Monday, October 27, 2014

Caught in the Crossfire

I was on vacation in Nashville all of last week and it was wonderful; like no other vacation I've taken before. I've been to Nashville at least a half dozen times in the past, so the location wasn't really that big of a factor, but the thing that made it great is a decision I made before we left. I decided I wasn't going to be hurried for the entire week.

Most people who know me wouldn't consider me a hurried person, but I HATE being delayed, and if I start to feel delayed, I can turn into a real A-hole. The only person who really sees this is my wife, and it happens a lot when we're traveling. I get annoyed if we leave later than I planned on leaving, if we have to make bathroom stops (even though I'm usually the one that needs them), if it takes more than two minutes to find a parking spot, and/or if there's traffic that gets in my way. When these things happen, I tend to get really on edge and grumpy, and it's no fun for anyone. I'm much more prone to being nasty to my wife and to others if I'm in this mood.  

For this trip though, I decided to ignore what normally annoys me. Instead of making one big long trip, we only drove a little bit each day.We stopped in Kansas City for a day, then St. Louis for a day, then on to Nashville for several days, then to Kentucky for a day, then back to Kansas City for a day, then home. We took bathroom breaks whenever we (I) needed them. Parking and traffic in Nashville sucks, but I tried not to let it get to me (it still did a bit). There were several major cities we passed through with even worse traffic than Nashville but I tried to keep a cool head about it. While in Nashville we made an effort not to plan a lot for each day, instead focusing on one or two things we wanted to do and then just took our time doing those things. In the end, the efforts paid off. We got to spend quality time with several of our good friends and the vacation was fun, relaxing, and mostly tension free.

While there are definitely more responsibilities and time frames I have to adhere too in real life as compared to when I'm vacation, I want to carry this unhurried mindset forward into day to day living. I want to make my days less "full" when possible, and not get on edge if circumstances leave me running five minutes behind. It feels a bit lazy and irresponsible to say since "slowing down" is completely counter cultural and not very "productive," but I think I need to do it regardless. If for no other reason than it makes me less of a jerk.

I read a psychological study on being hurried a while back and it ultimately led me to make this decision. Give it a read and then ask yourself if slowing down might be a good thing to consider for yourself...

Copied and paraphrased from 

A Good Samaritan

In their classic study, prominent social psychologists Darley and Batson recruited 67 students from the Princeton Theological Seminary and told them it was a study about religious education and vocations. They were asked to fill in some personality questionnaires and told they were going to give a brief talk in a nearby room. Some were asked to give a short talk about the types of jobs that seminary graduates would be suited for, while the others were asked to talk about the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’.

Unknown to the study’s participants, they were to experience their very own ‘Good Samaritan’ test. After filling out their questionnaires and while making their way to the other office to give their talk, they would encounter a man lying in a doorway, doubled over, eyes closed and coughing. Participants would have to pass the apparently highly distressed man, but would they stop to help?

The experimenters thought it would depend on how much participants were hurried, so they manipulated this by giving them a map and one of the following three instructions:

1. “Oh, you’re late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago. We’d better get moving…”
2. “The assistant is ready for you, so please go right over.”
3. “…It’ll be a few minutes before they’re ready for you, but you might as well head on over…”

This created three conditions: high, medium and low hurry. So some students left the office thinking they needed to go quickly, others less so, while some were relaxed. Each of these conditions was also split into two: half about to deliver a talk on the Good Samaritan, the other half on job prospects for seminary graduates. This meant that the experimenters could assess both the effect of hurry as well as the talk they were giving on the students’ helping behaviours. Would having a relevant parable uppermost in their minds nudge participants into helping?

Here’s what happened. On average just 40% of the seminary students offered help (with a few stepping over the apparently injured man) but crucially the amount of hurry they were in had a large influence on behaviour. Here is the percentage of participants who offered help by condition:
  • Low hurry: 63%
  • Medium hurry: 45%
  • High hurry: 10%

The type of talk they were giving also had an effect on whether they offered help. Of those asked to talk about careers for seminarians, just 29% offered help, while of those asked to talk about the parable of the Good Samaritan, fully 53% gave assistance.

What these figures show is the large effect that subtle aspects of the situation have on the way people behave. Recall that the experimenters also measured personality variables, specifically the ‘religiosity’ of the seminarians. When the effect of personality was compared with situation, i.e. how much of a hurry they happened to be in or whether they were thinking about a relevant parable, the effect of religiosity was almost insignificant. In this context, then, situation is easily trumping personality.

"Crossfire" by Stevie Ray Vaughan

Day by day, night after night
Blinded by the neon light
Hurry here, hustling there
No one's got the time to spare
Money's tight, nothing free
Won't somebody come and rescue me

I am stranded, caught in the crossfire
Stranded, caught in the crossfire

Tooth for tooth, eye for an eye
Sell your soul just to bop on by
Beggin' for a dollar, stealin' a dime
Come on can't you see that I'm

Stranded, caught in the crossfire
I am stranded, caught in the crossfire

I need some, kind of kindness
Some kind of sympathy, oh no

Save the strong, lose the weak
Never turning the other cheek
Trust nobody, don't be no fool
Whatever happened to the golden rule

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Best Investment I Ever Made

For those who may not know, I’m a licensed stock broker and investment advisor, so legally, I can’t make any investment recommendations on a public platform. Thankfully the best investment I ever made has nothing to do with the stock market.

My 33rd birthday will be here in a couple months which means I've been playing guitar for 20 years. To give you an idea of how long that really is, consider the pouch that I keep my guitar tools in…

This is the pouch from the “Pepsi Stuff” sunglasses I saved points for in 1996… 
This was a couple years after I started playing guitar. 

I consider buying my first guitar the best investment I ever made. Here's why.

1. It’s given me hours of mental stimulation, relaxation, and entertainment.
When I’m playing guitar, time disappears. I used to practice for hours and hours every single day. These days I only get an hour here of there, but the more I can get, the better.

2. It’s a perfect outlet for frustration.
You can play angry songs on the guitar. You can play sad songs on the guitar. You can write nasty songs about your job on guitar. Learning how to play Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Texas Flood” helped me get over a breakup. Writing “10 o’clock Tuesday” helped me get through a bad day at work. I have no doubt that there are difficult times ahead of me and I'll pick up guitar to help get through them.

3. Guitar rarely causes me to lose sleep at night.
Have you ever talked with someone who’s made a bad investment? I do every day. They're not pleasant. Bad investments are stressful and can keep you up at night. The only time I ever lose sleep over guitar is when I have a good song in my head and I want to get it on paper before I forget it.

4. It’s allowed me to travel the country.
I remember standing and looking at the Statue of Liberty and asking the other guitarist in my band "Did you ever think learning to play guitar would bring you this far?" It was a surreal moment. Playing guitar has taken me through Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan (by mistake), Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

5. It’s allowed me to make a lot of great friends.
Some of the best friends I have are a direct result of playing the guitar. My former band mates and the friends we made on the road all hold a special place in my heart. This alone makes the time I've spent playing a worthwhile investment.

6. I met my wife thanks to guitar.
We started hanging out after we met at one of my shows.

 Seriously, why would a babe like this ever give a nerd like me a second glance? Guitar. Nuff said.

7. Guitar taught me the growth mindset
There are two types of mindsets. A fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A person with a fixed mindset believes that they’re either good at something or they’re not. I used to fall into this category. Then I started playing guitar. I was terrible. I remember thinking I’d never be able to play a Power Chord, but I worked at it, and eventually I could. Then I remember thinking it would be impossible to play an E-Form Bar Chord. How on earth was I going to hold down 6 strings with only 4 fingers? But I worked at it, and eventually I could. A person with a growth mindset believes they can be good at anything if they work hard at it. Developing a growth mindset has opened the door to countless opportunities for me and I've got guitar to thank for that.

I guess you could say guitar has helped me make money, and I suppose that adds to its value, but most of the money I've made playing guitar has been spent buying more guitar gear, so it hasn't exactly been profitable. In reality, I could probably buy a new car with all I've spent on guitar gear... but money isn't everything. Right?