Episode 20 - Associative Perception‽
Jen: Hi Peter.
Peter: Hey Jen.
Jen: I'm giggling because I had a very bizarre experience in my sleep, and I don't quite know what to make of it, and I'm hoping you can help me.
Peter: Does this involve a notepad and a pen by chance?
Jen: It does. I was sleep-writing again.
Peter: We have to talk about this.
Jen: Yeah, we do.
Peter: This is The Long and The Short Of It.
Jen: Peter, I woke up from - well let me preface by saying my dreams recently have been just extravagant, and detailed, and full of meaning, and in the mornings I wake up and I'm like, "Ah, I wish I could remember what that dream was about." Like I'll be writing symphonies in my sleep, and I'll like hear all of these different musical parts and then I'll wake up and I'd be like, "Huh, can't remember any of that, and I don't have the skill to write any of it down even if I did remember it." Or I'll, I'll be designing something, and then I'll like see all of this detail, and I have no visual skills during my waking hours. So like, I guess in a way I wish in my waking life I was who I am when I'm asleep, so, paging doctor Freud. But, the other morning I woke up and there was a piece of paper that had scrawl on it, so I had written this thing in my sleep, and what the thing said - and we're going to try to decode this - was the following: and I quote myself, "Associative perception paired with meaningful work and deliberate practice," end quote.
Peter: End quote. I feel like, I just feel like I need to back up for a second and just reiterate the fact that you wrote something legible -
Jen: Barely legible.
Peter: - barely legible, but this wasn't like, "I woke up from a dream and quickly scribbled something down," this was like, you were, you were unconscious.
Jen: Yes, I have no memory of writing it. I don't even have a memory of, you know when you're in the dream and you're like, "Oh, I want to remember this." I don't even have that memory. It's like I woke up and some alter-ego had penned this idea of "associative perception paired with meaningful work and deliberate practice."
Peter: How, like, how did that feel when you woke up? Were you, like, a little bit freaked out or were you, like, impressed with yourself? Cause I'm impressed.
Jen: It was a little bit of both, it was a little bit of both, and it actually made me realize I should get more sleep.
Peter: Have you, that's - I think that's the hidden message of all of this.
Jen: But the first thing I did was googled "associative perception," because I know "meaningful work," because that's a phrase, you and I use that phrase all the time, and "deliberate practice" is a phrase coined by, oh gosh, Anders Ericsson, perhaps, in reference to mastery, but I could not figure out where have I ever heard "associated perception" before. So I Google it, and you want to know why I've never heard it before?
Peter: It's not, it's not a thing, is it?
Jen: It's not a thing. So then one must question, what was my brain trying to express when it came up with "associative perception?" So I would love for you to just think about what those two words mean to you. Now, I've had a couple of days to think it through, and I kind of think I know what I might have meant, and then I posed my theory to my husband, and he had a totally different idea of what I might've meant. So, how many people does it take to get to the root of one person's idea?
Peter: One person's unconscious idea.
Jen: Yeah, so "associative perception."
Peter: Yeah, I mean I agree with you. The, the meaningful work and the deliberate practice bit, I'm like, I could make sense of that. "Associative perception." To me, when I hear that, I think, "What are some things or some people that you perceive to be associated with a certain thing?" So it could be that I perceive that a really strong athlete is associated with a great diet. That's a pretty basic example, but when I hear "associative perception," I'm thinking, yeah, you are perceiving someone to be associated with a certain thing. How's that? Is that like making some sense to Dream Jen?
Jen: Yes. Dream Jen thinks you're on to something. Now, Waking Jen, in her quest to interpret Dream Jen, went through a couple of different phases with this, but what I think I've landed on least right now is that "associative perception" is, in essence, striving to associate yourself with something in particular so that others will perceive you a particular way.
Peter: Oh, okay. Is this coming back to FOPO in some way? Fear of People's Opinion?
Yes, it might be coming back to Fear of People's Opinion, and "associative perception" might be a way to elevate one's own social status. So like, if I want people to think I'm fancy, I'm going to associate myself with fancy people so that I am perceived as fancy. So, what I think I was trying to tell myself in my sleep is that associative perception paired with nothing is just essentially being a charlatan. But associative perception paired with meaningful work and deliberate practice has integrity.
Jen: So another way to say this would be, you have to surround yourself with good people and do hard work in pursuit of something that has purpose in order to be a person of integrity.
Peter: I like that. It reminds me of, it reminds me of, you know, that old adage that "you are the average of the five people you associate with most?"
Jen: Yes, yes. And there's actually some recent science to back that up.
Peter: Really? Yeah, so the idea is you surround yourself with people who you associate as being, as having characteristics or behaving in a way that you wish to behave and have those characteristics, because it will ultimately, I guess, rub off on you in some way, by surrounding yourself with those people. So that's, that's what it's reminding me of, and it's actually a little bit, it's interesting because, oh about almost two years ago - no, it was more like eighteen months ago - I had a, it was through the altMBA, which I took as a student just as you did, and I had a moment where I realized that the things that I wanted to do in the future, the work that I wanted to do, and I wrote these down, it was around meaningful work with people who I want to work with, who inspire me and who make me a better person, and on projects that are of interest to me. So I wanted to start dictating the work that I did with the people that I did it with, rather than having someone hand you a project or working for a corporate, basically. So what's interesting about that is I think that's what you just - Dream Jen - was sort of somewhat getting at based on your decoding right now, eighteen months later.
Jen: Whoa. And what's interesting, and infuriating about that is you didn't have to go to sleep to come up with that. You did that in your waking hours.
Peter: I mean, it took, it took a lot of, it took a lot of thrashing and mucking around. I would say the opposite of like, "All you had to do was go to sleep and just let Dream Jen, take care."
Jen: Okay, now let's look at rearranging this concept. So what if you were to put the meaningful work and deliberate practice first? So you up your game in terms of meaningful work, you've found your purpose, and now you are doing work that matters, and you are deliberately practicing, which means that you are striving for excellence and mastery and are focused and have a technique that you can rely on. And then this third part, this associative perception, if you have done all of that work and yet you still continue to associate with people who don't find meaning in your work or do not believe that you're capable of the potential you now see in yourself, or poopoo technique and deliberate practice, then you are still out of integrity.
Jen: I don't know, I mean I'm coming up with this on the fly, but it seems to me that there's some sort of equation that has to be balanced here. And that's what Dream Jen was trying to say: balance.
Peter: I think it's valid, I think you're right. It's, you can't have one or two without the third, the associated perception, or you can't have, like you said at the start, that, that group of people or the - behave in a way that you wish to be associated or perceived as, perceived as without backing it up with meaningful work. And it's almost like a, the Jen, the Dream Jen triangle of success; you need to have each point of the triangle covered, is where I'm going with this.
Jen: I think you're right, because if you shuffle the cards yet again, and you shuffle the equation, and now you've got meaningful work and associative perception, so you are doing work with purpose, with like-minded people, but you have no deliberate practice, you have no technique, you are a house of cards that is going to fall down.
Jen: Dream Jen isn't so dumb after all, is she?
Peter: So, what was happening in the day or the week that, like, may have sparked this thought? Do you think, do you think it came to you for a certain reason because of a situation that was happening in that moment?
Jen: Well, that is very interesting, Doctor Freud, because when I think about the past week, there have been some very interesting opportunities presenting themselves to meet really cool people that I admire, so I wonder if that is sort of my subconscious saying, "Associative perception's not enough, Jennifer; do meaningful work and practice deliberately, otherwise you will be a charlatan."
Peter: I love that Dream Jen just turned into a ghost, by the way.
Jen: Okay, so do you think that we have successfully coined a new term? I mean it doesn't roll trippingly off the tongue. I, I can't anticipate it, you know, showing up on a t-shirt.
Peter: When you said it out loud, it's one of those, like, phrases, "associative perception," that you have to, like, stand back and say a few times to wrap your head around: "Well what does associative mean, and then what does perception mean? What - how do they couple - like, it doesn't roll off the tongue." You're quite right.
Jen: You know why? Because it's not a real phrase.
Peter: That's why my brain had so much trouble with trying to understand it.
Jen: Oh my gosh, but you know, it made me realize I got to keep a pen and paper by my bed more often, because who knows how many times Dream Jen has tried to speak from the other side and has been silenced for a lack of writing utensil.
Peter: She reached for the, for the notepad and it wasn't there, and so she stamped her foot and went back to her dream.
Jen: Oh my gosh, but once upon a time - I'm going to have to ask my daughter to sing this for you because I don't remember how it goes - but I woke up from a dream once, and I said to my husband and daughter, "Oh my gosh, I wrote a song in my dream, and I remember it." And then I started singing it, and they were both like, "That's terrible. That is the worst song. The lyrics are bad and the melody's worse." And because my daughter has, like, an unbelievable memory for music, I bet she could sing it back to you - this is well over a year ago now, but I bet she could sing it for you.
Peter: Thanks to the fam for the, the vicious feedback loop as well.
Jen: Honesty: the best policy.
Peter: Well, we came and we coined a new phrase by the sound of it, which we won't be putting on t-shirts, but we may be using at some point in the future.
Jen: Yeah, as a title for this episode. That'll be the first and last time you hear about associative perception.
Peter: My worry is people see the title of the episode and go, "What? I don't even - how do I..."
Jen: So I think we need to add an interrobang after it, which is the question mark with an exclamation point.
Peter: Oh, whoa, "interrobang." I have not heard that expression before.
Jen: "Interrobang": I-n-t-e-r-r-o-b-a-n-g.
Peter: "Interrobang." Maybe that's the title of the episode.
Jen: Or it can be, "Associated Perception, WTF?!" Something like that.
Peter: And that is The Long and The Short Of It.