Too Busy Feeling Bad

You’ve had an awful day—the cat peed on the rug, the dog peed on the cat, the washing machine is busted, World Wrestling has been preempted by Masterpiece Theatre—and you naturally feel out of sorts.

If at that moment you try to imagine how much you would enjoy playing cards with your buddies the next evening, you may mistakenly attribute feelings that are due to the misbehavior of real pets and real appliances ("I feel annoyed") to your imaginary companions ("I don't think I'll go because Nick always ticks me off").

Indeed, one of the hallmarks of depression is that when depressed people think about future events, they cannot imagine liking them very much.

Vacation? Romance? A night on the town? No thanks, I'll just sit here in the dark.

Their friends get tired of seeing them flail about in a thick blue funk, and they tell them that this too shall pass, that it is always darkest before the dawn, that every dog has its day, and several other important cliches. But from the depressed person's point of view, all the flailing makes perfectly good sense because when she imagines the future, she finds it difficult to feel happy today and thus difficult to believe that she will feel happy tomorrow.

We cannot feel good about an imaginary future when we are busy feeling bad about an actual present. But rather than recognizing that this is the inevitable result of the Reality First policy, we mistakenly assume that the future event is the cause of the unhappiness we feel when we think about it.

Our confusion seems terribly obvious to those who are standing on the sidelines, saying things like "You're feeling low right now because Pa got drunk and fell off the porch, Ma went to jail for whupping Pa, and your pickup truck got repossessed—but everything will seem different next week and you'll really wish you'd decided to go with us to the opera."

At some level we recognize that our friends are probably right. Nonetheless, when we try to overlook, ignore, or set aside our current gloomy state and make a forecast about how we will feel tomorrow, we find that it's a lot like trying to imagine the taste of marshmallow while chewing liver. It is only natural that we should imagine the future and then consider how doing so makes us feel, but because our brains are hell-bent on responding to current events, we mistakenly conclude that we will feel tomorrow as we feel today.

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

Our Brian Tricks Us

The futures we imagine contain some details that our brains invented and lack some details that our brains ignored. The problem is that our brains fill in and leave out. God help us if they didn’t.

No, the problem is that they do this so well that we aren’t aware it is happening. As such, we tend to accept the brain’s products uncritically and expect the future to unfold with the details—and with only the details—that the brain has imagined. One of imagination’s shortcomings, then, is that it takes liberties without telling us it has done so.

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

Vacationing on Extremia

Imagine that you are preparing to go on a vacation to one of two islands: Moderacia (which has average weather, average beaches, average hotels, and average nightlife) or Extremia (which has beautiful weather and fantastic beaches but crummy hotels and no nightlife). The time has come to make your reservations, so which one would you choose? Most people pick Extremia.

But now imagine that you are already holding tentative reservations for both destinations and the time has come to cancel one of them before they charge your credit card. Which would you cancel? Most people choose to cancel their reservation on Extremia.

Why would people both select and reject Extremia? Because when we are selecting, we consider the positive attributes of our alternatives, and when we are rejecting, we consider the negative attributes.

Extremia has the most positive attributes and the most negative attributes, hence people tend to select it when they are looking for something to select and they reject it when they are looking for something to reject.

Of course, the logical way to select a vacation is to consider both the presence and the absence of positive and negative attributes, but that's not what most of us do.

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

The Willingness to be Misunderstood

Invention requires a long-term willingness to be misunderstood. You do something that you genuinely believe in, that you have conviction about, but for a long period of time, well-meaning people may criticize that effort … if you really have conviction that they’re not right, you need to have that long-term willingness to be misunderstood. It’s a key part of invention.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder

the suburb within

You might live in the middle of a big city, but there could still be a white picket fence around your imagination. You can take the subway to work but still park your identity in a two-car garage. This is the inner suburbia, and you probably moved her long ago. You’ve learned to contain your longings and sympathies within a comfortable zone, measures and mediocre. To grow, you must move toward otherness. You must quit the ranch house of your soul and head for the forbidden place—your inner wilderness, inner bohemia, or even your inner inner city. The answer you need lie there, where you are least at home.

Andrew Boyd, Daily Afflictions

Imaginary Friends

There's a little bit of evidence that adults who are novelists or musicians, for example, tend to remember the imaginary friends they had when they were children. It's as if they are staying in touch with those childhood abilities in a way that most of us don't. Successful creative adults seem to combine the wide-ranging exploration and openness we see in children with the focus and discipline we see in adults.

Alison Gopnik, The Philosophical Baby

Envisioning Success.. or Failure

There's evidence our brains mix together real imagery with mental and emotional baggage that effect performance. Slugger Mickey Mantle is reported to have once said after hitting a long home run, "I just saw the ball as big as a grapefruit." In contrast, poor hitters may see the baseball as small. It’s not just out of reach for them physically but emotionally as well.

A Purdue University study tested the kicking ability of more than 20 athletes who do not play football. They were asked to estimate the size of the goal posts before and after each of 10 attempts to kick a field goal. The more successful the athlete, the more likely they were to overestimate the size of the posts and underestimate the distance.

Success biased the kickers’ perception of the difficulty of their task. Professor Jessica Witt says, “Before you kicked, you really didn’t know what your abilities were going to be.’’ In past experiments, she found the same effect with softball players and golfers. University of Virginia psychologist Dennis Proffitt has put together tests that show the effect holds true when it comes to dangerous situations.

Which are you imagining in your life--success or failure?

Stephen Goforth


A child responds to the game of kissing away a hurt or throwing away a fear. This simple process works for the child because in his mind he believes that that is actually the end of it. The dramatic act is a fact for him and so it proves to be the end of the matter.

Imagination is a source of fear, but imagination may also be the cure of fear. “Imagineering” is the use of mental images to build factual results, and it is an astonishingly effective procedure. Visualize your fears being drained out of your mind and the visualization will in due course be actualized. Imagine yourself as reaching into your mind and one by one removing your worries.

However, it is not enough to empty the mind, for the mind will not long remain empty. It must be occupied by something. It cannot continue in a stat of vacuum. Therefore, upon emptying the mind, practice refilling it. Fill it with thought of faith, hope, courage, expectancy.

A half-dozen times each day crowd your mind with such thoughts as those until the mind is overflowing with them. In due course these thoughts of faith will crowd out worry. Day by day, as you fill your mind with faith, there will ultimately be no room left for fear.

Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking

don't forget the blue goat

The most popular episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show (and my favorite) was titled Chuckles Bites the Dust. The main character (Mary Richards played by Mary Tyler Moore) worked as a news producer for a TV station where one of the shows featured Chuckles the Clown.

Here's what happened: Chuckles was serving as grand marshal of a city parade when he was attacked and killed by an rogue elephant. A ridiculous way to die, wouldn't you say?

Throughout the episode, Mary complained about her colleagues making jokes at the poor man’s expense. She took his death seriously. Until the start of the Chuckle's funeral. Suddenly, everyone’s role reserved. The others became solemn and sober. But Mary couldn’t suppress her urge to giggle at the clown’s comedic demise. The scene is considered one of the most memorable in TV sitcom history. It was ranked #1 on TV Guide's 1997 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. She kept laughing because she wasn't supposed to do so.

Ever tried NOT to laugh at church? The more you fight it, the stronger the urge becomes. Ever had a crazy thought pop in your head about disrupting a meeting? Ever wondered what would happen if you stood up in a restaurant and started yelling? Or started a food fight?  Have you had a crazy thought pop into your head about what it would be like if you jumped out of a window in front of you and fell ten stories?

Suppress that contrarian thought and it can become an outright urge. Suddenly, you are wondering if you can prevent yourself from doing something completely outrageous and inappropriate. The more you try to avoid the idea, the stronger the desire becomes to do it. Anyone who’s tried to quit smoking or stop drinking knows the feeling.

A paper in the Journal Science tries to explain the phenomenon. Harvard psychologist Daniel Wegner says if you keep ruminating on the idea of something bad happening, it can actually make it more likely to occur.

Our brains are busy suppressing impulses all the time. We use a great deal of energy keep inclinations in check. The effort usually takes place without conscience thought. But when we focus intensely on avoiding errors and taboos, the impulse can be strengthened because the brain is conscience and locked into the event.

Just try not thinking of a blue goat.

In sports, a player may be told not to swing his bat or golf club a certain way. Soon, he can barely avoid doing it and feels obsessed and distracted. Especially under pressure.

Are you not thinking of a blue goat?

Once the idea has been consciously suggested to us, it’s hard to shake it until something new shoves it out of the way. Therein lies the key for moving away from unwanted thoughts. Instead of trying to keep them down, use your energy to put something else in its place.

Basketball players are more successful when they visualize the ball going through the hoop and the process that works to get it there. Rather than focusing on "not missing" they see greater success when they have a clear vision of  accomplishment. Even thoughts of suicide can be squeezed out by changing our focus from our own situation toward helping someone else.

Just don’t forget about the blue goat.

Stephen Goforth

did you feed the bears?

A phone conversation with a four-year-old:

Did you feed the bears?

      What bears?

The bears under your bed.

      There aren’t any bears under my bed.

Oh, yes, their names are Teddy and Charlie. Teddy Bear and Charlie Bear.

      I’m going to go check.

      (a moment passes)

      There are no bears under my bed.

They must have gone to the bathroom.

      I’ll go see.

Don’t do that, they’d be embarrassed if you saw them.

      (a few more moments of discussion)

      I’m going to see if the bears are in the bathroom.

      (phone is dropped)

      The bears are in the tub. They’re taking a bath!

Life is filled with such interesting and remarkable things when you are four. The further we get away from that imaginative, amazing world, the harder it is to hear the voice of God in our lives and see his hand at work in the world around us. Hang on to the joy of a child.

Stephen Goforth

Disruptive Innovation

Innovation distance explains why so many of those who turn an industry upside down are outsiders, even outcasts. To understand this point we need to grasp the difference between the two types of innovation. Sustaining innovations are improvements that make the product better, but do not threaten its market. The disruptive innovation, conversely, threatens to displace a product altogether. It is the difference between the electric typewriter, which improved on the typewriter, and the word processor, which supplanted it.

Another advantage of the outside inventor is less a matter of the imagination than of his being a disinterested party. Distance creates a freedom to develop inventions that might challenge or even destroy the business model of the dominant industry. The outsider is often the only one who can afford to scuttle a perfectly sound ship, to propose an industry that might challenge the business establishment or suggest a whole new business model. Those closer to - often at the trough of - existing industries face a remarkable constant pressure not to invent things that will ruin their employer. The outsider has nothing to lose. But to be clear, it is not mere distance, but the right distance that matters; there is such a thing as being to far away.

Tim Wu, The Master Switch