Gender Problems in SAO Alfheim

My friend Andrew has the best idea that I’ve heard so far for a fan edit of the SAO Alfheim arc.

He says that he would rewrite the story so that both Asuna and Kirito are released from Aincrad. But they soon discover that Klein (and maybe Liz) is still stuck in the game along with 300 other players. The two of them quest to free their friend(s) while dealing with friendship, romance, family, and Nobuyuki Sugō (the antagonist).

A few years ago, I wouldn’t even have noticed a different between the original and Andrew’s edit.

The original story is a male, geek fantasy. Socially inept, computer genius, virtual hero dude must save his hot girlfriend from the evil hacker/business man.

Andrew’s version is immensely more pro-women. The original takes the character Asuna from a powerful warrior in the Aincrad story arc and turns her into the reward of the quest in Alfheim.

It objectifies her.

Honestly, it pisses me off that I wouldn’t have noticed this a few years ago. I can’t believe my educate and upbringing the the 20th and 21st centuries skipped these gender issues.

Worse, I think a lot of males in the geek community would probably cry foul because of these edits.

Wake up, guys. The ALfheim story is harmful to men also. Kirito is more than a savior. But he spends the entire story consumed with that one idea. Saving his hot girlfriend from the violent, raping, bad-guy. Men are more than protectors. And women are more than objects to be saved.

Yes, to a degree, there are evolutionary differences that put us those roles. But we are more than those roles.

Here’s the point. There is a difference between characterization and tropes. Aincrad had good characters. Alfheim slips into tropes. And harmful ones at that.

Gratitude vs. Daydreams

I have a dark secret. Sometimes, I don’t want to be grateful.

You know, Gratitude is the big thing now in personal development and pop psychology. It’s all over the Internet. “Gratitude is good for because of this…” “Don’t want to mediate? Try gratitude.” And so on.

I’m not at all disagreeing. I think Gratitude is amazingly helpful. I’m simply pointing out that it’s a fad.

And yet, even though I know it’s good for me. Even though everyone is talking about it. Often, I purposefully don’t do it. And here’s why: Gratitude destroys my daydreaming.

Daydreaming is an old habit of mine. I’ve mentioned it here plenty of times already. I like to imagine myself in the fantasy and sci-fi stories I enjoy (or in ones I’ve created).

Here’s what I’ve discovered though. Daydreaming has a critical weakness to Gratitude.

For example, the night before writing this, I was sitting around, trying to become tired enough to fall asleep after flying from the Pacific to the Eastern time zone. I started wondering, what if I was in that story I watched on flight? What if I happened across this character at that time?

And then I knew. 30 minutes of daydreaming would go by before I even realized it. “No,” I thought, “I don’t want to tarnish this story with my daydreaming.” And so, I practiced gratitude. I thought, “I’m thankful for this story and how it inspires me. I’m thankful for how it gave me perspective on life that I wasn’t expecting to find. I’m thankful for how that it challenges my philosophy and beliefs. I’m thankful for the characters that I connect with.”

My gratitude for the story quelled my urge to daydream.

And then, I was content. And therefore, happy.

The Two Most Important People in My Life

In my personal philosophy, two people are more important than anyone else in the whole universe. Those people are Present Me and Future Me.

I can’t say that one is more important than the other. To an observer outside of time, they’re actually the same.

To me, these people are bonded together. There is no stronger bond between two people than the present and future versions of that same individual.

As I quoted earlier, who you are and what you do today will cause change in all your tomorrows. Direct causation. There is no stronger influence on your future self than your present actions and identity.

When I think about where to invest my time and energy, I invest primarily in these people. I invest in me, right now, today. And by doing so, I will grow into a better person tomorrow and forever.

And this makes sense. I’m a twenty-something male, working to uncover my values and desires. I’m putting myself on a trajectory to make my dreams a reality. None of that will happen if I don’t keep Present Me and Future Me front and center in my mind.

Present Me is quite simply Me. Future Me is my greatest inspiration. He is the man that I chase and pursue. I create him little by little. Day by day, hour after hour. And he’s going to be great.

Who are you creating?

Thanks to Matthew McConaughey (never thought I’d say those words), for inspiring this post with his Oscar acceptance speech.

An Unlikely Motivating Mindset

A friend of mine shared an article with our accountability group a while back.

The article argues that different people respond differently to various kinds of motivation. One part in particular stuck with me.

Positive versus negative motivation.

When you have some kind of goal that you want to accomplish, you can think of the rewards in two ways. What you will gain if you succeed. What you will experience if you fail.

For example, changing careers. You can think about the additional money you’ll make. Greater fulfillment from you job. Better relationships with your colleagues. Better commute. Etc. Those are positive rewards.

Or, you can think about what will happen if you don’t act. Nothing will change. Same old job. Same people. Same paycheck. Same level of joy and excitement. You won’t have more money, more satisfaction, and all those things that a new career could offer you.

I don’t know about you, but I’m far more motivated by what I have to lose. By what my life will be like if I fail.

I can say that I want more adventure in my life. I want more awe and wonder. I want more freedom and control over my time and schedule. I want more independence in my finances. I want to live in greater alignment with these values.

But if I think about having that in my life, it doesn’t really motivate me. It actually kinda scares me.

Instead, I think about what my life will be like if I don’t pursue deeper alignment with my values. I think about what will happen if I don’t take action. If I don’t grow.

I’ll miss out on that life— my dream life. I’ll stay stalled out in my current life. The same routines, commitments, and work that drove me to shape my dreams in the first place.

I don’t want that. I don’t want to stay the same as I am today. I don’t want to settle. I’ll do anything to avoid that.

And that’s how I motivate myself. That’s how I give my actions real stakes for the future.

I’ll end with a quote and then a challenge. I found this in my 5 Minute Journal a few weeks ago: “What you do today can improve all your tomorrows.” – Ralph Marston.

I have a lot to lose. You?

Overcoming Our Pettiness

Do you ever see those internet memes that pop up every few months? The pictures of the flying cars or hover boards that chide scientists for lagging behind the predictions of scientific and engineering advancement.

Get over yourselves, people. Put your hand in you pocket. Pull our your phone. That phone (smart or not) is just as powerful a computational device as the super computers that sent human beings to the moon and brought them back to Earth.

Look on the roof of your house (or a neighbors). See those metallic panels? Those panels can directly transform the energy of the sun into electricity. For millions of years, only plants could do that. Now we can too.

The human genome project. Anti-HIV research. Robotics. Quantum computing. I could go on and on. 

Today, the average lower middle class person has a higher standard of living than European royalty from the Renaissance era.

You have a better life than most royalty throughout human history. 

Sometimes, I want to rail against the pettiness that we humans fall into. But, I know that my disappointment and anger won’t make anyone feel better. 

When I see the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems, I know that people are aware of this contention. However, it seems to me that we are mostly aware of the negative side. We know that being concerned with such petty troubles is beneath us.

But what instead should we concern ourselves with?

There must be something worth our anger, our energy, our efforts, our passion. There must be dragons for us to slay. Right?

Do We Really Want to Live Forever?

Who’s to know what this life means? If we’re really here or if everything is in our minds. Descartes said that he could doubt everything in life except his doubting, and so because of that, he knew that he was alive.

When we wake up and go through our routines. When we stay within our zones of comfort and safety. Is that real life too?

What does it mean to win at life? Are there rules? Is it even possible?

They say that the only things in life that are certain are death and taxes. Honestly, I would be cool if we could do away with both.

The Dalai Lama says that the meaning of life is happiness. And that the hard question is instead what is happiness and how do we find it. I’m inclined to agree.

But does the fact of death minimize happiness? Would we all live happier and freer if we knew that life could be everlasting? At least, if we banished the threat of old age.

Life is full of inequalities. Gender. Ethnicity. Race. Geography. Class. And more.

But death is the great equalizer. And the great injustice.

Life, consciousness, is a gift. The greatest gift. Every morning I try to thank the universe for the gift of life and the gift of a new day.

But life is a gift that came with an expiration date. 80 (Earth) years for individuals. A few million for our planet. A few trillion for our galaxy.

Sometimes I wonder what will happen to us in the future. Will we destroy ourselves? Will we destroy our planet? Will we live out among the stars? Will we learn to evade death? Will we overcome the laws of physics themselves and evade even entropy and the extinguishing of our universe?

I would he happy merely living a good life. However I define and redefine that.

But, what if… what if it were possible to live to 100, 200, 500 1000?

I don’t know if we would be much different, actually. Our brains and bodies our equipped to only handle so much fear and stress. So much risk and uncertainty.

No, wishing for eternal youth (or at least eternal middle-age adulthood) is a an illusion.

We all want the same thing. We want happiness. We want courage. We want the confidence and boldness to take the first step towards making our dreams a reality. We want to learn to deal with fear. We want to learn to learn from failures and successes. We want to savor life. Each day. Every hour. Every minute.

Who is inescapably charming? The person obsessed with goals and missions over all else? Or person who smiles, who is truly confident, who loves to be alive, and strives to savor each precious moment and leave the world a better place?

Inspired by SAO

Ruled By Fear

I want you to imagine something with me. I want you to imagine a someone who lives a life ruled by fear. Who would this person be? What would they do? How would they end up?

It’s not particularly hard for me to imagine, because I’ve been one of those people. The times in my life when I didn’t let fear rule my decisions and actions stand out like bright lights in my memories.

It’s not a difficult way to live. Our decisions and actions can be guided by fear as easily as they can be guided by our cognitive biases. You let this force inside of you compel you down a certain path. The problem is, unlike our cognitive quarks, doing things because of fear leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Most people don’t regret making decisions from our inherent, human irrationality. Fear, though, is the the father of the regret.

Fear is always present. It’s the force that keeps us comfortable. Keeps us from going out-of-bounds. The human brain/body is wired to survive. The goal to survive and pass down our genes creates our most powerful drives and urges. On the other hand, our body doesn’t push us so hard to thrive.

Whenever I experience fear, I feel it in my body. My throat narrows. My chest tightens. My stomach forms knots. After awhile, my shoulders press inward, and my neck feels sore. That’s because fear is physical. Fear is a stress response.

Fear pulls us back into our comfort zone, preventing us from tragic mistakes, yes, but also preventing us from facing challenges and then growing.

The decisions I regret most in life are the ones I made out of fear. The ones where the path split in front of me, and I chose to stay comfortable. Decisions like- not talking to a someone standing near me, not smiling to a stranger, taking easy classes in college, ignoring ideas that challenged my beliefs, keeping my unhelpful daily habits, lying to myself about the scope of my ambitions.

To restate a quote I recently read from the Dali Lama: the real question isn’t what is fear. No, that’s an easy question. The real question is how to deal with fear.

Why Write?

As I struggled to come up with a writing topic for today, I found myself asking this question: “What’s the point of writing anyway?” I mean, I only know of two people who read this blog with any regularity. I force myself to stare at this screen every morning, spill my guts onto the keyboard, and hope it’s worth it.

As this undercutting thought went through my head, I remembered an email conversation I had with my brother last week. He is slowly getting into writing, but struggles because writing doesn’t come to him very easily. I shared with him the perspective of Tim Ferriss, one of my favorite writers (paraphrased), “Writing is one of the hardest things for me. But I do it because it helps me think better.”

Reason number #1 to write: Writing improves the quality of your cognition.

Remembering that insight, I thought about the relationship between writing and thinking. Writing comes before speaking. Writing is what we do for ourselves when we take notes and get organized. Writing is how we practice making our ideas more understandable and spreadable.

If that’s why we write for ourselves, then why do we write for others? Today we have so many options in terms of communication media. What is the point of writing in a world with everything short of 3-D holograms and completely immersive virtual reality?

I think this is the answer. Not only can writing be a way to interact with our own thoughts, writing allows readers to interact with the author’s thoughts.

Reason #2 to write: Writing lets you put your thoughts directly into the reader’s head.

I’ve always believed that reading and writing is the closest thing we have to telepathy. Have you ever felt like an author is writing just to you? You’re reading a story or an article, and you feel like an audience of one. That is the power of writing.

We have such a shortage of genuine connection in today’s over-saturated world of digital media. Good writing can cut through all that. A good writer knows how to catch your attention and she knows how to keep it all the way through the piece.

And this is the truth of writing. More than being a service to ourselves and others, writing is art. It is something you practice and labor over with love and effort.

Reason #3 to write: Writing is beautiful.

How do you entice someone to read your first paragraph? How do you keep a reader from tiring out page after page, paragraph after paragraph? How do you set a pace? Rhythm? Sound? Tone? Genre? What makes one piece of writing dry and another playful?

Those are the reasons I write. Today, we have the luxury of digital technology to create and share our writing. We may lose something in the art of calligraphy, but I think we gain more than we lose.

Obviously, I’m focused on reason #1 now. But it’s good to remember the other reasons, especially when I feel discouraged.

Act Like You Never Fell Off the Horse

Having been sick for the last week, I wasn’t very productive, and I’m not much closer to my goals at the end of the week than I was at the beginning. It definitely feels disheartening. On top of that, one of the reasons I got sick in the first place was because I actually started making progress on goals, the goals seemed more real, and I got stressed out. It’s hard to get stuff done when your brain still doesn’t completely believe that you can do it. Oh, the pains of personal growth.

After a whole week of sickness and low productivity, I just don’t want to do anything. My confidence is shot. I feel my stress lurking underneath my feelings. I know that part of me still doesn’t believe I can follow the path I set for myself.

What do I do now? It feels like I’ve lost all my momentum.

But that is just a feeling. It’s a trick of the mind. I do have momentum. I mean geez, it was just one week. I can look back at my todo lists and see everything I was getting down before I got sick.

Here’s what I going to do. I’m going to forget that I ever fell off the horse. That feeling I have- the feeling that it’s too hard to started again- I’m going to ignore it.

Feelings come and go without our permission, but we can always choose what to with them.

Yeah, I got sick, and I and I learned a few lessons. But right now, I need to forget about that and get back on the horse. The easiest way to do that is to act like you never even fell off on the first place.

See you back on the trail.

My Upgraded Habit Process Applied to Knee Recovery Program

Months ago, I published my process for building new habits. Since then, I’ve added some features and taken out others. This is the upgraded process that I promised in yesterday’s post to publish today.

Step 1 – Freewrite
Freewrite about this new habit. If you need guidance, ask yourself questions like these:

  • Why do I want to to build this habit?
  • Why is this habit important?
  • How will my life be different if I succeed?
  • How will this change my self-identity?
  • How will this help my longer-term goals and dreams?
  • What will happen if I don’t succeed (ie. practical pessimism a la Tim Ferriss)
  • What are the ramifications of each path- if I build the habit, if I don’t?
  • If I can’t build, build this habit, what can I expect of myself?

Here’s my freewriting for this habit:

  • I want to do this because my knees are in pain, and I want the pain to heal. I hate feeling handicapped. I want to be able to run and play as much as I want.
  • This is important because running is my go-to form of aerobic exercise, and now I can’t do it.
  • If I succeed, I’ll be able to run, hike, and play more. I’ll be able to easily build a baseline aerobic level conditioning that is important for anaerobic exercise and all life really.
  • If I succeed, I’ll see myself as someone who can guide my own healing and as someone who can stick to a fitness program.
  • This will help my long-term goals and dreams of becoming extremely fit (strong, fast, good endurance).
  • If I fail to stick to this habit (or fail to heal my knees in general), then I may never be able to run/jog again.
  • If I can’t do this habit, then I can’t ever expect myself to take fitness programs or physical healing programs seriously.

Step 2 – Tell Yourself a New Story
This is taken directly from a blog post of Peter Shallard, the “Shrink for Entrepreneurs.” This is basically an exercise in reframing.

A. Get Objective about your current, terrible story
My knees are in bad shape, and it’s my fault. I just have to deal with the pain and injury that I caused through my own stupidity. Physical therapy helped a little, but if they couldn’t heal me, then is there really any hope? I’ve found so many tips and tricks online, but how can I know they will actually work for me? Besides, I can never stick to a fitness program anyway. Whenever I try to do fitness on my own, I always just fizzle out. I may have to just live with these knees the rest of my life.

B. Pick a totally new story that presupposes you’ll soon achieve your goal
I hurt my knees last year. Yeah, I did some silly things, and my knee paid the price. But that was a year ago, now it’s time to focus on healing and recovery. I am an athlete, and I will not let tiny knee injury stop me (thankfully nothing is torn or broken!).
Physical therapy helped me a little, but that wasn’t the expertise I needed. I need someone who can show me exactly how to focus on the pain and soreness in my knees and work that out. Wait. I already found that expert. I’ll follow his Comfort Zone program to first deal with pain. Then maybe I’ll follow his second program. Or I may work on other fitness issues so I can start running again.
Yes, I’ve struggled with sticking to fitness programs in the past. But hell, I added a dozen new habits into my life over the last year. This will be easy (especially now with HabitRPG).

Step 3 – Clearly define the problem in a single sentence

My knees are in pain and I must follow the Comfort Zone program to help them heal.

Step 4 – Plan the Behavior

I like to find a middle ground between just picking a time of day and planning every last environmental and internal cue. Here are some good questions to answer about this:

  • Where?
  • When?
  • After what?
  • Preceding what?
  • How much?
  • Reward(s)?

I will do this every morning after meditation, and I will do it in the evenings after I get home from work. The reward will checking-into HabitRPG, and the pleasure of knowing that I am following the path I set to greater physical health and fitness.

Step 4 – SWOT Analysis
source –

I already have good scaffolding in the morning to build this on top of.

Fitness habits are hard for me.
I don’t have as strong scaffolding in the afternoon/evenings.
The weekends are tough for sticking to my current habits already. This will be that much harder.

This could be the first of many fitness habits and improvements.

Events in the evenings.
Various weekends happenings.

How will I deal with Weaknesses and Threats?
I will make a rule that I can’t do other evening daily habits until I do this one. That will really make me do it, because I’ll want to check off the other habits in HabitRPG.
The weekends… those are tough in general. I’m not sure how to plan ahead for those. I’ll just have to trust the motivations provided by my app.

Step 5 – Make It Happen

One new habit per month.