Are You Stacking the Odds?

Much of life requires taking actions, in which you only have a chance at success, and most of the time, the odds of success are unknown. Regularly I will “risk the odds” and I often experience success. This has caused me to ponder “why?” on many occasions. I have decided that stacking the odds in my favor, a skill I honed through playing games, is one of the keys to my success.

Role-playing games (RPGs) make this concept much more clear. Let’s use the action to attack an enemy. In most role-playing games there is an attack action that factors in your game characters attributes with some random factor, a dice role, for tabletop role-playing games. In my online RPG Rule the Seas if your strength is significantly greater than your opponent’s defense, and you attack first, you will win. A player can increase their strength or defense by equipping items, but you can only equip nine different types of items. Some items give more strength than defense, and others give more defense. If you want to damage players with greater defense you’ll need to focus on equipping strength items. By focusing on increasing the strength attribute you are stacking the odds in favor of you winning when you strike first. On the flip side you could focus on defense and hope to withstand your attacker through a longer fight. There are other attributes and abilities you can focus on with your equipment, you could also choose to equip the most visually attractive items, regardless of their combat abilities. To play well you must pick an equipment strategy and stack the odds in favor of winning with that strategy.

Stacking the odds in life also requires choosing a strategy. For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that maintaining a healthy body shape is our strategy for increased happiness. There are many habits we can “equip” to increase our odds of getting and staying in shape: eating fruits and vegetables, avoiding added sugar, eating whole grains, eating balanced meals, weekly strength and aerobic training, walking 10,000 steps per day, limiting saturated fats, limiting carbs, and on and on…
Will any of these alone ensure a healthy shape? Will ten of them employed at the same time guarantee it? No, it is still possible to have unhealthy levels of body fat while doing many activities to avoid it.
The key is, each activity increases your odds of success.

There is a famous scene in Star Wars, where Han Solo says “Never Tell Me The Odds!”

We don’t actually need to know the odds to stack the odds, we only need to know if the actions we are taking align with our strategy and increase the odds of success. For example, developing a great marriage or relationships with my parents or children, these are not strategies where I need to know the odds of success.

I have learned that being persistent is a key part of this concept. When we refuse to give up, keep stacking the odds, and keep rolling the dice, we will experience success again and again (and eventually conquer our enemies and shed those fat pounds!).

Role-playing games not only provide an example of how to “Stack the Odds”, they also function as an excellent way to practice. Do you have a favorite RPG and are you learning to stack the odds?

Dating My Wife

I love being married and now it’s easier than it is challenging. This was not always the case. After five years of marriage (year 2003), we had gone through some rough times in our relationship, and to repair it we decided we needed to spend more enjoyable time together. My wife and I had common convictions and some similar interests, but significantly different personalities. There are many personality theories and general counseling advice, that suggest we are incompatible and the odds are against us making it work.

Both of us believe in eternal marriage.

Now, twelve years later we enjoy a rock solid relationship. A critical element in our success is continuing to date. There are several activities we have rekindled and allow for renewing of our relationship.

Shows/Videos, this one is easy and low-cost for us, we started renting TV series and watching them together each evening. At first we went a little crazy on this and would get through a whole season in a week. The key is watching something we both enjoy. I cannot tolerate watching television with commercial interruptions and dislike watching one episode per week, so we wait for a whole season to release on disk and watch it that way. We both enjoy Science Fiction, Fantasy, Law, Spy and Crime (some) genre and we stick, for the most part, to those types of shows. If either of us is uncomfortable with the violence, language or general feel we’ll move onto something else.

We have also found common ground in books, discussion around our shared interests, vacations, and dining out. Most of the time we don’t read the same books, she reads interesting fiction and tells me about the story; I read educational non-fiction and share my discoveries and insights. We like to discuss what we read, watch and experience. We discuss while walking and eating out. Our vacations include walking, exploration and discussion.

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Walking Past Saint George LDS Temple
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Walking up Cedar City Canyon

Sometimes we just have fun being silly!Moroni dating wife 3OQDiG8QV-yZDCRRFkfGTnpJ0rF2pS5vU_FnBW-bjx0=w694-h921-no

Creating a beautiful relationship requires nurturing the relationship, it requires making the choice to put in the time necessary. We all must find what will stack the odds in our favor and then make those actions a priority!


Balancing “Giftedness”

In another post I raise the question of being a Weirdo, Obsessive, a Perfectionist or Gifted?

Now let us consider how to balance our gifts, the ones that lead to social stigmas and cause frustration in our lives.

The book The Gifted Adult makes a good case for the extra need of the gifted Adult to achieve balance. The author compares being gifted with an underground river. If you completely block the flow of water it will seep into cracks and eventually burst out somewhere. When we let the water flow at full speed it will cause damage to whatever it’s directed at. The goal is to control the flow of water and direct the optimal amount towards the right places.

The tendency towards perfectionism is a good example of a gift that must be controlled. With it we can always envision something better. When directed, this ability can lead us to great insights, creativity and guide us towards making the world a better place. Unchecked or repressed it can make us negative, bitter and ungrateful or cause us to become apathetic because, after all, nothing will ever be 100% perfect.

My religious beliefs also advocate preventing our strengths from becoming our downfall.
I consider all my strengths as gifts and all must be managed, moderated, and balanced.

Things I do to maintain balance:

  • Weekly exercise routine: 2-3 times 90% at max heart rate for 30 minutes, plus 2-3 times strength training of major muscle groups.
  • Diet: eat whole grains, avoid added sugar, limit saturated fat.
  • Sleep: go to bed and wake up regularly, close to the same time most days
  • Unpaid Service: around 10 hours per week of religious and community service
  • Time with children: reading, praying, eating, discussing and playing
  • Dating My Wife
  • Weekly visit family & friends
  • Outdoor activities: camping, hiking, walking, swimming.
  • Sunday church attendance and break from regular work
  • Strive for humility (give credit to god)

How do you maintain balance and manage your gifts?
Have any suggestions based on your experience?

My Identity: Freedom or Captivity?

My 16 year old daughter wants me to purchase her $150 Kelly Clarkson tickets. We got into a discussion about how she should have been saving her money that she earns from babysitting. She said something like “I guess I’m just not a person who saves money”. Something about that statement was like a stab in the brain, at the moment I wasn’t sure exactly why. I told her that she can change and start saving, but something about the statement was bothering me, something more than her not saving the money.

After some pondering, I realized the issue was with wrapping her identity around something negative. With saying “I’m not a person who does X good thing” you limit or “damn” yourself. On the flip side you can create a similar negative effect by stating something like “I’m just a person who does Y negative thing” (e.g. eats junk food, hates to exercise, doesn’t like people, etc…).

This is part of the Labeling Theory – From wikipedia: “Frank Tannenbaum first introduced the idea of ‘tagging’. While conducting his studies with delinquent youth, he found that a negative tag or label often contributed to further involvement in delinquent activities. This initial tagging may cause the individual to adopt it as part of their identity.”

Many years ago, personality typing engrossed me, I particularly liked the the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®). In this theory there are 16 general personality types.
Every type has its strengths and weaknesses.
I mostly identified with one type, the INTP. This type is supposed to be drained by interactions with people (all types starting with “I” are introverts and have this same issue). There is danger in thinking this, I found myself avoiding people more because it seemed like the wise thing to do, based on my personality. I have discovered that people don’t drain me, exerting effort is tiring, sometimes it’s people, sometimes it’s thinking hard, writing code or even playing a challenging video game can all cause me to experience this “drain”. Depending on the interaction, all those same things can also excite me and provide great satisfaction and motivation.

There are dangers of saying “I’m not a person who does X positive thing” or “I”m a person who does Y negative thing”. Beware of personality typing, negative self talk, and anything or anyone who inprints these upon you.

Some dangerous and limiting identifiers:
– Lazy
– Not a healthy person
– Hate to learn
– With Criminals
– With Evil/Bad
– Not a “people person”

Good identifiers that give freedom:
– Child of God
– Hard worker
– I have the ability to be disciplined
– Love to learn and grow

What do you identify with, does it hold you back or set you free?

Is Faith Valid?

What exactly is faith and is it valid?

This is a question I asked myself in my mid-twenties. I consider my conclusion to the question a crux in my personal success and well being.

My understanding of faith, is to act on something you believe in, even though you are not completely sure about it. If you believe, but it does not change your actions, or your actions do not show your belief, then it is not faith (only belief). There is a spectrum of faith. The greater the unknown, more faith is required.

A few examples…

When you start a new job you will work for a period of time before you get paid, often between two weeks and a month. This requires faith in your employer, that they will actually pay you. The longer you work for free the greater the faith you are demonstrating.

When you agree to live with another person (roommate, spouse, etc…) you believe that they will treat you and your property in a certain way; by moving-in with them you are showing faith in your ability to live together.

I had a medical procedure done a few years ago. This procedure required that I get put completely out. From my perspective I was sitting in a bed with an IV and then I woke up in a different position. My life was in their hands, I believed that they would perform the procedure agreed upon and that I would come out unscathed; faith was shown when I showed up at the hospital. I had no ill effects from the procedure, but to this day the only reason I know they performed the procedure is because they said they did. I was completely knocked out! That required faith in the medical staff.

This reasoning caused me to ponder, is faith necessary, is it good? Should we try to avoid acting on a belief as much as we possibly can?
What if I applied absence of faith to running my business? Without belief in success or belief that what I’m going to do or am doing will matter, I wouldn’t work on my business. Would anyone? What would our country and world be like without new businesses?

Then I wondered on the scientific process, which requires a hypothesis, an educated guess. Why would anyone perform hours and years of grueling study and research based on a guess? Faith I discovered, is the answer. Faith in the hypothesis, in one’s own abilities, and/or in divine guidance, colleagues, a system, or something else.

Is faith unreasonable? Sometimes it might be, yet it is paramount to any effort. This brings to mind a quote by George Bernard Shaw, “All progress depends on the unreasonable man”. Does this suggest that logic and reason are pointless? From my experience, no; logic and reason are are valuable tools. I do think this means: we must have some kind of belief in a vision, to improve the world. This can be enlightening, we need not be surprised or upset, when our vision and belief seems unreasonable to those who do not share our belief.

Developing an understanding of faith has given me great strength and determination. The things I have faith in, God, myself, my Wife, my family, community, and country have all brought me success and joy.

Is Music Math?

I frequently hear people say: music is [basically] math.
A few examples of people stating something similar:

“Music,” wrote the great 17th-century German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz, “is the sensation of counting without being aware you were counting.”

mathematics is “the basis of sound”

While I can agree that a computer, which is based on math, can play music with excellent precision, and it makes me wonder, is this true, is music essentially mathematical?
Something about this “music is math” concept has always disturbed me…

I listen to Beethoven’s sympathy #9:

and then I think of doing algebra, arithmetic, geometry, or calculus and I think: math and music are far from the same. When I was taught the basics of reading music, I could see how sheet music had mathematical elements. Yet, sheet music seems far from being the music it represents, it’s symbols, merely an abstraction.

I have been listening to How to Listen to and Understand Great Music. The professor asked to be excused while he “has a soapbox moment” and says “music is like music and math is like math” he continued with several examples, expressing his frustration with people lumping music and math together.

This was the first time I had heard an argument against it, and I thought “amen!”. Even with this professor agreeing with my thoughts, I’d like to explore the idea a little further.

Written music, the notes on bars, is at best an abstraction of the physical sound of music. A trained person can use his or her ability and imagination to recreate a musical piece, to something similar, but not exactly the same as when played by another person or instrument.
Musical notation seems closer to a written historical story, something we must each recreate in our mind, hopefully close, yet never the same, and at best, only an approximation of what really happened. Musical writings, and written historical accounts are each a record, hoping to capture a specific piece of reality; in this sense, these do have a similarity with math.

What is math exactly? The exact definition of math is up for debate. Math deals with quantification, abstraction and patterns, it studies physical objects, yet by necessity is always something less, something more abstract. Music is physical, it can be experienced, is more than numbers and the sum of its measurable parts.

This whole “music is math” concept, I think, is a good example of the Reification fallacy:

it is the error of treating as a concrete thing, something which is not concrete, but merely an idea

What do you think, is music math?