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Getting Away from the Daily Digital Noise: A List of Time-tested Classics

Getting Away from the Daily Digital Noise: A List of Time-tested Classics

Books

    FriendFeed, Twitter, email, Skype, Messenger, Blackberries and iPhones, blogs and e-zines.

    It’s all a little bit overwhelming sometimes, right? We’ve looked again and again at various ways to escape the barrage of online content so we can get more work done – but never so we can take a break and reconnect with other content. Perhaps, the kind that comes under the category of “literature.”

    Let’s face facts; there is some great content online, but there’s more rubbish. At least when you pick up a book in a bookstore, you know it’s been through a rigorous editorial process and most of the rubbish has been weeded out. Evidently, the keyword here is ‘most’ – just the other day I was at one of those huge chain bookstores where I noticed they were still selling copies of Dianetics!

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    While we are always in pursuit of the perfect way to manage and minimize our content intake, somewhat like the diet-crazed society of the second millennium, it’s important to realize that just as with food, quality is more important than quantity. If we cut down on the noise but have no signal, then there’s no point trying to begin with.

    And almost like the blogs in your feed reader, the bestseller list in the bookstore is constantly changing. But what if we had a collection of classics that have stood the test of time to prove their worth that could keep the signal high and the noise low? Here is one take on what that list might look like, bearing in mind that it would be hard to agree on and create a list that could be considered complete.

    Homer’s The Iliad & The Odyssey

    Homer’s works are sometimes considered introductory and prerequisite into the world of classic literature, and since they’re not light reading, you may as well start on a full stomach. An embodiment of the literature of ancient Greece, considered to be the forefather of modern Western thought, these epic poems speak through heroes to deliver very different messages. The Iliad, the story of Achilles, is about strength and brute force. The Odyssey is about a hero who relies on his mind, despite his strength, to win his battles.

    Plato, the Great Philosopher

    Perhaps one of the most often referenced philosophers of all time, Plato wrote important works that were often delivered through a dialogue in which a particular concept or issue was explored, in the style of his teacher Socrates. Plato’s works are broad-ranging, discussing everything from whether virtues can be taught, to the nature of justice.

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    Aristotle

    If you thought Plato had covered a varied list of topics, his student, Aristotle probably went further – in one treatise exploring biology and in another, aesthetics or politics. Aristotle was trained in medicine before he became a student of philosophy, so it’s understandable that where Plato put more importance in ideas, conceptualization, reason and intellect, Aristotle saw the world as physical reality, that can be dissected and researched. He was probably the grandfather of modern scientific bureaucrats – if it can’t be labeled by science, it doesn’t exist!

    The Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

    Moving on from the Greek era, Aurelius was a Roman Emperor who, in the inherent spare time that come with positions of high office, was also a writer. Machiavelli called him the last of the Five Good Emperors (theorizing that those who adopted the throne usually ran a good government, while those who inherited it ran a bad one). In his Meditations, written as a form of introspection for the sake of his own self-improvement, Aurelius promotes ideas such as that of human freedom and that virtue is to live in accord with nature.

    Perhaps most importantly is Aurelius’ idea that what makes us human is our mortality.

    The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer

    Some of the most famous storytelling of the medieval era is that of Geoffrey Chaucer, not so long ago revived in the movie A Knight’s Tale (in which Chaucer is made a character). The movie is based on The Knight’s Tale, the second tale from The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stores written in poetry and prose. Some scholars contend that this is the work that marked the tipping point when English overtook French as the Western world’s primary literary language.

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    Machiavelli’s The Prince

    In our latte-sipping, iPhone-swinging world Machiavelli would’ve had one heck of a scented resume, wearing a multitude of hats – diplomat, philosopher, musician, poet and playwright, and a central figure in the Italian Renaissance. He is best known for his classic work The Prince. It explores Machiavelli’s ideas on political theory, which place a high priority on maintaining stability above all else. A book on politics, theory, and practicality that the clever can apply to many areas of their lives – including productivity.

    The Bard, William Shakespeare

    As soon as I mentioned classic literature you saw this name coming; Shakespeare is either synonymous with it, or he is it! Shakespeare wrote tragic love stories in the masterpiece that has become a modern cliche for romance – Romeo and Juliet – and slapstick in works such as The Comedy of Errors. While he wasn’t the icon he is today while he was still alive, Shakespeare remains relevant because it was written timelessly; at one level or another, his plays are about humanity and its nature.

    Milton’s Paradise Lost

    John Milton was a civil servant for England in the 16th century on one hand, but on another a writer of poet and prose. He condemned censorship, a problem then and now, in Areopagitica, but his most famous work is the epic Paradise Lost. In this book Milton romanticized the fallen angel and looked at the ancient story from a different perspective, the character Lucifer becoming a big influence on Byron’s characterizations. For the modern reader who is looking for material that assists in the field of personal development, this book could provide some food for thought on the topics of individuality and freedom.

    War and Peace by Tolstoy

    Bemoaned for its length, which is epic in and of itself, War and Peace was written by Russian writer and count Leo Tolstoy, and is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of literature (like everything else in this list). War and Peace has broad and sweeping themes of giant proportion including, of course, war and peace, as well as other facts of life; aging, youth, and relationships. It is unique from many of the other Western classics presented since it came from a Russian count, and a totally different culture.

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    These are only a few classics that are part of a very long history of deserving titles, but these are some of the most well-respected in history – not to mention more than enough to get you started and keep you busy for a long while.

    And when you’re done, you can fire up that feed reader again!

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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