Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion – Robert Cialdini

28815Influence 

(I recommend the book, but I would not read it a second time.)

Amazon

We live in a world of trolls. Hopefully, books like this will make us a bit more conscious of the things people do to try and manipulate us. ‘Influence’ shows some of the psychological tricks and techniques that companies, salesman, politicians and governments use to nudge people in the direction they want.

Notes:

Animals have ques that trigger specific sequences of actions and behaviors. People also have these automatic behaviors rooted deep into their subconscious brains. The difference is that we can become aware of those fixed-pattern behaviors and protect ourselves from people who might use them against us.

A few key points:

  1. If you want someone to do you a favour be sure to provide a good logical explanation.
  2. Contrast: Something bad first will make something average look amazing later.
  3. We are more likely to comply to people who we like.
  4. We are easily swayed by figures of authority.
  5. We easily fall into the trap of wanting something more if it appears to be scarce.
  6. Gifts, favours, nice gestures, induce a feeling of indebtedness.Guilt is an extremely effective way of persuading people to do what you want. Avoid falling in the trap in first place. If you do fall, realize what these ‘favors’ really are: a sales trick.

Choosing something and committing to it makes you like it more.  

Toy Companies advertise a flashy toy for Christmas. Kids see these advertisments and demand the toy from the parents. The parents agree, only to be unable to find the toy available when they go out to buy it. What the toy companies do, is to purposefully release the toy in short supply. The parents then have to settle with another toy for Christmas. After Christmas, however, the toy companies resume advertising the toy. Then parents buy that same toy in January or February as they have already made the commitment to buy it for their kids.

Social Proof

Advertising, laughing tracks, fake ques outside nightclubs, ‘95%of doctors recommend…’. If they convince you that everyone believes something to be 100% true, you are more likely to believe it yourself without even questioning it.

Social proof is so strong that if a personal gets a heart attack in the middle of a crowd people are more likely to ignore him than help him. They are uncertain if he actually needs help or if he is drunk, drugged a buffoon etc. so they look at each other to see how everyone else around them reacts. So if you ever need help, scream ‘Help’ and ask for it from a specific person in the crowd.

When everyone is looking up to you, how you react can infect the people who rely on you. If you are in a leadership position and something bad happens, you emotions will be contagious.

A few days after reading this book I bought 4 books which were supposed to cost 10 pounds, 2.50 each. The saleswoman charged me 9 pounds instead. My immediate reaction was the feeling that I had to reciprocate her kindness by buying more books from her. After all, she was so nice to give me one pound discount. I felt like I owed her something. It took me half an hour to realize the effect that her sales trick had on me. All that happened a few days after reading a book on how to not fall for sales tricks… I felt a bit embarassed and very much naive. Key point being that no amount of books or knowledge is useful. Reading this book will not help you defend yourself unless you are also extremely mindful of your emotions and what triggers them. Be mindful of your feelings and thoughts.

Key lesson to be drawn from this book: Think about why you feel the way you feel. Think about why you act the way you act. Become aware of what causes these feelings/actions. Do not react to every piece of news you read online, or every comment on Twitter. Realize that some people have an agenda and will try to get an emotional response from you.

Please suggest other books on the topic in the comments below.

Quotes

Random cool quote I found in the book: The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost – Chesteron

Strangely enough, then, it seems that the rejection-then-retreat tactic spurs people not only to agree to a desired request but actually to carry out the request and, finally, to volunteer to perform further requests. What could there be about the technique that makes people who have been duped into compliance so bewilderingly likely to continue to comply? For an answer, we might look at the requester’s act of concession, which is the heart of the procedure. We have already seen that as long as it is not viewed to be a transparent trick, the concession will likely stimulate a return concession. But what we have not yet examined is a little-known pair of positive by-products of the act of concession: feelings of greater responsibility for, and satisfaction with, the arrangement. It is this set of sweet side effects that enables the technique to move its victims to fulfill their agreements and to engage in further such agreements.

There were three important findings in this experiment that help us to understand why the rejection-then-retreat technique is so effective.First, compared to the two other approaches, the strategy of starting with an extreme demand and then retreating to the more moderate one produced the most money for the person using it. But this result is not very surprising in light of the previous evidence we have seen of the power of larger-then-smaller-request tactics to bring about profitable agreements. It is the two additional findings of the study that are more striking

To understand why consistency is so powerful a motive, it is important to recognize that in most circumstances consistency is valued and adaptive. Inconsistency is commonly thought to be an undesirable personality trait. The person whose beliefs, words, and deeds don’t match may be seen as indecisive, confused, two-faced, or even mentally ill. On the other side, a high degree of consistency is normally associated with personal and intellectual strength. It is at the heart of logic, rationality, stability, and honesty. A quote attributed to the great British chemist Michael Faraday suggests the extent to which being consistent is approved—sometimes more than being right. When asked after a lecture if he meant to imply that a hated academic rival was always wrong, Faraday glowered at the questioner and replied, “He’s not that consistent. ”

Of course, the first problem facing the Chinese was how to get any collaboration at all from the Americans. These were men who were trained to provide nothing but name, rank, and serial number. Short of physical brutalization, how could the captors hope to get such men to give military information, turn in fellow prisoners, or publicly denounce their country? The Chinese answer was elementary: Start small and build. For instance, prisoners were frequently asked to make statements so mildly anti-American or pro-Communist as to seem inconsequential (“The United States is not perfect. ” “In a Communist country, unemployment is not a problem.”). But once these minor requests were complied with, the men found themselves pushed to submit to related yet more substantive requests. A man who had just agreed with his Chinese interrogator that the United States is not perfect might then be asked to indicate some of the ways in which he thought this was the case. Once he had so explained himself, he might be asked to make a list of these “problems with America” and to sign his name to it. Later he might be asked to read his list in a discussion group with other prisoners.“After all, it’s what you really believe, isn’t it?” Still later he might be asked to write an essay expanding on his list and discussing these problems in greater detail. The Chinese might then use his name and his essay in an antiAmerican radio broadcast beamed not only to the entire camp, but to other POW camps in North Korea, as well as to American forces in South Korea. Suddenly he would find himself a “collaborator,” having given aid to the enemy. Aware that he had written the essay without any strong threats or coercion, many times a man would change his image of himself to be consistent with the deed and with the new “collaborator” label, often resulting in even more extensive acts of collaboration.Thus, while “only a few men were able to avoid collaboration altogether,” according to Dr.Schein, “the majority collaborated at one time or another by doing things which seemed to them trivial but which the Chinese were able to turn to their own advantage…. This was particularly effective in eliciting confessions, self-criticism, and information during interrogation. ”

The prime reason for their startling compliance has to do with something that had happened to them about two weeks earlier: They had made a small commitment to driver safety. A different volunteer worker had come to their doors and asked them to accept and display a little three-inch-square sign that read BE A SAFE DRIVER. It was such a trifling request that nearly all of them had agreed to it. But the effects of that request were enormous. Because they had innocently complied with a trivial safe-driving request a couple of weeks before, these homeowners became remarkably willing to comply with another such request that was massive in size area, this particular group of people reacted quite favorably. A full 76 percent of them offered the use of their front yards. The prime reason for their startling compliance has to do with something that had happened to them about two weeks earlier: They had made a small commitment to driver safety. A different volunteer worker had come to their doors and asked them to accept and display a little three-inch-square sign that read BE A SAFE DRIVER. It was such a trifling request that nearly all of them had agreed to it. But the effects of that request were enormous. Because they had innocently complied with a trivial safe-driving request a couple of weeks before, these homeowners became remarkably willing to comply with another such request that was massive in size.

It scares me enough that I am rarely willing to sign a petition anymore, even for a position I support. Such an action has the potential to influence not only my future behavior but also my self-image in ways I may not want. And once a person’s self-image is altered, all sorts of subtle advantages become available to someone who wants to exploit that new image.

Our best evidence of what people truly feel and believe comes less from their words than from their deeds. Observers trying to decide what a man is like look closely at his actions. What the Chinese have discovered is that the man himself uses this same evidence to decide what he is like. His behavior tells him about himself; it is a primary source of information about his beliefs and values and attitudes. Understanding fully this important principle of self-perception, the Chinese set about arranging the prison-camp experience so that their captives would consistently act in desired ways. Before long, the Chinese knew, these actions would begin to take their toll, causing the men to change their views of themselves to align with what they had done.

Some scientific evidence that this is the case comes from a study by psychologists Edward Jones and James Harris, who showed people an essay that was favorable to Fidel Castro and asked them to guess the true feelings of its author. 8 Jones and Harris told some of these people that the author had chosen to write a pro-Castro essay; and they told the other people that the author had been required to write in favor of Castro. The strange thing was that even those people who knew that the author had been assigned to do a pro-Castro essay guessed that he liked Castro. It seems that a statement of belief produces a click, whirr response in those who view it. Unless there is strong evidence to the contrary, observers automatically assume that someone who makes such a statement means it.

Some scientific evidence that this is the case comes from a study by psychologists Edward Jones and James Harris, who showed people an essay that was favorable to Fidel Castro and asked them to guess the true feelings of its author. 8 Jones and Harris told some of these people that the author had chosen to write a pro-Castro essay; and they told the other people that the author had been required to write in favor of Castro. The strange thing was that even those people who knew that the author had been assigned to do a pro-Castro essay guessed that he liked Castro. It seems that a statement of belief produces a click, whirr response in those who view it. Unless there is strong evidence to the contrary, observers automatically assume that someone who makes such a statement means it. Think of the double-barreled effects on the self-image of a prisoner who wrote a pro-Chinese or anti-American statement. Not only was it a lasting personal reminder of his action, it was also likely to persuade those around him that the statement reflected his actual beliefs.And, as we will see in Chapter 4, what those around us think is true of us is enormously important in determining what we ourselves think is true. For example, one study found that after hearing that they were considered charitable people, New Haven, Connecticut, housewives gave much more money to a canvasser from the Multiple Sclerosis Association. 9 Apparently the mere knowledge that someone viewed them as charitable caused these women to make their actions consistent with another’s perception of them. Once an active commitment is made, then, self-image is squeezed from both sides by consistency pressures. From the inside, there is a pressure to bring self-image into line with action. From the outside, there is a sneakier pressure—a tendency to adjust this image according to the way others perceive us. And because others see us as believing what we have written (even when we’ve had little choice in the matter), we will once again experience a pull to bring self-image into line with the written statement.

Another common way for businesses to cash in on the “magic” of written declarations occurs through the use of an innocent-looking promotional device. Before I began to study weapons of social influence, I used to wonder why big companies such as Procter & Gamble and General Foods are always running those “25-, 50-, or 100 words or less” testimonial contests. They all seem to be alike. The contestant is to compose a short personal statement that begins with the words, “Why I like…” and goes on to laud the features of whatever cake mix or floor wax happens to be at issue. The company judges the entries and awards some stunningly large prizes to the winners. What had puzzled me was what the companies got out of the deal. Often the contest requires no purchase; anyone submitting an entry is eligible.Yet, the companies appear to be strangely willing to incur the huge costs of contest after contest. I am no longer puzzled. The purpose behind the testimonial contests is the same as the purpose behind the political essay contests of the Chinese Communists. In both instances, the aim is to get as many people as possible to go on record as liking the product.

My own view is that the answer appeared in 1959 in the results of a study little known outside of social psychology. A pair of young researchers, Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills, decided to test their observation that “persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort. ”

Examination of such diverse activities as the indoctrination practices of the Chinese Communists and the initiation rituals of college fraternities has provided some valuable information about commitment. It appears that commitments are most effective in changing a person’s self-image and future behavior when they are active, public, and effortful. But there is another property of effective commitment that is more important than the other three combined. To understand what it is, we first need to solve a pair of puzzles in the actions of Communist interrogators and fraternity brothers.

To examine the second puzzle, we need to return to the Chinese prison camps of Korea and the regular political essay contests held for American captives. The Chinese wanted as many Americans as possible to enter these contests so that, in the process, they might write things favorable to the Communist view.If, however, the idea was to attract large numbers of entrants, why were the prizes so small? A few extra cigarettes or a little fresh fruit were often all that a contest winner could expect. In the setting, even these prizes were valuable, but still there were much larger rewards—warm clothing, special mail privileges, increased freedom of movement in camp—that the Chinese could have used to increase the number of essay writers. Yet they specifically chose to employ the smaller rather than the larger, more motivating rewards. Although the settings are quite different, the surveyed fraternities refused to allow civic activities into their initiation ceremonies for the same reason that the Chinese withheld large prizes in favor of less powerful inducements: They wanted the men to own what they had done. No excuses, no ways out were allowed. A man who suffered through an arduous hazing could not be given the chance to believe he did so for charitable purposes. A prisoner who salted his political essay with a few anti-American comments could not be permitted to shrug it off as motivated by a big reward.No, the fraternity chapters and Chinese Communists were playing for keeps. It was not enough to wring commitments out of their men; those men had to be made to take inner responsibility for their actions.

Adults facing the child-rearing experience can take a cue from the Freedman study. Suppose a couple wants to impress upon their daughter that lying is wrong. A strong, clear threat (“It’s bad to lie, honey; so if I catch you at it, I’ll cut your tongue out”) might well be effective when the parents are present or when the girl thinks she can be discovered. But it will not achieve the larger goal of convincing her that she does not want to lie because she thinks it’s wrong. To do that, a much subtler approach is required. A reason must be given that is just strong enough to get her to be truthful most of the time but is not so strong that she sees it as the obvious reason for her truthfulness. It’s a tricky business, because exactly what this barely sufficient reason will be changes from child to child. For one little girl, a simple appeal may be enough (“It’s bad to lie, honey; so I hope you won’t do it”); for another child, it may be necessary to add a somewhat stronger reason (“…because if you do, I’ll be disappointed in you”); for a third child, a mild form of warning may be required as well (“…and I’ll probably have to do something I don’t want to do”). Wise parents will know which kind of reason will work on their own children. The important thing is to use a reason that will initially produce the desired behavior and will, at the same time, allow a child to take personal responsibility for that behavior.Thus, the less detectable outside pressure such a reason contains, the better. Selecting just the right reason is not an easy task for parents. But the effort should pay off. It is likely to mean the difference between short-lived compliance and long-term commitment.

No more, though. I listen to my stomach these days. And I have discovered a way to handle people who try to use the consistency principle on me. I just tell them exactly what they are doing. It works beautifully. Most of the time, they don’t understand me; they just become sufficiently confused to want to leave me alone. I think they suspect lunacy in anyone who responds to their requests by explaining what Ralph Waldo Emerson meant in distinguishing between consistency and foolish consistency. Usually they have already begun edging away by the time I have mentioned “hobgoblins of the mind” and are gone long before I have described the click, whirr character of commitment and consistency.Occasionally, though, they realize that I am on to their game. I always know when that happens—it’s as clear as the egg on their faces. They invariably become flustered, bumble through a hasty exit line, and go for the door.

I have begun using the same device myself whenever I even suspect I might be acting in a foolishly consistent manner. One time, for instance, I had stopped at the self-service pump of a filling station advertising a price per gallon a couple of cents below the rate of other stations in the area. But with pump nozzle in hand, I noticed that the price listed on the pump was two cents higher than the display sign price. When I mentioned the difference to a passing attendant, who I later learned was the owner, he mumbled uncon-vincingly that the rates had changed a few days ago but there hadn’t been time to correct the display. I tried to decide what to do. Some reasons for staying came to mind—“I really do need gasoline badly. ” “This pump is available, and I am in sort of a hurry. ” “I think I remember that my car runs better on this brand of gas.

”So I asked myself the crucial question, “Knowing what I know about the real price of this gasoline, if I could go back in time, would I make the same choice again?” Concentrating on the first burst of impression I sensed, the answer was clear and unqualified. I would have driven right past. I wouldn’t even have slowed down. I knew then that without the price advantage, those other reasons would not have brought me there. They hadn’t created the decision; the decision had created them.

At the height of the disco craze, certain discotheque owners manufactured a brand of visible social proof for their clubs’ quality by creating long waiting lines outside when there was plenty of room inside. Salesmen are taught to spice their pitches with numerous accounts of individuals who have purchased the product. Sales and motivation consultant Cavett Robert captures the principle nicely in his advice to sales trainees: “Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer. ”

The powerful influence of filmed examples in changing the behavior of children can be used as therapy for various problems. Some striking evidence is available in the research of psychologist Robert O’Connor on socially withdrawn preschool children. We have all seen children of this sort, terribly shy, standing alone at the fringes of the games and groupings of their peers. O’Connor worried that a long-term pattern of isolation was forming, even at an early age, that would create persistent difficulties in social comfort and adjustment through adulthood. In an attempt to reverse the pattern, O’Connor made a film containing eleven different scenes in a nursery-school setting. Each scene began by showing a different solitary child watching some ongoing social activity and then actively joining the activity, to everyone’s enjoyment. O’Connor selected a group of the most severely withdrawn children from four preschools and showed them his film. The impact was impressive. The isolates immediately began to interact with their peers at a level equal to that of the normal children in the schools. Even more astonishing was what O’Connor found when he returned to observe six weeks later. While the withdrawn children who had not seen O’Connor’s film remained as isolated as ever, those who had viewed it were now leading their schools in amount of social activity. It seems that this twenty-three-minute movie, viewed just once, was enough to reverse a potential pattern of lifelong maladaptive behavior. Such is the potency of the principle of social proof.

All the weapons of influence discussed in this book work better under some conditions than under others. If we are to defend ourselves adequately against any such weapon, it is vital that we know its optimal operating conditions in order to recognize when we are most vulnerable to its influence. In the case of the principle of social proof, we have already had a hint of one time when it works best. Among the Chicago believers, it was a sense of shaken confidence that triggered their craving for converts. In general, when we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the actions of others as correct.

What is easy to forget, though, is that everybody else observing the event is likely to be looking for social evidence, too. And because we all prefer to appear poised and unflustered among others, we are likely to search for that evidence placidly, with brief, camouflaged glances at those around us. Therefore everyone is likely to see everyone else looking unruffled and failing to act. As a result, and by the principle of social proof, the event will be roundly interpreted as a nonemergency.This, according to Latané and Darley, is the state of pluralistic ignorance “in which each person decides that since nobody is concerned, nothing is wrong.Meanwhile, the danger may be mounting to the point where a single individual, uninfluenced by the seeming calm of others, would react. ”

The story of the Werther effect is both chilling and intriguing. More than two centuries ago, the great man of German literature, Johann von Goethe, published a novel entitled Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther). The book, in which the hero, named Werther, commits suicide, had a remarkable impact. Not only did it provide Goethe with immediate fame, but it also sparked a wave of emulative suicides across Europe. So powerful was this effect that authorities in several countries banned the novel.

The Sorrows of Young Werther – Goethe

No leader can hope to persuade, regularly and singlehandedly, all the members of the group. A forceful leader can reasonably expect, however, to persuade some sizable proportion of group members. Then the raw information that a substantial number of group members has been convinced can, by itself, convince the rest. Thus the most influential leaders are those who know how to arrange group conditions to allow the principle of social proof to work maximally in their favor.

The patrolman’s account provides certain insights into the way we respond to social proof.First, we seem to assume that if a lot of people are doing the same thing, they must know something we don’t. Especially when we are uncertain, we are willing to place an enormous amount of trust in the collective knowledge of the crowd.Second, quite frequently the crowd is mistaken because they are not acting on the basis of any superior information but are reacting, themselves, to the principle of social proof

First, we seem to assume that if a lot of people are doing the same thing, they must know something we don’t. Especially when we are uncertain, we are willing to place an enormous amount of trust in the collective knowledge of the crowd.Second, quite frequently the crowd is mistaken because they are not acting on the basis of any superior information but are reacting, themselves, to the principle of social proof.

Odds at a racetrack are based on where the money is being bet. The more money on a horse, the lower (better) the odds. Many people who play the horses have surprisingly little knowledge of racing or betting strategy.Thus, especially when they don’t know much about the horses in a particular race, a lot of times they’ll simply bet the favorite. Because tote boards are displayed with up-to-the-minute odds, the public can always tell who the current favorite is. The system that a high roller can use to alter the odds is actually quite simple. The guy has in mind a horse he feels has a good chance of winning. Next he chooses a horse that has long odds (say, 15 to 1) and doesn’t have a realistic chance to win. The minute the mutual windows open, the guy puts down a hundred dollars on the inferior horse, creating an instant favorite whose odds on the board drop to about 2 to 1.“Now the elements of social proof begin to work. People who are uncertain of how to bet the race look to the tote board to see which horse the early bettors have decided is a favorite, and they follow. A snowballing effect now occurs as other people continue to bet the favorite. At this point, the high roller can go back to the window and bet heavily on his true favorite, which will have better odds now because the ‘new favorite’ has pushed down the board. If the guy wins, the initial hundred-dollar investment will have been worth it many times over.

Once again we can see that social proof is most powerful for those who feel unfamiliar or unsure in a specific situation and who, consequently, must look outside of themselves for evidence of how best to behave there.

Since that encounter with the scarcity principle—that opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited—I have begun to notice its influence over a whole range of my actions. For instance, I routinely will interrupt an interesting face-to-face conversation to answer the ring of an unknown caller. In such a situation, the caller has a compelling feature that my face-to-face partner does not: potential unavailability. If I don’t take the call, I might miss it (and the information it carries) for good. Never mind that the ongoing conversation may be highly engaging or important—much more than I could reasonably expect an average phone call to be. With each unanswered ring, the phone interaction becomes less retrievable.

 

 

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Hospital Station – James White

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(Recommend)

Hospital Station is a little gem I stumbled upon by accident. It’s one of the most imaginative representations of alien life I’ve read about. The action is set in a space hospital, which treats life forms from all over the galaxy. It feels a little bit like a procedural medical TV show (House MD).

It is an easy read and a very entertaining one.

Quotes

 

Maybe he really was a despicable person and that was why the role had come so easy to him. Perhaps the constant frustration of never having the chance to really use the brain which was buried in his ugly, muscle-bound body had gradually soured him, and the part he thought he was playing was the real O’Mara.

 

A protected species,” he repeated. “Shielded from the crudities of present-day life. From your social strata-on all the worlds of the Union, not only on Earth—come practically all the great artists, musicians and professional men. Most of you live out your lives in ignorance of the fact that you are protected, that you are insulated from childhood against the grosser realities of our interstellar socalled civilization, and that your ideas of pacifism and ethical behavior are a luxury which a great many of us simply cannot afford. You are allowed this luxury in the hope that from it may come a philosophy which may one day make every being in the Galaxy truly civilized, truly good.”

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

zenmindcdx Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind – Shunryū Suzuki; Trudy Dixon; Richard Baker

(Recommend)

I really don’t know why I bother reading these books. The message is simple: Focus on the present moment.

Quotes

 

The most important point is to own your own physical body. If you slump, you will lose yourself. Your mind will be wandering about somewhere else; you will not be in your body. This is not the way. We must exist right here, right now! This is the key point.

 

The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in its wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy. To ignore them is not good; that is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is to watch them, just to watch them, without trying to control them.The same way works for you yourself as well. If you want to obtain perfect calmness in your zazen, you should not be bothered by the various images you find in your mind. Let them come, and let them go. Then they will be under control. But this policy is not so easy. It sounds easy, but it requires some special effort.

 

Whatever you do, it should be an expression of the same deep activity. We should appreciate what we are doing. There is no preparation for something else.

 

The Bodhisattva’s way is called “the single-minded way,” or “one railway track thousands of miles long.” The railway track is always the same. If it were to become wider or narrower, it would be disastrous. Wherever you go, the railway track is always the same. That is the Bodhisattva’s way. So even if the sun were to rise from the west, the Bodhisattva has only one way. His way is in each moment to express his nature and his sincerity. We say railway track, but actually there is no such thing. Sincerity itself is the railway track. The sights we see from the train will change, but we are always running on the same track. And there is no beginning or end to the track: beginningless and endless track. There is no starting point nor goal, nothing to attain. Just to run on the track is our way. This is the nature of our Zen practice. But when you become curious about the railway track, danger is there. You should not see the railway track. If you look at the track you will become dizzy. Just appreciate the sights you see from the train. That is our way. There is no need for the passengers to be curious about the track. So try not to see something in particular; try not to achieve anything special. You already have everything in your own pure quality. If you understand this ultimate fact, there is no fear.

In order not to leave any traces, when you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire. You should not be a smoky fire. You should burn yourself completely. If you do not burn yourself completely, a trace of yourself will be left in what you do.

 

Even when you practice zazen alone, without a teacher, I think you will find some way to tell whether your practice is adequate or not. When you are tired of sitting, or when you are disgusted with your practice, you should recognize this as a warning signal. You become discouraged with your practice when your practice has been idealistic. You have some gaining idea in your practice, and it is not pure enough. It is when your practice is rather greedy that you become discouraged with it. So you should be grateful that you have a sign or warning signal to show you the weak point in your practice. At that time, forgetting all about your mistake and renewing your way, you can resume your original practice. This is a very important point.

 

If you are concentrated on your breathing you will forget yourself, and if you forget yourself you will be concentrated on your breathing. I do not know which is first.

 

“Now it is raining, but we don’t know what will happen in the next moment. By the time we go out it may be a beautiful day, or a stormy day.

 

“Now it is raining, but we don’t know what will happen in the next moment. By the time we go out it may be a beautiful day, or a stormy day.    Since we don’t know, let’s appreciate the sound of the rain now.”

 

By enlightenment I mean believing in nothing, believing in something which has no form or no color, which is ready to take form or color. This enlightenment is the immutable truth.

 

To have delusion is practice. This is to attain enlightenment before you realize it. Even though you do not realize it, you have it. So when you say, “This is delusion,” that is actually enlightenment itself. If you try to expel the delusion it will only persist the more, and your mind will become busier and busier trying to cope with it. That is not so good. Just say, “Oh, this is just delusion,” and do not be bothered by it. When you just observe the delusion, you have your true mind, your calm, peaceful mind. When you start to cope with it you will be involved in delusion.

 

Willpower – Roy Baumeister

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(Do not recommend)

  • Make sure your brain has enough glucose to function.
  • Willpower has a capacity that can be depleted.
  • Through constantly using your willpower, you can increase that capacity.
  • Create habits and systems that will avoid putting you in positions where you have to use your limited supply of will power.

Research Paper – This research paper says the opposite.

Much recent research suggests that willpower—the capacity to exert self-control—is a limited resource that is depleted after exertion. We propose that whether depletion takes place or not depends on a person’s belief about whether willpower is a limited resource. Study 1 found that individual differences in lay theories about willpower moderate ego-depletion effects: People who viewed the capacity for self-control as not limited did not show diminished self-control after a depleting experience. Study 2 replicated the effect, manipulating lay theories about willpower. Study 3 addressed questions about the mechanism underlying the effect. Study 4, a longitudinal field study, found that theories about willpower predict change in eating behavior, procrastination, and self-regulated goal striving in depleting circumstances. Taken together, the findings suggest that reduced self-control after a depleting task or during demanding periods may reflect people’s beliefs about the availability of willpower rather than true resource depletion.

Quotes

Ego depletion thus creates a double whammy: Your willpower is diminished and your cravings feel stronger than ever.They were also more grumpy, irritable, and prone to anger or despair. They may have blamed their outbursts on the stress of exam period, because there’s a common misperception that stress causes those kinds of emotions. What stress really does, though, is deplete willpower, which diminishes your ability to control those emotions.

 

 

 

 

 

When people have to make a big change in their lives, their efforts are undermined if they are trying to make other changes as well. People who are trying to quit smoking, for example, will have their best shot at succeeding if they aren’t changing other behaviors at the same time. Those who try to quit smoking while also restricting their eating or cutting back on alcohol tend to fail at all three—probably because they have too many simultaneous demands on their willpower. Research has likewise found that people who seek to control their drinking tend to fail on days when they have other demands on their self-control, as compared with days when they can devote all their willpower to limiting the booze.

 

Yet just by looking at the response to the glucose test, the researchers were able to predict with greater than 80 percent accuracy which convicts would go on to commit violent crimes. These men apparently had less self-control because of their impaired glucose tolerance, a condition in which the body has trouble converting food into usable energy. The food gets converted into glucose, but the glucose in the bloodstream doesn’t get absorbed as it circulates. The result is often a surplus of glucose in the bloodstream, which might sound beneficial, but it’s like having plenty of firewood and no matches. The glucose remains there uselessly, rather than being converted into brain and muscle activity. If the excess glucose reaches a sufficiently high level, the condition is labeled diabetes.

 

Their willpower gradually got stronger, so it was less readily depleted. Focusing on one specific form of self-control could yield much larger benefits, just as self-experimenters from Ben Franklin to David Blaine had maintained. The experiments showed that you didn’t have to start off with the exceptional self-control of a Franklin or a Blaine to benefit: As long as you were motivated to do some kind of exercise, your overall willpower could improve, at least over the course of the experiment.

 

We’ve said that willpower is humans’ greatest strength, but the best strategy is not to rely on it in all situations. Save it for emergencies. As Stanley discovered, there are mental tricks that enable you to conserve willpower for those moments when it’s indispensable. Paradoxically, these techniques require willpower to implement, but in the long run they leave you less depleted for those moments when it takes a strong core to survive.

The behaviors they had coded as automatic tended to be linked to habits, whereas the more controlled sorts of behaviors tended to be unusual or one-time-only actions. Self-control turned out to be most effective when people used it to establish good habits and break bad ones. People with self-control were more likely to regularly use condoms, and to avoid habits like smoking, frequent snacking, and heavy drinking. It took willpower to establish patterns of healthy behavior—which was why the people with more willpower were better able to do it—but once the habits were established, life could proceed smoothly, particularly some aspects of life.

 

When Boice followed up on the group some years later, he found that their paths had diverged sharply. The page-a-day folks had done well and generally gotten tenure. The so-called “binge writers” fared far less well, and many had had their careers cut short. The clear implication was that the best advice for young writers and aspiring professors is: Write every day. Use your self-control to form a daily habit, and you’ll produce more with less effort in the long run.

 

 

 

Stanley realized, self-control is not selfish. Willpower enables us to get along with others and override impulses that are based on personal short-term interests. It’s the same lesson that Navy SEAL commandos learn during a modern version of Stanley’s ordeals: the famous Hell Week test of continual running, swimming, crawling, and shivering that they must endure on less than five hours’ sleep. At least three-quarters of the men in each SEAL class typically fail to complete training, and the survivors aren’t necessarily the ones with the most muscles, according to Eric Greitens, a SEAL officer. In recalling the fellow survivors of his Hell Week, he points out their one common quality: “They had the ability to step outside of their own pain, put aside their own fear, and ask: How can I help the guy next to me? They had more than the ‘fist’ of courage and physical strength. They also had a heart large enough to think about others.”

…people exert less self-control after seeing a messy desk than after seeing a clean desk, or when using a sloppy rather than a neat and wellorganized Web site. You may not care about whether your bed is made and your desk is clean, but these environmental cues subtly influence your brain and your behavior, making it ultimately less of a strain to maintain self-discipline. Order seems to be contagious.

 

Chandler had his own system for turning out The Big Sleep and other classic detective stories. “Me, I wait for inspiration,” he said, but he did it methodically every morning. He believed that a professional writer needed to set aside at least four hours a day for his job: “He doesn’t have to write, and if he doesn’t feel like it, he shouldn’t try. He can look out of the window or stand on his head or writhe on the floor, but he is not to do any other positive thing, not read, write letters, glance at magazines, or write checks.”

Kafka on The Shore – Haruki Murakami

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Kafka on The Shore

(I want my time back)

Goodreads Wikipedia

Franz Kafka is one of my favorite authors, but also, in my opinion, a bit difficult to read. After finishing the Metamorphosis I deeply regretted the time I spent reading such a boring book. Until a few days later when it suddenly hit me how amazing the book and Franz Kafka really are. I proceeded reading all of his books and they all had that same ‘delayed gratification’ effect.

I read a few short stories and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running  by Haruki Murakami, before I decided to give Kafka on The Shore a try. The famous author, the positive reviews and the fact that the title of the book has the name of my favorite author increased my expectations of the book. However, I ended up deeply disappointed. Kafka on The Shore was incredibly boring and annoying to read and it had the opposite of a ‘delayed gratification’ effect. As time goes by my hate towards this book only grows…

Kafka on The Shore was so boring that it took me about an year to finish. It left a lingering feeling of pain, emptiness and dullness, which made me quit Murakami forever. To start with, all the characters in the book have a two-dimensional feeling to them. I never cared about any of the characters, not even the kind, crazy, old, cat man. Moreover, at times the book feels absurd just for the sake of being absurd. The author tries really hard to give us the feeling of “dream-logic” but comes no near to the brilliant way that Kafka does it…

Many of you have probably experienced waking up after a dream only to realize that you were following some weird “dream laws” in your sleep? And these laws were all incredibly absurd, yet you felt the urge to abide by them. Then you wake up and wonder how come you never realized that you were dreaming… And how come you didn’t have the will to break free from the grip of that dream and shape your dream world the way you want it to be==> Reading Franz Kafka feels the same way. You become more aware of the absurd rules and laws that you follow in your real, waking life, which are often a product of social expectations, fear and upbringing. Franz Kafka made me more aware of who I am and freed me in many ways…

We then take a look at the ‘dream-logic’ in ‘Kafka on the shore’. I can best describe it as being aware that you are asleep and fully conscious of the absurdity of your dreams but still stuck in them until you wake up. Or to put it another way, fully aware of how boring the book is but stuck reading it…

If anyone found meaning and derived value from this book please share in the comments below. I am curious about the way you see it.

Quotes

“You have to look!” Johnnie Walker commanded. “That’s another one of our rules. Closing your eyes isn’t going to change anything. Nothing’s going to disappear just because you can’t see what’s going on. In fact, things will be even worse the next time you open your eyes. That’s the kind of world we live in, Mr. Nakata. Keep your eyes wide open. Only a coward closes his eyes. Closing your eyes and plugging up your ears won’t make time stand still.”

“Narrow minds devoid of imagination. Intolerance, theories cut off from reality, empty terminology, usurped ideals, inflexible systems. Those are the things that really frighten me. What I absolutely fear and loathe.”

“That’s fine. Look—what I’m getting at is no matter who or what you’re dealing with, people build up meaning between themselves and the things around them. The important thing is whether this comes about naturally or not. Being bright has nothing to do with it. What matters is that you see things with your own eyes.”

“”That’s why I gave myself the name Kafka. That’s what Kafka means in Czech, you know—crow.” “Hmm,” she says, mildly impressed. “So you’re Crow.” “That’s right,” I say. That’s right, the boy named Crow says. “There must be a limit to that kind of lifestyle, though,” she says. “You can’t use that strength as a protective wall around you. There’s always going to be something stronger that can overcome your fortress. At least in principle.” “Strength itself becomes your morality.” Miss Saeki smiles. “You catch on quickly.” “The strength I’m looking for isn’t the kind where you win or lose. I’m not after a wall that’ll repel power coming from outside. What I want is the kind of strength to be able to absorb that outside power, to stand up to it. The strength to quietly endure things—unfairness, misfortune, sadness, mistakes, misunderstandings.” “That’s got to be the most difficult strength of all to make your own.””

“”Myoga, you’re not very bright, so you don’t have to learn any sutras. Instead, I’d like you to sit at the entrance and polish everybody’s shoes.” Myoga was an obedient guy, so he didn’t tell his master to go screw himself. So for ten years, twenty years, he diligently polished everybody’s shoes. Then one day he achieved enlightenment and became one of the greatest of all the Buddha’s followers. That’s a story Hoshino always remembered, because he’d thought that had to be the crappiest kind of life, polishing shoes for decades. You gotta be kidding, he thought. But when he considered it now, the story started to take on a different undertone. Life’s crappy, no matter how you cut it. He just hadn’t understood that when he was little.”

 

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murkami

runningWhat I Talk About When I Talk About Running

(Recommend)

There is a lot of pep talk for when you are feeling down. However, as with all motivational videos, quotes, movies, books etc… it takes actual implementation in order to see positive change in your life. You are going to read some of the quotes below, pump yourself up and in 10 minutes eat a tub of ice-cream…

Personally, I see trying to imitate someone’s success as pointless. They are unique human beings. What works for them might not work for me. I realized that I need to stop seeking rules to follow or some general truths to abide by. My life is my own creation and I don’t need someone else to tell me how to live it or to inspire me to aim for goals which are not even mine in the first place.

That said, I enjoy reading about the ways people find meaning in their lives and what keeps them going. I like having an arsenal of ideas to use. Also, often there are some hidden practical gems that could be discovered…

Summary:

  • Exert yourself to the fullest within your individual limits
  • Work towards your goals every day, be consistent, do it no matter what.
  • Expand your capacity for attention by focusing on your mind as hard as you can, every day.

To further summarize:

Don’t be lazy, work as hard as you can, every day.

I think most motivation talk comes down to this doesn’t it… It’s all ‘work hard, no matter what’ looked from a different perspective, with a lot of fluff and a lot of repetition.

 

Cool Quotes

I stop every day right at the point where I feel I can write more. Do that, and the next day’s work goes surprisingly smoothly. I think Ernest Hemingway did something like that. To keep on going, you have to keep up the rhythm.

This is the important thing for long-term projects. Once you set the pace, the rest will follow. The problem is getting the flywheel to spin at a set speed—and to get to that point takes as much concentration and effort as you can manage.

Running without a break for more than two decades has also made me stronger, both physically and emotionally.

I’m much more interested in whether I reach the goals that I set for myself, so in this sense long-distance running is the perfect fit for a mindset like mine.

Emotional hurt is the price a person has to pay in order to be independent.

In other words, you can’t please everybody. Even when I ran my bar I followed the same policy. A lot of customers came to the bar. If one out of ten enjoyed the place and said he’d come again, that was enough. If one out of ten was a repeat customer, then the business would survive. To put it the other way, it didn’t matter if nine out of ten didn’t like my bar. This realization lifted a weight off my shoulders. Still, I had to make sure that the one person who did like the place really liked it. In order to make sure he did, I had to make my philosophy and stance clear-cut, and patiently maintain that stance no matter what. This is what I learned through running a business.

The main thing was not the speed or distance so much as running every day, without taking a break.

When I tell people I run every day, some are quite impressed. “You really must have a strong will,” they sometimes tell me. Of course, it’s nice to be praised like this. A lot better than being disparaged, that’s for sure. But I don’t think it’s merely willpower that makes you able to do something. The world isn’t that simple. To tell the truth, I don’t even think there’s that much correlation between my running every day and whether or not I have a strong will. I think I’ve been able to run for more than twenty years for a simple reason: It suits me. Or at least because I don’t find it all that painful. Human beings naturally continue doing things they like, and they don’t continue what they don’t like. Admittedly, something close to will does play a small part in that. But no matter how strong a will a person has, no matter how much he may hate to lose, if it’s an activity he doesn’t really care for, he won’t keep it up for long. Even if he did, it wouldn’t be good for him.

“Does a runner at your level ever feel like you’d rather not run today, like you don’t want to run and would rather just sleep in?” He stared at me and then, in a voice that made it abundantly clear how stupid he thought the question was, replied, “Of course. All the time!”

I wanted to know whether, despite being worlds apart in terms of strength, the amount we can exercise, and motivation, when we lace up our running shoes early in the morning we feel exactly the same way. Seko’s reply at the time came as a great relief. In the final analysis we’re all the same, I thought.

There are three reasons I failed. Not enough training. Not enough training. And not enough training. That’s it in a word. Not enough overall exercise, plus not getting my weight down. Without knowing it, I’d developed a sort of arrogant attitude, convinced that just a fair-to-middling amount of training was enough for me to do a good job. It’s pretty thin, the wall separating healthy confidence and unhealthy pride.

I think certain types of processes don’t allow for any variation. If you have to be part of that process, all you can do is transform—or perhaps distort—yourself through that persistent repetition, and make that process a part of your own personality.

Muscles are like work animals that are quick on the uptake. If you carefully increase the load, step by step, they learn to take it. As long as you explain your expectations to them by actually showing them examples of the amount of work they have to endure, your muscles will comply and gradually get stronger.

No matter what, though, I keep up my running. Running every day is a kind of lifeline for me, so I’m not going to lay off or quit just because I’m busy.

If I’m asked what the next most important quality is for a novelist, that’s easy too: focus—the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment. Without that you can’t accomplish anything of value, while, if you can focus effectively, you’ll be able to compensate for an erratic talent or even a shortage of it. I generally concentrate on work for three or four hours every morning. I sit at my desk and focus totally on what I’m writing. I don’t see anything else, I don’t think about anything else. Even a novelist who has a lot of talent and a mind full of great new ideas probably can’t write a thing if, for instance, he’s suffering a lot of pain from a cavity. The pain blocks concentration. That’s what I mean when I say that without focus you can’t accomplish anything.

Fortunately, these two disciplines—focus and endurance—are different from talent, since they can be acquired and sharpened through training. You’ll naturally learn both concentration and endurance when you sit down every day at your desk and train yourself to focus on one point.

This is a lot like the training of muscles I wrote of a moment ago. You have to continually transmit the object of your focus to your entire body, and make sure it thoroughly assimilates the information necessary for you to write every single day and concentrate on the work at hand. And gradually you’ll expand the limits of what you’re able to do. Almost imperceptibly you’ll make the bar rise. This involves the same process as jogging every day to strengthen your muscles and develop a runner’s physique. Add a stimulus and keep it up. And repeat. Patience is a must in this process, but I guarantee the results will come.

In private correspondence the great mystery writer Raymond Chandler once confessed that even if he didn’t write anything, he made sure he sat down at his desk every single day and concentrated. I understand the purpose behind his doing this. This is the way Chandler gave himself the physical stamina a professional writer needs, quietly strengthening his willpower. This sort of daily training was indispensable to him.

On the other hand, writers who aren’t blessed with much talent—those who barely make the grade—need to build up their strength at their own expense. They have to train themselves to improve their focus, to increase their endurance. To a certain extent they’re forced to make these qualities stand in for talent. And while they’re getting by on these, they may actually discover real, hidden talent within them. They’re sweating, digging out a hole at their feet with a shovel, when they run across a deep, secret water vein. It’s a lucky thing, but what made this good fortune possible was all the training they did that gave them the strength to keep on digging. I imagine that late-blooming writers have all gone through a similar process.

Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life—and for me, for writing as well. I believe many runners would agree.

But you need a great deal of energy to create an immune system and maintain it over a long period. You have to find that energy somewhere, and where else to find it but in our own basic physical being?

To deal with something unhealthy, a person needs to be as healthy as possible. That’s my motto. In other words, an unhealthy soul requires a healthy body. This might sound paradoxical, but it’s something I’ve felt very keenly ever since I became a professional writer.

If possible, I’d like to avoid that kind of literary burnout. My idea of literature is something more spontaneous, more cohesive, something with a kind of natural, positive vitality. For me, writing a novel is like climbing a steep mountain, struggling up the face of the cliff, reaching the summit after a long and arduous ordeal. You overcome your limitations, or you don’t, one or the other. I always keep that inner image with me as I write.

I’m not a human. I’m a piece of machinery. I don’t need to feel a thing. Just forge on ahead.

That’s what I told myself. That’s about all I thought about, and that’s what got me through. If I were a living person of blood and flesh I would have collapsed from the pain. There definitely was a being called me right there. And accompanying that is a consciousness that is the self. But at that point, I had to force myself to think that those were convenient forms and nothing more. It’s a strange way of thinking and definitely a very strange feeling—consciousness trying to deny consciousness. You have to force yourself into an inorganic place. Instinctively I realized that this was the only way to survive.

I repeat this like a mantra. A literal, mechanical repetition. And I try hard to reduce the perceptible world to the narrowest parameters. All I can see is the ground three yards ahead, nothing beyond. My whole world consists of the ground three yards ahead. No need to think beyond that. The sky and wind, the grass, the cows munching the grass, the spectators, cheers, lake, novels, reality, the past, memory—these mean nothing to me. Just getting me past the next three yards—this was my tiny reason for living as a human. No, I’m sorry—as a machine.

Instead of forcing myself to run, perhaps it would have been smarter if I’d walked. A lot of other runners were doing just that. Giving their legs a rest as they walked. But I didn’t walk a single step. I stopped a lot to stretch, but I never walked. I didn’t come here to walk. I came to run. That’s the reason—the only reason—I flew all the way to the northern tip of Japan. No matter how slow I might run, I wasn’t about to walk. That was the rule. Break one of my rules once, and I’m bound to break many more. And if I’d done that, it would have been next to impossible to finish this race.

Once you have a scary incident like that, you really take it to heart. In most cases learning something essential in life requires physical pain. Since that incident on the bike, no matter how tired I might be I always keep my head up and my eyes on the road ahead.

There’s one thing, though, I can state with confidence: until the feeling that I’ve done a good job in a race returns, I’m going to keep running marathons, and not let it get me down. Even when I grow old and feeble, when people warn me it’s about time to throw in the towel, I won’t care. As long as my body allows, I’ll keep on running. Even if my time gets worse, I’ll keep on putting in as much effort—perhaps even more effort—toward my goal of finishing a marathon. I don’t care what others say—that’s just my nature, the way I am. Like scorpions sting, cicadas cling to trees, salmon swim upstream to where they were born, and wild ducks mate for life.

What I mean is, I didn’t start running because somebody asked me to become a runner. Just like I didn’t become a novelist because someone asked me to. One day, out of the blue, I wanted to write a novel. And one day, out of the blue, I started to run—simply because I wanted to. I’ve always done whatever I felt like doing in life. People may try to stop me, and convince me I’m wrong, but I won’t change.

I look up at the sky, wondering if I’ll catch a glimpse of kindness there, but I don’t. All I see are indifferent summer clouds drifting over the Pacific. And they have nothing to say to me. Clouds are always taciturn. I probably shouldn’t be looking up at them. What I should be looking at is inside of me. Like staring down into a deep well. Can I see kindness there? No, all I see is my own nature. My own individual, stubborn, uncooperative, often self-centered nature that still doubts itself—that, when troubles occur, tries to find something funny, or something nearly funny, about the situation. I’ve carried this character around like an old suitcase, down a long, dusty path. I’m not carrying it because I like it. The contents are too heavy, and it looks crummy, fraying in spots. I’ve carried it with me because there was nothing else I was supposed to carry. Still, I guess I have grown attached to it. As you might expect.

But pain seems to be a precondition for this kind of sport. If pain weren’t involved, who in the world would ever go to the trouble of taking part in sports like the triathlon or the marathon, which demand such an investment of time and energy? It’s precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive—or at least a partial sense of it. Your quality of experience is based not on standards such as time or ranking, but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself. If things go well, that is.

The Talent Code – Daniel Coyle

tcsidebarThe Talent Code 

(Recommend)

At its core this book is all about the concept of myelination. Practicing a skill leads to myelination of the neural network in your brain responsible for that skill. More myelination – the faster and stronger this neural network becomes.

Myelination in action

Deep Work – Cal Newport

A Mind For Numbers – Barbara Oakley

Quotes

 

Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways—operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes—makes you smarter. Or to put it a slightly different way, experiences where you’re forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them—as you would if you were walking up an ice-covered hill, slipping and stumbling as you go—end up making you swift and graceful without your realizing it.

The reason, Bjork explained, resides in the way our brains are built. “We tend to think of our memory as a tape recorder, but that’s wrong,” he said. “It’s a living structure, a scaffold of nearly infinite size. The more we generate impulses, encountering and overcoming difficulties, the more scaffolding we build. The more scaffolding we build, the faster we learn.”

The firing of the circuit is paramount. Myelin is not built to respond to fond wishes or vague ideas or information that washes over us like a warm bath. The mechanism is built to respond to actions: the literal electrical impulses traveling down nerve fibers. It responds to urgent repetition. In a few chapters we’ll discuss the likely evolutionary reasons, but for now we’ll simply note that deep practice is assisted by the attainment of a primal state, one where we are attentive, hungry, and focused, even desperate.

Causing skill to evaporate doesn’t require chromosomal rejiggering or black-ops psychological maneuvers. It only requires that you stop a skilled person from systematically firing his or her circuit for a mere thirty days. Their muscles won’t have changed; their much-vaunted genes and character will remain unaltered; but you will have touched their talent at the weakest spot in its armor. Myelin, as Bartzokis reminds us, is living tissue. Like everything else in the body, it’s in a constant cycle of breakdown and repair. That’s why daily practice matters, particularly as we get older. As Vladimir Horowitz, the virtuoso pianist who kept performing into his eighties, put it, “If I skip practice for one day, I notice. If I skip practice for two days, my wife notices. If I skip for three days, the world notices.”

Repetition is invaluable and irreplaceable. There are, however, a few caveats. With conventional practice, more is always better: hitting two hundred forehands a day is presumed to be twice as good as hitting one hundred forehands a day. Deep practice, however, doesn’t obey the same math. Spending more time is effective—but only if you’re still in the sweet spot at the edge of your capabilities, attentively building and honing circuits. What’s more, there seems to be a universal limit for how much deep practice human beings can do in a day. Ericsson’s research shows that most world-class experts—including pianists, chess players, novelists, and athletes—practice between three and five hours a day, no matter what skill they pursue.

“We instinctively think of each new student as a blank slate, but the ideas they bring to that first lesson are probably far more important than anything a teacher can do, or any amount of practice,” McPherson said. “It’s all about their perception of self. At some point very early on they had a crystallizing experience that brings the idea to the fore, that says, I am a musician. That idea is like a snowball rolling downhill.”

“We believe that people are shy not because they lack social skills but because they haven’t practiced them sufficiently” said therapist Nicole Shiloff. “Talking on the phone or asking someone on a date is a learnable skill, exactly like a tennis forehand. The key is that people have to linger in that uncomfortable area, learn to tolerate the anxiety. If you practice, you can get to the level you want.” The godfather of this kind of therapy is Dr. Albert Ellis. Ellis, who was born in 1913 and raised in the Bronx, was a painfully shy teenager, unable to bring himself to speak to women. But one afternoon he decided to make a change. He sat on a bench near the New York Botanical Garden and chatted with every woman who sat down. In one month he spoke with 130 women. “Thirty walked away immediately,” he said. “I talked with the other hundred, for the first time in my life, no matter how anxious I was. Nobody vomited and ran away. Nobody called the cops.” Ellis, who went on to write dozens of books, built a straight-talk, action-oriented approach that challenged the Freudian model of examining childhood experience. “Neurosis is just a high-class word for whining,” he said. “The trouble with most therapy is that it helps you to feel better. But you don’t get better. You have to back it up with action, action, action.”

This is why level of education is one of the most reliable predictors for Alzheimer’s onset, Bartzokis says. More education creates a thicker, more robust circuit, better able to compensate for the early phases of disease. It’s also why we’ve recently seen an avalanche of new studies, books, and video games built on the myelin-centric principle that practice staves off cognitive decline. The myelin model also highlights the importance of seeking new challenges. Experiments have found that situations in which people are forced to adapt and attune themselves to new challenges (i.e., make errors, pay attention, deep-practice) tend to increase cognitive reserve. One study showed that elderly people who pursued more leisure activities had a 38 percent lower risk for developing dementia. As one neurologist pointed out, the mantra “Use it or lose it” needs an update. It should be “Use it and get more of it.”