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Tuesday
Feb142017

Micromastering basic life skills

We think of basic life skills, if we think at all of them, probably as things we'd wish we'd known how to perform when we started out in adult life. How to speak on the phone. How to negotiate. How to get along with people. How to curb emotional excess in situations made worse by such excess.

But I think more and more that basic life skills have the largest overlap with what used to be known as virtues: courage, honesty, self-reliance, generousity, selflessness, compassion, objectivity. But virtues have had a pretty rough ride in the last couple of centuries. For one thing they've been hijacked by every deplorable regime, cult and self-appointed messianic figure to have walked the planet. For another, they have been tamed and trimmed by polite talk in the nursery and lost their cutting edge.

But still, if you want good employees, get virtuous ones. If you want to succeed, in the only sense worth considering, be more virtuous. The only thing the last few centuries of left brain wrangling have taught us in this area is: there is no direct 'material' justification for virtue. If you don't get it, forget it...

But lots of people do 'get it'. They sense the value- intuitively not logically- in being courageous, generous, less self-centred. So how do you learn these things? In the same way as you learn anything: by watching and repeating and monitoring progress.

I realised that inadvertantly I had used micromasteries in all of these areas to make real progress. The first being generousity. Like most students I was a notorious tightwad who viewed the acts of generousity by others as mere evidence of their ill gotten wealth. I was happy to receive the benefit of such generousity, less keen to provide it myself...But meeting a truly generous man changed this. I saw that he always paid the bill for small things, stuff I could easily afford. When I started to copy this, make paying the bill a default setting, I found myself appreciating better how to be generous. Note that I'm not offering any justifications for being generous- there aren't any that stand up to logical battering. But we all know it's a worthwhile thing to be. Actually I can offer one, a paraphrase of something written by Idries Shah- the generous man may not be wise, but unlike the miserly, he has the means to attain wisdom.

A micromastery employs entry tricks so that you can make rapid early progress and it identifies a rub-pat barrier, a place where two skills pull against each other. With generousity they are the requirement to give matched by the greed to be generous. You see men in the middle-east almost fighting to pay a bill. On one level that's kind of sweet, but really it's being greedy. A micromastery for generous behaviour would hope to avoid this. It would also need to be repeatable, small, rather humble and acceptable of being a test-bed for experimentation.

The obvious one for generousity is so small and unpretentious it might pass unnoticed- but it has merit and it works. You WILL learn what generousity is by practising it and watching your reactions. Do this: everytime the transaction is for a trivial amount, for coffees, snacks, cheap drinks- pay. Be quite robust and sneaky about getting in there with yor cash first. Watch your own reluctance and relief when someone else pays. This habit of self observation allows you to experiment. What happens when you pay and no one knows you've paid and you don't tell them? Harder isn't it? But that is the aim of generousity- to do it whether people know or not, with a distinct preference for anonymity.

The indirect benefits of generousity are vast of course, but probably best not to dwell on them too much...

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