I’ve always had focus.
I’m an ambitious guy, whether it’s recording an album, writing a book, or bettering different aspects of my life.
My dogged persistence is what has always seen me through.
I’ve noticed though, that this focus, when applied to becoming more social, has been problematic.
It often backfires.
I recently read an amazing book that shed some light on this.
In Look Me In The Eye, John Elder Robison chronicles his lifelong struggle with Asperger’s syndrome.
Asperger’s is a mild form of autism. People with Asperger’s have problems reading social cues such as facial expressions.
At the same time, they often have above-average abilities in analytical fields such as math and engineering.
From reading this book, one can understand Asperger’s as an extreme form of introversion.
Being a savant is a mixed blessing because that laser-like focus often comes at a cost: very limited abilities in non-savant areas.
As I recall my own development, I can see how I went through periods where my ability to focus inward and do complex calculations in my mind developed rapidly.
When that happened, my ability to solve complex technical or mathematical problems increased, but I withdrew from other people.
Later, there were periods where my ability to turn toward other people in the world increased by leaps and bounds. At those times, my intense power of focused reasoning seemed to diminish.
Sometimes when I go to talk to a stranger, depending on where I am in my current life situation, I find myself feeling TOO FOCUSED to talk to anyone.
I’ve heard these words pop into my head–I’M TOO FOCUSED.
I’m too focused on writing my book, or working on my album, or thinking about work. It makes me not want to connect with another person.
I don’t want to step out of this great little meditative space I’m in.
In a way, this cuts to the core of the problem in learning social skills.
Social skills are very different than the skill involved in solving a math problem or a crossword puzzle.
The method that has normally worked–focused logical intensity–will only get you so far.
As much as understand situations logically, developing social skills is about connecting with your body and emotions.
A true “natural,” a guy who is naturally great with people, is someone who has learned to meet emotion with the appropriate emotion.
He reacts emotionally to emotional situations. He knows and FEELS himself to the core.
People with Asperger’s, as well as introverts, seem to lack this ability to some extent.
To learn this skill requires a reconfiguration of how we learn and how we understand ourselves.
Robison talks about his journey in learning.
My mind didn’t fade or die, it just rewired itself. I’m sure my mind has the same power it always did but in a more broadly focused configuration.
No one would have looked at me 30 years ago and foreseen that I would have the social skills I have today or the ability to express the emotions thoughts and feelings I do today. It’s been a good trade.
Creative genius never helped me make friends and it certainly didn’t make me happy. My life today is immeasurably happier, richer and fuller as a result of my brain’s continuing development.
Instead of the focused intensity of learning with your mind, improving socially requires, in a sense, learning with your body.
Learning with your body is the opposite of fixation and more than anything requires one thing:
As much as being able to control yourself and your actions, it also requires a willingness to just let go and accept what is out of your control.
You can plan and scheme and memorize and read and look up all the information you want.
But in terms of really connecting with a person, the times and when it has been deepest and most rewarding has been when I am sharing something with this person that I’ve never shared with anyone before.
I’m not only learning something about the other person, but I’m letting the other person teach me something about myself.
And the payoff is immense.
Human beings are social creatures. We like to think we are individuals. But when we are happy socially, we are happy in our lives.
The journey from being introverted and shy around others to being social, uninhibited and communicative is, by far, the most rewarding journey I’ve made.
Robison captures it perfectly:
I was finally free.
When I returned to Amherst, everywhere I went it seemed I recognized someone. And I recognized the places. But the bad associations from my childhood were gone.
“You have to come to a Umass basketball game,” Paul said one day.
I had never been to a college basketball game in my life, but I somewhat reluctantly tagged along.
“Before the game, there’s a reception upstairs. Come up with us,” Paul said.
There were probably a hundred people in the room when I walked in.
Thirty years earlier, that crowd would have terrified me and I would not have known what to say. I would have hidden in the corner like a trapped animal, waiting to escape.
But now, with my knowledge of Asperger’s and my new confidence, nothing bad happpened. I wasn’t scared and I didn’t hide.
And something remarkable occurred.
People liked me.
People came up to me, shook my hand and made me feel welcome. Just a little bit of knowledge of what to say and how to act made all the difference in the world.
It was incredible. I found myself making friends everywhere I went. And to my amazement, they looked out for me.
For example, my friend Dave said “Let’s get seats together,” a perfectly ordinary suggestion. But it was something I had never done before.
Not only did I make friends everywhere I went, but nothing bad seemed to happen.
No one called me a monkeyface. No one threatened me. No one threw me out.
The last time I was here, no one wanted me on their team. Now, it seemed, everyone did.
Even my lifelong feeling that I was a fraud began to vanish…
posted in Self-Improvement StrategiesCOMMENTS