Saturday, November 29, 2014

Hero Homework #10

Paratus Pro Quisquam
The thing that keeps most people from taking action when it’s time to take action is that they have no expectation of success.  Without that expectation of success, they have only fears of failure, injury and embarrassment.
A hero, at the moment of action, has an expectation of success, can imagine it, visualize it.             I think you can cultivate that, cultivate a can-do state of mind. Most people find excuses for failure. A hero finds reasons to succeed.
Nothing breeds success like success. That is, success brings an expectation of success.  Good boxing trainers know this well. The bring a novice fighter along slowly matching him (or her!) against less challenging opponents first to build up the fighter’s confidence, the fighter’s “expectation of success.” Only then does the trainer progressively include more challenging opponents.
When Muhammad Ali declared “I am the greatest!” he wasn’t saying that for the public, or for his opponents. He was planting that belief  and reaffirming it in his own mind. In addition to being the GOAT, Ali was a natural sport psychologist.
How does one develop a can-do attitude, or what I sometimes call a “superior will?
That’s easy. Establish a history of success.
Here’s how:
Start with something easy.  Do 50 push-ups. J    Start with one on day one. On day two, do 2. On day 3 do three, and so on for 50 days.
Or  meditate for 5 minutes every day for 21 days.
Or fast for 24 hours.
Or…well, it doesn’t really matter what it is you choose. The point is, you SAY you’re going to DO something, and you DO IT.  No matter what. No exceptions, no excuses.  The most important thing you have is your word, and you should always keep your word – especially to yourself.
Then try something you’ve never done before. Learn another language. Learn to play a musical instrument. Write a sonnet. Bake a cake. Build a coffee table. Fix an engine. Learn a magic trick.
The more things you do, the more you will realize that there’s really nothing you can’t do, if you set your mind to it. You begin to expect success.

Your next hero workout:
Make a promise to yourself and keep it. DO what you SAY you’re going to do. Challenge yourself, and meet that challenge. Then do it again with another challenge, a little harder one. Create for yourself an expectation of success. 

Do it. We need every hero we can get.



– Muhammad Ali

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Superior Will

Don't look for excuses to fail.
Look for reasons to succeed.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Musician's Martial Art

The Musicians’ Martial Art
Above is a portrait of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint- George, sometimes called, “The Black Mozart.”  It is interesting to note that, while he was a brilliant composer and celebrated violinist, this portrait depicts him holding, not a bow, but a fencing foil.  You see, Saint-George was not only one of the finest musicians of his era, he was also the most formidable swordsman of his day.  Some would see those accomplishments in arts and arms as contrasting.
We view them as complimentary.
Those qualities that contribute to superior musicianship – sensitivity, passion, concentration, and a patient, persistant attitude – are also traits of the superior swordsman.
As a teacher of “Classical Fencing,” I have for many years observed that my best students have nearly always been those who were excellent musicians -- and those students have reported that the practice of fencing enhanced their musical abilities.  As a musician, myself, I had found it so, yet I was still a little surprised to learn that it was true for others, and not only for me.
If you're a musician who has studied classical fencing, I’d like to hear about your experience.
Drop me a note.
Maybe even 8 bars.


Love Potion #9

Has this ever happened to you…?

You’re driving along a very familiar road, maybe  a route you typically take to work or school, but your destination this time is someplace else. Without thinking you take a wrong turn, taking you toward your usual destination rather than your actual destination.
I’ve done it.
That’s  the power  --- and the danger of auto-pilot.

Auto-pilot can be a valuable, even life-saving thing. But, as my students have heard me say many times, any “strength,” taken to an extreme, becomes a weakness.
Howdy, Padnah. Welcome to paradox country.

The beauty of auto-pilot is that you can perform physically even when your mind and/or emotions are pre-occupied.
The danger of auto-pilot is that it may negatively influence your situational awareness -- you may miss subtle cues in the environment that tell you this situation is different from the “routine” situation for which auto-pilot is both adequate and appropriate.
You have to know when and how to switch auto-pilot off.

This week's workout is to encourage you to turn off your autopilot and observe your surroundings in a thoughtful way. 
Use ALL of your senses.   
What do you see in your surroundings? 
What do you hear, both near and far away?   
What do you feel? 
What scents are there?   Scent is closely related to taste – you may literally find a “flavor” to your environment. 

You may notice the smell of a restaurant you didn't know was there, music you’ve never heard before, the view from the bridge you drive over, or the anguish of someone in need.

Reinforce what you learned by sharing your insights with a friend. By being mindful of your environment, you are practicing an important trait of the everyday hero.

Your new Hero Workout:
On the way to and from work or school, use all five senses to take in information about your surroundings.
Share what you notice with a friend.

-- aac

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hero Homework #8

 Asking for Help

I’ll tell you right up front, this is a hard one for me. Bad history. 
As a rule, I’d rather bleed to death than ask for a band-aid. I’m greatly disinclined to give an enemy the satisfaction of hearing me beg for mercy. Doesn’t matter whether that enemy is a particular individual, or just a situation. That’s a chink in my armor, and I know it.  I’m working on it.

Asking for help may sound simple. But it’s not an innate ability at which all people excel. Asking for help is a skill that can be developed through practice. Everyone differs in the situations in which they feel comfortable asking for help.
This exercise encourages you to step outside of your comfort zone – almost always a good thing, in itself -- and ask for help in situations where you would normally avoid doing so. 

In two experiments, social psychologist Tom Moriarity (1) demonstrated the importance of asking for help in order for observers to feel personally responsible for your well-being. In the first experiment, New Yorkers watched as a thief snatched a woman's suitcase in a restaurant, when she left her table. 
In the second, they watched a thief grab a portable radio from a beach blanket, when the owner left it for a few minutes. In each experiment, the would-be victim (the experimenter's accomplice) had first asked the soon-to-be observer of the crime either "Do you have the time?" or "will you please keep an eye on my bag/radio while I'm gone?" 
Asking for the time elicited no personal responsibility and almost all of the bystanders stood idly by as the thief took off. However, of the people who had agreed to watch the victim's property, almost every bystander intervened. They called for help, and some even tackled the runaway thief on the beach!

The encouraging message is that we can often convert apathy to action and transform callousness to kindness just by asking for it. The mere act of requesting a favor forges a special human bond that involves other people in ways that materially change the situation. It makes them feel responsible to you and thereby responsible for what happens in your shared social world.


adapted from the Heroic Imagination Project

(1) Moriarity, T. (19975) Crime, commitment, and the responsive bystander: Two field experiments.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 370-376

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hero Homework #7

The Heroes’ “Howdy” Duty

I remember being "new" on the job. Plus, I was the only non-Black guy on the crew. There was a locker room where the crew ate, and played hearts during the hour lunch break.  The first time I walked in, the place went silent and still, everyone staring at me. "Awkward" doesn't begin to describe it. I belonged there like a screen door belongs on a submarine.
Finally, "Dad," the elder statesman of the crew, without even looking up from his cards, said to me, very casually,  but so everyone cold hear, "Ain't you gonna eat, boy?"
At those words, the rest of the guys went back to what they were doing, and I found a place on a bench where it could sit and eat my sandwich. Those words also made me part of the crew. I still had to earn respect and trust, but that gesture metaphorically, as well as literally got me in the door.
I've never forgotten it.

Research initiated by psychologist Henri Tajfel (1) in the 1970's has shown that all it takes for us to begin to divvy up the worlds into "us" and "them" is the random flip of a coin. Only minutes after being divided into the A or B group by the coin flip, the participants in Tajfel's experiment rated members of both groups on various attributes, such as intelligence and likability. Overwhelmingly, people rated the members of their own group as more likable and intelligent. They also rated the members of the other group as having less variety in personality than individuals in their own group.  Within the span of only a few moments, these ordinary people began to stereotype the other group and to treat them with discrimination- even though the members of both groups were complete strangers at the beginning of the experiment. Tajfel called this phenomenon the minimal group paradigm.

Imagine how difficult it must be to break into an established social group, when the members of the "in" group have developed prejudices against those who are not members of their group.  By “reaching out to someone who is not a member of your social group, you can facilitate the group's acceptance of new members.

Your hero workout for this week:

 Help someone new to feel included in a group setting.

(1) Tajfel, H., Billig, M. G., Bundy, R. P., & Flament, C. (1971) Social categorization and intergroup behavior. European Journal of Social Psychology, I, 149-178. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.2420010202

adapted from the Heroic Imagination Project

Monday, October 20, 2014

Hero Homework #6


I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"
- Evelyn Beatrice Hall, (writing about Voltaire.)

Many people seem to have no moral compass.
They seem to have become infantilized They don’t know what’s right or wrong, they only know what they “like” or dislike. They equate what they like with “right” and what they dislike with “wrong.”  

For example, if someone “likes” Republicans (probably because he and his family ARE Republicans!) then no matter what a Republican says or does, that person will  believe the Republican is “right,” and anyone opposing that “right,” no matter how valid their arguments might be, must be wrong. 
Everything that benefits them must be “right” everything that costs them must be “wrong.”  Regardless of the merits of the case, if they win “justice was served” and if they lose it’s a gross and incomprehensible miscarriage of justice.

These are people who believe in “freedom of speech” only for those they like -- those with whom they agree -- but are perfectly happy to curtail freedom of speech for those whom they don’t like or with whom they disagree.
At a sports event every call that favors the team they “like” is a good call and every call favoring the opposing team is a “bad call” --- no matter how accurate or inaccurate the call actually is. The rules don’t really matter. What matters is whether the team you “like” wins.

And so we call those people who engage in violence against us “terrorists,” while those who commit the same atrocities on our behalf are “freedom fighters.”
When OUR soldiers kill innocent women and children, it’s unavoidable “collateral damage” arising from “liberating” the country we’ve invaded. When people in that invaded country fight back against such “liberation,” they are the “insurgents,” and every one of our invading soldiers whom they kill is portrayed as if he were an innocent child cravenly murdered while sleeping peacefully in his own bed.
We wind up with two sets of rules – one for ourselves and our friends, another quite different set for everyone else.

A fighter learns to assess himself and to assess his opponent in an objective manner, noting both strengths and weaknesses. It is disastrous to under-estimate an opponent’s abilities  -- and can be equally disastrous to over-estimate them. The fighter’s success in choosing appropriate and adequate strategy and tactics, depends on an unbiased, unemotional, objective assessment of the combat situation, including all aspects of the opponent, and all aspects of himself.

The heroic individual cultivates a capacity for critical thinking and objective honesty, and repudiates all double-standards.  He/she is able to critically evaluate an idea, or position on it own merits, and determine its validity regardless of whether the person offering that idea is “liked” or “disliked.”  He/she is ready, willing and able to identify flaws in his friends as well virtues in his enemies. He/she is as vehemently protective of the rights of those he/she “dislikes” or disagrees with, as he is of those he/she “likes” or agrees with.

And so to next our hero workout:

Find something that you can honestly compliment, respect and/or admire about at least one person whom you don't like. For extra credit, tell that person what it is you respect or admire about them. For EXTRA extra credit, tell others who dislike this person what it is  that you respect or admire about him or her.

This is a tough one.
Do it anyway.

- aac