Think about it: your brain has roughly 86 billion neurons in it. Those 86 billion neurons make over 86 trillion connections. Multiply those 86 trillion connections times roughly 7 billion people. That’s a LOT of neural connections in a lot of brains; more than there are stars in the universe, and all in a state of continual flux. As an aging musical neurologist once wrote, “those neurons not busy being born, are busy dying.” And those not busy being born or busy dying are busy doing the work of exciting or inhibiting their electrical charge. It’s a blooming, buzzing confusion nearing the scale of infinity. And you never know when, what neurons networked in what brain living in what body will be heading down the pike to rock your world. But if you’re like me, you’ll admit it’s rarely been a member of the Self-Help Promotion-ati, hawking this, that and the other Next Big Thing. Why? Because few of them have even begun to meaningfully address this level of unique complexity living within each of us.
A Real Point One Illustration
Robert Allen, the No-Money Down House Buying Guru in the 1980s and 90s is a great example of complexity unattended to. In order to generate buzz and sales for his books, Allen went around the country offering to pick a random person at one of his “free” seminars and hold their hand as they went out to buy a house with no money down (BTW, Free Seminars aren’t free; at a minimum, there’s always an opportunity cost for attending them – you could have been doing something more meaningful for the world). Allen’s get-rich-quick scheme was to buy cheap houses for no money down, put a little lipstick on them, and flip them for a quick profit.
But real estate, like brain terrain, is complex and changing all the time. Which can make the no-money-down life really stressful. Allen’s methods failed to take into account the real estate downturn (or the stress involved with putting other people’s money at risk). Here’s what one observer pointed out about Allen’s method:
The method is not calibrated to a real estate downturn such as the one that began in the US in the summer of 2005. In a downturn, the opportunities to buy distressed real estate increase, but the opportunities to do so with other people’s money and to turn a quick flip decrease. In a downturn, the people who make money are those who have the liquidity, leverage and patience to buy properties and wait as long as a decade or more to profit from them. This is not achievable for the average investor, who must turn a quick profit to stay liquid and remain in the game, or otherwise keep tapping gullible banks, investors and partners for investment money.
I can tell you from personal experience that a lot of emotional and psychological pain and suffering for a lot of people resulted from following Robert Allen’s self-promotional advice. Not to mention more than a few home foreclosures and personal bankruptcies. The stress of foreclosure and bankruptcy isn’t particularly well-matched for too many human brains.
There’s a wonderful field of research called Survivorship Bias. I wholeheartedly offer you the self-help advice to check it out in depth yourself.
The upshot of Survivorship Bias is this: anyone offering you advice on how to be or do x, y or z is only offering you their partial experience and perspective. Experts don’t necessarily make the best teachers. They’re mostly offering you descriptions of the things they did which they believe led to their success. What they’re not telling you is: A. all the little things they did that they’re not aware of (the brain processes roughly 99% of most life activities unconsciously); and B. they’re not telling you all the things they didn’t do that contributed to their success (in other words, how they minimized Opportunity Costs).
Know any people who got involved in “Legacy Marketing?” (Multi-Level or Network). How many of them have become hugely successful? How happy were you to have them try to foist over-hyped, over-priced products on you that you didn’t really need or want? How many of them have stacks of unsold cartons of “product” piled high in garages and coat closets and public storage facilities as the fad and their enthusiasm peaked and then rapidly waned?
Less is Less
Much of the work of the brain involves inhibitory processes. 70% of all spiking neurons fail to propagate a charge sufficient to get the next neuron in the chain to fire. In some ways, it’s a miracle that so many of us can get up and get out of bed in the morning, let alone get dressed and write a self-help blog post. But it’s what happens after we get out of bed in the morning that the problems really begin. Few of us really understand what constitutes not only the best use of our time, but just how wasteful poor uses of our time really are. To get a glimpse, check out what popular Wired columnist, Eric Barker has to say about it: How to Spend Time Wisely.
One thing Henry David Thoreau is famous for is this quote: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Unfortunately, what Henry David and most self-help books, blogs and seminars I’m momentarily seduced by fail to take into account is the experience and knowledge of my unique foundation-building skills. Foundation-building skills are closely related to Executive Function in the brain, an area where many of us on the Self-Help Circuit unfortunately have a lot of remedial work to do (me included – and I’ve had a long career as an actual castle-builder!). Without massive neural fiber connections in this area that allow us to direct attention and flexibly attend and consistently respond to a rapidly changing world many of us are handicapped for personal business success and don’t even realize it. We simply don’t have the cognitive flexibility to deal with things like economist Albert Hirschman’s Hiding Hand or The Inverted Sequence Principle, just two of many ways things can go seriously off-track in life and business and never get back on.
So, in the spirit of self-help and advice-giving – freely borrowing once again from that aging musical neurologist – here’s some help I’m happy not to offer you in closing: Don’t follow leaders; forget parking meters (take public transit). Instead, pay increasingly close attention to what profoundly stirs the collection of myocytes and cardio-neurons in the center of your chest. You’ll rarely go wrong if you start by attending to things that have the greatest heart and meaning for you in your life. And then, day by day by day, put another brick in your foundation wall, perhaps adding some concrete ties and a bit of reinforcement rod as you go. Few of us will ever come to the end of our days regretting doing the work necessary to build and live a life we’ve truly loved.