0.5 in a world of 1s and 0s

binary code by Christiaan Colen

We’re hardwired for binary discrimination and judgment.

Yes / No

On / Off

Good / Bad

In group / Out group

It’s a fast way of operating, but it’s often not helpful in complex, social situations.

We live in a world of nuance but that’s not what’s baked in to our default operating system. So it’s time for an upgrade – or at least a patch.

If we were to think of all the points on a line, most of the available positions are not at the ends, but at somewhere on the continuum.

2points_vs_infinitePoints

If we plot that same line against a second criteria and graph the distribution of values, we get another line, but in this case, the points are likely to bunch up in certain places. Think about the bell curve or the power-law curve.

BellCurve_PowerLawCurve

The natural world gives us distributions and nuance, but we immediately try to put it into binary categories. Tall & short. Young & old.

It’s worth remembering the all the available points on the continuum when deciding how we want to think and act. The most advantageous positions are usually not at the extremes, but somewhere in the middle.

Assertiveness is on the continuum between submission and dominance. It’s somewhere in the middle and in most contexts, it’s overwhelmingly more valuable than either of the other two.

We have the urge to see the world as black and white, but in reality it’s a million shades of grey (here in London, it’s literally grey).

There will be cases where the answer lays at one of the extremes. There will be times when the only rational options are two, mutually exclusive points of view. But those times are rare – and often they will not be the yield the superior position.

In a world of 1s and 0s, don’t be afraid to be a 0.5.

Hero or villain? It’s all in the edit

The amazing Spider-man overpowered by the rampaging Rhino by Levi Espino

You could have really made a good 2-3 minute trailer of me looking like an absolute arsehole yesterday.

As I tried to get 3 kids ready, around a museum, home, fed, clean and to bed – I snapped, cajoled, threatened, bribed, carried and ignored.

If you just saw those moments, then I would have looked like one of the most unsuccessful and unlikeable fathers in Christendom.

On balance however, the day was really good. For each shitty moment of parental-desperation-versus-child-set-to-weapons-grade-misbehaviour, there were lots of good times and a couple of absolute gems.

You could have probably also made a trailer of these highlights – although I suspect the audience for them would be pretty damn small.

And yesterday wasn’t a stand-out day because of these highs and lows – it was par for the course. Every day is filled both with moments we’d rather nobody saw and others we’d wish that nobody missed.

And this is precisely what we see of other people’s lives. We see moments. We see an edit. That’s all we get.

Sometimes we get the highs, sometimes we get the lows and sometimes we see a more balanced mix – but it’s important to remember that we’re only ever seeing a trailer. No matter how good or bad someone looks in that trailer, the full story is undoubtedly more nuanced (and mundane).

Similarly, it’s worth keeping in mind that other people are only seeing a small edit of our days.

Yesterday was a good day – but there are about 25 people floating around London that probably saw an edit of me yesterday which was probably worthy of a scathing mumsnet post.

It’s worth us remembering that other people’s stories began before we were paying attention and will continue long after we’ve drifted away.

The only reason that some end with “happily ever after” is that someone yelled “CUT!” before everyone in the story got explosive diarrhoea*.

* Thanks to Justin Hamilton for this wonderful idea.

Remember to skin your cats!

cat_by_Mohamed_Aymen_Bettaieb

We each have millions of cats in our lives and a similar number of ways to skin them.

When do you wake up? That’s a cat.

Do you eat meat? That’s a cat.

Do you have a fourth beer on a Thursday night? That’s a cat.

It’s easy for us to forget that each of these cats is a choice we get to make.

The reason it’s easy to overlook is that we’ve long since outsourced most routine choices to established patterns of behaviour.

In order to avoid choice overload every moment, we rely on habits, patterns and behaviours that we’ve formed in the past to ease the cognitive load as we go about our day.

Unfortunately for us, we form habits in the same way that evolution picks survivors – it doesn’t optimise for what is the best, it settles for what is the least shitty option that’s come so far.

We figure out what works just enough to survive and we run with that.

It’s a great system in one way: it allows us to function across a broad spectrum of activities without getting lost in the detail. But it also means that we can be stuck with mediocre or even bad choices for a long time if we don’t remember to review our automatic behaviours and check that they still work for us.

I’m not saying we don’t want or need habits – they’re vital to our productivity – I’m just saying that we should be aware of them, check them and update them if necessary.

There are cats we’re still flaying by hand, despite the fact that we’re now the proud owners of the Skin-o-matic 6000TM

The trick is recognising the choices we’ve long since forgotten to make. They can be well camouflaged, and many will be rusted into a single position, taking time and attention to unjam.

You might not want to change what you eat, why you respond to stress or how you skin a cat, but if you do – you’ll need to keep your eyes open.

Changing our choices and behaviours isn’t the work of a moment, but can be one of the most rewarding projects there is.

*No cats were harmed in the writing of this post (but I’m obviously a dog person)

Getting unstuck from the everyday

Packed_Lunch_by_Mark_Robinson

It’s super easy to get caught up in the sticky web of distraction with two major consequences:

  1. We get diverted from our most important work – where we can have the most impact
  2. We close down and start to behave in a reactionary, automatic way without the full toolbox of choices available to us

While it’s hard to catch yourself in the moment, we can set a few alarms to go off throughout the day to trigger the following 2 questions:

  1. Am I doing my most important work right now? If not, how can I get to it asap?
  2. Am I behaving in a way which I would be happy for those I most love and admire to see?

These questions – or variations of them – can be helpful tools to course correct us. They can help to steer us back towards the kinds action and behaviour which will truly serve us in the long term.

What your sore muscles say about your behaviour

Runner by Nakashi

Running long distances has made my legs strong in the directions that count for running. That is, they’re great at moving forward and back, up and down.

However, if I try to flex or stretch my legs laterally, there is little give – and what movement there is, hurts. A lot.

Ask me to sit crossed legged and I’ll wince like you sat me on a hot grill.

Everything has a cost

This is the price of choosing running. The slow accretion of bruising and scar tissue from hours upon hours of relentless hammering on the pavements of London.

It’s a physical version of the social damage I might have done if I were a model train enthusiast.

I’ve trained my legs to endure punishment in a particular way and they’ve grown strong in that direction. But the cost of that is that they are now stiff and inflexible when used in any other way.

It’s not just physical

What’s true for our body is also true for our behaviour.

Our behaviour is often as singular as my running. We’re consistent in how we act. We’re relentless in our commitment to our habits. We build strength in ourselves, but it’s in a single direction.

Making my legs strong in one direction has made them weak in others. Similarly, by behaving consistently one way, it’s harder for us to flex in other situations. Our muscles are tight, and stretching them in new ways feels unnatural and painful.

We’re not the ones who notice

We’re aware of this inflexibility in the physical realm of our own bodies, but it’s other people who are aware of it when it comes to our behaviour.

It’s those around us who notice our pride, our desire for control, our meanness with resource.

It’s others who can see where our training has made us strong, and where is has made us painful and inflexible.

Unsurprisingly, it’s others who can start to free us from this inflexibility. It’s they who can point out where our behavioural muscles are stiff and painful when we’re too daft to notice.

We still have to dedicate the time and an attention to stretching our tight muscles out, but just being aware of them is a good start.