Monthly Archives: March 2010

Hardwiring Happiness – Srikumar Rao

A wonderful talk on happiness by a very clear and lucid presenter who is completely new to me, Srikumar Rao. I’m certainly going to check out more of his material. I ran into this on, but the video there was of lower quality so I’ve linked back here to the original. This was apparently from a conference in Denmark, so don’t worry about the foreign language graphics at the beginning, the talk itself is in English.

Improve Your Memory in Minutes

I’ve used several memory tricks over the years for such things as remembering grocery lists. I recently came across one that I hadn’t seen before, even though it’s extremely simple.  I tried out the method (called “linking”) from a website called and found that I was able to easily memorize a list of 20 items that I still easily remember today, about a week later.

To really appreciate the method, you should first try out your powers of list memorization without it. Take the following sample list, look at each item carefully, but only once, and then cover up the list and see how many of them you can remember. If you’re like me, you’ll be rather disappointed. Ready? Here it is:

  1. Phone
  2. Rose
  3. Milk
  4. Paper
  5. Dog
  6. Orange
  7. Baseball
  8. Hamburger
  9. Pants
  10. Cement
  11. Beer
  12. Poem
  13. Fireman
  14. Pencil
  15. Ladybug
  16. Clown
  17. Scotland
  18. Beans
  19. Teacup
  20. Lamp

How did you do? That bad, eh? Ok, now here’s the method. You simply paint a vivid picture of the first item on the list, a phone, and connect it to the second item on the list, a rose. Imagine that you pick up the receiver of an over-sized, old-fashioned phone, and suddenly roses start sprouting out of the ear-piece  at an alarming rate. Let that sink in for a second, and then link rose to milk. Imagine taking a brilliant red rose and using it to stir a glass of milk, causing the milk to turn bright red and smell strongly of roses. Now link milk to paper. You hold a cup made of newspaper and empty gallon after gallon of milk into it.  You get the general idea.

Go over the list again and take a moment with each item to paint a vivid picture linking it to the next item in the list. Make the pictures as memorable as possible. For example, you might:

  1. Exaggerate. Make the item absolutely huge, or impossibly small.
  2. Use color. Make the item a strange, unnatural color
  3. Multiply. Instead of one item, make it an army of them, overflowing everywhere.
  4. Use the senses. Associate loud or odd noises, odors or textures with the items.
  5. Make the picture absurd, violent, crazy or even indecent in some way.

Your mind will find images like the ones above easy to remember. Try the list again. My guess is that this time you will find it relatively easy to remember the entire list. Test yourself again tomorrow and I’ll bet you can still remember the whole list of 20 items.

Obviously this is perfect for such things as grocery lists and to-do items. In the next day or so I’ll share other potential uses.

Do you have any memory tricks you use that others might find helpful? Share them here.

The Trap of Perfectionism

I’m recently returned from a week-long conference of study and test-taking in the field of database design (my day-job), and find my mind completely burnt-out by the effort. Rather than wait till I feel especially inspired and creative, I’m going to adapt a lesson from one of my classes.

The class was on “agile” programming. I’ll quickly explain. More “traditional” methods of computer programming developed by such folks as the Department of Defense involved many stages of doing such things as gathering requirements and developing detailed documentation and designs before ever beginning to write programs. To be blunt, this effort to design the perfect program in advance doesn’t work very well. Requirements change. People aren’t sure in advance exactly what they want. And sometimes people don’t read documentation. The result is that a piece of software can take years to develop before everyone realizes that it isn’t really what they want. By then it’s too late.

“Agile” programming methods, in contrast, focus on building a program in small increments, with little documentation – but with immediate feedback from the people who will be using the program. It starts off pretty simple and crude, but at each stage, it gets better. And the people using the program can see how it’s progressing along the way, as their requirements change, or as they realize they didn’t really know what they wanted at the beginning. This results in better computer programs, more quickly, less expensively, and with happier users and programmers.

Perfectionism, in other words, is a trap. It’s not possible to know in advance, or in isolation, what the “perfect” system or solution will be. It’s much better to begin with an “ok” solution and modify it as needed along the way, as real-life situations suggest improvements.

As a junkie of self-development systems, I fall into the trap of perfectionism constantly. Some of you reading know exactly what I mean. Do you try each year to develop the perfect planning system, the perfect filing system, or the perfect diet, instead of simply starting with an “ok” system and making adjustments? Is your library cluttered with books about the latest perfect system for self-development? Is your closet cluttered with the latest exercise gadget?

For me, and I suspect for many others, perfectionism is really an effort-avoidance strategy at some unconscious level. We work at designing the perfect system because we don’t want to engage in the hard work of actually starting. There’s a very interesting book called The War of Art by Steven

 Pressfield that talks about creative blocks. Pressfield teaches that there is actually a psychic force or entity called “Resistance” which is actively engaged in the goal of preventing you from fulfilling your calling or destiny. Perfectionism is among the many tools it uses to keep you from actually achieving your goals.

To overcome resistance we need to discipline ourselves to take action – as if we were literally warriors.  A warrior has no time, in the heat of battle, to wait upon the perfect plan.  Take action today on your goals. Create even if you aren’t feeling creative. Whatever it is you do,  do it. Stop planning endlessly and actually put in some work – even if you aren’t feeling at your best. Mistakes can be corrected. But you can’t correct the work you never even start.

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