If I want to be like Alex Lightman when I grow up, how do I go about it?

*I realize that many aspects of my personality were shaped by my mother and by the almost complete absence of a father.

My mother valued reading, writing, questioning, and appreciating self-sufficiency above almost anything else. She never remarried after her husband died because she wanted her complete independence.

Beyond my mother, I have been skilled, talented and lucky enough to get hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of training by the age of 21, including from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard, Lund University, and the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy.* I have found myself having an advantage both mentally and physically from this – I can read a book in a couple of hours, write a book in a couple of weeks, and work out intensely for an hour or more a day for weeks on end. 

When we learn, we go through four stages:

I. Unconscious incompetence
II. Conscious incompetence
III. Conscious competence
IV. Unconscious competence

So I try to experience conscious incompetence as much as possible. That is counter to my cultural programming as an upper middle-class white male, which emphasizes mastery, leadership, competence and excellence. These things are all the enemies of Neurogenesis.

Lastly, I have made good use of social media. There is a saying that you are the average of your five closest friends. Maybe for some people. For me, I am a constellation of little-pieces from the 10,000+ people I am connected to on social media, including some people on Quora.

* Military trading was U.S. Army Cadet Command (ROTC), plus Airborne paratrooper training in Ft. Benning, Georgia and U.S. Navy Cold Weather Survival Training in Rangley, Maine. It’s said that your personality is determined by age seven. I don’t think that is true: military training changes a person, especially if your personality is as an introverted-intellectual who reads comic books and lives in his head.*

Answer by Alex Lightman:

As I look back, I realize that many aspects of my personality were shaped by my mother and by the almost complete absence of a father.

My mother valued reading, writing, questioning, and appreciating self-sufficiency above almost anything else. She never remarried after her husband died because she wanted her complete independence.

My mother had a few things posted on her  bathroom mirror

1. Completions empower. Incompletions drain. (I can see the influence of this on my Quora participation – each question answered is a the low hanging fruit of completion.)

2. The superfluous is the enemy of the essential. (Focus on what really matters. My last book written was on Food Security. My last talk given was on how food, water and energy will be provided to humanity in the network society.

Another thing my mother emphasized was adaptation vs adaptability as the opposite ends of a continuum. You could either focus on being adapted (or potentially complacent) or on becoming adaptable. Her teaching methods were tough: we moved many times, often in the middle of the school year. She said part of the reason was to make me adaptible. As a result of this thrown-in-the-deep-end-of-the-pool learning over and over, I learned to adapt, and have spent over seven years of my life out of the U.S., in 66 countries so far.

Beyond my mother, I have been skilled, talented and lucky enough to get hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of training by the age of 21, including from MIT, Harvard, Lund University, and the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy.* I have found myself having an advantage both mentally and physically from this – I can read a book in a couple of hours, write a book in a couple of weeks, and work out intensely for an hour or more a day for weeks on end. My resting heart rate is ultra low. I think that’s all because of training.

I don’t think it’s possible to understand me without understanding the value I put on neurogenesis. I have read all 154 papers on the topic I found on PubMed searches. To boil it down, human adults develop new brain cells from exercising for 45 minutes at 75% maximum heart rate and then learning something new within 21 days. I try to do this at least 20x a month.

The exercise part is easy: I wear a heart rate monitor and work out 5x a week or so at Orange Theory Fitness when I am not traveling and have honed my effort so I get this done every workout.

Learning something new is the hard part.

I think the most useful heuristic, the one that I turn to often is that when we learn, we go through four stages:
Unconscious incompetence
Conscious incompetence
Conscious competence
Unconscious competence

So I try to experience conscious incompetence as much as possible. That is counter to my cultural programming as an upper middle class white male, which emphasizes mastery, leadership, competence and excellence. These things are all the enemies of neurogenesis.

Lastly, I have made good use of social media. There is a saying that you are the average of your five closest friends. Maybe for some people. For me, I am a constellation of little pieces from the 10,000+ people I am connected to on social media, including some people on Quora.

* Military trading was ROTC, plus Airborne paratrooper training in Ft. Benning, Georgia and U.S. Navy Cold Weather Survival Training in Rangley, Maine. It’s said that your personality is determined by age seven. I don’t think that is true: military training changes a person, especially if your personality is as an introverted intellectual who reads comic books and lives in his head.

If I want to be like Alex Lightman when I grow up, how do I go about it?

About akiramorikawa

superconnection . pattern-recognition . iDesign
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