There are a lot of things in life that are truly complicated and challenging to solve – a long-term solution for peace in the Middle East, calculus, mapping the human genome, or deciphering if my wife is really ‘fine’ or if I’m actually in trouble.
On the other hand, there are things that seem more difficult than they are – breaking bad habits, living healthier, being happy, the proper usage of “there” “their” and “they’re.”
I’m not going to attempt to unravel the mysteries of the former set of truly challenging things to solve – but, I will certainly address the latter set of things that seem difficult to get a grip on.
Want to break a bad habit? It’s simple – commit to it. Whether it’s to stop biting your nails or quit smoking, it can be done. Millions have accomplished it. And, there are many great support systems out there.
Want to live healthier? Start with your grocery list. If you don’t buy chips, you can’t eat chips. Can’t get to the gym? Do push-ups, crunches, dips, and lunges while watching TV. Just get active.
Want to be happy? Make the conscious decision to be happy. Do things that make you happy. How’s that for simplicity?
Listen, I know time and money are finite resources, but it should never stop you from filling up your life with valuable and worthwhile experiences. If traveling is your passion and the budget is tight, do day trips while you save up for your big excursion. If you enjoy painting or writing or dancing, go do them.
If something is important to you, you will make the time. If it’s not, you’ll likely find an excuse.
Unfortunately, some folks pontificate on the big problems in the world (which is noble), yet may tend to ignore what they can improve upon on a daily basis. It can be scary to confront ourselves. I implore you, don’t be that person. Learn to be vulnerable, to communicate, to be honest with yourself. In this approach to simplicity, you will grow, you will enhance your relationships, and you will champion a much more vibrant and successful life.
And, in case you were wondering, “There” is a location. “Their” is a possessive. “They’re” is a contraction of a noun and a verb. For example, “Their house is being remodeled so they’re staying over there until the work is done.”
Simple – no PhD required.
Live on Fire!
Having the vision of where you want to be is one thing. Having the confidence and commitment to reach your goals are often areas where we fall short.
Ask yourself these questions:
A) In terms of confidence, ten being supremely confident, on a scale of one to ten, where are you?
B) In terms of commitment, ten being absolutely committed, where are you?
Many times people will be committed, but they will not be confident. Other times they may be confident, but not fully committed. Why is that?
If your commitment isn’t at a ten, you need to look for what is holding you back. Being committed comes down to the old “buy-in” question. What’s in it for me? Sometimes people even create goals and visions for themselves, but they’re not fully committed to it because they’re not fully bought in. They don’t fully see themselves in it. That’s the importance of the envision process I’ve talked about previously.
Make sure your goals and vision are truly yours. Make sure you’re expressing them as part of your motivation, as part of your values, as part of your purpose, and as part of what you stand for. The more of these there are, the more the commitment will be there.
What are you afraid of?
Confidence can be equated with fear. What might be an internal block, in terms of how you see yourself? Where may that doubt come from? Who or what are those inner “naysayers?” Answering these questions will help us discover what may be contributing to this lack of confidence.
We need to transform the naysaying that diminishes confidence into what it is that creates confidence. Sometimes it’s not a disbelief in energy and ability to do something but a lack of clarity. We just tangibly, at this moment, can’t see exactly what it is that we need to do. By understanding and exploring these blocks to confidence, we begin to see the steps that lead us to our goal.
Once we remove the blocks of fear or lack of clarity and stare into the face of uncertainty, then we can see and understand what’s in it for ourselves. When we’re confident and committed, then we’re ready to go full out.
I find it interesting how frequently living creatures tolerate discomfort and pain. I include myself in this group. Many years ago, I suffered a fairly severe injury to my rotator cuff. It still bothers me to this day.
Some days I forget about it, some days it’s fairly painful, but the injury lingers. I’ve consulted doctors whose prognoses for surgical improvement span from mildly better range of movement and decrease of pain to good improvement in both areas.
I’ve decided to deal with the occasional discomfort of the injury rather than have surgery. Hey, my baseball days are long behind me anyway. I know I’m not alone in this decision. How many times have you had a toothache or tennis elbow and not gone to the doctor until it got to a point where you couldn’t tolerate it any longer? Right. We’ve all been there. Many of us have also been in that situation with our behaviors, too.
Perhaps you’ve had a job that was unfulfilling, or had a bad habit you wanted to ditch, or were in a relationship that wasn’t healthy. Often, we remain in these places way longer than we should. We tolerate the pain and trudge along miserably or wait until it becomes unbearable to finally make a change. It doesn’t need to be that way.
GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF THE SAND
One of the first steps to making a change is to stop ignoring the problem. Pretending things will just get better is a sure way to ensure that they won’t. In fact, not only is time being wasted in a painful place, things will probably get worse.
We need to stare our problems in the eye if we’re going to combat them. Major changes don’t occur in one monumental stroke. It takes time. You’re not going to go from a sedentary, out-of-shape routine to running a marathon just because you’ve finally decided to change. But maybe, instead of grabbing fast food for dinner, you make a healthy meal instead. That’s a small step down the path.
GET SOME HELP
I guarantee you others have been exactly where you are and made a change. Seek them out. If you’re looking to make a career change, seek out others who have done it. If they aren’t in your immediate social circle, then look for them online. There is a wealth of free resources available that are only a click away.
Some of the greatest life changes have been accomplished by average folks who simply committed to making a change and believed, in their core, that they would. You don’t realize how strong you are and how much you can achieve when you refuse to let doubt derail you. Get that negative self-talk out of your head and out of your life. All it does is hold you back.
You’re going to face some obstacles that may trip you up. That’s OK. Get up. Dust yourself off. And, get back on track. You can do this!
Ariel is an artist, scientist and entrepreneur who has bridged the gap between all three disciplines. She is the CEO of InteraXon, a company specialized in thought-controlled computing and has raised $287,472 on Indiegogo to produce a brain-sensing headband.
An interview with MILAN GOKHALE
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Ariel Garten, I’m the CEO and co-founder of InteraXon. At InteraXon we create thought controlled computing products, applications and experiences. Thought-controlled computing is exactly what it sounds like — it’s the ability to interact with content and yourself. A sensor sits on your forehead, reads your brainwaves, and then lets you play games on your smartphone or tablet directed by your brain. It also lets you see your brain and engagement activity to improve your working memory, concentration, circulation etc.
Tell us more about your background.
My background spans arts, science and business. I was in real estate since I was a kid. My dad sent me to show the apartments. At university, I studied neuroscience and ran a clothing line that I had started in high school. I sold to stores in Toronto, and I had a job in a research lab. So I’ve always been able to move back and forth between art and science, and I find both completely stimulating. When I graduated, I continued to work at the research lab and opened my own clothing store on College Street, expanding to sell my line to small boutiques across North America.
I was looking for a way to talk about the self and understand the self from scientific and artistic perspectives. I started working with brainwaves in Steve Mann’s lab almost a decade ago. Ultimately we created a system that I took out of the lab and started to commercialize with my two co-founders, Trevor Colemen and Chris Aimone. That was the formation of InteraXon, which has existed for the last five years. Our first major project was the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. As our kick off project, it wasn’t a bad one to do! Since then, we’ve worked with companies like Deutsche Telekom, brands like Wrigley’s and agencies like the Ontario Aerospace Council to enable this technology across multiple domains.
How do you define ‘technology’?
Technology is an enabler. Anything is a technology; the glasses we wear are technology; there is technology in my shoes. The definition we use today is very specific and it tends to refer to digital or computational technologies that enable our lives in ways that weren’t possible two and a half decades ago.
What were your earliest interactions with technology?
I was never really into technology. It wasn’t something that I identified with. It wasn’t a driving force. But in the creation of this brainwave technology, there was a lot of processing involved to create the core of the experience. Starting work in the early 2000s on early brain wave systems was my first real foray into technology as something that was part of my own identity.
What drew you to science at an early age?
My interest in science didn’t overlap with my interest in technology, until recently, in my mind. The interest in science — it seems so obvious to me, it’s how the world works! Why wouldn’t you be fascinated with the mechanisms that create everything?
It seems so obvious to me, [science is] how the world works! Why wouldn’t you be fascinated with the mechanisms that create everything?
Did your family encourage you to pursue science?
There were no family or peers influencing me to go into science. My mother is an artist; my father is in real estate and construction. My mother is not connected to science or technology; she’s extraordinarily intelligent and inquisitive but she processes the world through a brush and through linguistics. And my dad isn’t scientific. He would still have a VCR if someone didn’t throw it out! The pursuit of science was just a line of inquiry to understand how the world works.
At what point did science became an important influence in your life?
As a kid, I hated computers. I thought they were anti-natural, and I was very into the natural world. Science is a part of the natural world. In high school I did great at science and I did okay at math, but I was into abstract concepts. I loved logic — loved, loved, loved logic, like I loved doing puzzles. When everyone in university hated multiple choice, I loved multiple choice. Just to know the totality of the answers!
I did great at science and I did okay at math, but I was into abstract concepts. I loved logic — loved, loved, loved logic.
Why do you think there aren’t more young women choosing to pursue a career in science?
There’s definitely a tendency where people can, from a young age, identify, ‘I’m good at this, I’m not good at this, and this is scary.’ And if you decide you aren’t good at something, you don’t take the time to build the skill. You shut down and you don’t engage with it.
I’m also a psychotherapist. I had a patient recently who said, “Numbers scare me. You say the word finance and I want to jump under the table over there.” And it was a process of moving aside her fear, seeing these things as neutral, allowing herself to open up to numbers so that she could spend time learning without feeling anxiety and insecurity.
Insecurity is definitely an issue when you are growing up. And when you do something that you don’t know the answer to, your response to not knowing will determine your ability to learn it.
If your response to not knowing is, ‘I don’t know it, therefore I feel uncomfortable, therefore I want to run away because it makes me feel insecure,’ then you’re not going to have the confidence, patience, willingness and openness to sit down and say, ‘I don’t know this but I’m not scared, I’m just going to sit here and figure it out.’ Your early responses and experiences will determine whether you go into a subject or not.
Why do you think there is an imbalance between the number of men and women working in technology?
I’m tempted to think that early on there was a misidentification about who was good at math and who wasn’t. And as we break down gender barriers, my guess would be that in classrooms now you see much less differentiation between the number of males and females. There are so many girls who rock at math!
In my generation, to get into computational neuroscience you had to do computer science first. I think in 15 years, in fields like computational neuroscience where there are equal opportunities to learn computer science, or if it becomes acceptable for girls to sit in their basement and figure out code, we’ll see leveling off of males vs. females.
Can you tell us about your role as a female tech entrepreneur?
Well, I’m definitely in the vast minority. For example, I was invited to a tech conference for the 50 brightest minds in technology. They flew us on a private jet to Hawaii, made it a big deal, it was pretty cool. There were 50 people — only five were women.
As a rare bird in this full nest, I have to say I don’t mind. I can work being female to my advantage. We joke that if our demo isn’t working at a conference, I can just wear the headset and smile and that would be enough.
Everyone has their own advantages regardless of gender. I’m in a unique position at this point in time as a woman tech CEO.
How do you think it is advantageous to be a woman in technology?
I’m aware that because I am a rare female in the tech executive space, I may receive special treatment. And probably part of my success is due to the fact that I’m female. It’s fetishized, not in a sexual way, but through that fetishization the female role becomes iconic, creating an archetype other people can follow. That leads to role models and creates a path for more women.
Will we reach a more equal balance between male and female CEOs in the next 50 years?
I don’t think there should be any natural order, unless not being that way leads to some sort of system of oppression. And I guess a feminist would argue that this kind of inequality is inherently systemic and self-perpetuating oppression. [Pauses] I can buy into that, but it’s not naturally how I feel. I’ve never felt oppressed as a female. I’ve never felt that I have been withheld opportunity because of my gender. I have not been inspired to the deep feeling of belief that comes with those feminist feelings.
I’ve never felt oppressed as a female. I’ve never felt that I have been withheld opportunity because of my gender.
To me, everything is fine and normal. I definitely recognize that there are other people that don’t have that experience. It’s unfair of me to think that because everything is fine for me, everything is fine. But realistically, it feels normal to me.
What are your thoughts on feminist movements for women in technology?
There are two schools of thought. One is a school that says, ‘Yes, we remember that there’s a problem and we have to beat the drum in order to solve the problem.’ The other says, ‘It’s not really much of a problem, and if we don’t make it a problem, you can do anything you put your mind to.’ And depending on your level of feminism, you could fall into either school.