Can You Afford To Be Happy Today?

Can You Afford To Be Happy Today?

There is a good chance the pursuit of future success is costing you the experience of happiness today. 

In the past two weeks we have explored Tim Ferriss’ 17 questions from Tools of Titans to test the impossible. We covered doing the opposite and scratching your own itch. Now let’s turn that on its head and evaluate if we should even be trying at all. Some of these ideas may seem contrary to my recommendation to live a life of planned intent and growth. I will explain how it all comes together to yield the best version of you possible. 

“Question 3: What would I do/have/be if I had $10 million dollars? What is my real TMI?”

At the time he discovered this question, Tim was achieving a high financial measures of success but it came at a cost of well-being. He used this question to evaluate if his course of action was as valid and necessary as he thought. This wasn’t a visualization exercise intent on galvanizing his fervor for success. It was a momentary pause to see if he had unknowingly already achieved successs.

Is Your Passion Authentic?

There is a thing in personal and professional development where it becomes cool to be the most open-minded, self-aware, constructive person in the room. It’s probably a throwback to our pack mentality that we don’t like being different. Even people who pride themselves on being different gather in packs of people being different (I’m looking at you hipsters). They generally don’t realize that being anti-establishment is itself a pro-establishment. 

I find this often leads to an inauthentic engagement and representation of one’s opinion. People saying what they think they are supposed to say depending on the narrative to which they are trying to be true. If the group is talking about being driven and motivated most people will join in the call to arms. In the wake of this communal passion, someone in the group will be experiencing frustration with their lack of that quality and begin to be really excited about getting better. However, inevitably and appropriately, someone eventually says “but we don’t want to get TOO driven and motivated that it causes bad things to happen”. Immediately our “I want to be more driven” person flips to say “oh yes, I should take it easy on myself.”

This isn’t a problem. Like I said it’s human nature. We are remarkably binary. Unless one has developed the very valuable skill of tolerating ambivalence, we either join in loving something or join in hating it. Marketing companies take advantage of it every day. Our current political climate is rife with it. If someone wanted to bring back platform shoes with a goldfish in the heel (Disco Stu-style) they absolutely could do it. If we see lots of people doing or saying something we naturally want to regress to the mean. We develop a sense that we should want those things too. 

It’s also the basic structure of why mediums like Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat work. It’s why MySpace faded and Facebook evolved away from it. When “the cool thing to do” was only dictated by our Top 8 friends, social media had little societal value. It had individual value. If I needed to know what to wear out I didn’t take to social media to check the pulse of fashion. Instead I messaged one person in my Top 8 to get advice. Or I called them (remember we still had telephones back then). Now if I want advice, why limit it to my one trusted friend when I can see what tens of thousands, maybe even million of people like. Again, pack mentality allows us to drive our preferences toward the mean. The most effective way to stay in touch with those millions is via short burst social media engagements. Add in some pictures, a few celebrities, and BAM! you have a species trained to dictate their future behavior by constantly utilizing a data stream presented in the form of text and images (that’s actually all social media is).

Don’t Drink the Kool-aid Unless…

Okay, that seemed like a huge digression. It was. My point though is that I feel very strongly that all people who promote a certain path should take opportunities to offer their followers an alternate experience. Don’t follow us because we represent the masses. 

This goes back to the value of doing the opposite. All the aspects of our lives that bring us pride are heavily biased by that very opinion that it is a good idea. We drink the Kool-aid because someone showed us how and “that dude knows how to make Kool-aid”. Take time to consider what Sunny D might taste like. Or better yet, try some of that “purple stuff”!

We have to check our assumptions from time to time. I like Tim’s use of fanciful, seemingly unrealistic prompts to explore a blindspot here. It stimulates thought. Let’s assume you are in the process of pursuing a goal that will provide you with more money or a better lifestyle. You are essentially doing everything we’ve said in prior posts is a good idea to have onboard at all times. Good job! However by asking yourself what you would do with $10 million dollars in the bank you are saying “if I woke up tomorrow and no longer needed to grind and chase what would I do with my life?”

He compares this thought exercise to retirement. For many people they are working in hopes of providing for today and to create some future life where they stop working. Retirement is actually a dangerous developmental trend I don’t have time to get into here. Let’s leave it at this: the mythology of what awaits us in old age does a great job of guaranteeing we fulfill the prophecy of declining function. However, how many retired people or even those who finally achieve their goals stop and say “I wish I’d smelled the roses more. Taken it slower. Been happier along the way”? It is actually one of the more common sentiments of the Titans Tim interviews on The Tim Ferriss Show. It doesn’t seem to be as emphatically represented in the book. 

You Want Less Than You Think You Do

If you had $10 million would you put it away and keep grinding until you are 65? Probably not. When you answer this question of what you would do if you retired today with unlimited funds you will outline what you actually wish you were doing today. Tim and I will sell big on the idea that the reality of what you want today isn’t as fanciful as you assume. You may say “travel every day” , “eat at a new restaurant every night”, “sleep until 10am and swim in the ocean daily”. Great. I love those ideas! 

Odds are that they are a romanticized version of what you really want. If you’ve ever taken a stay-cation you likely have experienced something closer to what your natural “retirement” lifestyle will look like. I don’t imagine your idealized retirement involves binge-watching Orange is the New Black or playing every game in the Call of Duty cannon. “No way man, I won’t let that happen to me when I’m old. I only veg out on stay-cations because I work so hard I need that time to recover.” Excellent. I love your optimism. I’m glad you feel confident that the old version of you with decreased muscle strength, range of motion, balance, visual acuity, and executive functioning is going to outstrip the tenacity of young you. Oh and “sleep until 10am” when you’re 65? Go call your grandpa and ask him about that. 

Don’t Make Choices Today at the Expense of Tomorrow. 

Today is temporary. Tomorrow is constant until it becomes today. Never make a choice that will cost future-you without careful a thorough cost-analysis. Don’t commit to a lifestyle change for today that you will suffer for later. It’s a basic tenet of finance, athletics, and development. Play the long game. 

I think it is important that the Growth Mindset, goal-achievement-machine version of you regularly test if it’s time to walk away from the table. Maybe it won’t be time to exist, but if you never stop and ask yourself “is this good enough” you will be guaranteed to miss it when you’re there. Don’t burden your future self with regrets. 

What Does Happiness Cost You?

This is where Tim emphasizes the role of calculating your Target Monthly Income (TMI). You have asked yourself what life would look like if you retired today with plenty of cash. Now take that lifestyle and assess how much it costs per month. The goal is to see if you are actually already there. 

I knew a guy who was very, very simple in his needs. A comfortable home. A second house at the Jersey Shore. A good delivery pizza place. A low key, cheap bar within walking distance. Maybe the occasional baseball game or night out with the guys. Once or twice a year he’d make a splugy purchase under $2000 to treat himself.

Let’s run his TMI. The rent on his home would have been about $1700. The Shore house, probably $500 a weekend including travel and food. Add in static expenses and a budget for his splurges, I’d estimate he could get by on $4k net income a month. Max. 

If this person decided to focus on happiness instead of hustle, he should put all effort toward finding a job that gets him $4000 in as few hours as possible. Alternatively, if he is making over $4000 a month he needs to be damn sure that every dollar over $4000 is worth the effort. He has already decided he doesn’t actually need it. Dream retirement is in his hands already. 

Another way to look at it is that for every $48,000 he can create in assets he buys himself a year of retirement. Want a year sabbatical? Plan out how to set aside $48,000. Want a month instead? Set aside $4000. It’s all that easy. 

Knowledge is Wellness 

I am not saying everyone should go out and quit their jobs, move to rural America and call it good. That won’t be for everyone or even most. I am also not saying that calling an end to the grind is in your best interest. However I am emphatic in people being able to confidently say “my life is the way it is today because I choose it to be so, I know what else I could pivot to right now and I know I don’t want it because I have tested it.” I think that statement may be one of the most valuable goals a person can have and is a consistent part of the people I meet who are doing well. 

Summary

As you can see by this very long post. I love this question. What is the dream life for you and can you regularly assess if you have actually achieved access to it? By calculating your target monthly income you can go from ambiguous fanciful dreams like “travel the world”or “retire by the beach” and turn them into a hard dollar amount you need to chase. Each dollar you increase your monthly income the closer you get. Maybe you find your current career will never offer than target income. What do you do then? What impact would that knowledge have on decision making? Self-exploration can come at a cost and it is very vulnerable to generating a manipulated product of who you are. However, exercises like these, when done with care and transparency, can offer immense value to sustainable wellness. You may be able to “buy happiness” today. 

Use Your Bank Statement as Self-starter Radar

Use Your Bank Statement as Self-starter Radar

In Tim Ferriss’ book Tools of Titans he lists 17 questions that help him Test the Impossible. We already covered doing the opposite. This week we will look at his idea to maximize your innate ability to activate. Already find yourself saying “I have no innate ability to activate”? Let me prove you wrong. 

2. What do I spend a silly amount of money on? How can I scratch my own itch?

Tim offers this question as part of an exploration he did after leaving a start-up job. He wanted to create something and get in on the excitement of our little Manifest Destiny here in Silicon Valley. He goes into this idea more in 4 Hour Work Week. There is so much value to derive from this exercise. 

Scratch Your Own Itch

This is hugely important for those with entrepreneurial aspirations. Much of the game in small business ownership and start-ups is hustle. You are going to work a lot. You are going to live, eat and breathe this dream. That means you better like it. A lot. 

For this reason, scratching your own itch makes sense. Why not engage a passion you already have? Tim recommends looking at your bank statement and figuring out where most of your free money goes. Chances are that industry is in your wheelhouse. You likely don’t need to self-motivate much to engage it. You may naturally read about it in your free time. You may loiter at its stores or venues. That part that already gets you off the couch is a big part of the fight for a business owner. Watch Shark Tank and you’ll see how this works. Investors care about the product but they care about the person more. To a man, every deal on the show hinges on the Sharks trusting the passion of the person. 

If your itch still isn’t clear enough for you, consider a few more questions:

Which industry would you happily attend its trade show

Not just the big ones like SXSW or Consumer Electronics Show. I mean a conference at the El Paso airport hotel in July. No glamour. No upgraded suites or mixers at a wine bar overlooking the city. I’m talking about spending 15 hours on your feet jawing about this topic and then swinging by Long John Silver’s on the way back to your motel room on the outskirts of town so you can get back and watch the only channel available which of course plays constant marathons of Everybody Loves Raymond (maybe I will expand on my disdain for that show another time).

If you won the lottery but your doctor told you to keep a job to stave off death, which job would you take?

Money is no longer an issue. You have so much money you don’t even need to be qualified. You could pay them to hire you if you wanted. Where are you going? Maybe spend some time thinking about what your 9 year old self dreamt of doing. It’s not to say that job will be your direction but it may give you ideas on an industry to lean toward. 

Once you have an idea of your itch, we can start using the idea as a Petri dish for your personal development model. 

Applying a Minimum Effective Scratch to find wellness 

I like to steal from this idea when working with clients. Particularly with anyone struggling with motivation. Like I said, the hardest part of doing many things is getting started. Why not ride the wave of something you already are motivated to do? 

This allows you to use something easy as grounds for learning your own unique motivation equation. Once you perfect that equation you can port it over to other aspects of your life. Maybe even things you wish to become a passion. The prerequisite is knowing your process of creating action. That process likely is a constant. The variables however are interchangeable. 

I apply this to ideas of learning your Minimum Effective Dose (MED) for wellness. Call them buckets or Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we all likely have some subconscious and conscious sense of where we are out of balance at any given moment. The burnt-out tech workers may have an internal sense of needing to experience fun again. Stressed out students may find themselves envious of other people’s normal, everyday life. The person in a dead-end job may need to know there is an out. In each case, scratching a MED itch may be just the trick. 

Humans tend toward very all-or-nothing answers. If my job sucks I will focus on needing a new one. If my career is stagnating I feel a need to go back to school (another topic to dissect eventually- how the college and post-graduate education system is promoting a stagnated workforce). If I feel overworked, I decide I need a weeklong or multi-week vacation. All those big ideas negate the value of a MED scratch. They mortgage acting now to meet a need for a perceived homerun “it would all be better if…”. That’s low yield and not sustainable. 

Scratching our itch is very restorative for wellness. Any human who can say they routinely engage their passion is likely to have a better quality of life than someone who wishes they did. Better yet, any human who feels they engage their passion in exactly the amount they want to at that given moment may win the game. How much value would it bring to your life to say “I play video games every single day”, “I exercise every single day”, or maybe “I am always working on a really cool project”? Doing something daily isn’t necessarily about discipline as it can be about intelligent planning. 

This builds on the idea of taking Just One Embarassingly Small Breath. Take your itch and think about the minimum interval possible to engage it on a daily basis. Again, look for an answer that seems silly. If it seems too easy or insignificant, it likely flanks your anti-motivation habits. Think surfing every day would change your life? Cool, I agree. If by tomorrow you aren’t surfing every day, maybe you should buy an Andy Irons video and watch it every morning instead. Or better yet swing by your local board shop on your drive home and browse for 5 minutes every day. I guarantee within a few weeks someone who does surf every day will introduce themselves to you. Share with them what you are doing and you’ll be a “hey, you should meet me at the beach tomorrow” from surfing every day. 

Can I convince you that one minute a day thinking about your passion will get you closer to actualizing your goal than “I have to spend every free moment making it happen”? You know that guy who lives, eats, and breathes the invention he is pitching on Shark Tank? That guy is trying just as hard as you. Here’s why. 

Newton’s First Law of Success

An object in motion stays in motion –Newton’s First Law of Motion

Borrowing from prior discussions of George Combe’s The Constitution of Man, all forms of matter in the world are little success machines. A rock is REALLY successful at being a rock. It does its job. Constantly. The moment it stops doing its job, it is no longer a rock. It loses its rock-ness. It becomes sand, lava, etc. Humans’ human-ness is debatable but I’m going with love and innovation. A human without love becomes a non-human. We are the only species with a concept of love (sorry pet owners, it’s not love, it’s a pack behavior to recognize your dominance). A human who does not innovate, progress, or micro-evolve, is not a human. Again, that is the behavior of non-humans. Lions today are not dramatically different than ancient lions from a behavioral perspective. They aren’t sitting around on Pride Rock talking about “dude, can you believe 100 years ago they used to take springbok down from the front. Thank god we realized it is better to do it from behind. Those cretins!”  

We have to keep pursuing love and development to survive. Your itch likely is a medium in which you naturally engage both. However engaging isn’t easy to do. Or so we think. Enter Newton’s law. 

Let’s go back to our old friend the rock. He’s sitting there, happy he’s a rock. “I got this sweet moss growing on my south side (clearly a Southern Hemisphere kind of guy), I’m diverting this water over there so it forms a brook, dudes walk on me to keep their feet dry. I’m a really useful rock”. 
But then tragedy strikes. One day a smaller, more agile rock goes flying past our friend. Catching only the blur of this young buck as he zooms by, or friend is left with one thought “how does he do that? He makes it look so easy!” Our friend is immediately self-conscious. “Why can’t I do that? Here I am stuck in this deadend spot, a bunch of crap growing on me, wet all day, so unimportant people walk all over me. That other rock, people were getting the heck out of his way, I wish I was like him.” 

Our friend decides he wants to have a go at this rolling thing. He tries pushing off. “Drat, no muscles. I can’t move. How does he do it? He must be a different rock. He was born with it.” 

Time goes by and eventually our sad rock friend notices a new neighbor. 

“Hey it’s you, you’re the guy I saw rolling down that hill! How’d you get up here?”

“Oh a bird picked me up to crack open some food and dropped me here when he was done.”

“You got to be a tool!” 

“Yeah it was great. You should try it some  time.”

“I’d love to but I don’t have what you do. I will never be special like that.”

“There’s nothing special about me. I just take things as they come.”

“So how do you do it?”

“I just wait for the right moment and if something happens I go with it.”

“But you make it look so easy. You were flying down that hill.”

“Yeah the getting started part is hard but once you get going it’s easy to keep it up.”

“You’re saying that once I get going it will actually get easier?”

“Oh sure, all rocks are the same way. Did you ever hear about that rock slide last year? My buddy was in it. He said it was the most fun he’s ever had. So simple. Kept calling it something like Flow.”

“Maybe I should try it.”

“Definitely, you’ve got the perfect set up. That brook you’re redirecting is just waiting to erode your seat and once that happens… look out!”

“Huh, I guess I should spend some time enjoying my moss and brook again. Knowing that I can leave eventually makes me want to appreciate what I have more.”

Summary 

Scratching your itch is a really high-yield way to explore your unique equation for motivation. By starting action in your wheelhouse with something you already do, you will increase your chance of engaging. Engaging in change and discovery is maybe the most important thing a human can do. It can be hard to get started but once you are rolling the rhythm becomes routine. You’ll never know where you’ll end up and what you may learn about yourself. 

Go in the Opposite Direction to Unlock Change

Go in the Opposite Direction to Unlock Change

Tim Ferriss has a list of 17 questions in Tools of Titans he uses to Test the Impossible. I am going to explore one a week. 

1. What if I did the opposite for 48 hours?

This question is presented in context of Tim’s relative rags to riches story after he left college. He was toiling away in a job he hated and struggling. As existential moments go, he suddenly found clarity in a simple idea: do the opposite. 

Doing so brought remarkable success in his sales position. By working at a time of day when his colleagues and competitors were not he found something impossible. Prior to that decision the thought hadn’t occurred to him. It resided in a subconscious blindspot. The lesson is not about working when others are not. Rather, it is a statement on the value of rebuking convention. Even if it your own convention. 

This is a great place to start when developing a Growth Mindset. If I am doing X, maybe the opposite of X (-X) will offer dramatically different results. Particularly if I don’t like the way things are going, why not?  You don’t have to be Dr. Phil to ask yourself “how’s that working for you?”  

It’s a plan even George Costanza would love. 

Bracketing: Live life like a photographer

Even if the opposite doesn’t solve the problem, by establishing limits on either end of your investigation you can be sure the best answer is somewhere in between. This is similar to bracketing in a photography. Back in the days of film you didn’t know if a shot was lit well enough until you developed it. To compensate you’d take additional shots on either end of the lighting spectrum. Find the shot you think will work, then take shots a stop above and below your light reading. One or more with more light and one or more with less. Chances are a good shot will be in there. 

By doing the opposite you have tested two hypothesis and are now far closer to the perfect solution you desire. 

The Definition of Insanity

Somebody smart once said:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” -Many Different People, allegedly

It doesn’t have to be the opposite, but if you are hoping for change, something different sure would be a good place to start. Even though it is totally intro level psychotherapy to say “if it hurts when you hit your head stop hitting your head,” it can be a good place to start. If you continue with X it will NEVER change. You then need to be very okay with what the consequences of X are in your life.  

If you are experiencing your life and have assessed that there is something you don’t like or wish was different, your highest-yield approach is to try something significantly different.

I like considering doing the opposite because it often explores a space your mind will find absurd. You can’t get more different from X than -X. We’ve talked before about the role of flanking your Ego defenses. It allows you to get past a set of cognitions designed to prevent change. Your emotions will let you know you found that space. The opposite will seem impossible. It will feel risky. It will seem like a waste of time. If you find yourself saying, “I could never do that!” Bam! You’ve found a new space to test out. 

If you think about it, the opposite is the opposite because you are really invested in the not-opposite. If you are kind-of a Raiders fan, becoming kind-of a Patriots fan isn’t really the opposite. It’s more an equally “meh” idea. That’s less valuable in terms of potential for exploring change. 

I think politics is a better example here. Take the Democratic and Republican National Convention. Maybe nowhere else in America do more people come together to have the same idea. Not only that, they share in their disagreement with the opposite. Their investment in their ideology is exactly the reason they are there. It’s not the Kind-of-Republican-But-Sometimes-Not Get Together. Everyone at that convention is passionate about X. And they hate -X. Their dogmatic support of X is a beacon for how much they should consider -X. They have a HUGE blindspot. How much would both parties benefit from trying the opposite for 48 hours?

It is ridiculous to believe that you will create change in your life or the life/beliefs of those around you without having tested the validity of the ideas you hold true. 

X: “You should eat Chinese food with chop sticks.”

-X: “Have you ever eaten it with a fork?”

X: “No, but I know it’s terrible.”

-X: “I don’t agree with you.”

X: “Nuh uh, I talked to all my friends who use chop sticks and they agree we are right. We also agree you are stupid for using a fork.”

-X: “I’m not stupid. Please don’t call me names.”

X: “Well you have to either be stupid or hate chop sticks and that’s why you won’t use them. Anyone who can’t see that chop sticks are the best is either stupid or hates chop sticks. It’s science and I saw it on Twitter. Here’s a meme that explains my idea.”

This dramatization is as much a commentary on how people often interact as it is instructive on how our subconscious engages internal conflict. Anxiety, anger, judgment, fear and even sadness can be the ways your subconscious shames the part of your mind that wants to explore new things. It has to, that’s what Ego defenses do. Until you teach it not to do so. 

Ethnocentrism: Live life like an anthropologist

In anthropology we have a similar idea. It is called ethnocentrism. You cannot study a different culture unless you first learn how to abandon all thought that your culture is better or right. It’s not to say you have to do the opposite of your culture. You do need to be open to the idea that different may be just as valid, if not better than yours. 

An island of cannibals do not deserve the moniker “savages” or “primitive” any more than we do for our slothy way of having burritos delivered to our door and having a stranger carry us from place to place in their car. “Better” is the result of having tested at least two methods and identifying one as superior in achieving a desired outcome. Remember that the next time you find a judgment word for someone with different beliefs than you.

Summary
If you can create a culture in your life that routinely asks, “What if I did the opposite for 48 hours”you stand to more reliably execute a life that has explored blindspots, tested assumptions, and somewhat scientifically made choices. The steady-state of your life will comprise a higher percentage of planned intent. Planned intent is what I will sell is the most effective path to wellness. 

How to Challenge Your Mental Limitations and Unlock Doors

How to Challenge Your Mental Limitations and Unlock Doors

“Take a temporary break from pursuing goals to find the knots in the garden hose that, once removed, will make everything else better and easier.” -Tim Ferriss, Tools of Titans. 

The chapter on The Dickens Process is a great exercise to help explore our mental blind spots. Tim summarizes the exercise which is part of Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power event. Tony can be a polarizing figure but regardless of your opinion, he has lots of ideas. Trying things is always a good idea. You should try this one.

The rub of the Dickens Process is that we  may unknowingly be paying a high price for certain ideas we hold to be true. As with Ebenezer Scrooge and his visit from three ghosts on Christmas Eve, your beliefs may come at cost today as well as in your past and future. In keeping with my recommendation of living a life of intent, I love the idea of sitting down and assessing cost to make sure it is something you are okay with continuing.

What are your Core Beliefs?

Tim doesn’t explore how to find your limiting beliefs. He does it a bit in the chapter on Fear Setting, but that assumes your belief is a fear. As I wrote about before, you generally can explore limiting beliefs by turning on your radar for Absolutes. We call them All-or-nothing cognitive distortions in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Cognitive distortions act as a treasure map to find your limiting beliefs, which we call Core Beliefs.

One approach to find your limiting beliefs is to examine your language for these absolutes. One place they often live is in our self-assessment of our strengths and weaknesses. I recommend writing them out. What can you do? What can’t you do?

This will be very hard at first. You will likely do better at “can’t” than “can”. Heck, right there you may find a “can’t” – “I can’t come up with my strengths.” Like creative writing, keep at this process with discipline. It will crystallize eventually. Ideally you do this in a very private way that will promote you to explore vulnerabilities. You are trying to make the subconscious conscious. If it were easy I wouldn’t have a job.

Another strategy is to create or use an existing list of words that define human qualities. Here’s one. Then go through the list and circle ones you identify with and cross out those you don’t. When you’re done you should start to see a pattern of where your confidence and discomfort with yourself lie. Try to coalesce these into a basic statement about who you are and what you can or can’t do.

A final core beliefs survey exercise is to think about your goals and your dreams. What do you wish of yourself? What are your “if I could just ____, then I know things would be better”? Is there a dream career, partner, lifestyle you would love to wake up to tomorrow? When identified, ask yourself “why don’t I have them” and more importantly “what about me will keep me from achieving them by the end of the year/week/day?”

The more uncomfortable you can get with this exploration the more likely you are to find something that has been hiding in your blind spot. Remember, you are looking to expose subconscious ideas. Your Ego defense system has been working very hard to keep you from realizing these uncomfortable things. If you stay in your comfort zone your are unlikely to find something new in your self exploration. Like a parasite, these limiting beliefs may continue to hang on and steal your wellness.

The Dickens Process
Now that you have your 2 or 3 most limiting beliefs, let’s explore them. Tim has a script for this. Remember to try to push into some uncomfortable space.

Past

What have these beliefs cost you in the past? What has it cost the people you love in the past? What have you lost because of this belief?

I will add that a provocative way to approach this is to write your life narrative. Getting your story down on paper can make a big difference in understanding the connected nature of our history. It’s one of the core components of the evaluation process in psychotherapy. We ask you about your life- where you’re from, who comprises your family, how school went, early memories, etc. That narrative often proves to be the most valuable sources of information about why you are the person you are today.

This references back to Melanie Klein’s Object Relation Theory I touched on with George. The experiences of our past, mostly childhood, set up a basic rubric or lens we will always reference for all future experiences. By writing your life narrative you will find the costs of your beliefs and the origins of the patterns that created that belief. Again, try to explore uncomfortable space.

Present

What is each belief costing you and the people you love in the present?

I like to expand this again to a CBT process- journaling. With your limiting beliefs in hand, go through a week and task yourself to experience the cost in living motion. Write this down. The easiest way to do this is to text message yourself right as it happens. Assuming you don’t text yourself very often, it creates an easily accessible log you can audit later. You can also email yourself which would allow for categorizing.

For example, a person with a limiting belief that they aren’t good at their job would look for evidence at work and home of this thought. “A position opened up above me, but I won’t apply.” “My annual review is Friday and I’ve been stressed all week.” “I don’t have lunch with coworkers because it’s too uncomfortable.” “I was up late last night thinking about going back to school so I can change my career.” Each of those ideas is a quick text to yourself.

Another option can be to really examine your current whole-life avatar. For better or worse, modern human life is increasingly asking us to consolidate our identity into a few lines and a picture. As social media goes, we tend toward showcasing the best of ourselves. Instead take a moment and contemplate what your profile would look like if no one would ever see it but you? Who are you? Where are you? What do you do? If a camera crew followed you around for one day what would we see? When you have a sense of that assess how the you-of-today is affected by your beliefs. If those beliefs were different would you live somewhere else? Would you have a different job or career? What would your selfies look like if you didn’t have these beliefs.

Okay one more cool way to use social media as a mental tool- social media stalking! Get on your portal of choice and start looking at everyone’s most recent posts. Maybe focus on the last week. What are they doing? Where are they? What assumptions do you find yourself making about their lives? Your Ego defense’s wheelhouse is attaching seemingly logical value to the myriad of ambiguous inputs social media offers.

As an aside, I’d like to petition Instagram to change their name to “I think you’re better than me-agram.” I was kind of hoping Google Glass would work out. I would have created a new social media platform that automatically took pictures in places people tend to not share on social media. Isn’t it amazing how nobody on Instagram EVER eats at McDonald’s yet they serve millions every day? There’d be some sort of filter that if the camera detected kale in the visual field it locked out camera use. Same deal for national landmarks, beaches, and any burger that costs over $5. Instead it would use GPS to identify when you haven’t moved in over an hour, any time you haven’t showered in 48 hrs, and if you have streamed more than 2 episodes in a row of any show where the actors are more than 10 years younger than you. This app would dramatically change who we let people think we are. Alas, one can have dreams.

I wonder what belief is limiting me from creating that anyway? Maybe it’s my belief that this is all Google’s fault for not  designing Google Glass into some Ray Bans.

Future

What will your beliefs cost you and the ones you love 1, 5, 10, or 20 years from now?

Get out your crystal balls because it’s time to predict the future. Some people have a real problem with this from either a logistics or policy standpoint. “I have no idea. I’m not good at coming up with that stuff” (oh look it’s a limiting belief!) or “I don’t think people should fixate on the future” (another one!).

I really like thinking about the future as a creative process. It is remarkably informative about who you are and how your mindset engages the world. Odds are that if you have a negative assumption about where you will be in 20 years you also have a negative assumption about 20 minutes in the future. Or vice versa.

I also think our ideas about the future are less influenced by our Ego defense mechanisms. Anxiety or depressive disorders aside, there is a certain amount of time in the future that we experience as so far away our minds allow anything to be possible. I will argue there is likely a mathematical equation that can determine this using our age and some quantification of our personal risk tolerance. One way to assess this for yourself is to think about silly futuristic dreams. If you had $1 million and had to bet it on a year by which we will be guaranteed to have invented flying cars what would it be? What year would you feel confident saying we will have been to Mars by that time?

This may seem arbitrary but the next step is where we find value. Now that you have your year, and let’s assume you are still alive, write a story about your life then. Are there parts of that story where your beliefs still live? Is your Facebook profile in 2050 still living where you are now? Are you happy? Are you successful? How is 2050 you defining that?

You may notice here that I am selling hard on the creative process. So much so that I will argue that creative writing and acting should be consistent components of education at all levels. The mental muscles they each develop are so important to effective execution of human life. I will jump on my soapbox here a bit.

Our current education system is on the verge of a renaissance and I’m not sure it realizes that. The old/current system that focuses on memorization is as antiquated as the feather pen. Memorization and regurgitation will soon be unnecessary. With that change, or because of it, we will also see a redefining of the role of humans in the world. Robotics promise to make many aspects of our lives and more importantly many jobs obsolete. There will need to be a shift away from humans doing things and toward our unique abilities as a species.

An article I read recently posited that the unique abilities humans have is to care and to create. Very little of how we educate our future generations is instructive on either. Instead the arts are a dwindling force and mental health skill-building is restricted to those with pathology. A simple exercise like the Dickens Process could easily be part of an elementary school curriculum. It would teach creativity, problem-solving, and emotional interpersonal connectedness.

100 years ago education was a luxury. Maybe in 100 more years mental healthcare will no longer be restricted to those with pathology. Until that becomes a reality, give the Dickens Process or some other wellness training a try in your life. Then share it with your kids.

Pay Your Price with Intent

One addition I would make to Tim/Tony’s plan is that maybe the costs of your limiting beliefs are worth it. There is a trend in pursuing health and wellness that the best idea is always this phobic reaction to anything negative. Like Chris Sacca talks about in Tools of Titans and we explored last week, maybe we need a little sour to go with the sweet. I think the goal is to be able to say that you have intentionally allowed the sour. In medicine we call this informed consent. If you are of sound mind and have been made aware of the risks and benefits of your decision you have the autonomy to do as you please. So as you explore your limiting beliefs and assess their cost, finish it with an honest self-discussion of “am I okay with that cost.” If not, change. If so, stay the course. There may be consequences so be prepared. You do give up your right to complain in such a case.

If you focus on living a life of intent you can afford to hold as many limiting beliefs and your budget allows. 

Closing

I like to compare our experiences of mental health to that of physical health. In physical health we have the fitness industry. It has crossover with diet and many other aspects of life. There is a basic structure in the lives of people with good physics health. They often spend time trying new things (fad diets and workout routines). They have periodic objective assessments of progress (checking weight, competing in sports, completing events that utilize their discipline). This system works very well.

We need to develop a culture of having similar systems for our societal mental health. Exercises like the Dickens Process are the TRX straps or Paleo Diet of mental health. Try it. See what it brings. Eventually find something else. Just keep trying and progressing. Always.

“Good”: How to Create Immunity to Negativity and Adversity

“Good”: How to Create Immunity to Negativity and Adversity

Predictably overcoming adversity is a skill you can learn. It is an investment that pays dividends in many ways. It insulates you from the natural ebb and flow of life’s challenges. Additionally you can utilize it to intentionally test the boundaries of comfort and bring qualities to your life you never thought possible. Adversity adaptation then can be as protective as it can be liberating.

Jocko Willink’s chapter “Good” in Tools of Titans outlines a very high-yield way to approach learning this skill. I feel that it is one of the most, if not the most valuable section in the book. I’ve said that about One Small Breath and Meditation as well. However, the value in “Good” is unique because it is more disruptive. For many, saying “take small steps” or “go meditate” is already in their wheelhouse. Fewer people I would argue have “Good” in their arsenal of life tools. Additionally, as Jocko does, he breaks his idea down into very concise, very clear directives. It’s portable, applicable, and user-friendly.

To get the full Jocko experience I recommend not only listening to his full interview on The Tim Ferriss Show but to also listen to his own podcast about “Good”. It’s moving.

His idea is that when adversity presents itself, you should have one response. “Good”. Car accident- “Good” it’s a chance to learn to drive more defensively. Bank account overdrawn- “Good” now you have the motivation to figure your budget out. The person you’re dating breaks up with you- “Good” now you can learn about yourself to improve your quality as a partner OR learn what didn’t work between you to make a stronger choice next time.

One word, “Good” is your passport to a lifestyle of predictable, intentional improvement. You guarantee yourself a net positive trajectory for the rest of your life.

“When things are going bad, there’s going to be some good that will come of it.”

The backbone of “Good” is effectively a Growth Mindset. The Growth Mindset was developed by Carol Dweck Ph.D, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She identifies two ways people can approach the idea of human ability. In the Fixed Mindset our success is related to inherent, static qualities we each have. In this way, a successful person is destined to their fate. Those who feel they are unsuccessful are right where they should be. Alternatively a Growth Mindset allows for our success to be the product of change and modifications that are within our control.

Jocko sells hard on a growth mindset. Many of the concepts he speaks to in the book, his interviews, and his own book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win are the result of his experiences in the military. His background as a combat leader and then trainer of combat leaders has given him a perspective on approaches that are more high-yield than others. In his world, an ineffective technique could mean people die.

By intentionally investing in a paradigm that looks for the positive in any situation, you set yourself up to have the greatest chance of finding growth and change. A person who laments and broods on their misfortune usually only finds change when it surprises them or crisis inspires them to a unique solution. For many people, their lives jump from crisis to crisis. They almost create a system that promotes crisis because that will be the only mechanism where change will occur. That is not a very sustainable system, despite its tendency to sustain for a very long time. Sometimes even among generations or throughout entire cultures.

Finding “Good” in Adversity

Tim nor Jocko are prescriptive on how to find what positive outcomes may be on the table. Tim gets into it a little bit with Fear Setting and Fear Rehearsal. 

Here I turn to professional development text, namely Good to Great by Jim Collins. A hallmark of many successful businesses is the ability to adapt and to avoid assuming they have achieved perfection. He illustrates this in a number of the qualities of great companies he explores. Implicit in them all is a very clear focus, a commitment to a slow, progressive process, and an openness to self-evaluation and critical-thinking.

This offers an understanding of how to engage your life after “Good”. Almost as a trust fall, feel confident that eventually you will remember this moment of adversity happened and will be able to see how it became a growth point. You know that because you are a person who finds growth points. By making a pact with yourself to be of that mindset you can release your hamster-wheel of anxiety and know that it will all work out.

Now this confidence won’t come easily. You likely need to create a plan of testing the waters out before you get there. Try test it with something very low stakes. When something negative happens, don’t rush to correct it. Instead buy into the mindfulness approach: just let it be. Try to use the opportunity to be present and experience what your mind, body, and world do with the information. Like the episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza decides to do the opposite of his usual intuition, what happens when you try something new.

An example I will share from my own life was having my order messed up at a restaurant recently. I’d gone to a place where I really enjoy the burgers. There model is focused on allowing you to build your own burger. The ideal burger, every time. I ordered my masterpiece- medium-rare burger with mustard, mayo, lettuce, pickles, tomato, and cheddar cheese.  My mouth literally just starting watering! My burger arrives. I’m brimming with excitement. Memories of Fourth of July barbecues, family reunions, and backyard birthday parties flood my mind. Amazing that you can access all that for a somewhat reasonable amount of money.

Except it wasn’t amazing. The patty was medium-well at best. They forgot the pickles. It was American cheese. There would be no further nostalgia today. Memories blocked. Frustration building. Every part of me wanted to go into the kitchen Gordon Ramsey-style, throw the patty on the counter, grab some pickles, stuff it down the cook’s shirt, and call them a donkey. Well maybe not that big, but SOMETHING. Then it occurred to me, I had been given an opportunity.

This burger was not my ideal burger. However it was something different. This exact burger is probably somebody else’s ideal burger. That actually may be how the mix-up happened: there likely is someone in the room hating their pickled, raw, orange-dyed cheese mess. I could exercise my sense of justice here and send it back. They would not care. However I would not grow.

Instead sitting here and eating this error-burger would offer many opportunities to learn something.  For one I would learn how this particular burger tasted. I could officially confirm it is not in the running for ideal burger. I could just as likely learn that some aspect of this version is really good! Who knows, maybe a life-changing experience is ahead of me. I’ve been surprised by those before. Eating my same burger would offer me no chance of that discovery.

Additionally, playing to my emotional side rather than my intellectual side, I could use this as an opportunity to practice not reacting to disappointment. Disappointment strikes regularly. We probably all experience it of varying intensity at least once a day. Practicing tolerance can be hard in a moment when you are REALLY disappointed. Maybe, by sitting here and eating this other person’s burger, I can allow myself an opportunity to improve my tolerance for when big disappointment happens.

When I decided to do this it opened up another door. I realized that to truly pay respect to sitting with disappointment, to wholly say “Good” to this burger, I needed to also avoid indulging in justice behaviors. Part of me wanted to tell the waitress “I wanted to let you know they messed up my order. I’m fine with this but in case you wanted to know.” Maybe she had other problems with the chef and this would be another data point to prove her side. My mind also contemplated sharing with people at the table that I had my order messed up. However that would not be “Good”. That would be “hey everyone, look at what I’m doing, see how special I am for tolerating everyone’s mess” or “I’m really not “Good” but I’m trying to be. Instead I’m “Good” with reservations of “Bad”.” I decided I would be most proud of this accomplishment if I could leave the room and continue my life without anyone but me ever knowing about the mistake. Well… until I just wrote this. Damn. That didn’t quite work out as I planned it.

Don’t be “Mr. Smiley Positive Guy”

Jocko makes a very valuable point to note that this isn’t a license to manufacture some falsely positive personality. That doesn’t pay respect to the challenge you are facing. Minimizing the challenge is not part of the prescription. The idea is to create a change. To learn. To grow and progress thanks to this opportunity.

I think there are two additional disclaimers here. One is that people may not be comfortable finding a silver-lining in their challenges. For some that belittles the adversity they have endured. Survivors of abuse may fall into this category. This sentiment is taking a larger and larger role on the center stage of our media and popular culture. Some people find it revolting to consider changing themselves in response to the harms brought to them by others.

I don’t have a great answer for this. Those people are right. All thoughts we have are right for us until they are not. If applying a growth mindset to something negative in your life doesn’t sit well you probably shouldn’t use that lens right now. There may be some aspect of your life that needs you to be present with adversity for now. My only urging is to try to stay aware of what your current mindset is costing you. Make sure you can sit and confidently say “I am voluntarily experiencing that cost to create a greater good in my life.” Spend regular time checking in with his because that act will make sure you don’t get swallowed up by adversity and find yourself in regret.

The power position for any person is to be able to allow themselves exposure to adversity for the sake of intentional progress so long as they have the knowledge that they will pull out of adversity if needed. That last part is the hardest. That is the muscle I am proposing you exercise when making something like a burger grounds for growth practice. Improving your ability to sit with the present and familiar with what are the factors that signal your need to eject. 

The other piece to speak to is that there are two voices here. Justice and “Good” are not misaligned. We all need to have a clear understanding of our personal moral and ethical boundaries. When those are compromised, we have to be ready to hold the line. In that way it is possible both to recognize the breach of our ethics, act to identify or correct the source of it, but also take the time to find our own “Good” in it as a growth point.

Someone broke into my car a few weeks ago. We left the doors unlocked overnight and one of the kids had turned the overhead light on when leaving the car. It was a beacon in the night for the neighborhood burglar (yes, it appears we have one). Justice did need to be served. Police, HOA, and neighbors needed to know. What was done was wrong and violates my internal values of how you treat people. After attending to those justice points, I chose to leave that muscle behind. I instead looked for my growth point. It led to a very provocative internal monologue about safety, progressing human morality, income disparity, the cost of addiction, the role of a parent, and the naivety of perceived safety. In the end I found an answer that I felt represented the most important of those ideas for me to grow. It was the one where I felt the most provocation and distance between where I was and where I wanted to be.

Today your life is going to give you an opportunity to engage “Good”. You may have to ask for it. Are you a person who gets excited for progress reports? If you have a job, when is your next performance review scheduled? Why isn’t it today? If you are in a relationship, when is the next time your significant other will let you know how you are doing? Will it happen on a Hallmark-sponsored holiday when good news is the only allowable topic? Will it happen during your next fight when emotion creates the necessary collateral to earn “honesty”? Why isn’t it today? If you are someone who has money, when do you next audit your budget and finances? Is it during our annual financial stress test every April? Is it planned for the moment your card gets declined? Why isn’t it today.

Each of these represent an opportunity to test-drive your ability to engage good. Maybe one of these ideas today has left you uncomfortable with the idea of a Growth Mindset. Maybe you have evaluated your progress and are feeling nervous. Maybe you are completely disregarding all my words because it doesn’t pass muster for you.

“Good.”

I look forward to your feedback.