5 habits that hurl you into the gap (and what you can do about it)
There is no natural division of brain and body, so why do we talk and behave like these are two separate things? Whether we comprehend our position in the cosmos, place in history, or differing views, we often grapple with our inability to reckon with whole systems. These fractured truths threaten our ability to think accurately about ourselves, strategies, and influence.
What 5 habits hurl you into the gap?
- You don’t know who you are.
- You think you’re free.
- You don’t know where your brain is.
- You’re impatient with others.
- You talk mostly to yourself.
If you’ve ever been to a natural history museum, you’re familiar with species classification; you see rows upon rows of animals, plants, and bugs. We, humans, loved to classify stuff. We organize and name things in hopes that we can understand them better. However, the more we classify, the more we separate. We begin to think of ourselves as an object independent of other objects. We start to think of ourselves as objects independent of larger systems. For example, we can talk about any organ in our body, but none operate independently of other organs (or the cardiovascular system, nervous system, endocrine system, etc.).
This fractured thinking gets us in the habit of thinking, acting, and speaking as if we literally are “an object independent of other objects.” The problem is that a dualist or fractured way of thinking blinds our ability to see the forest for the trees, to see larger systems as they are. So, we habituate shortcuts.
For example, we often think of ourselves as having caused our own success – or that we are solely at fault for our failures. For this to be true in actuality, you would have to fracture yourself from the current economy, the natural environment, your social networks, the period in which you were born, those who paved your way (or hobbled you), and so much more. In other words, a sudden downpour isn’t personal to you, but you still get wet. That you got wet isn’t of your doing. That ‘sudden’ weather phenomenon is millennia in the making.
What are the habits of this duality gap?
1 You don’t know who you are.
We have a habit of thinking of ourselves as fractured from the bigger picture. For example, if asked “who are you?” most would offer their name, occupation, where they live, and perhaps spouse or children. Some may add hobbies or accomplishments. We don’t talk about who we are in terms of our community, region, lineage, or the opportunities we inherited. In fact, we tend to think we live our lives with little thought about our place in the world, the continuum of time, or our occupancy in the arc of history.
For example, who am I (forgive this section length, but the point is best made this way – skip to the next habit once you get it):
I’m from a family of 6 children. My parents are both still alive and have been married for more than 60 years. I identify with a few communities – successful entrepreneur, business owner, CEOs, politically moderate, gay, Francophile, tech nerd, cancer survivor, woodworker, organic gardener, and chicken owner.
I’m a US Citizen born in New Mexico (41 miles south of Roswell), raised in Texas, and live in California. I own a home on half an acre that I share with my husband. We live in Ojai, California – a small, celebrated resort town between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara known for its natural beauty. I live 20 minutes from the Pacific Ocean and 30 minutes to the nearest mountain. I live 40 minutes from Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and Prince Harry / Meghan Markle. I am a board member for the Ventura Chamber of Commerce, and my community history includes a small part in the birth of Austin’s SXSW Festival and Chicago’s tech industry.
I am 98.9% British and Irish and 1% Italian. My ancestral line goes back to London, England, and Dublin, Ireland. In addition, 2% of my DNA are neanderthal variants. I’m related to General Sam Houston – an American general and essential leader of the 1835 Texas Revolution. My grandfather was Frank Houston Patterson, and his father (my great grandfather), John Hood Patterson, died saving a calf in the Pecos River in west Texas. My grandfather then left the cattle farm to become a salesman. My father worked his way up from a basement file clerk to a petroleum geologist at an oil company and, after a few years, used science to find a big oil field in California. Due to an aging executive team, a McKinsey consultant urged the execs to nurture the next generation of leaders. Because of his significant oil field discovery, my father was invited to be a Vice President at age 43. Then, only two years later, the company was sold to a larger company. He was only able to help pay for his kids’ college because his newly appointed VP severance check made it possible for all six kids to go to university and for me to study abroad – where I learn all about the impact of the built environment by studying Italian architecture and urban planning.
I live on the continent of North American, on the Pacific tectonic plate, on planet earth; mostly a water planet that is the third planet from the sun in our solar system. I am one of 117 billion homo sapiens to have ever walked the Earth. I live amongst 7.7 billion people and 12 million species of animals, 86% of which are yet to be described. I share the Earth with 3 trillion trees and 1.4 billion insects for each human on the planet, and 3.5 trillion fish. Along with all this life, I’m traveling nearly 2.1 million kilometers per hour (1.3 million miles per hour) through outer space. My planet is located at a radius of about 27,000 light-years from the Milky Way’s Galactic Center, on the inner edge of the Orion Arm, one of the four spiral-shaped concentrations of gas and dust. My planet is one of-400 billion stars and planets. The milky way is estimated to be 1 of 100 billion galaxies
My microbiome is the genetic material of all the microbes – bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses – that live on and inside my body. The number of genes in all the microbes in my microbiome is 200 times the number of genes in the human genome. The microbiome may weigh as much as five pounds.
2 You think you’re free.
If you climb a mountain, you can only go so high until you struggle to breathe. Why? Because your body is millions of years in the making and can only survive in the thin atmosphere that covers this planet. Go to high (space) or low (ocean trench), and you die. Similarly, remove the human microbiome, you die. Remove an organ; you die. Remove all other people; you die. We could go on.
You’re a complex adaptive critter in an ecosystem that is millions of years in the making. What matters here is that we begin to reveal our hubris and conceit – that we “did it ourselves” or we “fucked it up ourselves.” We primarily act separate from, free from, and independent of our others, our history, and our planet. Quite the contrary, we are locked into a unique system found nowhere in the universe.
For example, one of the most complex problems we have with space travel is our microbiome. The Earth’s human-environment microbiome doesn’t exist on Mars (or elsewhere), so sustaining long-term health requires earth-bound microbes. Many notable evolutionary biologists assert that long-term other-planetary survival will never be possible due to this often fractured truth.
We are not free to rocket where we want, nor are we free to act as we wish. Even if we go off the grid in a cabin in the wilds, we can’t escape the intermingled systems of nature, microbiome, environment, and the food chain. You might survive alone in the woods or on an island, but it won’t last long, and it will most certainly be laborious and treacherous.
If you do accept and account for your lack of freedom, your earth-boundedness, then you’ll likely get somewhat interested in the planetary-cosmological ecosystem. You may want to ensure this place is in good shape for a long, long time.
3 You don’t know where your brain is.
Yes, the organ we refer to our brain in our skull, but we think with our mind, bodies, and the world around us. The problem is that we think we know more than we do, AND we get much of what we know from the world around us. The point is NOT that we are ignorant. The point is that we are MORE ignorant than we THINK we are.
There is a limit to what we actually know (and we don’t know this). This is the book’s central focus, The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone by Steven Sloman, Philip Fernbach.
We store very little about the world in our brains. We sample information in our brains through our bodies. Our brain and bodies produce a constant relay of information derived through action with the environment around us. I can move my body to sample new details. We store vast amounts of data in devices and objects outside our bodies. Our bodies are interacting with the environments of other people, communities, and the culture at large. These include our language, institutions, literature, media, human practices, and more. At this time in history, we can now access more than ever before through the internet – a global brain.
To think of personal knowledge as ‘what’s in our heads’ is a mistake because it assumes a sharp line between what’s in our heads and what’s outside our heads. This is a perfect example of the habit that hurls us into the duality gap.
Why this is problematic is that the thought “I can do it myself” is not only an utter myth, but it renders us unable to ask for directions, ask for help, or build a team. We are exponentially more remarkable than the sum of our parts. Acting independently is a kind of refusal to use an abundance of resources.
4 You’re impatient with others.
A meeting of the minds is not always easy because we tend to think that others understand us more than we do – and we believe others understand what we are saying, what we mean, and what we are intending.
In truth, they rarely do. Not only do others misunderstand us, but they are often consumed with what is going on in their own minds.
I’ll keep this short. Slow down to speed up. Take the time to have a full meeting of the minds before you both ‘commit.’ It may take longer, but the road traveled is much less winding.
5 You talk mostly to yourself.
Most of us have a habit of speaking to ourselves. We aren’t engaged in reciprocal dialogue but instead talk to express, alert, pontificate, learn, and act. As someone who has taught thousands in the art of communication and public speaking, my observation is that most people are only in a dialogue with themselves while the rest of us are held, hostage.
Freedom of speech is given too much attention. What about the ‘listener’s rights”? If we consider the listener’s rights in any conversation, it begins to reveal how little we pay attention to our listener. Are they engaged, bored, hostage, or annoyed? Is what I’m saying relevant, useful, or meaningful? When we speak, it has a cost to others. Do we take care of this cost? How do we alleviate this cost? How might we produce more value and less cost?
Practicing the art of speaking while attending to the listener is an art. It takes a great deal of practice, but the habit will make you much more influential.
These and other habits hurl you into a duality gap created by fractured thinking. This fractured thinking gets us in the habit of thinking, acting, and speaking as if we literally are “an object independent of other objects.” The thinking blinds our ability to see larger systems as they are. Our habitual shortcuts leave us dissatisfied and unable to think accurately.
Learn habits to mind the duality gap.