The Designs of Humanity

Sometimes I think about who we are.

Ready to Lose

Shock—we’ve all experienced it in one form or another. It could be that you lost someone dear to you unexpectedly, or maybe that you failed at reaching a personal goal you were convinced you could achieve. Whatever the case, you’ve had to deal with the rectification between your expectations and reality.

It really is a crazy thing. Our brains are designed to experience a little time-out session when we first realize this difference exists. Time enters a no passing zone, and there we are, aware of the world around us, yet so far removed. We all know that this state only lasts a short while—if only we could lengthen it.

When it leaves we’re bombarded with fear, anger, sorrow and a whole slew of emotions that we’re never ready for. Of course, with time, we work through these emotions and return to (a version of) normalcy.

So, it’s a natural thing to ask, “why aren’t we always prepared—like boyscouts?” The answer: sometimes we are.

Have you ever caught yourself talking to the imaginary police officer? You know, the one you make up so that you can reason out just how you’ll talk your way out of the ticket you deserve (maybe it’s just me)? If you’ve ever prepped for such a phantom event, you’ll know just what I mean. You and your bag of reasons will have already thought of every excuse and witty retort before you even get pulled over.

You’ve done it. Automatically, you’ve responded to the dilemma at hand, even though, usually, there isn’t one. Face it, your brain is smarter than you—so much so that it’s prepared you to deal with not just scenarios you’ll likely encounter, but many others as well.

So what happens when they really do happen? Well, if you’re like me, you answer the officer’s questions with clear yesses and nos, and when he tickets you you thank him.

When you needed those convincing and witty lines, they were gone. It might seem the preparation has failed. But, now, just wait for it. After it’s over the reasons will all come back. When they do, you’ll feel the overwhelming urge to share them with the nearest captive audience available (pity the passenger).

While it may seem like your brain set up an elaborate defense system, it was really just preparing you for the emotional onslaught that is losing. You thought you were ready for anything—at least you were ready to lose.

Filed under: coping, hypothetical, losing, ready, trauma

Losing is Such a Lovely Thing Indeed

Losing is lovely because when you lose, you’re tested. For example, playing golf is more a challenge of temper for me than of athleticism (though I do stink at the latter). Losing at golf means a poor scorecard, but a tried and controlled temper is much more valuable than any scorecard. When in competitive games like chess, losing means seeing someone else win, which, with study, can improve your game much more than playing an easy opponent and winning.

Filed under: conditioning, coping, growth, irony, learning, losing, strength, temper

Absolutely

When I was younger, I lived on Guam. My family would regularly go to the beach, and I thus developed somewhat of an understanding of the ocean—in a practical sense. I spent many hours playing in the waves, digging in the sand, racing hermit crabs and the like.

One day I went along with some friends who were going to a swimming hole with a diving tower. When we got there I saw the platform and thought to myself, “that doesn’t look so high.” Well, needless to say, when I found myself looking down from the hard concrete slab suspended above the ocean floor, the water in between didn’t seem as forgiving as it had from below. And so I debated. I worked up courage, and then lost it. My friends showed me how fun it was, but it still didn’t appeal to me, I told myself reasons, but I just couldn’t remember them when I peered over the edge.

While I spent time working up the courage to take the plunge, something else was happening, of which I hadn’t the slightest. On Guam there are 2 kinds of weather: rainy (really rainy) and sunny. This day was the latter. Now, I’m 1/4 Norwegian, and in Norway during the winter there is only one type of weather: dark.

While I was debating and mustering the courage to jump, the sun did a number on my white-as-chalk skin.

My point to this little anecdote is not that you should always wear sunscreen (although it’s not a bad idea), nor that you should seize the day and take the metaphorical jump. My point is that some things are just absolute. I could have debated that jump forever. There are a million reasons both to and not to jump (not the least of which was my gripping fear). What happened to me has happened to many people—it’s called “analysis paralysis.” I spent so much time debating that not only did I miss out on life, I suffered the consequences of removing myself from normalcy.

I’ve found that courage is one thing that is absolute. Either you have it, or you don’t. Don’t waste your time trying to talk yourself into things. Do them, or don’t.

Spend some time thinking about what things are absolutes in your life. When you find them, recognize them, even write them down if you must, but know that the recognition of these absolutes means you’ll no longer be prone to analysis paralysis. Your life will begin to rid itself of worry and wasted time.

Filed under: coping, debate, decisions, fear, growth, irony, jump, leap of faith, paralysis, ready, stalling, strength, sunburn

Change

I think I’ve figured it out. What’s it, you ask? Change. People fear it, create it, adapt to it, and ironically enough, need it. Take for example a slow day. When nothing’s happening, we come down with this awfully dreadful condition we call boredom. Really, this is just our way of saying “change something” to the world around us. Or how about fearing change? We’ve just established that it’s something we need, so why do we often fear it so much? Well, studies will tell you that humans (like most other creatures) are creatures of habit—meaning that an astronomical percentage of what we do is done simply because we’ve done it before. This experienced feeling we have from repeating actions which have worked well for us in the past gives a sense of belonging. Belonging gives humans purpose. As I’m beginning to understand, the ability to change one’s self is the most amazing way in which humans use change. We adapt. I just learned today that Eskimos who eat raw fish almost always end up developing parasitic stomach worms. Like me, you might grimace at that and say “fix that,” but just wait. Studies have been done showing that, while simply cooking the fish (as if it’s really simple that far north) would keep the worms from showing up, it would also remove certain nutrients from the Eskimo diet that helps their immune systems handle the worms. These people have adapted to their environment, and without even trying. The next level of this type of change is seen when it becomes voluntary. By taking control of one’s life, he/she can become increasingly stable in increasingly unstable conditions. In certain religions, people who meditate for extended periods of time have learned through conscious practice how to lower their heart rate and need for oxygen to a point where they can be buried alive for several hours, be dug up, and remain in perfectly good health. If these people can discipline themselves into a state that defies even death, who’s to say that much of anything is beyond reach?
For the last several months I’ve been reading up on what makes a person wise. The best answer I’ve come up with for attempting to summarize this virtue is “the ability to understand and adapt to change.” There, now practice changing.

Filed under: belonging, change, comfort, conditioning, coping, creativity, decisions, eskimo, fear, fish, growth, independence, learning, strength, trauma, Uncategorized, worms

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