Zerrissenheit

Term

A condition in which an abundance of options inhibits an individual’s ability to make meaningful choices. A person whose happiness is negatively affected due to the lack of a coherent moral structure to their choices and actions.

Explanation

“The Germans have a word for this condition: Zerrissenheit– loosely, ‘falling-to-pieces-ness’. This is the loss of internal coherence that can come from living in a multitasking, pulled-in-a-hundred-directions existence. This is what Kierkegaard called ‘the dizziness of freedom.’ When the external constraints are loosened, when a person can do what he wants, when there are a thousand choices and distractions, then live can lose coherence and direction if there isn’t a strong internal structure”(218, The Road to Character)

Source

The Road to Character by David Brooks

Skinner’s Superstition Effect

Principle

When an animal is given a reinforcer at randomized time intervals and the reinforcer isn’t associated with any action within the animal’s control, the animal will sometimes begin to associate a particular behavior with the reinforcer despite the behavior being entirely unrelated to the delivery of the reinforcer.

This was first discover by B.F. Skinner when the pigeons he’d been feeding at randomized time intervals begin to develop superstitious behaviors had happened to associate with the delivery of food. The pigeons superstitions persisted despite their behavior having no actual impact on the automatic food delivery mechanism.

Source

‘Superstition in the pigeon’ (Wikipedia)

Sin

Term

The concept that human nature is depraved and that it is something must be conquered. It stands in stark opposition to the admonition to ‘be yourself’. The recognition of sin compels the individual to struggle against their own desires rather than embrace them.

Elaboration

“We’ve abandoned the concept of sin, first, because we’ve left behind the depraved view of human nature. In the eighteenth and even the ninteenth century, many people really did embrace the dark self-estimation expressed in the old Puritan prayer  ‘Yet I Sin’: ‘Eternal Father, Thou art good beyond all thought, but I am vile, wretched, miserable, blind…’ That’s simply too much darkness for the modern mentality” (53, The Road to Character)

“Sin is a necessary piece of our mental furniture because it reminds us that life is a moral affair. No matter how hard we try to reduce everything to deterministic brain chemistry, no matter how hard we try to reduce behavior to the sort of herd instinct that is captured in big data, no matter how hard we strive to replace sin with nonmoral words, like ‘mistake’ or ‘error’ or ‘weakness,’ the most essential parts of life are matters of individual responsibility and moral choice: whether to be brave or cowardly, honest or deceitful, compassionate or callous, faithful or disloyal. When a modern culture tries to replace sin with ideas like error or insensitivity, or tries to banish words like ‘virtue’, ‘character’, ‘evil’, and ‘vice’ altogether, that doesn’t make life any less moral; it just means we have obscured the inescapable moral core of life with shallow language. It just means we think and talk about these choices less clearly, and thus become increasingly blind to the moral stakes of everyday life” (54, The Road to Character)

Source

The Road to Character by David Brooks

Cultural Veil

Term

Also known as a ‘Cultural Shield’.  It refers to culture’s ability to protect humans against the threat of existential chaos.

Explanation

“One of the major functions of every culture has been to shield its members from chaos, to reassure them of their importance, and ultimate success” (Flow)
Source
Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Cartesian Nihilism

Term
The deprivation of meaning caused by the pursuit of individual certainty rather than the holy or sacred. The metaphysical embrace of the individual, as encouraged by Descartes, makes a meaningful life more difficult to pursue than the embrace of sacred concepts that occur outside of the individual.
Explanations
Cal Newport elaborating on the work of Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorance Kelly: “From Descartes’s skepticism came the radical belief that the individual seeking certainty trumped a God or king bestowing truth. The resulting Enlightenment, of course, led to the concept of human rights and freed many from oppression. But Dreyfus and Kelly emphasize, for all its good in the political arena, in the domain of the metaphysical this thinking stripped the world of the order and sacredness essential in creating meaning. In a post-Enlightenment world we have tasked ourselves to identify what’s meaningful and what’s not, an exercise that can seem arbitrary and induce creeping nihilism. The Enlightenment’s metaphysical embraces of the autonomous individual leads not just to a boring life, Dreyful and Kelly worry it leads to a nearly unlivable one” (87, Deep Work)
Sources
Deep Work by Cal Newport
All Things Bright and Shining by Sean Dorance Kelly and Hbert Dreyfus

Culture of Connectivity

Principle

Culture where workers are expected to be constantly connected even if it is at the expense of productivity. This part of a larger trend for workers using busyness as a proxy for productivity.

Expansion

Employers frequently enforce this culture to the deteriment of their employees: “This mind-set is not necessarily irrational. For some, their jobs really do depend on such behavior. In 2013, for example, Yahoo’s new CEO Marissa Mayer banned employees from working at home. She made this decision after checking the server logs for the virtual private network that Yahoo employees use to remotely log in to company servers. Mayer was upset because the employees working home didn’t sign in enough throughout the day. She was, in some sense, punishing her employees for not spending more time checking e-mail (one of the primary reasons to log in to the servers). ‘If you’re not visibly busy,’ she signaled, ‘I’ll assume you’re not productive.’

Viewed objectively, however, this concept is anachronistic. Knowledge work is not an assembly line, and extracting value from information is an activity that’s often at odds with busyness. Remember for example, the academic from our last chapter who became the youngest full professor at Wharton by repeatedly shutting himself off from the outside world to concentrate on writing. Such behavior is the opposite of being publicly busy. If Grant worked for Yahoo, Marissa Mayer might have fired him. But this deep strategy turned out to produce a massive amount of value” (65, Deep Work)

Source

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Deliberate Practice

Term
Purposeful practice that has an objective criteria of what ‘good’ is and is practice designed by an expert. Unlike practice that is merely purposeful, it is informed by the aggregated experience of those who have come before. When a generation of experts gains a deeper understanding of their field, this new understanding revises the training requirements for the novices just entering the field. As a result, the training evolves alongside the development of the field. If a novice practices without adhering to the guidance of those who have come before, his or practice is not deliberate.
Explanations
 Cal Newport explains the requirements for deliberate practice in Deep Work (Nick note: These requirements are more related to Ericsson’s notion of ‘purposeful practice’ than ‘deliberate practice’): “This brings us to question of what deliberate practice actually requires. Its core components are usually identified as follows: (1) your attention is tightly focused on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or an idea you’re trying to master; (2) you receive feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.” (35)
     Newport continues on what deliberate practice achieves on a neurological level: “By focusing intensely on a specific skill, you’re forcing the relevant circuit to fire, again and again, in isolation. This repetitive use of a specific circuit triggers cells called oligodendrocytes to begin wrapping layers of myelin around the neurons in circuits — effectively cementing the skill. The reason, therefore, why it’s important to focus intensely on the task at hand while avoid distraction is because this is the only way to isolate the relevant neural circuit enough to trigger useful myelination. By contrast, if you’re trying to learn a complex new skill (say, SQL database management) in a state of low concentration (perhaps you also have your Facebook feed open), you’re firing too many circuits simultaneously and haphazardly to isolate the groups of neurons you actually want to strengthen.” (37)
Sources
Peak by Anders Ericsson
Deep Work by Cal Newport

Purposeful Practice

Term
Anders Ericsson’s notion of ‘purposeful practice’ has 4 characteristics:
1- Well-defined and specific goals. Taking a general goal and turning it into something you can work on with realistic expectation of improvement.
2- Focused. Give it full attention.
3- Involves feedback. The more immediate, the better.
4- Gets one out of his or her comfort zone. The fourth point is the one most frequently ignored and most improperly dealt with. When plateauing, it is important that a person try differently rather than just harder: “Whenever you’re trying to improve at something, you will run into such obstacles —points at which it seems impossible to progress, or at least where you have no idea what you should do in order to improve. This is natural. What is not natural is a true dead-stop obstacle, one that is impossible to get around, over, or through.” (21, Peak) Progress ingenuity along with effort.
Source
Peak by Anders Ericsson