July 30, 2017

Most Things Happen for a Reason

If you've ever spent time reading professional development books or blogs or watching videos about the topic, you may notice a consistent trend when it comes to how authors/mentors frame the things that supposedly hold you back from your goals. For example, if the goal is to improve your performance at playing piano, the mentor (and research to be honest) suggest you embrace failure and the fear of sucking. Just give a big hug to that fear monster and truck on through.

You should approach playing the piano without a fear of sucking, looking bad in front of others, and just get the hours of practice in. Suck it up, man. Over time, you'll build your piano skills to a level where you feel much less fear about playing piano and you'll be able to approach practicing with enjoyment and opportunity versus fearful and a desire to avoid being sucky.

While I support the notion and evidence that suggest practicing is essential to improving any performance skill, I think it overlooks an incredibly important aspect of who we are as human beings and life in general in this universe. Evolution and natural selection, which show that most things we do in life we do for a reason, not because we're flawed or there is something wrong with us, but because the things increased our chances of survival.

Everything we do is a collection of actions that form habits that were selected for over hundreds of thousands of years. Therefore, it is irresponsible and often unsuccessful over the long term to approach a human-centered problem set by simply focusing on certain "bad" behaviors that need eradicated without first considering the underlying reason behind why we do what do.

Let's go back to the piano example and examine it under this new "evolutionary" based lens. Why would someone be afraid to suck at playing piano even though everyone knows they are simply trying to learn a new skill? Obviously, everyone sucks in the beginning (with varying levels of course but mostly sucky relative to experts etc.). So why do we feel this sense of dread or fear from playing, even though it seems entirely irrational?

Maybe it's because sucking at piano would further validate our inner fears that we're not good at anything, that we're wasting our time because we'll never get good and we could be spending our time on better things that bring happiness and wealth or love. Hmmm, that sounds like a pretty damn reasonable and rational fear to have, while also being cold and honest.

What if you are wasting your time? What if there really is something else you could be doing or someone else you could be meeting right now or talking to that would be far more beneficial to your life than learning to play piano? Do you really want to play piano or are trying to learn to play piano to impress someone else, and therefore, trying to fulfill someone else instead of yourself?

These are all excellent questions that could provide deeply insightful answers, but are also hard and uncomfortable to answer. These questions reveal so much more about ourselves and who we are and what we really want. Why on Earth would you want to skip such a beneficial journey in self-reflection?

Do you think becoming a piano expert will fully meet your needs and is it really the goal you want to achieve? Or is it a distraction, an avoidance mechanism designed to avoid pain, whether it be with a spouse, co-worker, career progression, illness, family drama, and the list goes on and on and on. Which ironically brings this discussion full circle, because if learning to play the piano is really just a distraction so you can avoid the pain of dealing with some issue, there's an evolutionary reason for that too.

Dealing with pain is difficult and hard. Dealing with pain is not what the human brain is designed to do. The human brain, through hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, was designed to avoid pain at almost any cost because that meant an increased chance of survival for your genes.

Many scientists like to share the story of the smart, curious, and intelligent Neanderthal who, after hearing a ruffle in the grasses ahead of him, thought to himself, "the odds that a tiger or bear caused that ruffle are slim to none, so I'll go check it out and see what cute little critter it really is." Unfortunately for him and his genes, this thought pattern increased his chances of death, and therefore, the chances his behaviors and thought patterns were transferred to the next generation.

Conversely, his friend the scaredy cat Neanderthal, who also heard the ruffle in the grasses ahead of him, lost his shit and ran away without a second thought. Guess what happened to the chances of him passing on his genes? Bingo.

So the next time you read professional development books or articles and the author is framing your behaviors in a negative light, consider that most things happen for a reason. It just takes a little extra time to be curious and ask a few more questions and the courage and honest introspection to answer those questions. Your inner self may fight like hell at first, be he or she will be grateful that you finally listened to his or her side of the story.