Ben Nadel
On User Experience (UX) Design, JavaScript, ColdFusion, Node.js, Life, and Love.
I am the chief technical officer at InVision App, Inc - a prototyping and collaboration platform for designers, built by designers. I also rock out in JavaScript and ColdFusion 24x7.
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Ben Nadel at Scotch On The Rock (SOTR) 2010 (London) with:

The School Of Practical Philosophy: Philosophy Works - Week Three

By Ben Nadel on
Tags: Life

After last week's class, we were left with a practice to try and become more aware - to get ourselves out of a state of "waking sleep." I think we all know what that feels like; whether it's getting to the end of a page and having no idea what you just read or suddenly realizing that you're in the middle of a conversation and you have absolutely no idea what the other person is talking about. It's a state of consciousness that adds no value to our lives; and, when we become aware of it, we need to try and pull ourselves back into the moment.

It's a simple concept; but, I am finding it to be quite difficult at times - this last week especially. I always try to have some audio book playing as I commute to and from work; but, over the last couple of days, I have found it exceedingly difficult to listen to the book - my mind just kept racing all over the place. Sometimes, I was able to bring myself back into focus; but, other times, I simply had to stop the book and allow myself to explore the thoughts that were preoccupying my mind.

On one hand, I can see this as a failure; but, I think we also have to remember that a rule should only be followed when it adds value. If I have thoughts that I cannot keep out of my mind, does it make sense to do whatever I can in order to block them out and return to the task at hand? Or, does it make more sense to tend to those thoughts, and thereby, quell them?

Obviously, it is always good to be able to quiet one's mind; but, I sometimes fear that this is a slipper slope. While it is definitely not the intent of the exercise, I want to make sure that I am not using the practice as a way to avoid addressing problems. Meaning, I don't want to force myself to not think about things if they happen to be things about which I should be thinking. After all, there's nothing that says that the task at hand is the de-facto priority.

Of course, this whole line of reasoning is probably nothing more than my attempt to justify my inability to focus. I shall keep trying.

Going back to the first week, however, I wanted to quickly touch on one of the first exercises we learned: Asking yourself "what a wise man would do." I ran into a situation last week where I was trying to make use of this practice and didn't know how to answer the question. Specifically, I wanted to remind my ex-girlfriend of the fact that Archer, Season 2 was about to start.


 
 
 

 
Archer, Season 2 Premier - Danger Zone!!!!!!  
 
 
 

While this might seem silly, she is now dating another man and I suddenly found myself wondering if reminding her about a TV show was appropriate. Or, does that action cross some sort of unspoken, territorial boundary? When it comes to a wise man, I found that I was able to reason it out in both directions - on one hand, we are still friends; but on the other hand, is it really my business to get involved - is reminding someone about something like this too intimate?

When I was unable to come to a satisfying conclusion, I tried to tweak the question:

Which approach would add more value?

If I didn't remind her about the show, neither she nor I gained anything from the lack of communication; however, if I did tell her, I would feel good about telling her and she would be made aware of a show that she may have otherwise not gotten to see. In short, reminding her added more value than not reminding her.

When I came to this conclusion, I realized that, yet again, I had a moment where I was uncomfortable with the idea of giving. Here's someone that I wanted to give value to and I hesitated; I doubted; I questioned; I felt conflicted. I don't know where this comes from; but, it is one of my resolutions to overcome this problem and step one is certainly being conscious of it.

This week of philosophy leaves us with another new exercise: Whoever or whatever is in front of you is your teacher. Basically, we need to become more aware that every situation is a learning situation. A woman in the class echoed this sentiment with what I thought was a beautiful quote:

I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn anything from him.

Here's to another week of heightened consciousness!



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Reader Comments

That's a tough one.. when you begin to think "what if this?" or "what if that?" or "is something bad going to happen if i do it this way and what are all the consequences?". You begin over analyzing something that is generally so simple to begin with which is a constant struggle.

Whatever the story may be with your ex, maybe she was having a bad day and reminding her that the new season was starting soon made her feel better :) It's harmless information and, sometimes, the simplest things are the ones that have the greatest impact.

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I think we are all in a permanent state of 'waking sleep'. There is just so much going on in the unconscious all the time. My experience is that those times of cloudiness and confusion that may seem like a problem with concentration are a sign that some deep learning (sort of like background processing) is going on - it often happens to me just before the 'aha' moments. The trick is to be open to what your unconscious is telling you -- like always having a callback function for your async AJAX calls!

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<facepalm> Ben! STOP WORRYING! If this message to the ex was going to be tweet... it's even less significant than a text message.

What I would concern myself with is whether you're continuing to hold a torch for the ex and if by sending this message, you're reliving the good ol' days instead of moving on. If that's the case, decide not to send it (thus moving her out of your awareness).

Most likely you connect that show with her. That's understandable. Good times, good times.

Regarding the audiobooks, I do the same while reading books I don't enjoy (lost interest in) or while driving through a city listening to an audiobook (my concentration is focused more on driving vs. interstate driving between two cities). If I were you, I'd pull out a pen and paper and start notating what I'm thinking (If appropriate. Drawing naked women on the subway is probably discouraged). I do this when I can't sleep since my mind is worried/thinking about SOMETHING. Usually I find I can't hardly write anything, but the one or two items I manage to jot down are the primary things I'm looping over for no good reason. Really odd.

Anyway a good ol' cfbrain cfdump helps the cfsoul.

Stop worrying and overthinking!

Signed,
Chronic Overthinker, Constant worrier

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@Joshua,

I agree - I know that I sometimes get just the right amount of goodness from a message. Even the little things can brighten one's day. I definitely shouldn't spend time worrying about trying to brighten someone else's.

@Ian,

To that extent, I definitely agree that my mind wanders most when it is trying to tackle a big problem. Granted, my mind will easily wander when I am bored; but, when I am trying to concentrate and can still *not* concentrate, it's typically because I am trying to figure something else of importance (subjective) out.

Ha ha - I wish I had a few more Web Workers running in parallel ;)

@Randall,

I don't have any romantic feelings for my ex. But we have been friends for a long time. But, it's not just about her - I'd also like to take her new boyfriend into account. If my actions could be seen as inappropriate from his point of view, that would not be good for "them." But really, I don't want to blow this way out of proportion - I simply found the situation good as a learning tool.

I like the idea of writing things down. I should take a note from Peter Bell's book of moves - he caries around index cards and a marker and will quickly jot ideas down on note cards whenever he feels the urge.

I have tried to do that with my iPhone's note app; but, to be honest, I don't find it all that easy to use - especially not on the go. I could write on paper much faster.

That settles it - gonna see if I can find a pocket-sized moleskin to carry around. Looks like I'll need to stop by AI Friedman's over the weekend.

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@Ben, agreed about the iPhone. The inability in Calendar to create an event quickly was enough for me to go Android. Wasn't the only reason, but sometimes simplicity and UX needs to give way to usability / ease of access.

I miss my 3Com Palm III and Palm Treo 6x0s with Cal/Notes/Contacts buttons.

Back on topic -- I had a wife-of-a-friend chit-chat with me over e-mail years ago (somtimes 'confiding' in me). He ended up getting 'bothered' by it, so I understand your concern. That said, I'd let "them" alert you to whether it's appropriate for you to remind her of Archer. I think as long as it sticks to Archer and not of deeper topics, it should be fine. I think you may be overthinking it.

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