have not fully explored yet. Trying that part out is something for me to consider aka chew on. 😁

How To Optimally Enjoy Argus

As in any social app situation, the key is to carefully pick those online friends whose relationships you will nurture on an ongoing basis. Since you only have so much time in life, you have to pick and choose. Originally, I did this by limiting my friendship list to a top ten. Since I have been sharing my meditation expertise and guidance with more people on the app and in life again, I am thinking of accepting more friendship requests to allow more communication opportunities for others. Helping others achieve their optimal potential is a calling in my life and this would support it.

Whatever your calling in life is, I hope you find all the tools and resources you need to make it happen. Have fun!

Mindfully Living the Path of Ease

When it comes to mindfulness and meditation, I aspire to stay on the path. I let things unfold in the mind as I meditate. As Joseph Goldstein shared in Sam Harris’ The Path and the Goal podcast episode:

The path is the goal and the goal is the path. — Joseph Goldstein

My destination is my very next step. My mile marker is one foot. Like a compass, I aim for and aspire towards a direction. However, my goal is simple. Stay on the path in a direction without yearning for a final destination. In compass style, the path is my true north. I aspire to stay on the path. I don’t strive towards an end nor do I attach myself to a certain outcome. Like a river, I am the water flowing fast. Yet, I am moving with ease.

As shared in Joseph Goldstein: Letting Go of Expectations & Craving, “expectation can come disguised as aspiration.” Look closely and you can see the difference.

In the 10% Happier app, there is a Q & A episode called Non-Attachment to Results. Here Joseph Goldstein highlights the difference between aspiration and expectation. In Freeing Yourself From “Want Pain” Through Meditation and Octalysis, the pain associated with expectation and craving is covered. Freedom from want-pain is available. Choose your path.

Expectation can come disguised as aspiration. — Joseph Goldstein

Whatever comes my way, I use to my optimum advantage. As covered in FinneyCanHelp Five Fingers of Freedom, I flow like water. Mentally, I am the martial artist that will use whatever is presented towards an optimum outcome.

Like a river, I am the water flowing fast. Yet, I am moving with ease. — FinneyCanHelp

In self-improvement, winning is achieved by flowing towards a direction. It’s not a fight against yourself towards an imagined future. The aspiration to succeed is not an expectation. The setbacks are opportunities to learn and grow. It’s not a fight. It’s a journey. I flow around and wear down any perceived obstacles. As George Mumford said in the 10% Happier app, there’s no such thing as failure, only feedback. As this martial arts video shared, There Is No Opponent and there is no self:

How do I describe myself which is not a self? The description is “A river, continuously flowing, always changing, always moving, and on the path.” May you live with ease.

Man with camera looking in mirror

Removing the Mystery of Losing the Self

Listening to The Limits of Persuasion [NSFW: cussing] reveals the most straightforward and no-kidding way of explaining what it means to lose the illusion of the self. This post highlights certain parts, brings in knowledge from other sources, and shares my experience.

In Selflessness and Mindfulness Where Y O U are the Target, I covered why you care about losing the illusion of the self. However, we didn’t go deep into what it really means to lose the self. “What is the self we’re talking about?”, you might ask.

One hour 43 minutes and 20 seconds into The Limits of Persuasion, Sam reveals that there doesn’t have to be a paradoxical mystery around losing the self:

In terms of the self being an illusion, that’s not really a paradox. I feel like I can walk you through how that makes perfect sense in my world and doesn’t entail any paradox.

The various definitions of self throw everything off. Coming from the podcast as well as multiple other sources, here are some key points on the topic of the “self”:

  • People are real.
  • Your body and mind are continuously changing.
  • The subject / object relationship is an illusion.
  • Meditation can help you see that the subject / object relationship is an illusion. There really is no subject.
  • Everything that is noticeable appears in consciousness.

You can see objects. You can hear sounds. Consciousness holds all of these things. You’re not identical to what you see, hear, and think. If you drill down into all the senses and realize that they are just things that become known to consciousness then you just say “OK. It’s all perception that becomes known in consciousness.”

When meditating, you can identify that all things are just appearances. These appearances are just recognitions of stuff existing. When you try to explore who or what is holding consciousness, you realize that what you thought was holding consciousness is really just more stuff that can be observed in consciousness. Sam adds to the five senses proprioception. According to Wikipedia, proprioception is the “sense of the relative position of one’s own parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.” It’s all just raw data.

If all five senses plus proprioception are just raw data that can be observed, we’re left with nothing else. As Sam puts it:

There’s just this flux without a center. The center is only implied. When you look for the center, the feeling of there being a center can..drop out. ..everything else remains.

By “everything else remains”, it means that experiences are still known through all the senses. You still see, hear and so on. However, you’ve lost the subject / object sensation. There’s a true sense of complete integration with everything. You also recognize everything changes which includes what you normally would call your body and mind.

So, in short. You have a feeling of self. When you look closely into all the sensations of what it means to be a self, you end up just observing lots of sensations through your senses. There’s nothing beyond what you’re sensing. The sensations continuously change over time. The sensations reveal the world. There’s nothing beyond the senses that you can sense. Thus, you are the world. Meditation helps you see / observe / know all of this.

As I mention in Selflessness and Mindfulness Where Y O U are the Target, you can make a difference in life in a more impactful way without as much concern. That’s a huge benefit of dropping the illusion of the self.

You can optimize your actions in life and not be held back by the illusion of the self. You can just focus on giving to the world by being a continuous stream of action. You become just action in motion. With this, I can be a verb as opposed to a noun.

There isn’t anything that is consistently you as an unchanging entity. Just like all of life, all of you is changing over time. You can be free of the feeling of a “self” and reap the benefits for the betterment of all.

Man with camera looking in mirror

dancing

Pair Programming and Supporting It

At CARFAX, we Pair Program. Conceptually, Pair Programming is two people sharing one mouse, one keyboard, and one computer. In reality, technology keeps it from being a cumbersome experience. Although I have done this at other companies, we don’t literally shove the mouse, keyboard and computer back and forth. Still, the concept is preserved. Referred to as Driving, one person is typing and the other person helpfully participates. Both brains are engaged. Their minds are in sync.

dancing

Pair Programming covers a lot of ground when it comes to the benefits that it delivers when done well. I have heard many examples of Pair Programming not going well. Most of the time, it’s because one or more of the following things were in play:

  • Culture didn’t support it
  • No process of providing constructive feedback between team members existed
  • Lack of formal Pair Programming training

The third one is sadly the most common and easiest to fix. Do not confuse Pair Programming training with Test Driven Development (TDD) training. You could have all the TDD training you want, yet that doesn’t guarantee that one of the two people won’t behaviorally be a domineering alpha-male / alpha-female. As the Star Trek fans might say, you are going for a mind meld.

Both brains are engaged. Their minds are in sync.

It also means that they both learn to share, listen, and come prepared. There are various other articles out there that cover whether Pair Programming is great or not and how so. This article covers some of the items related to how to make Pair Programming work and not to jump the gun in deciding that Pair Programming is not working for you or your team.

Pair Programming Should Be Taught

Far too often, people are not told how to pair program well. Two people are put together and told to just “do it.” I have coached teams and specific individuals on how to Pair Program well. Before sharing how one can Pair Program well, it’s important to point out to not judge their experience too quickly.

When Should I Judge My Experience?

In short, you have to do something well before you can judge an activity fairly. Have you ever tried a new activity such as learning how to code? After just trying it for just a few days, did you throw your hands up into the air and say this is a stupid waste of your time never to return again? Probably not. It took time and you were willing to spend the time because the benefits were important to you.

From How Important is Pair Programming? by Ron Jeffries:

..you can’t assess whether you like something if you don’t do it well

..does take some practice to do well

..do it well for a few weeks to see the results

What are the Benefits?

There are other articles that cover this more in-depth such as the Better Together: The Benefits of Pair Programming article. Here’s a handful:

  • Continuous code inspection – As opposed to a boring meeting full of people who weren’t there with you when you faced the challenges and legacy code.
  • Backup memory – Everyone has brain farts. Your fellow pair programmer gets you past that.
  • Self esteem supporter – If done well, you’re both in it together. You are white-hat. You are kind and yet you also hold each other accountable.
  • Collective Code ownership – No-one claims that this code-over-here is my code. Everyone can touch any of the code with the right pair of people.
  • Knowledge sharing – If one gets hit by a bus or wants to go on vacation, the entire team is not severely hindered.
  • and so many more. With respect, go google it.

When does the developer have time to think?

That’s a great question! It’s important for the team to set up a structure so that developers have time to think about what they are about to work on and while they are in the middle of working on it. That means structure. That means understanding and respecting each others’ needs to explore a little on their own computer, setting aside any investigative code they wrote and then coming together to work on it as a pair.

Scheduled breaks should also be taken. It allows time to freshen up the mind and explore the code more on ones one if desired. That means committing to a source-code-branch and publishing it so both can play on their own. When doing this, enough time is needed in order to come up with a draft idea. Not a perfect idea!

Time To Think aka 3T is critical. It comes in many forms both informal and formal. Even time to explore a small bit of code together needs to be supported. Sometimes one person should just wait patiently for a few minutes. You never know what you might see! However, that technique should not be abused such that one person just codes ahead for a long time and leaves the other behind.

Work together to figure out how to support the 3Ts or bad things will happen such as people dominating the keyboard and pair programming experience.

Pair Programming Tips

  • Do head nods or occasional mmhmmm
  • Give compliments
  • Do not over prompt. Allow five seconds after you spot the Driver making a mistake. Saying oops over and over quickly is just annoying

How do you make it work when at least one person is remote?

  • More audio cues are needed because body language is much harder to see.
  • Can you see their face? Facial expressions and body language account for 90% of what’s being communicated. Use video if possible.

This Pair Programming practice ties into Extreme Programming. What is Extreme Programming?:

  • ..based on values of simplicity, communication, feedback, courage, and respect.
  • ..works by bringing the whole team together in the presence of simple practices
  • ..feedback to enable the team to see where they are and to tune the practices to their unique situation

[formatting mine]

Good Luck!

Hopefully this helps. Good luck and happy coding!

Update: It was suggested that we have an alternative name for Time To Think (3T), Design Exploration Time (DET). So now it’s known as either.

Open hand by the sea of life

Handy Tip For Focusing

Let’s cut straight to the handy tip for focusing.

Imagine your mind is a hand. When the mind is trying really hard to focus on something, it can feel like a clenched fist.

A clenched fist trying to hold on is a losing battle. A closed fist is limiting. It’s by letting go and beginning again that we maintain focus and our goals.

Clench your left fist. Do you feel how it feels? Close your right hand with your fingers up and then slowly open your hand. Let the fingers unfold and spread out.
Do you feel the letting go? The openness? The opportunity to receive something wonderful? With the open hand, the universe can give you nourishment and support.

The open hand is the hand of greeting. It’s the hand of limitless opportunity. It’s the hand of sharing.

When focusing on something, maintain your focus with an open hand-like approach. Steady your attention on your item of interest by recognizing when you’ve lost focus and gently bring your attention back.

It works for tasks. It works for meditating. This can even help you deeply and mindfully enjoy all the flavors of life.

Sharing is a wonderful feeling. With your new open-hand mindset, will you please share this technique?

Open hand by the sea of life

Pretty candle balls sparkling in the snow

How Big Is The Ball of Wax For Quality Assurance?

At CARFAX, we have awesome Quality Assurance (QA) support for the CARFAX iOS app and other apps. In order to do an awesome job, QA needs adequate time to do adequate regression testing before the next release of an app. The question is how much time is needed?

I like to think about this in terms of balls of wax. Amongst other things, the total effort of a project includes both an amount of coding plus a certain amount of testing. Therefore, the coding-ball-of-wax plus the testing-ball-of-wax equals the whole ball-of-wax.

In order to give QA a feel for how long it will take to regression test at the end of a project, they need some data. One idea that I’ve heard a few times is to use Story Points. What Are Story Points?

As I put it once, Story Points are how much brain-power plus actual coding is required to make the change. Do Story Points help give QA a feel for how much functionality change is being introduced? Not always.

A Story Point size is reflective of how much effort a developer has to put into making the change. It’s not reflective of how much testing is needed for that specifically changed feature.

How can we give QA the data they need in order for them to size the amount of QA work? If one feeds into the process, a “Feature Change Amount“ that will give them the information they need. The Feature Change Amount could be sized the same way as Story Points are sized. As opposed to Story Points however, a Feature Change Amount directly reflects something useful by QA so they know how much QAing is needed.

How does your QA get a feel for how long it takes to QA a project before it’s released for your customers to use? Feel free to share it with me on Twitter!

Pretty candle balls sparkling in the snow

Person Contemplating Clouds

Meditation Brain Headbands And Wrong Effort

Focusing until it hurts doesn’t work with meditation. Yet, I understand people want feedback in their meditation practice.

Have you heard that phrase, “Focus until it hurts?” Focusing until it hurts on purpose is a bad move.

If you try to focus too hard, you’ll just end up giving yourself a headache. It’s not sustainable. It’s better to just gently apply your focus on something and keep coming back to it when you’ve lost focus. It’s the Flow Like Water finger in my Five Fingers of Freedom.

Muse Headband

What other feedback options exist? Have you heard of brain signal reading headbands like Muse? Muse is touted as a “brain sensing headband” that makes meditating easy.

There are reviews like the Wearable Review that almost got me buying it. There are also videos like the Muse Brain Sensing Headband from TechCrunch:

From the how does muse work page,

Muse gives you feedback about your meditation in real time by translating your brain signals into the sounds of wind.

So, it sounds great. However, I am concerned about the potential set up for a longterm failure. Before I go into that, I need to share my respect for what they are trying to do with Muse.

In that video above, we see CEO and Founder of InteraXon, Ariel Garten. I respect Ariel Garten’s mission and have followed the company’s journey for over five years. As Ariel said in a Ted Talk titled Know thyself, with a brain scanner:

My goal, quite simply, is to help people become more in tune with themselves.

Although I have seriously considered buying Muse, real time feedback sounds like it could potentially encourage what is known as wrong effort. A strong desire to get results immediately generates an energy that is counter productive.

Wrong Effort By George Mumford

About fourteen minutes into the session titled “Change the Mindset” of the 10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics meditation appGeorge Mumford captures the concept of trying too hard and over-monitoring well:

When that energy is driving you to the point to where you’re always looking to see how you’re doing, you’re not present to what you are doing.

As a side note, George Mumford impresses me so much! The 10% Happier app has really helped distilled his concepts into a concise format. To get access to the concepts, you need to get the 10% Happier app and then subscribe to get past the free introduction material. I’m a huge fan.

If you want to read something instead, you can get the book George co-authored called The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance. Another option is that I cover George’s concept of how negative self talk feeds the “fear wolf” in Lose Negative Self Talk By Losing Yourself.

Is Realtime Feedback Useful?

Although I haven’t purchased Muse and seen for myself, I haven’t decided if using Muse is a good idea or not. It didn’t help that Arial said in the Muse Brain Sensing Headband video above:

And it’s your job to quiet the wind and quiet the mind.

When you’re mind is distracted while wearing Muse, you receive the noise of wind. Well, trying to quiet the mind head-on seems incorrect. As a meditator, your job is to observe your thoughts. It’s not to force your thoughts to go away. However, it’s possible she has to say something like that in order for people to frame the conversation quickly in their minds.

As I wrote in Meditation Journey is Simple, you don’t want to force your attention on the breath. You want to just notice that you’ve lost your focus and begin again. Recognizing you’re lost and beginning again builds up the mental focus muscle.

Listening further, I can tell she correctly understands the overall concept. She then says something interesting I had not considered before. In the context of a mental fitness gym, using Muse is where:

You get to do more reps in a single session.

That sounds very compelling. However, there is still a question here. Specifically, which part exercises ones mental focus? Is it the recognition that you’re lost in thought or the act of bringing your focus back on to the object? In other words, is it recognition or refocusing that makes your ability to focus stronger?

Where to Find The Answer?

It’s at this point where I feel fortunate that I have the 10% Happier app. I can literally send a text message to my coach in the 10% Happier app and see what they say. In fairness, they may not know because without Muse or a product like it, one recognizes they are lost in thought and brings their focus back onto the object of focus. Therefore, one is doing both activities of recognizing and refocusing. So, it wouldn’t be a burning question for those who don’t use brain reading headbands.

Although the name escapes me, there is also someone in the 10% Happier podcast that Dan interviewed who might know the answer. Unless you know of other possible sources, I am left with nothing else other than googling for the answer.

Applying This For Work

Having clear answers as to what really works is essential. Forward thinking companies are always looking for ways to increase the production capabilities of its employees. My positive experiences from working at CARFAX such as when they helped pay for a Fitbit, gives me hope that in the long run companies will support employees going after the benefits of meditation / mental-focus exercising.

However, a tool like Muse can’t be recommended until benefits are clear. Until then, recommending an app like the 10% Happier meditation app is a safe and enjoyable solution.