New material is on the Huffington Post

Hi guys,

It’s been a while since I have posted anything here. Since last year almost all of my posts have been published on my Huffington Post Column.

If you’d like to keep up with my material please follow me  – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jared-joffe/

I will still try keep this page active for as long as possible due to the archive of content I have built up over time, but most new material will go to my column, simply because of the volume of eyeballs I receive on that platform.

You can also follow me on Twitter (there is a button on this blog) as all my posts go there as well.

I hope you are all well and thank you for reading my work.

All the best

Jared

 

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Making our world better

Previously published in the Huffington Post as ‘It’s Not Too Late To Heal The World”:

‘Survival of the fittest’

That’s the best way to describe life in the jungle, with animals doing whatever they need in order to stay alive. Apart from some unique mammals, morals are practically non existent in the wild because it’s a ‘kill or be killed’ environment.

I often think human society in the Western World is becoming more like the jungle every single day.

I’ve witnessed how the world we live in has changed in the last 25-30 years, and I don’t believe the direction we are heading is the right one.

Too many human beings have become impatient, hardened and ruthless. Our society has become self centred with so many individuals solely focussed on their own mission, figuratively running over anyone who obstructs their path.

I have no doubt that there is still plenty of good left in humanity, but it’s simply not as prominent as it used to be.

When I was growing up people were significantly more polite, respectful and caring towards one another. On the roads it was common for someone to show appreciation if you pulled to the side of a narrow street to let them get through. To get a ‘thank you’ on the roads is extremely rare now. In those days, you’d get a knock on your front door if someone walking by noticed you’d left your car lights on by accident. Back then kids had the awareness to stand up and give their seat to an elderly person on public transport.

I know these gestures still exist, but they have become the exception when they used to be the rule. Collectively, the human race has strayed and our good will seems to diminish as each year goes by.

How do we get back on the right path?

In Judaism there is a phrase known as ‘Tikkun Olam’ – which literally means healing or repairing a fractured world. The phrase is found in a book called ‘The Mishnah‘ and indicates that a practice should be followed not because it is required by Biblical law, but because it helps avoid social disharmony.

I bring this up because I believe our world needs healing. As human beings, we are born with the capacity to do so much good, and help each other. If every human being made it his or her duty to try do one good deed each day, can you imagine how much more pleasant our earth would be?

So how can we heal our fractured world?

I believe it starts by removing yourself from the ‘centre of the universe’. The world is bigger than each one of us, and this earth does not exist for our individual benefits. Once we collectively realise that the world is more important than our personal trials and tribulations, we can become capable of contributing to the greater good.

If we are in a financial position to donate money to charity, then we should – but it doesn’t start and end there. To make this place better, it’s going to take more than money. If you see someone struggling physically or emotionally, try reach out and help them. In all likelihood you will require help one day too, and that is when the kindness of others will become essential.

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For whatever reason many people often assume that because things are going well at a certain period in time, this will be the case forever. The reality is our fortunes can change in an instant.

Another thing we can do is not take what we have for granted. For every meal you eat, and every night you sleep in a bed with a roof over your head, know that there are millions out there who aren’t as fortunate. We must be thankful for what we have in life.

So why not start now?

Thank the person that lets you in on the highway, help an elderly person carry their groceries, be present for your friends if they are struggling, and try not get so used to something – that you forget to be grateful for it.

We don’t need to subscribe to a ‘Dog-eat-dog’ mentality. We can still survive and thrive without trampling on others.

The cynics will read this piece and say that I’m preaching. That is not my intention – this is simply a hopeful plea that if you read this, you think about helping your fellow man and be OK with putting yourself second some times.

Surely if we all gave just a little bit more and showed empathy and compassion to those around us – our world would be a better place.

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Storms must pass

Yesterday, thousands of Sydneysiders pulled out their smartphones to capture images of a rare ‘double rainbow’. I personally had never seen a double rainbow before and it was quite a breathtaking sight.

As I came home from work last night, I couldn’t help but think about the symbolism of this rainbow. Some may say I am a dreamer, but I often look for signs in nature that reflect the things that are occurring in my life, or the people’s lives that I care for.

I can tell you that if there was any week a double rainbow was a suitable symbol in my immediate circle, it was this one.

rainbow

Scientists will tell you that there is nothing cryptic or unique about a rainbow. They’ll say that it’s an optical phenomenon that appears when sunlight and atmospheric conditions are just right—and the viewer is positioned in a suitable location to see it.

Apparently a rainbow requires water droplets to be floating in the air – that’s why we see them right after it rains. The sun must be behind us and the clouds cleared away from the sun so that the rainbow can appear. The sunlight shines on a water droplet and as the light passes into the droplet, the light bends, or refracts, a little, because light travels slower in water than in air.

You won’t get any disputes from me about the validity of any of that, however I still believe there is something very symbolic about a rainbow.

It always appears after dark clouds have passed, and it signals the end of a downpour. The colours light up the atmosphere, indicating there will be brighter skies to follow.

We all go through turbulent times in life – and none of us are immune from adversity. When these troubling periods occur and we are struggling, we often pray for an end to our difficulties. We dream of the figurative ‘rainbow in the sky’ where we can see colour and light rather than darkness.

If you pick up a Bible, you’ll see that rainbows were referenced thousands of years ago as a sign of an end to troubled times. Noah had been on an arc trying to survive the biggest flood in history for forty consecutive days. When it finally finished, the Almighty said:

My rainbow I have placed in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Myself and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I cause clouds to come upon the earth, that the rainbow will appear in the cloud. And I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and between you and between every living creature among all flesh, and the water will no longer become a flood to destroy all flesh.” (Genesis 9:13-16)

In the passage above, God is amongst other things, introducing the rainbow as a sign of an end to troubled times.

Even if you are agnostic or atheist and don’t believe any of the above happened, it’s hard to deny that having a colourful semi circle beaming across the sky after a period of rainfall is a powerful image that lifts one’s spirits.

A rainbow shows us that darkness cannot reign unchallenged forever. Behind the clouds lies a sun-filled sky of clarity, purpose and warmth.

Double rainbows are extremely rare, and the fact that one appeared in this of all weeks is either a significant coincidence or a timely divine symbol of an end to a challenging period.

For the record, I think it is the latter.

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Moving Places – Changing Faces

Previously published in the Huffington Post as ‘The Challenges of Relocation’

You have probably all heard the saying ‘We are a product of our environment’.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot lately, given the fact that so far in my life; I have lived in three different countries. I believe that each one of those unique environments had a significant impact on the kind of person I was while living there. If you’re curious, those three countries are South Africa, the UK and Australia.

Moving can be an intensely emotional experience. It’s a new beginning, but not always an easy one. Life can feel exciting and fulfilling – but also isolating and lonely. Some people make the transition smoothly, while others find the change incredibly stressful. When people contemplate relocating, they almost exclusively think of the positive factors about their new destination. This can be problematic because psychologically we are usually more affected by what we lose than what we gain.

When I arrived in Australia from the UK, the prospects of the beach and warm climate were incredibly attractive. It’s human nature to focus on the things you are looking forward to experiencing. What I wasn’t prepared for was being the only kid in my new school with a funny accent, or the longing for old friends who no longer lived up the street.

An environment is not just a physical setting. It also consists of the people around us, their culture, the climate, as well as several other components.

Most people still think of themselves as being physically separate from their environment. They perceive themselves as the star of their film, filled with drama, romance, comedy, and tragedy. Many human beings often see their environment as a minor detail in the production – but it is so much more than that.

Shakespeare said: “The world is a stage, and all the men and women are merely players”. Metaphorically the stage Shakespeare is referring to is our environment. Our behaviour and mental state are significantly influenced by the things and people around us.

Just like a chameleon changes colours to adapt to its surroundings, many of us follow suit when we are placed in a new environment. Our physiological, psychological, and emotional state is inevitably altered when we enter a new location. The environment around us is very often a direct expression of where we are, both emotionally and spiritually.

I have experienced this first hand when people dear to me have seemed like a different human being after moving away from the location where we first connected. It’s quite a scary concept but it is more common than you may realise.

When I put my disappointment at what feels like losing someone who was dear to me aside, I try and remind myself that it would take a very special person to remain exactly the same after leaving their previous environment. Having lived in a few different places myself, I can acknowledge that I was also affected by the people and things that surrounded me.

Interestingly, when I have returned to one of my former destinations, it has felt almost natural to revert back to being the kind of person I was when I originally lived there. Memories are often cued by the physical environment. The more connections our brain makes to physical space, the more likely our everyday thoughts are to lead us there.

With all of this in mind, staying true to myself and being the kind of person I want to be is a regular fixture in my mind – it’s an ongoing challenge. Right now I reside in Australia, but who knows if this will always be home?

I believe that each one of us has our own individual core and it’s important that we continue to explore the kind of life we want to live and the type of person we want to be, irrespective of whom we are surrounded by and where we are in the world.

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Making Wiser Decisions

I can’t take any credit for what I’m about to post as none of it is my own material. However I urge you to read the following excerpt from Shane Parrish of the Farnham Street Blog. I found his piece last week both confronting and valuable.


You can reduce the number of mistakes you make by thinking about problems more clearly.

In his book Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition, Michael Mauboussin discusses how we can “fall victim to simplified mental routines that prevent us from coping with the complex realities inherent in important judgment calls.” One of those routines is the inside view, which we’re going to talk about in this article but first let’s get a bit of context.

No one wakes up thinking, “I am going to make bad decisions today.” Yet we all make them. What is particularly surprising is some of the biggest mistakes are made by people who are, by objective standards, very intelligent. Smart people make big, dumb, and consequential mistakes.

[…]

Mental flexibility, introspection, and the ability to properly calibrate evidence are at the core of rational thinking and are largely absent on IQ tests. Smart people make poor decisions because they have the same factory settings on their mental software as the rest of us, and that software isn’t designed to cope with many of today’s problems.

We don’t spend enough time thinking and learning from the process. Generally we’re pretty ambivalent about the process by which we make decisions.

… typical decision makers allocate only 25 percent of their time to thinking about the problem properly and learning from experience. Most spend their time gathering information, which feels like progress and appears diligent to superiors. But information without context is falsely empowering.

That reminds me of what Daniel Kahneman wrote in Thinking, Fast and Slow:

A remarkable aspect of your mental life is that you are rarely stumped … The normal state of your mind is that you have intuitive feelings and opinions about almost everything that comes your way. You like or dislike people long before you know much about them; you trust or distrust strangers without knowing why; you feel that an enterprise is bound to succeed without analyzing it.

So we’re not really gathering information as much as trying to satisfice our existing intuition. The very thing a good decision process should help root out.

***
Ego Induced Blindness

One prevalent error we make is that we tend to favour the inside view over the outside view.

An inside view considers a problem by focusing on the specific task and by using information that is close at hand, and makes predictions based on that narrow and unique set of inputs. These inputs may include anecdotal evidence and fallacious perceptions. This is the approach that most people use in building models of the future and is indeed common for all forms of planning.

[…]

The outside view asks if there are similar situations that can provide a statistical basis for making a decision. Rather than seeing a problem as unique, the outside view wants to know if others have faced comparable problems and, if so, what happened. The outside view is an unnatural way to think, precisely because it forces people to set aside all the cherished information they have gathered.

When the inside view is more positive than the outside view you effectively have a base rate argument. You’re saying (knowingly or, more likely, unknowingly) that this time is different. Our brains are all too happy to help us construct this argument.

Mauboussin argues that we embrace the inside view for a few primary reasons. First, we’re optimistic by nature. Second, is the “illusion of optimism” (we see our future as brighter than that of others). Finally, is the illusion of control (we think that chance events are subject to our control).

One interesting point is that while we’re bad at looking at the outside view when it comes to ourselves, we’re better at it when it comes to other people.

In fact, the planning fallacy embodies a broader principle. When people are forced to look at similar situations and see the frequency of success, they tend to predict more accurately. If you want to know how something is going to turn out for you, look at how it turned out for others in the same situation. Daniel Gilbert, a psychologist at Harvard University, ponders why people don’t rely more on the outside view, “Given the impressive power of this simple technique, we should expect people to go out of their way to use it. But they don’t.” The reason is most people think of themselves as different, and better, than those around them.

So it’s mostly ego. I’m better than the people tackling this problem before me. We see the differences between situations and use those as rationalizations as to why things are different this time.

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Consider this:

We incorrectly think that differences are more valuable than similarities.

After all, anyone can see what’s the same but it takes true insight to see what’s different, right? We’re all so busy trying to find differences that we forget to pay attention to what is the same.

***

The main lesson we can take from this is that we tend to focus on what’s different whereas the best decisions often focus on just the opposite: what’s the same. While this situation seems a little different, it’s almost always the same.

As Charlie Munger has said: “if you notice, the plots are very similar. The same plot comes back time after time.”

Particulars may vary but, unless those particulars are the variables that govern the outcome of the situation, the pattern remains. If we’re going to focus on what’s different rather than what’s the same, you’d best be sure the variables you’re clinging to matter.

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Having regrets isn’t a sign of weakness

Originally appeared in the Huffington Post as ‘It’s OK to have regrets

“Regrets, I’ve had a few – but then again, too few to mention” – so said the late and great Frank Sinatra.

Whenever I hear ‘My Way‘, I always think that Frank was either extremely fortunate or lying to us.

Very often you hear people say “No Regrets” after something has gone wrong. There seems to be a perception amongst many, that if you regret the way something turned out, you are showing a sign of weakness or failure – and heaven forbid we ever let ourselves show vulnerability to fellow human beings.

I began thinking about this in depth a few weeks ago, and wanted to do a spot survey with some of my friends. I asked everyone I encountered last week, what their biggest regret was (that they’d feel comfortable sharing). I was amazed at how many people told me that they don’t have any regrets in life.

This exercise showed me that a lot of people have too much pride and are scared to show vulnerability by admitting certain decisions from the past have set them back.

Below, however, are some excerpts from the brave few that put it all out there:

Tanya 27 says:

Probably the biggest happened when I was 20. I got married because there was a lot of pressure from my Greek family. I wish that I stuck to my guns and didn’t do it. I wish I had lived for myself instead of for them. I feel that by making that choice I obviously married someone I shouldn’t have“.

Daniel 30 says:

My biggest regret would be waiting until I was 25 to get professional help with some personal issues that were preventing me from feeling truly happy. I wish I’d done it earlier – I’d have saved a lot of heart ache“.

Clare 25 says:

My biggest regret is not leaving an unhealthy relationship when I should have. The relief I felt when it finally ended was amazing compared to the feelings of stagnating comfort I was experiencing in keeping the familiarity alive. For some reason, it was easier and more comfortable to stay than to leave. The regret and experience taught me to not be afraid of short term pain for long term gain“.

Max 36 says:

I regret not leaving my home town the day I graduated. I wasted a lot of time being somewhere I didn’t really want to be”.

Ruth 43 says:

I regret having an abortion. I was in an abusive relationship, and I fell pregnant. The man at the time wouldn’t talk to me for 3 days when he heard I was pregnant. Back then it seemed like there was no way I could bring this child into the world. There were a number of risks (both medical and emotional) in having the baby. But I look back now and I regret it, as maybe I could have done it – maybe there could have been a way“.

So there you have it, some powerful examples of people with the courage to acknowledge they have regrets about the way certain things have panned out in their life. I can guarantee you that every single one of these people have learnt from these regrets and would adjust their actions if presented with similar situations in the future.

On a personal note, I have several regrets about things that have occurred in my life. I try my best not to dwell on the negatives and rather ensure I too learn from each one.

For example when I was at university I contemplated going on exchange to the USA for a semester. Fear got the better of me and I decided to remain at home, giving up a once in a lifetime opportunity. I watched several of my friends courageously go abroad while I remained in my comfort zone. I witnessed almost all of them come back and express that they’d had the most positive life changing experience.

How did I learn from it?

Well a few years later, I quit my job and decided to travel around Europe alone. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and as a result made some lifelong friends from all corners of the globe. I also had the opportunity to visit some beautiful parts of our world that I’d always wanted to see. While I could never get the exchange opportunity back, I didn’t let fear get the better of me in a similar scenario later in life.

I also have some regrets about the way some of my previous romantic relationships have played out. It may have been staying in some too long, or for others it may have been failing to strike while the iron was hot – and losing out on a great opportunity. If similar scenarios present themselves in the future, some of the regrets from the past will serve as a reminder of what I need to do differently.

The bottom line is, it’s OK to have regrets. We are human, we have flaws and we are all vulnerable.

Perfection is an illusion.

If we run out of time to correct things we are currently experiencing, then our regrets should be the catalyst to make things right next time.

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Make music part of your child’s life

Previously published in the Huffington Post ‘Why Kids Need Music in Their Life‘ – featuring Kristi White.

There have been some amazing quotes about music over the years, but my favourite comes from Victor Hugo. The famous French poet once said: “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.

I can identify with his message as there have been several times where a song has left me completely speechless. It might be the lyrics, the melody, the emotion in a singer’s voice, the haunting sounds of a violin, or even the melancholy tones of a trumpet. Whatever the case, sometimes the power of music is simply too hard to describe.

Most people I know love listening to music, but not everyone is brave enough to try and play it. In High School it is not uncommon to hear about boys who learn the guitar so that they can ‘get the chicks’. This was never the motivation for me because I am definitely on the introvert end of the spectrum, and the idea of performing in front of others gave me anxiety!

Irrespective of my fear of performing in public, I still wanted to learn an instrument — so when I was ten years old, I got started.

Back then it was the drums that captured my imagination, so my parents bought me a second hand kit. I had weekly lessons and practised daily. In all likelihood the noise must have driven my neighbours crazy — but I was having fun, while obtaining valuable skills like rhythm and timing. I’m certain these have helped me in other aspects of my life.

I’ve often wondered about the impact music had on other kids, so who better to ask than a certified music teacher.

I was recently lucky enough to chat with Kristi White from Pensacola, Florida. Kristi has quite the CV, with over 13 years experience teaching and co-ordinating music programs in schools across the USA. She also provides private piano tuition and vocal training.

Music speaks to students in a way that other subjects cannot; to put it simply, music has the ability to keep some uninterested kids in school. Many studies show that involvement in music leads to positive personal, social, and motivational outcomes. From my experience, students in the arts build up their confidence and feel at ease expressing their ideas. Interestingly, these students rarely display aggression or anti-social behaviour“.

I was surprised to hear that that music was the sole subject keeping some kids in school. I did some research of my own and can confirm that Ms White is spot on.

According to a study by the Centre for Music Research at Florida State University, students at risk of not successfully completing their high school educations cite their participation in the arts as a major reason for staying in school. Factors that positively affected the motivation of these students included a supportive environment that promotes constructive acceptance of criticism and one where it is safe to take risks.

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So what about the introverts like me? The ones who have a thirst for it but are hesitant to perform in front of others?

Ms White had the following to say:

I’ve had the great privilege of witnessing some of my students quietly begin the school year reserved and closed tightly in the proverbial cocoon – only to emerge as confident social butterflies by the year’s end. Many even credit their musical studies with their new-found approach to school and life.”

In my chat with Kristi, I was disappointed to learn about a worrying trend of music programs being neglected in schools around the world.

In recent years, I’ve witnessed many schools completely abolishing their music education programs. This is a colossal mistake! Schools are losing not only an enriching subject, but a subject that can enhance students’ lives and education.”

It seems this has been the narrative for a while across the Western world and has played out with some regularity for decades — economies boom and bust, school budgets get squeezed and music and the other arts take the first hit.

This needs to change and change quickly. Music is a gift, it brings people together and clearly places our youth on the right path, giving them the tools to cope with many of life’s challenges. It makes absolutely no sense that some schools are taking it out of their syllabus.

Imagine having nothing to sing or dance to?

Let’s ensure we never live in a world like that.

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