A couple of weeks ago, we met our our consultant from Market Volt, Pat. They help us with our email delivery. It was a great meeting. We talked about a wide variety of technical and non-technical items. I mentioned that one thing I do with my emails, to save time, is to copy the previous week's newsletter when building the next week's newsletter. That way I don't have to rewrite and reformat everything each week. I figured, why reinvent the wheel when there's already one made that I can use. Pat told me, "This is fine for a while, but eventually it will start to become problematic for you."
"Oh," I said, "How so?" He replied, "You're going to have ghost code." He could see by the puzzled look on my face that I had no clue what he was talking about. At this point, he went went into educator mode, and talked about what ghost code is and why it's a problem.
Apparently, every email we send out to you has code that underlies it. The code tells the email provider you're using, what font to display, whether something gets emboldened, italicized, or shown in a different color. Essentially, everything you see on the screen comes from the code. What happens when you make a copy is that some of the code in the previous version hangs on into the new email. A new command, builds on top of previous command, on top of older command, and so on, as you make one copy after another. For a while, this won't present itself as an issue, but over time the build-up becomes too hard for some email systems to read and glitches start to show themselves (which is what I'm going to blame whenever you notice a typo in my emails from now on - that darn ghost code!).
That's when you need to do something to fix it. Because ghost code never goes away, you have to either (a) actually go into the code to find the errors and fix them or (b) start with a fresh email every so often which comes with no copied code.
I can hear you now. "Ok, Brian. Interesting, but where are we going with this?"
Basically, I want to show you how this isn't just a computer problem, it's a people problem too. We all have a ton of ghost code we're dealing with daily. There are things we have ingrained in our brains that hinder us from doing things we want to do or preventing us from succeeding to our full potential. So, today we'll talk about a few of our most problematic ghost codes and what we can do about them.
Most of our basic fears come from pre-historic times, when the world was a truly dangerous place. What was rustling behind the bushes could be a bunny rabbit or a saber-toothed tiger. For the caveman without a spear, he wasn't about to wait to find out. Once his heart started pumping more blood to his brain, his breath became shallower, and he started sweating, he high-tailed it out of there!
The fears the caveman had were passed down to the next generation, which would add other fears. One, on top of another, on top of another, and so on...for millennia...until along came you - full of fear ghost code.
Here's what's interesting, the world is not nearly so dangerous as it was thousands of years ago, yet we still have fears, most of which aren't rational. Who among us fears public speaking, meeting a stranger and striking up a conversation, or getting on stage to sing at a karaoke bar? We all know that none of this will kill us, but many us avoid doing them as if they will. Why? Often times it's not the action that we fear, but the feelings that come right before it. It's that uncomfortable feeling beforehand that we're avoiding more so than the possible negative consequences afterwards. In all my years, I've never been booed after I sing, I've never been slapped after approaching a girl I thought was cute, and I was never assaulted during a presentation. But boy, those fearful feelings were there right beforehand!
Because of feelings, we rationalize why we shouldn't do what we want to do. We tell ourselves things like, "I'm not good at that," or "I'm too busy," or "It's too late in my life to learn that." And then, we don't do it. We sort of wished we did later on, but our chance has come and gone. Our fear got the best of us.
I remember being a kid at a swimming pool, deathly afraid of diving off the low board. I knew how to swim. I knew there were lifeguards ready to jump in and save me if needed. But I couldn't even walk over to the board without having those fear sensations. Eventually, a friend of mine goaded me into doing it. I was still really hesitant, but as I approached the end of the board and peered into the water, the fear of being mocked by all the kids standing in line waiting for me to jump outweighed the fear of drowning, and in I went. And you know what? The fear vanished as soon as I was in the water. Once I kicked off the bottom of the pool and started floating up to the surface I thought, "Hey, I didn't die! In fact, this is kind of fun!"
And so it is with all our fears. Facing them is more than half the battle. It's almost 99% of the battle. After you act, you'll see that you won't die and then next time you'll still have some fears, but it will be more manageable.
The seeds of our beliefs are planted into us by our parents, other family, friends, neighbors, teachers, and others we're close to. Generally, beliefs and values benefit you. They give you a overarching understanding of the world around you. However, there are times when they can get in your way.
For the person who has ever been told, "Your bad at math, " or "Your weird," or "You'll never get anywhere in life," you'll know what I'm talking about. Those seeds, once planted, can grow into neuroses. We would never consider pursuing particular careers solely because, long ago, we were incorrectly informed that we wouldn't be able to do that. We unduly limit ourselves, when maybe we shouldn't. It isn't until we have evidence that is contrary to these values or beliefs that we start to question them.
Years ago, when I was in First Grade, I was placed into the slow reader group because at birth I had a hearing defect which eliminated my being able to hear out of my right ear. The teacher concluded that this was going to hold me back from reading (why she came to that conclusion, I still don't know). This persisted for two years until my Third Grade teacher started working with me. She called my parents into a meeting and said, "I am putting him into the regular reading group. He reads perfectly well." All this time I believed my teachers - after all, they were 20+ years older than me, who was I to argue? It wasn't until my teacher, Ms. Stinn, came along that I knew that I was as smart as the other kids in my class.
Up to that point, it was just ghost code that I was carrying with me as a student from year to year.
Another common type of ghost code we have are habits. Once an action is rewarded and continues to be rewarded, habits form. Most of the time, habits are thought to be bad, but some can be very positive. As theologian, Nathaniel Emmons warned us, "Habits are either the best of servants or the worst of masters."
Anything that saps your energy, reduces your productivity, or keeps you from doing what you should be doing is a bad habit. Whereas good habits improve your work and home life.
For instance, I used to have a bad habit of procrastinating. When I was in college, I would put off doing projects until the day before it was due. Luckily for me, I was smart enough that I could get by with this habit and still get As and Bs in high school and undergrad. Then I had to write my first term paper in grad school for Dr. Schrader. He was a tough grader. You had to earn your grade with him. Well, having the bad habit of procrastination certainly did me no favors. I worked late into the night and threw something together to turn in. The grade I got in return was an ugly looking C-. This quality of work wasn't going to do. My habit had to change.
I started researching for my papers right away and would start writing them at least a week before they were due. And imagine my shock, the grades were significantly better with my new habit. Each time, it reinforced the habit until it was firmly in place.
Time to Reprogram
Now that we know we all are currently operating with a bunch of ghost code that's causing glitches in our thinking, it's time we talk about starting over and giving ourselves a fresh start on our perceived reality in three steps.
1. Start Questioning Our Fears, Beliefs, and Habits
Our mind has been programmed to protect us from dangers that either don't exist or are significantly smaller than we believe they are. We need to question everything that's holding us back from our true potential and determine if what we think is true actually is true. For example, when you think you're bad at something, ask yourself, "Is that always true?" And if it isn't always true, what were the situations where that was not the case? What did you do differently? This will help you re-frame the issue you're having in your mind.
2. Graduated Exposure
It's important to gradually expose ourselves to the "dangers" we fear to see if they are as scary in actuality as we've made them to be in our mind. It sounds frightening, I know, but it's a proven psychological strategy to overcome phobias and anxieties. Now, the key is that it needs to be graduated. You should start small and build up. If your afraid of snakes, don't jump into a snake pit right out of the box.
For example, if you are afraid of public speaking, start small - get up in front of just a couple of people for a minute or two and talk about something of which you're knowledgeable. When it's over, ask yourself, did it kill you? Did they laugh at you? No? Try a bigger audience and talk for a longer period of time. If you keep doing it, you'll discover that the fear doesn't disappear completely, but you'll know that what you fear is the fear itself (I want to say someone else important said that, but correct me if I'm wrong).
3. Don't Think. Act.
I don't want to give you bad advice and tell you to never think. Thinking is good. But don't overthink. Remember when you were single and saw that cute guy or girl across the barroom? You wanted his or her phone number, but every time you started to take a step in that direction, you started to panic. Then you rationalized why this wasn't the right time. What if you didn't think about it and just went to talk to him or her? What's the worst that could happen? They tell you no. So next time, don't give yourself time to think. Just start walking.
Don't beat yourself up about this. We all do it. All the time.
What's important is to know that our past fears, beliefs, and habits are not necessarily your future reality, unless we let them be. We all believe we're completely rational beings, but in truth, we're not. Sometimes it's better that we act first and think later. I'll guarantee you'll be surprised by the results.
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