I’m currently listening to a course on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that I got out of the library. I’m not taking any quizzes or writing any papers, I’m just listening to the recorded course that’s being delivered by Professor Jason Satter.
So I’m not a therapist or anything, I’m just interested in how my mind works.
But if you’ve read any of this blog you know that.
This course is chock full of interesting stuff but here’s one thing that I want to share today.
A central idea of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is the notion that thoughts, feelings and behaviors influence each other. This is called the CBT Triangle or the Cognitive Triangle.
If you think about it for a minute its easy to see how this works. Thoughts influence feelings and vice-versa. Feelings and thoughts obviously influence behavior. What’s not instantly obvious is that behavior influences thoughts and feelings.
But numerous clinical studies and anecdotal evidence shows that the way we behave changes the way we feel and the way we think. Even on a very basic level. Smiling, for example, makes you feel better. Power posing can actually make you feel more positive.
Feelings and thoughts can be strangely intractable. If you want to change your internal life, it may be easier to change your behavior.
And it’s easier to change your behavior with a coach or a sponsor or a partner. Most of us will almost instinctively resist if someone tells us to change how we’re thinking or feeling and, if you don’t want to change what’s in your head, you’re not going to.
On the other hand, you can change what you do at the direction of a coach without wanting to. That change in behavior will influence how you feel and how you think.
For example, if you want to be in better shape you can wait until you feel like exercising and, if you’re like most people, you never will and you’ll never exercise. If you engage a friend or a trainer to tell you to exercise, you will do it and pretty soon, if you’re like most people, you’ll start to like it enough to keep doing it.
More on this soon. Sorry I’ve been away for a couple weeks! Things are going very well and I’m back to daily (week-daily) blogging.
In case you were under the impression that I’m perfect, I’m here to disabuse you of that notion.
This weekend, for reasons that are baffling even to me, I re-qualified myself as an alcoholic and got very drunk.
I won’t go into the details but it was bad. I made a very bad initial decision to have some wine. I convinced myself that I could do that. Of course, I then proceeded to drink way more than some because I am an alcoholic and while I was abstaining my inner addict was doing push-ups.
That’s how it works.
That’s why we say we’re in recovery rather than saying we’ve recovered. You don’t really get over an addiction, you just abstain from the behavior one day at a time.
So, I am going to (at least) 30 AA meetings in 30 days (2 down, and attending a 4th step workshop on Friday and re-reading the Big Book and working on restoring trust to my relationships with my family.
An area in Hollywood with lots of small theaters bound by Santa Monica Blvd, Highland and the 101.
A technique of blocking a scene with 3 people.
The result of an implementation of the triangle offense when the star player doesn’t like it.
A dynamic model of social interaction and conflict developed by Dr. Stephan Karpman.
While I’m proud of coining this term for option number 1, the correct answer is 4.
I learned about the drama triangle from my therapist and it’s a pretty powerful model. Basically, Karpman (a student of Eric Berne, the founder of transactional analysis and the author of Games People Play) pointed out that in nearly any dysfunctional, emotionally charged interaction, the participants are playing one of three roles. That of the persecutor, the victim or the rescuer. People play these roles unconsciously and they can switch roles from moment to moment.
The way it works is that the persecutor attacks the victim and the rescuer defends the victim. Pretty simple. People get into their roles and focus on the roles relationships and the drama inherent in this game rather than listening to each other as people and solving the actual problem.
If you think of any thorny situation in your life you can probably identify the roles that people are taking on. You can also probably recognize how those roles change through the interaction. For example, the persecutor attacks the victim and the rescuer intervenes. The persecutor then takes on the victim role and casts the rescuer as the persecutor and then the former victim rescues the persecutor.
Here’s the secret. The victim is the one who has the most power in this game. The victim gets the pity and compassion of the rescuer and makes the prosecutor look like the bad guy. On top of that, the victim gets all the attention. So the goal of the game is to be the victim as much as you can. If no one is victimizing you, you can cry “poor me” and boom, your a victim. If that doesn’t work you can persecute someone until they or someone else fights back and then you can take the victim role. Finally, you can jump into an argument that’s none of your business as a rescuer and, like magic, you’ll get attacked and viola! you’re a victim.
Congratulations! You won the game!
Victimhood has other perks as well. A victim can justify or divert attention from their own transgressions and attacks. Karpman’s drama triangle originally assumed that participants are taking on these roles subconsciously but it’s very clear that many people take on the role of victim on purpose. On the political front, our national dialogues have turned into struggles to claim the title of The Most Aggrieved. Just take a look at the twitter feed of our Victim-In-Chief. Hard to believe he’s the most powerful man in the world when he’s really just a victim of a bunch of bullies.
So that’s why people like to play the victim. It seems like a powerful thing to be. It also puts all the blame for your troubles on someone else.
But it only seems powerful. It’s powerful if you’re playing the drama game and you’re manipulating persecutors and rescuers. But that’s not real.
Being a victim is certainly a good way to avoid taking responsibility for your life.
The problem is that being a victim is a good way to avoid taking responsibility for your life.
If you don’t take responsibility you can effect change. You can’t make anybody else do anything (believe me, I’ve tried). So if you think someone else holds the keys to your happiness then you’re screwed. I just opened up a fortune cookie today and inside is said “if you don’t want people to drive you crazy, don’t give the keys.” My message for today is the basically the same. When you play the victim, you give other people the keys to your life. That’s no way to live.
Get out of the game.
Unless Phil Jackson is the coach and Jordan’s on your team.
Then you can play the triangle all you want and you’d better know your ring size, champ!
I love learning and I love making things. I really love creating communities that make things.
Over the years I have formed amazing artistic communities that have continued to grow and create long after I left them. I have also overcome devastating personal problems of my own making. Looking back I realized that there were commonalities in every successful project I was involved in. After taking a look at what worked, I organized those common techniques into a framework I originally called the Three Simple Steps. Recently I realized that a fourth step was needed so now it’s The Four Steps.*
Step Back – The Creativity Step
Looking at the big picture and the temporal, cultural and personal context, articulate where you want to go and how you want to get there. Stepping Back is about defining your dreams and creating concrete goals.
Step Up – The Integrity Step
Take responsibility for what you are responsible for and create structures to hold you accountable for what you say you’re going to do. Stepping Up is about taking control of your life.
Step Forward – The Productivity Step
Take action and create good habits that will help you reach your goals.
Step Out – The Community Step (this is the new one)
Involve other people in your project. Expand your circle of friends and colleagues. Get out of your comfort zone.
Here’s how the 4 Steps came to be.
Growing up, I had some wonderful teachers, Mrs Olney in first grade, Mr Petillo in Fifth and Ms Martin in 6th, who admired and nurtured my love of reading and math and science. My parent’s marriage started falling apart just as I started kindergarten. As a result of the emotional chaos at home, I took refuge in the relative safety of school and I developed a strong interest in academics.
For various reasons, I ended up attending 4 different schools from Kindergarten through 3td grade. Without a consistent peer group and with my parent’s focused on their own problems, I worked on winning the approval of my various teachers. Luckily, I had some great ones. Mrs Olney, Mr Petillo and Ms Martin were especially amazing.
I was a bit of a loner as a kid, happiest when I had my nose in a book. In fifth grade, I kept track and I finished 100 books between September and June. By eighth grade, however, I’d had enough of being a geeky outcast. When I got to a new high school the next year I consciously reinvented myself as a more social person.
I spent the first few months of freshman year observing social interactions and I realized people appreciated being listened to. If you were interested in other people, they would be interested in you. I also realized that the biggest barrier to social acceptance was my own shyness. Social rejection was much less likely and, when it did happen, less painful than I thought it would be. Applying these two principals I became a person who could cross the invisible boundaries between cliques and as a senior, I was elected as my schools first Student Body President.
I high school I also started doing theatre and in college that developed into a passion. Interestingly, I fell in love with creating theatre. I didn’t really love seeing theatre, at least not theatre in houses that are big enough to pay actors a professional wage. I loved and still love tiny spaces where you can reach out and touch the people in the front row.
The theatre and improv I did in college gave me a sense of family and belonging that I had when I was very little. When I graduated I was shocked (SHOCKED) that everyone I worked with didn’t want to start a small theatre with me. The members of my improv group wanted to go to law school or start real careers. I was very like a bassist from a college rock group who kept saying “what about the band, man!?!” at graduation.
So I moved west at the invitation of a classmate named Bryan Cole and helped re-start Bainbridge Island’s Annex Theater in downtown Seattle. There I found a new family and I fell in love with the woman who later became my wife.
Six years later, she and I moved to Los Angeles. After a couple of lonely years, I needed an artistic family so I created one. It was clear to me that what the city (and I) needed was another small theatre. I invited everyone I knew who did theatre to my living room one Sunday afternoon and we invented Sacred Fools Theater.
A few years after that I teamed up with Peter Lebow and Charles Papert and we created Instant Films, a company that randomly connected filmmakers, writers and actors to create short films over the course of a weekend. It worked like magic and after less than a decade we had made over 250 films with some of the most talented people in Hollywood.
Looking back at everything that worked, from plays I directed to communities I founded, and the many things that didn’t work, it became clear that having a clear goal and a strong team was crucial to success. Having a high level of integrity and staying in action was also vital. About 10 years ago I invented these Steps as a fun way to remind me of these important components of achievement.
Creating all this community could not plug the holes in my heart that were there since childhood and so while I was doing all this great stuff, I ate too much and I drank too much and I did other things to try to heal these psychic wounds that I didn’t know I had. In short, I became an addict.
Luckily, no one (including me) had to die before I reached rock bottom and started to deal with my problems. I ended up using 12 step programs, therapy, hypnosis, medical intervention and a lot of hard, hard work to recover and to stay in recovery. Along the way, I learned a lot about what works. All of this has gone into the 4 Steps.
I listened to and read a lot of Ziglar, Robbins, Covey and others while trying to solve my problems and get things done. I also took classes and seminars (I highly recommend Landmark Education to anyone who wants to look at their life in a new way) and studied religious ideas and behavioral economics. All of this has influenced the ideas in the 4 Steps.
So now I’m codifying the 4 Steps and creating a workbook so that I and others can use the 4 Steps as a guide to creating a life that is full of creativity, integrity, productivity and community.
*If you are interested in getting an advanced copy of the 4 Steps to the Summit Workbook, put your email on the mailing list or send me an email at email@example.com.
We went and saw Avengers: Endgame Saturday morning at 8:05 AM. “We” is my wife, my son, my mother-in-law and me. I explained things to my wife while my son explained things to his grandmother.
It’s a fantastic and satisfying end to the Thanos vs Avengers story. If you don’t care about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this will not change your mind and there’s no reason to see this movie. For those of us who grew up wishing they were Chris Claremont, Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman or John Buscema just so we could hang out with Stan Lee, this whole decade has been a dream come true. To see the garishly colored fantasies of my childhood come to life on film in such a satisfying way is amazing and gratifying.
Spoiler Alert. if you haven’t seen Endgame and you plan to, wait until after you see it to read the rest of this post.
One of my favorite parts of the film had almost nothing to do with the main plot. Thor goes back in time to a pre-Ragnarok Asgard and visits with his mother, Frigga, the goddess of wisdom. Thor is ridiculously bummed out about his failure to stop Thanos and Frigga (played by the always wonderful Rene Russo) says:
“Everyone fails at who they are supposed to be. The measure of a person, a hero, is how they succeed at being who they are.”
Frigga, Queen of Asgard
I just love this, and it’s perfect for Thor. He is wrecked by his failure because it had epic consequences but also because he is not supposed to fail.
What we are “supposed” to do or the way things are “supposed” to happen are mostly sources of pain and often get in the way of doing what we can with what we have. “Supposed to” lives in the same universe where life is fair and things make sense. In other words, a fictional universe. In fact, I would say, THE fictional universe that most of us live in. This magical land is very similar to the universe in which we live except that the fictional universe is ruled by the Laws of Story rather than the Laws of Physics.
Let’s give this fictional place a name (since as humans, naming things is one of our superpowers). How about the Human Cinematic Universe or HCU for short?
In the HCU there are good guys and bad guys and, in the end, the good guys win. In the HCU there is a beginning and an end. Things make sense, everything is fair and everything works like it’s supposed to work. If it doesn’t work there is a reasonable reason.
In the real universe, things happen. There are causes but often they are complicated and certainly things are rarely fair.
Don’t get me wrong. I live to make sense of things. I believe that i am here to make the world a better place and I have faith that good will triumph over evil.
I also know, however, that I made all that up. I know that my sense of self is constructed by a mixture of electricity, water and complex chemicals that wash around in a bag of skin. I know that if I believed in the Norse Gods or Fox and Friends or the Flying Spaghetti Monster the universe would look a lot different to me and I would be cheering for different good guys and booing different bad guys.
Not all bad guys are called Decepticons or work for the Dark Side. In fact, I don’t think there are many people who have ever thought of themselves as villains.
The point of this post is to be the best version of who you are and don’t get mired in recriminations or resentments about what is supposed to be. That’s all fantasy. Make a comic book about the superhero you are supposed to be if you want but don’t let it get in the way of living in the RNU (that would be the Real Non-cinematic Universe).
I learned improv from the amazing Eric Berg. He came back to college from a semester off in Chicago and assembled a group of the funny people he knew and proceeded to teach us how to do a Harold.
A Harold, invented by the legendary Del Close, is a long-form improvisation that usually lasts about 30 minutes. Phil Lamarr, one of those funny people that Eric assembled, recently pointed out to me how insane it was to try and teach the Harold to people who had not only never seen a Harold, we had never even seen improv.
Well, Eric forged insanely forward and successfully created an improv group. I am very proud to say that I came up with the name and the Purple Crayon of Yale was born. It’s still going strong and just celebrated it’s 34th anniversary.
Amoung a thousand other things, Eric introduced two concepts to us when he was teaching us the Harold that stuck in my mind. The first was in reference to a way to start a Harold. A Harold is based on a one-word suggestion from the audience.*
The first thing you want to do when you’re performing a Harold and you have a suggestion is to brainstorm the heck out of that one word and connect it to as much raw material as you can. You need to do this in front of the audience so that they follow along and understand the connections. That way, when you get the word “hygiene” and you start a scene about jazz drumming, everyone gets that it’s because “hygiene” made you think of saying hi to Gene Krupa.
There are several opening games that are used to do this and the first one we learned was the Word Pattern Game. The Word Pattern Game looks a lot like a Word Association Game but Eric explained that we were trying to skip steps and let the audience fill it in. For example, if the word was “blue” I might say “Lyndon,” jumping over “berry” and letting the audience fill that in. The next word might be “baby powder.”
Eric called that a koan or a “zen joke.” It called out what was missing.
Eric also referenced Sartori or the brilliant bolt from the blue that would suddenly hit in the middle of a scene, illuminating everything. Suddenly you would understand the connection between three scenes that had been made up out of nothing by your teammates and, in one sentence, you tied them all together to the enormous satisfaction of the audience and everyone involved.
I loved it. I have no idea why I don’t still do it.
But that’s for another post.
The point today is that I remembered all this stuff after college, I was in Seattle and I was starting a theater and another improv group. I was also starting a spiritual quest.
I saw that my Mémère was the happiest person I knew and I knew it was because of her strong faith in God and Jesus. I wanted that for myself but I couldn’t bring myself to have faith in the divinity of Jesus and, more importantly, I couldn’t believe in the exclusivity of any religion. The idea that anyone who believed the wrong thing was damned and doomed was a dealbreaker for me.
But something was missing, so I started reading. I’d remembered the words koan and Sartori so I started looking into them.
A koan is not a kind of joke. It’s “a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment” (I will admit that some koan’s are funny and they do call out something that’s missing.)
Sartori is not just a flash of brilliance that you get on stage while doing improv. It’s a Japanese Buddhist word referring to the experience of awakening to one’s true nature.
These words and a natural affinity eventually led me to Zen Buddhism.
Here I’ve stayed.
What I learned from Buddhism and from other places is that there is a reality that cannot be described by language. It isn’t some weird other dimension or realm. It’s right here. We’re living in it. We can’t quite see it because we think we are separate from it.
We think that we’re separate from it because of language. We create this idea of the world with language and then we live it it rather than the real world.
I think that enlightenment is understanding THAT on an experiential level. I really think it’s as simple and as profound as that.
Koans are designed to foster the “Great Doubt.” Doubt what? Doubt that language sufficiently describes the world and, more importantly, that there is something called “me” that has a distinct and separate existence. Sartori is the experience of realizing that.
So that’s what I believe. Here’s something else that I believe that kind of ties all this together.
Humor is a taste of Sartori.
Things that are funny are funny because they break down the rules of language. Of course, I’m not just talking about spoken or written language, I mean the meaning structures of civilization.
A pratfall breaks down the accepted and expected physical rules of movement through social space. It points out that we have a language of gesture and position and it breaks it down just like a loud fart in a crowded elevator breaks down the accepted norms of civil behavior (without hurting anyone…much).
I came up with this theory decades ago and I’ve never found an exception. Every single thing that is funny cracks the veneer of culture created by our spoken and experienced consensual hallucination that is language. It’s unexpected or subversive or both.
Unfortunately, it’s not a very helpful theory. It’s not predictive. Everything that’s funny breaks down language but not every thing that breaks down language is funny.
So why did the monkey fall out of the tree? It was dead.
Why did the second monkey fall out of the tree? It was stapled to the first monkey.
Why did the third monkey fall out of the tree?
*I remember that the first one the Purple Crayon ever did in front of an audience was based on the suggestion “Vivisection.” This, of course, was an attempt at friendly(?) sabotage by roommates of Tom Dowe. Imagine four Yale sophomores sitting in the front row. “Could we have a one-word theme from the audience?” They look at each other and then back at the stage and in one nerdy, privileged voice they say “VIVISECTION!” One of whom was, I think, the incredible, Tony-award-winning Jefferson Mays. You’d think with all that talent he’d have something better to do with his time!
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?
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.”
My 20,000th day will be, incredibly, April 1st, 2020. That will also be my sisters 37nd birthday and the 23rd anniversary of the first public event that Sacred Fools ever put on.
Unfortunately, it’s going to be a Wednesday. Not a great day for a party but it certainly seems like a day to mark in some way.
But this brings up the topic of temporal landmarks, which have tremendous power. Temporal landmarks are things like New Years Day, your birthday and Monday. A 2014 study by Hengchen Dai, Jason Riis and, my favorite social scientist, Katy Milkman, showed that:
“people are more likely to pursue various types of aspirational behavior (e.g., dieting, exercising, goal pursuit) at the start of ‘new epochs’ initiated by the incidence of temporal landmarks, including the beginning of a new week, month, year, and school semester, as well as immediately following a public holiday, a school break, or a birthday.”
What we do is use temporal landmarks (which I’m going to call timemarks because “temporal landmarks” offends the tiny poet that lives in the back of my brain) to break life into distinct mental accounting periods. We then relegate the old us to the period before the timemark. “Since _(insert random timemark here)_____ I have been exercising every day.”
This is not logical, tomorrow might be your birthday but to everyone else it’s Wednesday, but it works. It works for the same reason that geographic cures and placebo work. Our experience of life is shaped by what we believe and the stories that we tell.
There are also timemarks that you can strive for. Have you ever heard of a Fartlek? Fartlek is a Swedish word that roughly translates to “speed play.” It’s a terrific training technique for runners where you choose a landmark during a run or a hike and you sprint until you reach that landmark. Then you do it again with another landmark. For instance, you might jog along at your regular speed and then sprint between every fourth telephone pole.
It’s interval training and it’s kind of fun.
So if you have something you want to do, set up a Fartlek to a timemark. Commit to walking at lunch every day until May 1st. Many people diet until a special event like a wedding. I know a guy who gave up eating solid food for Lent every year (not a good idea).
Shonda Rhimes’ incredible Year Of Yes came about because she committed to saying yes to things that scared her. She didn’t commit to being a different person forever. She just committed to saying yes for one year. It was a short enough time that she figured she could endure it and go back to her old life. Lucky for her, it was long enough for her to transform her life and, according to her book, she’s not going back.
You don’t have to wait for a holiday or a birthday or the beginning of a month to make a change. Remember that old Frosty the Snowman cartoon? Every time the kids put the magic hat on his head, Frosty came to life and said “Happy Birthday.”
You have my permission to declare any day a special day. Find a magic hat and put it on your head and say Happy Birthday!
Three Things I Learned From My Cousin Beyoncé This Weekend
My wife and I watched Homecoming on Netflix this weekend. For those of you who live on the other side of the world or are reading this a thousand years in the future, Homecoming is a documentary that Beyoncé made about her shows at Coachella last year.
Here are three things I learned.
Teamwork is essential. No one, even Beyoncé, can accomplish anything worth doing alone. Grab your friends and family. Grab your tribe. Ask for help. Demand support. Dance together. Work together. Play together. Be together, together. It’s better than the alternative.
Hard work is essential. Nothing worth doing is easy. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Hard work can be enjoyable but it’s hard.
Self-care is essential. If you want to do something amazing you have to take care of yourself as you work hard with your team.
Another big impression is that Beyoncé is incredibly gifted and she works harder than everyone else. She is a total badass.
By the way, Beyonce is part Acadian. Her mother is descended from Acadian and Cajun leader Joseph Broussard (1702-1765). His wife was a Thibideau so I know I’m related to Beyoncé by marriage at the very least. My brother assures me that there’s probably a more direct connection. There were less than 10,000 people on Acadia when Broussard was born and the first Sylvain arrived a few generations before so it’s likely that Bey and me are cousins.
Let’s just say we are and move on. I mean, I can see the resemblance.
(I hope that when I’m in my late 30s (and have delivered twins via C-section less than a year before) I can look as good as Beyonce does after dancing and singing non-stop for two hours.)
PS. I have to admit that as an older white guy I have no idea what she’s singing about most of the time. I don’t understand the meaning of the lyrics. Like when she says “I took the top off the Maybach, bitch,” I don’t have any idea what that means. I know that the Maybach is an expensive car but that doesn’t make anything clearer. I don’t think I need to understand but I feel like I need to admit that.
PSS. The contrast between B’s strong, implicit message (of female, African-American and just plain human empowerment) and some of her regressive and aggressive lyrics and presentation is confusing. Does it strike anyone else as troubling or odd? I don’t see anyone talking about that and I certainly don’t feel like I’m in any position to do it. Let me know if anyone has examined this because I’d like to read about it.
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.