If you mix 1 part water to 1.5-2 part corn starch, you create a strange mixture called “oobleck“, named after a Dr. Seuss story. It is so simple to make, yet it exhibits some very strange properties that makes it a popular science experiment.
Oobleck is what is known as a non-Newtonian fluid, where the viscosity (or “thickness”) changes with how much stress it is under. If you press your finger gently into it, it will feel like water, but if you strike it with a hammer, it will behave as a solid. It will stiffen when you stir it, but run when you swirl it.
You can even run over a tub of oobleck as long as you change steps quickly enough to apply enough pressure to keep the fluid under your feet solid. This is because oobleck becomes very viscous under high stress, making it behave more solidly (shear thickening).
We can learn from oobleck not only some interesting physics principles, but also how to interact with people.
Much like a non-Newtonian fluid, people will tend to react stiffly and with more resistance if you apply stress or force. But if you apply gentle pressure and be assertive, you will find people generally react more softly and fluidly.
This simple change in your approach will lead to much better conflict resolution and constructive outcomes when dealing with other people.
A theory on how the brain processes and remembers time is that it counts time by the number of experiences. For example, if you attend a party and meet many new people and have an exciting, fun time, then your brain will remember that day as feeling longer and with much more detail. In contrast, a normal, boring work day may not even register as a memory, because there is nothing new to remember.
This sounds obvious, but the theory has relevant implications. Look back on your past week and try to remember what you did. Do you remember the weather three days ago, what you talked about with your friend over coffee five days ago, or what song was playing while you were doing paperwork?
It is not uncommon for our brain to go into autopilot and forget menial, daily routines. In other words, the more standardised and automated your daily life is, your brain will remember those times as “less time”. Ergo, the life you look back on is shorter than what it could have been if you stop having new experiences. Is that not such a waste?
Compare this to when you travel or start a new relationship. You are exposed to so many new stimuli and experiences that your brain light ups and frantically records every detail (the heightened emotions play a role also). This is why we can remember the scent of our partner, the conversations we had with a stranger we met in a French bookshop, and what movie was playing in the background when you had your first kiss. These are moments that you can remember in better detail than you can remember entire years.
The bottom line is that a boring life a short life. A way to make the most of the short time we have in life would be to continue having new experiences as we grow old. Travel the world, meet new people, try things you normally wouldn’t, fall in love and push your horizons.
Otherwise, you may end up on your deathbed looking back on your life, regretting that your highlight reel is much shorter than you expected.
When we are little, we are showered with compliments. We marvel over and celebrate a child’s first steps, or when they score a goal, or when they gift us a squiggly drawing. At school, we receive stickers saying “Great job!” when we do our homework. At home, we receive words of encouragement, support and love from our family.
Why do we compliment children over even the smallest achievements? Compliments are one of the simplest, cheapest ways to positively reinforce good behaviour. When we hear a compliment, we feel that we have done something well. We feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, building up our self-confidence. Best of all, we feel good when we are complimented, because we feel accepted and noticed by someone else.
But as we grow older, we receive less and less compliments. Instead, we are constantly under the microscope, being critiqued on every aspect of what makes us us. Our work, partners, friends and family continue to push us to be even more “perfect”. Performance reviews tell us we are not efficient enough, our magazines and advertisements tell us we are not beautiful enough, our loved ones tell us we are not successful enough… No wonder we all have such fragile egos.
A good example of how little we are complimented is how we generally react when someone gives us a genuine compliment. Some people feel wary that the other person is using it as a opener because they want something from us. Many people react by rejecting the compliment, either in an attempt to be modest, or because they genuinely don’t believe that they are worthy of the compliment. Instead of thanking the other person and moving on with your day with a skip in our step, we put up our guard and beat ourselves down even more.
In a brutal world such as this, a compliment can go a long way to make someone’s day. A compliment can range in depth, from our friends pointing out a personality trait of ours that they respect and appreciate, to a stranger noticing and commenting on your choice of outfit. A kind word can be a candle in the way down darkness of stress, hardships and criticism that we face on a daily basis, making us feel valued.
Perhaps life would be just a little bit easier if we each complimented someone once a day. If you consider how many compliments you give to a pet dog in one petting session, a compliment a day to one person seems like nothing. By giving more compliments, the more you will notice that others will compliment you back, as they feel it is safe to do so. This is particularly true in toxic, masculine cultures where complimenting is seen as a sign of being soft, weak or deceptive.
So, where do we start? Just think of what kind of compliment would make your day better if you heard it.
Start simple with a small thing that you notice the other person has made an effort on, whether it is their hair, clothing or an accessory. We feel more appreciated when someone notices something we have done and can change, rather than something we are born with, like our physical appearance.
Then, you will start noticing and appreciating more positive things the person does, such as how they work, their small but significant achievements, products of their creativity and their demeanours.
Lastly, if it is someone we are close to and know well, it might be worth pointing out every now and then something we like about that person on a fundamental level. This includes their values, dreams, passions, convictions and character. Perhaps we respect their strong resolve and positive approach to life. Perhaps we appreciate the kindness they show to others. Perhaps we just love them for being themselves.
Think of the last time you were moved by someone’s compliment to you. Pay that kindness forward by making someone else’s day with a compliment of your own. You will feel happier just seeing another person smile when they hear your kind words.
At some point in our lives, most of us have experienced a crush: an intense, emotional, almost obsessive attraction towards someone that we barely know. A crush, also known as infatuation, puppy love or limerence, has many distinct characteristics.
Firstly, we become overwhelmed with emotions of romance and adoration, to the point that it can affect our thinking and behaviour. We have daydreams and can’t stop thinking about them (“intrusive thoughts”). We imagine whole lives together with them, and may even be under the illusion that they are “the one”.
Secondly, despite knowing little about them, we idolise them as near-perfect beings. Sometimes, we even fool ourselves thinking that they will solve all of our problems, such as giving us a purpose in life or filling the hole in our hearts.
Lastly, it is unrequited. We keep our crushes secret and adore our crushes from afar. We fear that if we approach them and get to know them better, we will find that they are imperfect, or that they will reject us because they find us repulsive. To avoid pain, we don’t even try, resulting in even longer suffering.
Already we can see how a crush is not the most emotionally healthy phenomenon. Crushes are based on our lack of knowledge of the other person and our brain filling in the gaps with wild fantasies and idolisation. Our ignorance allows us to construct the image that they are perfect in every way. In other words, we are not attracted to the person because of their charming features, but because we lack knowledge of their flaws.
We are not in love with the person, but an idea of that person.
That said, crushes are natural, common and not necessarily all bad. The fact that it is so addictive is a sign of how much pleasure it can bring to someone, while being a testament to how much emotions and fantastical daydreams our brain can conjure. The key is to not let a crush fester and doing something about it. If your feelings are reciprocated, then it can blossom into a beautiful relationship. If they are not, then it is better to deal with it early so you can move on, rather than pining after something that never would have happened.
So how do we “treat” a crush? The answer lies in the fundamental flaw of a crush that it is based on a lack of knowledge about the other person. That is, the cure for a crush is to get to know them better. A relationship cannot grow without conversations. By spending time with our crush, talking with them and exploring all the little things that makes them a unique person, they transition from a mere “idea”, to a fleshed-out person.
An important thing to bear in mind is that your crush is just another human being. Like us, they are also flawed, imperfect, insecure and maybe even broken in some places. Perhaps it will be the strange way that they laugh. Or an annoying habit like chewing with their mouth open. Perhaps their flaws may make you lose interest. Perhaps you will find them even more attractive in light of their imperfections, because now they are more approachable, unique and personable, rather than a perfect god or goddess. To quote Robin Williams from Good Will Hunting:
“You’re not perfect, sport, and let me save you the suspense: this girl you’ve met, she’s not perfect either. But the question is whether or not you’re perfect for each other.”
Much like many other problems in life, a crush can only be solved by taking action and doing something about it. There is no shame in enjoying the flood of emotions for a little while, but if left unresolved, it will become toxic and damaging. You deserve a chance at being loved, and your crush deserves a chance of being judged for who they really are, not by the idealised picture you painted. This will also create a stronger foundation for a relationship, because there will be less unrealistic expectations of each other, resulting in happy surprises and discoveries, rather than disappointments.
Find a cube-shaped object near you and pick it up. How many faces can you see? No matter how you turn it, you can only see a maximum of three faces at a time. To see each of the six faces of the cube, you must look at the cube from different perspectives.
If we can only see half of the faces of a simple cube, then what about people? Too often, we judge people by the one face that we can see at a given time. Assumptions are made about their intentions and motivations, and the miscommunication drives wedges between relationships. We assume that the waiter was rude to us, without considering that they may be exhausted from a double shift. We assume that our partners are being selfish or stubborn, without considering what past traumas and experiences may be pushing them to act a certain way. We lament how much pain other people cause us, without giving a thought as to why that person is acting that way, or how they might be feeling.
This is because we instinctively want to protect our own feelings, by becoming defensive and blaming others. But this is a great barrier to connecting to other people. How can we even begin to understand another person if we refuse to budge from one point of view, seeing only a few facets of their identity and persona?
You cannot solve a Rubik’s cube if you only look at half of its faces. If you want to develop a deeper connection with someone, you must make an effort to see things from different perspectives so that you can appreciate who they are in their entirety.
A very important element of emotional intelligence is the ability to recognise why you or another person are feeling a certain way and explore it rationally. If you feel hurt by someone’s actions, avoid jumping to conclusions and instead try to see it from another perspective. Why might this person be acting this way? How are their emotions and past experiences shaping their actions? Which faces of that person are you not seeing from your current point of view?
The ability to change your perspective is a difficult, but powerful social tool. The more you practise this skill, the more misunderstandings you will clear up and the less you will be hurt by other people by accident.
We now live in the Digital Age. We take photos with our digital cameras, letting us take thousands of photos as we can easily delete photos that did not turn out well. We write emails on our computers, where we often type and retype, proofreading and editing until we have perfectly sculpted our message. We bombard each other with messages that package complex words and feelings into neat little abbreviations and emoticons.
Going digital has, without a doubt, made our lives easier. Digital is exact and fast, while being easily editable thanks to existing only in virtual space. But what is the price of convenience? Did we lose something in the process?
Before the Digital Age, we used film cameras that required careful photography as we had a limited number of shots per roll of film. We wrote handwritten letters, where we had to give considerable thought to what we were going to write before even picking up the pen, lest we waste another sheet of paper. If we wanted to say something important to someone we cared about, we would do it face to face, or at least over a phone call, where our body language and voice gave off subtle nuances about how we truly felt.
As cumbersome as this sounds, the value of analog is that it focusses on quality, not quantity. We no longer have photo albums that summarise a whole year (or even childhood) in just dozens of carefully curated photos. Instead, we have albums full of hundreds of pictures per day, which we rarely review because there are too many to go through.
The worst consequence of going digital is that our words have lost weight and substance. We throw words at each other like paper planes because we feel compelled to reply in some way. We think less about our choice of words because they are a dime a dozen, yet we overanalyse the meaning of what others say in a message because we have no other cues such as body language. We become hurt by hollow words and emoticons devoid of feeling and personality.
We are still analog. We cannot treat each other like photos that can be taken en masse then culled, or a word document that can be freely edited. We should put more care into the things we say to each other – with more thought, feeling and personality – to avoid hurting each other so much.
The next time you have a holiday, try travelling alone somewhere new. It may sound lonely, but travelling on your own can have several benefits that you may never have considered.
Firstly, you can be selfish for once and plan the trip to wholly fit your needs. If you want to spend a whole day in a museum or focus on the best eateries of the city, you can do that without worrying about your travelling companions’ preferences. Some of the worst moments while travelling are conflicts within the travel group due to different travel styles. Travelling alone eliminates that issue as you are only in the company of yourself.
Secondly, you will meet new people much more frequently and readily. You may have to ask a stranger for a photo using broken Japanese. You may go out drinking with a group of Australians on a night out in Edinburgh. You may strike up a conversation with a Dutch girl next to a piano within an antique bookshop in Paris. When travelling alone, you have to rely more on the kindness of strangers and it is easier for others to approach you when you aren’t surrounded by a group.
Lastly, remember that travelling frees you up from commitments and your “real” life. Instead of worrying about bills, assignments and the future, you can focus on the present. This lets you make better use of your time, such as noticing little details like how blue the sky is or taking photos of happy people on the streets. Most importantly, when you’re alone, you can become lost in your thoughts and gain more insight into your inner psyche. This is when you can learn more about what you enjoy, what you want out of life and being mindful of how you are really doing in life.
But of course, travelling with others has its own appeal. The happiness you gain from sharing wonderful experiences such as beautiful sunsets and delicious local foods, paired with deepening the connection and bond you have with your friend or partner becomes the best part of travelling.
“If you want to find out who you truly love, travel far away on your own. The person you wish was beside you at that moment is the one you truly love.”
~ from Calmi Cuori Appassionati
One of our greatest weaknesses as a human being is that we never seem to be satisfied with “just right”. We always think we have too much or too little of something and this torments us. The same can be said of love. People will often complain that they are not loved enough by their family, friends or significant others. This is natural, for we tend to crave love and attention more than we are willing to give it to others.
The more interesting situation is when people complain of being loved too much. One defence regarding this is that they do not feel that they deserve this love. Some people claim that because of who they are (or more commonly, who they aren’t), they are not worthy to receive the tender loving care offered by another person. Of course sometimes this is said as a plesantry, but in some cases, a person may feel so guilty of this that they will reject the gesture and push the people they love away.
What does it mean to be “deserving” of love? Does this imply that love is some kind of karmic reward that should only be received if we have been kind and generous to others? We are often the harshest judges of our own character and more often than not, we will rate ourselves lower than how others see us. Some people are able to appreciate and be grateful for the kindness of others, while not seeing the effect their own kindness has on others. Because of this mismatch, sometimes we may think that others are being kinder to us than we are to them.
Knowing this, perhaps it would be easier if instead of tormenting ourselves with the question of whether we deserve someone’s love or note, we should let others judge how much love we deserve from them. For they are the ones who feel the kindness in our words and actions, and they are the ones who wish to return that kindness back to us. Instead of feeling guilty of whether you deserve someone’s love or not, feel grateful that you have people in your life that care about you.
And if you cannot shake the feeling that you really are not deserving of that love, there is only one real solution. Be more generous with your kindness and reciprocate that love to others to make up for whatever you are feeling guilty of. Love is an infinite resource and there is plenty to go around for everyone.
Each and every one of us have two selves: the self we truly are in our mind and hearts and the self we present to the world. Let us call these the inner self and outer self. For the most part, we know both our inner and outer selves quite well, because we know what we are thinking and feeling and we consciously control what image we show to other people. But because we cannot read minds, we usually only know the outer selves of other people.
Our inner self is somewhat difficult to change consciously as it is mostly shaped by our natural personalities, our upbringing and environmental factors such as life experience. On contrast, we have the ability to change how others see us through various ways. We wear smart clothing to suggest we are well-cultured, we tell jokes to give the image of a funny person and we emphasise our strengths while downplaying our weaknesses and insecurities to show our best possible side. Because of this, it is unfair to compare yourself (your “inner self”) to others (their “outer self”). The “perfect” person you are comparing yourself to may just be an outer shell shielding that person’s weak, insecure inner self that is no better than you.
We all have our own demons and insecurities, but no one wants others to know as all we see in society are strong, charismatic, charming outer selves and we seem so weak in comparison. In the end, we all live behind masks to try fit into a world full of masked people, too afraid of showing our true selves and being hurt.
Then how can we truly connect if we are all pretending to be different people? Always remember that others are just as afraid of lowering their mask as you are. You cannot expect the other person to open up to you first when you are not prepared to yourself. On the other hand, you cannot be hurt when they are reluctant to open up just because you have. To show your inner self means leaving yourself to be vulnerable, so it is understandable for people to take time for it to happen. All you can do is to let yourself be vulnerable first and show the other person that you are just as weak and scared as they are. That is the cost of connection.
Why do people enjoy movies? Although people might prefer different genres, everybody enjoys movies in one way or another. Perhaps this is because as human beings, we have an inherent love for stories. From the dawn of time, mankind has told story after story. From children listening to the elder telling a story by the fireplace, to adults telling each other funny or dramatic life stories over a glass of wine, we enjoy telling and listening to stories. This is most likely because through stories, we can relive someone’s experience as if they were our own.
The hallmark of a good story is its ability to plunge the listener into another world – overwhelming their senses and emotions. As far as we know, human beings are the only animals who possess language fluent enough to convey such detail and the imagination and creativity to reconstruct the story in our minds, converting words into a world. Storytelling is a defining characteristic of human nature and movies are a modern medium that helps us paint a more vivid world in our minds through the use of motion pictures.
If you look at the most famous movies of history, they share two common themes.
Firstly, they portray relatable, but almost fantastic life experiences. Romances that play our heartstrings like a guitar, bittersweet success stories, gripping dramas and silly comedic events that could happen to us… By playing jump ropes with the fine line between fantasy and reality, movies drench us in emotions, which induces powerful hormones such as adrenaline and endorphin to be released, giving us excitement and enjoyment.
Secondly, most successful movies show connection. Whether it be romantic love between two people or camaraderie shared between a platoon of soldiers, we like to see connection happening. Not only this, but a good movie makes us feel connected to the characters in some way, further enhancing the oxytocin-inducing emotion called happiness. Connecting to characters raises an interesting point. Perhaps it is not just the reliving of another person’s experience that we enjoy, but maybe we also feel true compassion for the characters and feel happy that they find connection and happiness at the end of the movie.
A friend once told me to “stop trying to make your life seem like a movie”. There is some truth to that, in that you should not over-idealise your experiences. However, I disagree with his view. I think the real reason people love movies is that it reminds us of our own experiences. Not everyone will admit it, but a successful businesswoman may watch an underdog movie and secretly reminisce her challenging climb to the top, while a middle-aged man may shed a tear at a romance movie because he still remembers the first time he kissed his first love.
Everyone has a story to tell. You would be surprised how many people have had experiences far greater than any movie: the dramas, the laughters, the coincidences and the twists. In fact, everyone’s life is a movie of their own. It just doesn’t always have a clear-cut introduction, middle and conclusion with a perfectly paced timeline. Instead it is tangled in the intricate fabric of life, seemingly crude and unrefined compared to a movie. The raw materials are there, but it is up to you to be the producer, director and screenwriter who edits and refines these experiences into a coherent “movie”.
Search your memories and experiences – you will find that there is a movie among there that is greater than any Oscar-winning movie out there. If you ever feel alone, hopeless or worthless, reach into your past and press the play button to that movie. You will find that your life has actually been quite awesome.