I just returned from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in which nearly 200,000 people from around the world convened in Las Vegas to showcase the latest in technology trends. One of those awe-inducing innovations is virtual reality.
By strapping on a headset and gloves, you literally enter another world. The images and dynamic movements have become so realistic that the effect is, simply, shocking. After a few seconds you’ve forgotten about the technology you’re wearing and have now inhabited a completely new persona.
I am me, but now I’m a different me.
Which me is me? The one in this virtual world where I’m now existing, or the one wearing the VR gear?
The answer to that question is even more shocking than the VR itself.
Neither me is me.
Every emotion you feel isn’t real.
It’s a story.
It’s completely made up.
Just like the fanciful stories that parents read to little children at night, we concoct the same stories to ourselves.
Whether we’re the triumphant hero or the oppressed victim, both are simply stories. The stories we tell ourselves.
Everything that happens in the world – what people say or do, how our body looks or feels, what’s going on in our surroundings – those are all just facts.
It’s a fact this person said this thing.
It’s a fact my body is dealing with this certain condition.
But the meaning we give the facts – that’s the story we tell ourselves.
I spend a lot of time researching and utilizing various productivity tools. Tools for processing email faster, keeping track of actions, helping me focus on the most important projects, better leveraging the limited hours in the day, and all those sorts of things.
Each time I discover a new tool or put an improved process in place, my productivity soars!
For about a week.
And then it slips back to whatever baseline that had existed.
Was it that the tool wasn’t as good as it first appeared? Or that I hit some unexpected roadblock which this new process couldn’t handle?
No and no.
It’s that sad truth that no tool, no process can “make” me more productive. Sure, something might inspire me for a bit (perhaps akin to a caffeine hit), but eventually the “drug” wears off and what’s left is whatever level of productivity I’ve currently mastered (meaning, habituated).
The allure of finding the perfect tool keeps me looking in the wrong place to achieve the results I want.
Most of us have a pretty good idea of who we are.
We see ourselves as the sum collection of our skills, our roles in society, our relationships, possessions, the impact we’ve had, and our core character.
We’d like to believe that we are nice to others, respectful, fair, and that when people think about us, they see us in a positive light.
But if we’re really honest with ourselves, the way we lead our daily lives may not exactly line up with who we’d like to believe we are.
I’d like to invite you into a brilliant thought experiment posed by Todd Henry in his book Die Empty.
In the book, Todd challenges his readers, and himself, to consider how we are really leading our lives.
Here is Todd’s thought experiment:
When I was growing up, two musical artists I really enjoyed listening to were Prince and Michael Jackson. Each of them kept churning out hit after hit. I would love singing along whenever I heard their songs on the radio.
However, in those pre-Internet days, unless you owned the album, there was no way of knowing the actual lyrics.
And for many years, I was convinced that in MJ’s song Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough he was singing, “Keep on with the 4-star stuff … don’t stop till you get enough.”
Even today, when I hear the song, it is clear that is exactly what he is singing.
But he isn’t.
The lyrics are actually “Keep on with the force don’t stop … don’t stop till you get enough.”
All those years I was convinced that my perception was correct.
But I was wrong.
As it is in life. We are convinced that what we hear with our ears and see with our eyes is an accurate portrayal of reality.
But it isn’t.