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  • Scott Bowman

Brain Training

I've been teaching my brain wrong.

(That sentence has to be ungrammatical. Sounds like something Dubya would say. Wrongly? hmm... I digress.)

I just realized the other day that I've been teaching my brain very bad things and calling it "how things are" or something like that and I got it all completely backwards. In a lab they train cats (in labs they can train cats as easily as dogs apparently - outside a lab that same cat would as soon kill you as look at you when you call her name) all the time using positive reinforcement - push the lever get a cookie. This makes it possible to train a cat... a cat mind you - to tasks as complex as knitting and voting for ObamaCare (I've seen the pictures).

Unfortunately for them (and very unlike cats), dogs respond to negative reinforcement as well - push the lever get yelled at. This makes it possible for some very cruel and unimaginative people to think they are good with animals.

So there's two basic ways to train your brain... Well, really there's only one way isn't there: take an action, associate it with an experience. Get the answer right, get a pat on the head. Break the vase, get a swat on the arse. That's not just how we're taught, its what we're taught - and it's how we're taught to teach ourselves as well.

What have I been doing with this extraordinary technology?

It's embarrassing.

I have been associating the 'action' I take with the 'experience' I'm having at the time I take it.

It made sense to me... Seemed like the smart thing to do. So doing push-ups felt like doing push-ups and networking felt like networking. What could make more sense then that?

The trouble is, I don't particularly like the sensation of doing push-ups, or what it feels like to network. I'm not fond of the on-the-ground, in-the-moment experience of dieting. I don't do those things because I want to do them. I do them because I have goals that I can achieve by doing them.

Goals that, I may say, linger like unwanted relatives or a bad cold. I don't easily and readily do what I don't like to do. It's a weakness of my character I guess, and I wear it like a medal of dishonor but it's seems to be true or at least reliable.

So this linkage of the act of networking with the experience of networking just makes the next event tougher to do, and the next and on and on. Not a good structure to support the actual goal, which is not to have a lot of stilted conversations, crackers and cheese, thank god, but to get a great job or client.

So I'm trying something else: I'm associating my current action with how it will feel, kinesthetically, viscerally, when the goal is done.

That is, after all what the action is about anyway, right? Rather than being about, say, how I am feeling in the doing of the thing. That is an incidental matter of no real consequence to anything, it turns out. When I have been working with my new client for a month or two, will I feel anything at all from the actions I took to get there in the first place?

I find that I can imagine pretty vividly the feeling I will have when I get hired. Understand though, I know I'm almost certainly wrong about what it will actually feel like - I really have no idea. But it doesn't matter. When I imagine saying 'yes' I can feel such a deep thrill of relief and relaxation and jubilation. It feels awesome. So what's happening is I'm imaging the goal being completed and that act, in itself, feels awesome. I imagine it will feel awesome and it feels awesome to imagine that.

That is the feeling I want to associate with networking. That is what I'm networking for. It makes it so much easier to do the work and to want to do it. Every event, every conversation, I'm taking time to feel and imagine that awesome victory. Push the lever get a cookie. Yum.

What ever the next step is toward the goal, try associating that action with the visceral feeling of the final accomplishment. Train your brain. Push the lever get a cookie. Over and over again, march toward your goal feeling the accomplishment of it in every step.

What if doing push-ups felt like getting stronger, and eating a salad felt like feeling sexy? Think you'd be doing more of that?

And what if the next step is to hope? Sometimes that's the next thing to do. It is for me right now. And when having hope is the correct next step it really means something to feel it with the visceral imagining of your deliverance, your validation, your victory. That is what I want hope to feel like - like victory.

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