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Author: sylvainbbb

Don’t Pick That Scab!

Don’t Pick That Scab!

If you spend more than 30 minutes a day consuming news I want to convince you to cut down your news consumption.

I’ll start by asking and answering (for myself) three questions.

  • What is the purpose of your life?
  • Would you like to be happier?
  • Do you like repetitive stress injuries?

Here are my answers.

What is the purpose of your life?

The purpose of my life and, I think, the purpose of everyone’s life, is to bring as much love and joy into the world as possible and to take care of myself and the people around me.

(It’s not, by the way, to survive no matter what. That used to be our purpose when we were being hunted by saber-tooth tigers and cave bears but now it’s really a silly goal. I’ll break this down in a future post).

Being informed about the world serves that purpose but on a typical day, it takes just a few minutes to get the information you need to go through life effectively and do what you need to do.

Spending more time digging into the news takes time away from your life’s purpose (unless reading the news is your life’s purpose, in which case you can go ahead and stop paying attention to this). It also can weaken your ability to care for yourself and others.

That brings me to the next question.

Would you like to be happier?

The news is bad. What I mean is that 90 percent or more of the news is bad because news is a money-making business based on audience size and we have been trained by evolution to pay attention to possible threats and ignore things that are not threatening. Bad news attracts more eyeballs in the same way that a lion walking on the Serengeti gets more attention from the herds of potential prey animals than a cute baby wildebeest (is there such a thing?) does. The news media has learned this and delivers what attracts people’s attention. If it bleeds, it leads.

Spending more than a few minutes a day finding out what happened in the world really means exposing yourself to bad, scary stuff for longer than is necessary. This will make you more unhappy, mostly about things you have no power over, and impact your ability to take care of yourself and others.

Additionally, the news is made up of two levels. There’s the factual layer and then the analysis. The amount of factual news that is important to know about for most people can be covered in a few minutes a day or even less. My definition of what’s important is based on what you need to know to take care of yourself and others and what is useful to you. In other words what you can do something about. I often go back to the ultimate litmus test of the Serenity Prayer.

Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The Courage to change the things I can,
And the Wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr

Immersing yourself in a whirlpool of information about things you cannot change is contra-indicated if you want to maintain some level of Serenity.

And continuing to dive into the news means you get past the facts into analysis and that way lies madness (or at least angry-ness).

That leads to the last question.

Do you like repetitive stress injuries?

A repetitive stress injury happens when you do something, like typing or hitting a tennis ball, over and over again. When you expose yourself to outrage and fear you stress your body and your mind. We are designed to deal with scary situations as if our lives depended on it because it used to. Now it doesn’t. That White House press conference isn’t going to kill us and eat us but our bodies don’t know that. When we read or watch something that causes anxiety or anger our bodies are flushed with flight or fight hormones which, over the long term, cause lasting damage.

Back in the old days we’d avoid the cave bear or get a bunch of people together and kill it. Then we’d relax and have a chance to repair the damage. Now we read about a cave bear and then click on another story of a cave bear and get shown a list of headlines of cave bear rumors and saber tooth tiger sightings. Most of these stories have very little impact on us but we HAVE TO READ THEM because the modern design of news is aimed directly at the scared caveman that lives in each of us. Once we are properly frightened, we get into the analysis layer which consists of pundits whose job it is to upset you.

Let me say this again because it is obviously true but not said enough.

Pundits are paid to upset you.

If Alex Jones or Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Maddow or Ann Coulter or Laurence O’Donnell or Sean Hannity pisses you off, they have succeeded. That’s their job. They are not there to deliver information. That’s the job of News Anchors most of the time. 90 percent of the “news” is actually outraged opinion presented in the same format as informational news in the same channels.

So if you want to stop damaging yourself and be happier and more purposeful and more able to take care of yourself and others, spend less time consuming news.

Use the extra time to meditate or sleep or exercise or call a friend or write a novel.

Tragedy or Opportunity? Both?

Tragedy or Opportunity? Both?

Hi Everybody,

I’m back again with more thoughts on happiness and productivity and peace at a time when we all need it.

As most of you know, I posted a daily video for more than a year back in 2017 and 2018 and I got a lot of great feedback from a few people who saw some of them. My goal then was to get some of my thoughts on life out into the world.

About 2 years ago a curious thing happened. I was laid off from my job and almost immediately stopped posting video. I didn’t stop posting because I was depressed. In fact, I disliked that job intensely and when that company closed down, I pivoted to doing things I really loved. The reason I stopped posting is that my routine was disrupted and I developed other outlets for my creativity.

I also felt like what I was saying wasn’t needed and it wasn’t having a big impact.

I don’t think I was right about that last part but I am sure that people need it now and I know for sure that I need it.

So I’m back.

Fans of the old videos will have one big question and the answer is yes. The Friday Morning Dance Party will be BACK! 8 AM Friday. Be here with your dancing shoes ON.

Today I want to offer a new way of looking at the current situation.

I don’t want to minimize how terrible this is and that people are suffering in our country and around the world but I feel like there’s plenty of places to get information about that.

What I would like to suggest is that by changing your point of view of what is happening to you right now, you may be able to get through the coming weeks and months with less pain and more happiness.

That’s what I think I can offer more than anything is new ways of looking at things. I think I’m good at that.

Having said that, I do want to admit that most of the things I say won’t be completely original but maybe they’ll be new to you.

Okay so here’s the deal. Like I mentioned before, transitions are a time when habits, good and bad, get disrupted. I used to get up and do a video and jump on the train and go to work. When I lost my job I stopped doing that and didn’t create a new habit that would support making those videos.

I also lost track of the difference I was making in people’s lives.

So we’re all going through a huge disruption in our lives. Habits have three parts. Triggers, Actions and Rewards. The trigger might be feeling anxious, Action is eating cookies, Reward is a sugar rush. No thinking involved. Good habits work the same way. My friend Marty runs with his dog every day and has done so for years so the Trigger might be waking up or his dog whining at him, Action is running, Reward is exercise endorphins.

So my Make a video trigger was getting up to go to work. Once that was removed, the videos stopped happening. Most of us are living in a new situation where all the normal triggers are gone. We’re not going to the office. We’re not meeting friends at a bar. Thus most of our triggers are gone. We have a chance to remake our habits. This is a great opportunity to change normal behaviors that bug you and add in good habits.

Like doing a daily Facecast for me.

Another thing I want to point out is that you make a difference. I make a difference. We all make a difference to the people around us. It can be good or bad but we, you, affect people. I invite you to take responsibility for that. If you focus on bringing joy and connection to other people, you will be rewarded in kind, ten times over.

Instead of social distancing, think of it as distant socializing. Call people. Skype people. Get in touch and check-in.

Thanks for watching. See you tomorrow!

Getting Back on the Horse

Getting Back on the Horse

I’ve been thinking about writing this sentence for days. I’ve been thinking about posting something for weeks.

And I haven’t.

But now I have and it feels incredible. It really does. Typing these words right now I feel a surge of power going through my body. It’s not a huge surge but something has shifted.

To be very clear, nothing has changed to make me take action. I just took action. I realized a few days or maybe even weeks ago that I needed to take action. I realized a few weeks or maybe months ago that I was in a funk. I was stuck in a low-level depressive state. I won’t call it depression because I’m pretty sure it wasn’t clinical and I wasn’t deeply sad. I was, however, not particularly happy and I was remarkably unproductive.

There may have been many reasons for this. I was having trouble sleeping and I just launched You Know It! The Game and it’s winter and my son is going off to college and Trump got impeached and then exonerated and the Democrats are being typically unorganized and Australia is on fire and China is sick and I am getting older.

But the reasons are actually unimportant.

I was in an unproductive feedback loop and I had developed some unproductive habits, habits of not working on non-urgent things. Consuming entertainment rather than creating it. Procrastinating until it was too late to start.

I spent some time thinking about what was wrong and I realized that it didn’t matter. What was wrong was probably not going to change unless I changed it and the way to change it was to take action.

I’m embarrassed to say that I had that realization days ago.

I am taking action now.

As I outlined in an earlier post, emotions, thinking, and action are all intertwined. Thoughts and actions affect your emotions. Emotions and actions affect your thoughts. Thoughts and actions affect your emotions. Counter-intuitively, the thing that is most under our control is our actions. Thoughts are completely out of our control (if you don’t believe me, try meditating on one thing for 3 minutes) and emotions are as well. I will go one step further and say that most of the time emotions are caused by chemical responses that have nothing to do with our thoughts but we back-justify our emotional states with meanings and stories. More on that later but the point is that what we do is more under our control than anything and effective, productive people (including me when I’ve been most effective and productive) have structures and habits in place to keep them in action whether they feel like it or not.

I didn’t feel like writing this, but I did.

And man am I glad I did.

Welcome back, John!

Different World View

Different World View

We all look at the world differently because we all look at the world from within our own heads with our own eyes and filter everything through our own experiences and beliefs.

This almost goes without saying but it’s so foundational I think we forget it. It’s like water to fish.

So we all have different world views. Some of us have similar opinions about politics or relationships or ethics or morals because we started from a similar place and some of us have similar opinions because we ended in a similar place but no one has walked the same path in the same shoes.

We’re all different and we’re all unique.

Keeping that in mind leads to a huge number of interesting things to contemplate and explore. Here’s just one.

If we all have different World Views because we perforce view the world differently, we will disagree about what view is correct. When this happens it may seem we have two choices.

We can think that our view is right and therefore everyone else is wrong. This is the way most people operate and why we live in a world full of conflict.

Alternatively, we can think that our view is wrong. This is usually painfully self-abrogating because when we negate our point of view we negate our self.

What if we reject the choice itself and instead toss out the idea of a correct world view or privileged observer status.

In science, specifically astronomy, the idea that there is no privileged point of view is called the Copernican principle and it’s adoption led to the Copernican Revolution where the sun replaced the earth in the center of the solar system. When this happened, a scientific revolution ensued.

Motion of Sun (yellow), Earth (blue), and Mars (red) according to heliocentrism (left) and geocentrism (right), before the Copernican Revolution

In a similar way, replacing the idea of a privileged world view can lead to a personal revolution. I’m not saying that you should set aside ideas of right and wrong forever, but there is enormous power in giving up the idea of right or wrong when talking to anyone, at least at first.

If you recognize that you are prejudiced toward your own point of view, just as they are to theirs, you can make huge headway toward personal discovery and interpersonal understanding if you are willing to step into another’s point of view as much as you can as you interact with them. Don’t let worry about being erased or overrun stop you from listening and learning. It seems to me that we worry to much about that. Nothing short of death will erase your point of view so why not try to understand the other.

Here’s a wild side effect. Since few people actually listen from nothing or to really get another’s point of view without imposing or defending their own, trying this out will usually gratify and disarm whoever you talk to.

So you learn something and achieve a new level of affinity with someone!

Try it out. Temporarily remove your World View from the center of your Solar System. Let me know how it goes.

Thwarted

Thwarted

I am very scared right now. Existentially terrified.

I am scared about the climate and about our country and the economy and technology and bioterror and nuclear weapons and age and money and that one step on the way up to my bedroom that looks like it’s about to collapse.

I feel overwhelmed, helpless and upset.

I also feel like I missed a turn somewhere and I’m stuck in an agist economy without a solid career. It looks like a big recession is looming and I don’t have money in the bank so survive it.

And I’m going to die, eventually, and the time between that event and now is probably less than the time between now and when I was born.

In other words, it’s going to happen within a timeframe that I can understand. And it’s not going to come in a way that is welcome and expected, at least not based on nearly every death in the history of life.

So…I’m scared.

But here’s the thing, what I’m really scared about it that it won’t work out the way I want it to.

I’m Thwarted.

That’s a word that stuck in my head recently. To thwart means to:

1 a: to oppose successfully defeat the hopes or aspirations of

b: to run counter to so as to effectively oppose or baffle 

or
2: to pass through or across

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

But why should I expect not to be thwarted? Why should I expect it to work out the way I want it to? Why should I expect to be permanently successful and safe and happy and immortal? Happily ever after never happens to anyone.

Not. Anyone. Ever.

The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths says that:

There is suffering

Suffering is caused by desire

Removing desire will remove suffering

Desire can be removed

The Buddha

The Buddha suggested non-attachment as one way of removing desire. In other words, one major manifestation of desire is that we are attached to certain results. We wish that things are different than they are. This is a major cause of suffering and pain. So much so that the founders of AA recognized that alcoholics reached for a drink in part to alleviate the suffering caused by this desire. Their prescription is to recognize that we really don’t have any business railing against the way the world actually is and we should recognize that life is unmanageable and we should pray for:

The serenity to accept the things we cannot change,

The courage to change the things we can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Neibuhr

Put another way, when we are thwarted we feel bad. When our hopes and aspirations have been defeated we feel overwhelmed, upset, helpless and, yes, terrified. Something is in our way. Something is athwart our path.

Success gurus and business coaches may say to smash through all the barriers or ignore them because they’re all in your head. This isn’t really true. What is true, however, is that reality will almost always run athwart your hopes and aspirations because reality differs from what we make up. I don’t mean that dreams won’t come true but I do mean that dreams won’t magically come true and the things we REALLY want, to be happy all the time and to live healthy forever, are not going to happen because they never happen to anyone.

Which brings me to my fear. I don’t think my frustration and terror is going to go away but if I acknowledge it (like I’m doing right, now…thanks for listening!) and recognize that it’s both inevitable and ridiculous, I can move on and do the very best I can with what’s in front of me today. I can set aside my fear and enjoy the day I have.

Life happens. It’s not under my control. If I aspire to get it under my control I will be thwarted. If I am thwarted I can either be upset by that or recognize that aspiration was foolish and try to enjoy reality instead.

I am not saying we should not strive and struggle and hope and aspire. I think that’s what life is about. But there’s no sense in being afraid or upset when we’re thwarted.

That doesn’t mean I have to stop being afraid, that just means that there’s no sense in it.

Perhaps we should aspire to be thwarted.

Or maybe the best way to live is athwart, which is a goofy sounding word that means (among other things) “in opposition or counter to the expected course.”

Which brings up another prayer:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;

where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is discord, union;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love;

for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

Saint Francis of Assisi

So live athwart life. Be the positive troll that stands athwart the bridge (rather than lurking under it) and wishes good on all the annoying Billy Goats who travel by. Where there is hopelessness be a voice of hope. Where there is fear, be courageous.

Okay, that’s enough. You get it, I get it. Let’s go do it.

What’s Next?

What’s Next?

One of my favorite podcasts is the West Wing Weekly which looks at each episode of The West Wing. It’s hosted by West Wing superfan and musician Hrishikesh Hirway and West Wing cast member and old friend of mine Josh Malina. They started the podcast soon after Netflix posted all seven seasons and they have writers and experts and stars weighing in on each show.

It’s great and I highly recommend it.

At the end of each episode they say:

“Okay,”

“Okay,”

“What’s next?”

Which is a reference to Aaron Sorkin’s repeated use of “Okay” in his writing and the last line of the pilot which the President says (and repeats on occasion) to indicate that it’s time to move on to the next problem.

So what’s next?

One thing that I’ve heard over and over again is that completion is a powerful thing. I have two things I am GOING to complete this year. The first is a game that I’ve been thinking about creating for over 20 years. It’s called COMMON KNOWLEDGE and the Kickstarter will be launching in a few days!

The second is the third book in the first Bobby Blinx trilogy. It’s time to get that last piece out there. People are actually clamoring for it. It’s not a huge number of people but they do exist and clamoring is not an exaggeration.

I haven’t got there yet but I can already feel the power that completing these two long term projects will give me.

One. Thing. At. A. Time.

One. Thing. At. A. Time.

This is my third day in a row blogging every day again and it’s made a huge difference.

It’s remarkable.

Here’s why I think it makes such a difference.

Taking a step of any kind in a positive direction changes the feedback loop

We are often either in a positive or negative spiral. If you feel bad about yourself you’re more likely to sleep in or overeat or snap at someone which makes you feel bad about yourself which make you more likely to ….etc.

On the other hand, if you feel good about yourself you’re more likely to exercise or eat healthy or say something nice to someone which makes you feel good about yourself which makes you more like to…

Action comes before inspiration

I’ve said it before but it’s always worth repeating because it’s counterintuitive. Taking action causes motivation, not the other way around. If you wait until you feel like it to go to the gym you will die long before you get there.

Also, it’s easier to move your feet than to change your mind.

I’ve written extensively about this in other posts so I won’t belabor the point here.

Writing is linear, thinking is not

One of the many reasons why your mind is a dangerous neighborhood that you shouldn’t spend time in is that it works on multiple tracks and is completely directionless. It’s affected by waves of hormones, random memories and sensory inputs such that you can’t really come up with something coherent and meaningful.

At least I can’t.

Writing for a few minutes every morning really helps me to focus a little and put things that are my head into a logical framework. Life and our minds are holistic but we can really only effectively act on one thing at a time. Writing things down helps me to remember that and organize my self toward action.

Perfect.

Next?

What’s Up?

What’s Up?

I think I’m in full-on, mid-life crisis mode but, as with anything I do, I’m not following the normal path and I’m paying attention to steps I’m taking and my surroundings.

(How’s that for hubris?)

I am not where I thought I’d be when I was young and I can see exactly why. I am also aware of my own mortality and age. I am no longer the young prodigy who started a theater right out of college. I’m the greying fuddy-duddy who doesn’t want to use Instagram because social media is mostly a time suck and why bother learn something new if it’s dumb. In my down moments I compare everyone else’s success to my life and think about where I went wrong.

I could give you a list.

But who cares? When I really look at where I am and who I am and what I’ve done, it’s amazing. And it’s not over yet. There will be rough patches and challenges and triumphs and boring parts. Life will keep life-ing along like it always has. The world will continue to fall apart and put itself back together in a new way. There will be cause and effect and there will be seemingly random events that come out of nowhere.

I can only control what I do and what I say. I can’t control the outcome. That has always been true.

Really, the only thing that has changed is that I am more aware of my own mortality than I ever have been before. The fact that I have a limited lifespan is now real to me in a way it never was before. Again, this has always been true but now I’m actually aware of it.

That just means that if I have something I want to do, I should try to do it now or soon.

Perhaps it goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway.

That has also always been true.

And it’s true for you too so get out there and do it!

Reasons for Writing, Reasons for Living

Reasons for Writing, Reasons for Living

It’s been several months since I posted. There are dozens of reasons for this but it boils down to this. This blog is about happiness and productivity and for several months I have been unhappy and unproductive.

I just heard an interview with Jia Talentino on Sam Sander’s podcast It’s Been a Minute. Jia and Sam discussed a bunch of interesting stuff (she’s brilliant) including this idea of social media presentation and being “on brand” versus being “authentic.” I have struggled with this in relation to the Four Steps and this blog because, honestly, I want to seem happy and productive all the time so that my thoughts or advice will seem like it’s coming from an authority on the topic.

Of course this is pure bullshit. I am not happy and productive all the time. I don’t hold the key to the universe. In fact, my greatest strength is the fact that I have screwed things up and I’ve tried to learn ways of fixing things.

And it’s pretty clear that if I am honest about those screw-ups and stumbles in my writing, these posts will probably be more valuable to more people.

I hate to admit this but one of the things that happened was I relapsed with drinking. In fact I was claiming to be sober to everyone and secretly drinking for months. This finally came to light and I am very happy to say that I’m back in recovery and currently 135 days sober. I have a regular meeting schedule (you know, the anonymous kind) with a sponsor and I’m working the steps. I have a new understanding of my own self-righteousness and resentments as driving forces in my addictive behavior.

I have also realized that my self-employment gambit is not working out. To support my family, I need to make more money than I have been making as a freelancer and entrepreneur.

I also have been gaining weight and not exercising as regularly as I did before.

And there has been some tough news that has really bummed me out. Friends of mine lost their kids in a car accident and another friend has a bad case of cancer. I would say that I’ve been in a mild depression since I got this news.

This is all stuff to write about but I didn’t want to.

It’s funny, I just wanted to apologize for not writing about it but I don’t know who you are and I’m not clear that I owe you anything. Blogging is odd that way. Everyone on Earth could read this potentially or, alternatively, no one else could ever see this.

I blog for myself, actually. So I guess I really owe an apology to myself for not writing.

I’m sorry.

Apology accepted. Thanks.

I feel so much better now! I really do. I was really mad at myself for not blogging for months and now I finally did it! I don’t think I’m going to promote this one so I suspect it will be read by some Russian spider-bots and maybe my Mom but I know I wrote it and so therefore I’m a blogger again!

Yay!

I Am Not You and Vice Versa

I Am Not You and Vice Versa

One of the simplest and most powerful lessons that I am struggling to learn is that I have no control over anyone else and everyone else is different from me.

This is obvious and, at the same time, not obvious. I have never seen the universe through anyone else’s eyes and I have never processed the input of my senses with anyone else’s brain. Since my own perspective is the only one that I am familiar with, it seems natural that I would assume that everyone thinks like me.

I don’t think I’m alone in making this assumption but I might be wrong. Maybe everyone else is much smarter and more evolved than me. Maybe everyone else figured this out when they were four and there is something terribly wrong with me.

I kind of doubt it.

I don’t doubt that there is something wrong with me. I know there is. I just think that we all assume that everyone should think like us. The fact that they don’t is frustrating. In fact, that’s one of the biggest sources of frustration (not to mention conflict, violence and war) in the world.

Let me stop the irresponsible speculation and bring it back to a subject I can speak about with some authority.

Me.

When I am upset with someone close to me, it’s usually because they have reacted to something in a way that is different than the way I think they should react. When I remember that they are different from me I can remember that communication is needed. Communication between two related but separate entities. That takes effort. It may take time and even some translation.

But it works better than the non-existent mind control or telepathy that I often try to employ.

Hope this is helpful to someone. If it isn’t, it’s a sign that I’m nuts.

Or rather, another sign.