It’s Not Very Nice To Be Nice

Self No Comments

013ChildNoEatHave you and a friend ever had the following conversation about what to eat for dinner?

Me: Where do you want to eat?
Friend: I dunno. Where do you want to eat?
Me: Anywhere is good. What’s your preference?
Friend: Oh, anything is good.
Me: Uh, how about Persian?
Friend: Nah, I had that yesterday.
Me: How about Italian?
Friend: Italian gives me indigestion.
Me: Hmm, how about Thai?

The above happens when people try to be nice to each other. Just don’t!

In the past, I wanted to be a nice person and tried to be and do things that I thought a nice person would be and do. And that ended up not being a very nice thing to do. I thought that being nice meant to be accommodating and to be willing to do things for others, sometimes at the expense of inconveniencing myself. In the end, I was being dishonest and not so nice to others and myself.

Almost a decade ago, on a trip to Central America, I was being so nice and accommodating that I ended up pissing off my travel companion. She told me to just stop it and tell her the truth. Evidently, I expressed no strong opinions or preferences and she couldn’t engage me as a real person because effectively I had no personality. After a while, it was more than she could bear.

She gave me pause (for which I will be ever thankful) and I took a hard look at my behavior and myself. She was right. In trying to be nice to others, I ended up being dishonest to myself. I didn’t respect my own wants, desires, and needs enough to express and assert them. I wasn’t being true to myself, and that was not being very nice to my friends and family.

Let me clarify for those who might be suffering from the “nice” virus. Being honest and assertive does not mean being confrontational and combative. It just means to express your preferences to others. Share your likes and dislikes. When you say, “I don’t care”, it should really be because you don’t care. Don’t be “nice”, only to resent the outcome. If you feel strongly about something, then take a stand on it. You may not get it, but others will know where you are coming from. They will know you and that is the nicest gift that you can give them.

Being accommodating can transfer the burden of decision making to friends and family. Because I did not express my likes and dislikes in a misguided attempt to put their needs before mine, I made them responsible for the decision and the outcome. They may feel uneasy because they are unsure that what they choose is something I would like. Even though I professed to not care, they know that it is unrealistic to not care all the time. Can you see how unfair and unnecessary this burden is?

Here’s how I would handle the dinner conversation nowadays:

Me: Where do you want to eat?
Friend: I dunno. Where do you want to eat?
Me: I am in the mood for Persian.
Friend: Nah, I had that yesterday.
Me: Ok, tell me what food you don’t want to eat tonight.
       No Mexican or Chinese for me.

Please don’t go to the opposite extreme and become a scrooge. If the outcome is not important to you and you feel like being accommodating, then be accommodating. If you care about the outcome, then ask for it. If you don’t get it, then shoot for compromise instead of accommodation. Compromise is when both teams have some skin in the game, while accommodation is when one team never bothered to play. If I care about the other team (friends and family) playing instead of me winning, the latter would irritate me a lot.

Once I stopped trying to be nice, it felt like a huge burden had lifted. It was very hard work being nice and accommodating all the time. I had more free time for myself because I wasn’t busy doing things for others. Now I relaxingly say what I want and am okay if I need to compromise. And once in a while, when I feel like it, I am very accommodating.

Case in point, here is a conversation that would have gone in a different direction if I had still been trying to be nice:

Friend: Could you give me a lift to the airport?
Me: Sure. It’s only a 15 minutes drive.
Friend: Oh, it’s not that airport; it’s the other one.
Me: You mean the one that is like an hour away?
Friend: Yes. I wanted to save money so got a flight from there.
(In my head: Ugh, so you want to save money, but are okay with me wasting my time and gas money? I don’t think so. Homey don’t play that.)
Me: Sorry, I don’t have the time. Have you considered taking the airport shuttle?

She ended up getting a ride from another friend, a very nice guy whom we both know.

Be a good friend and family member. Express your wants and needs clearly. Respect their needs and wants in return. Don’t be nice, definitely don’t be real nice, just be real.

No Comments

My Dying Will

Health 2 Comments

Some might consider this post macabre. Some might consider it funny. For me, it is deadly serious. Not.

When I die, I don’t wish to be a burden to my love ones. So here are some suggestions on what to do:

  1. No need for a showing. Folks can visit me later when I’m in a little jar or box. Or you can take me around to go visiting folks.
  2. No need for embalming and expensive makeup. I’m dead so there’s no point in trying to make me look like I’m just sleeping. Just dress me in whatever clothes I have lying around, preferably clean clothes; I still have some minimal standards.
  3. No need for a nice coffin, get the cheapest you can find. Even a pine box is fine. At that point, comfort is not a concern and I couldn’t care less about what others think. Also, that coffin will be destroyed momentarily.
  4. Cremate me. I’ve already left the body and there is no need to purchase real estate (aka, a cemetery plot) for that body. So, just burn me.
  5. Put my ashes into an empty jar or box, whatever you have on hand; for example, peanut jar, cigar box, etc. If you use a non-air-tight box, you might want to put me into a Ziploc bag to avoid accidental spillage.
  6. Stick me on the mantle or in a cabinet until such time as you no longer require evidence of my past presence or are just doing spring cleaning.
  7. Or bury my ashes in the backyard. Toss my ashes into a lake or the ocean. If you are pressed for time, the toilet is fine. Make sure to flush twice.

There, was that so bad?

2 Comments

Acceptance: I Think And Feel, Therefore Nothing

Self No Comments

In the Anger Antidote, I spoke about how forgiveness and acceptance of myself, without anger, blame or shame, can clear the past of my regrets. Previous to that, I wrote about how in the end, it is the mental mass (of which, past regrets are a type of) that is the “real” important mass that weighs me down and should be the target for removal. At the end of that post, I briefly described a method to manage the fears of the present and the worries of the future (both are mental mass) by being aware of new thoughts and feelings and accepting them without attachment. I wanted to use this post to explore that method in greater depth.

About 4 years ago, I was reading a book, “The Not So Big Life” by Sarah Susanka, an architect and author. I had enjoyed her previous book, the “Not So Big House”, which suggests that a house is a home and that a smaller house that is designed around our lives is better. In the “The Not So Big Life”, Ms. Susanka was attempting to evolve that concept beyond architecture into the messy arena of life. When reading Chapter 9, I came upon a sentence, “I Am Not That Thought”, which caused me to re-examine some of my core beliefs.

Until then, I had believed in “Cogito ergo sum” (Descartes: “I think, there I am.”); basically, that my thoughts are me. Ms. Susanka’s sentence suggested the opposite, that my thoughts are not me. I began to question both premises and tried to be mindful of where my thoughts were coming from and their effect on me. I found that while some thoughts followed other thoughts (from “it’s nice to have a cat” to “we’ll need to get vet shots and cat food”), there were brand new thoughts that came from nowhere (while I’m playing tennis, I would think “a yacht would be hella cool to own” or “if I went into law, what happens if I fail the bar? That would suck big time”).

While watching my thoughts, I became aware that feelings exhibited the same behavior. Some feelings followed my thoughts (“if I fail the bar, I would feel bad”) and other feelings just appeared out of nowhere (“I’m sad and I can’t figure out why”). And if I attempted to explore why that feeling came into being, new thoughts were created from the feelings (“I’m pissed and it must be because of Fred forgetting about that”). My final observation is that thoughts and feelings came together, with varying strengths, and new thoughts and feelings may not have an origin.

Where do these new thoughts and feelings come from? I don’t really know; maybe from an overactive brain trying to make sense of random inputs? All I can do is to figure out how to prevent the bad thoughts and feelings from sticking to me. And stick they did, especially to similar, older bad thoughts and feelings that were already stuck on me. And once stuck, they had a life of their own, basically my life.

With practice, I realized that I could observe my thoughts and feelings as they came into being. At first, I called it “the gap between stimulus and response”; later, just “the gap” because sometimes there was no stimulus and no response. At first, the gap was very small but with practice and time, it became larger. In that gap, I had the opportunity to decide how to react to each new thought and feeling.

I learned that that best action is to accept them, good or bad. To acknowledge their existence with true acceptance, not to have any attachment as to whether they are good or bad. They just are. They exist. If you judge them, reject/deny/oppose them as bad, attach to them as good, they will get energy from you. To deny something is to attach to that thing and give it continued existence. So just don’t.

You must learn to accept those thoughts and feelings, acknowledging their existence without judgment or attachment. Once you do, those thoughts and feelings will lose their power over you. They will come and they will go. Thoughts will cause feelings (“Bob backstab me in the back, I am so angry”), and feelings will cause thoughts (“why do I feel so angry? It’s because Bob backstab me in the back”). You must accept both thoughts and feelings, and their ancestors; which are similar old thoughts and feelings that are attached to you and get re-activated by your reaction to the new thoughts and feelings. As you use forgiveness and acceptance, the old thoughts and feelings will lose power and disappear. Over time, there will be less and less past “bad” thoughts and feelings to attract future “bad” thoughts and feelings.

You may think that it is okay to be attached to “good” thoughts and feelings. But there is a dark side to that. For example, you are happy that your friend called you on your birthday and make a judgment (“gee, what a great, conscientious friend. She really cares about me”). You get attached to this judgment and set an expectation concerning your friend. In the future, should she forget to call you on your birthday, that expectation is not met and the reverse judgment may be made (“she is not a good friend”) followed by “bad” feelings toward her. Instead, be happy that she called and avoid attachments to that action. In the future, if she calls again, great, if not, no biggie.

True acceptance without any attachment is a tough skill to acquire and tougher to continue doing year after year. For help with learning what acceptance is, I suggest reading Byron Katie’s “Loving What Is”. Ms. Katie’s “The Work” is a helpful tool to explore what acceptance means. In the book, Ms. Katie uses Reality as a teacher. Most, if not all, of our attachments contradict Reality and cause friction between us and “What Is”. “The Work” involves questioning our attachments, letting them go, and accepting, even loving, Reality.

In the end, I decided that thoughts and feelings were a part of me, but they did not have to drive my behavior and being. I could think or feel something, but I didn’t have to act on it or let it affect my state of being permanently. Over time (almost a year), I learned to be okay with not knowing where new thoughts and feelings came from. I learned to let them go. I accepted their existence without attachment, briefly thought the thought and felt the feeling, decided how I would continue behaving or being, and then allowed them to stay or go as they please. If I fully accept my thoughts and feelings, don’t deny, resent, reject, or oppose them, they will usually leave as quickly as they came. Definitely, I am more than just my thoughts and feelings!

Along the way, I thought, wait a second, who is the “I” that is aware of my new thoughts and feelings? “I” seemed to exist independent of my thoughts and feelings. The “me” that observes the thoughts and feelings, and feels the sensations of my body, seemed to be different and separate. I think that this “me” is my consciousness and the self-awareness that I have read about, but have never examined directly until now.

It occurred to me that the reason I had gotten into trouble in the past was because I had not been conscious and aware of my thoughts and feelings. I had allowed them to drive me. I had been sleeping at the wheel and allowing my thoughts and feelings to wreck and ruin my experience of life. Sometimes life was good, sometimes it was bad, but most of the time, it was mediocre, because sleep walking is mediocre and that was what I had been doing. It was time for my awareness to take the driver’s seat.

I found that if I do not act on my fears of the present (by not reacting or attaching to thoughts and feelings), I avoid the worries of the future (which are projected fear). If I don’t fear the present, what is there to worry about in the future? Life got a lot better and freer. In Anger Antidote, I learned that true forgiveness leads to acceptance. And in the experience described by this post, I learned that true acceptance leads to freedom, where my self-awareness can act as it chooses without baggage (past regrets), attachments (judgments about present thoughts and feelings), or future concerns (worries). With forgiveness and acceptance, I have learned a different, better way to like and love myself, and this has opened up a way to like and love others in the same manner.

Before I end this post, I would like to throw out some questions that are currently on my mind. Could my self-awareness be more? Could the “observer” be separate from the body and thoughts and feelings? Could the “observer me” exists once my body and its thoughts and feelings are gone? By awareness, could I be talking about my soul? And finally, what happens to the “observer” when I sleep and dream?

No Comments

I Don’t Recall Agreeing To Pay For Curbside Painting!

Money 3 Comments

Yesterday, as I was taking garbage out to the curb, a young man passed a flyer to me. The flyer announced that the house numbers on the curb were to be repainted and residents were being asked to contribute money towards that goal. The flyer had wording that falsely implied the following:

  • With an official sounding headline “Advisory Notice To All Residents” and references to “911” and “postal-mail”, the flyer suggests a relationship with the city government; perhaps they are hired by the city. This is false; I doubt they are a real company (there was no telephone or website listed on the flyer) and definitely, the city did not hire them. The real story is that several years ago, the city did hire a company to repaint certain neighborhoods. After that, the city never repeated that initiative again.
  • The flyer asks for a contribution of $15 or “what is most comfortable for your budget”, implying that the city is asking for help to fund this initiative (if you believe they are affiliated with the city). This is false; you can bet that any money will go to their pockets, not the city’s.
  • If you do not wish to have your house number repainted on the curb, you must tape the flyer to the curb. Otherwise, they assume that you have agreed to the repainting. Of course, they don’t state on what day they would paint so there’s no guarantee that the flyer will still be there when they come.

At first, I was very annoyed. I didn’t want to pay to have my house number repainted on the curb. Now, I had to go get some sturdy tape so I can tape that darn flyer to the curb. Then I thought, these guys are marketing geniuses! They took the opt-out marketing idea from the Internet and added a bit of local patriotism (donate to help the city) to make a lot of money. For about 50 cents worth of spray paint (and an initial investment in number stencils), they could potentially get $15 back. Even if they just got a dollar, they would still be profitable! Most likely, they will get between 5 and 15 dollars from each house.

For those who don’t know about opt-out, it was a strategy initially used on the Internet by companies to quickly create email lists of customers. The trick is to assume that any time a customer provides an email address, the customer has agreed to receive emails from the company; for example, when you purchase an item and provide your email address for order/shipping updates. In order to not receive emails, the customer would have to explicitly opt-out of the mailings. Of course, most customers considered these company advertising emails to be spam.

Soon after, many web order forms (purchasing forms, download forms, information request forms, etc.) started to display checkboxes already pre-checked to subscribe the customer to the company mailist and even worse, to subscribe the customer to paid services. The latter is especially heinous because I have fallen victim to it several times. Years ago, after I had signed up for a 3-month special with Match.com and allowed it to lapse, I was surprised to see a charge on my credit card for another 3 months at full price. Evidently, Match.com opted me into an automatic re-subscription service (I do not recall seeing that checkbox on the signup form). Worst, Match.com refused to reverse the charges because I had “agreed” to the charge; I had not manually changed my account settings to disallow automatic re-subscription. A recent example is when I purchased a game from BigFishGames.com and found myself subscribed to their $6.99/month Game Club membership service; I quickly unsubscribed by calling their customer service number.

You will also see the opt-out strategy when installing software, especially free software. One of the many installation screens would have pre-checked boxes to install other software (such as browser toolbars, Google Earth, and Yahoo Messenger). This additional software will fill up your hard drive space (best case), slow down your computer with automatically-launched programs (worse case), and/or install viruses and spyware (worst case). Whenever I am diagnosing a computer because it was “too slow” or “acting weird”, my first action is to find and remove this unwanted software. I’ve seen browsers start with 5-6 toolbars, each with its own search input field. When asked about these toolbars, the user would invariably say, “I don’t know where they came from.”

Unsolicited company email is a nuisance and thankfully, there are mechanisms (“mark as spam” on Google or Yahoo Mail) that will eventually get that company email blacklisted. Extraneous software installations are the “payment” you make for free software; to avoid, just look carefully at every checkbox during installation. But companies that pull the opt-out paid service ploy are evil because they cost you your hard-earned money and time (which you spend trying to get out of the paid service). These companies get on my boycott list and they lose me, my family, and friends as customers.

My advice to companies is to not use opt-out because in the long run, they will lose their existing and new customers (once word gets around). However, the curbside painters are still geniuses because their use of the opt-out technique has very little downside. There is no need to retain customers as a repainting is not necessary again for years (though they imply that it is a yearly event) and there are many new neighborhoods filled with unsuspecting marks, I mean customers.

3 Comments

Jungian Cognitive Functions: The Solution to Misleading MBTI Personality Codes

Personality 7 Comments

I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test years ago. It indicated that my personality type code was INTJ. I took the test again and got a different result, INTP. I read the portrait descriptions of both personality types (and other similar ones, ENTJ and ENTP). I was able to identify parts of myself in all four personality types, but none of them exactly fit me. Being human, it was very easy for me to read myself into each portrait, especially when they talked about the “positive” traits and behaviors. Frustrated, I decided that INTJ was good enough (I was a software engineer and that seemed to be the best match) and thought no more of it.

SpockAsciiArtFor several years, I thought I was an INTJ until I took a class about Tony Allessandra’s Personality Styles. At the end of the class, I was talking to the instructor and mentioned that I thought I was a Thinker. She replied that I was a Socializer (Feeling type). She said that she could easily tell from my face and body language what I was feeling. (I was always the joker in class.) That just blew me away; I thought I was a Thinker, but I’m actually a Feeler. With feedback from friends (very necessary to accurately determine your personality type), I finally identified myself as an INFP. Or at least, I’m more confident that I am an INFP than an INTJ; the portrait description for INFP seemed to match better.

I decided to revisit the MBTI and try to understand the theory so that I can understand myself better. Though I grew comfortable with what the MBTI type codes for N (Intuiting), S (Sensing), T (Thinking) and F (Feeling) meant, I could never quite “get” what I (Introverted), E (Extraverted), J (Judging), and P (Perceiving) meant. I always had vagueness in my understanding of what the meanings (in terms of behavior and traits) for these MBTI type codes were. There were certain parts of my personality which directly conflicted with some MBTI definitions for the type codes.

For example, I’m an INFP and I like to be on my own for periods of time, which explains why I am an “I” (Introvert). But sometimes, I want to be with people. When I’m out with my friends, I get energized from interacting with them. In fact, if you ask my friends, they will tell you that I’m an “E” (Extrovert) and the life of the party. Likewise, even though I’m a “P” (Perceiver) and like to have many open options, when I take on a task at home or work, I concentrate all my energy on completing the task, which is a very “J” (Judging) behavior. And, while I’m an emotional “F” (Feeling) at home, I am a coldly logical “T” (Thinking) at work. It seemed that I had a split personality.

Recently, I saw some videos about Carl Jung’s cognitive functions (thanks DaveSuperPowers!), which MBTI is based upon. When researching MBTI, I had seen mentions of the cognitive functions but had never explored them. Once I started looking into Carl Jung’s psychological types theory, I knew that I had to learn it. I could see that it was much more subtle than MBTI and suggested answers to the questions I had about my split personality.

The MBTI attempted to simplify Carl Jung’s psychological types theory. So there is a lot of overlap between the cognitive functions and MBTI in terms of definitions and type codes (which relate to function types N, S, T, J and each function’s I/E orientation). Unfortunately, the MBTI simplification only captured a part of Carl Jung’s theory and introduced standalone personality type codes I/E and J/P which can be misleading. I realized a deeper understanding of personality types can only be achieved by studying Carl Jung’s cognitive functions.

The Jungian cognitive functions consist of the N/S and T/F dichotomous (divided into two parts) functions, their strength of expression, and their I/E orientations (aka attitudes). N (Intuiting) and S (Sensing) are perceiving functions, used to collect data. T (Thinking) and F (Feeling) are judging functions, used to organize data and make decisions. The perceiving functions and judging functions are in dynamic balance, caused by different strengths of expression (Dominant, Auxiliary, Tertiary, and Inferior rankings) and orientation (Introverting or Extraverting) for each function. This dynamic balance provides a subtle, nuanced understanding of each personality type.

Note: While the Jungian cognitive functions N/S and T/F have direct matches with the MBTI type codes, there are no cognitive functions that match the J/P MBTI type codes. Similar, there are no cognitive functions that match the I/E MBTI type codes. In Carl Jung’s theory, the Introversion and Extraversion are orientation attributes applied to each cognitive function. The best correlation I can come up with is that the MBTI I/E and J/P type codes together can be used to determine the dominant and auxiliary functions (cognitive functions with the most powerful and second most powerful expressions in the personality) and their orientation.

To get a better understanding of the Jungian cognitive functions, let’s look at the four Jungian cognitive functions that match my INFP personality type:

My dominant (first) function is Introverted Feeling (Fi) meaning that my feelings are focused inward towards thoughts and ideas. I make decisions/judgments using an internal code of moral conduct, what feels right and avoids hurting others. Because I am focused inward, I am not emotionally expressive to people so they may think I’m reserved or a bit cold. A dominant Extroverted Feeling (Fe) type would be focused outward towards people and things, and would make decisions that preserve the social groups (family, community, etc) and cultural norms. A Fe type would be emotionally expressive, warm to people, and be more accepting of the general consensus. The above Fi and Fe types are descriptions of the extremes; we humans are on a gradient between the two and I am more towards the introverted feeling extreme.

My auxiliary (second) function is Extraverted Intuiting (Ne) meaning that my intuition is focused on getting subtle clues from my external world, with a focus on understanding people, patterns, relationships, and possibilities. An Introverted Intuiting (Ni) type would focus his intuition internally to build an abstract system of concepts and patterns. My Ne auxiliary function explains why when I’m with friends, I can be the life of the party; I’m expressing my auxiliary function more than my dominant. The Ne function helps me to get an idea of how people are feeling, and to match and improve their moods.

My tertiary (third) function is Introverted Sensing (Si) meaning that I perceive the present world in relation to my past experiences and reactions. I prefer to keep a concise internal view of the world and thus, I tend to be neat and a minimalist (I don’t care for owning things beyond the minimum). An Extraverted Sensing (Se) type would enjoy the physical world with all five senses. Se types love cool things and creature comforts. In extreme, a Se type could become a hoarder.

My inferior (fourth) function is Extraverted Thinking (Te) meaning that I prefer to think out loud. I can work on incomplete ideas by talking to someone (or by writing). An Introverted Thinking (Ti) type prefers to create an internal model where everything fits together perfectly. An extreme Ti type may ask you to pause talking while he internally processes an idea you have just introduced.

If you look carefully at the four cognitive functions, you can see that the fourth and third functions mirror the first and second functions, in that order. The mirror involves a switch to the other dichotomous function (N to S and T to F, and vice versa) and a change in orientation (introverted to extraverted, and vice versa) from first to fourth and second to third. In addition, the first and second functions must have opposite orientations (which results in the second and third, and the third and fourth, having opposite orientations). This is a useful shortcut because if you know a person’s dominant and auxiliary types and the orientation of either, the third and fourth functions (and all remaining orientations) can be determined using the constraints above.

Note: To map from MBTI personality type codes to Jungian cognitive functions, you can use the following rules: (a) the MBTI I/E indicates the orientation of the dominant cognitive function, (b) if MBTI “E” type, the J/P determines which is the dominant function, and (c) if MBTI “I” type, the J/P determines which is the auxiliary function. So for an ESTJ type, because it is an “E” type with “J”, the dominant function must be a judging function which is “T” and thus, the auxiliary is the remaining “S”. The resulting cognitive functions are Te, Si, Ne, Fi. And for an INFP type, because it is an “I” type with “P”, the auxiliary function must be a perceiving function which is “N” and thus, the dominant is the remaining “F”. So, the cognitive functions are Fi, Ne, Si, Te.

The inferior (fourth) function is special. Being the weakest, it is almost totally suppressed by the dominant. Most of the time, the dominant and auxiliary functions will be expressed (with the auxiliary playing a supporting role to the dominant), the tertiary function minimally expressed, and the inferior function barely expressed at all. Except, sometimes (usually under stress), the inferior becomes strong enough to suppressed the dominant function! When this happens, the mirror is flipped in that the inferior function becomes the dominant and the tertiary function becomes the auxiliary; the inferior and tertiary become expressed (with the tertiary playing a supporting role to the inferior) and the dominant and auxiliary almost totally suppressed. This is the sudden personality change! This explains why at work, my Extraverted Thinking (Te) function becomes dominant and I become an almost emotionless (suppressed Fi and Ne), talking egghead (expressed Te) who is a stickler for rules, processes, and details (expressed Si). I basically become the opposite of an INFP which is an ESTJ.

The order of the functions explained why I like to complete tasks as soon as I can. My dominant Fi is a judging function and creates the task by asking what should I do? Once I pick a task, my auxiliary Ne (with my tertiary Si), which is a perceiving function, explores options on how to best accomplish that task. My inferior function Te, which is a judging function, opposes the auxiliary Ne and tries to bring the task to closure/completion. Tasks are left incomplete if the Te is unable to bring the Ne to heel. Which is why when I start on a task, I try to complete it as fast as I can (without breaks), because the longer I let it go on, the more time is given to the Ne to become stronger than the Te.

According to the link above, the way an INFP approaches a task can be represented as a diamond with the dominant Fi at the top point, the auxiliary Ne representing the fat middle, and the inferior Te at the bottom point. In contrast, an INTJ’s approach would represent an hourglass with the dominant Ni at the top fat base (perceiving: what are all the possible things to do?), the auxiliary Te at the narrow middle (judging: pick something and do it), and the inferior Se at the bottom fat base (perceiving: Is the result good enough?). While the INFP may stop in the middle of a task without coming to completion, the INTJ may take forever to perfect the solution.

Besides MBTI, other researchers, like John Beebe and Linda Berens, have introduced four additional cognitive functions, called “shadow functions”, to Carl Jung’s original four cognitive functions. These shadow functions have the same order as the cognitive functions but with opposite orientations. For INFP (Fi, Ne, Si, Te), the shadow functions are Fe, Ni, Se, Ti (ENFJ). While the cognitive functions are expressed by preference, the shadow functions can become expressed when we are under stress. In some situations, we may purposefully try to express a shadow function and while doable, we will find that it is tiring (versus energizing when expressing a preferred cognitive function). This may explain why non-Fe and non-Ne types can get tired when dealing with people.

I feel that I am just digging at the first layer of Carl Jung’s psychological types theory. I expect to make more realizations, some of which might invalidate what I wrote above. So take everything with a large grain of salt.

Check out my followup post on this topic, MBTI: Not Misleading, Just Misunderstood.

7 Comments

An Anger Antidote: Forgive Yourself

Self No Comments

Have you ever gotten angry, really angry at something that happened to you or something that you did? I have, and sometimes the anger is so strong that I could barely control myself. When I was young, I couldn’t even do that. I would shout, scream, kick objects, and even punch the walls with my bare fist. As I become more matured, I realized it was stupid of me to hurt myself or my surroundings over sometimes very trivial things. Nothing would have changed for the better. Thankfully this loss of control did not happen often.

Note: I focus on anger, but this post could be about any strong negative emotion about oneself or another, like shame or hate. And the method I use to handle anger works for those other emotions as well.

Anger is a strong emotion. It comes abruptly and overwhelmingly. And most of the time, unless reign in, it results in damage to oneself or others. Anger is not a “bad” emotion, it just “is”. How you react to anger determines whether you or others are hurt.

012StudyLate

Anger changes with your age. When young, my anger was directed outwards; I was angry at others. It was the fault of others, they caused it. Or it was the environment, misfortune, the fates conspiring against me. It was never my fault, never my responsibility. As I matured, the anger turned inward; I was angry at myself. It was my fault, I was responsible. I trusted others blindly, I didn’t plan for the unexpected, or I was too weak and powerless.

When I got tired of beating myself over and over, I learned to forgive myself. To accept that I was an imperfect human, that there was no blame, and that I can only strive to do better. That was the key to handling and dissipating the anger. If you can truly forgive yourself, you will realize that you have come to accept yourself. Acceptance without blame and forgiveness without anger are two parts of the whole. Eventually acceptance will lead you to find that you really like who you are. Once you can honestly forgive yourself, you will discover that you can accept and forgive others.

Many of you may respond that you have always been able to forgive others. In the past, I would have claimed that same. However, when I think back, I realize that it was more of a judgmental and patronizing forgiveness with repressed anger. You have done wrong, but I forgive you. Would you believe such a statement if you said it to yourself? Does it feel like true forgiveness, with acceptance, without blame, without repressed anger? After forgiving someone or yourself, do you feel the release of something heavy (experience a lightness of being) or do you harbor a bit of resentment (he got off easy)? The former is a sign of true forgiveness.

Growing up, I was taught to forgive others without being taught to forgive myself. Somehow, the adults assumed that I would figure out how to do the latter myself. Geez, leave it to the kid to figure out the more difficult part. By nature, we think the best of ourselves. It’s obvious that we are not to be blamed. It is hard to admit that we have wronged someone and to apologize, especially if we hate that person. We are especially hard on ourselves when we think we are perfect. It is not easy to forgive ourselves. But if we never learn to forgive ourselves, how can we forgive others?

With practice, I have learned to forgive myself quickly. Immediate forgiveness is required to avoid accumulating more emotional baggage. I still take responsibility, but don’t blame myself. I even forgive myself for getting angry or irritated at the actions of myself and others. When a car cuts me off on the freeway, I forgive myself for that quick flash of anger and the urge to retaliate. I forgive the action. Maybe the other person is in a hurry due to an emergency. Or maybe it’s just a not-paying-attention boneheaded move, which I am also guilty of doing in the past. If I can’t forgive the other person, how can I forgive myself for doing the same thing?

It turns out that forgiveness is the method for clearing out regrets, mental mass from the past. Regrets are past incidences where we have not forgiven ourselves or others. Most likely, we or someone had somehow violated our own internal code of conduct. These incidences are unresolved and still contain emotions such as repressed anger. They have the energy to return to haunt us continually, like heavy chains wrapped around our very being.

To clear that past junk, revisit the regrets and forgive yourself for the anger you feel. Forgive yourself for the past decisions which you believe are mistakes (decisions might only become “bad” in hindsight) and forgive the actions of others that may have hurt you. Accept and eliminate all blame. Finally, forgive yourself for having past regrets and for beating yourself over and over with those regrets through the years.

Forgiveness works for other emotions than anger. Supposed that my coworker, who is my good friend, is promoted to a level above me. It’s natural (at least for me) to feel a bit jealous and resentful. I try to quickly forgive myself for feeling jealous and resentful (without blame or shame), so that I can move on to be truly happy for my friend. Wouldn’t you want your friend to do the same when you are promoted?

We are emotional humans and thus, very imperfect and irrational. We have done and will do stupid things, sometimes immoral things, and we may intentionally or unintentionally hurt others. Forgive yourself, forgive others, accept, take responsibility, and promise to do better. That is the best that we can do.

Check out my continuing post on this topic, Acceptance: I Think And Feel, Therefore Nothing.

No Comments

The 3 Types of Mass That Can Weigh You Down

Self 4 Comments

Seven years into my working adulthood (after getting a job and making enough cash to buy stuff), I realized that physical possessions gave me a heavy feeling that weigh me down. The bigger and bulkier the item, the heavier it got. I felt that my possessions possessed me. In a way, they limited my future possibilities. I had obligations to take care of them (after all, I did spend my hard-earned cash on them), provide good homes for them if I didn’t want them (love craigslist and freecycle), and at the end of their lifetime, to dispose of them properly (save the environment!). I felt that I couldn’t easily change directions without taking care of these obligations first.

I’m sure the above sounds weird to the majority of readers. From observation, most folks don’t feel as I do. They use their fragile possessions “hard” and when broken, toss them into the trash without a second thought. And I’ve known people with a ton of possessions who don’t seem to be bothered at all and, I imagine, could just leave everything behind without a care as to what will happen to them. I don’t know why I feel as I do, I just do. I tell my friends that my goal is to be able to throw everything I own into my car and take off. Just imagining the possibility makes me feel lightweight and relieved.

As a result, I live a minimalist life. I only buy necessities and avoid purchasing conveniences. Once I had my physical possessions under control, I realized that I had mental “possessions” which needed to be gotten rid of also. And recently, I’ve had an inkling that there might exist spiritual “possessions” that I need to take care of as well. It looks like this journey is leading me somewhere… with my luck, I imagine a desolate desert location… and I’m kind of excited to see where it all ends.

Physical Mass

024AnimeGirlStrangely, by nature, I often have strong urges to collect things… to complete a set of something. Not the best trait for a minimalist. In college, I became an anime fan and would collect all the fan-subtitled animes on video tape that I could get my hands on. These were VHS video tapes so they took up quite a bit of space. More strange, with the exception of one, I didn’t re-watch them. Why collect them at all? I don’t know why I did it; it was a compulsion that I didn’t think too deeply about at the time. All I know was that I dragged them from place to place, shipped them across the USA once I graduated, and kept them for years after that without re-watching them.

I grew up a bookworm. I read voraciously as a child but amazingly, did not collect books. I think this was because I didn’t have the money to buy books and more importantly, there were always the public libraries. After seeing all the books in the library, I realized early on that it was impossible for me to collect them all. So I gave up. I remember dreaming about owning a home with a huge personal library room with a ton of books… thankfully that dream died a quick death. Public libraries also explained why, with the exception of a few, I never re-read books. There are just so many books to be read that it seemed a shame to waste time re-reading. The few books that I own, I kept with me. I dragged them, along with all my heavy college books, several years into my early working life. I kept imagining re-reading my college books to fill the holes in my understanding that I didn’t have time to do during college; but I never opened any of the college books again. They were very expensive and I should have resold them back to the school.

Digital Mass

With the rise of the Internet, came the digital age. It was the collector’s dream. I could have a hundred anime episodes and a thousand songs in the palm of my hand (think hard drive). No hassles to transport. Where was the downside? I started digitizing my music CDs and downloading anime from fan websites (before US companies started buying distribution licenses). Even crazier, I began to look into how to convert my VHS video tapes into digital movie files.

Soon the hard drive wasn’t big enough (this was in the days of 20-50GB hard drives) so I purchased a CD burner when it first became available. Though hard drive size grew fast (I kept buying bigger hard drives), the movie file sizes grew even faster (as quality improved, think high-definition video). When DVD burners appear, I had to get one (I remember when a blank DVD cost more than a dollar). I was on the bleeding edge of digital storage media; in addition to the CD/DVD burner, I had both 100MB and 1GB Zip drives and a 230MB MO (magneto-optical) drive.

Like the video tapes and books, once saved to digital media, I rarely ever accessed the content again.

Mental Mass

I thought that going digital would allow me to save everything because there is only small physical mass involved. But I was wrong, digital mass took up my mental space. There was so much digital media, it was impossible to consume it all. I had anime episodes saved to DVD that I hadn’t even watched yet. The unconsumed media sat in my mind like a big todo list. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but I had many other todo lists in my head (or stored on my computer or paper notebooks) concerning books to read, movies to watch, video games to play, hobbies to pick up, projects to complete, places to visit, activities to do with family and friends, etc. They were all at the edge of my awareness and those unfulfilled dreams/desires started to become burdens because they grew and over time, I realized I could never hope to finish them all in my lifetime. Too much of a good thing is well, not good.

I came to realize that mental mass came with both physical and digital possessions. In the end, mental mass is what I needed to handle. It was what weigh me down so very heavily. I needed to actively prune to give myself room to grow. Like a hoarder’s house, if the mind is stuffed full, there isn’t room for new thoughts, new experiences, and new endeavors. When I encounter something new, instead of getting excited about doing the new thing right away, I had to add it to the end of the todo list (what a downer). I decided that I had to get medieval on the mental.

Eight years into my working life, I had the above realization and with it, came a strong urge to make a change. Because I didn’t know what the best way to effect the change was, I decided to do the easy stuff first. I gave away some video tapes and threw the rest into the trash. I sold a couple of college books (thanks to half.com) and donated all but a few books to the public library. I shredded and threw away binders full of my digital media (CDs, DVDs, Zip disks, MO disks). If it didn’t fit on my current hard drive, it or something else had to be deleted to make space. Finally, I ruthlessly pruned todo items and even deleted whole todo lists.

With these actions, I initially felt much lighter. But with a more sensitive awareness of the weight of mental mass, I could see that there was a lot left to explore and hopefully, jettison.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

It turned out that the mental mass from physical and digital possessions was the easy, light-weight stuff to get rid of. The “real” mental mass potentially has density greater than a neutron star and gravitational pull short of a black hole. I’m talking about the regrets of the past, fears of the present, and worries of the future. They get even worse when we are dealing with scars from relationships gone bad with significant others, family, friends, coworkers (including bosses), acquaintances, and maybe even strangers (road rage?).

Regrets, who doesn’t have some… need some? If only I hadn’t made that rash decision, my life would be so different. If only that hadn’t happened to me, my situation would be so much better. If only I hadn’t said those angry words to my parents… and on and on. Many regrets cause us to excessively criticize and question ourselves. Regrets feed into fears of the present and worries about the future. Am I in a dead-end job? What if this is the wrong decision? Will I still be a loser in 5 years? When will my sister talk to me again? If I do this, will I be hurt in the end? What if I end up alone? Will it be painful?

All I can say is regrets, fears, and worries have got to go. This mental mass weighs down on my life and prevents me from going outside my comfort zone (to try scary new, unknown experiences). I have better things to do with my time on this Earth (I dearly hope so). But what to do? Being a very private person, I can’t imagine airing my dirty laundry in front of a professional like a psychologist, much less family or friends. The only solution for me is self help. Doctor, heal thyself!

This type of mental mass accumulates and re-enforces itself. It will require a lot of hard digging to find and remove, and then constant viligance to prevent the addition or return of. I will need the rest of my life to handle this nasty stuff.

Why Don’t You Be In the Moment While I Kick Your Behind?!

I am in the middle of a multi-year research into how to get rid of this mental mass and how to stop accumulating more. First, I believe we should look at how to prevent more damage from occurring. Along that thought, I’ve explored and tried several options. The most effective so far derives from the new age movement, epitomized in the statement “Be in the Moment”. Evidently, if you can be in the moment, you won’t have time for regrets (past) or worries (future). If you are really in the transient moment, you won’t even have time for fears. But do you know what? Being in the moment is freaking hard, and impossible for more than a couple minutes. I don’t think the normal human mind is designed for such a sustained focus.

The reason it is hard to maintain such a state is because there is a lot of stuff happening in our mind. Concentrating on staying in the moment takes tremendous will power and the moment you get distracted, you are out of it. Our senses (five or more) are constantly bombarding us with a torrent of information. Thoughts and feelings are instantly appearing left and right, sometimes triggered by reaction to our senses, memories, and probably just from random noise. What’s a poor brain to do? If our brain didn’t organically evolve into this chaos, then god (or whatever entity designed the brain) must have a wicked sense of humor.

(I’m not going to explain the following well because I’m still don’t understand it fully myself.) The method I’m currently using is not to be constantly in the moment, but to be aware of the creation of new thoughts and feelings. If you are conscious of these new thoughts and feelings, you will have the opportunity to handle them before they start a chain reaction that results in you doing or saying something which you may regret (and which then feeds back into the cycle, increasing your mental mass further). Basically, be in the moment for that split second when a new thought or feeling comes into being. Believe that the thought or feeling is totally random (don’t try to figure out why it came into being), accept its existence without judgement (this is very important because if you resist/deny, you will give it more power), and then decide whether or not to take action on that thought or feeling. Easy as pie, right? All I can say is that after a year of constant practice, it should get much easier; though constant practice is still required to prevent relapse into unawareness of new thoughts and feelings.

I plan to provide more details on this method and the method I use to clean out the existing mental mass in future blogs. Hopefully, someone out there will read this blog and say, “Thank goodness, I thought I was the only one going crazy from this!” If not, then I must be totally and uniquely bonkers.

Related reading:

Followup posts on this topic:

4 Comments

A Senior Software Developer’s Survival Guide For The Future

Work 1 Comment

My future survival guide for senior software developers, who work in medium to large companies, can be summed up as two advice: move to a technical leadership position and master mobile device (iPhone and/or Android) development. I believe that these advice will keep a senior software developer in demand for the near and distant future.

Be the technical liaison to avoid commoditization

The first advice requires you to modify your career path a little. As a senior developer, you command a high salary and thus, your job will be endangered when your company attempts to reduce expenses or to downsize. Sooner or later, you will be replaced by someone who will cost less, someone more junior, or more likely, someone in a foreign country working for a fraction of your salary. In the end, it will be the latter.

I hate to say it, software development is being commoditized. Along with that, software of average quality is becoming more acceptable to companies that are not willing to pay for the best. With the increasingly higher level languages and tools, the required programmer skill set is reduced. I imagine in the future, one can write a complex program by drawing boxes and linking them. Hey, that’s the way progress and capitalism works. We might not like it, but we should acknowledge reality.

020RocketeerYou may be lucky to work in a great company that values your talent, recognizes that you are 10 or 100 times more productive than the average developer, and pays you accordingly. Or you may have some esoteric knowledge (Cobol?) which requires companies to keep you around, until a cheaper option appears (the Cobol application becomes obsolete due to a process change). However, I’m talking about the real world here and the majority of senior developers in the majority of companies are not so lucky.

In the early to mid 2000’s, when every other company was off-shoring development, I only saw one possible career change to secure my employment. That was to move into a higher level position which can be known by various names like technical leader, architect, or program manager. The goal is to become someone who is responsible for coordinating a team of developers, local or remote, to produce results. The more important goal is to learn how to communicate effectively with your non-technical leaders. The idea is that companies in the US will need at least one person locally who can work with remote teams of software developers to deliver something that can be sold or can fulfill a commitment to a customer. Someone who the higher-ups can talk to in-person who will give them that “everything is going good, you are still in control” feeling. Basically, a technical person who can keep the whole house of cards from falling down and the company from well, imploding.

In the above, I did not suggest people manager as a target role. I believe that being a manager will make you unsuitable as a technical liaison for a remote team. Not to mention, once a team is remote, they won’t need a manager locally. About seven years ago, I made the move from technical leader to development manager. (That is an adventure which I may blog about later.) Before you take this path, just understand that being a manager is different from being an individual developer. You don’t write code. If you are a manager and you spend a significant amount of your time writing code, then you are probably not doing a good job as a manager, or very unlikely (in my dreams), you are in a great supportive company with a team of happy, senior developers who are self-driven and great team players. Unfortunately, as a manager, without the practice of coding, you will find yourself getting rusty technically. And the stress of dealing with people and office politics will cause you to develop some nasty habits, such as not caring about high code quality anymore or worse, developing an abrasive personality.

A year and a half ago, I demoted myself back to individual contributor. I don’t regret being a manager. It was a great learning experience but managing people (to a certain extent) and participating in office politics (unfortunately mandatory for a manager) were not pleasant for me. That’s not to say that I sucked at being a manager. I read tons of books, tried out all the techniques (most of which didn’t work), and eventually became an effective manager (at least in my mind). I even pulled off a couple of successful political maneuvers. But though I could become more successful at it, I found it was on the whole, something I just didn’t want to do. Sometimes, managing is like dealing with kids and as my friend’s dad used to say, “I don’t hate kids; I just hate other people’s kids.”

Be mobile or get left in the dust

Recently, with the rise of mobile applications (for Android and iPhone), the need for experienced, senior developers will increase. Eventually, companies will require those mobile applications to do functions which their SDKs don’t easily support. In Android, though one can write in Java, eventually one will need to go down to the low-level C language layer to do more. Similarly with Apple iOS. At that point, companies will need a senior developer who understands all of the low-level complexities (pointers, stacks, heaps, memory management, network communication, etc.) and limitations (CPU and memory) in order to get the application to do what is needed.

The near future is the Indian Summer for senior developers. Just as web applications are conquering desktop applications (except complicated software like video editing and 3D games), mobile applications will conquer web applications. So the second advice is to learn and master either Android or iPhone development (or better yet, both). Join a company doing mobile applications. Work on a mobile app as a side project. Do whatever it takes to build up your expertise so that you can become a technical liaison for mobile development when it too becomes commoditized and off-shored.

An exception to the rule

The above advice only apply if you wish to remain an employee in a medium to large company. I believe that choosing the security and stability of a corporate job is perfectly fine; in fact, I’ve made this choice for most of my working life. If you have the talent and drive to work for yourself, as a contractor/consultant or building your own business, I think you should go for it. It’s probably the most future-proof route. However, if you wish to continue working for a company, I hope that the above advice will help you.

In an effort to simplify, I left a lot of nuance out of the above. I’ve learned that nuance is not necessary until people want it, and people won’t want it until they need it. But then I could be just talking nonsense about everything.

1 Comment