Tuesday, January 7, 2014

overcoming bad habits; creating good habits

in the vein of scott adams, i've been trying to implement a system as opposed to setting goals.  my system, at least how i envision it, is to identify things i enjoy that are beneficial to me.  when it comes to exercise, i've been trying to find the best exerciese that 1) i enjoy and 2) is sustainable.

after a few years of experimenting, i've landed on walking 4 miles a day.  i loved running, but found the injuries weren't enjoyable.  i loved basketball, but finding access to a gym and a decent group of players was tough.  spinning on a bike was not really sustainable nor did i particularly enjoy it.  walking, however, is really enjoyable and sustainable.  i see myself walking 4 miles a day well into my senior years.

eating - i've come to the conclusion that i simply need to eat less and arm myself with the right information about which foods are good for my brain and body and which leave me feeling full and satiated.

however, i don't see any reason why i can't implement and improve a system and at the same time strengthen my willpower or impulse control.  i read a couple of other blog posts today and yesterday which hit on this.

steve sailor was commentating on a new york post column about amy chua's new theory on cultural groups and why they are successful.  one of the tri-fectas she talks about is impulse control - calling it a hallmark of self-help.  impulse control is "the ability to delay instant gratification in the service of a greater goal."  This is how steve sailor defined it.  but in the article, describes impulse control as "the ability to resist temptation, especially the temptation to give up in the face of hardship or quit instead of persevering at a difficult task."

i think having a system and impulse control significantly increases anyone's chance for success and happiness in life.

and today, i read another great blog post on building that impulse control muscle and how to accomplish it.  this idea isn't anything new from leo babauta, but this post really caught my attention because that is how i see my impulses.  in his post "the child that holds us back" he talks about how he overcame habits and how hard it was - until he stopped listening to the 5-6 year-old child voice in him.  he describes how all of us have that same child-voice in us saying all the things that will get us to give-up or give in to temptations.

the trick is to "notice that this 5-year-old child is telling you what to do.  but don't listen.  don't obey.  don't believe its rationalizations."  in other posts, he describes a trick about simply acknowledging the urge - you "watch it", you can breathe deeply, walk around a bit and then the urge will go away.  it's all about being more mindful and giving yourself a chance to strengthen your impulse control.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

the savior generals: david petraeus

reading the david petraeus chapter was really fascinating in that i was following the events in march 2003 and after.  i watched the news and read the news sites and all that came along with it.  the politics surrounding the iraq war was astounding.  as a nation and congress, we were unified to go into iraq and remove hussein.  the "shock and awe" was amazing.  then came the "mission accomplished" stunt.  then the wheels came off.

we were not ready for what came next - the casualties spiked and we did not know how to handle the situation.  the democrats who were for the war, were now against the war.  bush was trying all he could to stabilize the situation, but no general could do it.

many different strategies were tried, but none were effective.  the only successful area in iraq was in the north under the command of petraeus.  he was "perfect" for the assignment is almost every conceivable way.  as vdh put it, "whether consciously or not, david patraeus for two decades had been preparing himself neither for conventional warfare nor for counterterrorist special operations - nor even for classic jungle or rural insurgency.  instead, he had prepped for large-scale postbellum occupation and reconstruction in highly urbanized, extremely hostile populations - exactly what iraq would be like in 2003" (p. 224).

his plan was to oversee "the reestablishment of everything from the urban university to the city council.  petraeus disbursed millions of dollars to more than four thousand projects ('money is ammunition') - often without the oversight of paul bremer, the head of the coalition provisional authority, who had been monitoring civil affairs for the year after may 2003" (p. 225).

once put in charge of the whole theater, he implemented his plan throughout the entire country - and it worked.  he gained the confidence of the people and they were able to see his vision which enabled them to fight long enough to stabilize iraq.  the plan was initiated in 2007; and by december 2011, when all american troops had withdrawn, not one u.s. solider had died.

there is a lot more to petraeus' plan than his two-decade preparation and schooling.  there had to be a way for the plan to make it to the president's desk so that it could be approved.  again, this is where petraeus seemingly shines.  vdh describes petreaus as excellent in every imaginable assignment; unmatched intelligence and academic preparation; and ambition.  petreaus developed "strong personal friendships with high-ranking officers, all the while showcasing his organizational and intellectual skills at the company, battalion and brigade level" (p. 222-223).  his "rivals" discounted his abilities because of his well-connectedness.  but this well-connectedness is what allowed the plan to reach the right ears.

the legend of petraeus grows when you read about his two near-death experiences - surviving an accidental bullet to the chest as well as surviving a parachute landing when the parachute did not open.

the petreaus chapter reminded me a lot of themistocles and belisarius.  all three of them were dynamic and had qualities that only they possessed which allowed them to "save" a war for their leaders.  without them, the wars would have been lost.

as a post-script, it's been two years since the troop withdrawals from iraq.  up until very recently, the peace in iraq has been good.  however, a quick search produces the following headlines:
- iraq suffers worst year of violence since 2008
- iraq sees highest annual death toll in years

no doubt the situation would be far worse had it not been for petraeus, but it is appearing the violence is now creeping back in barely two years after the u.s. withdrew.