Living your life as an outside observer

If there are certain key concepts that encompass my entire existence, then this is certainly one of them. To do all the things that I do, and to do all the things that I wish to do, and to do all the things I yet don’t know I want to do, I play the role of the outside observer.

Being an outside observer allows one to participate in any given situation, but in a way that it allows observation, deduction, and rational action. But it is much more than just that. It is a core principle. I will go from ‘I’ and ‘one’ to ‘we’. We should always strive to remove ourselves from the game and observe it from the outside. The game is in this context pretty much everything. Let’s say that there is a big political debate on an important question going on. Let’s say that it’s something really important, and that there are two main sides, together with some other options. In an American context, this might mean Democrats and Republicans, in a European one it could be Euroskeptics and pro-EU politicians.

We, who strive for greatness, are obliged to remove ourselves and observe the debate as if we were watching it on a screen.

Let’s say that there is a fight between our friends. Again, two opposing sides. We are once again obliged to remove ourselves from the fight and be an outside observer.

Let’s say that there is a war going on. Let’s say that a certain terrorist organization, that gains more and more power as time goes, gains so much power that it starts an all-out, overt war against one state. Let’s also say that we live in that one state which has fallen under attack.

Again, we must do our best and more, we must stay an outside observer.

Why do we need to do this constantly? Does it not make us lose contact with the world? If there is a key political issue, we should act on it, right? We should try to influence it. Shouldn’t we try to change the world for the better?

Well, yes… This brings me to another important point.

Doublethink

Doublethink is one of the concepts from George Orwell’s celebrated book 1984. In a nutshell, doublethink means holding two contrary opinions in mind and believing in them at the same time.

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself – that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.

Doublethink is rightfully known as something bad, but there is no closer term to describe what I want to describe, so I will ask you to forget about its negative connotations and see it in a new light. Maybe we can find a more suited term for this, but in the meantime, we’ll use this one.

Humans are very kind. Humans are very violent.

These two statements are both true. This is what I mean when I say doublethink.

In the case of this post, doublethink refers to being an outside observer and being an active participant at the same time.

Being an outside observer (in the rest of the text OO) requires assuming a certain mental attitude in life in general, a sort of distance from ‘earthly affairs’. But in no way does it stop one from acting in an ‘earthly affair’. Being an OO and an AP (active participant) at the same time requires us not to commit completely to a certain course of action. It requires us to be able at all times to change our opinion completely, thus avoiding cognitive dissonance. It requires that we rid ourselves of emotional attachments to our opinions and in that way, we never really take sides and always remain outside observers.

In conclusion, we should participate in life. We should influence others, expand positive concepts and change the world. But never should we take sides before looking at the entire situation from the perspective of an outside observer, and we should continue to use this distancing while we do what we do.

Stay out, observe everything.

One rule in crowd dynamics

Has it ever happened to you that you were on a square or in a street, looking for your friend to meet up and then, all of the sudden, the person you were looking for appears right in front of you, without you even seeing him/her? It happened to me. In fact, it happened several times.

So I figured: “I have got to be doing something wrong.” How is it possible that I’m looking at everybody, actively searching for the person I was to meet up with, and that I don’t see that person coming straight up to me? And then I got it. It’s actually very simple. I was, for some reason, looking at the people that were more distant to me. I basically ignored everyone that was near me. Why I did that, I do not know.

In any case, if there is one rule in crowd dynamics, it’s this: do not ignore the people closest to you. If it comes to physical altercations, they are the ones you need to be looking at, not the ones that are more far away from you.

Numbers are important

Here’s a new exercise for you: when you get into a train, into a bar, into a classroom – close your eyes and try to remember the number of certain things. How many sunglasses were there in the room? How many white sneakers? How many cellphones were visible?

This exercise will give you more precision in your analyses. With it, you also develop your memory and visualization skills. It happened to me more than once that upon entering a certain place, I looked around, spotted the best exit options, spotted the most colorful people and the good-looking women, but had absolutely no idea who else was there. I could give a pretty good description of what I saw, how the place looked like and so on, but had astoundingly low precision when it came to numbers of things and things I didn’t find interesting.

The reason is this: I didn’t find it interesting enough. But then one day I rode a train and after some 20 minutes I became aware of the presence of the most dangerous man in that entire train. The tattoos said war veteran, the insignia said patriot/nationalist, the look said nervousness and potential PTSD, the hands said strength. One could easily infer a presence of a weapon. Understand the gravity of this: for twenty minutes I didn’t notice somebody that could do real physical harm. I didn’t notice him because there were more interesting things to watch. I glanced over him, and my superficial glance didn’t find anything interesting, EVEN THOUGH he was loaded with information.

This exercise will teach you too look at people and things you think do not have any meaningful information. And with it, you will learn an important lesson: it is often the most meaningless, bleak, uninteresting thing that has the most interesting story behind it.

Maxims are not so great

I don’t think that philosophical maxims are that great. Granted, they have their potential, but their overuse leads to twisted thinking and to paradoxes which shouldn’t even occupy anyone’s brain. And analogies do the same.

Let me explain.

Let’s say that you’re running a race. Is it better to run with the same speed the whole time or to run faster on some parts and run slower on other parts?

 

What do you think?

 

 

 

There is no answer. It depends, it always depends on the particular situation.

Yet, people often feel inclined to respond with something that probably comes from a maxim in their mind. Something along the lines of the slow but consistent turtle winning the race. Or their counterpart, the maxim that “Only change is constant“ and that you should change your tempo.

Thing is, those maxims/metaphors/proverbs/analogies are just ideas, and they need to be accepted as only ideas. They can be guidelines in life, but over-reliance on maxims instead of a rational calculation when faced with a problem is sure to lead you to stupid decisions.

So the point is not to throw maxims away. The point is that you should use them, but not rely too much on them.

3 new exercises

The first one is making your joints supple. As Ido Portal puts it, you will undoubtedly fall out of a safe form during movement: landings won’t be perfect, joints will get twisted, you’ll hit something harder than you should have and so forth. There is no way to counter this – you can only prepare your body for such stress, and that means joint stretches, putting intentional pressure locks on every joint: fingers, wrists, elbows, neck, spine, knees and so on. Try to simulate the possible scenarios in which you fall out of form.

The second one is dodging exercises. See, I believe it’s possible to dodge bullets. Thing is, you won’t be faster than a bullet, but you need only be faster than a finger pulling the trigger and your life is saved. One important thing too is that a bullet hitting you is no guarantee of your death, especially instant death. Instant death by shooting is actually not so easy to accomplish. Move laterally, make your body as small a target as possible, bob and weave, flip, go to the ground, roll, go up, be unpredictable.

The third one is holding heavy things with your arms straightened. This strengthens the scapular muscles which are very important for planches, handstands and presses. This is what I mean:

 

Enjoy.

 

Questions you need to ask yourself in any (potentially dangerous) situation

When in an environment that you are not sure is safe, or you are sure is not safe, there are several things you ought to do in order to maximize the chances of your own survival and getting the best out of the situation.

  1. In which way is this dangerous for me?
  2. In which way can I use this for my own advantage?
  3. In which way can I use this for the advantage of others?

“This” is anything you’re faced with. It can be a person, an unexpected letter, a car passing slowly by you, anything at all. The problem with all these questions is that they demand at least several seconds for thinking so they cannot be asked in absolutely all situations – sometimes you just need to react, and it needs to happen now.

In addition to these questions, there are two more things you should do:

  1. Listen to your intuition. How do you feel about something? Does something feel wrong? Dangerous? Do not ignore what your guts tell you.
  2. Think about it some more. Do not limit yourself to the three questions above. Put what you have in a wider context so you can understand it better. The three questions are only concerned with the immediate survival and giving you advantage if the thing turns out to be dangerous. Allow yourself some more time for reflection.

What juggling taught me about practice time

Last week, I learned to juggle. I attended a free workshop and with no prior experience in juggling and around 3 hours of practice, I managed to do the basic “cascading” move and several others, a bit more advanced moves. All in all, nothing spectacular, but the fact remains that I learned it pretty fast. I have a martial arts background which obviously necessitates reflexes, so it had to help too, but aside from that there was no prior experience or background.

So, which factors made my learning curve so rapid? One is obviously good teachers. The guys and the girl that held the workshop were very good teachers, everyone with their unique style of teaching but always focused on the person they were instructing. This is what I wrote about before, the value of mentors in life. With a good teacher you learn much faster than by yourself.

The other one is hard work. The basis of Kung Fu, I knew this from before. When you invest your time, you truly invest it, you don’t slack around. And when you do this, you also touch another eastern concept – being in the moment, which is the basis of Zen.

The third one is intelligent work. Practicing really hard isn’t going to do you much good if what you’re practicing is shit. Intelligent work is, for example, a drummer practicing with a metronome. Hard work and intelligent work rarely come together, which is unfortunate. When you are aware of what you are doing, when you keep track of what you are doing and when you evaluate yourself and your progress, being cognitively present in the process, actually trying to understand it, then you work intelligent. You cannot think about what you’re doing and be in the moment while you do it, that’s impossible. But you can think before you enter your Zen-zone, and you should.

Now, what does all this juggling-talk have to do with becoming overhuman?

Well, aside from the fact that you certainly benefit on a neurological scale from learning a new motor skill, not to mention reflex development, there are many interesting lessons that can be drawn from it.

It doesn’t matter if you specialize or if you try to become a generalist in your practice (e.g. basketball player vs. mover) the same thing goes for everyone – practice time is precious and finite. I see myself as a generalist. As Ido Portal puts it: “If you specialize, you will pay a price.” This means that, unlike your Muay Thai fighter or your hand balancer, I try to do things that are outside my training curriculum. That’s the reason I attended a juggling workshop.

 

Do you know what’s the difference between me and you? You practice gymnastics, I practice everything.

 

This quote, from “The Peaceful Warrior”, sends a very strong message to me. And with it comes the knowledge that the time you have to practice everything is precious, so you better practice good. Find tools, mechanisms, systems that make you master things quickly, and find systems and mechanisms for maintenance, so you don’t lose what you learned.

I hope it is clear that I’m not talking just about motor skills and body movement, but self-development as a whole.

You should find your own systems, but nothing stops you from getting inspired by others’. Here are mine (this list will probably change with time; this is what I do now):

To master and maintain mastery of a skill:

  • finding good resources, good teachers and good training partners: this one has several problems, for example the Dogmatic teacher or the Unpleasant teacher. Both these guys can teach you a lot but they are quite difficult to work with. Sometimes, you are not sure that what you’re being shown is complete bullshit or something useful. Wax on, wax off anyone? What I would recommend here is taking a step backward and looking at things like this: is your teacher better than you in the skill you wish to attain? Is he a lot better? If the answer is a firm yes, then proceed with your teacher’s program but allow yourself to think, to ask questions, to probe, to intentionally do it wrong to see the reaction of your teacher and so on. Sometimes, the action you’re required to do will be very useful for your skill. And sometimes it won’t. There is no way to find out if you don’t let some time pass and see the effects on you, but you can always probe.
  • working hard: already mentioned it – when you do something, don’t slack off, do it, be focused.
  • working intelligent: think about what you’re doing, try to find new ways to train (build up your creativity by doing this), evaluate yourself, compare yourself to other people and if they do better than you, find out what it is they’re doing that’s giving them an edge over you.
  • alternate between perfecting one part of the skill and learning new stuff around the skill. This is best explained with an example: when trying to get a good handstand, sometimes you should practice a regular handstand and practice hard, but sometimes you should just try to do even more advanced stuff like one-armed handstands, planches and so on. Often, doing things that are even more difficult than the thing you want to do will make that thing easier.
  • visualization: learn to visualize your skill and practice it in your mind. Visualize success before training, and it will help you succeed.
  • do dangerous shit/do shit on the first take: don’t try to do things and rehearse it a trillion times before you do it – just do them. As Yoda put it: “Do, or do not, there is no try!” If you’re afraid of a backflip, but you know you can do it and you did it before, then you just have to do it. When you throw yourself in dangerous situations, you certainly grow.