The art of chunking into smaller bits

With a negligible amount of prompting, my lovely wife and muse Lisa suggested I write this month’s blog on the topics of ‘breaking things down into small chunks’ and ‘momentum without being overwhelmed’.

That’s a pretty big couple of topics, so consider these few words as one small chunk of moving forward. In my case, ‘forward’ means practicing some rapid spare-time writing for a public audience, for nothing but the pure sake of practicing. Over the coming years, I’m planning to elevate this practice into something a bit more substantial but for the time being – just practice.

A pair of unlikely names from my reading history flashed into my mind on Lisa’s suggestion – Aristotle (yes, the ancient Greek Philosopher) and an American cosmetic surgeon called Maxwell Maltz who wrote a best-selling book in the 1960s on ‘Psycho-Cybernetics: A New Way to Get More Living out of Life‘.

Why Aristotle? Because around 2,400 years ago, when he wasn’t busy developing Western philosophy, young Ari said something along the lines of ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. There is of course some debate around the veracity of this attribution. Either way, it would have sounded different in ancient Greek!

While this is now a common expression and useful for thinking about systems and networks, Aristotle in fact devoted much of his life to understanding and documenting ‘parts’ and how these connect to each other, including connections through time. Aristotle suggested that every change in nature can be attributed to four different types of ’causes’  – what is a thing made of; how is its matter arranged;  what was the immediate source of its change; and (in some cases) did it have a good reason for wanting to change?

The latter cause in Greek is called ‘telos’ (τέλος) which means ‘end’, ‘purpose’, or ‘goal’. Telos is the root of the English word ‘teleology’ – a word used predominantly by philosophers to describe the study of objects with a view to their aims or intentions.

Teleological causes don’t apply in all cases. For example, a ball could be said to roll down a hill because it is round and on a downward slope, or because someone kicked it; but one could not validly attribute to the ball a desire to want to reach the bottom of the hill. Rather, teleology is something that can only be ascribed to an autonomous being which can identify and seek to achieve a purpose.

Akin to teleology in the physical world is the concept of cybernetics – the science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things. Cybernetics is a way of thinking about systems to better understand their structures, constraints and potentials. Concepts studied by cyberneticists include cognition, adaptation, social control and connectivity.

Which brings us to Dr Maltz. If you haven’t read ‘Psycho-Cybernetics‘, I highly recommend you do. As summarised on the book’s Wikipedia page, many of the modern motivational and self-help experts such as Tony Robbins and Brian Tracy have based their techniques on psycho-cybernetics. Maltz was one of the first to popularise the idea that the mind-body connection is the core in succeeding in attaining personal goals. He spells out some simple techniques to develop a positive inner goal as a means of developing a positive outer goal.

Sounds simple enough, but there are two key things needed to make this strategy work –  ‘breaking things down into small chunks’ and ‘momentum without being overwhelmed’. I think I’ll leave my story there for the time being…. ‘Til next month.