The Five Chimps Theory

“A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are.” ~ Unknown

 

Naval Ravikant mentions a theory called “The 5 Chimp Theory” in the book Tools of Titans. It says that in zoology you can predict the mood and behavior of one chimp by observing which five chimps they hang out with the most. Similarly, Jim Rohn said that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Basically, you take the behaviors and mind think of that group. In my case, my five-chimp group is composed of family, friends from high school, and those who became friends later in life. By the way, I don’t believe the magic number has to be exactly five. It could be four or six or other number. The point remains that you should be mindful of those you frequent, as you will behave like them.

So this idea tells us that if we want to grow as a person, we should be mindful who we are hanging around with. Success gurus tell us that we should discard these people if they are toxic and if their life values are not aligned with ours. Life is like quick sand and if we stop to rescue others from it, we will all sink. So we should evolve and make new acquaintances, people who are positive and share similar life goals, and who with time will become close friends. We will push each other toward the goal, whatever that is, but one who should be similar.

But these experts may have neglected the fact that humans are different than chimps. My family and friends were at my wedding, we have had many adventures together, and most importantly, were there at my lowest points. I remember some of my darkest days when I would be driving in my car, lost in thought, and for no reason my cell phone would ring and one of my best friends would call me just to see how I was doing. That is priceless! I have done the same as well. These last few months two of my closest friends lost their mothers. I did not know what to say or do, but I tried my best to be there for them.

So, I have decided to not listen to the experts this time. I do not mean giving up on my dreams, but more like continue on this journey WITHOUT giving up on those close to me that for whatever reason, decided that life is just fine the way it is. So my group of chimps can be a little different than what the theory says. We have one lazy chimp who eats and sleeps all day, one happy-go-lucky chimp who plays with twigs and rocks, one romantic chimp who chases after other chimps, one motivated chimp who collects bananas for the future, and one who observes and tries to keep them all together. They can make their own conclusions as where they fall in.

 

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Photo by Dylan Mullins on Unsplash

Freedom

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

~Declaration of Independence of the United States of America – July 4, 1776

 

I went to see a therapist as a last resort. I was going through the most difficult time in my life, a separation after a 9-year marriage, and my sweet sister suggested this professional counselor, who came highly recommended. I finally went, had nothing to lose anymore, and maybe, just maybe, it would help. In one of the sessions, he told me something I will never forget. He said “give yourself permission to do such and such”. I jumped up and said “what do you mean, give myself permission!?”

The painful situation that I was going through and that I had been confiding in him had not happened because I decided or did not decide to do something. It was out of my control and it was caused by other people and or external forces or situations. But he told me in his wisdom, after all he had seen hundreds if not thousands of cases, that people have certain behavioral patterns in reaching decisions. We feel obligated to act in a particular way or take on a role in life because of what we learned as children from our parents or those who raised us. Then we use techniques which helped us survive when young, based on our personalities and values, and keep doing them as adults.

He said I could stop doing things I did not want to do. Give myself permission to say no to a situation I did not want to do. Or to pursue something I wanted to do. Ever since that day, I started to become the director of my life. I know we all think we do that already, but before deciding to do something, do you stop and think how your actions will be perceived by others? What will they think of me now? How will it affect them? I really don’t know what other people think, people are funny that way, but I like to believe they are too busy collaborating with others on their own mind stories. Of course life has compromises, that’s what makes it interesting. But you should not self sabotage your life.

Now if I think I should do something out of obligation only, I do not. If I had a tough day and I have not finished all activities on my “to-do-list”, I take the evening off and relax, guilt free. Or if I am hesitant to do something out of fear, I tell myself do it “to the best of my abilities.” Basically I removed the pressure to be perfect or not do it at all mentality that I had when younger. Because of a single comment heard many years ago, I have given myself permission to find those activities that light up my life, and stop those that take away the fire. So on this day where we celebrate freedom as a nation, I urge you to write your personal Declaration of Independence as a person, and declare that from now on, you are free from those mind blocks that have been with you during your whole life. Starting now, go and pursue your happiness!

 

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Photo by Junior Moran on Unsplash

Seeds

“When we do the best that we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.”                                                                                                                               

~ Helen Keller ~

 

Sharing is caring, as they say. When I find an article or video that captures my attention, I like to share it with my family and friends. Recently I saw a video of Tim Ferris interviewing Josh Waitzkin, a former child prodigy chess player who was the basis for the movie “Searching for Bobby Fisher”.  Josh coaches CEO’s now, and he mentions how listening to your intuition is critical for performing at a high level. I consider myself an intuitive person, so this topic is particularly interesting to me. Because of this self-perceived intuitiveness, I think I know what topics my friends like (you know where I am going with this).

I have a friend who likes to learn about several subjects at once. So I shared with him the video (don’t worry, I will also share it with you). I was certain he would find the section about learning and intuition fascinating. When I saw him next, I asked him what he thought of it. He said the video was excellent, and he especially liked the part about heart rate variability. I exclaimed “What!? Did I send you the wrong video?” I really couldn’t recall anything about heart rate variability. “Yeah”, he said, “I am pretty sure Josh mentions how he used HRV techniques to kick into high gear”. Ok, so then he did see the same video I did. So how could I miss this topic myself? I decided to re-watch it.

This morning I watched the video again, took notes, AND I noticed my behavior. The video covers several topics, including foiling/surfing, unconscious learning, tracking biomarkers, resonance frequencies, triggers, using your intuition (best part), and yes, the mysterious heart rate variability is indeed there. I was completely taken aback how I missed it, and of course, now I had to find out why. During my second pass at the same video, I realized that my attention would drift on and off. Why was that, if the video is not that long (about 45 minutes), and the topic interests me?

I realize that I watched that particular video because I already have an interest in the topic of learning and intuition, and I believed those topics would be discussed in detail. I also realized that any other topic I heard, I either skipped but remembered I did (surfing), or not noticed it altogether (HRV). Since I don’t see myself competing for a surfing championship any time soon, I disregarded it. HRV was something I had never heard of, and because it was outside my “zone of interest”, I did not notice it.

My behavior while learning is somewhat concerning in the sense that I may miss something important because I think I already know it, I think I have no interest in it, or I am unfamiliar with it. My own lesson from this is to pay attention to all I hear or see, not because I will use all of it, but because I may miss something, a hidden gem, that could benefit me. It is ok to discard those things I do not want to pursue, but I should do it with sufficient information.

My other lesson is that no matter how well you think you know someone, everyone is on a different path in their life journey. Priorities change all the time for people, and one week they may be interested in taking a new physical activity, while another they are contemplating whether to start a college program or attend a workshop online. Even my own priorities are changing all the time. I will try to not assume I know the present estate of interest of my friends/relatives as well as I think.

Now I see sharing knowledge as planting seeds. I still share articles or quotes that I believe are inspirational, but I have no agenda. I share complete and open, and people will interpret it their own way, and come to their own conclusions to use or not. Which is really the point of life, sharing experiences, and taking what you can use for the good, while leaving the rest alone, without judgement. The seed will become the plant in their own time and with their own means. You did your part by sharing the idea, and sometimes, somehow, you will benefit from its fruits.

The video I mentioned earlier is here: here 

 

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Hurdles

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” ~ Harriet Beecher Stowe

 

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I hated reading. No, I am not contradicting my previous blog post. What I mean is that I only used to read fiction books and encyclopedias (yes, I know, it’s a bit strange). Now I have been reading self-improvement books, and the reason I find them so fascinating is the “self” part, meaning that I can try the techniques the authors recommend to my own life, and after some time, I can see if it works for me. I am my own guinea pig in my life experiments. Today I want to share something new that I tried myself, in the hope that it may help others.

This past week had been intense, work wise, I was traveling overseas for business and had a pending issue that had been nagging me for several days. The worst part is that this problem is related to a product that is well outside my comfort zone: it is software related (I am not a software engineer), it is an older equipment (I never received proper training for it), it is not widely used (but our customer likes it), and very few people are experienced with it (who do I ask?). So I have a few good excuses at my disposal if things get too hairy, so I could easily “mentally quit”.

I did what I usually do when trying to do troubleshooting, which consists of reading manuals, bulletins and then asking people who know more than I if they have ever encountered a similar problem. Reading the manual is easy, but asking people for help feels uncomfortable to me, especially in an industry in which the more you know, the higher up you are perceived in the technological ladder. The phrase “I don’t know” is never mentioned by other engineers. Most responses are filled with links to support sites and much technical jargon. But I decided to humble myself and ask for help, not advice, directly help. I mentioned I did not have experience with this older product and I would appreciate assistance.

It was overwhelming the quick and appropriate advice I received! Several questions I had about the problem were resolved and suggestions were offered. Do not be afraid or proud of asking people for help! If you have done your due diligence beforehand, good people will help. They will know if you tried your best to look for the solution (ask good questions), instead of going the lazy route. Also, if someone needs help, you should be the first one to step up, pass on the knowledge and experience, or even offer suggestions. Likewise, if you don’t know, just say so, and do not be worried about judgement from your peers. Life is not about who is better, but how we all can lift each other up.

Filled with a bit of added confidence, I decided to tackle the problem in a different way that I usually do it, and more importantly, putting into practice some of the tools that I had read from experts.

Have an intention and visualize: this morning I got up and I told myself that I would not wait until Monday to try to solve the problem. No, I said to myself that today I, Rene, would solve this problem. I visualized myself working on the problem, reading websites about it, and finally completing the task. I did not see myself just completing the goal, but also going through the steps and effort of getting there.

Think logically and unemotionally: going thru the effort means that the path to accomplishing a worthwhile goal is not all rosy. There will be disappointments along the way, and we should be prepared to handle them, both mentally and with possible action plans. In my own situation, I told myself “If step A does not work, how can I proceed? Check in website 1A”. Sometimes emotions overrule our logical thinking and we let projects stall for another day. So when the first inevitable hurdle happened, it had been considered, and I was able to overcome it by not behaving emotionally.

Take breaks: this is something I have argued about with friends, and don’t really understand how it works, but it has been suggested by many authors that while you go for a walk or wash dishes, etc, the mind is working in the background on the problem at hand. So when something was not working today, I took a step back and did something unrelated around the house.  While doing this, an idea popped into my head, and I went back to the problem and I jumped another hurdle!

Don’t give up: our mind is always trying to protect us, so one thing it does is when you have done good work, it will tell you something along these lines: “Rene, you have done great up to now, so you deserve to take a break, go eat ice cream and we can continue later.” When this happens, we should realize 1) that later really means never, and most importantly, that 2) we must be very close to figuring out the solution, so don’t give up now! This I did not realize until I fully understood the quote mentioned at the top of this blog. That is why I included it.

At this specific moment, I tried another approach, and voila, the final hurdle was completed and the finish line was in front of me!!!  Wahoo!!! After a few hours of hard and dedicated labor, I had finally completed this task, something which felt very unrealistic and almost impossible to accomplish, three hours prior. Overcoming hurdles which seem impossible at any given time, is all about having a plan of action and sticking to it, even when things become difficult (and they will). Believe in advice, believe in good people, and most importantly, believe in yourself!

 

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Writing

“Here’s the thing: the book that will most change your life is the book you write.”              – Seth Godin

 

Why do we do what we do? I personally write because it is the best way to express myself and share my purpose. What is my purpose? I have thought this quite a lot recently, and my best answer is to make people realize that time is precious, and they should do what makes them happy, and this happiness will align with their purpose. So when people feel asleep at the wheel of life, I want to gently shake them up and make sure they stay on target.

Seems simple enough, but the problem is that life itself has become complicated, handling relationships, jobs or businesses, caring for children and/or parents, and many other responsibilities and activities. So it is easy to get lost on the busyness of modern life. The key is to manage all aspects of life in a way that we maintain our individuality or sense of self. Yes, we may be spouses, parents, sons or daughters, siblings, friends, in one or several social circles, but we are also people, and we should not put our needs on hold in order to fulfill some sense of duty for others. It is perfectly acceptable to do both. We deserve to be the stars in the movie of our lives. I actually arrived at this conclusion by accident, as most ideas tend to happen to me. Or maybe it was not an accident at all, just I was not attuned to see the nuances of life.

I have been completely alone for the first time in my life. I lived with my parents into my 30’s (at a time before it was considered cool or financially necessary lol), then I was married for almost a decade, then divorced and then in a relationship for more than a year, and now I am flying solo for over a year. Like with new experiences, I was a bit scared at the beginning, like I had no purpose, nobody to support, counsel or raise anymore. But then I thought, maybe the person I am supposed to support/counsel/raise is myself! So I started to study myself and my habits up to now, what I was happy with, and what I wanted to improve. I started reading from people who have been thinking about this far longer than I. Then I took notes and started to see patterns appear, which lead me to listen to my own voice. The noise of life sometimes is too loud and we must be conscious. Now I am at the stage of sharing what I believe has helped me being my true authentic self, not necessarily a different me, but the true me.

One of the positive outcomes of my present lifestyle is that I have time to read, write, and especially think. I understand perfectly that not everyone has the luxury of having time to themselves, so taking baby steps, start scheduling some time to think about what makes you tick, what puts you in a state of flow, etc. If this has not happened to you in a while, think back when you were a kid, when there were no responsibilities and the summers would last forever. I remember when I was younger and my Dad would take me to John F Kennedy Library in Hialeah, and I would spend hours reading books, not because I had to, but because I wanted to.  Many years later, I have returned to reading, now made easier with e-books, although I still return to the library once in a while, as the smell of old books has not been (yet) replaced by their electronic counterparts.

What did you enjoy doing when you were younger? What would make you forget about everyone and everything, until your parents called you to have dinner? Or maybe it was later in life, in your teens, twenties, etc., when you would get lost in books, nature, swimming, working with plants, painting, taking the perfect photo, staring into the sunset? The best part of this exercise is that there is no right or wrong answer; it’s whatever works for us as individuals, and that is the whole point of it, finding our sense of self, which may have been sleeping all these years, and is now ready to wake up.

 

  • You can read more about my first library here

 

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My Dad and I at JFK library, circa 1985.