If This Then That

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given someone that you failed to take yourself?

There are two stock pieces of advice I will bring out on a semi-regular basis:

  1. Never waste an opportunity to eat or go to the toilet.
  2. Never put your tongue where you wouldn’t put your toothbrush.

I think you’ll agree that both of these are very wise and equally amusing when given as a reply as to whether I have any tips when we were watching horse racing.  Perhaps my third piece of advice should be “context is everything”.

Recently I’ve been building a lot of big spreadsheets at work.  I use them a lot for data analysis but have also been building forms in order to meet one of my yearly objectives.  I’ve learnt a lot about Excel while I’ve been doing them – things such as indirect references and array formulas.

One of the main things I’ve been doing is putting a checklist on the forms to check that the necessary data has been provided correctly.  This requires many, many “if” statements that can either sit on their own or, more usually, be nested within other “if” statements.

After I’ve spent a few hours typing these formulas I find that my brain starts applying this logic to virtually all my mundane activities.  Rather than just going to get a coffee, I work out what would happen if I went at a particular time and plan ahead to make sure that all my caffeine and hydration needs are met.

I also sometimes carry on the line of thinking in the mornings.  I’m notoriously slow in the mornings.  I can get up most of the time – that’s fine.  But it seems to take me over two hours from getting up to getting out the house.  The interesting thing is that I can at least halve that time when I try, and there other short cuts at the weekend when I can utilise hats and don’t need to shave or prepare food for the day.  So in the mornings I try to put a plan together whereby one thing can be happening while I do another e.g. boil the kettle while I iron a shirt, check Facebook, Instagram and Twitter with one hand while I’m using a hairdryer in the other…

It’s interesting how these things become habit and that the brain can be trained in to ways of thinking.  I’m sure some people know the science behind this; I have an idea but won’t pretend to be an expert.  I’ve read books about training responses to certain situations.  I’ve mentioned in other blog posts about Steve Peters’ “Chimp Paradox” which has been utilised with great success by Cycling GB (and Liverpool FC to an extent) amongst others.

This got me thinking.  Is training the brain a good thing in all circumstances? Sir Bradley Wiggins was a Team Sky rider at the time Peters’ theory was really becoming famous, but Sir Brad was not a fan of it.  He viewed it as “a distraction from who you were as a person“.

And that’s kind of my point.  Does training something to become instinctive make it an instinct?  I’m all for living and learning, but I also want to be able to make decisions on the spur of the moment, sometimes without too much care and attention.  That’s what makes you human – making mistakes and being able to change your mind.  It’s why I, personally, struggle with decisions where I risk losing something good by gambling it on something great.  My chimp is desperate for it, but my sensible computer is telling me not to – that it will go wrong and you don’t want it to go wrong.

The piece of advice I would therefore offer anyone who asked, but which I rarely use myself, is to trust your instincts.  I want to experience things without worrying about getting them wrong and I don’t want there to have to be a black and white answer for everything.  I would like my chimp to start operating my computer.  Basing a life around formulas with definite results is easy, but I’m not sure it sounds much fun – a lot like my spreadsheets.

Well, I have the fears, the pain and the tears I just can’t hide.
It all disappears ’cause everything passes with the time,
All you need is reason to believe.

Reason to Believe by Sum 41

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