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Think Like a Cat

Think Like a Cat

So a friend of mine is building a robot. Most things that get called robots are really nothing more than remote control cars with a few smarts, or telepresence vehicles. But this guy is all about the soul of the machine, the way the robot will consider things. And his model? He plans for his robot to think like a cat. (Disclosure: I’m not a “cat person”. I appreciate them, though.)

  • Cats Don’t Care About Details– When a cat enters a room, it looks around for: threats, creatures, food, places to sleep. There’s probably a process in their minds to determine how bad a threat is, who the creatures are (are they in my pride?), what type of food, but I think the details get fuzzy beyond that. (Any cat shrinks in the house?). How would you apply this to your life? Are the details of every little thing important? Or can you abstract things to the point of: “what do I need to survive, connect, eat, and sleep?”
  • Cats Don’t Need Maps– Programming a robot to move around is a pain, but cats just know the basic laws of physics (insofar as those apply to them). They know that up is often safer than ground-level, but that ground-level is more often where the food is. Everything else is just a navigation path, but not a map. Maps are too static. They don’t account for dynamics. Google Maps doesn’t tell you (yet) that a truck rolled over (is there a mashup for this that’s really good?). How would your day change if you threw away rigid schedules in exchange for a path that got you through to what you need?
  • Cats Exert Little Energy– Why search over and over for food? Find a source that seems easy to reach, easy to consume, and reasonable in taste, and call it good. A lot of what we do in life ends up drawing more energy out of us than necessary. Sure, we don’t have to be slugs and sleep 70% of the day, but maybe cats offer a great model for exertion with regards to reward. Make sure you’re not working too hard to get what you need. (We’ll cover this in an interview I plan to post).
  • Cats Don’t Deduce- They Just Take What’s There– Sometimes, we get into a habit of over-thinking things. We over-clock our ideas. This leads to double-guessing, reworking, and all other kinds of non-catlike behavior. One interpretation of Occam’s Razor is this: if it looks that way, it probably *is* that way. (WAY oversimplified, I admit). That’s similar to the power of Google. You know why Google works for most of the “weird” requests we give it? Because it’s “good enough.” And that’s often all we need to complete our task. Ditto for cats. How about you?
  • Cats Network Well– When a cat comes into the room, they “own” the room. They make an effort to move around, see who’s there, maybe rub legs with a few folks. They spend just enough love and attention with everyone (maybe not little folks) to give everyone a chance to connect with the cat. When you go to events, do you remember to own the room? Do you try to network and meet all the people in the room? What if everything you did in that room were an assessment of threat, ally, food, or recreation? Would that change your view?

You guys are great for letting me launch so many metaphor posts at you (analogy? – help me, grammarians!). I like them because they help me think about things in a different way. I am fond of saying: If I want to learn about new ways to do business, the last thing I’d do is read a business book. I hope you concur.

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–Chris Brogan writes about self improvement and creativity at [chrisbrogan.com]. He’s helping to organize Podcamp Boston.

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Last Updated on January 2, 2020

How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

Over time, we all gather a set of constricting habits around us—ones that trap us in a zone of supposed comfort, well below what our potential would allow us to attain. Pretty soon, such habits slip below the level of our consciousness, but they still determine what we think that we can and cannot do—and what we cannot even bring ourselves to try. As long as you let these habits rule you, you’ll be stuck in a rut.

Like the tiny, soft bodied creatures that build coral reefs, habits start off small and flexible, and end up by building massive barriers of rock all around your mind. Inside the reefs, the water feels quiet and friendly. Outside, you think it’s going to be rough and stormy. There may be sharks. But if you’re to develop in any direction from where you are today, you must go outside that reef of habits that marks the boundaries of your comfort zone. There’s no other way. There’s even nothing specially wrong with those habits as such. They probably worked for you in the past.

But now, it’s time to step over them and go into the wider world of your unused potential. Your fears don’t know what’s going to be out there, so they invent monsters and scary beasts to keep you inside.

Nobody’s born with an instruction manual for life. Despite all the helpful advice from parents, teachers and elders, each of us must make our own way in the world, doing the best we can and quite often getting things wrong.

Messing up a few times isn’t that big a deal. But if you get scared and try to avoid all mistakes by sticking with just a few “tried and true” behaviors, you’ll miss out on most opportunities as well.

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Lots of people who suffer from boredom at work are doing it to themselves. They’re bored and frustrated because that’s what their choices have caused them to be. They’re stuck in ruts they’ve dug for themselves while trying to avoid making mistakes and taking risks. People who never make mistakes never make anything else either.

It’s time to pin down the habits that have become unconscious and are running your life for you, and get rid of them. Here’s how to do it:

1. Understand the Truth about Your Habits

They always represent past successes. You have formed habitual, automatic behaviors because you once dealt with something successfully, tried the same response next time, and found it worked again. That’s how habits grow and why they feel so useful.

To get away from what’s causing your unhappiness and workplace blues, you must give up on many of your most fondly held (and formerly successful) habits. and try new ways of thinking and acting. There truly isn’t any alternative. Those habits are going to block you from finding new and creative ideas. No new ideas, no learning. No learning, no access to successful change.

2. Do Something—Almost Anything—Differently and See What Happens

Even the most successful habits eventually lose their usefulness as events change the world and fresh responses are called for. Yet we cling on to them long after their benefit has gone.

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Past strategies are bound to fail sometime. Letting them become automatic habits that take the controls is a sure road to self-inflicted harm.

3. Take Some Time out and Have a Detailed Look at Yourself—With No Holds Barred

Discovering your unconscious habits can be tough. For a start, they’re unconscious, right? Then they fight back.

Ask anyone who has ever given up smoking if habits are tough to break. You’ve got used to them—and they’re at least as addictive as nicotine or crack cocaine.

4. Be Who You Are

It’s easy to assume that you always have to fit in to get on in the world; that you must conform to be liked and respected by others or face exclusion. Because most people want to please, they try to become what they believe others expect, even if it means forcing themselves to be the kind of person they aren’t, deep down.

You need to start by putting yourself first. You’re unique. We’re all unique, so saying this doesn’t suggest that you’re better than others or deserve more than they do.

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You need to put yourself first because no one else has as much interest in your life as you do; and because if you don’t, no one else will. Putting others second means giving them their due respect, not ignoring them totally.

Keeping up a self-image can be a burden. Hanging on to an inflated, unrealistic one is a curse. Give yourself a break.

5. Slow Down and Let Go

Most of us want to think of ourselves as good, kind, intelligent and caring people. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes it isn’t.

Reality is complex. We can’t function at all without constant input and support from other people.

Everything we have, everything we’ve learned, came to us through someone else’s hands. At our best, we pass on this borrowed existence to others, enhanced by our contribution. At our worst, we waste and squander it.

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So recognize that you’re a rich mixture of thoughts and feelings that come and go, some useful, some not. There’s no need to keep up a façade; no need to pretend; no need to fear of what you know to be true.

When you face your own truth, you’ll find it’s an enormous relief. If you’re maybe not as wonderful as you’d like to be, you aren’t nearly as bad as you fear either.

The truth really does set you free; free to work on being better and to forgive yourself for being human; free to express your gratitude to others and recognize what you owe them; free to acknowledge your feelings without letting them dominate your life. Above all, you’ll be free to understand the truth of living: that much of what happens to you is no more than chance. It can’t be avoided and is not your fault. There’s no point in beating yourself up about it.

Final Thoughts

What is holding you in situations and actions that no longer work for you often isn’t inertia or procrastination. It’s the power of habitual ways of seeing the world and thinking about events. Until you can let go of those old, worn-out habits, they’ll continue to hold you prisoner.

To stay in your comfort zone through mere habit, or—worse still—to stay there because of irrational fears of what may lie outside, will condemn you to a life of frustration and regret.

If you can accept the truth about the world and yourself, change whatever is holding you back, and get on with a fresh view on life, you’ll find that single action lets you open the door of your self-imposed prison and walk free. There’s a marvelous world out there. You’ll see, if you try it!

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Featured photo credit: teigan rodger via unsplash.com

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