Meditating and Coming Across Colder Than Ice

A benefit of mindfulness meditation is that you can respond to your emotions and situations with more grace and with less regrets. As you “mellow out” over time, you might not express strong emotions. Since you don’t react with a knee-jerk response to every situation, some may mistakenly think you are emotionally cold. To them, you’re not showing emotions. That can seem real creepy to others!

In my life, I have been compared to a Star Trek Vulcan. That’s a person who is logical yet doesn’t show emotion. Other times, I’ve been called a robot. I even was described by a former boss as “an ice-man…but in a good way.” In college, a friend would get three inches from my face and ask me,  “Does this bother you?” just to see how I would respond. I would reply with a smile that I couldn’t see her face and thus couldn’t communicate effectively.

To counter this natural concern from others and put people at ease, one thing I learned quickly in life was that it’s important to smile. Whether or not you meditate, smiling is a key to success. As a result of this approach and my love for Batman, I was referred to by some in college as The Joker’s good twin.

Loving Kindness

Even if you smile, people can tell that you’re special in that you don’t thoughtlessly react to things. They won’t know what to make of it. People can get scared of what they don’t understand or trust. Just know that they are trying to understand you and may not have a good way of relating to someone who is so centered and balanced.

To help with this situation, I use a meditation practice that stokes the fires of compassion and well wishing for my fellow human being as well as myself. This practice is called Lovingkindness.

My Words

During my teenage years, I had a religious upbringing. So, my Lovingkindness practice included God. Since I was taught that Jesus loved us unconditionally and humans lived better together with such a neighborly philosophy, unconditional love was the foundation for my practice.

With my palms facing up and my arms out wide, I would recite to myself over and over again the following:

  1. I love myself unconditionally.
  2. I love the divine unconditionally.
  3. Through the love between myself and the divine, I love everyone and everything and allow that love to come back unto me.

Since the rhythm of “the divine” felt better, I used “the divine” for God.

Since I had read that imagining a great silver glowing light would magnetically draw people to me, I imagined that too. As the saying goes, don’t believe everything you read. I will say though that the imagery of light connecting me to heaven and then on out to everything else was truly effective in giving rise to a sense of connection.

Back then, step three of using God (the divine) to be the bridge between myself and connecting myself to everything felt critical. Although I believed in people, I felt it was too hard to connect to people without divine intervention and I needed that bridge. Nowadays, I have a deeper understanding of life, the known and the unknown, and our interconnection with all of it. 

Sharon Salzberg

These days, I use a suggestion that Sharon Salzberg made in the fantastic meditation iPhone app called 10% Happier. As a result, my new phrases are verbatim what she shared:

  1. May I be safe
  2. Be Happy
  3. Be healthy
  4. Live with ease

The “May I be safe” changes to “May you be safe” or “May all be safe” when I want to switch what to focus on. From my own experience and others, I’ve learned that you can use whatever words you want as long as you are consistent.

Takeaway

To be clear, one still has emotions when meditating. It’s just that you’ll have a superpower of seeing an emotion and choosing your response. Your superpower will scare some people. If you do a Lovingkindness meditation practice, people will be able to tell, they will trust you more, and you will enjoy the benefits that come with it.

 

Meditating on Suffering From Unawareness

As George Mumford said in the 10% Happier meditation app, “Who’s the enemy? Unawareness.” Unawareness is serious business and is a root cause for so much suffering in the world. For the individual though, isn’t ignorance bliss?

A great series of questions about the phrase “suffering from unawareness” was raised by Yuri in Mistakes and Let Go Learn From. To quote the question:

Does a dog suffer from unawareness? an ant? a tree? a rock?
Is it possible to suffer without awareness?
Perhaps it is those who are aware who suffer most.
You could say awareness is suffering ?

To put the questions into my own words, how can one suffer if they are not aware? Doesn’t it hurt more to be aware? Those are interesting and fair questions. To clarify about “suffering” in the mindfulness meditation context, we’re talking about Dukkha. If one wants to go deep with an exploration of suffering, there’s an interesting podcast episode titled Joseph Goldstein – Insight Hour – Ep. 30 – The Four Noble Truths: Dukkha. Unpacking what suffering is can get deep. Suffice it to say, suffering goes beyond just pain.

To quote Selflessness and Mindfulness Where Y O U are the Target:

In this context, suffering is also sometimes known as the dissatisfying aspects of life. The sensation of being angry, feeling ill, or sadness doesn’t disappear, but it doesn’t have the same kind of impact when one is in a state of selflessness.

Now that we’ve covered suffering and shown our understanding of the spirit of the questions, let’s get back to the dog, ant, tree, and rock questions directly. An exploration of these questions directly might prove enlightening and perhaps even fun.

Rocks

Salt

Sodium Chloride Is Yummy

Rocks are not conscious. If one is as unfeeling as a rock, they won’t suffer nor feel the typical dissatisfactions that come with life. As stated on Minerals vs. Rocks, it’s noteworthy that “Rocks are generally made of two or more minerals.” Among other things, humans are made up of minerals. A human is a constellation of many different things.

Ants

Ants are a trickier thing to talk about. Ants are special creatures of earth and are quite different from humans. Humans will take in information through their senses, automatically abstract and filter away extraneous details, and then create a mental map of what was, what is, and what might be. Although there is much about ants we don’t understand, it’s clear that ants have evolved differently to survive in life.

Ants on wood

As stated in We’ve Been Looking at Ant Intelligence the Wrong Way, “ants do not integrate all this information into a unified representation of the world, a so-called cognitive map.” They have adapted for navigation in different ways. There’s still much we don’t know about ants. So doggone it, we don’t know what ants think.

Dogs

Dogs Are Awesome

In my opinion, dogs are awesome. The more we learn about them, the more awesome they seem. As shared in Which Emotions Do Dogs Actually Experience?, dogs experience “basic emotions: joy, fear, anger, disgust and even love.” Do dogs suffer from dissatisfaction in life? As a former owner of many dogs, yes. Dogs suffer from dissatisfaction in life. In fact, once I observed a dog’s unhealthy attachment to fear which kept it from going to the bathroom until the poor dog just lost it wherever he was. That dog couldn’t be trained / reached since there was no way to explore this unhealthy attachment to its fear.

Although dogs learn, I am not aware of any scientific evidence supporting dogs having the ability to reflect on their thinking. In other words, dogs don’t have the power of metacognition. Metacognition is the ability to think about thinking.

Dogs don’t have the same mental tools available that humans do. Joe Rogan, Sam harris and Dan Harris (cofounder of the 10% Happier meditation app), discuss meditation and metacognition in this video (NSFW due to cussing and references to recreational drug use):

Dan Harris does an excellent job in that video expanding on the concept of metacognition.

Trees

According to the article Scientists Discover Plants Have “Brains” That Determine When They Grow, trees have “a series of cells acting as a command center of sorts.” However, they also don’t have brains which allow metacognition.

That said, trees can be quite inspirational to humans. As shared on Why Trees Are The Ultimate Meditation Teachers:

A meditation teacher once advised me to look to the example trees set as steady, observant beings.

Studying nature can give us insight into ourselves and our relationship to the rest of the universe.

Human Suffering

Through our human cognitive abilities, we can take note of our thoughts and train ourselves to respond to things which happen to us as opposed to take a knee-jerk reaction to everything in life. In a purely knee-jerk kind of world, we get road rage, more regrets, and are painfully lost in our thoughts.

The good news is that starting the Meditation Journey is Simple. That doesn’t mean meditating is easy. However, that’s another topic for another time.

As opposed to unawareness or ignorance being bliss, “Our suffering stems from ignorance.” as S. N. Goenka put it. As you deal with unawareness in its many forms in life, may you be safe, be happy, be healthy, and live with ease.

Mistakes will happen

Mistakes and Let Go Learn From

When you make a mistake, you feel it. There’s an energy to it. It’s an energy that screams from your brain “Pay attention to me now!” So, how do you learn from a mistake, yet still get done with what you’re doing?

Let’s start by acknowledging that this “annoying” and sometimes “angry” energy is reshaping your mind. This energy can even be interpreted as pain. Often people will even say “Ow!”, “Shucks” or other stand-in words for cuss words. However, that growing “pain” is just the brain’s amygdala at work.

Ice-cream fell out of her hand

Oh, Shoot!

Although what the amygdala does is a key part of storing memories, it’s important to not have a knee-jerk response to every single thing the amygdala screams. If it helps, you can take comfort in knowing that there’s some good news about the mistake you made.

As pointed out in Mistakes Grow Your Brain, the good news is that your brain grows when you make a mistake. This even happens whether or not you are fully conscious of the mistake! The bad news is that it’s too common for us to beat ourselves up over a mistake. As George Mumford put it in the 10% Happier meditation app in “The Yips” section, “We dog ourselves.”

Mistakes will happen

Mistakes Will Happen

The right move to make is to recognize the mistake, acknowledge it, and then let it go. “What a minute!”, you might say. “I can’t just let it go! Don’t I need to learn from the mistake?”

Yes! Absolutely. History will repeat itself if we don’t learn from our past mistakes. The key phrase is “past mistakes.” What George Mumford suggests in the “You’re Not the Mistake” section of the 10% Happier meditation app is to do a “Post Play Reflection” or a “Post Performance Reflection” (PPR). However, you do the PPR later when it’s appropriate. In the immediate, you let go of it in a special way. I call this the “Let Go Learn From” method.

Let Go Learn From

Inspired by George Mumford, here’s the letting go part of the Let Go Learn From method:

Where do I record the mistake? Here’s something that I learned from my Dad. Almost always, I keep a pen and notecards near me. If I don’t have those, I have my smartphone and use the notes app. That way I can record my mistakes and ideas throughout the day. This technique is especially critical during conversations. Tweet me on Twitter at @FinneyCanHelp, if you want to know more about this.

Let Go Learn From

Based in part on George’s PPR suggestions, here’s the “learning from” part of the process:

  • What was the mistake?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • Play it out in your head again, but this time play it out with the mistake corrected.

In other words, replay the event in your mind as you wish it had happened. This lets you face the future with confidence based on a foundation that is structured from your new found wisdom.

Learn, Let Go, and Flow

As I shared in Mindfully Living the Path of Ease:

In self-improvement, winning is achieved by flowing towards a direction.

Sometimes you don’t know you’re flowing in the wrong direction and making mistakes helps you know that. So, take the energy from the mistake made as merely a recognition that you have gotten off track. Use that recognition as feedback into your self-improvement process.

Everybody makes mistakes, but not everyone grows in wisdom from them. As a gift to humanity, grow and share your wisdom. While you’re at it, please also share this post with others. Thank you.

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.

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.

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.

Holy Lovingkindness, Batman!

Holy Lovingkindness Batman!

Batman is the common man with an uncommon mental discipline. While others turned to evil, Batman grew from deep trauma. As the article Develop The Mindset of a Superhero puts it, “Batman has a mind of steel because of the journey he has undertaken,..”

Everything Bruce knew about safety and security was stripped away when his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne, were killed by a criminal right before his eyes. Although traumatized to the core, Bruce Wayne became the superhero we know and love as Batman.

Not limited to superhero stories, Post-traumatic growth is a real thing. First introduced to me by Jane McGonical, it’s possible to frame and train your mind in such a way that you are more likely to grow from severe trauma.

In Seven principles of building personal resilience: practical ways of growing through adversity, Rod Warner outlines ways of approaching life that makes one more resilient, able to recover, and actually thrive from adverse events. An essential piece for handling overwhelmingly negative thoughts and emotions was shared in the “Generate Positive Feelings” section:

Strategies to deal with strong personal negative emotions include deep breathing, taking time out, positive self talk (although recent studies have indicated that simply reciting affirmations can in some cases do more harm than good) and meditation [emphasis added].

This seemingly contradictory “positive self talk” and yet “simply reciting affirmations can..do more harm than good” can be confusing. If you look deep into the “Seven principles..” link shared above, you see they talk about writing in a journal daily and reflecting on your good deeds. Although that works for some, it was often too much overhead for me.

For me, there’s a way that’s much easier. It’s called lovingkindness meditation. Here’s a funny, wonderful, and pragmatic introduction to lovingkindness meditation given by Dan Harris and Sharon Salzberg which is expanded on in the 10% Happier app:

An article that hosts this video and associated text is How Compassion Leads to Success.

From my decades of mediation, I think that applying lovingkindness meditation has a better chance of success than the “positive self talk” approach mentioned above.

Why? I think trying to generate positive thoughts is not sustainable and creates its own stress. As Andy Puddicombe says in I’m plagued by negative thinking:

It’s almost like a form of denial if we are feeling unhappy and really being honest with ourselves, to sit there and repeat “I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy,” fearful that the not-so-happy thoughts might arise.

If we adhere to the spirit of the “positive self talk” and couple it with meditation, we get lovingkindness meditation. With that, here are the “Seven principles..”steps distilled down:

  • Breathing deep
  • Schedule a time and place to recharge
  • Do lovingkindness meditation

As a sentence it could be:

Schedule in your day some lovingkindness meditation and take some deep breaths.

Sounds like a simple prescription for building resilience and growth, doesn’t it? Admittedly, the non-simple part can be finding a place to do this during the day. I’m fortunate that I work at CARFAX where they actually have rooms for recharging, reflecting, or whatever else you need to do in solitude. Find such a spot and do it, meditate! It’s scientifically shown to be worth it.

As said in the video above, this lovingkindness approach is backed by science. From episode number 81: Sharon Salzberg, ‘Real Love’ author of the 10% Happier podcast, the science shows that seven minutes of lovingkindness meditation will change your brain! Since no-one is an island, this change effects everyone you meet and everyone they meet.

Just like Batman achieved his “mind of steel” through meditation, personal growth, and support from Alfred, we can do the same through lovingkindness meditation. There’s a strength in lovingkindness that supports our heroic selves.

To sum up, I believe one can flourish in life by meditating. Based on the science shared above and my own experience, lovingkindness meditation can serve one extremely well. It’s powerful, nourishing, and life changing. In tribute to Adam West, who died on June 9, 2017, I say: Holy Lovingkindness, Batman!

Holy Lovingkindness, Batman!

Meditation Journey is Simple

Woman Breathing Clean Air

The meditation journey is simple. The final destination seems remote and hard.

Beginning with a single step is easy. That step is to focus on the breathing. Stay with it a half breath at a time. When you get lost, begin again. Consistency is the key. Credit goes to George Mumford who explains it well on the 10% Happier with Dan Harris show. As he puts it, the reward is to be “in the moment.” You can slip into the zone easier. You can be Bowl Bottom Centered. As opposed to a heads-on push, it’s a slide into position kind of effort.

It is not about forcing the attention onto the breath. It’s about letting go and beginning again. You let go of the frustration, pain, anger, self hate, and place your attention again on the breath.

Finally, the final destination or goal is to keep going. There is no end point. Just like dividing one by two forever, you are making a difference. Yet, striving for zero is not the point.

The method is simple. The journey is simple. One step at a time will keep you on the path and zone ready.