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Education Productivity

How to Actually Read Textbooks Effectively

“To be better equipped for the tests that the year will bring — read a textbook. To prepare for the tests that life will bring — read a book.”

Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Textbooks are not the same as the every day books that people read.

The Fundamentals of Chemical Engineering was a very different read than Man’s Search for Meaning. Textbooks require different methods of consumption. Since they’re are mostly filled with factual information that we are expected to understand and regurtitage, they can seem like a giant ball of chaos. This is a huge part of the reason why we don’t like reading them in the first place.

In my past blog posts, I talk extensively about the human mind and a multitude of theories describing how it works. A commonality in these posts and the writings of others I have read suggest that people are purpose oriented creatures. We need a clear purpose in front of us when we are reading textbooks. What stops people from reading textbooks is the ambiguous nature of it. Looking at a 1000+ page book with the intention of “learning everything” is too unclear and pushes us towards not doing anything at all.

We need a clear purpose when we are reading the books. This helps us articulate exactly what we are trying to learn. We can create purposeful and intentional reading by scanning the textbook before hand.

A Specific Method for Scanning Textbooks

This video is a fantastic resource for understanding efficient textbook consumption:

Here are some of the highlights from it.

Matt DiMaio suggests that students should flip through and scan each page so they can receive an overview on what is coming. This gives us our minds purpose when we flip through these pages.

We see unfamiliar images and phrases which will stick out to us as landmarks of recognition. The best way to maximize the results of method is to keep an eye out for things you don’t understand and lean into the questions that come to mind when we first see them.

Another key to reading textbooks efficiently is to skip to the End-Quiz. This lets us know exactly what to look for. Doing this right after an initial scan is the best time to read the end quiz questions because we have a small idea of what this chapter would be about, but we don’t know enough to know what to keep an eye out for. Reading the quiz before reading the actual chapter helps bridge this gap. Seeing the questions at the end provides a deeper level of articulation when it comes to our purpose when reading this chapter.

By this point, we should have two sets of questions bouncing around in our heads – one set that we created from our initial scan and the second are the questions at the end of the chapter.

If the chapter doesn’t have end of the chapter questions, there is most likely going to be a summary of the main points. These can also be turned into questions that could be answered. The idea is to keep developing questions that YOU genuinely want to know the answer to. This helps keeps our mind engaged when we are going through the text. There’s no substitute for genuine curiosity.

The next suggestion Matt DiMaio makes is to read the bold print because the information has already been broken down for you. The author(s) of the textbook (more often than not) layout the concepts in smaller chunks which usually come together to build a solid and thorough understanding of the overall concept. The bolded print keeps the information organized and are usually highlighting an important idea necessary for understanding the concept as a whole.

After, read the first and last sentence in a paragraph. The first sentence is usually an introduction and the last a conclusion. This is to get a quick, but slightly deeper understanding of the idea and it’s components. You get the jist of it but this point.

This method takes more time than just reading the chapter in one go, but it’s way more effective. During each of these stages, our brain is developing more and more questions which it will consciously and subconsciously look for. This helps us stay more engaged with the text, but is also in line with Active Recall, which is the most efficient learning method we currently accept.

Scanning doesn’t have to take more than 5 minutes and should be done before any intense reading happens. Students should almost never be reading textbooks cover to cover like we would novels. People are purpose driven creatures and firstly we need to know what we’re looking for. Scanning provides purpose when reading. Scanning a chapter multiple times will prime our brains perfectly for effective textbook consumption. Don’t shy away from repetition.

Repetition is the mother of learning.

3 Main Goals of Reading

Sometimes when I see people study for huge exams or quizzes, they will bust out their textbook and just start reading. Not only does this requires extreme amounts of cognitive load, but it’s also terribly ineffective. We are purpose driven creatures and just reading a textbook with the intention of “learning everything” is a slow moving trainwreck.

Here are 3 main goals we should keep in mind when we are reading textbooks:

1) Getting the correct information – we want to make sure we are reading the information that we are actually responsible for knowing. I can’t tell you how many test I’ve studied for that had completely different content than what I was studying. We want to know the right stuff.

2) Retaining that information – when we find this information, we want to make sure that we can remember it! We want to be able to remember it easily and over the long term, otherwise our efforts are wasted.

3) Spending less time – because honestly reading textbooks can be a drag and our time is usually better spent doing the things we’d rather do.

A Quick Tip on Goal Setting

These goals are assuming we agree with the fundamental axiom that there are ways to get better results with less effort. Now I can focus my energy on studying better, instead of trying to convince myself that there are better ways to read textbooks. I try to create goals with underlying assumptions that remove obstacles and push me forward. It’s a nice way of tricking our brain into getting things done.

Another example is what I do with these blog posts. My goal is to improve my blog posts at least 1% every week – that goal is created with the underlying assumption that I will be putting out a blog post every week. Now I’m not focused on just trying to get myself to write, that will come as a byproduct of focusing on improving the overall blog every week.

Methods to Test Comprehension

Reading textbooks out of order seems like a sure fire way to misunderstand the text. However, it’s actually more effective as long as we test our comprehension. Here are a few ways of testing yourself to make sure that you actually understand the key bits of information.

Answer all the Questions Included in the Chapter

Like I mentioned earlier, most textbook chapters have end of the chapter multiple choice quizzes. These are excellent active recall resources and a fantastic way to test your understanding of the key points.

Sometimes a textbook will include practice MCQs sprinkled throughout the chapter. This idea doesn’t just stop with multiple choice questions, they can apply to free response questions as well.

Write Out the Main Ideas in Your Own Words

Jordan Peterson said articulation is the deepest levels of understanding. First, we act out what we understand. The next level is thinking about what we understand. The deepest level is saying or writing it so another person can also understand the information. I should probably write a blog post on the different levels of understanding. When we write something down in our own words, we are forced to confront exactly what we know and what we don’t, which is a fantastic way of testing our understanding.

Evaluate When the Text was Published

The meaning in writing, no matter what kind, is nested in the words and pages of the text. But the text is also nested in its relation to everything else around it. The dominating thoughts of the times determine which ideas are presented and in what manner.

If the text is slightly outdated, it may fail to take into account new and precedent-breaking research. Questioning the text also key in testing understanding. Here are some questions you can start with:

Why are these ideas being presented in this order?

Is there anything included in the text that may have overlooked?

Questioning things naturally gives us deeper understandings. Shallow answers provide an opportunity to breed suffering and should rarely be accepted.

Summarize to Teach

This is a bite off the Feynman Technique. The idea is to summarize the material so a 5 year old can understand it. Try not to use any specialized jargon and address any questions that a 5 year old may ask when presented with the summary you write. When we teach, we put ourselves in the role of expert and our identity gets tied up with knowing the information thoroughly.

Explaining something at the level a 5 year old can understand is not a demonstration of simplified knowledge, but masterful understanding. True masters know what information to leave out so their pupil can best understand with their current frameworks of the world.

Practice Active Reading Over Passive Reading

I’m sure it seems like I’ve beaten this dead horse plenty, but I can’t stress this enough. Active Recall and Spaced Repetition are the two biggest pillars of studying less while learning more, and we would be foolish to not integrate that into how we read.

Instead of just reading line after line, we can engage with the text through the different methods of scanning outlined earlier or practicing these Methods to Test Comprehension. Keeping our brain active in the process, not only makes the learning more efficient, but keeps us interested and happy.

A good study session can be like being engaged in an enlightening conversation, it doesn’t have to be dull.

Determine the Focus

When you are reading it is important to know what kind of reading you will be doing. There are two main types of reading in this case, reading for main concepts or reading for details.

Are you reading to understand main concepts or details?

I recommend treating the main concepts like a framework for the big picture and the details as things we hang on the frame. Learn main concepts first, then fill in the blanks with the details.

Other Techniques for Effective Reading

A majority of these tips came from the notes I took while watching Marty Lobdell’s famous lecture on studying smart. You can watch the video for yourself here – but keep in mind, it’s an hour long.

If you don’t have time to check it out, don’t fret, I tried to include most of the value from this video in this blog post.

Do a Pomodoro Session, then Do Something Fun or Go Away

I talk about breaking up our work into smaller chunks all the time. Working for 25-30 minutes on a task, then walking away makes the task much easier to initiate. The reward makes us more likely to do it again! I go more in depth about the pomodoro technique and its modifications in this post. The main idea is to just break up the work into manageable time intervals. This is how I get all my blog posts done!

Reward Yourself After Finishing Your Entire Day

Do this not only because the reward is so much sweeter after finishing a day of work, but because it makes it easier for us to start again next time. If we know that we’re going to get a reward at the end, we can’t wait to get it done! Rewarding ourselves also solidifies all the newer neural pathways created in that session. Additionally, it prevents burnout and we ought to treat ourselves as people we are responsible for. If we committed a dog to a whole day of work, we would want to reward it afterwards for doing so well. We should give ourselves the same encouragement. We’ll die without it.

Study Concepts First, then Study Facts

I talk about this in my Strategies for Better Studying (Part 3) post and touched upon it earlier too. Studying just pure facts is impossibly difficult and we will never retain any information without tremendous effort. If we learn the concepts and understand how the facts fit into the bigger picture, then it is much easier to remember more facts with less effort. Create a framework of understanding, then hang the facts on the framework.

Highlight the Important Terms, but with Caution

I try not to highlight if possible. I layout some of the disadvantages to highlighting in [this post]. Highlighting triples our workload and increases the likelihood of focusing on lower yield information. If you find yourself in a situation where you must absolutely highlight, keep it at a minimum. Whatever is highlighted is considered important. When we highlight too much, we destroy prioritization. Not all information was made equal.

Our Brain is Better at Recognizing than Recalling

This is why Active Recall is such a powerful method of learning. The heightened difficulty of recalling information trains our brain more powerfully than simple recognition.

This is also why I suggest we scan our textbooks in the method laid out above. When we scan, we create points of recognition that allow us to hang the facts and intricate details of the information.

Flesh Out Notes to Solidify New Concepts

Right when we finish reading or get out of a lecture, we have an unstable understanding of the new concepts we’ve just learned. This is partly because we have very limited access to the information in terms of neural connections. With more neural connections, recalling specific information gets easier and easier.

Fleshing out our notes helps solidifies concepts in our mind, especially if they are a little fuzzy. The expansion gives us multiple neural points of connection, which allows for easier recall in the future. If fleshing the concepts out on your own is beyond your ZPD, I recommend comparing notes with a friend or discussing the topic with the professor in office hours.

Use Mnemonics to Memorize

Memorizing sucks and it’s nearly impossible to memorize random facts without connecting them to something else that we already understand. One of the best ways to memorize is to use mnemonics, little devices designed to help with remembering patterns or associations.

One version of a mnemonics are acronyms. Not to be confused with initialisms (which can be great mnemonics too), acronyms are words or names formed from the initial parts of a bigger name. NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is pronounced like a word, but stands for a larger name.

One of my favorite acronyms are used for remembering the colors of a rainbow – ROY G. BIV. It sounds like the name of a man, but it stands for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indego, and violet.

Another type of mnemonic devices are coined sayings. These are crazy phrases used similarly to acronyms. One of my favorite coined sayings is for memorizing the Krebs Cycle intermediates is “Can I Keep Selling Sex for Money Officer?”

C – citrate I – isocitrate K – a-ketoglutarate S – succinyl CoA S – succinate F – fumarate M – malate O – oxaloacetate

It’s easy to remember because it’s about sex. The more sexual, vulgar, and ridiculous are, the easier they are to remember. So don’t be afraid to get a little crazy.

The last type of mnemonic that I’m going to talk about here are image associations. Some people also refer to this as the “Mental Mind Palace” or the “method of loci.” The main idea is to picture a place that we are extremely familiar with, like our home for example, and place the different bits of information in places across your house.

This sounds a little woowoo, but the core of this method is to connect our familiar environment as triggers of recognition to the information that we want to memorize. This works wonders for some people and not so well for others. I wouldn’t recommend this method over the other ones, but what is powerful is knowing that we can associate any information we want with images.

Using images to solidify a concept in our minds is powerful because the human brain is mainly designed to function around sight. We are relatively visual creatures and using visualization to enhance memory is like a cheat code. Similar to coin sayings, the more sexual, vulgar, and ridiculous the image is, the easier is will be to remember.


Reading is like working out. It takes time to get better at it. Reading a textbook is like learning how to work out a specific part of your body. Stick with it. All principles regarding skill building also apply here too, so things like The Valley of Disappointment, The Transition Curve, and The 20 Hour Rule are also at play. See each reading session as a practice in developing the “textbook reading” skill.

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Education Lifestyle

The Jungian Shadow & Integration

“The sad truth is that man’s real life consists of a complex of inexorable opposites – day and night, birth and death, happiness and misery, good and evil. We are not even sure that one will prevail over the other, that good will overcome evil, or job defeat pain. Life is a battleground. It always has been, and always will be.”

Carl Jung (Approaching the Unconscious)

The Gestalt Reality

The incredibly intelligent and renown Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, urged that people strive for wholeness rather than perfection. The path to wholeness is through integrating the sides of ourselves which are rejected, ignored, and avoided. When we combine the sides of ourselves which are responsible for creation with the sides which are capable of destruction, we create something bigger than the sum of those parts.

I talk a little bit about the uglier sides of ourselves in my post The Relationship with Ourselves (Part 2). Harnessing the power of and willingly confronting these less than perfect sides of ourselves gives us the ability to deal with chaos when it comes. These ugly sides of ourselves are what Jung referred to as the shadow side.

This shadow side within ourselves that are rejected, ignored, and avoided are usually deemed “bad” or “immoral” by the rest of society. This widespread belief comes from people being constantly ridiculed by friends and family if they were to express these traits. We may live in an illusion of harmony, but this harmony is at the expense of our psychological integrity.

“And if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.”

Jordan B. Peterson (12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos)

When we’re children, we’re afraid of monsters and wished they didn’t exist. As we get older, we see that the monsters are real and aren’t going anywhere. This knowledge makes us cynical. We believe the world must be an evil, unforgiving, and cold place to have monsters everywhere. However, we can learn to contend with the monsters if we learn how to be at one with ourselves.

The shadow sides contain a monster capable of immense destruction. If we ignore and repress this monster, it will come out in ways we don’t intend. If we let it go completely, we create heinous suffering and destroy the good around us. We must learn to wrestle with the monster within, integrate it into our personality, and use it when necessary. When we combine all these sides of ourselves, we come more than just the combination of all those sides. We become something much stronger and more formidable.

I talk more about this in the context of children who always try to be good in this post. Good children tend to repress their own thoughts and feelings in order to please other people. This repression creates a world of problems for them in the adult world as well as their personal psyche.

Wrestling with the Shadow – Big thanks to Academy of Ideas

Getting a hold of this side of ourselves is a difficult task. In order to grapple with our shadow, we first have to see it in ourselves. When we first look for the shadow we will find ourselves in a moral dilemma.

It’s hard to see the parts of ourselves which conflict with society and our loved ones. We discover the alarming amounts of hypocrisy, complacency, and fear which our moral scaffoldings and state are founded on.

Integrating the shadow is not trying to become “evil“, but it is detaching ourselves from the evil within us, so we can be free to find the parts of ourselves lost in the shadow. This creates an undeniable authenticity that others can intuitively pick up on.

True freedom, and a healthy relationship with ourselves, starts with questioning the codes of socialization and morality that we’ve been indoctrinated into. Questioning codes of conduct does not make us deviant, but strengthens compliance of codes if an answer can be found. Refusing to question codes risks propagating conduct which breed pathology.

Whenever I’m working with students, I notice that many of the students let their guard down and let go of their resistance to learning when they understand why they must sacrifice. Senselessness is painful for anyone at any age. Understanding why we need to sacrifice gives our pain meaning which can pull us through any challenge.

“If it can be destroyed by truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth.”

Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

Pretending that we don’t have a shadow is a futile. Dichotomy of this nature is built right into the structures of reality. Refer to the quote at the beginning of this blog post again.

We have sides to our existence which we don’t like, but denying them only makes them stronger. Pretending they don’t exists brings them out more than we’d like, and it ways that we won’t even notice.

“By not being aware of having a shadow, you declare a part of your personality to be non-existent. Then it enters the kingdom of the non-existent, which swells up and takes on enormous proportions…If you get rid of qualities you don’t like by denying them, you become more and more unaware of what you are, you declare yourself more and more non-existent, and your devils will grow fatter and fatter.”

Carl Jung (Dream Analysis: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1928-1930)

The Shadow of Aggression

We can see this in children who exhibit aggression at an early age. Aggression is a part of human nature and there is nothing inherently wrong with it, although to modern people, it has a rough connotation. Aggression is simply an assertive pursuit in one’s desires. Sometimes this can be violent and terrible, but most of the time it isn’t.

When an infant is crying for food, they are being aggressive. When we ask someone if we could use their restroom, we are being aggressive. Aggression can appear in countless ways.

As a result, many children who are aggressive at an early age (which is almost all of them) are met with disapproval and punishment. As they get older, they learn to repress that side of themselves. They seek to avoid conflict and not push their own agenda.

The aggression moves into the shadow and transforms into anger, rage, and hate.

If the child had learned to use their aggression when appropriate, rather than ignore it altogether, they could use their aggression to move themselves and their community forward in a meaningful way. The child could have recognized the aggression within themselves, integrated it so they can use it by their own volition, and released it when they needed to be aggressive. They would have an easier time in the adult world and more control over their internal states.

Aggression is necessary in adult life and people who cannot utilize it will be damned to a life of mediocrity and people pleasing. People who won’t recognize the aggression within themselves will always be the stepping stone and not the one who steps on the stone. This way of living will drive them mad, mostly because they’re aware of their powerlessness, and the adult who has not integrated their aggression will uncontrollably release their shadow in a fit of unregulated emotions.

“This longing to commit a madness stays with us throughout our lives. Who has not, when standing with someone by an abyss or high up on a tower, had a sudden impulse to push the other over? And how is it that we hurt those we love although we know that remorse will follow? Our whole being is nothing but a fight against the dark forces within ourselves. To live is to war with trolls in the heart and soul. To write is to sit in judgement on oneself”

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)

Common Signs of Shadow Release

Lack of shadow integration leads to uncontrolled actions where the shadow releases itself in ways that we can barely recognize. It’s so easy to be blind to our shadow and how it shows itself. However, in Robert Greene’s fantastic book, The Laws of Human Nature, which is on My Must-Read Book List, he lays out common signs of shadow release and personas which the shadow displays itself through. We can use his guidelines to recognize the shadow within ourselves.

Contradictory Behavior

Repression can leads to a disconnect between our thoughts and actions. We think and want one thing, but act differently. Eventually, we will lapse in our performance and start to act how we truly think resulting in contradictory behavior.

This can also be seen in the people who preach high morality, but secretly and deliberately wrongs others. Another example can be found in extremely animus and typically tough men. They seem so strong and stoic on the outside, but really they yearn for sensitivity and security.

People carefully construct their images, sometimes without consulting all sides of themselves. These constructions are simply exoskeletons which people use to keep their uglier sides in the dark.

Emotional Outbursts

This is when the shadow simply can’t handle the repression any longer and must be released. They might say something cruel or expression their deeply embarrassing emotions. Either way, the person will claim that some external circumstance has brought out something different than them. Typically, the shadow is more honest than who we think we are.

Passionate Denial

Intense denials are typically expressions of what the shadow truly desires. Now, I’m not saying that everything that everyone denies is secretly desired. According to Freud, people understand the uncomfortable parts of their unconscious mind through denial in their unconscious mind. In other words, we understand the ugly parts of our unconscious through denying them. It’s easy to see this in men who claim they “have never cried” or “don’t feel any emotion.”

We can deny things, but passionate denial may be a form of acceptance.

“Accidental” Behavior

This is the one I think is the funniest. We see people engaging in destructive behavior and the reason for their conduct is simply an “accident”. Someone will drink too much alcohol and say inappropriate things. “It’s not me talking, it’s the alcohol.” They will say defending their insolence, but it’s their shadow. The truth is that person has never been more honest. Typically, alcohol inebriates our cerebral cortex which is our emotional brake pedal, so to speak. If that loses its power, it gives an opportunity for our amygdala to act as wild as possible.

We love to look for a great excuse to let our shadow go and what’s better than an accident?

This isn’t just with alcohol, people use all kinds of accidents as an excuse to indulge in their dark sides. When we stop accepting these explanations as excuses, we can see the shadow clearly.

Over-Idealization

People have a need to believe in something bigger than them. Conventional religion works for some people, but in this day and age, I’ve seen more and more people create their own belief systems. No matter the system, people will always put an ideal at the top, a clear example of right and wrong, a goal to strive for.

This can be in the form of a god, or in a personally relevant example, a motorcycle club (I’m rewatching Sons of Anarchy at the moment). People need an ideal to strive towards or we are left in true chaos.

Nothing is inherently wrong with this, but over-dealization can leave people a fantastic excuse to release their shadow. When we over-idealize something it’s easy to ignore all the imperfections and believe that any action that does not benefit the ideal is wrong. Once this happens, we will commit every sin in the book in the name of our god.

This is where the phrase “the ends don’t justify the means” is really useful. Over-idealization is saying the ends do justify the means and we will achieve the end by any means necessary.

We are constantly looking for ways to release our shadow, if we don’t do it consciously, we will convince ourselves that we are doing it for the right reasons.

Projection

“Projection is of the the commonest psychic phenomena…everything that is unconscious in ourselves we discover in our neighbor, and we treat him accordingly.”

Carl Jung (Archaic Man)

Ever heard the phrase “game recognize game”? This is the same idea. We have to have it in us to see it in other people. However, we love to tell ourselves that only other people have these disgusting traits and not us.

This is the most common way people deal with their shadow because it offers an opportunity for release every day. Whenever we see someone with unfavorable qualities, we can condemn them. Judge them unfairly and satisfy ourselves with justification that we are not like them.

I had a student whose parent was completely convinced that Hispanic students were the reason why California’s math scores are so low. He told me that it’s such a shame that Hispanic students don’t care about education and just want to get by. He explained to me, with great detail, about how he believes they are going to be the downfall of his beloved country. What he didn’t realize was his children, and himself, are the real perpetrators. Not because what he believes is racist and ignorant, but because his own children and himself don’t care about education and do everything they can just to get by. I worked with two of his kids and him long enough to know that they have those common attitudes, but I didn’t wrong him for it. I know that he was using projection as a form of shadow release.

What we hate in other people, we usually hate in ourselves.

Personas of the Unintegrated Shadow

Another way to recognize the shadow within ourselves is by paying attention to the personas which the shadow uses to show itself.

The Tough Guy

We all know the guy who’s too tough for life. These characters express hyper masculine roughness to signal that they’re the alpha dog. This guy likes to brag about all the women he’s slept with, fights he’s won, or deals he’s negotiated. This doesn’t just apply to men, this persona can be adopted by women who’ve accessed deep levels of their animus.

It’s easy to be intimidated by these types but they are like The Repressed Good Child. Unable to accept their sensitive and emotionally vulnerable sides, they only allow themselves to be “strong.”

Without acceptance of emotional vulnerability, The Tough Guy is susceptible to losing control when met with something that challenges or upsets them. We can recognize The Tough Guy within ourselves and learn to accept emotional vulnerability. We can also recognize it in others so we can be mindful of stirring insecurities or understand potential over reactions.

The Tough Guy pretends to be tough because really he is sensitive.

The Saint

These types are the shining examples of who we ought to be. They emanate goodness and purity as well as have seemingly endless compassion for the dispossessed. If malevolence and deceit surround them, they stand uncorrupted and above it all.

However, as we know if these sides of ourselves are not intentionally developed then they are masquerades for the opposite. The Saint has a secret thirst for power, attention, and all things sensual. The Saint acts as a pillar of benevolence, but once in power the shadow takes over and turns the progressive merciful angel into an intolerant punishing monster.

The Saint desires sex, money, and attention even though we may expect to believe otherwise. The Saint typically has a low tolerance for temptation and will use their power inappropriately if given the slightest opportunity. These types seem like incredible people to the public, but their family would testify otherwise.

We can seperate the true saints from the fakes through observing their actions and particular characteristics of their lives. How much do they enjoy power when they have it? How many goomahs do they have? Do they have a flavor of self-absorption that underlies their behavior?

Keeping a safe distance from these Shadow Saints is the best way to handle them. They’re after power and nothing else. Don’t be fooled by their show.

The Passive-Aggressive Charmer

These characters are difficult to deal with because they are so damn nice. When you first meet, they’re accommodating and smile a lot. They seem like a giant ball of positive energy and are surprisingly helpful too! Everything is fantastic until we see some action that seems so out of character – they explode on someone, talk shit behind your back, or sabotage you in some way.

These types probably learned at a young age that their innate aggression is bad. Maybe they had slightly more aggressive tendencies than other kids and had difficulty controlling them. Over time, they push that aggression deeper and deeper down into the depths of the shadow. They project auras of kindness and accomodation, but with a hint of aggression. They hate playing this role and will seek to break character whenever they’re tired or stressed.

Extreme niceness is not natural behavior and people with excessive accomodating behavior are likely trying to cover up the opposite.

The Frantic

Frantics can be pretty intense people. They are firm in their beliefs, speak with vigor, don’t compromise, clean often, and emit confidence. People love to flock to them because they are so compelling and reliable.

As we know, if someone is trying to hard to project an image then they must be unconsciously compensating for the opposite trait that lurks within them. Frantics are secretly terrified that they aren’t enough. Maybe from an early age they learned to doubt their self-worth. They don’t believe in themselves, so they project an image of conviction and stability to prevent other people from discovering who they truly are.

The Rigid Rationalist

These types tend to reject all the irrational tendencies humans have. The things that interest people aren’t always in line with pure reason. People love their myths, superstitions, woowoo explainations, and the supernatural. Being rational is exhausting and the majority of the biggest decisions made in our lives are rarely based in reason. Reason is still bound by our general myopia and can only extend as far as we know.

Repressing our irrational tendencies pushes them deeper into the shadow, allowing the irrationality to brew in the darkness. Once all irrationality is seemingly dealt with, the rigid rationalist only has room for science and analytics. Disregarding all other forms of thinking, these types will worship at the altar of science and take communion in the scientific method. If they are confronted with an argument, they will present their rational ideals with a heavy hand and maybe even a hint of anger. Their irrational tendencies lines the edges of their rational arguments making them seem almost more primitive than the archaic people who came before them.

True rationality is stoic and sober. It questions itself and does not fall in love with it’s own creations. It does not seek publicity, but truth.

The Snob

Snobs are the people who feel like they need to be better than everyone else. In Adlerian terms, they must assert their superiority over the masses. They have extremely refined tastes and knowledge in music, art, fine dining, or anything reffered to as “Classic“. They do what they can to stand out, so they’ll have unique tattoos and play into the “alternative” scene. They usually have extraordinary backgrounds too because every damn thing about them just seems so much better than the average.

We can imagine their lives being free of the mundane, but the reality is the boring and vapid as well as the exciting and lively. The Snob projects an image of extraordinary flair because they are more sensitive about their banality than the average person. The Snob secretly desires to be boring and ordinary, but carefully builds a shell of specialized knowledge and extraordinary aesthetics.

The Extreme Entrepreneur

These types seem like they have a slew of positive traits, especially for entrepreneurial work. They pay serious attention to detail and have incredibly high standards. They’ll usually do the work themselves because they want the work to be done “correctly.”

While these traits do brings a certain level of success, they create a cancer deep inside. The Extreme Entrepreneur tends to have a difficult time listening to people and rarely takes advice. They pride themselves of their limited understanding of self-reliance and usually mistrust others who don’t share their high standards.

This increased desire for self-reliance will push our desire to rely on others down into the shadow. When the shadow shows itself it’s usually in the form of medical or financial ruin. Suddenly, the independent business owner becomes dependent on doctors and financial advisors. These types never want to admit their desire for dependency. So in order to release themselves from this prison, they subconsciously a drawn to creating enough chaos to force them into dependency. These types tend to be successful in early life, but later tend to cause a lot of collateral damage.

“There are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth.”

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

If we don’t accept these sides of ourselves, they will come out and make themselves known in a much uglier way. The best way to deal with the shadow is not to ignore it, but to integrate it into our personalities.

Integrating the Shadow

Shadow integration can be completed in just 4 difficult steps:

  1. 1. Identify Our Own Shadow – the most difficult step in the process because we like to reject, ignore, and avoid this side of ourselves.
  2. The best way to see it is to pay attention to if we are acting out The Common Signs of Shadow Release.
  3. We can also pay attention to any one-sided traits in ourselves and assume that the opposite trait is buried deep within us. They usually are.
  4. Sometimes we say we hate certain kinds of behavior or people because we reject those qualities in ourselves.
  5. An example could be when someone is saying “I hate when people are late,” they are really covering up for their secret proclivity to be late themselves.
  6. Or “I hate when people cause drama” is covering up for a secret desire to surround themselves with drama.

Sensitivity to certain remarks is another fantastic indicator of shadowed areas of ourselves.

There are tons of ways to examine ourselves, the key is not to judge what we find but to accept it. It is part of us. It’s not evil.

2. Embrace Our Shadow – When we see our shadow for the first time it will be uncomfortable and the natural reaction will be to repress it.

Embracing our shadow and making it a goal to integrate it, rather than repress it, will help us give off a more authentic presentation. Seeking to integrate the shadow will make it easier to embrace it.

3. Explore Our Shadow – The shadow has depths further than our imagination. When exploring these depths we will find our darkest (even criminalistic) desires and animalistic impulses. It will be shocking, but we will have tapped into new power. The world’s greatest art dives deep into these depths and shows them to us, that is why we are so enamored by them.

4. Consciously Release Our Shadow – releasing our shadow is like an exorcism of sorts, we release the demons and enhance our presence as human beings. Releasing the shadow frees us from the jail of endless social codes. It’s more expensive to be nice and differential than consciously showing our shadow – the niceness is good at first but if gone without shadow integration, niceness becomes timidity, lack of confidence, and indecision.

“Unfortunately there is no doubt about the fact that man is, as a whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”

Carl Jung (1875-1961)
Categories
Education Productivity

Strategies for Better Studying (Part 1)

“All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we much think them over again honestly, until they take root in our personal experience.”

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

In light of my last post, Active Recall and Spaced Repetition, I want to go over different study methods that can be used with those principles in mind. Proven study methods used in conjunction with active recall and spaced repetition is the winning formula for any student looking to get better grades with less work and stress. It doesn’t matter which method you use, as long as the principles are being practiced. Pick the a strategy, combine it with another, modify it so it can fit your needs. I want my students to have an arsenal of methods to so they can design their own perfectly personalized study system. Over the next 4 weeks, I’m going to explore some of the most popular study methods that we can use to chop up, modify, and customize.

The Pomodoro Technique and its Modification

You may or may not be familiar with the word Pomodoro, but it’s Italian for tomato. I’ve been watching an absurd amount of The Sopranos lately, so I figured it would be appropriate to start with the Italian themed strategy. Now, I know what you’re thinking..

What do tomatoes have to do with studying?

Absolutely nothing. Pomodoro was the name of the tomato shaped timer that Francesco Cirillo used when he developed this technique!

Feast Your Eyes

The Pomodoro technique can be executed in 7 fairly simple steps:

  1. Clearly articulating what task needs to be done
  2. Setting a pomodoro timer (or any timer) to 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task without interruption for the 25 minutes
  4. Take a break for 3-5 minutes
  5. Repeat Steps 2 through 4 at least 4 times
  6. Take a longer 15-30 minute break
  7. Repeat as many times as needed

Each work interval of 25 minutes is commonly known as a Pomodoro. Do 4-5 pomodoros then take a long break. I use this method all the time just to get started! For me, starting something is usually the hardest part. My brain doesn’t like the idea of sitting down and working on something for hours, but when I practice the pomodoro technique, it’s much easier to get the ball rolling if I think I’m only going to be working on this for 25 minutes.

Using the Pomodoro Technique is a really great strategy and you will get tons of work done if it’s executed properly, but I find that I get my best work done when I’ve been working on something for hours uninterrupted and the Pomodoro Technique inherently comes with interruptions. So what I do is modify the technique to fit my own personal needs. If I’m feeling like it, I’ll use this technique the way it was designed but more often than not I just use it as a catalyst to begin my work flow.

In all honesty, I have an incredibly difficult time sitting down and writing for hours or producing for hours but over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at negotiating with myself to get things done. One of the deals I make with myself constantly is just do 1 pomodoro then you can play video games. Sometimes I work the 25 minutes and go play my video games, but most of the time I ride the momentum that I build during that first pomodoro and get shit done. When I make this deal with myself, I end up being more focused too. Getting my work done is important to me, so knowing that I only have this limited time to get it done helps me stay focused. There’s something about having a short time line that gets us out of our own way. The best part of that discovery is being able to trick our minds into getting out of its own way.

The pomodoro technique is effective because it works under the assumption that we get our best work done within the first 25 or so minutes of beginning. It’s easy to come to this conclusion, if we examine our productivity as a function of attention span. I view my attention span as a period of time which I can voluntarily focus on something without suffering or wanting to do something else. There are certain days and conditions that contribute to a longer attention span, but on average my attention span is about an hour. There are been times when I really developed myself in this domain and I got it up to 3 hours but there have also been times in my life when I let it drop to 10 minutes. There’s no shame or ought when it comes to attention span, but I think it is something we should take into account when we are designing systems to optimize our learning capacity. Rather than define a pomodoro as 25 minutes, I define a pomodoro as equal to my attention span at the time. It’s useless to sit down and stare at your paper if the only purpose is to wait out a pomodoro session. Adjust the length of each session and you have a game plan that works best for you, but that leave us with the question:

How do we know how long our attention span is?

So there are ways to determine an attention span, but what I find best is to just start a timer whenever you start a project and whenever you feel the desire to seek out different stimulation or take a break stop the timer. I spent a day and timed my attention span (and because I’m a total math nerd) I averaged it out and defined that as my pomodoro. Nowadays, my pomodoros last about an hour, but on days when I’m not feeling up to it I make them as low as 10 minutes. This is a great technique to bang out loads of work and overcome that high activation energy required to get started.

The Feynman Technique

I’ve mentioned this technique in earlier posts, Active Recall and Note-Taking, and it’s fairly simple. The Feynman Technique is based on the idea that we truly understand something if we can explain it in simple terms. When I first started tutoring, I wasn’t aware of all the different learning and studying theories but I noticed that I was gaining a deep understanding of math quicker and faster than my students. At first I thought it was strictly a function of time. Since I’m doing math more often than them, I’m improving faster than them. But I’ve always felt like there was a bigger reason and it is because I was constantly explaining complex ideas in a simple way. This exercise 1) forces me to find any holes in my knowledge and 2) is an excellent active recall technique. If I’m explaining something that I don’t have a deep understanding of, then I’ll stumble while I try to explain these topics. I’ll take note of that stumble and fill that little knowledge pothole, so next time I run the neural pathway it’ll be smooth.

If you don’t have another person to explain it to, try writing it down in simple terms and reading it after some time has passed. It takes more effort, so it may actually be more effective. Explaining concepts to other people, especially students, gives an opponent processing benefit but writing it out and reading it back to yourself is an excellent test for understanding.

Incorporate Concepts into Everyday Speech

This is one of those things I’m always doing without people knowing. By sliding these new concepts into conversations with people helps with firing the neurons connected to the concepts you’re interested in. I tend to look like a nerd, but I don’t mind because I get my recall in. Additionally, using the information in a creative way helps with retention.

Most people usually don’t see conversations as a creative, but they are! We are creating conversation and humans live in conversation. Our environments are results of our conversations and by injecting our concepts into our speech, we build the concepts right into our fabric of reality. The idea of speech being one of our superpowers is an old one and definitely deserves it’s own time in the sun, but I’ll just leave this tip here. Incorporating our newly found knowledge into our everyday speech is a solid strategy to get those neural pathways fired and help with knowledge retention.

Simulate the Test Environment

For a while many of my students would do fantastic when I’m working with them, but when it comes to taking the test they end up failing! They understood the material fine and whenever I’d ask them what they think happened they tell me that they forget everything when they’re under pressure. This problem drove me crazy for a long time, until I took a deep dive into the human mind to understand.

Our minds are constantly making associations and we perceive the world on so many different levels. I recommend checking out Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning lecture series for those interested in diving deep into why that is. Our minds and bodies are navigating space and time constantly fluctuating between order and chaos. The world of what we already understand and the world of what we don’t. When we’re in the world of order, we aren’t anxious and can predict the outcome of our actions. When we’re taking a test, it’s much more comfortable to operate in the world of order. However, taking a test in a classroom is different than taking a test at home.

While it seems like the same thing, the test in a classroom environment is unfamiliar to the parts of ourselves that are adapted to the test in a home environment. The unfamiliarity causes us to activate the parts of us that navigate the world of chaos and that part of us may not be equipped to handle the questions on the test. This is why many students, including myself, don’t perform as well on tests than we do while we’re practicing. The solution to this problem is to simulate the test environment as much as possible while studying. The small associations we make while learning (or studying) the material can act as cues when we are trying to recall the information later. That’s why my students do better when practicing math with me. We usually practice in the same place, so their minds are associating their work with myself as well as the environment around us. Those minor associations make the recall significantly easier!

Back in high school, I noticed that my calculus skills were much better when I was in my math class but I didn’t know why. Today, my math skills are much better when I’m at a student’s home or in the tutoring center. I’m not as math savvy in my personal life.

“No Stakes” Practice

Every since I was a kid, I’ve always liked the idea of practicing something with no serious consequences. (Probably because life tends to be unwavering about consequences.) The opportunity to be a n00b is powerful because it frees us up. It gives us the freedom to make mistakes, and mistakes light the path to mastery. When we’re free to make mistakes, we’re free to learn. I talk more about this is my The Power of Failure post. Not to brag, but I’m constantly told that I make difficult academic subjects easy not because I explain things well, but because I have a relaxed attitude about it. I was so surprised when I first heard this, but after reflecting on it for a while it made complete sense. Once my students understood that nothing bad really happens if they make mistakes, they are more willing to give things a try. In those attempts, mistakes would inevitably be made but they would learn from every single one.

When we try something new, or if we’re trying to improve a skill, we should allow ourselves “No Stakes” practice. Trial runs with nothing at stake tend to carry high yield lessons. I don’t just try this strategy when I’m studying, although it is fantastic for it, I also use it when I draft blog posts and make music. I give myself a “no stakes” pomodoro, so I have a definite time when I can stop making trash but that time is crucial because I edit that trash into most of the creative projects I put out. I freedom to make mistakes is priceless, don’t underestimate the value of “no stakes” practice.

Categories
Education Lifestyle

Our Proclivity for Comfort

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”

C.S. Lewis (1889 – 1963)

We love to look for comfort, but seeking out comfort can lead to taking shortcuts and avoiding challenges. The comfortable path enables us to practice habits which reward instant gratification and that prevents any long term goals from ever coming to fruition. This isn’t to say that the way to success is paved by only misery and suffering. There is a balance to be found between living a comfortable life and living a meaningful life. That balance could never be achieved if one was aiming at comfort, but it could possibly be achieved through aiming at truth. Finding the truth gives us a realistic view of what is required for success and only there it is possible to make peace with the high price success and meaning demands. Living a significant life is expensive, and the price can only be paid if we know it exists. That price of meaning lies in the truth but is masked by comfort. The unfortunate part of it all, is that humans have a need to be comfortable. It feels so good, and on some level makes life worth living all on its own.

It’s worthwhile to chase truth because it will make us smarter, tougher, more creative and dangerous. If we know what is true and share it correctly with others, then they will give us money and opportunities. The pursuit of truth will give us access to unlimited worthwhile experiences. We will become the beings which shapes the world around them.

Chasing comfort is terrible because we stop failing and when we stop failing, we stop learning. We can think of being comfortable as being in an environment in which everything is acting as we expect. While that sounds like a great place to be, the problem is we never need to learn anything if everything is working out exactly as we expect. If there is no mismatch between the actual environment and our expected environment, then our brains find no use in learning something new. Why bother? Everything is working perfectly. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it amiright? But when we dwell in the realm of order we don’t fail and because we don’t fail, we don’t learn. If we don’t learn, then we can’t become the people we want to be. I go more in depth on this in my post about The Power of Failure. Humans are creatures of necessity and we only learn something new if we need to, so if everything around is is perfectly fine then there is no learning taking place.

Be mindful of when you want to take the comfortable path. It’s probably going to take you the long way and make your journey more difficult. I know this all too well from personal experience. When making decisions, I find it worthwhile to evaluate my own intentions so I don’t change my behavior solely because something is comfortable. I change to be effective, not to be comfortable because I believe the comfort will come as a byproduct of being more effective.

I really learned this lesson a few years deep into my college career. For a long time, I was a chronic procrastinator and I would always wait until the last minute to do my assignments. I remember back in middle school, whenever I would get a huge project assigned I just automatically thought that meant I was going to be miserable the night before it was due. Eventually, I decided to try things differently three years into college. When I got assignments I would do them the day they were assigned with the same tenacity and velocity that I would have if I worked on it the night before it was due. It was extremely uncomfortable at first, but I stuck with it for a month and found that I had way less stress and was more comfortable than I would have been if I focused on my momentary instantaneous comfort. I had years of experience with putting assignments off until the last minute and I was familiar with how prioritizing comfort felt, but that month felt so great that it was enough incentive to kick my chronic procrastination habit for good! Like everyone else, I am human and I will procrastinate occasionally, but I know first hand the value of not procrastinating. Nowadays, I never procrastinate projects that are important to me. The clear mind I have when I don’t procrastinate in conjunction with the additional time for revisions is a sure fire way to perform better with less stress.

The easy way out often leads back in.

The Last Man vs. The Superman

“Too many people believe that everything must be pleasurable in life, which makes them constantly search for distractions and short-circuits the learning process.”

Robert Greene (1959 – )

In Nietzsche’s relatively poetic Thus Spake Zarathustra, a prophet named Zarathustra preaches to people in a town regarding his own wisdom accrued from his careful reflection upon a mountaintop. He delivers a powerful, but ill received, talk about the ways of The Superman and The Last Man to a crowd awaiting a performance of a tightrope walker.

The Superman-Last Man dichotomy is a huge idea but I want to highlight a few characteristics of each and how it explains our proclivity for comfort. The Übermensch, also translated to Beyond-Man or Superman, can be thought of as the man who is dedicated to the goal which he sets for himself. *Disclaimer: Nietzsche believed that men could create values for themselves and while this can be true for some men, it is not true for all so when I suggest that we should strive to be Übermensch, I mean that we should strive in a way that benefits ourselves, our families, and our communities.* I think Kyra explains the The Superman fantastically in her post when she said “all about challenging the status quo, and truly thinking about life beyond what he is told. The Superman goes on the tedious journey of creating a work that will outlast his life.” On the other hand, The Last Man is named appropriately so because he who lives like The Last Man will be the last of his kind. The Last Man takes no risks and engrosses themselves with distractions such as fancy careers, the latest social event, and happiness to avoid seriously thinking about the meaning of these things. The Last Man pursues only comfort and security, consumes more than he creates, and never challenges the axioms of his time. The Last Man resents his suffering and seeks to alleviate it while the Superman takes in his suffering and channels it into something more.

Appropriately enough, the tightrope walker is the only one who was receptive to the message Zarathustra was putting forward. Nietzsche did a fantastic job dramatizing the dichotomy of The Superman and The Last Man by juxtaposing the tightrope walker with the crowd. Not only was the tightrope walker the only person who understood the message, which suggests he’s closer to manifesting The Superman than anyone else, but he was already demonstrating the characteristics of The Superman by being the one who is giving the performance to the crowd.

Zarathustra describes man as “a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman-a rope over an abyss” and I believe that’s an accurate representation of existence of human beings. We are constantly trying to regulate and integrate our animalistic (Last Man-esque) tendencies by striving to bring out the best in ourselves and if we choose not to play that game, then we end up in an existential abyss where we are susceptible to pathological ideologies.

Existence of Man – Christopher S. Mukiibi (2019)

We either walk the tightrope or we get swallowed by pure chaos. Most of us choose to walk the tightrope, but the inconvenient truth is that walking towards The Superman end of the rope is a difficult endeavor. It’s much more comfortable to drift towards The Last Man end and it’s useful to keep this in mind. The choices we have to make to walk towards to Superman are always going to be difficult but that is the price to create something of worth and operate at the edge of your abilities. It’s painful in the moment, but something worthwhile always comes out the other side. Walking towards the Superman is like sitting on the edge of order and chaos, but we are imposing our will on the chaos we encounter and creating order of our own accord. This allows us to create and design the worlds we want to live in, but it comes from resisting the urge to drift towards The Last Man.

Handling Discomfort

Life is tough and part of what makes it tough is being aware of our relative presence in the universe and the inevitable demise of ourselves and all of our loved ones. However, in a certain light death can seem like a sweet release from an exhausting existence so it’s not the only one to blame for the inherent unfair suffering of life. From a Piagetian perspective, babies initially don’t understand much about how to operate in the world, but over time they accommodate and assimilate new information to expand their sphere of competence. The steps of development can look something like: we think we understand, we realize that we don’t understand anything, we learn something new, we think we understand again, we repeat. Our lives are made up of times in which the world makes sense to us and our current frames of understanding are sufficient to operate powerfully in the world, and there are times when the world shows us it’s true complexity. In the times we are present to the complexity of the universe, we suffer. We realize our inadequacies, our insecurities, and vulnerabilities. This cycle is painful, but it’s built into life as we know it and it’s how we learn. Now, this isn’t to say suffering is the ONLY way to learn. We also learn to satiate curiosity but that can be in itself is dangerous.

The combination of all of these things contributes to what is known as the inherent suffering of life. It’s hard to be human and we all have different ways of dealing with it. The Norwegian metaphysicist Peter Zapffe categorized how we deal with the inherent suffering of life in four broad categories: isolation, anchoring, distraction, and sublimation. The first three are characteristic of Nietzsche’s idea of The Last Man, while the fourth, sublimation, is characteristic of the Superman. Keep in mind that these methods never solve the problem of the inherent tragedy, but simply repress our awareness of it.

Zapffe’s 4 Methods of Repression

Isolation

Have you ever looked at all the stuff you have to do and get really sleepy? That initial reaction to the tragedy of life is our proclivity towards what Zapffe refers to as Isolation. Zapffe defines isolation, in the context of a method of repression, as “a fully arbitrary dismissal from consciousness of all disturbing and destructive thought and feeling.” Other examples of isolation include hitting the snooze button to stay in bed longer, keeping yourself away from things that scare you, or keeping your ears away from opposing views. Isolation is comfortable, it keeps us warm and justifies our preexisting ideas, but it’s dangerous. When we isolate ourselves we stop encountering the natural chaos of the universe and that prevents us from learning and learning is something we want to do, it gives us the tools we need to not suffer more than we already do. The key to learn more is to throw ourselves into challenging, complicated, and unknown situations. To hell with isolation!

Anchoring

Little kids are an interesting phenomena to observe because despite their lack of knowledge of the complex world around them, they manage to survive. How? The tragedy of life doesn’t hold back just because someone is a child but what the child does is combat the complexity of the world with the aid of an adult. The kid explores the world with their simple understanding and they are able to do so because the real complexity of the world is mediated by the more complex understanding of the adult. Since this is a winning strategy, the child learns to develop a want for adults to handle difficult and complex situations. The child uses the adult as a wall the protect itself from the overly complicated parts of existence and this “wall” is known as an anchor. The best part is that adults never stop doing this just because they “grow up.” They shift their anchor to something else like their childhood home, neighborhood or nation. Zapffe defined anchoring as “a fixation of points within, or construction of walls around, the liquid fray of consciousness…the happiest…protection against the cosmos that we ever get to know in life.” Anchoring explains how people can drift towards gangs or radical nationalist groups. It also explains people’s desire to cling to what they know. The unfortunate side effect of anchoring is similar to isolation – you cling to your walls, you stop encountering the unknown, you stop learning, you suffer more. It’s easy and comforting to cling to what we know, but it’s treating the symptom and not the disease. If we release our anchors, we can learn more things and become more competent and that competence will spill over into other parts of our lives.

Distraction

Distraction is usually the preferred form of repression from people who often find themselves bored or those who feel like they need to “burn time.” Both of these characteristics are actually desires for existential distraction masqueraded as innocuous states of being. Zapffe defines distraction as “A very popular mode of protection [where] one limits attention to the critical bounds by constantly enthralling it with impression.” Modern technology is proof that Zapffe’s speculations of distraction being a popular option was correct. Our streaming services, social media, video games, and cell phones are just a few examples of modern tech that rewards us for distracted thinking and condition us to expect continuous information input. This isn’t a critique of modern technology, it’s just that these particular characteristics of modern technology were created by us to fulfill our desires for distraction. Our need for distraction is so deep that we’ve built machines that rewards us for not thinking about the inherent suffering of life. On a personal note, distraction drives me crazy. It’s such a plague to everything beautiful about human beings. When we ignore the distractions of this sort, we create something truly special.

Personally, I’m always at war with the side of myself that wants to drift towards The Last Man and it takes a tremendous effort to overcome it but the unfortunately reality is that people usually aren’t checking their own tendencies and allow their distraction to inhibit others. You see it in mindless entertainment, insatiable consumption, insufferable parties, and fake performances. Distraction is destructive but the payoff is massive – given we’re distracted properly. If we’re distracted, then we don’t have the burden of thinking about the tragedy of life, but we lose the ability to see life for what it truly is, in all it’s beauty and catastrophe and this blindness prevents us from bringing fourth our Jungian Self.

Sublimation

So what happens if isolation, anchoring and distraction aren’t enough? Zapffe describes a fourth method in which one transforms the problem into purpose. This is known as Sublimation. It is what people inevitably do when the other three methods aren’t sufficient. In an essay he wrote which regarded the four methods of repression, he says “the present essay is a typical example of sublimation. The author does not suffer. He is filling pages, and is going to be published in a journal.” I say that is a perfect example of sublimation. Sublimation is characteristic of The Superman, as mentioned above, because in order to create something that may outlast you, you must channel the inherent tragedy of life into something other than complete despair and anxiety. In order to create, we must sublimate. Sublimation can also be defined as channeling the energy from an inappropriate urge to an appropriate urge. In this case, the impact that the tragedy of life has on us can be channeled into something that can help others deal with the tragedy as well (an appropriate urge) rather than using it as an excuse to shoot up a school (an inappropriate urge). This is where creation is born. Creation can be seen as internalizing the world around us and transforming the parts of suffering into something novel and good. I like to think that I practice this with my blog, music, lesson plans, and my other creative endeavors. After all, most of my passions came to be because I was trying to deal with suffering and had a desire to alleviate that same suffering for others.

A fascinating feat of creation is that our creations are made by us but they take a life of their own once they are out in the world. Jawed Karin, Steve Chen, and Chad Hurley had no idea what they were really creating when they founded YouTube. Sure, YouTube is a place to upload videos but now that it’s out in the world it’s become much more than just a space to share videos. YouTube has become the modern Library of Alexandria, it’s the modern Gutenberg printing press but for the spoken word rather than the written word. Creations become something else as they live their lives and it’s impossible for us to know exactly what that is at the time of inception. All creation shares this peculiar characteristic – to come into a life of its own and impact the world in it’s own manner. The best part is that all human beings have this capacity and it is the best solution to repress the tragedy of life. We momentarily diverge our attention towards from the horrors and simultaneously create something which may contribute positively to the human experience.


We have a tendency towards comfortable things, and while the comfort can make life worth living, there is an expensive price to be paid for chasing what’s comfortable. When we are uncomfortable, we learn and when we learn, we don’t have to suffer more than we already do. Being comfortable stops us from expanding our spheres of competence but it also robs us of the highest potential within ourselves. It feels good to be The Last Man, but we will be the last of our kind if we give in to these tendencies. Strive to be the Superman, avoid all distractions, sublimate your tragedy, dive into the unknown, create something better for the world. That something can take the form of anything we please.