Protecting your mental RAM

It’s not a perfect metaphor, but sometimes it’s helpful to think of our brains as computers.

The things we’ve learned are written to disk. They sit on our hard drive, but we can really only made use of them if we load them into RAM.

There are heaps of things we’ve learned which are relevant to any given situation, but unless we consciously drag them to the surface and load them into RAM, they don’t really influence our thinking or actions.

But we can’t just load everything into RAM. It’s a precious resource, it’s what we need to do our work, and it’s really easy to fill up with shit.

That 5 minute check of your facebook feed? That’s all sitting in your RAM. That fact about whale testicles spouted at volume by the loud guy in the office? That’s sitting in your RAM.

When you sleep, your RAM gets (mostly) purged – so if you want to retain something, you have to make the effort to write it to disk (or write it down).

When we wake up, our RAM is pretty fresh but we should be discerning with what we load into it. If we fill it with shit first thing in the morning, we’ll have it rattling around all day.

One of the most important things I’ve learned comes from this quote by Victor Frankl:

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

It’s the reminder to pause. To create enough space to ensure that a response is a deliberate choice and not just the product of habit, fear or bullshit. It’s the reminder that, irrespective of circumstance, we get to choose our response and that’s the cornerstone of our freedom.

When we react without making that choice, we have no freedom. We’re just a slave to the unfathomable algorithms of our experience.

It’s a great lesson, but I almost never heeded it, because I never made the conscious effort to load it into RAM. It wasn’t there when I needed it.

Now I’ve changed how I think about my RAM. I’m protective of what goes into it and I’m careful of the boot sequence. Frankl’s quote is in the boot sequence, but Facebook and facts about whale balls didn’t make the cut (although they’re in your RAM now).

Keep your RAM tidy and make deliberate choices about what you load into it. And if you are going to add something into your boot sequence, you could do a lot worse than some Victor Frankl.

The Compass

I bought my daughter a compass on the weekend.

She complained that the needle kept moving when she walked.

“That’s how you know the compass is working. If you move around and the needle is still, then you know that the compass is broken. It’s lying to you.”

“But it’s easier to follow when the needle stays still.”

“Of course it is. That’s the difference between lies and the truth. Lies are often easier, but they point you in the wrong direction.”

“…It doesn’t tell me where I’m going.”

“It will tell you which way North is, and from there you can figure out where you’re going.”

“How can I get it to tell me which way to go?”

“You have to decide where you want to go, then the compass will tell you if you’re pointing in the right direction.”

“That’s dumb, I want to know where the best place is to go.”

“You get to figure that out. That’s the best bit.”

“I don’t want to figure it out. Can’t you just tell me?”

“You don’t want me to tell you that. I’m still figuring out the best place for me.”

“Really, you still don’t know? When will you figure it out?”

“I don’t know, probably sometime just before I die.”

“That’s a bit late isn’t it?”

“Not really. The best bit is in the figuring out.”

“You’re weird.”

Bravery and sincerity

Someone in the office started a weekly, drop-in, mindfulness session.

She booked a room for 20 minutes, and once a week, anyone who is interested can go over and listen to a simple, guided meditation.

It’s a great idea, was well framed and perfectly executed. Most of the people who turned up to the first session hadn’t done any meditation before, and the group seemed to genuinely enjoy the experience.

One of the things which I liked most about her idea, is that it was offered with compete sincerity – which means that she left herself vulnerable to social ridicule for backing an idea which might not work.

You might read that and think “social ridicule? What kind of work place is that?”

As it happens, it’s a great workplace, with lots of genuine, caring people. But there is still vulnerability in presenting an offer like this sincerely. When you first suggest it to a group of people, you do so not knowing if it will be accepted and you open the door especially to the very English dismissal/ridicule/discrediting arriving in the form of “banter”.

This kind of dismissal doesn’t have to be malicious in order to be effective or painful to receive. It’s often not even intended to actually discredit the idea, but is just a sniping observation, played for laughs.

This is especially true if the idea presented is more like “let’s meditate together” as opposed to something socially safer like “let’s get a burrito.”

The fact that I find this sincerity brave, probably says more about my own sensitivity to being undercut socially than being any great comment on how we interact with each other. I’ve been burned by comments like this in the past and I’ve certainly been responsible for dishing out my fair share. But I still think there is something powerful in this sincerity and worth calling out.

Brene Brown has spoken and written about the power and value of making ourselves vulnerable and Seth Godin stands firmly behind putting things out there which might not work.

Elsewhere, Godin had said that bravery is over-rated, because we tend to elevate it to a status which means that we tend to make it unattainable for most people on a daily basis. But I think that the opposite is true. I don’t think that it’s given enough emphasis, but we need to show where it exists in the small gestures, not just the large ones. We need to celebrate and promote the acts of everyday bravery in everyday situations, as they potentially open up a whole spectrum of choices which might not otherwise be available to us.

This might just be a case of calling out and supporting sincere offers when we see them. Probably more helpful is to ensure that we defend sincere offers when they are at risk of being undercut socially by someone who pokes the vulnerability for laughs.

It might not be the easiest position to take in the world, but if it were easy, then the stoics wouldn’t have bothered to make courage one of their core virtues.

Either way, I’m all for a little more sincerity and social vulnerability. They might be occasionally painful, but I suspect they contain a lot of value that we ignore on a daily basis.

In the meantime, if you need me between 11.40 & 12.00 on a Wednesday, I’ll in chilling out in Christine’s mindfulness session.