Lessons From 2018

At the beginning of every year I try to look back at all of the things that I tried to accomplish, new things that I did, and things that I learned and boil them down to a few lessons that I want to apply to my life going forward. I haven’t shared this in the past, that’s one of the things that I noticed during my yearly review, but I’ve decided to give it a try this year and see if it resonates with anyone. Here we go:

  1. Fast Food Failure – I have had a side project each of the last few years, just a little challenge for myself that I thought might improve my life. Three years ago it was to give up drinking. Two years ago I stopped eating free food. Last year was supposed to be giving up fast food, and I completely failed. I could give all kinds of excuses, but what it really comes down to is convenience. Between work and school for the kids and jujitsu and soccer games and practices, finding time to prepare food is difficult. First you have to decide what you will eat, then you have to get to the store to get the ingredients, then you have to have the mental toughness to actually prepare the meal in the thirty minute windows that a busy life gives you for refueling. Without discipline to prepare and plan, something inevitably goes wrong. The meat won’t be thawed, or there will be an ingredient that was missed at the store, or cooking takes longer than expected and you run out of time. Driving through to grab Chick-fil-a or ordering mexican food to go suddenly becomes very appealing. When traveling for work it becomes even harder. I was not up to the challenge. I’ll get a more detailed post up on this project soon. (Update: on the good side, I am still resisting free food and skipping the booze unless it is exactly the one drink that I want – A Seattle Cider Company Dry Cider for those of you who are interested.)
  2. I still buy too much stuff – Talking to a friend near the end of this year (thanks Drew!), he mentioned that he had gone a whole year without buying anything for himself. Not even clothes for work! I was very impressed, and it got me thinking about all of the things that I buy for myself over the course of a year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a minimalist by most any standard. I do, however, have a habit of seeing something that I think will improve my life and just buying it. Unfortunately the enthusiasm sometimes fades quickly, or I’m distracted by other new things and the purchased item languishes, forgotten, in my life. I started taking inventory and discovered I have over 60 books that I’ve bought and never read, several learning apps that I have never tried, and roughly 20 courses that I’ve purchased and never completed. I also have kettlebells and a punching bag and mats and a pull up bar and four or five mobility devices that don’t get used nearly enough. After my inventory, I’ve decided that I have enough stuff to keep me busy for at least a year, so I am making that my project for 2019 – I will buy nothing for myself this year, but will instead “use up” the things that I’ve already purchased. Some of this comes down to saving money, but overall I want to teach myself the lesson of being conscious of what I have and being responsible for my decisions.
  3. We need to travel more as a family – I love travel. I love seeing new places and learning firsthand what they are like. Too often I find that the image I had of them in my head was far different than the reality. Generally the people are nicer and more like me than I had imagined, the scenery is far more beautiful than could ever be captured by pictures, and I realize how small my little corner of the world is. This year we finally made it back to the Florida Keys. It was just as great as I remembered and the kids had a blast. Unfortunately that was our only trip for 2018. Travel is a way to kill the fear of the other. Exposure to people who are different from you makes them real. Seeing the wonder of the natural world gives context to discussions of climate and conservation. There is hidden history everywhere you go that can’t be learned in books. Seeing great works of art firsthand is vastly different than looking at their digital images online. In short, to be a complete human being, I think travel is necessary. I have a responsibility to my children to give them that opportunity.
  4. Taking care of your mind and body is essential – I have been an exerciser for years, but the more I study the more I find that I have been doing it wrong. Lifting weights and running shouldn’t be about looking good. Life is a long journey. You only get one body to live in as you travel that road. Quality of life is strongly related to the care you take of that vessel. The more muscle mass you have, the more resistant you are to injury. The better your balance, the less likely you are to fall. The better tuned your breathing is, the better you are able to cope with stress in your life. The better your diet, the more resistant you are to disease and the less your tissues will break down and result in dysfunction. The more you mobilize your joints and tissues, the fewer restrictions you will have as you age. The more you use your brain to work through difficult problems, the more clear your thinking will remain as you get older. The more you voluntarily expose yourself to discomfort, the better able you will be to withstand it when there is no other choice. The more you confront your fears, the more they will fade away and limit restrictions in how you live your life. To distill the lesson further, a long life is meaningless if it is a restricted, pain-filled, fearful existence. If you want to be happier for longer, spend a little time each day maintaining your mind and body.
  5. I need to stop waiting for the right time – The Resistance, or The Lizard Brain, or whatever else you want to call it, is an insidious opponent. It manifests in many ways, but in me, it continually tries to convince me that there will be some better time in the future to act. That I’m too busy, or that the audience I want to speak to is not ready, or that I just need to learn a little more before I take the leap. All of these are lies of course. We are all busy all the time. The audience is always ready, and never ready. The state of knowledge changes too fast for anyone to keep up with. I will always be ignorant of some new thing, or even many old things, I just need to know clearly what I want to say and say it. I have told myself this in countless journal entries and yet I am still holding myself back. I’ve only written two books and have failed to even submit a story for publication(at absolutely no risk!) in three years. I need to find a way to defeat this enemy and put my writing and my ideas out into the world. It is guaranteed that some people will hate them, and possibly me for stating them. That will never change. I will never make my dent in the universe until I get past this. 2019 will be the year that happens.

I think I’ll stop there, this post is already longer than I had hoped. I’ll keep you updated on how these projects are going throughout the year. In the meantime, drop me a line. What are your challenges for this year? What did you learn in 2018? How will you be applying these lessons? How can I help you get to where you want to be?Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email.

Happy New Year!

Variety is the Curse of Life

Beer used to be easy. There were six or seven large breweries. They made a signature recipe and a lite version. You were loyal to your brand, and you bought in bulk because it was cheaper that way. Sometime in the late 1990’s that all began to change.

Suddenly there were ice beers and amber beers and red beers. Then came the microbrews and the imports. Novelty was the order of the day, and novelty sold well! More microbreweries sprung up everywhere. Brewmasters strained their creativity to produce endless new varieties. Obscure brands from halfway around the world began showing up in the local liquor store. Connoisseurs emerged who wouldn’t be caught dead sipping anything that emerged from a corporate vat.

That trend has continued for decades and I am ashamed to admit that I’ve periodically been caught up in the enthusiasm and snobbery.

So, why am I telling you this story? Because this cycle is everywhere anymore. Baseball cards have followed a similar path. So has wine. Athletic shoes. Watches. Coffee.

Am I saying that new is bad? No, far from it. Innovation is the key to long term success. But seeking the new, merely because it is new, is a gateway to despair.

It’s a treadmill that is difficult to escape. If you keep running, you’ll become overwrought and exhausted, but if you step off, you can fall into the hole in your life where the new once held sway. Healing that hole is a long and painful process.

Better to avoid it altogether. My solution is utility. Don’t be a collector. Acquire what you need and avoid what you merely want. Be purposeful. Resist trends. Fail to conform. This is the path to contentedness.

 

Leverage, and How to Avoid Manipulation

Today my stoic lesson was about about being controlled. To be controlled you have to have levers. I think of levers as the things that compel you to act when you would rather not. There are several levers that are built into us as humans.

Fear, is the biggest. We are afraid of pain. We are afraid of embarrassment and the loss of reputation it will bring. We are afraid of being discovered to be an impostor, because inside we know that we are not as good as people think we are. We are afraid that someone will take what we have worked hard to acquire. We are afraid of death. We are afraid of losing freedom. We are afraid of hunger. We are afraid of the unknown. We are afraid of missing out. Fear is not the only lever, but it is the one seen most often.

Sexual desire is the next. We have a built in understanding of the pleasure that sex brings and we have a built in need to procreate and perpetuate the species. There are innumerable subtitles to this, so I am generalizing a bit for simplicity. Manipulation through sex is everywhere. Marketers tie sex to everything because they understand its power. Attractive men and women both use that quality, consciously or unconsciously, to smooth their path through life. If you don’t believe me ask yourself why women would ever suffer the difficulty of high heeled shoes, or why every gym has so many mirrors.

Empathy is another strong lever. We are social creatures and empathy comes packaged with that. We are pained when we see others in pain, and we want to help them if we can. The closer we are tied to a sufferer, the stronger the desire to help them. This weapon is used against us on a daily basis by charities soliciting funds and people on corners with cardboard signs.

Greed is final lever. We are preprogrammed to want more. It was once a survival instinct, but now it is a burden. When the world was not flush with opportunity and availability, the desire to have more meant you could better withstand the spaces between abundance. Now it is used by scammers and stock brokers who promise massive returns on tiny investments.

So what is the answer? How can we armor ourselves against these attacks? The answer is choice. Our prefrontal cortex it a wondrous thing It grants executive function to override the older parts of our brain that deal in these more visceral emotions. It allows us to choose not to give in.

The problem is that in the moment, that executive function breaks down and we do things that we later regret. To manage this, to preserve control, we must prepare ourselves in the calm moments.

We must find ways to avoid the situations that get our blood boiling, and thus remove the moments of temptation. We must expose ourselves to the things that we fear, in controlled situations, so we can understand our innate irrationality. We must learn to spot the cues that someone is using these levers against us, and by doing so, break the their power.

This battle is never-ending. Temptation and manipulation are all around us, but with practice and focus, you can teach yourself to not react to fear. To not want. To give people responsibility for their choices, while still assuaging the burdens that misfortune has heaped upon them. These are the keys to true freedom and happiness.