Posted: October 24th, 2011 | Author: Him | Filed under: Life | 11 Comments »
They don’t need to take up too much math or science time, maybe just a single two-hour class for each, covering two a year. Plant a few seeds and leave them alone. They’ll grow, in in the minds of certain kids where the conditions are right, and their progress will be gradual but unstoppable.
These skills aren’t easy. I suck at most of them, but I know they’re all I really need to know how to do. Simple introduce them and they’ll lead a person to anything else he needs to know. In me, the seeds have germinated, no question about that. I am gradually getting better at them. They take years, so I wish I’d started in grade school.
1) Letting people misunderstand and dislike you
I used to really believe that somebody getting the wrong idea about me was some kind of problem that had to be fixed. This is the kind of fear that would prevent me from, say, renting “Heavenly Creatures” because everyone knows it has Kate Winslet’s boobs in it and the Blockbuster girl would think I’m renting it only because I’m a huge perv and not because it’s a good movie. It’s a tiny example, but that’s a genuine wall I built there. One of thousands.
It takes an enormous amount of energy to try and manipulate people’s knee-jerk impressions of you, and it makes you into a fearful, pandering creature. It’s completely impossible anyway, and there’s so little to gain even when you pull it off. Instead of someone getting a baseless negative impression of you, they get a baseless positive one.
The amount of pain suffered in vain by people trying to be liked by everyone is unimaginable. It drives people crazy. It makes people kill themselves.
Make no apologies or explanations for what you want, and let the unknown faces dislike or distrust you. Study your fear of leaving bad impressions, and practice doing what you want anyway. I bet you’ll become not just more comfortable, but more likable.
Elaine Benes: Who cares if she doesn’t like you? Does everyone have to like you?
George Costanza: Yes! Everyone has to like me!
2) Talking to strangers
School taught me strangers were at worst bad people, and at best irrelevant people. It took me a while to recognize that they were indeed people at all — that they have family members and friends to whom they are not strangers. It took even longer to realize that I am a stranger.
They had an explicit rule about it: Don’t talk to strangers! Stranger is clearly a pejorative word, and they told us to use that word to describe anyone we didn’t know. And don’t let them talk to you!
I am still getting over the idea that people I don’t know are “strange.” Some of the most rewarding moments of my life have happened while breaking this rule.
Kids can still be taught to keep themselves safe without instilling such a damaging view of the casual passer-by.
Imagine if nobody regarded anybody as a stranger, but instead just a person they didn’t know. You can’t have wars without strangers. For that and other atrocities, we need a group of people so alien and blank to us that we don’t care what happens to them.
After all this time, all its coverage on Oprah and in religious texts, forgiveness is almost uniformly misunderstood. It does not mean you are okay with what has been done. It doesn’t even mean it doesn’t bother you any more. Forgiving is deciding you will no longer attempt to justify hate or anger, because you know they are damaging to you and your life.
Those feelings will still appear now and then, maybe always, but to forgive is to decide you are done indulging in them. That means no more revenge fantasies, no more nasty remarks. Finally it can begin to recede in your mind.
I’ve experienced a lot of resentment in my life. I’ve mulled it over, wished, fantasized, rehearsed confrontations and diatribes in my head, but I have never once found any true benefit to justifying resentment. All of it is out of control, all of it is painful, all of it is addictive.
There is a comforting feeling in hatred. We imagine it protects us from getting hurt again. This fantasy gives us a spike of relief when we feel powerless, but there is no real power in it. It’s as helpful as thinking about food when you’re stranded on a remote island. Resentment feels good in a bad sort of way. It’s pure mental junk food, only it makes you powerless instead of fat.
4) Letting your moods come and go without trying to force the bad ones away
Oh wow, what a revelation this was. I was 22 before it ever occured to me that bad moods are completely normal and do not indicate that my life has gone wrong.
Bad moods seem to have hallucinogenic properties. They make you misperceive and misinterpret reality.
I’ve described bad moods as “a nasty drug that hijacks your thoughts and robs you of your intuition and perspective.” You simply don’t have access to your higher capacities while you’re in a bad mood — empathy, wisdom, objectivity and patience. They take a vacation, and they’ll definitely be back. So in the mean time don’t do anything that depends on those faculties: don’t make any decisions about your life, don’t make any statements about who you are (to yourself or anyone else), don’t criticize others, and don’t insist that you must feel good right now.
Refusing to bear the odd bout of bad feelings is what drives people to the most desperate behaviors: addictions, blame, bad relationships and crime.
Good moods are much easier to deal with and don’t require any remedial action. But it’s worth remembering that they inevitably give way to not-good moods. So if you suddenly don’t feel so hot, don’t take that as a signal that things are going wrong. It’s just a change in the wind. Moods move like weather: there are patterns, bad conditions are inevitable, and any given cell is always on its way out.
5) Doing things you are afraid of
I’m slowly learning that the best response to fear is curiosity. When the thought of doing something makes you uncomfortable, all that means its consequences are unfamiliar and unpredictable. That might be good. It always means there is some seriously new ground that can be broken right now.
Of all these skills, this is the one I’m worst at. Yet I keep discovering the same encouraging thing whenever I do it — once you walk right into it, the fear part gives way pretty quickly. It’s like a thin shell you thought was a wall. The rewards are always way closer and more accessible than I think.
The sequence unfolds the same way, nine times out of ten. One moment it’s “Oh man I am never doing that.” Then you take that first step — and it literally is a step, a movement of the leg. You watch yourself moving into it in the first person and the mind is saying “Holy shit, this is it, I’m nuts.” Then you’re in the middle of it, saying what you need to say or doing what you need to do. Then you realize you’re on the other side, making things happen in a place you thought was forbidden to you. Then you’re giddy and grateful the rest of the day.
In the cradle of civilization, almost anyone can heed almost all their fears yet still survive in reasonable comfort. So some people never make a point of this.
Although I sometimes wish it weren’t true, this seems to be law:
How often you do things you’re afraid of is a reliable barometer for how quickly you’re becoming a more capable person.
6) Watching the moment unfold as it will and letting go of your need to control it
Whenever I even mention this idea, people panic. “But we can’t just let things happen! What if terrible things happen?!”
The truth is your life is a steady stream of mostly unpredictable stuff, and there is ultimately very little control to be had over it, other than what you do in response. The best responses are always conscious and calm.
We can learn to be smarter about the risks that we take, but most of what fate has in store for us could never be predicted. Once it’s happening, it’s happening. If you need to do something about it, you still can. But your action doesn’t have to arise from this place of rejecting reality. Planning, preparing, insuring, deciding — all of it can be done at the same time as you let happen what is indeed happening.
You won’t be able to let it all go at once, but it’s amazing what happens when you give yourself a mission to do it for five minutes. Can you let everything unfold as it will for five minutes? Sure you can, and it’s exhilarating. If something happens that has you itching to react, let it be, and when the five minutes is up, you can get right back to trying to stop the world from turning, if you think it’s worthwhile.
7) Noticing attraction and aversion as soon as they appear
We’d all like to think that we’re driven primarily by wisdom and rational thinking, but the truth is the majority of our actions come from very short term attractions and aversions that happen mostly under the radar in the moment. These are the greatest forces driving your life, and if you’re not aware of where they’re leading you, nobody else is either. Trust them at your peril.
This is how we “end up” in careers we don’t like, suffering from compulsive behaviors, or getting into debt. We don’t choose these outcomes consciously, we just follow the little trail of cookies throughout life, and they can lead us to dark places. It’s a simple, thoughtless mechanism designed only to get us from birth to procreation to death, and it drags us along kicking and screaming over rocks and coals, if we’re not aware of how it works.
There is so much to gain from noticing the feelings of attraction and aversion the moment they arise, thinking about what you’re really looking to cling to (or escape from) in that moment, and making sure your action is conscious. No matter how we rationalize our motives, if you observe them you’ll invariably find they almost always consist of a pull towards some kind of promised gratification, or a push away form some kind of promised discomfort.
Imagine if you could feel these pushes and pulls acting on you, then decide what’s actually in your best interest, then do it.
Mastering it is the work of a lifetime, but all you need to do is notice what it feels like when attraction arises, and notice what it feels like when aversion arises. Know what “cookie” it is you’re attached to here, and when it’s no good for you, defy it and see what happens.
Posted: October 15th, 2011 | Author: Him | Filed under: Life | No Comments »
‘What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step.’ ~C. S. Lewis
Changing your life can seem an incredibly tough and complicated thing, especially if you’ve failed a great number of times (like I did), found it too hard, and resigned yourself to not changing.
But I found a way to change.
And I’m not any better than anyone else, not more disciplined, not more motivated. I just learned a few simple principles that changed my life.
I’ve written about them many times, but realized they’re spread out all over the site.
Here is how I changed my life, in a nutshell.
The four lines you’re looking for are at the bottom.
How I Started Running
In 2005 I was sedentary, and couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to make exercise a regular habit. At the end of 2006, not only was I running very regularly, I finished my first marathon. These days I can run a half marathon race at the drop of a hat, have run several marathons.
How did I do it? I started with just 10 minutes of running a day. I focused not on how hard it was, but how much I enjoyed the movement and the outdoors. I increased slowly, until I could run 15 minutes, then 20, and later a couple hours. I was grateful for every run I was able to take.
I got healthier, fitter, slimmer, happier.
How I Started Eating Healthier
In 2005 I was overweight, and addicted to junk food. I ate fast food, chips and cookies, fried meats, anything fatty or sweet or salty … and I had no idea how to change. Today, I am 70 lbs. lighter, I eat almost all whole, real foods (almost nothing processed), I eat a sweet treat now and then but am happier eating healthy food.
How did I change? I started with small changes like drinking more water, eating more fruits and veggies, cooking at home more and preparing my lunches for work. One at a time. I gradually improved my diet, eventually cleared my fridge and pantry of junk, and stopped going to fast food places. I found healthy foods I really loved. I was grateful for every delicious healthy meal I ate.
I felt better about myself, trimmed down, and feel great every single day.
How I Got Out of Debt
In 2005, I was way over my head in debt — it was so bad, I had creditors calling me, and I would ignore my phone calls. I struggled to make it paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes didn’t even make it — I had to borrow money from friends and family. It was one of the most stressful times of my life. At the end of 2007, I celebrated with my wife Eva when we paid off our last debt and were free!
How did I do it? I started one little change at a time: I started cutting back on expenses a little, saving a little at a time, paying off the little debts and then the bigger debts, found some breathing room, and saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I gradually changed my financial habits and got into better shape. I was grateful for every debt paid off, every dollar saved, every inch of breathing room.
I’m debt free and will never go back. It’s the most liberating thing ever.
And On and On
I was planning on writing the same capsules for how I decluttered and simplified my possessesions, how I started focusing and accomplishing more, how I turned my passion into a living, and so on … but the truth is, the story starts to repeat itself.
I used the same principles, over and over. More on that in the nutshell below.
And Then I Gave Up Goals
About two years ago, I started to give up goals. Just as an experiment.
It turns out, I could still accomplish the same kinds of things, but I just didn’t plan it out. Instead, I just followed the same principles (more on those below). They still work, even without goals.
People say I can give up goals because I’ve already accomplished a lot … but the truth is, I can give up goals because I have learned a few things that work, and realized they work with or without goals. And if you follow these things, you can change your life, with or without goals.
The Nutshell Principles
So what are the principles that changed my life, repeatedly?
If you read the brief stories above, you already know:
1. Start very small.
2. Do only one change at a time.
3. Be present and enjoy the activity (don’t focus on results).
4. Be grateful for every step you take.
In programming, this is called an algorithm. It’s a series of steps that you can apply to make any change, no matter what your situation.
Posted: October 11th, 2011 | Author: Him | Filed under: Life | 3 Comments »
Life can be a huge struggle, most of the time, and for years it was a struggle for me.
I’ve gradually been learning what causes that struggle, and what works in making life easier, better, smoother.
Life can feel effortless, like you’re gliding along, if you learn to swim smoothly, to glide, to stop fighting the waters of life and start using them to buoy you up.
I stopped thrashing and fighting, and started gliding and enjoying the swim.
I’ve written a new book on this topic, called The Effortless Life, which I should be publishing digitally next week. Some interesting things about this book:
It was written publicly, on a public Google Doc, while the world watch. That was tremendously fun — normally writing is a solitary act, but with technology I was able to make it a public act.
I allowed the world to edit it, as I wrote. That was incredibly scary, giving up control as a writer. When I was done, I had written it in a blur, as everyone edited it … and so I had no idea what changes had been made. I thought I should figure out what changes were made, and whether to keep them or not … but then I just decided to go with the wisdom of the crowd, and kept it as is.
It’s a compendium of some of the most important things I’ve been learning recently. It builds on some of the things from my previous books, The Power of Less and Focus, but takes them further.
I will allow readers to buy it at any price you like. I will set up a donation model — pay what you think it’s worth, and what you can afford.
More about this later. For now, I thought I’d share a few things you can do today, to make life feel more effortless.
Take what you want from this list. I find these things work, but your mileage will vary.
1. Do less. This is my productivity mantra, and it’s counterintuitive. I actually don’t believe in productivity, but instead believe in doing the important things. Do less, and you’ll force yourself to choose between what’s just busywork, and what really matters. Life then becomes effortless, as you accomplish big things while being less busy.
2. Having less is lighter. Start asking yourself if you really need everything you have, or if you just have it out of fear. Start to let go of what you have, so it doesn’t own you. And then, as you have less, you feel lighter. It’s wonderful.
3. Let the little things go. People who struggle often fight over little things. We obsess over things that don’t really matter. We create resistance instead of letting things glide off us. Let the little things go, breathe, and move on to the important things.
4. Clean as you go. I haven’t written about this for a long time, but early in the life of Zen Habits I wrote about the habit of cleaning as you go. Instead of letting the cleaning pile up, put things away when you’re done. Wash your bowl. Wipe the counters clean as you pass them. Sweep up dirt when you notice it. By cleaning a little bit at a time, as you make messes, cleaning up becomes a breeze, and it’s never difficult. By the way, this applies to everything in life, not just cleaning.
5. Make small, gradual changes. Most people are too impatient to follow this advice — they want to do everything at once. We have so many changes to make, but we don’t want to wait a year for it all to happen. As a result, we often fail, and then feel crappy about it. Or we don’t start at all, because so many big changes is intimidating and overwhelming. I’ve learned the hard way that small changes are incredibly powerful, and they last longer. Gradual change leads to huge change, but slowly, and in a way that sticks. And it’s effortless.
6. Learn to focus on the things that matter. This is implied in the items above, but it’s so important I have to emphasize it. Swimming (or any physical activity for that matter) is best done when you do only the motions that matter, and eliminate the extraneous motions. Stop thrashing, start becoming more efficient and fluid. You do this by learning what matters, and cutting out the wasted activity.
7. Be compassionate. This makes dealing with others much more effortless. It also makes you feel better about yourself. People like you more, and you improve the lives of others. Make every dealing with another human being one where you practice compassion.
(If you’d like to learn more from Leo, please kindly visit: http://www.zenhabits.net)
Posted: October 10th, 2011 | Author: Him | Filed under: Life | 5 Comments »
There are moments when other people just set you off, and you lose your patience.
It is the downfall of many of us — coworkers, children, spouses, other drivers, irritating people on the subway — they can grate, they can anger.
And it can ruin your day. You clench your jaw, you replay imaginary arguments in your head, or worse, you snap. And then you feel like crap.
How can we find the patience?
I will admit that I’m no saint. Just like everyone else, I get annoyed, and I will say things in a less-than-kind tone. I’m learning.
Here’s what helps me:
First, I learn to be aware of the emotions that rush up from nowhere.
I learn to accept those emotions as perfectly fine.
And I watch them, but don’t act.
I will talk to those emotions, like they’re a little child: it’s OK to be mad, but breathe. Talk to the other person, after you’ve calmed down, about the problem.
And then I breathe.
I remind my childlike emotions: other people are different, and that’s good. Celebrate humanity and all its glorious varieties. When people live and work together, there will be friction, and that is a part of the mix of humanity.
I remind: life is too short to waste my days in irritation and anger. Don’t let other people’s problems become my own.
I then give thanks. Gratitude solves all problems. I am grateful for having this friend, or stranger, in my life, and I’m grateful for the chance to even be here, and for the incredible life I have.
I talk to the other person, when I’ve calmed down, with compassion. I respond with love. It often will melt the other person’s jagged edges, and things will go better.
Patience isn’t an easy thing, but the alternative is much worse. Love will triumph if you let it.
(To learn more from Leo, please kindly visit http://www.zenhabits.net)
Posted: October 1st, 2011 | Author: Him | Filed under: Life | 3 Comments »
And then he started using words like nyingma and shentong and I became more interested in my beer than anything else. Zen is a neato thing to talk about but depending on who’s doing the talking, it can get a bit too stiff for me.
But I perked up when he said the most rewarding thing he’s ever done in all his years is to sit and contemplate his own death.
I was in an expat bar in Chiang Mai on trivia night and an informal lecture had broken out. Half the room was shouting out answers to sports history questions, and the other half was gathered around a once-American philosophy professor, listening to him talk about Zen. I was trying to do both.
We chatted on the balcony later, and I asked him about what he said about death. I drank and nodded as he talked and smoked cigarettes.
“When you’re sitting there long enough that you finally see that unbroken line between here and your grave, that you really are that grave every bit as much as you are sitting here… you’ll never feel as free as that.”
The night was long (three bars long) and full of conversations, but that’s the one that was in my head when I was nodding off that night, and in the shower the next morning.
For the next few weeks I kept having these spells where I’d see something super ordinary — a stranger yawning at a bus stop, or something — and I’d get the sensation that I was looking back on it, as if I was visiting it from a place where that doesn’t happen.
It culminated on a beach in New Zealand a few weeks later. I had another spell, and realized what was happening. I was being repeatedly overcome by the simple fact that I was here. That doesn’t sound like an astonishing revelation, but it was, and that had something to do with being simultaneously being aware that I will one day not be here.
Understanding those two insultingly simple facts — that you’re definitely here, and that you will definitely one day not be here — combine to form something beautiful. The professor called it anicca but we can call it impermanence. It’s irrefutable, and we kill ourselves trying to refute it all the time. Things change constantly, and when you insist they don’t, you suffer. When you can learn to go along for the ride, ordinary moments become compelling.
The professor’s death-contemplation hobby is certainly worthwhile, but it’s just not something many people are going to do. Too formal, too weird, too Buddhist.
But you can experience the beauty of impermanence in a much easier way, every time you’re in the presence of people you’re close to. I’ve written about it before, when this blog was much smaller, but it’s such a reliable way to create that staggering kind of gratitude that I can’t recommend it enough.
When you’re with a group of people who are important in your life, take a step back and look around at what’s happening, and consider that there will be a time when these people are gone.
Life is a solo trip, but you’ll have lots of visitors. I say this a lot and always will. Your life is one long unbroken experience, and you’re the only one who’s there the whole time. Visitors will come in and out of your experience. Most of them are short-term and you won’t notice when they’ve made their last appearance.
In fact, even with the long-term visitors, it’s rare that your last moment with a particular person is one in which you’re aware that it is.
Every relationship you have is a chance overlap that begins one particular day and ends on another. You have little control over when either of those bookends appear. There is nothing worse than having nobody important in your life, yet we easily take for granted that this precious, fleeting overlap is happening right now in the room with you.
There are probably hundreds of acquaintances that you haven’t thought about since the last time they were right in front of your face, and maybe that was years ago. Those bit players are gone in the truest sense, but the people who matter are the people whose absence you can feel when they’re gone. The person who’s no longer beside you when you wake up. The pet whose nails you no longer hear clicking on the hallway floor downstairs.
One of the greatest things you can do for yourself is to learn how to feel that feeling while these people are still here.
Here’s how I put it before:
When you’re with your spouse, significant other, a good friend or a close relative, picture the moment, in all its mundane detail, as if you’re looking back on it from a point in life where that person is no longer around. No need to imagine any upsetting explanations for their absence; the part of your life that includes that special person is just over, and you are happy to have been with them while your lives overlapped.
Observe them as if you’ve been shipped back from the future, to see them once again on an ordinary day, with absolutely no reason to take it for granted.
You just have to recognize those moments in which you’re with another person you know and love, and for most people these happen constantly. Then consciously take a step back, and watch the moment as if it’s a memory.
There’s no feeling like it when something ordinary is happening, and everyone’s being ordinary, and yet in your private mental space you’re seeing it all from way down the road, after these wonderful people are gone. An ordinary moment, adorned with such irreplacable people, is so rich and perfect that you’d give anything to be right back in the middle of it. And then you realize that you are.
It’s surprisingly easy to just watch the outside world do its thing for a second. You might be alarmed to realize that the world would carry on just as freely without your particular brand of opinions and witty comments. Believe me — and I mean this in the most encouraging way possible — it doesn’t need you at all and you’re lucky to be here.
It doesn’t need your friends either, but it seems to be accommodating the lot of you, for the time being anyway. So see all you can while the door is still open.
(To read more of David’s articles about living, please kindly visit: http://www.raptitude.com)