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Quit Facebook & Change Your Life (for the better?)

Quit Facebook & Change Your Life (for the better?)

It’s holiday time! My gift today is the story of a recent decision. You may want to try it. It’s made life a bit more effortful, but it’s produced real results. It has paid off in both expected and unexpected ways.

Whoa! I quit Facebook.

I quit Facebook. Yeah, it’s made a big difference, but not in the ways you’d think. Here are some not-so-obvious reasons why.

I’d long felt that Facebook wasn’t a particularly ethical company, and have used it with great ambivalence. Even apart from my moral doubts, I’d gone on holiday with no Facebook access. I returned centered, rested, and stable. Turning on Facebook jolted my addiction centers so noticeably that I could watch myself sliding into anxiety, distraction, and confusion.

But even with its bad effects starkly highlighted, I stayed online. Why? The same reason we all do: many social events are now advertised only on Facebook. And it’s one of the only ways I stay in touch with many of my friends.

But then last month, the New York Times investigative journalists exposed wrong-doing, coverups, and lies coming from Facebook’s top management. Morally, I just couldn’t continue to support the platform. Every post and comment is giving Facebook content to use to hook my friends and family.

So took a deep breath and committed to pulling the plug. I’ve been keeping careful track of what’s happened since then. It’s been surprising what’s happened. Social media was controlling my life in ways I’d never imagined until leaving.

Dropping social media makes you a better person

I used to see lots of stuff on social media about how to be smarter. Ironic, since social media itself probably dumbed me down by 20 IQ points.

Now, I’m thinking better. Social media fragments thoughts. It encourages thinking 140-280 characters at a time. But we’re smarter than that! Unless we train ourselves to be dumb 🙁

"Scientists discover real space aliens!" is a shareable headline that might appear on Facebook. But it makes us stupid. The intelligent reality—that we’ve found molecules that are the precursor to life—won’t generate shares.

Without social media, I’m regaining the ability to read long-form articles and think smart.

Interpersonal stuff gets way better!

Conversations are better. Social media makes conversation brief and scattered. Online conversations take a long time and seem extensive. But usually, they aren’t. Try reading one out loud, as if it were a script. You’ll find most "long" social media threads are just a few minutes of speech. They took a long time because typing and reading are slower than talking. And with a dozen people chiming in, actual interaction between you and any one person is minimal. It’s not real conversation.

Two board members of a non-profit I’m part of had a big fight on social media. The whole community jumped in. Accusations! Insults! Calls for resignation! It went on for weeks and almost destroyed the annual 4,000-person event. But it was actually only 20-30 paragraphs of interaction. It could have been resolved more quickly, more peacefully, with a single evening’s in-person meeting.

Without social media, I’m choosing my battles more wisely. I’m considering what I want to say before opening my mouth. Conversation is higher quality. It lasts longer and a lot gets said. It’s pretty awesome!

Less social media, means better social-izing!

My fears about losing my social life? They’re real, sort-of. Now, it takes effort. I need to make a conscious choice: who do I want to spend time with? Then I need to reach out and make sure we connect.

On Facebook, posts come pictures of friends. That’s a reminder to reach out to whoever social media happens to put in our path. There’s no reason to think that the people in our timeline are the people we’d most like in our close circle. They’re simply … the people who end up in our timeline.

Since quitting social media, it takes work to keep a friend. This is a good thing! I need to be deliberate about who I reach out to. I need to work to reach out to them. But perhaps that’s good. Because who your friends are, matters. Good friends take investment of time and energy. You want friends who enrich your life.

If it’s not worth the effort to connect with someone, that’s a message: maybe they’re not valuable enough to take up time in my life. Harsh, but true.

I get to be me, a meeple, not a compliant sheeple

I never realized how much my timeline directs my attention. A dozen great articles appear daily. Genuinely great. High-quality. I read them. But … they don’t add up to anything. They feel useful because they’re interesting, but they’re scattered. They’re all over the place. Rather than reading about a few topics deliberately, and getting deep learning, I’m just stimulating my brain’s reward centers with the feeling that just because an article is good, I’m better for having read it.

Deliberate or not, social media shapes our beliefs and attitudes through what it shows us. And its algorithms are tuned towards getting us emotional enough to click a link. They aren’t tuned towards getting us to be better, clearer people along any dimension whatsoever. Think about that.

Now, I’m deciding what I want to be educated about and seeking out the high-quality articles on those topics.

On Facebook, my social group, my attention, and my learning all happen by reacting to whatever the algorithm throws in my face. Off Facebook, my social group, my attention, and my learning all happen because I make them happen.

Yes, it’s more effort. That’s the cost. But the benefit: control and direction of who I am and who I’m becoming.

Regain control of who you are in the world

How about you? Try a Facebook holiday for a month. Make it long enough so you reinstate your offline systems. You’ll figure out how to keep in touch with people. You’ll find ways to stay informed.

And ultimately, you’ll be building a life where you get to hang out with the people you want, learn the things you want, and become the person you want to be. Do you really want social media deciding who you’ll become?

Laziness Expands to the Maximum

Are you lazy? How lazy? I think technology is giving us opportunities to take laziness to an entirely new level!

I remember life before the Internet took over. Many things have changed. Now we can buy stuff online. We can watch movies and TV shows on our computer instead of our TV, when we want them. And we have access to an incredible wealth of the world’s information by simply visiting a search engine like DuckDuckGo.com and typing a few keywords. We can store infinite photos in our iPhones. We can use templates to quickly create presentations and reports. All that automation should be freeing us up to get smarter than ever. But that isn’t my experience.

Our brains take shortcuts. For example, it’s hard to know if someone is competent. So research shows that we interpret confidence as competence. Our brain substitutes the easy decision for the hard decision. We aren’t even aware of this consciously, however. That’s why certain professions wear suits—to give clients the knee-jerk impression of competence, even if none exists.

In the last two days, I’ve had a few younger people demonstrate a remarkable laziness factor. Whereas someone in my generation wouldn’t look something up because it involved going to a library or calling a reference librarian on the phone, these younger people tell me they did a web search and couldn’t find the information they need. So they stopped trying. Without an answer delivered up instantly, even in the age of the Web, kids who have never known anything else get stopped in their tracks the instant their preferred method requires extra effort.

Of course, if it’s happening to them, it’s probably happening to me, too. Where once I wouldn’t have minded picking up the phone and calling someone to arrange a meeting, now it’s just easier—and lazier—to send them a million emails, even though objectively, it’s far less efficient. That’s because my new standard is twitching a finger and clicking a mouse button. By comparison, lifting a phone to my ear is a huge amount of work.

Be on the lookout! In the long run, our in-the-moment laziness may seriously hamper our ability to get big-stuff-done. Our brains are substituting the question “is this easy to do right this instant?” for the question “will this make reaching my overall goal any easier?” And it’s the latter question—the one our brain skimps on—that is most important. It’s the one that will help you reach you goals.

Meritocracy: A Fine, But Mythological, Idea

I love the idea of a meritocracy! It’s a glorious myth that makes a wonderful story. But if you look at how resources, wealth, prestige, etc. get distributed, it’s very hard to make a case for meritocracy.

It’s no surprise we believe in meritocracy. We spend our entire first 18-25 conscious years in school. School is a true meritocracy. The more you work at mastering the material, the more you earn good grades. I don’t know about you, but school was the last meritocracy I had the privilege to enjoy.

At my very first job out of college, I was told, “You do the best job of anyone here, but you’re too young to be making any more money.” Sadly, I persisted in thinking that doing a good job was the way to get what I wanted out of life. I still think that way in my gut, even though I continue to see little evidence of it.

Many very successful people talk a lot about meritocracy and how they just worked hard to succeed. That’s all fine and good, but they’re looking at only their own story. They’re not looking at the vast majority of people in the world who work very, very hard, and don’t get rewarded nearly as well. I’ve also noticed that the people who are highly successful/rewarded/prestigious have a tremendously powerful psychological vested interest in believing in and trumpeting the idea of meritocracy. Otherwise they would have to confront the idea that maybe they don’t deserve all that money/power/fame, and it simply came to them because they were born to the right parents, or were in the right place at the right time.

In capitalism, we give the bulk of the value created by an enterprise to the owners. It’s far better to own 50% of the equity in a successful company that you left 6 months after founding it than to work your ass off for 12 years making that same company a success, but working on salary. What matters as far as material reward isn’t the work/merit, but the capital and ownership structure. (That’s a true story, by the way. The company founder never worked again. The employees, while doing reasonably well, are still working at the same or other companies to earn their daily bread.)

If you want to do a good job, by all means, do it. Personally, I like to be proud of my work, and I strive to do the very best. But don’t confuse that with getting what you want. When you’re designing your life, remember that producing good work may be something you do for the psychic and self-esteem rewards. When you’re going after other rewards, say, money, be as clear-headed as you can about what will help you reach that result. Hard work and skill may not have anything to do with living the kind of life you want.

Physics used to justify wishful thinking

[Today’s note is a bit of humorous whimsy, completely unrelated to anything I usually blog about.]

I’ve been thinking about the two-part Get-it-Done Guy episode on visualization, and it’s given me an idea. There’s a long history of people misunderstanding physics and using the misunderstanding to promote whatever their belief system of the moment is. Physics brings legitimacy, and the belief system of the moment brings wish fulfillment and the bonus of not having to think too hard. (After all, the math you need to understand real physics… Oy! So complicated!)

Quantum mechanics is where this happen the most. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics—that the universe is simultaneously many different states until an observer measures it—become the New Age justification for the belief “You can wish for what you want and it will happen magically and without any effort on your part.”

Last night I was watching a physics documentary and realized that no one’s built a cult around Dark Matter, yet. Let’s start now1:

There’s a universe full of dark matter that we can’t see or interact with. In fact, the vast majority of the universe is dark matter. Though it’s called “dark,” it’s actually where God, angels and heaven, are. Think of it as just another dimension, as proven by the quantum mechanics “multiple universe” hypothesis. Send me $19.97 and I’ll send you an official Dark Matter Contact Certificate that is guaranteed to attract your angels from the nearest dark matter hub. With your angels at your back, you can do anything! Bake a perfect upside-down cake! Become rich and famous! Live in mansions and drive Bentleys! Drive the wrong way down one-way streets! Jump out of airplanes without a parachute! Even go scuba diving without the tank!!!2

Quantum mechanics is USEFUL! Physics is FUN! And potentially profitable!

1 It worked for L. Ron Hubbard, it can work for us!

2 Any actions undertaken by you are entirely your responsibility. We make no claims of any sort as to the safety of taking dark-matter-inspired action. After all, if your angels don’t like you, or decide that they want you to join them, that sky-diving expedition could end badly. That would be the angels’ fault, and yours, for trusting your angels in the first place.

An NLP hint on writing and emotion

NLP has taught me a lot about how people experience words. By carefully considering your words, you can change the whole mood that people get left with.

I recently posted a Facebook update: For those that missed it, here’s my popular ‘Modern Vacation’ video spot (don’t worry – just 36 seconds!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gt0Bs0frEnM

Once I’d posted it, I re-read it and realized it used language poorly. The evocative words in the post are:

  • popular
  • worry
  • just 36 seconds

As people read each word, they access the meaning of that word and any associated feelings unconsciously. What then comes to mind is a gestalt of those meanings and feelings. How’d I do?

  • popular – evokes ideas of something desirable
  • worry – evokes the sense that something’s wrong
  • just 36 seconds – implies that it’s fortunate that there’s not much of it

Once through the reflection process, it makes sense to ask what feelings I’d like to leave the reader with. Excitement, curiousity, and a desire to see the video would be a better frame of mind for the reader. Here’s my rewrite:

For those that missed it, here’s my popular ‘Modern Vacation’ video spot (the best 36 seconds you’ll have all day): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gt0Bs0frEnM

Try reading both versions back-to-back and notice which images and feelings each one leaves you with. It’s subtle, but it has an impact. When you’re writing a longer piece of writing (like a podcast episode or an article), what you write will move people through a series of images and feelings. Think carefully about the sequence! The emotions you evoke may be positive (desire) or negative (fear), but if it’s negative, you probably want to lead somewhere else, like hope or resolution. The feelings people have when reading your material get connected to their concept of you. That’s called branding.

Go forth. Write with emotion. And make sure the emotions leave people in a good place. Giving people nice emotions is good for them, and you’ll find it’s good for you, as well.

Establishing a new habit

Today’s Get-it-Done Guy episode deals with how to form a new habit. Becoming more productive, setting new years resolutions, brushing your teeth differently … any sort of behavior change involves, well, changing behavior. Unfortunately, humans aren’t very good at changing behavior.

I’ve been fascinated for years by psychology and the human brain. I read research into cognitive and social psychology, behavioral finance, brain-based science, and so on, always looking for stuff that works to help develop new skills or change old ones.

I do all this because I love learning, and really enjoy anything that helps me do it better. One of the most effective models I’ve found for understanding how humans think is NLP or neuro-linguistic programming. Developed in the 70s, it’s considered a pseudo-science and not taken seriously.

I found, however, that I could use it and get effective, repeatable results. To this day, I teach elements of it to clients and friends and get demonstrable, measurable results.

Over time, various areas of science are independently discovering elements of NLP. Just this month in the January/February 2011 issue of Scientific America Mind, there’s an article discussing how we talk and think about the world in ways that correspond pretty directly to our bodies. In NLP, we call this “organ language” (I am shouldering a burden). Another NLP phenomenon called “submodalities” suggests that we speak literally about our internal world. “Things are looking up” would suggest that the speaker is making a mental picture and positioning it in the top area of their mental field of vision. I suspect submodalities will be next on the rediscovery agenda.

This Get-it-Done guy episode is the NLP “new behavior generator.” When it was developed 35 years ago, no one knew about mirror neurons, and sports psychology was in its infancy. Today, visualization is established as producing measurable results in sports performance. I’ve attempted to capture the essential elements of the actual behavior change technique, while augmenting it somewhat with poisoned apples and the occasional lesson in introspection and emotional self-management.

Learning to sing parts—unconsciously?

I was extremely foolish. During my book launch, I auditioned for Guys and Dolls and landed the part of one of the male leads, Nathan Detroit. This is my first acting role with substantial dialog (read: more than one line), and I’ll be singing parts with the ensemble, and dancing. These are all new or very young skills for me.

Being unbelievably self-absorbed and analytical, I pay close attention to what helps me learn and do everything I can to speed my learning whenever possible. For example, I’ve noticed when singing parts, I like to hear (a) my part alone with the music, (c) my part in all quarter notes (to purely “get” the intervals), and (d) the whole piece with all parts in place so I can hear the context. With that toolkit, my brain can quickly learn a part.

What’s rather mind-blowing is that my conscious mind is very visual. When it comes to music, everything happens in my subconscious mind. So we’ll rehearse a part, I’ll have trouble with an interval or an entrance, and we’ll go over it slowly. Then my brain will just suddenly get it. Only I don’t know when I’ve got it. I have no sense of “knowing” the part; it just happens that next time through the song, it comes out of my mouth correctly.

This doesn’t exactly do wonders for my confidence, since my “knowing that I know” feeling doesn’t go off when it comes to auditory learning. But apparently, I am reasonably good at learning in that system. Wow.

Have you ever had anything similar happen?

How did younger-you become present-day-you?

It’s my birthday today! I thought up a rather fun way to spend some time celebrating. Here’s my game:

Think of your age 10 years ago, 20 years ago, etc. and write down all the things you appreciate about the younger “you.” Spend some time pondering what’s been constant, what’s changed, and how that younger “you” contributed to who you are now. This is an exercise I’m designing for a speech on Living Your Life for younger people. If you’re willing to share, please chime in. What did you like about younger-you?  What’s been constant? What’s changed? (What, that you thought would be constant at the time, changed?)

What Acting Teaches About Building Reputation

My first acting experience has given me a profound appreciation for how we build reputation (or “personal brand,” to use the 21st century parlance). I just finished my first weekend as part of the ensemble for Evil Dead: The Musical. I play a dancing tree, a headless corpse, a ghost, and a singing zombie. As you can imagine, I draw on significant real-life experience in bringing each of my characters to life (though technically, only the tree is living).

What’s made a huge impression is realizing how little the audience evers see of the actors. When I watch movies, plays, or TV, I leave with a feeling of connection with the characters, and by extension, the actors. While I intellectually know it’s nonsense, being in the play really drives the point home. What the actors bring to the experience is the authenticity of their emotions and emotional choices, but everything that knits those choices into a story—the dialog, the plot, the lights, the band, the sets—is staged and as close to identical as possible night after night. Almost none of it comes from the actors.

Shakespeare was Right—All the World’s a Stage

Then I realized that much of how we show up in the world is the same. No one we interact with gets the experience of us. They get the sum of their glimpses into us. But we expect them to behave as if they know us and our intentions.

Our reputation with any given person is the sum of the glimpses that person has had of us. If we had to reschedule a meeting twice with a prospect due to genuine emergencies, their experience of us is that we don’t make it to meetings on time. If we show up to a meeting with disheveled hair and bloodshot eyes, that’s the impression they have of us. Never mind that we were in a car accident the previous day and are still a bit vague from the drugs… they build an impression anyway.

This works for “good” reputations, too. Every time you put on a suit and go out to a business event where you nod, smile, and talk about the things that are “acceptable” in that context, you’re presenting a small slice of yourself. Never mind that you play in a rock band on weekends and have a complete reproduction of the Mona Lisa tattooed underneath that dress shirt… people at work build your reputation from the little building blocks you give them, that were carefully scripted by the current business culture.

The Scripts We Choose Determine the Impressions We Give

People only experience you through the glimpses you give them. What do you show the people around you? Do you let your idea of “expected” behavior be your script? When I was bitten by the theater bug last year, I mentioned it to my friend of 10 years, Steve. Steve’s a sales manager. After our conversation, he revealed he’s a sales manager whose degrees are in stage managing and directing. He directs 4-8 shows a year. He’d mentioned he did high school drama once or twice, but I figured he did it as a volunteer parent. He’d never shown me anything that suggested it was such a big part of his life. He was acting the script of the good, conservative businessman.

My friend Paul is at every networking event in Boston, handing out his card, flitting from person to person. Is it any surprise people know him as a major networker. Yet all he ever talks about is business, so his reputation is purely professional. People don’t feel like they know him, but they do know to call him when they need an introduction. He’s a whole person, but he’s living the high-powered, type-A networker script.

My script is a bit less mainstream. I talk about Evil Dead: The Musical and zombies. I write and produce a funny podcast on personal productivity, and do my best to find excuses to dress in jeans and T-shirts and wear colorful sneakers. That’s one glimpse into me. I also write about leadership, business strategy, entrepreneurship, and psychology. That’s another glimpse. Depending on where you get exposed to me, you’ll walk away with profoundly different impressions. People who love one of those characters may or may not relate to the other. Yet they’re both me.

Who Writes Your Script?

How do you show up? Be careful with your answer. Don’t consider how you want to show up, consider how you actually do show up: your appearance, the things you talk about, how you treat people. Are you brusque? Courteous? Fawning? Assertive? Tentative? Caring? Guarded? Open? Friendly? If you say things like, “people will just have to learn to deal with the fact that I don’t mince words,” have you ever really thought how you’re coming across when you don’t mince words? Have you considered the reputation that builds? Is it the reputation you want. The way you build reputation is by showing up more and more as the reputation you want to build. All the world’s a stage, we’re just actors, and you can let everyone around you write your script, or you can write your own. Your choice.

Stever in Corporate Mode

Are people good or bad? It just might be a self-fulfilling prophecy!

I’ve noticed that underlying a lot of political discussions is a fundamental belief about human nature. Some people believe people are fundamentally self-interested. They won’t work unless paid, and helping the downtrodden is something one does to impress one’s friends. The other side believes people are fundamentally generous. They help each other and will sacrifice their own good for the sake of others.

My recent theory is that both of these viewpoints are true. Literally, they’re both true. There are psychological mechanisms that make each of these a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Self-interest usually manifests in turning everything into a transaction, monetizing as much as possible, and tracking things closely. It turns out that when you introduce money into a conversation or transaction, literally the brain areas involved in altruism, helping, and asking for help all shut down. So if you expect everyone to treat you as if they only want transactions from you, you’ll mention money or exchanges or act in ways you would act when putting together a transaction. Those actions will then actually trigger the same impulse in others. You mention money and the people you’re dealing with become more self-interested and less likely to be collaborative. So a world view where everyone looks out for themselves and everyone is greedy becomes self-fulfilling to the person who holds it.

Similarly, the social psychology reciprocity principle shows that when you give a gift that someone perceives as freely given, they feel obliged to respond by giving back, often in greater amounts than the original gift. So giving provides a self-fulfilling mechanism such that the person who gives freely and believes others are generous will trigger exactly those impulses in others.

What’s important to note is that this isn’t just psychological blinders, where both people interpret the same events differently. This is literally a self-fulfilling principle that plays out in behavior. If you act as if people are greedy, you’ll do things that prime their greedy impulses. If you act as if people are generous and worthy of help, you’ll actually activate reciprocal behavior on their part.

Be careful the world you wish for. You just might get it.