This post provides my wishes for a Happy New Year and ideas to make this a great Decade for everyone and everything! Like most of humanity, I desire a better tomorrow. While our specific visions may differ, at core we want a world with more Love, Well-Being, Capacity and Potential. Scientific evidence has demonstrated that this type of future is not only possible, it is already on-going. Most things have gotten better in many ways.
We often miss the improvement because progress erases its tracks. Instead of complimenting our progress, society looks forward toward where we want to go next and forgets to take pride in the progress that has been made. Knowing our tendency to look past achievements, it is helpful to remember to Plot Progress so we can feel good about what has been accomplished.
On December 28, 2019, Nicholas Kristof‘s NYT’s column proclaimed, “This Has Been the Best Year Ever For humanity over all, life just keeps getting better” and “…In the long arc of human history, 2019 has been the best year ever.” Another good summary of our improvements was made by Steven Pinker in Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. I described this at Things are Great – And They are Getting Better… and also explained the importance of noticing and documenting our progress at Record Progress To Feel Good or Evidence Disappears. See more in Steven Pinkers Washington Post Interview: “A Harvard professor explains why the world is actually becoming a much better place“. Overall Steve Pinker describes how and why we have,
More Abundance, less poverty; More Peace, less wars;
More Health, less sickness; More Sustenance, less hunger;
More Productivity, less barrenness; More Freedom, less tyranny;
More equal rights, less bigotry & discrimination;
More intelligence, less dull wittedness;More literacy, less illiteracy
More knowledge , less ignorance; More happiness, less misery, meaning…
Overall: We have More opportunities to enjoy family, friends and nature,
less drudgery and monotony
Of course bad things are also happening. Unfortunately, only stopping the bad things cannot make it better, science has provided a preponderance of evidence and examples that documents we must Create More Good, Not Just Less Bad.
As we all know, if we want to make this a great new year and our best decade ever, we will need to take action. Our actions often turn into habits. This can be good because it frees our brain to do more, however it can also cause unthinking actions and we just do what always did. Understanding this suggests we should remember what Charles Kettering said,
We continually form habits, often without trying. To create the future we want, we should consciously create habits to our liking. Norman Doidge uses an analogy about sledding on a hill with soft snow to describe behaviors and habits.
As we have all experienced, after taking a few trips down a hill with soft snow, the repeated route becomes cleared and easiest to use. In time the path becomes somewhat hardened. Because it is a formed path, it becomes the path that is most likely used again. That path, like things we do in life can become a habit. The other areas of soft snow, like other options available to us in life, are still available. Taking those unused or lightly used paths will force us to develop new behaviors and learn new things.
Choosing to take a new path will likely take more effort because it is a different, unknown route. Although it takes more effort, if we are thinking as we take the new route and believe it is the best course of action, it can be worth the effort. Not only will we be engaged in an exciting and novel activity, we will be learning because we will have to expand our capacity and skills to design this new path. As noted by Robert Frost in “The Road Not Taken”, …taking the road less traveled has made all the difference.
Norman Doidge‘s analogy about habits was in his book “The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science“. A short synopsis of this good book is provided in the video below.
Doidge’s powerful book made clear, through multiple examples, that we are able to continually improve our capacity and abilities because of our innate Brain Plasticity or Neuroplasticity. Brain plasticity is the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections. It is the ability of the brain to change continuously throughout an individual’s life in response to thoughts and actions.
Doidge drives home the message, outlined by others, such as Gladwell in Outliers, Clear in Atomic Habits and many others that mass, dedicated practice can help us become and be who we want to be. The book also drove home the point that everything is connected. Over and over it was emphasized that as one thing changes in the brain, the whole brain reorganizes. Thus as anything changes, everything changes. As Deming also explained, everything becomes reorganized because if it did not, the parts could not work together. It is a great book that I recommend. Enjoy.
Now back to the brain. Along with Doidge’s book, “Soft-Wired: How the Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life” by Dr. Michael Merzenich was very powerful. It probably impacted me more because my dad recently passed away and had suffered from dementia and Alzheimers. Dementia is brain plasticity in the wrong direction. It is a horrible disease.
Soft-Wired was consistent with Doidge. That is, although plastic brain changes happen automatically when we are young when our brain is developing and forming, the brain still changes throughout our life. From cradle to grave. The less rapid adult changes that happen in adulthood, unlike what happens in childhood, is that to a greater extent we can direct how our brain changes and thus create the brain we want. Multiple examples and my own recovery from a car accident where I suffered a severe brain contusion, makes clear, despite difficulties, the brain can reorganize and improve with directed effort.
Make 2020 a Great Start
Understanding this means we should use the “fresh snow” in 2020 to design our actions into habits we want. We should do this because evidence suggests doing so can help us generate the outcomes we desire. To start the decade right we should dream and focus on what we want to happen. Not just for ourselves but for society so we can live in a place that nurtures, encourages, supports and promotes chronic wellness. We defined chronic wellness as a persistent positive conditions enabled through engagement in health-causing actions.
The long term dream should be exciting, motivating and inspiring, so the desired outcome is more than just not bad. Of course we also need multiple short aims to document progress. For all these desires, they must be something that requires the development new abilities, connections and skills to make it so.
It also must be understood, actions should be about more than simply turning a negative into a positive. It needs to be more because it is impossible to practice paneugenesis if you start from a negative. Like salutogenesis, a health creating method or the study of the origins of health and a method to practice paneugenesis in health, you must start with the positive to create, not a negative to eliminate. To understand more, this idea is explained in the video that provides a comparison of Salutogenesis & Pathogenesis.
Eliminating a negative is like putting out a fire.
We cannot turn a negative into a positive. The best we can do is learn from a bad event and make things better in the future. For example, my Dad passed away last year and he had Alzheimers. It is a terrible disease because it turned him into a person we could not even recognize and everyone suffered. After seeing the terrible event, I have learned a lot more about brain disease and brain potential (see links and video’s by Merzenich and Doidge below). This does not make his death a positive, it will always be sad. I am however using that event to inspire me to learn more so I can design a better future for everyone and everything. This future will also make Alzheimers less likely as a by-product.
Being More Effective
Related to this and what has been frustrating to me is what seems to be a perception that there needs to be a problem before action is started. This is the same as attempting to turn a negative into a positive. Fixing a problem is not necessary for improvement. Actually, if improvement is desired Prevention Can’t Work and Problems are Irrelevant! because Fixing Problems is Inefficient, Ineffective & Insufficient. Each link explains more about these ideas.
From that perspective, to illustrate this point, we all know the story “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”.
We learned from this fable that he was ignored because he said there was a wolf when one was not there killing his sheep. He did this because he was bored. Then when a wolf did show up and he called for help, nobody came to help. The moral of the story, “Nobody believes a liar” or “the habit of lying is dangerous”.
The story can relate to prevention because if prevention works, nothing happens. Yea! Thus the benefit is less bad, not more good. If however we focus on creating more good, we can experience benefits which make it more likely we will take action and as a by-product, of generating more good, we will also be better able to avoid and prevent problems. Additionally, if problems happen, which they will, more good will enable a faster or more capable recovery.
For these reasons and many more, to make 2020 our best decade yet, a focus on creating more good, not just less bad is our best option. To understand more about this you can see this presentation I made to a sustainability committee, “Create More Good, Not Just Less Bad“.
Our Shared Desire for Improvement
Our shared desire is for improvement. Besides, attempting to turn a negative into a positive requires us to look back at how to fix something rather than how to create something better. No matter what we do in the future the negative still happened. In other words, as noted, putting out a fire keeps us at 0, or our status quo. If we want better, we must create better, or what I call +3.
Our shared goal should be to create a better future for everyone and everything that also makes it less likely for the negative event to happen – as a by-product. For this to happen, we need to take action so we can build on the wonderful progress we have made. To continue progress we must go on offense to make it happen. I described how it can work for health promotion at Article: Going on Offense to Enable Health Gains Published.
A way to generate a desired future can be accomplished by using the first step of practicing paneugenesis. The first step is to dream about the future you want and create an Idealized Outcome. The Idealized Outcome must be something that could not happen otherwise, it has to be something we must cause to happen and it must be better than what would happen even if everything went well, the status quo. In other words, practicing paneugenesis can help you contribute to making 2020 the best decade for you and everyone and everything.
Practice Paneugenesis using this 4 Step to Process
- Operationalize Desired Idealized Outcome
- Determine an Idealized outcome that is better or improved from what is possible or able to happen now
- Must incorporate Systems Thinking so the outcome benefits are on multiple levels without any seen harm to other levels
- Discover and Develop Necessary Precursors to make Desired Outcome Possible
- Research to discover what must come before idealized outcome, what must be true for desired outcome to occur
- Assess current process to discover and learn current processes used or must be created to manifest ideal outcomes
- These Precursors are goals that must be achieve before an Idealized Outcome can be realized.
- Optimize the Process to Develop Skills and abilities that make Precursors possible (this is Green Grass philosophy, its designing a process to help grass grow)
- Develop good practices (append existing or start new processes)
- Update unneeded, outdated or inappropriate actions to ones that created idealized vision,
- Focus on what causes more and more blades of grass to grow, and…
- Plot Progress to document, demonstrate, and celebrate Improvement
- Measure and document progress forward toward idealized outcome
- Plan and develop next steps to enable continual improvement
This video explains the concept of Paneugenesis.
Please share your progress and what you do to help make 2020 our Best Decade Yet.
If you are interested, below are some good presentations about Brain Plasticity.
This video is an interview with Norman Doidge about brain plasticity.
In this presentation Dr. Merzenich outlines some of his findings to help us generate the brain we want.
These are more videos that evolved from Norman Doidge’s book, “The Brain that Changes Itself”.
I look forward to working with all of you to make 2020 the best decade yet for everyone and everything by generating comprehensive improvements through the creation of pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions so everyone and everything benefits, or by practicing paneugenesis.
Please share your thoughts below. If you have questions or ideas to share, please contact me: