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.

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.


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.


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.


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. 


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.


I look forward to your feedback.

Meditation Tips from Tools of Titans

Meditation Tips from Tools of Titans

The word meditation shows up 78 times in Tim Ferriss’ book Tools of Titans. You may remember that much of the inspiration for this blog was to be able to share the lessons within the book. Both in statistical volume (an estimated 80% of Titans interviewed have some mindfulness practice) and in qualitative value, Tools of Titans is a great handbook on meditation. Here are all the references with annotation from me (“KS:”) as I explored them. I’m intentionally forgoing other derivatives of the word for brevity’s sake.

Jason Nemar– “oftentimes before meditation, I’ll just open it randomly to page. I read about something and then just have that be what I steep in.”

KS: this is further proof to me of the variable, less dogmatic nature of meditation. Here I see Jason using meditation as a playing field for mindful training. He’s kicking a ball around a field. The process of meditation is more important than the specifics. These tricks can be key for meditation new-comers. Try it! I recommend finding something you are interested in improving and reading something totally unrelated. Then try to let your mind “steep” in how an unrelated item can inform your desired area of improvement. This indirect learning can be extremely valuable and a great way to experience a form of meditation.

Peter Attia– he found the ability to achieve a regular meditative practice through Transcendental Meditation (TM).

KS: you are going to see TM pop-up over and over. It’s like the Toyota Prius of meditation.  Everyone knows it and assumes it’s good. That’s not to say it’s bad by any means. As Tim speaks to in the book, if you can afford it good on ya. However if you want to use a random word generator to find a mantra and say that over and over you won’t be far off. So long as you are meditating. I’m all about low-cost, available to all options and resist things that may be popular because they are well marketed. I have no experience with TM. Many very successful people like it a lot. Heck, Arnold recommends it. That alone is worth giving it a go.

Dan Engle– promotes Flotation Tank as being “like meditation on steroids” especially 2-hour sessions

KS: I really want to try this. It sounds so incredibly boring to me that I have to assume my subconscious is trying to protect me from some tremendously valuable experience that will reshape my thought pattern. Plus Homer Simpson did it so it has to be cool (results may vary). There is a theme I’m starting to encounter where people, intentionally deprived of their usual system for extended amounts of time, experience massive gains. Fasting, sweat lodges (with a touch of delirium), silent retreats, floating, sauna, cold exposure, and even endurance sports all may tap into this same dynamic. When multiple things achieve the same end it leaves me wondering if there is some common undercurrent we are missing. Maybe it is important for humans to have routine exposure to sensory restriction? Or at least input restriction?

Tim’s Morning Rituals– he meditates every day and prefers a duration of 20 minutes as the first 10-15 minutes are him working out the monkey brain

KS: I went through Tim’s morning rituals extensively before. In meditation, I have yet to hit the 20 minute mark so I can’t speak to this point. However, the way Tim writes about his meditation, it seems that he does more than just focus on the breath. He actually allows his thoughts to run and observes them, letting them do work for him. This is a very cool idea. It can add an extra layer if you are able to learn the patterns in your thought process. This likely will give you personalized tips on how to enter a Flow state. An example of a pattern is starting with identifying problems, then predicting negative outcomes, then poking holes in those ideas, then accepting them and finally getting creative and solving them. To get to Flow quickly you would look for that jump point where you went from negativity to acceptance and try to create that consciously. It can be even higher yield if you can identify the emotions you have at the jump or the environmental factors that make it more likely. Outside v Inside. Quiet v Loud. Morning v Night. Home vs Work. Etc.

Mind Training 101

Tim recommends meditation as a way to observe thoughts rather than affected by them (KS: ah ha! There it is). He found that men tended toward TM and women to vipassana. He also recommends apps like Headspace or Calm. His preferred, non-app guided meditations are those by Sam Harris or Tara Brach. If you can afford it take a TM course. If not do the free version of TM and use mantra by repeating a two-syllable word for 10-20 minutes. He also doubles-down on Chade-Meng Tan’s ideas in the book.

KS: I also like Calm. I haven’t done a guided meditation with Headspace yet. The most consistent thing I hear people use to decide between them is host. Female vs male. American vs Australian accent. Calm has a really cool breath measure function where you can time a pulsating bubble to your breath. Then if you need a cool down in your day you can throw on the app and follow it. This could be hugely valuable for panic attacks.

Tim recommends a 7 day cycle of meditation to really see results. He notes the Dalai Lama once said that 50 hours is a magic number for “life changing effects”.

KS: this gets into minimum effective dose. There probably is a magic number of repetitions for each of us that takes a thing from being an exercise to a routine. I’ve heard people getting a similar “numbers = efficacy” from push-ups, Foundation Training’s “Do a Founder”, headstands, and diets.  When multiple disciplines utilize the same function it is likely the function that is important rather than the discipline. Yeah so stick with something for 7 days and try to do it for over a month. Try to pay attention for your unique equation for when efficacy turns on. It likely is applicable to other things you want to turn on.

Again he focuses on 20 minutes as the most effective duration of meditation. However he allows that Tan’s idea that one breath constitutes a successful meditation so don’t obsess over being good at it. This is where he quotes Tara Brach “the muscle you’re working is bringing your attention back to something.” If you are getting frustrated your standard are too high or your sessions are too long.

KS: I LOVE this idea! 20 minutes is great but 1/60th minutes is good enough. I wrote about this in our article on taking small steps but still having a bigger goal on the table. Meditation is such an easy way to start testing out this idea that small is the best place to start and if you ask something of yourself and you don’t do it immediately you have asked too much. Failure to execute is most often the result of poor planning. Here we are saying that you can practice bypassing your status-quo-maintenance mechanisms and experiencing an extremely valuable lesson along the way. Just by learning how to take small steps toward learning how to control your internal attention.

He also shares results. He feels that on days he meditates he gets 30-50% more done with 50% less stress.

KS: before you get all “like anyone can know that Napoleon” on me. When time gives stats, he has done the stats. While he doesn’t reference it, I guarantee he has assessed productivity and tracked it relative to meditation to get these numbers. You can create similar assessments for yourself with some simple planning.

Three Tips from a Google Pioneer

This is Chade-Meng Tan’s chapter. Make about 7 copies of it and position them around the house so they constantly invade your mind. It’s so good.

  1. Have a Buddy– Tim also mentioned this in Mind Training 101. Keep your accountability up by doing it with someone else. Even if it’s not in person. He recommends a 15-minute conversation every week with this buddy talking about two topics- How am I doing with my commitment to my practice? What has arisen in my life that relates to my practice?

KS: this tip is really high yield for ANYTHING you want to make a habit. Accountability is likely a huge part of most things we do regularly- work, social relationships, school. We tend to be more comfortable disappointing ourselves than others. I’ve met few people who would say “I don’t want to be good at meditating.” It should be pretty easy to set up a buddy. Call them on your drive to work once a week. Done. Then go and set up a buddy for your goals in fitness, finance, career, etc. In theory most of our weeks offer the opportunity to engage 10 separate buddy systems. Two a day, 5 days a week. This is similar to the mastermind concept in Think and Grow Rich and other business development books. Imagine that: you could set up 10 aspects of your life to be virtually guaranteed to be on a more positive trajectory than they are today.

  1. Do Less Than You Can– if you can sit for 5 minutes without it feeling like a chore, don’t sit that long. Sit 3-4 minutes. Maybe use that ease to allow you to do it more times a day. Any practice that is experienced as a chore is not sustainable.

KS: there’s a reason this idea pops up in so many places- fitness, investing, psychotherapy, education. It is essential! I might even sell this as the most important part of any developmental goal. Endurance athletes are all-in on this one. It’s the base work idea I talked about last week. Focus on building a consistent easy habit. Then when you need it you can go max effort to try to improve your overall system. Do not try to learn something by max effort or even more-than-easy effort. It is a set-up to fail. Crash diets are maybe the best proof of that. Meditation is supposed to be a restorative and fulfilling experience. Do what it takes to do it. Whatever that means. Get good at it later.

  1. Take One Small Breath– your commitment for any day is to take one small breath. This speaks to his value of momentum and sustainability. Being able to do it every day is important, whatever it takes. He also notes that the execution of intended meditation is itself a meditation. By merely doing executing your plan to meditate you have made a big step, so try to execute your plan a lot.

KS: I won’t belabor the point too much as this section was largely the inspiration for the whole post. I will only say that this point is so important you really want to absorb it. If there are ANY “I wish I could”, “if only I”, etc this is the way to make them reality. This method is a time machine that can allow you to become skilled at predicting the future.

Meng’s Exercises

Just Note Gone– Tan really likes this one: “This is no doubt one of the most important meditation practices of all time.” Train your mind to notice that something previously experienced is gone. Such as the end of a breath noting that the breath is over. “Gone”. Notice a thought ending. “Gone”. Here it may not be so much that you make it end or make it go, but that you get very good at recognizing “gone” happening.  “Whenever all or part of a sensory experience suddenly disappears, note that.” He recommends using a mental label, similar to a mantra you say when you notice “gone”. He notes that this practice can be very helpful in crisis or extreme scenarios of emotion as well as everyday challenges. The ability to intentionally bring relief taking note of “gone” rather than each new arrival of stress can be very valuable.

KS: this is very powerful. Much of the process of anxiety is the intentional perpetuation of an emotion or stressful situation. You may not intend it, but the anxious mind certainly does. It thinks this system of rumination is what is going to save your life. You’d be much better off if you instead expended your mental energy on being aware of when the present state you want to change is gone. Also, by focusing on “gone” you are telling your brain “this will eventually end”. It is accepting “gone” as a realistic outcome. Anxious thinking does not offer this idea. Link this up with some radical acceptance or Jocko Willink’s “Good” and you have a recipe for immediate termination of anxious crisis.

Loving-Kindness and the Happiest Day in 7 Years– when he does talks on wellness he likes to include this exercise. He asks the audience to identify 2 people and think to themselves “I wish for this person to be happy”. This underlines the value we personally gain by helping others. Even if only in metaphysical thought. He extends this to the workplace: “randomly identify two people who walk past you or who are standing or sitting around you. Secretly wish for them to be happy. Just think to yourself, “I wish for this person to be happy”. He also recommends a more formal version where you are sitting and identify someone in your mind and offer them happiness. If it brings you joy stay with the joy and recognize it until it is “gone”. Once that happens let your mind rest for the completion of the minute of this cycle. Repeat the cycle three times. Tim prefers a single 3-5 minute session at night and thinks of three people he hope to find happiness. He breaks this into two current friends and one he hasn’t seen in some time.

KS: another super high-yield idea! If you’ve ever been to a Catholic Mass (I’m sure other religions do this too) there is a moment where they stop and ask everyone to turn to the people around them and offer them blessings. You generally shake hands with strangers and hug or kiss family. It may be the best part of the service. Regardless of your religious beliefs, there is something this exercise unfortunately evokes. We don’t engage people like this very often. Tan’s exercise is an exercise because that lack of appreciation and interpersonal connectedness is our reality. Personal development and self-improvement is a very isolating process. You need that to some extent because ideally the gains are irrefutably your doing. However, it is so valuable to build some process in that allows you to connect and appreciate others. Even if only in your mind.


Arnold Schwarzenegger- he speaks to doing TM for one year when his acting career started taking off. He did 20 minutes in the morning and evening. After about 14 days he could “really disconnect my mind and stay and find a few seconds of this connection and rejuvenate the mind and learn how to focus more and calm down.” Though he doesn’t practice now, he sees this as a skill he learned that still pays dividends today. He also speaks to using his workouts as meditation.

 KS: he elaborates more on the idea of using workouts as meditation. I suggest reading it as more data to support my claim that meditation can happen anywhere. Even in settings the mindfulness and meditative community might not support as true to the practice.

Matt Mullenweg– he uses Calm for his meditative practice

 KS: he’s another person that I tend to buy into anything he’s selling. He has such a rich sense of analysis that you can even hear it in how he experiences language in conversation. Very similar to Rick Rubin. If he likes an app, odds are it is worth your time.

Tony Robbins– almost all of Tony’s section could be read as information on meditation. He speaks instead to a priming exercise he does every morning. Cold water plunge for 30-60 seconds. Then 3 sets of 30 reps of a breathing exercise or doing breath walking. He then does a 9-10 minute exercise that he finds helps him ready for the emotions of the day. This includes feeling grateful for 3 things, experiencing the presence of God, and finally “Three to Thrive”- the 3 things he is going to do today.

KS: I really like experiencing Tony in interviews. The written word doesn’t capture him adequately. I find I can’t listen to a whole interview in one sitting. It’s too much information and there isn’t a casual moment to digest. That’s his intent and it works. As his Netflix special suggests, I don’t buy-in that he is some unique guru. He is a fantastic showman. He has an amazing ability to create energy and connect with people quickly. That said it is undeniable how much passion he has. He operates in an extreme of energy and endurance. Therefore when he offers an idea the best approach is to look for ways you can adapt it to your life. His meditative ideas and morning routine aren’t that different from Tim’s in structure. They do in energy and kinetics. Underneath the hood, his ideas are some of the best in the business. Some people, myself included, need to brush past the pitch to find that.

Chase Jarvis– quoting Maya Angelou, “Creativity is an infinite resource. The more you spend, the more you have.” He gave this quote as a comparison to meditation.

KS:  there are so many different thoughts this little quote evokes. Instead of riffing on my usual “everyone needs creativity” I  will instead speak to it as a societal component. I read an article recently that talked about the rise of robotics and the effect of automation and artificial intelligence on the future of man. What distills down is that the unique human qualities that hopefully will never be automated are caring and creativity. We hopefully will never cross the uncanny valley and bond with computers like  Joaquin Phoenix in Her. We also should not underestimate the value of our brains’ ability to create things that don’t exist. This doesn’t have to only be art or invention. However it likely will become increasingly important that we foster those abilities from an early age. Most of our academic system is based on memorizing. We cannot memorize better than a computer. So stop trying. Instead try to think how you could bring more creativity to your life and how you might raise your kids to be experts as creation and caring.

Ed Catmull– he practices vipassana meditation for 30-60 minutes a day.

 KS: that’s a long meditation. Respect.

Justin Boreta– practices 20 minutes of TM every morning and afterward does kettlebell swings

 KS: I’ve not done this but I think that the idea of incorporating the two is extremely important. Like maybe revolutionary levels of important. I will get to this more another time. For now let me point out that meditation is something the mindful people are saying is one of the most important single exercises you can do. Kettlebell swings are something the fitness people are saying may be one of the most important single exercises you can do. Hmm.

Will MacAskill– his most gifted book is Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. He likes its introduction to meditation and 8 week guided meditation course.

 KS: I don’t know this book but definitely need a resource to be able to tell people how to quickly get the ball rolling on meditating. I will have to give it a look.

Sam Harris– this is another chapter to dive into for so many valuable insights on mindfulness. He speaks to meditation as a way to achieve self-transcendence. He also condenses a description of the very popular vipassana meditation as “paying exquisitely close, non-judgmental attention to whatever you’re experiencing anyway.” He also advocates meditative retreats and specially silent retreats as a way to take your mediation to a much higher level. His final recommendation is to take any opportunity you can to meditate while looking at the sky, ideally with the horizon in sight as well. 

KS: Naval Ravikant also speaks to the value of looking at the horizon. Particularly given our current trajectory of our plane of focus moving closer and closer to our nose. We’ve now seen a few different people speaking to the value of being outside. We are pack animals so it makes sense that being isolated inside four walls isn’t to our natural state. His description of vipassna meditation sounds similar to Naval’s walking meditation and Tim’s experience of being an observer of his own thoughts. I like that!

Rick Rubin– his interview is far more valuable than his section in the book. Not to discount he book. That’s how good the interview is. He talks about the role of sauna and ice baths in his wellness practice. He talks about standing in the sun to help with his sleep. It’s just great.

KS:  I really want to advocate for someone to take a recording of Rick’s interview, edit out Tim (no offense 🙂 ) and set it as a sleep aid. His voice is a case study in cadence and prosody. We treat seasonal affective disorder with light therapy. Sit in front of a light of a certain lumen for X time and you may feel better. Rick is doing that with the sun. Highly recommended. Just like you are thirsty when dehydrate, you may notice a craving for warmth and sun around February or March. There may be a physiological reason for that.

 The Soundtrack of Excellence- Tim notes that the remaining 20% of people who don’t feel they meditate have some mediation-like activity. He noted a lot of people utilizing listening to a single song on repeat.

 KS: is a mantra in TM that different from listening to Radiohead’s Paranoid Android over and over again? Probably not. There is value here for background noise during productivity sessions. Sounds like you need to find your song.

Amanda Palmer– practices vipassana meditation “basically sitting on earth as a human being and paying attention to your breath and your body and letting thoughts come and go, but really trying not to be attached to the drama that comes visiting.”

 KS: another vipassana person doing a wonderful job describing their practice. I am liking this idea of it being more about awareness than a specific focus. I might have to amend my recommended meditation routine to use this as the cool down or maybe even the base work.

Eric Weinstein– he speaks to a practice he uses to engage extremely creative work. He sends his mind a shock by repeating a 7-second phrase of obscenities. His hypothesis is that this engagement of taboo opens up his mind to a new space that it doesn’t usually enter. Almost like a key saying “it’s okay to go where you don’t usually.”

 KS: there are similar practices I’ve heard from actors and singers. A cathartic session to get things warmed up. Not necessarily obscenities. I really like the idea of intentionally breaking down your Ego defenses and seeing what is on the other side. Especially in today’s culture of minimizing people’s experience of offense (good thing) I’m concerned it may create inhibit our willingness to mentally explore that space (bad thing) if only for learning.

Rainn Wilson- for better or worse Rainn identifies that he is plagued by internal monologue. It helps in many ways to achieve success but is also a burden. To counter this he will meditate or exercise. His goal is just to find “normal”.

 KS: another person advocating the use of exercise as a component of mindfulness! I love the concept of seeking normal. Much of what people experience when they first enter the space of mindfulness and meditation is this unrealistic idea of being perfect. Floating two inches off the ground in a lotus position and being totally incapable of any judgment or reaction. Why not first shoot for “normal”. Whatever that means to you. Maybe even leave it intentionally ambiguous like that. Where you are going is less important than it is a place you want to go.

Tara Brach- her chapter is microscopic relative to the value of her interview. Despite this micro-scale size, it has one of the most valuable ideas in the book. As part of her meditative practice she does an exercise she calls Inviting Mara to Tea. The short version is that this is an exercise of taking the part of yourself that you wish was different and having an accepting time where you meet with that person. You experience them and find a way to have that version of you exist without it plaguing you.

KS: The act of suppression or phobic avoidance creates problems. Acceptance and intentional management go hand in hand. It is often the process by which people achieve lasting real change in psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapy. Many people think change involves doing the opposite. They feel that by simply identifying a desire to change they have targeted a problem. Instead, people who tend to operate in a very stable, positive place are able to allow for the ambivalence of it all. “My present state is no better or worse than the state I hope to achieve. I am not creating change to compensate for failure. I am creating change because “over there” is where I want to go at this point. In a while, I may not want to be their either. I may come back to where I was initially. Who knows. We will see when it happens.” That to me is what Inviting Mara to Tea is about.


Josh Waitzkin- he sells the idea that if you want “to turn it on, learn to turn it off”. He finds that meditation and interval training (HIIT, Tabata, etc) are good for getting your mind strong in this ability.

 KS: well look what we have here! Josh thinks interval training is important. Even mental interval training. Just like last week’s post Meditate Like It’s CrossFit . Anxiety is a state of the mind being on more than off. Most people who work in productivity or inter-personally driven jobs are likely on more than off. Jobs will spend lots of resources teaching people to get their highest level of productivity. Then send you home to figure it out. Josh is another one whose interviews are so awesomely dense it deserves it’s own book. If you are keeping score, those people now include Naval Ravikant, Matt Mullenweg, Tony Robbins, Rick Rubin, Laird Hamilton/Gabby Reece, Tara Brach, and Josh Waitzkin. Josh is so extremely cerebral it is almost intimidating. The net effect of this for me is that, similar to Tim, if he says it is a good idea it likely is the result of a LOT of thought and testing.

John Favreau- he found the idea for his movie Chef in the middle of a meditation. It would be interesting if Tim were to go back and quiz his guests about how many of their defining moments have occurred during meditation.

KS: I like closing on this note. You never know what you might find until you try something new. John found an idea that led to a very successful movie. Particularly if you have never practiced meditation, imagine what you may be missing.

Meditate Like It’s CrossFit 

Meditate Like It’s CrossFit 

I’ve been sitting on this post for over a year. I’ve rewritten it in my head dozens of times. I’ve taken it on a test drive with patients and myself. I’ve changed my mind. I’ve retooled. Now it is time.

Meditation is one of the most effective tools one can bring to their pursuit of wellness. The skill it teaches is likely the backbone of most effective psychotherapies- taking one’s will and executing it. That is not the tagline meditative practices would offer. Today I will explore why I am selling hard on this different approach. Regardless, meditation is one of the most valuable skills a person can have. Yet it still remains a largely uncommon practice.

One of the challenges is that few people realize they already meditate. Or at least that some activity they already do can become meditation by applying a mental framework. Do you have a thing you do that brings you calmness? Maybe something that can reliably improve your day or even a moment? Chances are you are on the doorstep of meditation each time.

Meditation may be the single most valuable tool in Tools of Titans. It pops up everywhere and next to diet seems to have the largest footprint in the book. Tim tackles it in his section called “Mind Training 101”, then again in Chade-Meng Tan’s section immediately after it. Arnold Schwarzenegger weighs in. Josh Waitzkin, Jason Nemar, Peter Attia, Tara Brach, Chase Jarvis, Rick Rubin, Tony Robbins, etc, etc, etc. Tim estimates over 80% of Titans have some meditative practice. Many of their routines didn’t even make it into the book.
Clearly meditation is intrinsic to some sort of intentional outcome that elite performers rely on accessing.

My background in meditation is absolutely nil. It was for hippies. When I started osteopathic medical school I read Touch of Life by Robert Fulford to get some perspective on manipulative medicine. It talked through meditation. I have tried progressive muscle relaxation a few times in my life. I went to a few yoga or Pilates classes. That’s about it. Nothing I would call a wellness practice.

When I started listening to Tim’s podcast I was hesitant to buy high on meditation. Sure a bunch of rich people do this. They probably don’t go to work until 10am and work it in between their personal chef’s breakfast and their personal training sessions in their giant home gym. It was also too metaphysical for me. Mind you, I had no basis for that idea. It was all stigma. Assumptions that made me feel better about not doing it. 

However meditation kept coming up in podcasts. It wasn’t a bunch of hot air either. Naval Ravikant does it while walking. Rick Rubin does it in the sun. Tara Brachs interview is one of the best descriptions of a morning I can think of having. I think it was Josh Waitzkin and Arnold Schwarzenegger that finally sold me. The former made it sound very scientific. The latter, well, I will take any advice he has. I figured this must be something to look into.

What really stuck with me was a quote by Tara that also made it into the book: “the muscle you’re working is bringing your attention back to something.” This was a watershed moment. I’d heard people talk about mental muscles before in the context of professional development. It made sense. It removed the mysticism and religious association I had from the orange guys that would sit on Hayden Lawn at ASU. It was a mental skill no different than the process I used to help people in therapy. Even a mental skill needed practice and maintenance.

Meditation isn’t some Buddhist thing that requires bendy hips, water fountains, and ferns. It is a skill. A skill you need to have in your life every day like exercise. Having it present brings baseline gains in addition to episodic benefits when you really need it.

In my mind mediation is the practice of taking your thoughts from where they are to where you want them to be. Psychotherapy highlights the ways that this skill is undeveloped. People who consider themselves skilled at executing a plan generally also have a high degree of skill at directing their thoughts and managing their emotions. The muscle that allows them to problem solve a crisis allows them to efficiently shift focus from unhelpful thoughts to ones that work. It’s not to say they are perfect at it but they are better than most. I hypothesize that is why so many Titans meditate. They routinely need to access the ability to navigate stress (“challenges”) and be able to dictate where their emotions reside at certain times.

Any act that furthers that skill constitutes meditation so long as you have actively decided to engage it. Running becomes meditative if you dedicate a portion of your workout to taking your thoughts away from your sore feet or the stitch in your side. Listening to music in the car is meditative if you set aside a time each day where you practice letting your thoughts dwell on the lyrics or a single instrument in a song. As Chade-Meng Tan points out, just one breath is mediatation. In this way meditation is a tool you have in your pocket at every moment.

Another barrier to the widespread meditative practice we all should have is time. We don’t think we have any more for anything. You really do have time to meditate. If you did any of the following today you had an opportunity to meditate- brushed teeth, showered, sat in a car, use the restroom, rode an elevator, walked a block. Finding time is the easy part. Deciding you are going to do what you ask of yourself is hard.

Luckily there is no right way to do it. Doing it with intent is more valuable than the amount of time spent or the method used. As is very Buddhist and mindful, the idea that you have to do it a certain way has already missed the point. In this way I even find the recommendation to be present somewhat leading. Why is my breath more valueable than thinking with contentedness about my last vacation? I don’t think it is. Therefore it is important to reframe it to say “I should focus on whatever I want to give my attention”.

If I can focus on anything why is everyone so emphatic about the breath? There certainly are some very metaphysical answers here that I can’t do justice. Instead I like to think that your breath is a reliable tool you can take with you anywhere. It is always the same (generally). It is always under your control or on autopilot. No one is responsible for your breath but you. In this way the breath is a very valuable training tool. Think of it as the TRX straps of mindfulness. 

At this point I am certainly upsetting a lot of people with my wild claims about meditation. Already I’ve challenged dogma and offered ideas that are not meditation or mindfulness at all. Well, keep following me if you will.

What I want to do now is walk through my preferred method of meditation. Next week I will supplement this with analyzing the ideas about meditation in Tools of Titans. There are so many in the book I don’t want to divide the focus of a single post.

Meditating by Intent

Phase 1: The Prime

As with anything you are trying to make a habit, if you can add a repeatable introduction step you are more likely to find success. This “priming” gives your body and mind a cue of what you are about to do. It engages muscle memory more effectively.

Golfers addressing a shot, tennis players at service, basketball free throws, and baseball pitchers and batters pre-pitch are perfect examples. They will sometimes call it a trigger because the actions set a sequence in motion.

Therefore I recommend starting out with something high yield you can do in about 30 seconds to get the rhythm going. By high yield I mean that it makes you feel good or at least that you like doing it. Have fun before the work phase. Wim Hoff does a similar thing every morning with a string or breathing exercises.

I like to start with very deep breaths using a loud forceful inhalation and exhalation. A breath becomes really deep when I can feel my second and third ribs getting in on the game. They have a pump-handle motion compared to the bucket-handle of your mid-thoracic ribs. If you feel for it you can really discern that up and down feel those ribs have during a breath. This extra space is often the difference between the Vital Capacity and Tidal Volume of your breath. In other words, the breath you’re capable of as opposed to the breath you use. I like making it loud because the first minute of meditation is usually where I’m still getting the rambling thoughts out of my head. The noise helps cancel thoughts better than silence. Like a set of Bose headphones for mindfulness.

2. Quiet Phase

We just did our warm up. Now let’s do some base work. In endurance sports, base training is the where you spend most of your time. It is how you build endurance and increase your tolerance for volume rather than speed. It’s low and slow to minimize injury and not engage your anaerobic system.

I think this is a perfect analogy for anything sustainable you want to bring to your life. You won’t be able to run a marathon by doing wind sprints every day for 30 minutes. In the marathon of life, your emotions are better managed by building your mindful base. Quiet, slow, easy, repeatable meditation.

Here I would shoot for 50-75% of your total meditation time. In a 10-minute meditation that would be 5-7 minutes. Allow your natural breath to dominate. As thoughts return or focus wanders, try to recognize it is happening and very softly and slowly return to your breath. If you feel you are “snapping back” to breath-focus it’s counterproductive. That snap is an expression of your judgment that you are making a mistake in meditation.

3. The Work Phase

Okay I’ve already committed mindfulness heresey but now I’m going to double-down on that. As with any skill you want to improve, why wouldn’t you throw a little challenge into the mix? Some will argue that the natural course of life will create enough challenge to help you achieve meditative skill. Okay, I agree. However that sets the bar quite high. For some they are finding meditation in a moment of emotional crisis. “Here go practice not focusing on your crisis” doesn’t help.

Instead I like the idea of creating multiple focal sources and moving between them. It is a basic skill in endurance sports where athletes will practice mentally focusing on their form, their breathing, their environment all in a predetermined rhythm. The idea being that if I practice that movement when I don’t need it, it will be there when I do.

Two things I think are the highest yield for this are music and a metronome. With music I like to practice separating out different instruments. I will alternate between them and then come back to the breath. Guitar. Breath. Drums. Breath. Cow bell. Images of Will Ferrell’s belly. Breath. With a metronome I like to alternate between being aware of my breath and aware of the metronome. Almost to see if I can become unaware of the other.

To make it more concrete I would treat this like a Tabata/HIIT/Fartlek exercise. 20 seconds hard, 10 seconds easy, 20 seconds hard, 10 seconds easy, etc. Repeat for 8 cycles (16 total reps) and do two sets. This will take your meditation over 10 minutes. You can either alternate base and work days with a 70% focus on base or you can decrease the time for your cycles. Just keep a 2:1 ratio hard:easy.

4. Cool Down 

The best part of any workout is the end. I like Josh Waitzkin’s idea of ending any task on a high-quality note. This sets you up for future success by leaving your subconscious and conscious associations in a positive place. This will increase your likelihood of meditating again.

Here I steal from Naval Ravikant’s practice of walking meditation. Let’s close our session out with eyes wide-open and a positive appreciation of the world around you. From the moment you leave your meditation the world is going to return to its mission of affecting your life. Why not create time to intentionally enjoy this affectiveness? Experience appreciation and gratitude for what these moments offer you. Call on any of your 5 senses to provide you input.

It can be so powerful to be able to say “I spend a portion of every day appreciating my world.” That’s another very common routine for people Tim interviews.

Okay so once again, I recognize I am offering an idea that is not meditation by the classic sense. Much of what meditation is and why it is thought to be effective is exactly counter to what I have outlined. I agree. It is blasphemy.

However I have met many people who don’t think meditation works for them. So they don’t do it. I have also met many athletes who speak emphatically about the game-changer it can be to do mental training similar to how I’ve outlined. So why not have a go? By building this skill eventually you will that marathon runner who can go out have fun running when a race isn’t on the line. So too will you be able to meditate daily when you don’t need it and kick it up when life challenges you to a race.

Fear-rehearsal: Train Yourself to Withstand Anything

Fear-rehearsal: Train Yourself to Withstand Anything

Fear is a perception relative to one’s confidence that everything will be okay.

On one end of the spectrum are Phobias, while daredevils exist on the opposite side. The only difference between them is the relationship between past experience and future expectation. To a person with a phobia of driving, every person hauling to work across the Golden Gate Bridge is Evil  Knievel. Alternatively Jimmy Chin is not overly concerned with sleeping in a basket on a granite cliff-face, in a storm, after climbing for 4 days in a row.

Fear-rehearsal, as introduced in Tim Ferriss’ book Tools of Titans, is what we therapists call Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy. In the last post we discussed the first step in ERP: defining your fear. The method here is that if you can progressively introduce yourself to a fear-trigger you can eventually overcome it. Along the way you are honing your skills for distress tolerance, mindfulness, and coping. It’s kind of like saying you want to bench your body weight so you start increasing the weight on the bar by 5 lbs a month. (Look! It’s that small steps thing again. That must be really important.)

The best example of fear-rehearsal in Tools of Titans is Rolf Potts’ section and his book Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to World Travel. Rolf is committed to sharing the value of testing assumptions and expanding our portfolio of experiences. Similar to Andrew Zimmern and food, Rolf doesn’t want us to miss out on all the world can offer.  Not only for the experience but for the growth-potential as a human.

What I love most about Rolf’s approach to travel is that it is developed to allow any human to do it at any moment in time. It’s a method you can adapt to your opportunities. You can vagabond this weekend for a single day without question. I get a little frustrated when self-help guys (which Rolf is not) offer answers that the general person cannot afford. “Find wellness inside this cryotherapy device that costs thousands of dollars.” Gee, thanks. For me, don’t even talk about those ideas. Tell me how to do it in my home tonight.

Another reason I think that Vagabonding is a great prescription for fear-rehearsal is that in our society money is a very significant component of a wide-array of fears. Work stress. Being a provider for one’s family. Projecting future prosperity. Engagement of fun, leisure and wellness. Money can have some impact on each of these and many others. If we can insulate ourselves from that fear we can find freedom and power.

In America’s capitalism-driven society we tend to answer any question involving money with the idea to make more. While that can work it creates a “have to” mentality and exposes us to not being able to retreat. I love how The Art of War informs this in emphasizing how important it is that a general not fear retreat. You are the general of your life. If you refuse to retreat you will lose the battle.

Vagabonding and Tools of Titans then are both emphasizing the need to practice retreating. Fear-setting is exactly that. If I lost my job tomorrow what would my life look like? Can I go practice that? Rolf has found more value in his travels walking around looking for a cafe full of old locals than he has on organized tours or site seeing. He also loves the experience of getting lost in a city with no agenda or plan. The best part is that both of these ideas are free and they can be done in Paris just as easily as they can in Fresno.

Rolf sells big on the idea that taking sabbaticals is a great way to achieve vagabonding. However I challenge that day-long sabbaticals are a great place to start. They are called “days off” and we have them every week (hopefully). What I will do now is work through how a person might approach setting up a vagabonding sabbatical for one day. I will do this through the character of Ellen.

Ellen is very unhappy with her life and feels trapped. She isn’t quite sure what would bring joy to her life. However she is fairly certain her job keeps her from it. When talking with her family about her situation she often finds herself saying “I just wish I could…”.

What follows from there is an idea that is then quickly defeated by “…but I can’t.”

Ellen did her fear-setting exercises. She is worried that if she leaves this job she will have to start at the bottom again. She has student loans to pay, a hefty health insurance payment, not to mention an emotional debt to herself for “failing”. Ultimately there is also a movie playing in the background of her mind that this job is the only think keeping her from joining Viggo Mortensen on “The Road”.

Effectively Ellen’s fear of these catastrophic outcomes is stronger than her disdain for her quality of life. For some reason it is easier to trade her own happiness to avoid an unrealistic, imaginative scenario. However, in her mind it is realistic and actual. So great, let’s call her fear’s bluff.

Ellen’s fear-assumptions exist in two spheres:

1. “It’s Not Possible For Anyone” Assumption– financial burden of health insurance and loans is not modifiable.

To beat this Ellen could contact her health insurance company to learn the income qualifications for state-funded insurance. She can contact her student loan provider to understand the requirements for low-income repayment plan.

Doing this she may find that if she lost all her income and got a minimum-wage, full-time job she could qualify for health insurance at $1 a month after tax credits. Sure she may end up with out-of-pocket costs that exceed her income, but she may be able to negotiate that down. Regardless she’d have health insurance.

Her student loans are similar. If she got that minimum-wage job at a  non-profit or government job she could make income-based payments for 10 years and be done with them. At 10% of a minimum-wage salary it would be tough but not the end. She may decide that a few years of no payment due to economic hardship may be worth the accrued interest if it really came to it.

Now she has some solid numbers. If she lost her job she would be looking at living off around $17000 a year after taxes.
2. “I Can’t” Assumption- I need my current lifestyle.

Now with some parameters in front of her, Ellen can set off on testing what she really “can’t” do. This part involves intentionally getting a little bit uncomfortable. Almost any lasting gain achieved in life comes on the back-end of tolerable, planned discomfort. This is the foundation of fitness training. It is why rags-to-riches stories happen. Chris Sacca talks about this “sweet and sour” in Tools of Titans. Rolf Potts and Tim Ferriss intentionally create it. Though Rolf’s is less directly therapeutic in design.

What Ellen needs to do is figure out what life on $17k is like. What is life on $1400 a month like? What is life on $50 a day like? One thing is for sure, she will likely be leaving the Bay Area. If she held to the tenet of spending 20% of income on housing she would be looking for a $350 a month room. Well now hold on… that’s an assumption.

Ellen should start with finding out how to sleep on $50 a day in SF. Take out the cash, clear the calendar on a Saturday, leave the cell phone at home, grab a photo ID, and go live. It’s funny how the idea of doing this in your home town may sound silly but if I said to do it in Madrid it would be novel. We often overlook the opportunity to be a tourist in our own space.

As Rolf Potts advocates, find ways to be a tourist without using money to create opportunity. Couchsurfing could allow Ellen to see what free housing may mean. How would she transform meals if she needed to eat for under $10? Would Rolf’s idea of meeting strangers offer opportunities to expand her people-skills? What amazing things could she find if she just got lost in her home town?

As we said, one reality Ellen may find is that the Bay Area is not a place that helps people “get by”. In this regard Ellen should research lower cost of living places. Once she finds it, take a vacation there. Go vagabonding. Start in the city center and walk concentric circles around the area. Spend the time observing the subtle things about her surroundings to learn what it would feel like to be a local here. Contrast that life to her own and explore what differences are tolerable and intolerable.

This will open up new questions. What does she really NEED to get-by in a place she lives? Maybe she decides it’s access to open water. “I could sit by the beach every day for free!” Where could she live near an ocean or lake and not be subject to being broke? Maybe she wants to be able to work somewhere that affords her benefits like free travel or recreation. What would being it mean to be an Amtrak employee or work at a ski resort? How about a gym? Each of these are questions she could answer by practicing them for a day or two. Even practicing an entry-level job can be figured out if you set your mind to it.

You’ll never find out without trying it. You’ll never know what you’re missing until you do.

A few notes need to be made here. One is safety. Obviously we aren’t saying that facing your fears means that you need to expose yourself to danger. Be very careful how you set your plan up. You don’t win any points for taking this more aggressive. The goal is not to endure hardship but to realize it’s not as hard as you thought. “Too hard” means not sustainable and will likely further entrench your fear. While spending a night on Skid Row could test some assumptions, it could go very bad as well so it’s not worth the potential upside.

The other is that our example of Ellen is used to illustrate how you can go about breaking down a fear and practicing it. It’s not so say everyone needs to rough it on $50 to be happy. We used vagabonding as a framework. Use her example as an equation- take your fear, break it down into components, then get out there and test them. Small incremental steps.

On the back-end of this exercise you will confidently be able to tell your mind- “you’re wrong, I can do this.”

Fear-setting or Why Yoda Was a Terrible Therapist

Fear-setting or Why Yoda Was a Terrible Therapist

I sometimes like to imagine that characters in movies are my patients. How would I get Will Hunting to work through his stuff without having the “you don’t want to hear that Skyler” conversation (because you know after his little meltdown the moment he showed up in Palo Alto she said “not another stalker!” and called campus security)? Or maybe where would I start with Frank Berkman (Squid and the Whale) to undo the impact of a being raised by a “filet” of a father and a brother who was so narcissistic he would start his own social media empire and then become a super villain?

In that way, how could I help Luke so he leaves Degobah a Jedi rather than needing to sacrifice his arm and letting Han Solo get all Teeglo Carboned.

The missed treatment moment happened on Degobah. It was Yoda’s fault. Hopefully we all remember the greatest scene in Empire Strikes Back. Maybe the only legitimate “I got the tingles” moment in all the movies.

Let’s set the scene. Luke happens upon his X-wing deep in the bog of Degobah. His new boy, Yoda, is like “dude ain’t no thang, I lift X-wings out of bogs in my sleep.” Luke, as he does, is like, “green dude, chill. First you ate my food but I let that go. Then you made me eat that nasty soup and bump my head. Then you creeped me out with that maniacal ‘you will be’ look.”  So Luke has a go. He fails.

“You ask the impossible.”

Yoda doesn’t need to hear that noise. He sets out to show this young buck what’s up. Not only does he pull the X-wing out of the water but he also conducts a sweet orchestral overture at the same time.

“I don’t believe it.”

“That is why you fail.”

Luke’s failure was a concert of poorly executed techniques by old Master Passice Voice. What Luke needed was some serious Fear-setting and Fear-rehearsing.

Tim Ferriss introduces Fear-setting and Fear-rehearsing in two separate chapters in Tools of Titans. This week we will tackle fear-setting and next week we will do fear-rehearsal

Fear-setting is the process of really identifying what you are afraid of and breaking it down. In psychotherapy we call this naming or bringing the subconscious into the conscious. Generally if we are anxious (anxiety being the cognition of an overestimation of a threat or underestimation of your resources to handle the threat) there is something we haven’t realized. Something important lies in our unconscious, running the show. Outside of frank psychotic disorders and organic brain impairment, we only do things that work for us and make sense. Even our anxiety is a manifestation of some tried and true method at work. If you can name your fear then you can work with it.

The question is do you want it to work that way? Do you want it to continue?

Tim’s fear-setting is broken into 7 questions. He recommends verbose, cathartic writing on each. The more you spew the more likely you are to find the thing you didn’t realize.

1. Define your nightmare

He has a number of other smaller questions but I think the most valuable is “what is the worst case scenario?” It’s like a Rude Goldberg machine. Work your way backwards and you’ll find the origin of your fear. Look for unproven assumptions because your anxiety is likely hiding behind them. We often call these assumptions “absolutes” or “all-or-nothing statements”. Words like “can’t”, “won’t”, “must/have to”, “need”, “always”. Use your own language as a radar for assumptions.

Another way I like to approach it is to assume that all fear is either a conscious or unconscious fear of death. If you follow any worry you will find a death end point eventually. That step is important because you may need to assess your pattern of death-avoidance. This will be important later for fear-rehearsal. For example, if money is the root of your anxiety, somewhere down the line is likely a fear of starvation which can cause death. If public speaking makes you anxious there is likely a fear of embarrassment which is then a fear that all those laughing mouths of teeth will try to kill you.

Our perceived weakness activates our fear of being terminated. It’s all very Maslow Hierarchy of Needs. When a need is perceived to not be met or forecasts a future of unmet status we react. It’s also evolutionary as other species generally see such “weakness” as a deal-breaker for mating. For non-human organisms, there is no other purpose than to propagate your gene pool. When your mind thinks death is on the horizon it may turn on your fight-or-flight system. At an extreme we call that a Panic Attack.

So sit down and try to be honest with yourself. There’s no point in censoring your fears on the paper. It’s not going to judge you. If you can’t name it, it won’t get better. Keep following the fear-logic until it makes sense. If you haven’t reached a death-nightmare outcome you aren’t on the right track yet.

2. What steps could you take to repair the damage?

Ah ha!  Now let’s assess the part of your anxiety that is an “underestimation of resources to handle the threat”. This process may again involve a lot of “I can’t” or feeling that repair isn’t possible. That’s your anxious mind hiding answers from you so that it can maintain control of the situation. Anxiety is also a habit of inserting the worst case scenario into ambiguous situations. Your anxiety likes things remaining ambiguous. That’s it’s wheelhouse. You likely developed your anxiety as a compensatory mechanism for not have a more effective way of tolerating ambiguity. Remember, your mind thinks it is saving your life. It doesn’t want to stop.

One way I like to motivate this creative process is to put some collateral on the hypothetical table. If the worse case scenario happened and you had to repair it in 24 hours what would you do? If you don’t repair it, you will die. Another approach is to consider that $10 million awaits if you can repair it in 24 hours.

This requires you to believe anything is possible. When your mind finds things impossible, behind that you are unlikely to find something you never considered. You need to believe in unicorns. This mindset is present in all of the Titans in Tools of Titans. 

3. What are the more probable outcomes?

This is a really cool exercise. We use it a lot in Cogntive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Your mind has latched onto the worst case scenario. It is assuming “as long as that bad thing doesn’t happen we will be okay”. Sure. True. Your anxiety won’t let you forget or ignore the potential of the worst case. If it did, so it thinks, it would welcome ruin through the front door. How can you distract your mind away?

Again, unless you define your answers you risk it only living in your subconscious. Task your brain with generating other hypotheticals. What other outcomes are on the table? What does it take for you to find these other ideas? You may need to get really silly and creative here because to this point the answers are being hidden from you by your subconscious defense mechanisms. Saying “go write them” is almost pointless. Again try externalizing it by pretending it’s someone else, ask other people for ideas, look for analagous examples on your life, or if all else fails just free associate on a page. It’ll come. 

This analysis is usually a big moment for self-exploration in therapy. Why the hell does your brain only offer you the worst and totally neglect the likely? Where did you learn to do it that way? Why does it persist and optimism fade away? I want to put about a 100% guarantee that if you look back through your life you will find a person or a time when life gave you a reason to buy into this system.

There is also a very big mindfulness opportunity here. In mindfulness, the worse case is as important as the best case is as important as the mid-level case scenario. So why not get REALLY good at controlling which one your mind focuses on? Why not focus instead on the wind on your face, the sound of your air conditioner or even your breath.

Yep we are talking meditation here. We will talk more about it eventually. For now- DO IT!

4. If you were fired from your job today, what things would you do to get things under financial control?

This isn’t only useful for job related worries. By answering this question you will create a risk-management plan. It’s good to have that in your back pocket. Can I convince you that you can improve anxiety by knowing which state or county in your area has the highest unemployment payment relative to cost of living? When we get to fear-rehearsing, can I convince you that going on vacation to that place and living off that amount of money will help you mitigate the worst-case avoidance?

The gift of being able to say “I will be alright, no matter what” may be the best anti-anxiety treatment there is.

5. What are you putting off out of fear?

This is probably the toughest question so far because it is really asks you to tap into your subconscious. If you are lucky, you have an answer: “I’ve been meaning to ask my boss for a raise but I’m too afraid he’ll say ‘no'”. However you may not have this kind of luxury of realizing you are doing it. Instead it will be marked by thoughts of “I have no idea how to…” or “It’s not even possible”.

In this space I like to externalize the problem solving. Try to find a similar scenario in your life and compare your problem-solving approach. This will flank your subconscious because it won’t realize you are solving your first problem by proxy. A more valuable action step would be to let other people solve it for you. I recommend not telling them it is your problem. People tend to go easy on us when we ask them for direct help. However “I have a friend who is really unhappy with his job and wants to move but doesn’t think it’s possible” should get you some raw answers. The use of advisors is also a near 100% factor for the people Tim has interviewed. It’s also in every classic personal/professional development book. It’s one of the reasons therapy works.

All problems are completely modifiable if you are willing and open to exploring all avenues. Including your own role in enabling the problem to continue.

6. What is it costing you- financially, emotionally, physically- to postpone action?

This is where it gets real. You are going to be exploring how much of your unhappiness is your fault. So to speak. You need to assess how much self-loathing you can tolerate. You may want to keep this to objective measures. Money, time, etc. That’s usually the most emotionally palatable landscape. However it is also a defense mechanism we call Intellectualization.

If you want to see change, you need to get uncomfortable. There’s a reason all athletic performance training requires some process of going past your current barriers to see improvement. It’s also the driving force of evolution- adaptation to stress. So yeah, try to test your emotionally comfortable limits on this one.

A less masochistic approach would be to get in touch with your Future Self. I like to think about this in terms of the Many-Worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Somewhere out there, according to the theory, there is a version of you that has solved this problem. What is their life like? Who are they? How are you different? Try to get very specific with this. The more excited and emotional you can get about this future version of you, the more you will engage that childhood-dreaming mechanism that is so powerful. Kelly McGonigal does a great job of exploring this in The Willpower Instinct. 

7. What are you waiting for?

I’m so glad Tim closes with this. So far this exercise has created some challenge but in and of itself it has not taken you to your goal. Only one thing will do that- doing SOMETHING.

You may notice that this is not a thought exercise. It is almost a rhetorical question. However there is a process here if you like. It may be somewhat helpful to define the cognitions that you are using to delay action. There is certainly another pattern in there somewhere.

I first latched onto this idea after reading Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. He focuses on an idea of taking action RIGHT NOW and give it everything you’ve got. Tony Robbins has a similar method where he likes to utilize the system shock of getting out of your head and creating physical motion. There’s a reason two of the more prominent self-help guys have a similar approach. It works.

This doesn’t mean you need to fix the problem now. That’s too much pressure on yourself. Remember, one small step is all you need. But a step is needed.

What can you do today? What can you do in the next 30 seconds that will take you one step to your goal? If you just answered “all the steps I need to do take longer than 30 seconds” you are missing the point. Break it down. Make it small. Do something. Now.

Can I convince you that opening and closing up your laptop one time with the verve and optimism of your Future Self achieves more progress than you have seen otherwise?

Let’s go back to our case study: the burgeoning Jedi and his frustrated and bruised teacher.

When Yoda meets Luke he spends some time assessing his fear-setting capability. Luke fails, big time. “If we could get our ship out we would, but we can’t.” “I don’t know what I’m doing here. We’re wasting our time.” It almost cost Luke his training. Good thing Obi-wan was there to normalize the situation.

Yoda is no stranger to fear. We’ve all heard his lecture on Advanced Fear Psychology. “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” That’s a pretty awesome breakdown of anxiety and suboptimal coping!

It would have helped for Luke, after being eeriely told he will be afraid, to sit down and talk through what fear was there. We already know Luke has the emotional maturity of a 5 year old (“but I was going to go to the Toshi Station to pick up some power converters”). He needed kid gloves. Or whatever gloves a three finger Jedi Master wears.

Luke is an orphan. He spat on the grave of his dead foster parents by following that crazy old man on some damned adventure. Everyone he gets close to dies (mom, dad, foster mom and dad, Obi, Biggs, evil step-grandpa, Yoda, Han). He kissed his sister (okay he didn’t realize that she was his sister yet, and she kissed him, but you’re telling me two Force-aware beings can liplock and not notice anything? Especially the twin offspring of a being derived by the Force. Ever notice Luke took the news of going to Degobah pretty easily. I guarantee he knew he needed to get out of there quick after that kiss. Plus Han claimed his territory and had a good 25 pounds on Luke. Ask me sometime about my theory that Rey is the accidental love child of Obi-wan and Sabé).

It stands to reason Luke has some cognitive distortions to work through. By naming his fear, his assumptions about his lack of skill with the Force (dude kept dropping things, including his master), and what might happen if the worst case came true he might have been better off. You’re telling me that in 800 years of training Jedi Yoda doesn’t have a few tips on how to return from the Dark Side?

Yoda needed to help Luke do some fear-setting… er, some setting-fear with Luke, Yoda needed.

Yoda did try some fear-rehearsal when he sent him into the Dark Side Cave. A little heads up might have been helpful. We will talk more about setting up a fear-rehearsal next week.

For now, suffice it to say, don’t seek out a Jedi master for therapy.