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You Need to See Things Differently to Do Things Differently

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If you want to get better at something – writing screenplays, gardening, making omelets, playing Tetris, organizing closets — find a way to do that thing with an expert, even if it’s just for an afternoon.

They’ll give you pointers, of course, but the real benefit is in how an expert can help you see the activity from a completely different viewpoint.

I got a lot better at rock climbing in 2022. That’s mainly because I did a lot of it. If I were to graph my progress, however, it wouldn’t be a straight line. It would rise slowly until the beginning of October, then angle up like a mountain over the last few months.

That’s because on October 2 I attended a climbing festival, and climbed with climbers way beyond my ability. Watching these people  was a revelation. They were slow, calm, and rested a lot. They moved more like sloths than monkeys.

Most importantly, they clearly saw the rock itself differently than I did. Whereas I saw it as a dangerous, prickly thing you’re fighting with and trying to conquer, they seemed to see it as a partner they can work with –- an eccentric but sturdy ladder that gets them to the top.

This was a complete figure-ground reversal for me. The rock helps you climb it! My climbing got better immediately, not because of any explicit advice I received, but because I had caught a glimpse of the activity from outside my normal way of seeing. My insight didn’t increase my existing climbing ability, so much as it changed my view of what climbing even is.

Happy to help

Climbing metaphors aside, this kind of improvement is what you could call “vertical growth.”

You can slowly –- horizontally — get better at something just by doing a lot of it. The problem is that the “it” that you’re doing can only be that thing as you’ve always understood it. If there are oversights and misunderstandings in the way you see the thing, you’re practicing them too.

If you habitually see playing guitar as a mad scramble to finger the right notes in time, you may only get better at madly scrambling. You could live and die never realizing that your favorite guitarists are not experts at what you’re doing; they’ve learned, or perhaps have always understood, the necessity of keeping your hands as relaxed as possible while you fret the notes.

Horizontal growth exhausts itself eventually. You reach a point where can’t do the thing any better or faster in the limited way you see that thing. You get stuck, and stay stuck until you stumble across another way of seeing.

Getting Unstuck

Watching an expert do their thing is a pretty helpful way to get unstuck at that thing, because you might catch a glimpse of how that person is seeing the thing differently than you.

But what if you’re stuck in less obvious way? How do you find an expert in “Feeling better about our species” or “Realizing my life purpose” or “Figuring out what’s wrong with me these days?”

How do you get unstuck when you don’t even know how you might be stuck? What if you’re stuck in some way you never even thought of as stuck? How would you know?

Unsure if stuck or living optimally

One strategy for addressing less obvious forms of stuckness, which humans have been doing forever, is to regularly do things that force you out of your habitual perspectives.

There’s a reason so many cultures have made rituals and rites of passage out of solo wilderness treks, hallucinogenic plant ceremonies, strenuous physical ordeals, and long periods of silent contemplation. These experiences put your mind in a very different place than usual, in order to induce insights about life, yourself, and the world that you’re unlikely to have otherwise.

The Stoics did this with a host of thought exercises. One was to pretend you’re looking down at this moment from high above, upon your little self, fretting in your little apartment, surrounded by the expanse of your city and the fields beyond, as a way of putting your worries into perspective. They also suggested imagining, as vividly as possible, losing your hands, your eyeballs, or your friends, or your freedom, to help you recognize the full value of those things while you still have them.

A mind in a different place

Humans have invented all sorts of practices like this, and their purpose is simply to put your mind somewhere outside of your normal, habitual ways of seeing, and discover what you come back with.

Nobody knows quite what insights and paradigm shifts will be produced by doing these practices, which is exactly why you do them.

Trying On New Ways of Seeing

Much of Raptitude has been a recounting of my own homemade perspective-inducing practices. I have dozens of them: viewing this moment as though it’s the first moment of your life; picturing the room you’re in as though you’re not in it; appreciating a nearby friend as though they’re gone from your life and you’re just remembering them.

I started doing these kinds of practices spontaneously –- unaware this was something many other humans have stumbled across — in my early twenties, which was the first time I really felt stuck.

Since then they’ve enriched my life tremendously. They keep me grateful and optimistic, and make ordinary days feel rich and meaningful. They help me achieve a measure of perspective on my problems and the world’s problems. They’re the reason Raptitude exists, and has the name that it does.

Imagine she’s gone, and it makes her more real

Even though I do these practices all the time, I’ve written about most of them only once in Raptitude’s thirteen years, and usually without proper instructions on how to do them.

So I’m trying a new idea. In January, once the holiday madness is behind us, I’m going to run a mini-course on how to use some of these “ways of seeing” in your own life.

We’ll do seven classic Raptitude practices over two weeks, in the context of everyday life, and see what shakes out –- what unsticks.  As we experiment, we will (optionally) share our experiences on the discussion board.

It’s kind of like a “field trip” for curious Raptitude readers. Instead of just reading about my weird perspectival exercises and then forgetting them, you’re going to get to try them in real life –- “in the field” so to speak.

In fact, I’m calling it Raptitude Field Trip. It will begin January 9th, 2023, but you can sign up for it now.

UPDATE: Raptitude Field Trip is underway and signups are closed. It has been popular so there will definitely be future Field Trips.

I hope it will help you refresh your perspective going into the coming year. It would make a good complement to any New Year’s resolutions or Depth Year plans you have.

No permission slips needed

Three things to know about the Field Trip:

This is an easy, low-investment experiment. It’s a mini-course –- there’s a short 15-20 minute lesson every other day for two weeks. It probably won’t achieve the same thing as a peyote ceremony or an Australian walkabout or anything like that. The point is to pursue generate moments of insight — which is Raptitude’s overall goal — to reveal new ways of seeing certain aspects of your life, the people around you, and the world.

This begins January 9th, 2023. The course lessons will be unlocked over a two-week period, starting on the 9th. Participants will have permanent access to them, so you can do them later if you like.

This is a test run. I’ve never run something like this before, so consider this program to be in “early access mode.” The course is not expensive, and anybody registering before the 8th will get a small discount, if you can perhaps offer some constructive feedback afterward.

[Sign up / more info] [CLOSED]

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Photos by Tommy Lisbin, Zolan Tasi, Christopher Burns, Phil Hearing, Pauline Leroy, Henan Kamikoga

{ 12 Comments }

George December 28, 2022 at 11:13 am

George Leonard’s book “Mastery” has some interesting observations on what he calls the “Mastery Curve”, very much related to these moments of insight where the horizontal plateaus of progress are amplified by sudden and dramatic insights that take your skills to a non-linear higher level.

His take as a martial arts instructor was that most progress was made in very small periods of time, after long stretches where little progress was being made. Often students would lose interest during these plateaus. Especially because he also observed a counterintuitive slight *decrease* in performance right before the insight and skill jump occurred.

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David Cain December 28, 2022 at 11:52 am

Ah that is interesting, and makes sense to me. Especially this part:

” Especially because he also observed a counterintuitive slight *decrease* in performance right before the insight and skill jump occurred.”

My meditation teacher had mentioned this phenomenon a number of times, and a recent breakthrough of mine was indeed preceded by what seemed like a complete loss of my ability to meditate. I just couldn’t do it the way I used to, and ended up taking a leap that brought me to a new place I know is a permanently changed view of the whole activity.

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Ecoteri December 28, 2022 at 7:10 pm

I love that you have limited the length of the course, David – makes it feel accessible to me. I am skittish about commitments as I have bailed far too many times on things that turn out to be too big or tedious or weird or… you know, real and lifelike! Hoping that this is real and lifelike and that my monkey mind can stay present.

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David Cain December 29, 2022 at 10:54 am

Oh good. I like doing small things like this. The practices are very short and pretty interesting I think so monkey mind won’t be an issue.

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Ginzo December 29, 2022 at 9:08 am

I don’t remember exactly who it was, but some very experienced meditation teacher had a real breakthru insight in his life. When asked how it happened, he replied ‘think in different categories’.
I like the ‘rock helping you climb it’ view. The obstacle is the Way.

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David Cain December 29, 2022 at 10:56 am

It’s a thing. Zen is famous for its “koan” approach, which uses a kind of seemingly-nonsensical riddle that forces you to contemplate reality in non-linear, non-habitual ways.

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Kriquet December 29, 2022 at 8:20 pm

What if your attention span is about the size of a gnat? When it comes to intentional concentration? Whatever the cost, it would be a waste. And what if you have -0 creative thought processes? Hmm. I think I best lean back in my recliner.

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David Cain December 30, 2022 at 10:17 am

The practices I’m talking about just take a minute or two. It’s not like sustained meditation practice. I mean, if you can read you can probably do it. Otherwise, maybe try one of the more traditional forms — sweat lodge, ayahuasca, etc — which are too intense for boredom or lack of imagination to be a factor.

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RJA January 5, 2023 at 1:34 am

This would be an excellent theme for your debut physical book :) Seven new ways of seeing through thought experiments. As far as I know it would be unique and possibly earn you some money while also drawing more attention to Raptitude (similar to what happened to Mark Manson and his blog when he started writing books).

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Jessica January 6, 2023 at 2:15 pm

I love this idea, and can’t wait for it to start!

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بازی انفجار رایگان January 24, 2023 at 9:24 am

I love this idea, and can’t wait for it to start!

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TechFalcon January 28, 2023 at 7:50 pm

Hi David Cain, I always inspired from your article.

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