“There Are No Problems, Only Solutions…”

Today’s Lesson: You get what you take.

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John Lennon may have just been sitting there doing time, “Watching the Wheels go ’round and ’round…” but he nailed it with the title of this post.

Have you noticed that problems are like gifts? We give them to each other. Sometimes we receive good ones and we are excited to try them on but a lot of the time they are more like another bottle of cologne you already have four of, or the wrong size paisley-patterned sweater from otherwise well-meaning people.

What we forget is that gifts must be accepted. If we do not accept them, they go away (and sometimes stop being offered altogether). In other words, we think problems happen to us but actually we pick our problems.

That is why on Monday someone can cut you off in traffic and you feel enraged, blare your horn, and curse them (until they look directly at you–then, you pretend you are focused on the traffic light ahead). Yet, on Tuesday, someone can cut you off and you simply swerve out-of-the-way and move on, listening to your favorite song. No problem.

On Monday, someone offered you the gift of a problem and you generously accepted it. On Tuesday, someone offered you the same problem, but you graciously declined it.

People offer you problems all the time. We love to give our problems away. Sometimes we are even offered the same problem over and over (my cat kindly offers me the problem of barfing up hairballs at 4 in the morning every few nights).

All of our problems are the same way. We only have the problems we accept.

When you feel overwhelmed, frustrated, confused, lost, stressed, or depressed (or all of those at the same time), consider what problems you are generously accepting and what ones you should graciously decline.

Maybe it is time to politely inform Grandma paisley is not your style and you actually wear a different size than when you were twelve (or that you have stopped celebrating holidays altogether).  She may not like your attitude but… well, that’s her problem.

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Remember When We Met Tomorrow?

Today’s Lesson: The future is a nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.

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You have known your spouse, best friend, or sibling for a long time. You know them better than they sometimes know themselves. Except you do not know them at all.

A funny thing happens when we learn someone’s habits and thoughts over time. We begin anticipating their thoughts and habits. We think we know what they are going to say next. We know how they will decide. We know what they will order when out for dinner. We know what movies they will like. We think we even know what people they will like.

Sometimes we guess right. Sometimes we miss the mark. Our accuracy is not important. When it comes to the most intimate and important people in our lives, what matters is we have stopped dealing with them in the present. Instead, we are always anticipating their future selves. We are having conversations with the people in front of us, but from the future, because we think we know what they are going to say. We choose not to ask certain questions or broach topics we know will anger them, for example. Or we correct them before they make a mistake (“Don’t forget to…”).

We assume past performance indicates future probability.  

As you might have guessed (based on my past performance), I am about to assert this is not an effective approach. Congrats–you got it right this time.

The problem is, our present is always changing. “Now” is already gone. “Now” used to be now but now it is Now, and now “Now” is gone again. Yet it is always now.

Because “now” is always changing, this means the past is always changing, too. The people we think we know so well today are only echoes of the people we knew before. We relate to our friends and family as if they are never-changing yet they surprise us, at times, with what we think are out-of-character decisions or pleasant surprises. Shocking revelation: they are never out of character! They are just different people than when we first met them.

The other problem with dealing with future echoes of present people is we limit them as people in the present. We take away possibilities for their future, like putting up detour signs on roads they could have traveled. We decide their future for them when we finish their sentences. We dictate their life and who they should be when we “know” their reaction to our past self. We even start conversations with, “Promise you won’t get mad”… how can anyone know if they will be mad 5 seconds from now?

I am terribly guilty of all of this. I am a chronic interrupter, for example. I finish sentences, thoughts, or words for people all the time and I know it is a terrible habit. I might interrupt because I think I know where people are headed in a conversation, or I believe my time is more precious to me than theirs is to them so I try to usher their brains along and move us to the next topic faster. Maybe I am merely impatient. I know the general idea of what is being said and the remaining context, to me, is drawn-out filler around what I already knew or decided. I am not sure why I interrupt but I am sure it is not always received well.

One of my personal challenges this year has been to listen to people until they are done speaking. It takes a great deal of effort for me because I have found people often pause to collect more thoughts rather than to invite my turn at speaking. I suspect much of my life has been only hearing and responding to half of conversations. Imagine that! Going through your life only able to speak half sentences because no one lets you finish a thought!

Maybe that is why I became a writer–so I can complete a full thought out without being interrupted by people like me!

I know no one is supposed to say this, but I do not mind telling you it is excruciating for an impatient person to listen to others muddle all the way through their thoughts, but I recommend trying it. I have found (and I think you will, too, because I know you are working on being more patient) that dealing with people in the present instead of dealing with their future echoes opens doors I never knew were there.

Listen without an agenda or worrying what to say in return (because otherwise you are planning the future). See where a conversation takes you. It might lead to a future you never saw coming.

 

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And Another Thing…!

Today’s Lesson: Stop whining about it. No one cares. No. Wait. Stop whining about it because someone cares.

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I don’t know about you but I LOVE to complain. I come from a big family that loves to complain. We complain about everything, usually while laughing, because it is so enjoyable. Complaining is one of my main ways of communication. I do not even care what I am complaining about most of the time. Not really. It just feels good to vent about anything.

I complain about the weather (“Looks like it might rain… again!“). I complain about my drive from work (“Can you believe it took an hour and twenty minutes to get home today?”). I complain about my mood (“I have a headache. I’m stressed. I’m not feeling good. I’m stuffed. I’m fat. I’m sweating. I’m freezing. I’m tired. My feet ache. My stomach hurts. I need new shoes. I need a better car. I need more money. I need to relax…”. I complain about everything and I LOVE it. I mean, I must love it. I do it all the time.

I think if it came down to either giving up my meth addiction or giving up complaining, I would flush my stash of Crystal Blue Persuasion down the toilet without thinking twice. After all, if I gave up the meth I could still complain about it (“I’m too sober. Everything itches. I am thinking too straight. I got the jitters…”

I am kidding, of course. I would never flush meth down a toilet, especially at today’s prices.

Anyway, the problem is no matter how much complaining I do, I never run out of complaining. There is no cure for complaining. The best I can hope for is to treat the disease. I am afraid, though, if I stop complaining, then I will have nothing to say. I mean, even now, I am posting a complaint about complaining!

(I know, complaining about complaining. So meta. Mind…blown, right?)

I realize that complaining itself is not that bad. Complaints are just words, random thoughts a generally pessimistic society does not actually care about. Most complaints are trivial. Except there are people who do care. There are people in my life who want to solve my never-ending complaints. When I am cold, someone offers a jacket or blanket. When I am hot, someone will offer to turn on the air conditioning or a fan. When I am stressed, people are cautious not to irritate me.

The thing is, complaining is like dripping a little poison into everyone’s water. A little won’t kill us but enough over time and it we all feel worse.

I honestly am not sure how I am going to conquer this addiction (to complaining, not to meth) but I am going to start with two minor changes:

1. If I catch myself complaining before the words leave my mouth… I will shut up. My complaint probably can not be fixed by someone else and even if it can, there is just another complaint behind it, waiting. Better to just keep it to myself or pretend I have lost the ability to speak for a few minutes.

2. If I catch myself complaining after the words leave my mouth… I am going to finish the thought with a positive counterpoint. I know I will probably never master not complaining but at least I can practice living with less complaining from myself. If I realize I have complained about something, I will find something positive to appreciate immediately and share that, too. For example, “What a long drive home, I’m exhausted… but I am looking forward to a good meal and a hot, relaxing shower!” OR “It’s too hot in here… it feels good to sweat, though, that makes me feel alive!” OR “I ate too much again… but what a great meal! I am going to savor the memory while I work it off!” (Just kidding–there is no way I am going to work it off.)

It’s a start. I am not sure how this experiment will go but feel welcome to take it on for yourself or help hold me accountable. What would the world look like with less complaining? It would probably be a lot quieter and that does not seem so bad. If we have a lot less to say to each other, maybe we can get some reading done! Or, dare I say it… maybe… we… can all… just get along.

 

For what it’s worth, I am now struggling to figure out if I just passive-aggressively complained about not having enough time to read… this is going to be tough (another complaint!). But…I love simple life experiments and I am looking forward to the challenge!

 

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How to Be the Real Deal

Today’s Lesson: Get real. And stay there.

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If you want to be known as someone who commands respect and admiration from your peers and friends, here are three incredibly difficult things you can do to prove you are worthy of it:

1. Make your word as predictable as gravity. There is no faster way to lose reputation or credibility than to not do what you said you would do when you said you would do it. Gravity always keeps its word. If you throw a stick in the air, it will come back down. If you throw it in the air again, it will come back down again. It would be quite remarkable if Gravity decided to show up late sometimes, and the stick hit you on the head 40 minutes later than you expected it to. Keep your word the way Gravity keeps its word.

2. Deliver the goods. When you say you will do something, do it with excellence. Do not just get it done and move on to the next thing. When you are known as someone who does excellent work and keeps his word, then the world suddenly becomes your oyster. Well, probably not suddenly… but slowly, over time, as your reputation increases and people realize you are the real deal.

3. Repeat. Keep your word and deliver the goods. The more times you repeat those two, the more your reputation and credibility edge up.  It sounds easy but sometimes it will feel like the whole world is conspiring to keep you from keeping your word and delivering the goods. It does not matter, though, because you face the world like gravity. Gravity does not care if it is sick or if traffic is bad or if its dog died, etc. Gravity keeps its word and delivers the goods. The stick is coming down whether you like it or not because Gravity said it would and you can count on Gravity (thank goodness!).

 

If you want to be the real deal, don’t just say the words. Keep your word, deliver what you say you will (by the time you say you will), and repeat that every chance you get.

That’s keeping it real.

 

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That’s Life

Today’s Lesson: Life is coming at you and it will never let up. Who are you going to be about it?

*****

Maybe the best advice I have ever received came from a quirky French guy named Alan. He was a Landmark Forum leader (basically a high-end Life Coach) and, among many nuggets of wisdom he shared, was a gem that has never left me.

It serves as a regular reminder for me whenever I face what seems to be an insurmountable challenge. When I do not know what to do or where to turn, I hear Alan’s accent sharing what sets heroes apart in the world. I don’t remember if he said it exactly like this, but it is pretty close. Alan said:

“You know the saying, ‘Shit happens’, yes? Well… that’s it. Shit happens. Life happens. There is nothing you can do about that. Life is going to happen no matter what. It’s not going to stop happening until you are dead. It’s not going to be easy on you today because it knows you are having a bad day. Life is not going to spare you bad news until tomorrow because you are having such a good day and it does not want to ruin it. No, it doesn’t care. It’s Life.

Life happens. What can you do? You can’t stop it, can’t pause it so you can catch your breath and think through it. It’s happening now. Always now. It’s happening, happening, happening. That’s it.

Life happens.

The only power you have–this is very important, listen–the only power you have is in choosing who you are going to be in the face of that.”

Life happens. The only power we have is in choosing who we will be when faced with the tough parts. 

Thanks, Alan.

 

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Is Money Really The Root of All Evil?

"The Root of All Evil" by artist Dan Tague.
“The Root of All Evil” by artist Dan Tague.

Today’s Lesson: People, not money, are the root of all evil. We are the root of all good as well. Each decision you make each day contributes to your being part of one or the other. So before you decide to pay for something (metaphorically or literally), decide which side you are on.

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“Money is the root of all evil.”

If a man tells you this, run away for he understands neither evil nor money, or chooses to be willfully ignorant of both. Whichever it is, his intention is not to contribute to your Life.

Money is not the root of any evil. Money does not corrupt. Money has no inherent morality, desire, ethical premise, or secret agenda. At its core, money is paper (or digital code) with a mutually agreed upon value. It only exists as an agreement between the values of two people. If the value is not mutually agreed on, then money has no value to either side of a transaction.

Those who disavow the use of money are likely the same people clamoring for promotions in their careers and overspending their financial and moral credit. They scrabble for every dollar while cautioning you of the evil money poses in their world.

The truth is money does not care about evil. Money does not care about you or the people who claim money is the root of evil. What money does is allow the freedom for a man to show, in concrete terms, his own benevolence or malice.

Money brings out whatever was there already. Money provides Man with the means to take action on his own moral standing and trade his brute strength with a bludgeon for mental prowess and calculated risk. Money transforms bloody battles over property with clubs, stones, teeth, and claws to respectful, peaceful exchanges between two factions. It is an exchange of respect instead of fists.

I think money is one of the top ten greatest inventions in human history–an agreement among people that frees us from a crude system of barter. Without money, what would you trade for your smartphone or video game console–wool socks you knitted yourself? If you were lucky enough to have raised sheep? And if the guy with the smartphone did not already have sheep, or socks?

Only with the power and agreed upon value of money, created by and dependent on the will and honor of men, have we been able to rise from a feudal past to a glimmering future where nearly every person who wants to can own a car, a place to call home, and a way to communicate with the world.

If someone tries to sell you the idea that earning value by trading your time and effort to seek your own enjoyment in life is evil, then you can only respond properly by giving that person directions to where he can find the supporters of his notion:

“Go to hell.”

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((If you want to read the best speech ever given about money and what inspired me to write this post, read “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. Or, for the short version, click here to read the speech given by my favorite fictional character of all time, Francisco D’Anconia.))

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You Are What You Seek

Today’s Lesson: You are like gravity. You attract the people, situations, feelings, and life surrounding you. If you see nothing but despair, inequality, and suffering everywhere you look, consider looking for better people, situations, feelings, and lives to surround yourself with. 

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Scrolling through social media posts is something I find myself limiting more and more. I like to see what friends and family are up to but I can only take it in small doses. The overwhelming majority of posts, in my opinion, are really just complaints (including mine, including this one!).

Some of us are on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, Instagram, etc… to find and share everything we think is wrong with the world. Articles on people we never met who died, links to rants about politics, racism, sexism, posts challenging people who do not agree with our religion (or non-religion), pictures of the stupid people we saw or dumb things we did today, stories of abuse to people, pets, or the environment… the list is endless.

It is all like a cloud of poison, spreading and permeating gossip and negativity into the world. I get it. The world is not perfect and some people want to change it (most of us just want to complain about it, though, because actually changing it is hard and we are busy coming up with new complaints). Consider, however, how much of your life is spent seeking out what is wrong with everyone else’s lives.

Some people just seem miserable all the time. I feel for them. My life is not perfect by any means. I am always working to improve something, but generally, I do not seek or mostly ignore hate, bad parenting, tasteless humor, and anything that ends with -ism (racism, feminism, sexism, theism, environmentalism, etc.). Because I avoid these things and actively work to keep them out of my life, they are not part of my world (much).

I am not advocating living with rose-tinted lenses. I know there are real problems in the world, but unless we are individually actively and actually addressing them (which means doing more than sharing articles or sending what is essentially hate-mail to everyone, which means sending it to no one), I recommend taking the timeless advice grandmothers have given for generations: if you can’t say anything nice, then do not say anything at all.

It is okay to either not have an opinion or to keep one to yourself.

In the modern world, that may mean using a simple guideline to structure your world more positively. A good start for many is to simply un-friend or un-follow the people, organizations, or brands who are not making your life better. If they are not contributing to your life, then consider what they are contributing to.

You are what you seek. What world will you choose to live in today? 

 

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You Have to Experience It.

Live for the experience of living.

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Nicole has a knack I admire for seeking out new adventures. We probably did something I have never experienced before every day this weekend.

Left unattended, I gravitate toward building rituals and habits but I love adventure and new experiences (or even revisiting old experiences that I have not tried in many years). These two extremes, I think, are what have given me a reputation for being “adaptable” to many social environments while also still being strategic and consistent in my work habits and hobbies.

New experiences, in my opinion, are the core of what makes life worth living. Some adventures are better than others. Sometimes adventure leads to danger (real or perceived, social or ethical, physical or financial) but that is part of the game. As long as you are not intentionally causing damage to yourself or others, it is probably worth doing.

Especially if you are a young adult (but even if you are not), here is advice that has enriched my life and I hope will put you in the mindset of living a (mostly) joyful experimental life:

Live lots of places. If you have an opportunity to move, take it (or create one). There is no rule that says you have to spend your entire life within five miles of your current friends or family. Let the world be your family and make friends everywhere.  Every place is so different. I have lived places I have loved and places I have hated (and sometimes they were the same places) but I have never regretted a fresh start somewhere new. Living somewhere new, especially if you are on your own, is difficult but it teaches you self-sufficiency, forces you to leave your comfort zone and grow, and builds character. It is one of the best things you can do for yourself, if you ask me.

Explore. The first thing I do after settling in a new town, is explore it, mostly by foot. I try to find the nooks that hide the best coffee shops or the lushest parks. But exploring does not have to be saved for moving. Pick something you have never done in your own town and try it. Either way, just get out in the world and go somewhere you have not been. When fuel was cheap, me and a friend would meet every Sunday, pick a direction and just drive for 4 or 5 hours, seeing where the road took us. We always found cool places to eat, if nothing else.

Say “Yes” a LOT. People present us with chances to explore and experiment all the time but we are often so caught in our own routines and rhythms that we miss the opportunity. If a friend says, “Hey, I was thinking about trying (tennis, a new restaurant, rock-climbing, the museum, going to a roller derby, seeing a cabaret show, checking out a live jazz band, the ballet, yoga, etc…), just say, “Sounds cool. What time should I be there?” Even if it sounds like something you will hate, remember your mom’s advice about broccoli and try it anyway. My personal rule is, “I’ll try anything twice.” I figure the first time I am going to be nervous, not know what to expect, maybe feeling some trepidation. Whatever it is, even if it is a bad experience, I will very likely give it another shot in fairness.

 

Those tips work for me and I am reminded of them almost daily (Nicole really keeps me on my toes–I am almost never sure where the weekend will lead, but I am lucky to be in a new city now so every day is an adventure either way!). I hope living an experimental life works for you, too.

 

Today’s Lesson: Home is not so much where the heart is as it is where your feet take you. Go explore, wherever your are. Say “Yes” often and try anything twice before deciding you do not like it.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Untried and True?

If it has been around a long time, then it must be good, right? (Of course, if you have ever read my blog, then you can guess my answer is, “probably not”…)

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I am not a fan of Daylight Savings Time and I share this post explaining why each year. It is an archaic, damaging tradition that has far outlived any usefulness it once provided to society or humanity, yet, curiously, we revel in it.

Even I will admit, despite my cognitive grasp of its non-utility, a little part of me becomes excited for longer summer days. Still, I would rather have stable hours (and moods) throughout the year–or even better–simply accurate timekeeping.

There are many things we believe or do simply because we have always believed or done them. I uncover my own assumptions or false beliefs all the time. It is astounding the things I have accepted as fact and internalized for large portions of my life without ever questioning the logic or origin of the tradition or belief.

Here are some off the cuff examples of things I believed simply because people told me they were true: Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are real, I need eight hours of sleep, drinking milk does a body good, keeping quiet and working hard will help me do well in life, only book publishers can publish books, marriage is sacrosanct, eating meat is natural, college will make me smarter, and having kids and settling down is what I am supposed to do in my twenties or thirties.

Some things are so deeply ingrained that we do not even consider questioning them or holding them up to the smallest test of logic. I think my dad still believes if you take a warm shower (let’s say the water is 90 degrees) and then walk outside on a cool day (say, 40 degrees) with wet hair and bare feet, you are certain to catch a cold. Of course, if that were true, every kid that goes swimming in a 50 degree pool on a 100 degree day would go home with the flu. The difference in temperature is the same 50 degrees, yet this myth persists in my family and others.

In my book, Daylight Savings Time falls under the same category as other myths, half-truths, un-truths, plain deceptions, or outright blatant ignorance of reality. For some of us, change is much scarier than the alternative: growth.

It feels safer to sit still and hide under the covers when we believe there is a monster in the closet. Of course, there is never a monster in the closet and sitting still, scared, waiting to die would only make the monster’s job easier. When we have information about where the monsters are, it is better to take our new knowledge and run with it.

 

Today’s Lesson: Just because we believe for a long time that something is justified, correct, or true does not mean it is any of those.

 

 

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You Can’t Change Who You Are

When it comes down to it, once a (cheater/ jerk/ addict/ liar), always a (victim/ downer/ cynic/ sucker). After all, a zebra can not change its stripes. You can try but in the end, you can not really change who you are… right?

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Sure you can. Just try harder.

The idea that any of us are forever stuck in an impermeable mold is patently absurd. When we are born, there is no blueprint for who we will become. If there was, someone born in the ghetto would never rise to fame as a singer or actor, and someone who born wealthy would never have to file for bankruptcy.

People change all the time. As I assimilate new information, I act on it. An over-simplified example: Nicole absolutely hates it when I roll my eyes during a conversation. I have built up that bad habit for years but that does not mean I can never overcome it. Once she explained why (it is disrespectful, dismisses what the other person is saying, and bad manners), I considered the information and now I practice not doing it.

Eventually, I will no longer be practicing and will have respectfully listening on auto-pilot.

By the same token, Nicole knows I feel the same way about the liberal use of a certain finger and she practices not throwing casual gestures my way or in my presence, particularly among family. It only offends me but she makes the change because it pleases me, and we enjoy seeing each other content.

Change does not have to be for another person, however. The point is only that anyone can change anything about themselves if they want to. What people mean when they say, “You just can’t change some people” is “Change is difficult and some people do not want to bad enough to make a difference”.

But that is only an excuse, not a law of human behavior.

 

Today’s Lesson: If you want to change something about yourself, then change it.

 

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