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  • How often do you re-evaluate the world for yourself?

    Today is July 29 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you re-evaluate the world for yourself?” Those who navigate the chaos keep a firm grasp on their ability to see things differently. If they find themselves in a routine, they may assess their situation and look for a better way. As American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut Mae Carol Jemison observed: “Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations. If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won't exist because you'll have already shut it out...You can hear other people's wisdom, but you've got to re-evaluate the world for yourself.” Navigating the chaos requires you to continually re-evaluate the world for yourself. Doing so may allow you to travel down a road where no one else was able to go. Translating dreams into reality often involves ignoring the constraints placed upon a situation by others and their lack of imagination. Re-evaluating the world can also allow you to leverage your benign ignorance in order to navigate the chaos. American mathematical scientist George Dantzig is one such example. An event in Dantzig's life became the origin of a famous story in 1939, while he was a graduate student at UC Berkeley. Near the beginning of a class for which Dantzig was late, Professor Jerzy Neyman wrote two examples of famously unsolved statistics problems on the blackboard. When Dantzig arrived, he assumed that the two problems were a homework assignment and wrote them down. According to Dantzig: "I arrived late one day at one of Neyan's classes. On the blackboard there were two problems that I assumed had been assigned for homework. I copied them down. A few days later I apologized to Neyman for taking so long to do the homework — the problems seemed to be a little harder than usual." Six weeks later, Dantzig received a visit from an excited professor Neyman, who was eager to tell him that the homework problems he had solved were two of the most famous unsolved problems in statistics. He had prepared one of Dantzig's solutions for publication in a mathematical journal. As Dantzig told it in a 1986 interview in the College Mathematics Journal: “A year later, when I began to worry about a thesis topic, Neyman just shrugged and told me to wrap the two problems in a binder and he would accept them as my thesis.” Years later another researcher, Abraham Wald, was preparing to publish an article that arrived at a conclusion for the second problem and included Dantzig as its co-author when he learned of the earlier solution. This story began to spread and was used as a motivational lesson demonstrating the power of positive thinking. Over time Dantzig's name was removed, and facts were altered, but the basic story persisted in the form of an urban legend and as an introductory scene in the movie Good Will Hunting. Because Dantzig didn't know these problems were unsolved, he wasn't constrained by what he would have believed to be his limits. His benign ignorance propelled him to unknowingly re-evaluate solutions to previously unsolvable programs. As he later wrote about the chance event: "If I had known that the problems were not homework but were in fact two famous unsolved problems in statistics, I probably would not have thought positively, would have become discouraged, and would never have solved them." Sometimes in life our ignorance can serve as a catalyst without our knowledge. The adage ‘ignorance is bliss’ may be true but it is equally so when it comes to re-evaluating a problem that so many others were unable to solve. Seeing things differently, or perhaps even for the first time, can certainly help you navigate the chaos. How often do you re-evaluate the world for yourself?

  • How often are you engaged in magical thinking?

    Today is July 28 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you engaged in magical thinking?" Those who translate their dreams into reality seldom engaged in magical thinking. Magical thinking is the belief that one's ideas, thoughts, wishes, or actions can influence the course of events in the physical world. As Dr. John A. Johnson wrote in Psychology Today on February 17, 2018 “First, merely expecting something to happen will not make it happen.” Those who navigate the chaos understand that merely expecting something to happen will not make it happen as such magical thinking is reserved for children and, sadly, adults who lack the capacity for mature cognitive processing. Developmental psychologist Jean Piaget noted that young children have difficulty distinguishing between the subjective worlds in their heads and the outer, objective world. According to Piaget, children therefore sometimes believe that their thoughts can directly cause things to happen — for example, thinking angry thoughts about one’s little brother can cause him to fall down the stairs. Piaget referred to this as magical thinking and suggested that most individuals outgrow it by around seven years of age. Children in the toddler stage are becoming more aware of what is around them and looking to make connections that answer their favorite question: Why? They are also in an egocentric stage of development, so it is easy for them to engage in magical thinking and believe that something they do—say, wearing a blue shirt—can have an effect on something totally unrelated, such as having good weather. Unfortunately, Piaget’s observation fell far short as additional research has demonstrated many normal adults continue to engage in various forms of magical thinking. Superstitions are one example of magical thinking in adults. Athletes often follow certain rituals before competition as their magical thinking believes such a routine will have a positive outcome. Putting the right sock on first, eating a specific meal, or wearing the same shirt for an entire season are all examples of magical thinking adults engage in. There is even limited evidence to suggest activating superstitions may increase perceived self-effectiveness and have a corresponding improvement on performance. Far too often, however, magical thinking can be a cause for concern. For example, people who suffer from OCD may engage in magical thinking and develop rituals, such as washing their hands multiple times in a row in the belief that doing this will give them an irrational amount of control over their environment. They may spend countless hours a day engaging in these behaviors and feel a high degree of anxiety and distress when they are not able to perform them. Moreover, a 2014 study published in the journal Cognitive Behaviour Therapy suggests that magical thinking may prop up harmful compulsive behaviors in people with OCD by mediating a cognitive bias that results from a distrust of the senses and a primary reliance on imagination. Another illustration of the harmful effects of magical thinking can be found in The Law of Attraction (LOA). LOA states thoughts attract events. It is believed by many to be a universal law by which “Like always attracts like.” The results of positive thoughts are always positive consequences. The same holds true for negative thoughts, always leading to bad outcomes. But the LOA is much more than generalizations: Thinking about red Lamborghinis will bring you red Lamborghinis—always. To the believers, questioning the validity of the LOA is akin to heresy and blasphemy; it creates religious fervor. To the uninitiated, it may seem silly to discuss even the possibility that such a law could exist. The LOA, however, is an example of magical thinking. As Benedict Carey noted in "Do You Believe in Magic?" a January 23, 2007 New York Times article: “In a series of experiments researchers from Princeton and Harvard showed how easy it was to elicit magical thinking in well-educated young adults. In one instance, the researchers had participants watch a blindfolded person play an arcade basketball game and visualize success for the player. The game, unknown to the subjects, was rigged: the shooter could see through the blindfold, had practiced extensively, and made most of the shots. On questionnaires, the spectators said later that they had probably had some role in the shooter’s success. A comparison group of participants, who had been instructed to visualize the player lifting dumbbells, was far less likely to claim such credit.” As Dr. Neil Farber wrote in Throw Away Your Vision Board: The Truth About the Law of Attraction “the law of attraction does not work 99.9% of the time. In fact, believing in this ‘law’ may be detrimental to your health, inhibit your compassion for others, decrease your motivation, and lessen your chance of achieving goals.” “The appetite for magical thinking, Carey wrote, “appears to be rooted in the circuitry of the brain, and for good reason. The sense of having special powers buoys people in threatening situations and helps soothe everyday fears and ward off mental distress. In excess, it can lead to compulsive or delusional behavior. This emerging portrait of magical thinking helps explain why people who fashion themselves skeptics cling to odd rituals that seem to make no sense, and how apparently harmless superstition may become disabling.” In a 1937 speech at the Descartes conference in Paris, French philosopher and winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize in Literature Henri-Louis Bergson proclaimed: “I would say act like a man of thought and think like a man of action.” Action and thought work in tandem. Those who navigate the chaos understand this and realize magical thinking is best left for children. How often do you engage in magical thinking?

  • How often do you allow yourself to be a work in progress?

    Today is July 27 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you allow yourself to be a work in progress?” People who navigate the chaos dedicate themselves to continuously developing their knowledge, skills, and experiences. Translating dreams into reality is a never-ending process and allows one to be in a state of perpetual development if they so choose. Reid Hoffman mentions this in his book The Start-Up of You. According to Reid "we are all works in progress. Each day presents an opportunity to learn more, do more, be more, grow more in our lives and careers. Keeping your career in permanent beta forces you to acknowledge that you have bugs that there is new development to do on yourself that you will need to adapt and evolve." Unfortunately, as you travel your path of navigating the chaos, you will encounter some people who have decades of experience doing one job and believe they are experts and know everything about everything. Far too often, these individuals lack any self-awareness, have an inflated sense of ego, and provide myopic advice often best ignored. Andy Hargadon, head of the entrepreneurship center at the University of California-Davis, says that for many people "twenty years of experience is really one year of experience repeated twenty times.” When you come across such people ask yourself if you really want to listen to someone who has done the same job once and then repeated it 20 or 30 years in a row? Artists provide a good reference point for today’s question. Tasked with creating a work of art out of thin air, artists understand the need for a lifetime dedication to progress perhaps better than most. During the March-September 2016 period, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City opened the exhibition “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible.” According to The Met’s website “This exhibition addresses a subject critical to artistic practice: the question of when a work of art is finished. Beginning with the Renaissance masters, this scholarly and innovative exhibition examines the term unfinished in its broadest possible sense, including works left incomplete by their makers, which often give insight into the process of their creation, but also those that partake of a non finito—intentionally unfinished—aesthetic that embraces the unresolved and open-ended.” One such example is a small, exquisitely detailed drawing Jan van Eyck made in 1437, in preparation for a painted panel where Saint Barbara sits on a hill near a looming Gothic tower. She holds a thick book and long, graceful palm leaves. The young woman is drawn in black, on a pale background. Van Eyck paints in just a few birds against a blue sky and stopped and, the story goes, declared "It's a masterpiece." No one knows why van Eyck didn't apply paint to the rest of the panel. But he signed and dated it, which usually means an artist thinks it's finished. As Susan Stamberg from NPR noted on May 31, 2016 “Rembrandt was once asked why so many of his works look half-finished. He replied: ‘A work of art is complete when in it the artist has realized his intention.’ Rembrandt implies that it's up to the artist to decide, not to critics, who may say a work appears raw, lacking a complete appearance. For example, Paul Cezanne, who was never satisfied, rarely signed his works. In a letter to his mother, he wrote that finishing things was a goal for imbeciles.” Imbeciles might be a bit harsh, but Cezanne’s point is well taken. One is never finished, and perfection is a fool’s errand. A lifetime commitment to development, however, is within everyone’s reach. So too is the decision as to when one work of art, or aspect of your life is complete, thus allowing you to move on to the next. American playwright and director Tyler Perry exemplifies one who possessed a lifetime of commitment to development in order to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well. Perry learned that his failures provided him many lessons that he used to move forward. Perry’s childhood in New Orleans was marked by a pattern of abuse by his father, and the bitterness from the broken relationship became a source of unforgiveness as Perry grew older, eventually moving to Atlanta. It was only after channeling his struggles through writing, that he found a deeper calling. After praying for God to help him to forgive his father, whom he later reconciled with, Perry turned his turbulent story of forgiveness and redemption into the stage play “I Know I’ve Been Changed.” From 1992 to 1998, every time he put on the play it flopped and was considered a financial failure until he revamped it and found success taking it on the road from 1998 to 2000. Perry allowed his life to be a work in progress and as he tweaked his show he made his foray into film transposing many of his stage productions into screen gems, dating back to 2001 when he introduced his play “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” to wide audiences via DVDs that were sold on his Web site. It was the $50.7 million box office success of his 2005 debut “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” that landed him a lucrative first-look, multiyear distribution deal with Lionsgate Entertainment. Perry would go on to create 17 films and six television shows. When reflecting upon his life Perry said: “You have to understand that what you may perceive to be a failure may very well be an opportunity to learn, grow, get better, and prepare for the next level. If you find the lessons in what you perceive to be failures, then you won’t ever fail at anything. Everything I learned during the ‘learning’ years (that’s what I call them now) has helped me in the ‘harvest’ years (that’s what I’m living in now). Do not be hard on yourself. You have not failed. Find the lesson so you can use it when you get to your harvest.” How often do you consider yourself a work in progress?

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