Thursday, March 22, 2018

All it takes is 10 mindful minutes

Mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe, former Buddhist monk, is co-founded of Headspace, a project to make meditation more accessible to more people in their everyday lives. 

In this Ted Talk, Puddicombe refers the benefits of mindful thinking for healthy living and why is important to make meditation accessible to everybody: for a happier, healthier you.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Your silence serves no one

How do you see yourself? A typically cautious or an assertive person when it comes to stating opinions or speaking out about facts?

I am one of those who firmly believe that people deserve to know and hear the truth and so, a firm believer that silence serves no one when the intent is good. This applies from from saying to someone "there is a green thing in your teeth"  or to letting co-workers know about their inability to collaborate. 

However, in some cases, saying the truth or speaking out becomes a major challenge as we are humans who depend on relationships to survive -  choosing deliberately to speak out even when all the good intent is there, is not sufficient to assure that that it will return to your favour.
My choice has been based on the fact that I prefer to live with the consequences of speaking up rather than living with fear or in the shadow of the truth. So, while choosing to be courageous enough to speak out I continuously seek for ways of learning because the good intent can not only live in my mind; it is key that while 

Most of the times, your silence serves no one.
This is the message in this vivid TED Talk by Luvvie Ajayi (a Nigerian author, speaker, and digital strategist born in 1985) with remarkable take-away points about why one should seek to leave this world better than what is found and why choosing to effect change by speaking up can be a way to being the first and to provoke the "domino".

Saturday, January 6, 2018

9 Life Lessons (by Tim Minchin, from 2013 and always good to remember!)

Back in 2013, Tim Minchin, Australian comedian, actor, writer, musician and director gave a 9 life lessons speech worth to review and to think about as the a new year is beginning.

Here you can find the full video and below the full transcript:

"1: You Don’t Have To Have A Dream. Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. Fine, if you have something that you’ve always dreamed of, like, in your heart, go for it! After all, it’s something to do with your time… chasing a dream. And if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of your life to achieve, so by the time you get to it and are staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead so it won’t matter.

I never really had one of these big dreams. And so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye. Right? Good. Advice. Metaphor. Look at me go.

2. Don’t Seek Happiness. Happiness is like an orgasm: if you think about it too much, it goes away. Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy, and you might find you get some as a side effect. We didn’t evolve to be constantly content. Contented Australophithecus Afarensis got eaten before passing on their genes.

3. Remember, It’s All Luck. You are lucky to be here. You were incalculably lucky to be born, and incredibly lucky to be brought up by a nice family that helped you get educated and encouraged you to go to Uni. Or if you were born into a horrible family, that’s unlucky and you have my sympathy… but you were still lucky: lucky that you happened to be made of the sort of DNA that made the sort of brain which – when placed in a horrible childhood environment – would make decisions that meant you ended up, eventually, graduating Uni. Well done you, for dragging yourself up by the shoelaces, but you were lucky. You didn’t create the bit of you that dragged you up. They’re not even your shoelaces.

I suppose I worked hard to achieve whatever dubious achievements I’ve achieved … but I didn’t make the bit of me that works hard, any more than I made the bit of me that ate too many burgers instead of going to lectures while I was here at UWA. Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes, nor truly blame others for their failures will humble you and make you more compassionate. Empathy is intuitive, but is also something you can work on, intellectually.

4. Exercise. I’m sorry, you pasty, pale, smoking philosophy grads, arching your eyebrows into a Cartesian curve as you watch the Human Movement mob winding their way through the miniature traffic cones of their existence: you are wrong and they are right. Well, you’re half right – you think, therefore you are… but also: you jog, therefore you sleep well, therefore you’re not overwhelmed by existential angst. You can’t be Kant, and you don’t want to be.

Play a sport, do yoga, pump iron, run… whatever… but take care of your body. You’re going to need it. Most of you mob are going to live to nearly a hundred, and even the poorest of you will achieve a level of wealth that most humans throughout history could not have dreamed of. And this long, luxurious life ahead of you is going to make you depressed! 

But don’t despair! There is an inverse correlation between depression and exercise. Do it. Run, my beautiful intellectuals, run. And don’t smoke. Natch.

5. Be Hard On Your Opinions. A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like ass-holes, in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this… but I would add that opinions differ significantly from ass-holes, in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.

We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.
Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies, then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.

By the way, while I have science and arts grads in front of me: please don’t make the mistake of thinking the arts and sciences are at odds with one another. That is a recent, stupid, and damaging idea. You don’t have to be unscientific to make beautiful art, to write beautiful things. If you need proof: Twain, Adams, Vonnegut, McEwen, Sagan, Shakespeare, Dickens. For a start.
You don’t need to be superstitious to be a poet. You don’t need to hate GM technology to care about the beauty of the planet. You don’t have to claim a soul to promote compassion.

Science is not a body of knowledge nor a system of belief; it is just a term which describes humankind’s incremental acquisition of understanding through observation. Science is awesome.
The arts and sciences need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated. The idea that many Australians – including our new PM and my distant cousin Nick – believe that the science of anthropogenic global warming is controversial, is a powerful indicator of the extent of our failure to communicate. The fact that 30% of this room just bristled is further evidence still. The fact that that bristling is more to do with politics than science is even more despairing.

6. Be a teacher. Please, please be a teacher. Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world. You don’t have to do it forever, but if you’re in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher. Just for your twenties. Be a primary school teacher. Especially if you’re a bloke – we need male primary school teachers. Even if you’re not a Teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn, and spray it.

7. Define Yourself By What You Love. 
I’ve found myself doing this thing a bit recently, where, if someone asks me what sort of music I like, I say “well I don’t listen to the radio because pop lyrics annoy me”. Or if someone asks me what food I like, I say “I think truffle oil is overused and slightly obnoxious”. And I see it all the time online, people whose idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists or the Liberal Party. We have tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff; as a comedian, I make a living out of it. But try to also express your passion for things you love. Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire. Send thank-you cards and give standing ovations. Be pro-stuff, not just anti-stuff.

8. Respect People With Less Power Than You. I have, in the past, made important decisions about people I work with – agents and producers – based largely on how they treat wait staff in restaurants. I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful. So there.

9. Don’t Rush. You don’t need to already know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. I’m not saying sit around smoking cones all day, but also, don’t panic. Most people I know who were sure of their career path at 20 are having midlife crises now.

I said at the beginning of this ramble that life is meaningless. It was not a flippant assertion. I think it’s absurd: the idea of seeking “meaning” in the set of circumstances that happens to exist after 13.8 billion years worth of unguided events. Leave it to humans to think the universe has a purpose for them. However, I am no nihilist. I am not even a cynic. I am, actually, rather romantic. And here’s my idea of romance: You will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough and, god, it’s tiring. And you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad. And then you’ll be old. And then you’ll be dead.

There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is: fill it. Not fillet. Fill. It.

And in my opinion (until I change it), life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, having compassion, sharing ideas, running(!), being enthusiastic. And then there’s love, and travel, and wine, and sex, and art, and kids, and giving, and mountain climbing … but you know all that stuff already.

It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one, meaningless life of yours. Good luck.

Thank you for indulging me.”

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Payoff - The Hidden Logic that Shapes our Motivations

Dan Ariely’s book "Payoff, The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations," is reflective and focused on how leaders motivate people, being heavily influenced by Viktor Frankl’s celebrated work "Man’s Search for Meaning".

Based on research all over the world, the book documents the consistent failures in understanding what really motivates people and consequently, what ends up killing motivation (even when the efforts are to strengthen it). Ariely gets to the truth of motivation and shows that performance bonuses can actually reduce performance.

Studies show gratitude and compliments are better motivators and that "acknowledgment is a kind of human magic.” Other factors that truly motivate people also include praise, meaningful work and a real connection to the people you work with.

The thing is that work, like life, is full of aggravations  which means that, sometimes, as Ariely acknowledges, "you cannot rely on your leaders to motivate you or create your meaning. You have to do it yourself."

Click to learn more and watch the TED Talk 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Damásios; "Robots never will have feelings" (or why intelligence is not the same as sentience, consciousness and self-awareness)

Last weekend, Expresso published a long, in-depth and extraordinary interview with Hanna and António Damásio, renowned researchers of the neurobiology of mind and behavior. This is a "must read" and a "piece of art testimony"  written by Clara Ferreira Alves. 

"emotions" and "feelings" are terms used in daily life in an interchangeably way, showing how closely connected emotions are with feelings. However neuroscience considers emotions as complex reactions the body has to certain stimuli. When a person is afraid of something, heart begins to race, mouth becomes dry, skin turns pale and muscles contract; that is the emotional reaction that occurs automatically and unconsciously. Feelings will occur after becoming aware in the brain of such physical changes; only then, we experience the feeling of fear.

Understanding the importance of feelings is one of the core concepts to understanding many of the discussions around the vision of a "strong AI" from were Silicon Valley seems not willing to give up on. 

But, while DeepMind has surpassed humans on the GO game a couple of years after IBM Watson won on Jeopardy contest,  this will sum up to be examples of not a "strong AI" but a "forced AI". If one asks Deepmind or Watson to play Monopoly they won't even know where to start, as they are both AI systems designed to play a specific game and not any type of game (neither to figure any kind of game by themselves). But yes, such AI systems will continuously be programmed to surpass humans and do good stuff as well as terrible stuff, also continuing to be feed the statement of an "artificial intelligence that is more artificial then intelligence".

The Damásios arguments are that intelligence is not the same as sentience (the ability to perceive or feel things), consciousness (awareness of one’s body and environment) and self-awareness (recognition of that consciousness). 

This means a machine or an algorithm can be as smart (of even smarter) than humans, but still lack such capacities and thus, intelligent agents (such as robots) will never have feelings.

"If you do not have a life, you can not experience the joy of being alive".  
From a life time dedicated to research, the Damásios say there are not evidences in favor of the idea that the engendering of feelings in humans would be confined to the cerebral cortex. On the contrary, "based on anatomical and physiological evidences, subcortical structures and even the peripheral and enteric nervous systems appear to make important contributions to the experience of feelings."  This is the same to say that however an ultra-intelligent agent can be, if such agent is not aware of itself, it is not incapable of feeling emotions and thus, it can not experience sensations of any kind - neither the color orange neither the taste of an orange.

This is why in their vision; "Silicon Valley is full of very dangerous people (...) that believe they own reason (...) and because they lack the human argument, they feed a sort of technological & scientific fanaticism (...)."  

Assertively, they refer to people like Ray Kurzweil (famed futurist and Google executive) and Elon Musk (founder of Tesla, SpaceX, and OpenAI); " (...) powerful fanatic people that want to buy immortality." 

Presenting his new book - The strange order of things -  at Lisbon's public school holding his name, António Damásio said " (...) without education, men will kill each other."

Click to watch the first lecture of Copernicus Festival 2017 entitled "The Strange Order of Things: Homeostasis, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures" delivered by Antonio Damásio.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

How to Have a Positive Powerful Presence

Being powerful means that people experience something, positive or negative, when in the room with you and to ensure you have a positive powerful presence is a conscious choice.

Every aspect of your presence has social meaning, including your emotions and how you are assessing the people you are with. People are “feeling you out” before you speak. Therefore, you need to develop both your cognitive and sensory awareness to ensure people feel safe and uplifted by your presence.

How to do so?

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) experience

Mindfulness, by definition, is the psychological process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, a process developed through the practice of meditation and other similar training, incorporating significant elements of Buddhism namely the development of self-knowledge to gradually lead to what can be described as enlightenment or freedom from suffering.  The popularity of Mindfulness is generally considered to Jon Kabat-Zinn (Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School) that as practitioner of yoga and studies with Buddhists led him to integrate such teachings with scientific findings, creating in 1979 the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program aimed at treating the chronically ill.

This program sparked the application of mindfulness ideas and practices in Medicine for the treatment of a variety of conditions in both healthy and unhealthy people. MBSR and similar programs are now widely applied in schools, prisons, hospitals, veterans centers, and other environments.
Mindfulness practices are inspired mainly by teachings particularly from Buddhist traditions and one of MBSR's techniques - the "body scan" - derives from a meditation practice ("sweeping").

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to enroll at my first Mindfulness course at Budadharma and this summer, I finally  had the change of completing the the MBSR course with João Palma in a 
group program focused in the progressive acquisition of mindful awareness, with a calendar of eight sessions workshops, a one-day retreat  and homework. Learning formal techniques such as mindfulness meditation, body scanning and yoga postures are at the center of the MBSR program that is based on basic principles such as non-judging, non-striving, acceptance, letting go, beginner’s mind, patience, trust, and non-centering. 

One of the biggest causes of stress is ruminating or repeating a certain stressor that causes the brain to start and repeat a thinking pattern and stay there. Mindfulness practices teach (train) our brain to pop up out of that pattern and recognize it for what it is: a default state from where we have a choice to step out of.