Maximally ambitious? Do we dare?

Maximally ambitious

Love that phrase! But who would dare to stand up in a room and say they want to be maximally ambitious. Too, too ninja, as Lloyd DavisBig Ambition by ronwalf via Flickr would say.

Too much ninja is not good

Too ninja is a problem, to be sure. Anyone who is very goal-oriented probably learned before they left high school that getting results may be fun but itis about as destructive as getting behind the wheel while drunk.

Working for results should always take place in a safe place, like a football pitch ,with a good referee and medics standing by.

But holding back on maximally ambitious is usually ‘an abundance of caution’

But we don’t hold back on pursuing maximal ambition because we might hurt others. We hold back because they might hurt us.

Minimally, we will be jeered. We will be cut down to size on the spot. Downunder, they call it tall poppy syndrome. Your success, your glee, your fun is harm to me even if none of the damage I described above has happened or is even remotely likely to happen.

Who is allowed to be maximally ambitious? It’s political, stupid.

We don’t pursue maximal ambition because the right to be maximally ambitious is hotly contested and savagely protected. Who has the right to be maximally ambitious, is a political question.

Yet, in stopping people being maximally ambitious, we cramp their souls to such an extent they feel deadened.  And then we wonder why they are disengaged from work and the political process.

By destroying their sense of the possible, by taking away their sense of spaciousness, we create an environment that we don’t like very much ourselves.

In Lloyd Davis’ language, we have to let the ninjas out to get a bit a organizational yoga going. And the ninjas wisely don’t come out unless they know they will come out to a bit of yoga.

Designing communal space

Designing communal space is so important. Making space for the ninja of us all requires the soft cushion of yoga around us.

Maximally ambitious. Why not?

Provided we let the other guy be maximally ambitious too. What can we do together when we are all maximally ambitious?

Paolo Coelho on happiness and two challenges for psychologists

Psychologists need poetry

I have one piece of advice for anyone who aspires to be a psychologist.  Read poetry.  Read good novels.

Your College or Department will jump your through a  lot of pseud-scientific hoops.  Jump through them but for a different reason to the one they give.  Jump through them because they will teach you how to ‘fail informatively’.  Yes. Fail informatively.

In the future, you will be able to handle unfamiliar situations by proposing one or more reasonable ways forward.  And then you can set up some experiments.  You can choose the best way forward.  And if you have set up your experiment well, the less favorable ways will also teach you a little more than ‘wrong way’.  This is the reason why you should study science.

To understand people, well, meet a lot of people and do things with them.  And read.

A good read is Paolo Coelho who also blogs and tweets.  Today he posted a 1 minute parable on the meaning of happiness.  It is an easy read.  The ending sums up the meaning of happiness.

For psychologists out there, this parable talks about two important psychological phenonena.

#1  Management of attention.

To manage one’s own direction and to pay attention to what is going on around us.

We need lots of practice at doing this. Computer games help us do this.  TV and reading books does not.  Sport helps us learn this.  Writing does not.  But speaking does.  Make sure you get lots of practice at learning to manage your attention so that you tackle frontiers with greater ease!

#2  We live at our frontier.

To define who we are by what we do.

Not what we feel, or believe.  But what we do in various contexts defined by who else is there.  We are our frontier.  We are our edge.

Perhaps we are a young man who cannot carry two drops of oil and look around a new place.  Or frontier is the new place, the new idea, and our own confusion.  It is here that we are ‘alive’ with our dreams and our hopes, our confusions and our sorrows.

This is a tough challenge for psychologists.  We have nothing to measure.  The definition may even be circular.  That is because psychology is not a thing. It is a goal or a purpose that is supremely personal.  Our goal is to live a our frontier.  The story of our frontier and our confusion is the story we all want to hear.

When we want to do the maths, then we look at whether we were in a situation that covers the whole gamut of emotions and whether we were able to respond appropriately as events unfolded.  Or were we like the young boy, first forgetting the context and then forgetting his task.  Can we recover from confusion and distress or do we get stuck?  Are we so scared of life that we insist that it be plain sailing all day and every day?

Do we approach our frontier or do we hang back?  And under what conditions are we able to approach our frontier and learn to carry the oil and look around despite our initial confusion?

Yes, positive psychologists do know something about this.  But so do poets.  Begin with them.

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Find your angel

For people with a mystical bent or open mind, Paulo Coelho‘s The Valkryies illustrates Csikszentimihaly‘s notion of negotiating the fit between oneself and the environment. Without spoiling the read, I’ve extracted some passages to show the process of remaining engaged with the world around us while we deal with the immediate pressures of life, of overcoming self-doubt, and then of moving forwards taking our cues from the place we are in. Paulo Coelho also has a blog with a daily message here.

Look to the horizon

“Okay,” . . . : I’m going to tell you what it is I wanted you to notice: All the people who passed by in the street were looking down.” (p. 37)

“All of us create a kind of ‘magic space’ around us. Usually it’s a circle of about fifteen-foot radius, and we pay attention to what goes on within it. It doesn’t matter whether it is people, tables, telephone, or windows; we try to maintain control over that small world that we, ourselves, create.” (p. 38)

Second mind

“Sit down, close your eyes, and I will show you what the second mind is,” . . . (p. 28)

“No, no. I want to know whether you’re thinking about something else. Something beyond your control.” (p. 30)

“A melody,” . . . “I’ve been singing this melody to myself ever since I heard it yesterday on the radio on our way here.” (p. 30)

“That is the second mind,” . . . “It’s your second mind that’s humming the song. It can do that with anything. . . . But the second mind is a tough thing to deal with. It’s a work regardless of whether you want it to be.” (p. 30)

“She had two minds. Functioning at the same time.” (p. 31)

“In order to penetrate the invisible world and develop your powers, you have to live in the present, the here and now. In order to live in the present, you have to control your second mind. And look at the horizon.” (p. 32).

“Gene asked her to concentrate on the melody that she had been humming. . . . Chris concentrated. In a few moments, the melody disappeared. She was now completely alert, listening to Gene’s words.” (p. 33)

“Don’t fight your thoughts. . . . Think about what they want you to think about until they grow tired.” (p. 76)

“Be patient, and listen to everything your second mind has to say. Don’t respond. Don’t argue. It will get tired.” (p. 79).

Channel

“Open the channel. Begin to speak.” (p. 87)

Seeking

“What will vanish is the idea that the mountains I have conquered are too small. I will be able to keep alive my love for what I have accomplished.” (p. 98)

Pact with defeat

“I am talking about your pact with defeat”

“We have a contract, you and I: not to win when victory is possible.”

“I have never made any such pact.”

“Everyone has. At some point in our lives. we all enter in to such agreement. That’s why there is an angel with a burning sword at the gates to paradise. To allow entry only to those who have broken that pact.” (p. 112)

“From the moment that you set foot outside,” . . . “promise, in the name of archangel Michael, never again – never again – will you raise your hand against yourself.”

“You will still have many problems in your life, some of them normal, some of them difficult. But, from now on, only God’s hand will be responsible for everything – you will interfere no more.” (p. 133).

“God has the right to destroy me. I do not.” (p. 135)

“He thought of the books he had written, and he was happy. The year would end without any problems – because the pact had been broken. There was no doubt that problems would arise in his work,in love, and along the path to magic – serious problems or passing problems . . . But from now on, he would battle side by side with his guardian angel.” (pp. 135-136)

Accept forgiveness

“God is love, generosity and forgiveness; if we believe in this, we will never allow our weaknesses to paralyse us.” (p. 245)
“Our defects, our dangerous depths, our suppressed hatreds, our moments of weakness and desperation – all are unimportant. If what we want to do is heal ourselves first, so that then we can go in search of our dreams, we will never reach paradise. If, on the other hand, we accept all that is wrong about us – and despite it, believe that we are deserving of a happy life – then we will have thrown open an immense window that will allow Love to enter. Little by little, our defects will disappear, because one who is happy can look at the world only with love – the force that regenerates everything that exists in the Universe.” (pp. 242-242)

Make a bet

I think I’ll probably be infatuated many more times . . . He felt no guilt about it. Infatuation was a good thing. It gave spice to life, an added to its enjoyment.

But it was different to love. Love was worth everything, and couldn’t be exchanged for anything”. (p. 225)

“Do you remember what you said? You said: “Look around, this is my face. I am the place where you are.” (p. 227)