04 May 2018

Character Development, Modern Science and Mindfulness Practices

Modern Neuroscience and Psychological Researchers provide answers to explain the development of character and the how-to, now commonly known as mindfulness practices. Character development must take place at 3 places, the fast reactive thinking system, the slow thinking systems, and the management and control of our animal-instincts thinking systems. By using mindfulness practices, done daily over time, we can train the 3 systems to adopt the right philosophy and values and achieve better well-being, effectiveness, and success.
Two Thinking Systems:
Nobel Prize winner in Economics in 2002, Daniel Kahneman, in his book "Thinking, Fast and Slow", tells us that we have two thinking systems.
  1. The fast-thinking system is fast, automatic, reactive, frequent, emotional, stereotypic and subconscious. We need it to quickly react to sudden and impending danger for our survival. We perceive the sudden threat and quickly reacted with eight fight, flight or freeze. There is too little time for deliberate analysis and decision making. This fast reactive system is of course bias and error-prone, using associative memory and past experience.
  2. The Slow-Thinking system is effortful, infrequent (comparatively), logical, calculating and conscious. It is deliberate learning from long-term memory and using a system of reasoning. Of course, if our reasoning system and our stored knowledge are not correct, we would be making erroneous decisions leading to bad outcomes.
The Third One - Animalistic Dino Brain
Albert J. Bernstein wrote a very interesting book, "Dinosaur Brains: Dealing with All THOSE Impossible People at Work", that shows us how our natural thinking system is.  Our animal level types of thinking include the following:
  1. Go get it now.
  2. Fight, Flight or Fright
  3. Be Dominant
  4. Defend the Territory
  5. Get the Mate
  6. If it hurts, Hiss
  7. Like Me Good, Not Like Me Bad.
We can understand our self-centered, instant gratification, mine & mine kind of thinking. Maturity and Emotional Intelligence are about controlling our desires with awareness of others, delayed gratification, and even just doing good just for goodness sake without expecting any rewards.

Xun Zi, the number 3 in the Confucianism School, when discussing how man is more valuable than animals says the following: 

《荀子·王制篇》群
水火有气而无生, 草木有生而无知, 禽兽有知而无义;人有气、有生、有知, 亦且有义, 故最为天下贵也. 

Water and fire have Qi(Energy) but no life.
Plants have a life but no knowledge.
Animals have knowledge but no moral (no sense of right and wrong).
Men have Qi(Energy), Life, Knowledge, and Moral. Hence men are most precious under the sky.

The sense of right and wrong causes men to manage and control their animal impulses for the benefits of the community and themselves.

Men must develop a virtuous character and behave accordingly.

The Right Moral Virtues and Behavior

Generally, the values and virtues that men want are quite similar. Consider the Confucianism list and the Christianity list as follow:

The Confucius virtues are usually summarized as 仁义礼智信 as 五常 (5 common values) and also “仁、义、礼、智、信、忠、孝、节、勇、和” as 十德 (10 virtues)。

仁、love, charity.
义、righteousness
礼、proper conduct, good manners
智、wisdom
信、integrity, trustworthiness
忠、faithfulness
孝、filial piety - Elders loves younger, younger respect elders.
节、self-control
勇、boldness, decisiveness
和. Harmony and Peace.

Christianity uses the Fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 English Standard Version (ESV)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things, there is no law.

How do we develop character?

We need to change the three Thinking-Systems. 
We use the Slow-Thinking Systems to acquire wisdom and knowledge. We use such knowledge to train and obtain control over the Dino-Brain. We practice and practice to get our Fast-Reactive Thinking to conform to the Slow-Thinking System

The Mind-Map:


The Mindfulness Practices

How do we practice and practice? The secret is in being mindful, being aware of our feeling, thinking and reactive behaviors and outcomes daily, if not constantly.

A simple series of steps for mindfulness is as follows:
  1.  Pause. Especially we are triggered by anger or fear (except for dangerous situation - in such a case, the step is run, hide, observe, notify). Pause first before reaction.
  2. Breathing Technique.
    1. Control your breathing.
    2. Be aware of your breathing.
    3. Focus on how your chest, belly move with the breathing.
    4. Slow down breathing and start to be aware of your sensation and feeling.
  3. Naming the feelings
    1. Try to label your feeling, anger, fear, worry, joy, depress, disappointed, sad, etc.
    2. Labeling them calm us further.
    3. Do not be judgmental. There is no right or wrong. The purpose is to be aware of how you are feeling.
  4. Considering your feeling.
    1. Comforting your self with you are OK, you are loved, you are capable, ...
    2. We try to engage the Slow-Deliberate Thinking System into the situation.
    3. Once we are calm and rested, we can start analyzing why we feel and react that way. Then figure out how should we do to gain a better outcome to achieve our purpose and meaning in life.
The best time is not to wait for external triggers. 

It is best to start the day, mid-day, and end the day with mindfulness practices. Always being aware of the events, the feelings, the thinkings, the reactions, the outcomes and then intentional re-examine and make improvements.

Daily and Not Annually

Now we probably can figure out the answer as to why our annual resolutions do not work. It is too long a period to discover and make corrective actions.

All the best to your daily practices for becoming a better person, better well-being and greater success in life.

Lim Liat (c) 4 May 2018

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