27 July 2007

The Nature of Love, Part 1, Falling in Love

You meet someone for the first time. You immediately feel attracted. You're at your best witty, clean, as good as you will ever be. So is the other. Over time you find topics, activities, and friends of mutual interest. Everything seems right. It is right. You are in love.

You continue seeing each other, and your lives become more intertwined, and finally you decide to make it all official and form a lifetime bond based on love.

You would do anything for each other. Your emotions are incredibly intense. Your love knows no bounds.

In the book The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck devotes an entire section to the topic of Love. It's probably not what you think it is though.

He starts out by defining Love, then talks about what Love is not.

Many of us will be disappointed to know that it is not what we feel when we go through the scenario described above.

Here's what Peck says:
"Of all the misconceptions about love, the most powerful and pervasive is the belief that falling in love is love..."

He goes on to say that falling in love has two really important characteristics. First, there is a sexual attraction part of it; we don't fall in love with our children or our buddies, it has to be someone we are sexually attracted to. Second, invariably the feeling of being in love is temporary. The honeymoon ends. We stop idealizing our partner. This always happens. The "feeling" goes away.

I think that falling in love is a chemical and emotional response to the stimulus of being loved by another. Being the absolute center of their attention. It is amazingly powerful while it lasts. It's no wonder that when it ends, we break the relationship and move on to the next one.

Reality always intrudes on the unity of two people who have fallen in love. They begin to reassert themselves and do what it is that they need and want. They fall out of love. At this point, they either dissolve their ties, or they begin the work of real love.

In the graphic to the left, two people were on near parallel paths. They hooked up and "fell in love"--sharing their lives, goals, and hopes. What will happen when the honeymoon ends though? Will they continue on their previous sub-parallel courses or continue together in the same direction.

In many cases, maybe too many, the two people resume their original trajectories or perhaps something different, but, sadly, without the other.

It's Not Hopeless Though

If all couples lose that lovin' feeling, how do people stay together then? If falling out of love is inevitable, what can people do to stay together? What is love, if it's not that feeling? That is the subject of the Nature of Love, Part 2.

On to The Nature of Love, Part 2, Staying in Love >>>>>

15 July 2007


In my free will post, I mentioned that there are things you can do to keep your body in good shape in a strategic sense.

One way to try to manage that is to look for and learn to recognize signs of the following:

H - Hungry
A - Angry
L - Lonely
T - Tired

Hungry and Tired will have physical cues, whereas angry and lonely will have emotional cues as well.

When you feel any of the above, you are especially vulnerable to errors in judgment. This is when addicts fall off the wagon, or when you make other bad decisions. Those conditions effectively alter your programming, allowing you to rationalize inappropriate behaviors.

Lonely and Tired tend to be big drivers for me. When I am tired especially, I have a tendency to not exercise, and I notice that I am generally a little lackadaisical.

When you are experiencing the HALT conditions, try to be more deliberate, avoid important decisions, and most importantly, take care of yourself in a healthy way.

On to The Nature of Love, Part 1 >>>>>

07 July 2007

Contribution to Problems

Root cause analysis is an important tool for any engineer. It is about getting past the surface of things and finding what really happened to cause something to not work. People often thing of it as continually asking "Why?" until there is no more answer to that question.

Root cause analysis is also important in relationships, although it often does not happen. The book Difficult Conversations has a really good example. A man is preparing for a business trip. His assistant is putting together materials for him. She gives him the wrong materials and he botches the presentation. On the surface it seems clear cut. She gave him the wrong stuff. Her fault.

Digging deeper into the example, we find that she did not seek clarification, because he would tend to get angry and abusive when she asked questions. This doesn't make it his fault, but it is clear that he contributes to the lack of clarification by his responses to her questions.

You can argue that the assistant should have simply ignored the abuse and done her job, but remember, we are all human. nobody likes to get yelled at by their boss. She went through a process where she weighed the certainty of getting yelled at against the probability that she misunderstood the instructions. She was willing to take the risk. It is simply a marginal utility function.

This kind of dynamic plays out in relationships as well. Suppose a wife goes to her husband and tells her that she is not happy in their marriage. He gets defensive/abusive saying, "What's wrong with you? I make good money, we have a nice house, cars, and we go on a European vacation every year." She begins to think that she is defective, so she takes refuge in a bottle.

You might say that the problem is that she's an alcoholic. Maybe she is. She apparently does not have good skills to deal with abuse, so she medicates with alcohol. But alcoholism is not the only problem.

There are other core problems in the marriage. He has a tendency to be abusive. He is not the kind and understanding person that he was when they were dating. Perhaps he stopped buying her gifts once they got married. Or stopped complimenting her. Perhaps she put on a few pounds after the baby and he has contempt for her, thinking that if she would just drink less she would lose weight.

Now, because she's a "drunk," he treats her worse. So she drinks more. Negative feedback loops are a common pattern in addiction. One person needs to break the cycle, but both people need help. They have both contributed to the problem.

Some types of behaviors and attitudes that can indicate contribution are as follow:
High expectations, low expectations, preconceived bias against the other person, misinterpret something they have said or done and not to check out your perception, expect/demand the other person to change first (this is a blaming behavior), expect/demand your own way, silent treatment or some other way of withholding from the other person, misleading the other person (deliberately or not) as to your intentions or abilities.

Edit 8/29/2007

Isn't This a Blame-The Victim Mentality?
It can appear that way. It's subtle, but the intent is important. Consider a case where you are in an unfamiliar city late at night walking alone down a dark street. You get mugged.

You are not to blame for being mugged! Our society will punish the mugger if he is caught. What is the contribution then? Well you didn't make him mug you, but you helped to set up the situation in which he could. You're not to blame. But can you learn something? Might you do something different next time?

If you accept no contribution to the problem, you might say something like, "Well it was all him. He had no right to mug me." Then go out for a walk alone in the same area the next night. That's probably a losing strategy.

Accepting your contribution does not mean accepting blame. It would mean, in this case, recognizing that walking alone in an unfamiliar city can be dangerous, then learning from that by taking measures to not expose yourself. Perhaps you could walk with a friend or at least ask the concierge what a safe part of town would be.

In a sense, understanding contribution can be thought of as a continual improvement process. Finger pointing and apportionment of blame, in most cases, do not cause learning. Understanding most situations as part of a system can help facilitate that.

On to H.A.L.T. >>>>>

05 July 2007

The Importance of Vacations

I just returned from a 10 day trip to Hawaii with my family. It was not just a vacation, but a celebration of my sons' graduating from high school. It got me thinking about the importance of vacations in the scheme of things.

"Sharpen the Saw" is the seventh habit from Steven Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Successful People." He uses the analogy of a lumberjack who works hard, keeps cutting wood, but does not take the time to stop and sharpen his saw. Over time his productivity goes down.

The graphs on this page tell the story. Over time, your productivity tends to go down to some minimum level. If you do not take vacation, you will basically stay at that level. Taking vacation will temporarily drop your productivity to zero. However, it recharges your batteries (sharpens your saw) and you come back as strong as ever.

So even though, in the time you are away you lose some ground, in the long run, your total productivity is higher.

For me, I find that my productivity does not actually go to zero. Even though I did not do any work, I had a lot of things cranking away in the background. Down time allows me to get away from the tactical issues of any given day and focus on more important and strategic issues.

You may be familiar with Covey's Urgency and Importance grid.
Quadrant 1 is for the issues that are important and urgent. This is firefighting. there is an emergency and there are dire consequences if we do not deal with it.
Quadrant 2 is preparation and prevention. It is front-end loading to prevent things from reaching quadrant 1. It is taking a timeout to sharpen your saw.
Quadrant 3 is dangerous, because the urgency of those items makes them seem important. They are items that are important to someone else. Drop-in visitors, some phone calls, some meetings, striving for "perfection" when perfection is not necessary are examples.
Quadrant 4 is for activities that are neither important nor urgent. Sometimes, when we are smashed around by Q 1 and 3 activities, we fall into quadrant 4 as a refuge. Excessive mindless television or reading can fall into this quadrant.

There is nothing wrong with reading or watching TV per se. Those activities can be quadrant 2, but at some point they shift to 4.

In First Things First, Covey contends that we should be spending more time on the important things (quadrants 1 and 2) and less on unimportant things (quadrants 3 and 4). This may seem quite obvious, but many or most people spend their efforts on urgent matters that may or may not be important (quadrants 1 and 3).

In other words, while on vacation you are spending time away from quadrants 1 and 3 and living in quadrant 2. Vacation (re-creation time away from work) is not a quadrant 4 activity. As long as our batteries are still recharging, we are in quadrant 2.

Steve Pavlina gives some good advice for focusing on the important.

On to Contributions to Problems >>>>>