Introspective Retrospective January 2010

As we get our February on, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a very brief stroll down memory lane. A thorough investigation of the past helps us prepare for the future and an entry on the subject helps me organize my thoughts, so here we go.

Today marks the 39 hash mark toward 100 days of Qi Kung. I have been practicing with erratic irregularity for about five years, so setting my sites on actually getting a consecutive practice down is a big deal for me. On Nov 8, after over a decade of smoking, I finally kicked the habit for good. It served me as a coping strategy for a very long time, so the adjustment to not relying on that crutch has been considerable. Serious Qi work has helped.

Luck Lessons: I started reading Richard Wiseman’s Luck Factor (download a .pdf of an abridged version here) which explores how cognitive practices can influence good fortune in your life. Far from waxing new age-y, Wiseman is a psychologist who backs his arguments with empirical evidence. My reading of it really regards “luck” as more a metaphor than actually bringing— what is by definition—a supernatural force to bear on your day-to-day. I’d also contend that a lot of the thinking Wiseman advances is Taoist in nature, which I will elaborate on in later posts. Feel free to download the .pdf and participate in this journey, I’d love to get your feedback on some of the forthcoming lessons shared here.

Think Fast, it’s coming. Influenced & inspired by Art of Non-Conformity, I am writing an e-book manifesto in collaboration with the talented staff at RMK Photography. I’ll keep you all posted on the project as we move further along. You can get a sneak peak checking out my five part series on Overcomplification, which outlines some of the basic ideas.

I also want to share some great finds I’ve had this month, namely:

Art of Conformity: Chris G writes a thought-provoking, globe-trotting, engaging & inspiring blog on changing the world.

Rambling Taoist: I came across this site looking for like minded, Tao-oriented folks. Trey, at Rambling Taoist, has been posting his interpretations of the classic Wen-Tzu, which I have found interesting & insightful.

Xenogenesis: A Lesson in Failing Well

The young filmmakers, riding on the coattails of the Star Wars’ success, convinced their investors they could match that achievement. Xenogenesis, a 12-minute B-movie sci fi short, never quite made it to a feature length. Its director, cast & crew had little to no experience. They were driven by the creativity that comes from ambition and enthusiasm. They dedicated the assiduous around-the-clock passion that only comes with aspiration; working on building futuristic models, sci fi scenes and special effects into the wee hours, only to fall asleep on their set. In spite of all of this effort the project failed miserably, the financial backers bailed, and the picture was scraped.

You would have never known that the inexperienced director at the helm would go on to make some of the greatest modern contributions to the sci fi canon. As I write this piece, James Cameron’s Avatar just picked up nine Oscar nominations (including, best pic & best director). The film has already claimed overall global box office records as it rapidly moves toward surpassing the U.S. domestic record holder Titanic. If Cameron claims it, successfully besting himself, he can conceivably put another ten-year gap between himself and his Hollywood competition. Moreover, Avatar is a technological masterwork, which if just a fraction of the buzz surrounding the affect of its innovation proves true, it will redefine movie going as we know it.

Beyond the lessons imparted by the film, Avatar is a lesson in failing well. If Cameron had thrown in the towel after Xenogenesis was trashed he would have never gone on to write & direct Terminator 1 & 2, Aliens or to redefine film as we know it! Cameron was able to use the footage to land his first industry job, turning what could have a career ending failure into the start of a legacy.

Here it is,  Cameron’s Xenogenesis, you’ll notice early prototypes for some of the Terminator technology:

Smile, it’s free

Adam-O is a Caine-from-Kung-Fu-kind-of-guy. He practices Kung Fu. He wears Shaolin robes. He travels small-town-to-small-town solving small town problems (see: The Incredible Hulk, The Fugitive, & The A-Team for more examples). When he occasionally appears back on the grid, he is always dropping knowledge. As I approach my 35th day of consecutive Qi Kung practice, I have begun to work in some of Adam-O’s suggestions into my practice. I am introducing a regular feature here that disseminates the pearls of wisdom Adam-O occasionally drops on me…. Here we go, Grasshoppers!

Smile. Adam-O suggested that I work a smile into my Qi Kung practice. This seems simple on the surface, but the fact is while you’re concentrating on the movements of practice, it is difficult to crack a grin through a furrowed brow of concentration. Doing so allows you to have fun while practicing, instead of wasting energy trying to get every motion right.

While it might sound like some useless hippy garbage, the fact is a smile lowers the Cortisol levels (the “stress” hormone) in your blood stream, it actually normalizes blood pressure, and amazingly it also boosts your immune system increasing antibodies.

I have also begun to translate this into my day-to-day as well. Smiling outside practice can change your outlook and the outlook of those around you. In fact, a Harvard / University of California study measured how social networks were connected with reported happiness. The study showed happiness is contagious, spreading among groups of people. Five thousand people with a more than 50,000 connection network of family, friends, co-workers and others were evaluated (read more here).

Richard Wiseman, author of the Luck Factor, points out that it may also change your fortune  (read more here or download a .pdf copy here). In his psychological investigation into luck, he interviewed numerous self-proclaimed lucky & unlucky individuals and had a team of researchers review the videos on mute recording hand gestures and body language, he found:

The differences between the lucky and unlucky people were dramatic. The lucky people smiled twice as much as unlucky people and engaged in far more eye contact.

If you smile watching the clip below, remember that it may be adding years to your life, quality to those years, and helping spread joy to family & friends!

Overcomplification Epilogue

It is happening again.

Twenty-ten, year two of my five-year plan, it is now all happening again.

Just like 4-years-ago when I started as a grant writer; just like years before that when I worked as a counselor, I am experiencing a quantum explosion of growth and self-improvement in my life.

Over the past year: I quit smoking, lost 33 lbs, started going to the gym 3 xs a week, and began practicing Qi Kung regularly.

I landed a creative job that I love in public health. It immerses me in stories of resilience and redemption, challenges me to stay on the cutting edge of innovation— reading, researching, experimenting and dabbling— and draws upon every preceding professional experience to make any progress.

In the past year, I have written and read more than the three that preceded it combined, started studying for the GREs, and gearing for grad school.

It is happening again & this time I’m writing a book on it! Inspired & encouraged by Chris Guillebau and in collaboration with RMK Studios I am writing a manifesto based on the Overcomplification series. I will be posting & cross posting about the project as it develops & keep everyone updated.

A New Year: Change is Now!

Twenty-ten is here.

A New Year, A New Decade.

Seth Godin has dubbed it the year of change (or frustration)— depending on how full your glass, I suppose. This hadn’t been the entry I’d intended on writing, but it is something of a synchronicity. After reading the following from Making It All Work by David Allen:

Change always produces some form of stress, for our entire world is designed to maintain stasis. When something new happens that must be integrated into the existing system and set of data, something else has to give way to make room for it. It’s ironic that even the most positive changes often create significant pressures and pains. They require the recalibration of relationships and self-images, and force the upheaval of familiar structures and patterns.

While change is constant, Allen points out, constant change has accelerated. He goes on to state that communication, technology, and information has sped up with greater frequency. In response, we are tasked with figuring how to manage and respond to this change. Godin aptly puts it:

I think the coolest thing is that just about everyone gets to pick which one of these two alternatives they want to spend their time on. And being frustrated about change doesn’t count as doing both.