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Category: Step Up



Do you think you’re better than me? Do you make more money? Are you richer? Are you happier? Are you smarter? Are you taller? Are you thinner? Are you stronger? Can you beat me up? Can you have me fired? Can you banish me? Can you kill me and eat my liver?

Taller, stronger, richer, cooler, more talented, more handsome, more famous, more SuperBowl rings, nicer…but Joe Montana isn’t as good at writing science fiction as me…as far as you know.

Do you think I’m better than you?

This matters. Not how we compare objectively but how we think about comparisons.

As I have said before, human psychology was designed by a toddler and a caveman working in the dark using a sledgehammer, a knitting needle and wad of chewing gum.

For most of human history (the first 300,000 years at least) our main worry was being killed and eaten (not necessarily in that order) closely followed by being kicked out of the tribe and then being killed and eaten after starving. All our modern anxieties devolve to these two fears in the dark recesses of our minds (or, to put it more scientifically, in our amygdala).

We overreact to non-existential threats (like people who disagree with us on facebook) because when our ancestors were evolving there were no non-existential threats. That which didn’t kill us didn’t make us stronger, it just waited until the sun went down and tried again. All of our ancestors had one thing in common. They survived long enough to have kids.

That’s why we pay attention to bad news and ignore the good. Why pay attention to good news? It’s not going to kill us?

Humans survived by working together. A group of humans could fight off a cave bear or a sabre-toothed cat. Humans working together got so good at Mammoth hunting that we killed them all off before we even had iron weapons. On the other hand, an individual human could be easily killed by just about anything with sharp teeth or a bad attitude.

That’s why it’s so important, from the amygdala’s point of view, that we fit in. Part of fitting in is being aware of our place in the social hierarchy. That’s why we pay attention to how we compare to others and why coming up short causes such anxiety and anguish.

The caveman inside us is afraid of getting ostracized.

If you can identify when anxiety and anguish is caused by comparisons, then you can let it go. There is no reason to be jealous of anyone else or to be threatened by someone else’s success. All that stress is not helpful and it’s not good for you.

This is an old problem but social media has amplified it. Depression is often caused by social media addiction precisely because of this kind of stress.

A wise old 12 step saying is “don’t compare your insides to another’s outsides.” A modern equivalent might be “don’t compare your humble assessment of your life to another’s humble brag on facebook.”

Keep up the good work.

A Quick Bit of Advice

A Quick Bit of Advice

Sometimes I bring together a few bits of this, that and the other thing and make an interesting point. Sometimes I tell a story about my life. Sometimes I make a mistake and I turn around and tell you not to do what I did.

So I ate some crappy food today and I felt lousy most of the afternoon.

So my quick bit of advice is this:

Don’t poison yourself.

That’s it.

Also, I’m writing a book.

The Secret Gift Hidden In Plain Sight Everywhere

The Secret Gift Hidden In Plain Sight Everywhere

Here’s a little fable that I first read years ago in a book called Life 101 by Peter McWilliams. I have heard the story in other places since so I don’t know if McWilliams came up with it but its one of my favorites.
So god really wanted to give humans a gift of the secret of happiness but he didn’t want to just hand it over. He wanted to hide it somewhere where everyone could get to it but they wouldn’t find it easily.
He delegated the hiding job to a group of angels and then went to play frisbee at the beach with his kids.
So the angels talked it over and came up with some ideas. “Let’s hide it on top of the highest mountain!” said one. The others pointed out that eventually humans would climb to the highest mountain and find it. Then inevitably someone would keep it for themselves.
Another suggested hiding it under the ocean and a third suggested putting it on the moon or on another planet. These ideas were rejected because, while humans would eventually get to these places, neither one would be accessible to everyone. Not everyone could swim for example.
They considered hiding it in caves and closets or in deserts or under piles of laundry. None of these places were just right.
Then the wisest angel snapped it’s fingers and said “I’ve got it. We’ll hide in in a place that is so obvious they’ll never think to look there. It’s a place that everyone can access.”
“Where is this place?” the others asked.
The wisest angel had been watching humans and had been involved in the early design meetings so this angel really knew humans. The Angel explained “We’ll hide the gift in plain sight, everywhere, right now. To make it even harder for them to find it we’ll label the gift so it’s really obvious. Then they’ll ignore it entirely.”
“What will we call it?” the others asked.

“We’ll call it The Present.”

The other day I came across this quote from Alan Watts. He said

“We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is. We are sick with a fascination for the useful tools of names and numbers, of symbols, signs, conceptions, and ideas.”

This is what I realized long ago. When I am unhappy or upset or worried it’s because I am thinking about the past or the future. When I am completely involved in the present I am blissfully happy. This is why playing sports is fun. This is why I love doing improv. This is why playing music feels really good when you’re fully involved in it.

This works on the macro level. Nothing from the past and future needs to keep you from making this day, this week and even this year fantastic.

On the micro level, you can take a deep breath right now and experience the present. This is where bliss lives. This is the aim of Zen, to really be present to the present without thoughts of the past or worries about the future. This is surprisingly hard to do for more than a few seconds at a time but that’s the goal of meditation.

I’ve heard a lot of people say they can’t meditate because their mind keeps spinning. Here is the truth. I’m not sure if this is encouraging or disheartening but it certainly blows away the idea that some people can’t meditate because their minds are too active. Everyone mind is too active. You’re not special. No one can stay in the present. Let me tell you a story that illustrates that. Genjo Marinello was an old friend of mind and is now the Abbot of the Zen Temple in Seattle where I started my practice. Genjo told me once that he meditated every morning for 90 minutes and every evening for 60 minutes and meditated several times a day with clients (he’s also a psychotherapist). He said in all that daily time he spends trying to focus on the present without thinking he feels lucky if he has one or two “good breaths.” Now Genjo has since been declared a Dharma heir so maybe all that zazen has turned him into a Bodhisattva who is always in the present moment but the point is that meditation is not about doing it right. It’s about trying to do it. Tara Brach suggests that the real point is not staying in the present moment but rather getting in the habit of noticing that you’re not in the present and refocusing on it. Brad Warner, my new favorite writer about Buddhism and founder of the Angel City Zen Center which is located in Los Angeles and, ironically, somewhere in my future plans, compares staying in the present to riding a surfboard. It’s great when you’re on it but it takes concentration to stay there and inevitably you’re going to fall off.

So take a moment right now to appreciate right now. Do that as much as you can. That’s where happiness is hidden.

Scheduling Challenges

Scheduling Challenges

I missed two appointments this past weekend and last Friday I would have missed a doctor appointment if my doctor hadn’t taken the day off.

This is a problem that needs to be addressed.

There are basically two parts of keeping track of an appointment. The first is writing it down and the second is reading it.

Click Here to jump to the Actionable/Practical Stuff at the Bottom


If you have a good scheduling habit.

I don’t have one of those.


When I a young man I had an very good memory and very simple responsibilities so I didn’t develop a good scheduling habit. Basically I went to work and then went to the theater where I either had rehearsal, a meeting or beers with friends. When I grew older it became clear that I needed a way to keep track of my growing list of obligations and commitments.

I thought that the problem was finding a system that I could consistently use. I longed for the iPhone for decades before it was invented. Before that I tried notebooks and dayplanners and calenders and loose leaf systems and journals and even hired a personal assistant for a few months. Nothing worked. I thought it was because I didn’t have the right device.

The truth is that I did not develop a good scheduling habit.


Now I have the right device, a magical appliance that goes whereever I go. A phone and a computer and a sound system all in one that I always have with me. I have multiple scheduling options. At work I have Outlook and at home we use Google Calendar. Both update to the magical device in my pocket.

So what’s the problem now?

I have still not developed a good scheduling habit.


I want to acknowledge that I have made progress. I actually have a nascent scheduling habit. I am now aware that my life is more complicated and my memory is not what it was when I was 20 so I need to write everything down. It’s much better than it was BUT, obviously, there is room for improvement (see missed appointments above).

What’s missing is the habit of writing everything down and then always looking at both calendars.

Especially on weekends. Weekends and holidays are problematic because I don’t automatically open my computer and check my email and calendar. I have this strong belief that my weekends are full of free time even though every weekend for the past 45 years has been full to bursting. I’m apparently a slow learner.

As I said, there are two steps to scheduling:

  1. Writing it down at the time that the appointment or commitment is made
  2. Reading it and being aware of it when the appointment or commitment is scheduled.

So I going forward I need to make sure I put everything in my schedule and check that schedule every day.

Reading: The reading of my schedule I can do that at the end of my journaling which I plan to do every morning, even on weekends. I do my journaling in my computer which has access to everything. My schedule will also be available on my phone. It seems to me that I should figure out how to integrate my work schedule (on Outlook) and my personal/family calendar (on Google). I am not the only one using either system so I can’t delete either one but I’m sure there’s an effective way for them to talk to each other.

Writing: I need to always make sure I take the time to enter my appointments into my calendar. What stops me is:

  1. Embarrassment at taking time away from whomever I am talking to to write down the appointment.
  2. A mistaken belief that I will remember and/or enter it later.

I just have to change my behavior.

If anyone has suggestions, ideas or foolproof hacks that they use, please enter them in the comments below.



  • Scheduling is challenging for me because I haven’t cultivated a scheduling habit.
  • Step 1 of scheduling: Writing appointments and commitments down.
  • Step 2 of scheduling: Reading your schedule so you know what you have to do.
  • Weekends and holidays are challenging if you don’t look at your calendar on those days.

Three Steps to
Take Today

  1. Do you have a good scheduling habit?
  2. If not, consider what you need to do to create one today and take steps to put it in place.
  3. If you have a good system, share it with others readers (and with ME!!) in the comments below.

Checking my schedule(s) now….Back to school night? What the heck is that?


I started this blog to provide a forum for my ideas AND to document my own transformation and to create public accountability for changes I want to make in my life. Some posts will be full of philosophy and others will have practice tools. Others will be about my own struggles and successes and the steps I am taking to minimize the former and maximize the latter.
This is one of those.

Stuck? A Simple Tip to Get Going Again

Stuck? A Simple Tip to Get Going Again

snail in front of house
Photo by Shelley Wenk

You’re going along, making progress toward your goals, getting things done, enjoying life and then suddenly everything stops. Your momentum is gone, you’re cranky and tired and it seems like you’re back where you started.

Have you ever had this experience? I’m was the middle of it a few days ago.

Click Here to jump to the Actionable/Practical Stuff at the Bottom

First take a STEP BACK and assess. What have you accomplished? What have you learned? Is your goal still appropriate?

If you determine that you’re still aimed in the right direction but you’re not satisfied with your velocity try STEPPING UP. Assess what you’re doing and assess what you’re not doing and be honest with yourself. You might want to ask yourself the 7 hard questions I covered in another post (and will expand on in future).

But if things were going well before and now you’ve faltered I may have a very simple solution for you.

Look at what you were doing when things were going well.

Look at what you’re doing now.

What’s different?

I took a look and it was immediately clear that after I came back from vacation in August I stopped setting my priorities in the morning. After I got an ear infection a couple weeks ago I stopped writing my nightly gratitude list and poem and I stopped using my task tracking tool.

All these habits were young and hadn’t carved a groove in my brain yet so they were easily disrupted. (Let me be honest with myself and you: I stopped doing them. Nothing forced me.) None of these habits are essential to survival so when I stopped doing them the world kept on spinning.

But it started spinning more slowly and with less purpose. The gratitude list and poem were like an extra boost of fuel. The priority list and the task tracking (I’ve been using Omnifocus) keep the engine running smoothly. Dropping these habits slowed my momentum until I felt like I was not moving. I felt overwhelmed and wondered whether I was doing the right thing.

The interesting thing is that things that worked in the past will probably work now. Sometimes we stop doing good things for no good reason. Maybe our gym closes or we sprain our ankle so we stop exercising. Maybe our notebook gets filled up or we lose it so we stop journaling. Maybe our library card expires so we stop reading.  Maybe we go to a wedding or a funeral and we start smoking or drinking or eating cake again. We intend to pick up this habit again or put that one down but we never get around to it.

Sometime we stop doing good things for reasons that seem good at the time. We stopped going bowling because it hurt our wrists. We stopped taking morning walks because our dog died. We stopped going to classes because we graduated.

The problem is that those habits may have been essential to our success in ways that we were not aware of.

Little habits can make a big difference. Meditating for 10-20 minutes a day several times a week can have a profound impact on you relationships and your mental health. Taking a walk at lunch time to that healthy salad place could add several years to your life and make you more effective at work. A regular bowling night with the guys or poker night with the girls or movie night with the family could provide a support system that is essential to your happiness and success.

The big secret of this post is that the little things matter. If you find yourself longing for the good old days, look at a time when things were working well for you and write down the things that YOU were doing on a regular basis. Don’t focus on the environment because all that is beyond your control. Look at your actions. If you stopped doing any of those things you should seriously consider starting up again. And don’t let a change in the environment stop you. If you gave up exercise because your tennis partner moved away or your knees are shot, start a new fitness habit. Maybe try swimming.

I’m starting those habits back up and I’ve started a new morning routine that I’ll tell you about in other post. It’s already made a huge difference.

I really hope you find this helpful. Let me know if it does in the comments box below.


  • If you’ve lost momentum, take a look at your habits.
  • Are there habits or daily practices that you’ve stopped?
  • Perhaps small behaviors were making a big difference.

Three Steps to
Take Today

  1. Think about a time when things were going very well.
  2. Identify what you were doing on regular basis then that you’re not doing now.
  3. Consider bringing some of those old habits back to life.


Watch Where You’re Thinking

Watch Where You’re Thinking


This morning I was walking to the subway (light rail really but who says “I was walking to the light rail”?), listening to a podcast on my iPhone.

A young kid was running across the street with his two older brothers and he was focused on his feet rather than where he was going. He was heading straight toward me and didn’t know it. At the last moment he looked up and saw me and dodged to the right.

At the same time, comedian Jim Gaffigan was talking on the Think Big podcast about Trump supporters. His (very good) point was that the tendency to dismiss people who have a different opinion than you as idiots rather than engaging with them is really dangerous and not productive.

Blind spots.

So I see people walking or running without looking where they are going all the time. People are looking at their phones or at a cute dog across the street or at their feet. More often than not it’s younger people. They probably haven’t run into enough telephone poles yet to learn to watch where they’re going.

It seems like dismissing people who are different or think different is a similar kind of dangerous foolishness that might end up in a painful collision of some kind.

These two things brought to mind a friend of mine who I’ve known for years. He is constantly making declarations like: “we all have to stop eating red meat!” or “I’m going to get up every morning at 4:30 am and write.” These are perfectly fine things to say but the problem is that this friend NEVER follows up with these kind of sweeping plans and, in fact, one day after the “no red meat” decision he was eating a hamburger.

The end result is that I don’t believe him when he says he’s going to do something.

He doesn’t know this about himself.

He’s running across the street without looking where he’s going.

Now of course I must have blind spots as well. It seems to me that they are caused by a focus on the story I tell myself. I think also that self-righteousness is a huge blinder. I know that when I was eating too much I had a story that went like “this is a temporary lapse, usually I eat healthily.” I remember realizing that my characterization of myself as someone who works out was based on six months in college and that I hadn’t been to the gym regularly in 20 years.

So how can I take off the blinders?

The key is realizing that being wrong is not so bad.

Most people choose being right over being happy all the time. I know someone who believes that being successful and happy is only possible if you’re evil.

I need to pause for a moment and point out that I was careful not to use the word “think” in those sentences. People don’t think that being right is better than being happy and don’t think that successful people are evil. These are, for the most part, unexamined choices and unconscious beliefs handed off silently from parent to child or from our culture.

But if you think about them you can see that they don’t really work and they are keeping you unhappy and unfulfilled.

So here’s my challenge to you, dear reader. Think about what you are completely right about and consider what that righteousness may be costing you. It may be undermining relationships or keeping you from taking important actions.

Here are some things you might think.

  • My boss is fool.
  • My child is lazy.
  • People who support (fill in blank) for president are idiots.
  • I’m too busy to exercise.
  • I deserve to play video games/have some ice cream/have a glass of wine
  • It’s selfish to take time to take care of yourself.
  • People who are (fill in blank) are (fill in blank).

Try this and tell me how it goes:
Pick a negative belief you have about someone you see every day. Act as if you don’t have that belief.

Try to act as if you don’t know anything about them.

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Introducing The Three Simple Steps

Introducing The Three Simple Steps


Have you ever looked about and realized that life isn’t working out exactly the way you thought it would?

Have you ever felt stuck in a job or a career or a situation that just didn’t work for you?

Have you ever wished you could change everything completely?

I feel that way right now and I’m going to do something about it.

Here’s the fun part. I’m going to change my life completely and I’m going to write about it as I do it. I think this will be very valuable for me and I strongly suspect that it will be valuable for you, the reader, as well. I am sure it’s going to make interesting reading.

So here’s the idea. I have created a process and a virtual tool box to go with it called the 3 SIMPLE STEPS. It is designed to facilitate problem-solving and transformation.

I’m in the process of writing a book about this and I am starting a consulting business based on it. I have already coached several people through the process and they have seen spectacular results.

What I am going to here is to write about the 3 Simple Steps as I apply them to my life. Specifically as I apply them to creating a new company.

There is a podcast called “Start-Up” that was, in it’s first season, about starting the podcasting company that produced the podcast (very self-referencial). That is part of the inspiration.

So I’ve told you what I’m going to do. Now I’m going to start doing.

An Introduction to the 3 Simple Steps

After years of leaning how to make impossible things happen I have learned tons of tools, techniques and technologies for goal setting, habit forming, attitude adjusting and life changing. What I realized was that simple structures that are easy to remember and apply are the most powerful in the long run because they are easier to use. I also realized that solving problems or creating new habits or generating miracles all required three things.

  • A clear understanding of the context
  • An understanding of responsibility and accountability
  • Action

That led to the formulation of the 3 Simple Steps

Step 1: Step Back

That a look at the big picture.

Step 2: Step Up

Take responsibility for your part in it.

Step 3: Step Forward

Take action.

It’s easy to think of the three steps as sequential but they are really itterative. Stepping Back, for example, is important to do after you are in action to make sure you are Stepping Forward in the right direction.

Stepping Back

I have been applying and refining versions of these steps for years. I used an early version of them when I co-founded Annex Theatre in Seattle and I used a more developed version when I founded Sacred Fools Theater and Instant Films in Los Angeles. While doing these things I developed a facility for helping people to live their dreams.

I also made some terrible mistakes. I made bad career choices. I ate too much and drank too much and hurt people I loved with lies and horrible behavior. I became selfish, miserable and irresponsible and I nearly lost my home, my wife, my family and my health.

About 9 years ago I reached a crisis point. I was unemployed, 150 pounds overweight and deeply depressed. With the help of support groups, therapists, friends and my wonderful wife, I started to turn my life around.

Now things are quite different. I’ve been thriving at the same company for nearly 6 years, I quit drinking and I’ve lost over 120 pounds. My marriage is strong and I am very happy.

This transformation has come about because I applied the 3 Simple Steps to my life.

So what’s next?

The First Step

Stepping Back is all about looking at the big picture. There are a lot of tools in this part of the 3SS (3 Simple Steps) tool shed and I will cover all of them in future blog posts and in the book. One important tool is GOAL CREATION.

You can create a goal for a lot of reasons or for no reason at all. It’s better if you have good clear reasons for reasons that will become clearer when we get into the other steps. Clear? Reasonable? Good.

So these are questions I ask my clients (and myself) to create goals.

  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • What problem do you want to solve?
  • What are the things about your life that really work or you really enjoy?
  • What are the things about your life that really don’t work?
  • What is the purpose of your life? (This is a huge sounding question but don’t be intimidated by it. Just guess at it for now or skip it if it’s too scary. We’ll get back to this.)

So when I did this myself it became very clear that the way I made my living was the biggest problem in my life. I have a great job and I work with great people but the office is a 2 hour commute away and the job doesn’t take advantage of my core strengths.

It’s also not aligned with my purpose in life.

(BTW:My purpose is To create art, communities and structures that inspire people to create and live their dreams. I just made that up just now.)

So now it’s time to create a goal or two.