Sunday, January 24, 2010

If it were easy ....

Again a busy full week. A couple of days related to my Dad’s care; a day working on the building; time at the dentist having a crown installed. and preparing for and being part of a great afternoon (visiting and a pot luck supper) with Linda’s family on Saturday. We had 8 (of 9) of her brothers and sisters (and many of the “in-laws” along with several nieces, & nephews, a “grand” niece and the first “great-grand” nephew (hard to believe but Linda’s younger sister became a great-grandmother last April). There were for a total of 24 here for at least part of the afternoon.

As I was preparing to write about my efforts to “Get cracking”, I was considering (again) exactly what it was I was trying to accomplish in this “Breaking the cognitive egg” exercise.

There are actually 2 parts to this.

One has to do with “preventative measures” to offset the normal and natural decline in our reasoning and thinking powers as we age – and yes -- while I don’t think of myself that way I am now an official “card carrying” member of those that the Government of Canada considers old!!) (Actually I still believe in my definition of old – it’s someone who is at least 20 years older than I am :):) )

This idea of "keeping the brain sharp" is really the point of the article I referred to in Cracking the cognitive egg which I posted January 2 as the start of this series.

The second part has to do with the things mentioned in my last post – breaking bad habits such as "An (obsessive) need for approval - habits that limit and in some cases are destructive to my relationships.

For now I’m pursuing the idea that the same techniques that help with retaining cognitive skills may be helpful in breaking these habits – in the sense that changing habits requires breaking “well-trodden paths in our synapses” (see the goal outlined in the “Cracking the cognitive egg” article. )

As a starting point in this process, I had decided to identify the hypotheses that I am undertaking to prove (or disprove). And as I was starting to think about that I realized that it was important to be clear about the foundational “world views” that I have – "What are the things that I take as given's?"

Rene Descartes the famous French philospher and mathematician summarized his basic presuppositions in the statement "Cogito ergo sum" (translated into English as 'I think, therefore I am' ; or 'I am thinking, therefore I exist').

My presuppositions will both shape and limit my thinking— and they need to be understood both by myself and my readers before there can really be an understanding of what I am saying.

This leads me to remember one of my favorite sayings

“There are things that are easy (or hard) to do and there are things that are simple (or complex) to understand”

This leads to 4 possibilities – things that are simple to understand and easy to do; things that are simple to understand and hard to do; things that are complex but easy to do and things that are both complex and hard to do”

And this lead me to thinking that the answer to my question from last week about “Why is it so hard to get started?” is “If it was easy, I’d already be done”

And that lead to looking up some “easy quotes” which I’ve listed below.

Next time - I’ll begin the process of making the complex more simple and the hard easier. For now do you have any favorites from these quotes?

There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult. Warren Buffett

Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think. Martin Luther King, Jr.

There are no easy answers' but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right. Ronald Reagan

Don't just read the easy stuff. You may be entertained by it, but you will never grow from it. Jim Rohn

Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. John F. Kennedy

If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men's cottage princes' palaces. William Shakespeare

There is always an easy solution to every problem - neat, plausible, and wrong. H. L. Mencken

Thinking is easy, action is difficult, and to put one's thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Good questions outrank easy answers. Paul Samuelson

All things are difficult before they are easy. Thomas Fuller

All difficult things have their origin in that which is easy, and great things in that which is small. …. Anticipate the difficult by managing the easy …. Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step Lao Tzu

Faith makes all things possible... love makes all things easy. Dwight L. Moody

It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve; and bad things are very easy to get. Confucius

Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless. Mother Teresa

There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires. Nelson Mandela

Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy. Aristotle

Evil is easy, and has infinite forms. Blaise Pascal

Now don't say you can't swear off drinking; it's easy. I've done it a thousand times. W. C. Fields

To swear off making mistakes is very easy. All you have to do is swear off having ideas. Leo Burnett

Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness. Marianne Williamson

It's easy to fool the eye but it's hard to fool the heart. Al Pacino

To find fault is easy; to do better may be difficult. Plutarch

There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy. Albert Ellis

To disbelieve is easy; to scoff is simple; to have faith is harder. Louis L'Amour

It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy. Marie Curie

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. Galileo Galilei

There is nothing so easy to learn as experience and nothing so hard to apply. ….Advice is like castor oil, easy enough to give but dreadful uneasy to take. Josh Billings

Falsehood is easy, truth so difficult. George Eliot

What is easy is seldom excellent. Samuel Johnson

Only entropy comes easy. Anton Chekhov

Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do. Edgar Degas

Philosophy finds it an easy matter to vanquish past and future evils, but the present are commonly too hard for it. Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Have patience. All things are difficult before they become easy. Saadi

Castles in the air - they are so easy to take refuge in. And so easy to build too. Henrik Ibsen

It wasn't until late in life that I discovered how easy it is to say "I don't know." W. Somerset Maugham

A wise man thinks what is easy is difficult. A fool often fails because he thinks what is difficult is easy John Churton Collins

So am I making the easy – hard – am I making the simple complex? -- -- Time will tell.

God Bless

Monday, January 18, 2010

Why is it so hard to get started?

Another full week and a bit and I didn’t get a post done on Saturday -- The good news is that I’ve already posted as many times in 2010 as I did for the entire year last year. (In looking at my archive bar I see this pattern of posts (2006 – 103; 2007 – 34; 2008 – 15 ; 2009 – 2) so I suppose it wasn’t much of a challenge to exceed my 2009 output – we’ll see were it ends up)

Back in July 2006 I posted a blog Living by the Nike Creed where I talked about my tendency to put off starting projects and challenged myself to follow the Nike slogan “Just do it?”.

I’m finding that my commitment to “breaking the cognitive egg” seems to be keep getting sidetracked by life and I ask myself ‘why is it so difficult to get started?’ (which I would measure by being able to point to concrete specific actions I have taken beyond just “thinking about it” and writing weird posts about techniques of cracking eggs :)

So ‘Why is it so difficult to get started (make visible progress)?

One answer is that last week was a very full week. Monday I spent trying to get organized. Making lists (and lists of lists) about what needed to be done and picking up materials for the Tuesday work day at the church building. Wednesday through Friday was fully occupied with family events related to my Dad’s 93rd birthday. We had family here for lunch & supper both Wednesday & Thursday and lunch Friday and then a big family dinner at the North 82 restaurant on Friday night.

Saturday a.m. was tied up in a church planning meeting and the p.m. was a little quieter. I spent most of Saturday afternoon working through and cleaning up a years worth of backlog in my email inbox (well I cleared out January and February 2009 and worked back through December) and took care of a few long standing small projects. Saturday evening we attended an 85th birthday celebration for one of our neighbors. With all that activity, I didn’t spend much time on my journal thinking about the “big question”.

Another answer is that it is tough getting started on something new when there are several important things that need to be cleaned up before I add something else to the list.

One of the disciplines (habits) that I have been focused on developing in my living for several years is based on the asking these 2 questions

“What would you be doing today if it was your last day?

And what would you be doing today if it was your first day?”

and then doing (at least 1) thing from each of the answers during the day. (Interestingly I heard Ravi Zacharias state this principle in a slightly different way in a radio sermon last evening – He said “Treat your body as if it will be here forever and treat your soul as if this will be your last day).

Those daily choices have been shaped by a fairly consistent process of starting each month and then each week by listing the 3 most important things I need to get done that week (over and above the routines of daily living) and last week the 3 important things didn’t include a specific goal for my “egg cracking project”.

A 3rd possible answer is that I’m doing OK with getting this project started – after all this is a pretty huge ball of string to unravel and just because I haven’t found the a long piece to unwind and the pile of unraveled pieces is quite small doesn’t mean that I haven’t been making reasonable progress.

Maybe it’s just a rationalization and denial of my inability to figure out how to jumpstart this project but I choose to accept this answer.

I did identify what I think are 4 key “success factors” (things I need to overcome – or to push the metaphor parts of the egg I have to crack) to improve the health and strength of my relationships.

1. I have an (obsessive) need for approval. When others disagree I often feel disliked and unworthy.

Rather than dealing with the discomfort of disagreement and sticking with the discussion, I can become angry or I may just concede and bury the frustration(which can erupt like a volcano later unexpectedly and at someone else on a completely different topic)

2 I want to be right – to be the one that has all the answers.
This leads to all types of dysfunctional behavior when I’m asked a question that I really don’t want to deal with or which seems to challenge my “authoritative” status.

3. I feel ashamed, and inadequate when I make a mistake.

This leads to anger and denial.
4. I feel responsible for what others do – I want to "fix" them.

This leads to efforts to control others, disrespect for their boundaries and anger when they don’t conform.

These limitations and my reactions to them are toxic (like a cancer) that can, at worst, eat away at and destroy a relationship and at best, limit the number of mature, healthy and fulfilling close relationships that I can sustain.

While these are only words, they do provide a framework for the egg cracking exercise – and for this week my “slogan” is (taken again from an advertisement) “Let’s get cracking”

God Bless

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Thoughts about cracking eggs

Wow – a whole week of 2010 gone already. It’s been a busy week – in addition to the normal things around the house, at least daily visits with my Dad tending to his needs, getting back into the church building project (filling in while the project manager is out of commission dealing with medical problems, visit to the ortho clinic Monday (last time for the elbow until he does surgery in a few months to remove the plate & screws he put in in July) , Wednesday visit to dentist to do the prep work and get a temporary crown, preparing (Tuesday) and then restoring curtains etc for new windows which were installed Wednesday, organizing family supper next Friday to celebrate my Dad’s 93rd and a couple of visits with some folks who were needing someone to listen to them as they wrestled with some tough things in their lives and capped off last evening with a nachos and movie night with some friends from our church family – AVATAR – even in 2D -- it’s a cliffhanger (literally at times)

I am thankful to be blessed with the health and energy that let’s me enjoy this pace and for the ability to make jokes about the similarities between lists and rabbits. (you’ll have to get to my FACEBOOK page for full details on that one)

Last week I included an excerpt from “The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain” by Barbara Strauch and then I asked

“How can I ‘crack the cognitive egg and scramble it up’ so as to create positive changes in my relationship behaviors” (or is this even possible)?

As I have been journaling this week, I started thinking about this idea and it generated these random thoughts

1. It’s easy to crack an egg – but not as easy to do it right. Have you seen a child the first time trying to crack the egg and get the contents into the bowel without also included the shell or observed with wonder an expert doing 2 eggs one handed with ease and flair (You can watch the Youtube training video to develop this skill for one egg))
2. There are different reasons for cracking an egg – one is to get at the contents to cook them – another is to allow the hatchling inside to emerge. (See

While the metaphor of the cognitive egg seems to refer to the breaking to let the contents out and change into a new shape, perhaps there is some merit in pursuing the hatchling idea .

3. Sometimes the contents of the egg are scrambled, sometimes they are fried and sometimes they are hardboiled. See
I wonder I really want to do any of these things with my brain (thought processes) and I also think that any of these might at times be an aptdescription of my current situation.

4. There’s the Humpty Dumpty syndrome to consider. We can crack the egg and scramble up the contents – but how will we put it back together again?

5. Isn’t there something a little unsettling about this metaphor – If the egg is my skull – do I really want to crack it open and start scrambling the grey stuff inside?I think not.

6. It doesn’t matter how much thinking we do about cracking the egg if we never get on with the work of changing. And this blog is evidence of that fact – it is a way of posting something despite not having done much "real work" on this question this week.

However, if I’m going to pursue this I know it will take discipline and consistent effort. And part of that is a commitment to a weekly blogging exercise to share things that may be of help to others – so for this week we’ll be a little silly and just think about cracking eggs. Any thoughts about that that I’ve missed?

Maybe by next Saturday I’ll have something more on this – or maybe not--
I'm thinking the this may be a tough egg to crack(pun intended)

God Bless

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Cracking the cognitive egg

Well it’s the 2nd day of 2010. Hard to believe that we are entering the 2nd decade of the 21st century. I well remember the angst with which we entered the year 2000 (Y2K) – maybe a distant memory for many of you but not for those of us with direct responsibility for computer systems and all the concerns regarding wide spread disasters due to the 2 digit dates and the change in century.

As an aside much of that was hype and much of it was real. What amazed me most was the fact the IT people who had in a sense created the problem with a failure to think ahead far enough about the consequences of choices in selecting 2 digit year formats responded with tenacity and ingenuity and resolved most of the real problems –

Unfortunately corporate boards listened to the auditors and with a lack of understanding of the real issues believed a lot of the hype and over-reacted. Most senior IT people went along and spent a lot more time and money than was really warranted by the level of risk to things like power systems and airplane controls.

It was a bit like what I heard on the radio2 days ago as we were leaving to come home the morning of New Year’s Eve. The announcer said “the best thing to do tonight if you need to drive even if you are stone cold sober, is to treat everyone else on the road as if they are drunken idiots. Nobody wanted to take the chance that the rest of the world hadn’t done the due diligence in dealing with their Y2K issues and so they spent a lot of time in contingency planning and actions “just in case” something went wrong “out there”.

Well back to my main point for today. Most people at this time of year are either doing (belated) year end reviews or plans for the New Year.

In the past I have done both – and they take a lot of time --with uncertain value because I like many often lose sight of the lessons learned from the past and the focus on the goals I set in my plans.

So rather than set myself up for public failure by exposing those flaws to the “reading public” (Thanks Noel for letting me know that at least 1 person is still watching for my posts) I’m going to post the following item that I came across in a Bible discussion group that I’m involved with.

This is part of a post by "Dan Smith" on Berean Spirit where he provides an excerpt from a long paper "How to Train the Aging Brain" by Barbara Strauch .

“Educators say that, for adults, one way to nudge neurons in the right direction is to challenge the very assumptions they have worked so hard to accumulate while young. With a brain already full of well-connected pathways, adult learners should “jiggle their synapses a bit” by confronting thoughts that are contrary to their own, says Dr. Taylor, who is 66.Teaching new facts should not be the focus of adult education, she says. Instead, continued brain development and a richer form of learning may require that you “bump up against people and ideas” that are different. In a history class, that might mean reading multiple viewpoints, and then prying open brain networks by reflecting on how what was learned has changed your view of the world.“There’s a place for information,” Dr. Taylor says. “We need to know stuff. But we need to move beyond that and challenge our perception of the world. If you always hang around with those you agree with and read things that agree with what you already know, you’re not going to wrestle with your established brain connections”Such stretching is exactly what scientists say best keeps a brain in tune: get out of the comfort zone to push and nourish your brain. Do anything from learning a foreign language to taking a different route to work.“As adults we have these well-trodden paths in our synapses” Dr. Taylor says. “We have to crack the cognitive egg and scramble it up. And if you learn something this way, when you think of it again you’ll have an overlay of complexity you didn’t have before and help your brain keep developing as well.”Jack Mezirow, a professor emeritus at Columbia Teachers College, has proposed that adults learn best if presented with what he calls a “disorienting dilemma” or something that “helps you critically reflect on the assumptions you’ve acquired.”

Barbara Strauch is The Times’s health editor; her book “The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain” will be published in April.

I was moved to post this here – not because it is a new idea to me. Actually, my son who is working on his Ph. D. in neuropsychology had told me something similar almost 2 years ago and the “new route to work” and other such things have often been preached as ways to break free of habitual patterns and as a source of creative thinking.

I mention it because I have been pursuing new ways of looking at things related to God and the Bible (even if it doesn’t change my beliefs or behaviors although sometimes it has) for several years now.

In 2009, I have become aware of a need to do a similar re-examination of how I operate in relationships. I have ingrained behaviors that limit (or even are destructive) in relationships and I would like to break those “habits”.

My question to my self for 2010 is “how can I ‘crack the cognitive egg and scramble it up’ so as to create positive changes in my relationship behaviors” (or is this even possible)?

Any ideas out there?