Stories. They’re All Stories.

One of my colleagues asked me how I remembered details of peoples’ lives like I do.

My answer: Stories. They’re all stories.

Stories are how we connect. No matter what happens to you, you are creating a story about it in your mind. It’s how we cope with things. It’s how we organize what happens to us.

It’s also how we remember things. We can only store between 5 and 9 things in our short term memories at a given time. Those 5 to 9 things can be either facts, songs, or stories. That’s the reason that even as adults when we are having trouble alphabetizing something, we find ourselves singing that song. You know the one.

I actually have a horrible time memorizing. I remember the stories and patterns to something quicker than I can memorize the facts. It’s part of the reason I have to work so hard to remember names. I try extra hard to remember as many names as I can. That’s why I actually remember more names than most. I try really hard.

The best way to remember something that you really want to remember is to make it into a story or a song. This group of techniques is called chunking. Not the most palatable term as the lady at Waffle House told me one time.

Chunking works by combining several factoids into a form so that instead of trying to recall a dozen facts, you are remembering a single song or story.

In addition to building these chunks of memory, we have to build the proper triggers or associations.

When I was in the ninth grade, we had to memorize the periodic table for a test. We had to know the first 92 elements’ name, number and symbol. Potassium is K with a number of 19. The way I remember this to this day is because there is potassium in bananas. You put bananas into cereal. Product 19 and Special K are cereals. Even now, when someone mentions the letter K, I think of potassium. Go figure. The same thing happens with the number 19.

When creating your memory chunks, you have to build them in a way that allows the proper triggers to be put into place. With proper triggers, remembering these factoids actually becomes a habit. Eventually instead of even having to remember the story, the trigger will cause you to remember the facts associated with that trigger instinctively.

 

I Don’t Have Time To Write This Blog Post

I am sitting here at midnight having a conversation with myself about this blog post. I’m telling myself, “You don’t have time for this post”. There are two things about that thought that strike me:

1. I have the time. It takes about an hour to put out a post that’s readable if not a work of art.

If I don’t have time to write this article, how have I made it to Level 190 in Candy Crush in the last three months? How do I maintain six games of Words With Friends most of the time?

If I don’t have time to write this article, how did I manage to watch at least four movies this weekend, including Ender’s Game in IMAX?

The truth of it is that I have the same amount of time as anybody else, “a lifetime”, to borrow from Neil Gaiman.

The thing I lack is focus and focused time. Speaking of focus, that brings me to the second point.

2. Hey! That’s ‘The Resistance’ talking. It’s also known as that little red devil guy sitting on your shoulder in the old Tom & Jerry cartoons telling Tom or Jerry to do something they know they really shouldn’t do.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say ‘The Resistance’, go read Steven Pressfield’s excellent book on creativity and beating ‘The Resistance’, The War of Art. The TL;DR version of the book is that ‘The Resistance’ will do anything to keep you from listening to your ‘Muse’. It will do anything to keep you unfocused on what needs doing.

‘The Resistance’ will help you find any excuse to not do anything that brings about a positive change in your life or work that needs doing. ‘The Resistance’ as presented by Steven Pressfield reminds me of a gospel song by The Kingsmen (it’s fun to watch them stumble on a song they played a gajillion times in the 1980s ).

The chief difference between The Devil and ‘The Resistance’ is that ‘The Resistance’ is an internal force that encourages procrastination and enticements to draw us away from ‘The Work’, whether it’s creative work, exercise, or just work.

One, if you’re not familiar with it, buy and read The War of Art ( affiliate link that benefits my kids’ school) and two stop using the words ‘I don’t have time’. It’s better to say ‘I have other priorities’. and stop lying to yourself.

I Want To Face My Fears, Mom

We recently took my 6-year-old son, Alex, to the Carnival. Alex doesn’t have the greatest sense of adventure and has a pronounced fear of heights.

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When we got to the big Ferris Wheel, my wife asked Alex if he was sure he wanted to go. Alex said, “I want to face my fears, Mom”.

Things that I’m afraid of: heights, snakes, getting in front of an audience and making a fool of myself.

Guess Who Didn’t Get On the Ferris Wheel.

That would be me but two years ago, I agreed to co-present two different sessions at Sage Summit last year. This year, I submitted a session and was invited to co-present another session. Holy Cow! Who would have thought that this introverted, nervous wreck would ever agree to do something like that?

Let me take you back to the list of things I’m afraid of: heights, snakes, getting in front of an audience and making a fool of myself.

Guess what! I didn’t make a fool of myself…well, maybe only a little, but I learned from the experience to never talk about the zombie apocalypse in front of an audience again.

Not only did I not (really) make a fool of myself, I got a ton of compliments. One of my co-presenters called me after Summit last year to thank me and tell me what a good job I’d done. He hadn’t even realized that I hadn’t done that before.

Pretty crazy stuff!

I thanked him because if he hadn’t asked, I’d have never done it.

What Did I Do To Prepare?

As soon as I was asked to participate in the first session, I Googled Toastmasters and the name of the city where I live. I found the Toastmasters Find a Club link. I found a Toastmasters club that meets every Tuesday. I joined and got involved.

This is the principle of mithridatization as explained by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Antifragile (affiliate link). By taking small doses of a poison you can gain immunity to the poison…or at least a higher tolerance. When we face our fears a little at a time, we inoculate ourselves against those fears and develop an immunity to our fears.

But what happened on the Ferris Wheel?

Alex rode the Ferris Wheel. He had fun. He will probably ride it again. He still doesn’t like heights but now he knows more about what he can handle.

I can now get up in front of an audience without getting completely freaked out. I still get butterflies. I still occasionally forget my lines. However, in the end, I know I will survive the experience and actually can have a lot of fun speaking to an audience.

Remember, courage is not acting without fear. Courage is acting in spite of fear.

What Are You Going To Do With That Ukulele?

While visiting my aunt this summer, she took Alex to visit my cousin in Tampa and she has a ukulele.  Alex fell in love with her ukulele. She taught him the basic strumming method in the time they were there. Her roommate has a baritone ukulele. He didn’t like that one as much. He wants a tenor ukulele like my cousin’s. He wanted guitar lessons but he really wants ukulele lessons now.

Coincidentally, my friend Bill Kizer got a ukulele for Father’s Day. The book I read this summer on rapid learning protocols has a chapter on ukulele. Less coincidentally, my friend and colleague, Kevin Conlin, pointed me to this video of Jake Shimabukuro playing Bohemian Rhapsody on ukulele in a TED Talk from 2010.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PB3RbO7updc&w=448&h=252&hd=1]
The video is pretty awesome! I never thought anyone could play Bohemian Rhapsody on the ukulele…or would.
I posted about this whole ukulele thing previously. Since then, I have found hundreds of videos on how to play the ukulele on YouTube. Fortunately his school’s music teacher thinks he can teach Alex to play the ukulele. His first lesson is today. For the first few days as Alex practices scales (or whatever), this is what I’ll be hearing.
What does all of this mean for you? I have absolutely no clue other than you get to watch a really cool video.

May Experiment

Sheesh! This whole writing daily experiment has been a complete failure so far. I guess I will have to start over.

One of the things about forming new habits, like writing daily or running, is that you have to be careful about how you setup the trigger / response relationship. If you just say you’re going to do it “sometime tomorrow”, you won’t..or at least I won’t.

The beautiful thing with the running habit I’m working on is, I wake up on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning, then I go for a run. That works most of the time. The two issues I have with using waking up as a trigger for a habit is: my wife occasionally has to go into work early and I still have to make sure the kids get up and I have a tendency to stay up too late and make myself unable to wake up in time to do whatever I’m supposed to do. Tomorrow, I’m going to the District 84 Toastmasters Conference, so unless I make myself get up, I won’t run. It’s a hotel thing. The good thing is I’ll be near a mall with a nice perimeter to run around.

But I was talking about writing. I can’t make myself write first thing in the morning because my brain isn’t fully functional until about 10 am. Anything I write before then not usually coherent. I normally produce my best material either mid afternoon or late at night, after everyone else is in bed, if not asleep. That’s when I did my best work for Comics & Geeks. I’m especially proud of a few of the pieces I did on there.

I’m going to be working on figuring out the proper trigger so I can get myself writing daily. It’s worked for running. It’s worked for eating properly. It has worked in the past for other habits I’ve tried to form.

Then again, I may just need a few nights of good sleep. That’s one of the things about getting actual exercise. I’m tired by the end of the day, even though I won’t be asleep before midnight.

Later folks!

Running

I’m getting ready to go out for my run. I normally run in the mornings. I’ve been doing the Couch 2 5k program. Specifically, I’m using the Run 5k app on my iPhone. I completed week 3 on Sunday. I’ll be starting week 3 again shortly.

Running is hard for me. I have a bad knee. I have a bad ankle and I’m pigeon toed. I’m also flat footed. I weigh 275 lbs.

I have never really run much since I was a little kid. When I was a kid, I mitigated the amount of effort I had to exert. If I could get out of exercising or running as a kid, I avoided it. I was a brain. Running was below me. I didn’t need to be fit because I had brains. That might be why I was 260 lbs when I graduated from high school.

As I was saying, I weigh 275 lbs. Seven weeks ago I weighed 295 lbs.

I went through this same process two years ago. I ran for months. The first time I didn’t last the first 15 minutes of the program. It took me two weeks before I could finish one day of the C25k program. It was two months before I could do the second week completely. Life happened. I stopped running and watching what I ate and need right back where I started. It took me a while to get back to that point, so some of the good habits I formed in that period stuck. For example, I had only starting this past Christmas started buying snacks in convenience stores again. It took over a year for that bad habit to restart.

But I was talking about running. Yes. I needed to exercise. Why would I choose to run? Imagine the stress I’m putting my legs and feet joints through.

I like running. I never knew it before. I get 30 minutes alone with my thoughts. It’s meditative, even when I’m wheezing and gasping for air. I get to spend time listening to podcasts and audiobooks.

It’s a way to exercise that requires no equipment. I can do it anywhere. My kids don’t want to go on road runs.

Since I began running, I am able to get on the soccer field and help coach my son’s soccer team. I have lost twenty pounds. I feel better. My brain gets to reset.

I guess I better get out there. It’s gotten dark since I started writing this.