Who Is Working Against You?

Today’s Lesson: Not everyone likes you.

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I love this quip from Sam Harris. In an interview with Dan Carlin, he said, “There are forces aimed at your life that you are not aware of.”

He was referring to terrorists, I think, but I love the quote without context. No matter how much integrity you have or how well you conduct yourself, there will be people who work against you–sometimes in your face, sometimes behind the scenes. Even Gandhi had enemies he was unaware of (and was ultimately shot and killed by one).

My theory is since some people will hate or resent me no matter what I do, I might as well continue learning and growing and becoming a better person according to my standards instead of somebody else’s. I obviously can not live up to everyone else’s standards (since there are as many standards as people) and no matter which person’s I chose, there would still be forces working silently against me.

Therefore, the only expectations I should try to live up to… are mine.

(I should make a quick point here: living up to my standards does not mean I should accept myself as I am and to hell with everyone else–they just have to deal with it. My standards, like me, should always be evolving as I learn, grow, and adapt to the world I create and contribute to.)

 

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How To Be Happy

A friend, who has fought depression for a long time, asked me if I am really happy and how do I stay happy? 

 

Something to consider:

Happiness does not come from the desires you have met, the position you have attained, or the social graces others believe about you. There are people who follow every whim or desire but never seem happy. There are people who are in positions of power or authority, or have great wealth, but never seem happy. There are people who attend lots of social gatherings and seem to have lots of friends, but never feel happy.

Desires, Position, and Social Grace are not required for happiness. What is required is the willingness to be happy.

Happiness (or contentment, fulfillment, satisfaction, etc.) comes first from the choice to be willing to be happy. This is different from the choice to be happy. I have seen the phrase, “Choose Happiness” in many places but for some people, the basic choice is not happiness itself; it is simply being open to the idea that happiness exists and is attainable in a given moment.

I have found this to be most true in relationships. I have been in relationships where I have held to the past for too long, unwilling to let go of old hopes and desires or even old problems. The result was an inability to give my best to the relationship at hand. Suddenly, I would find issues from past relationships made their way into my current relationship. If not that, then I would simply not be able to be happy with the person I was with, even if she was a great person. She might have been everything I was looking for in a mate at the time, but still… I was not happy.

I did not know it at those times but it had nothing to do with the person I was with. I was simply not happy because I was not willing to be happy. Once I realized that, I made a choice. I chose to be willing to be happy. It was a conscious effort and I had to remind myself for months to keep being open to being happy. Eventually, I realized I was there. I was content. I was happy and had been for a while but I could not have told you where the turning point was. It was gradual, often deliberate, but it became easier until it became natural.

I am content now and have been for a long time. Beyond being willing to be happy, I have learned 3 other keys to happiness:

Gratitude. When I am not happy, it is usually because I am not grateful for what I have. I am stuck in a state of wanting something (usually something more, better, or different). If I pause and reflect on things I am grateful for (even simple things like the smell of autumn, or being able to see, or listening to my cat purr), then I will usually find something to smile about. Having a flashier car is not so big a desire when I realize many people would be happy to have a pair of warm socks and a meal today.

Humor. Life is crazy, right? Being able to roll with the ups and downs by appreciating the bizarre unpredictability of life and laughing with it makes the tough times easier to bear. Knowing I will eventually be able to look back and laugh when facing a difficult situation…sometimes that is enough to provide the strength to make it through. Laughing at myself is probably some of the best medicine I have taken. I have a lot of confidence and I can be arrogant sometimes but when I make an embarrassing mistake, rather than beat myself up I laugh with myself for not having the hubris to have seen the mistake coming in the first place. Laughing with myself also takes the tension off others who are not sure if they should laugh at a situation. Finally, being able to laugh (especially with myself) allows me to enjoy my company and appreciate both the good and rocky times of my life.

Self-Esteem. Without a high level of self-regard, both gratitude and humor become tools for self-loathing instead. Having a lot of self-esteem removes the cynicism that would otherwise befall laughing at oneself and it makes gratitude generous instead of suspicious. I think people with low self-esteem who demonstrate gratitude only share half of the sentences they are thinking. Someone with high self-esteem might say and think, “I am grateful to have a friend like you.” Someone with very low self-esteem might say, “I am grateful to have a friend like you,” but finish the thought in her mind, “…but what do you really want?”

 

Choose happiness, but first choose to be willing to be happy. Remember to have gratitude for your life, laugh with yourself during both the good and tough times, and hold yourself in high-regard by acknowledging your own greatness and the greatness of others. Perhaps most importantly, be deliberate about your happiness. As with anything, to be really good at it requires regular practice and a lot of patience. With happiness, though, half the fun is getting there!

 

 

 

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The Difference Between Hearing and Listening

 

“You will hear the bird no matter what but you will only catch the melody if you listen.”

Do you have a friend or team member that seems to never know when to stop speaking? You like him but he rambles, repeats, goes off on tangents, shares too many details, or does not pick up on social cues that normally alert others when we are talking too much.

There is one sure way I know of to stop someone who will not stop talking:

listen.

Over-talkers speak so much, I think, because they never feel listened to, so they keep talking to make their point (because what else can they do?). The irony is they are right. Many of us hear but rarely listen. Hearing is a passive action–you can not stop yourself from hearing the world around you, including people speaking to you. You can not will yourself not to hear the clerk at the cash register or the car with the bad muffler across the street or the bird outside your window.

Listening, however, is active. It requires intention. You will hear the bird no matter what but you will only catch the melody if you listen.

Listening is like meditation. To do it properly, you must stop the chatter in your mind and focus only on the present and the sound (or person in front of you). Most people do not listen to what is being said…they listen for their turn to speak.

I know sometimes I find myself so focused on spitting out my witty response to something that I miss the 10 sentences after the one I wanted to comment on. As passive listeners, we tend to wait for a break so we can say what is important to us instead of listening to what is important to the person we are speaking with.

Here is the best tip I can offer to encourage active listening:

Listen without interrupting and listen with the intention of listening–the way you pause to listen to your favorite song, taking in every sound, appreciating it, and letting it fill your mind. It is okay if you are not able to share every clever remark that enters your mind; it is more important you listen to your friend or team-mate in the moment.

The reason some people talk too much is simple: they want to feel listened to. They believe (whether consciously or sub-consciously) no one listens to them. If they realize you are listening intently to every word they say, then I assure you they will suddenly not have as much to say, and you will be able to move on to the next conversation quickly.

Today’s lesson… do not only hear what people say. Listen intently and intentionally and wait patiently without worrying what you will say when they pause. Let them finish. You will be surprised at how much more you will learn and how much time listening saves over hearing.

 

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Today’s Lesson: No Cure for Cursing? [141017]

NOTE: Nearly all my posts are family friendly or, at most, PG-13 in nature, but below this sentence is a lot of foul language, in case you are easily offended or typically not expecting that from me.

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Most people know me as someone who does not like using swear words. I am not perfect yet at never using them but I try to avoid foul language, four-letter words, swearing, or whatever you might call that type of language. It is interesting to me bad language is often referred to as “cursing”. It seems fitting. Those words seem powerful (after all, we call it “dropping an F-Bomb” not “dropping an F-Butterfly”). We use them the way gypsies from legend used curses. “F*ck you!” we say, cursing someone else, sending them poison and ill intent the same way superstitious old women might have said, “I put a curse on you and your family!” and spit on the ground.

They may be watered down today but we react to curse words as if they are actual curses with potent effect… until we don’t. Little can sour your mood faster than having someone hurl a curse at you but the more they do it, the less effect it has on you. “That’s just Bob,” we say, “He shoots off at the mouth a lot, but he’s harmless…”

I believe cursing is one of the most brainless things we do.

If you really want to speak powerfully and have your words carry weight, try giving up cursing. Lazy, thoughtless language carries almost no impact over time. Curse words come too easily. We put no effort into them, except in trying to be creative by making even more watered-down curses (I mean, really, what is a “f*ck-tard”, anyway? It is an even lazier way of saying “f*cking retard” which is already meaningless since most people do not know the actual clinical definition for being mentally retarded, and, of course, it has nothing to do with intercourse).

If you truly want to speak powerfully, name the exact evil you are frustrated with. Yelling at your estranged lover, “You are a f*cking as*hole!” is does not relieve your anger and it does not help him identify the nature of what he is doing (or how he can correct it). Instead, name exactly what he is doing. It carries the weight of an anvil being dropped on his head. Plus, being specific forces you to think and see reality clearly (thus granting you power to control it). “You are a lazy, unproductive looter wasting your life on video games.” Now, THAT’s a powerful statement and it takes more work than just saying, “You lazy bastard…”

Today’s lesson is, think before you speak, say exactly what you mean, and don’t talk too much anyway. If you are listening, then you are probably not cursing.

 

 

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Today’s Lesson: Why Is It Hard To Be Happy? [140907]


I woke up with a headache after a long night of insomnia and a cat wanting to play (possibly causing the insomnia). My legs were sore, my back and feet hurt, it was chilly, and I was up before the sun on the only day I can sleep in, and I was fighting mad about all of it. I had to take a breath and remind myself that it is good to be alive, the dawn birds were singing, and I had a whole day ahead of me to enjoy life–did I want to start it with that attitude?

 

I eventually felt centered but before I did, I actually asked myself the title of this post (although, in truth, there was an expletive added in the middle): “Why is it so (…) hard to be happy?”

 

I meditated on that for a while and ultimately I think there are three primary reasons:

 

  1. Happiness is a reaction, not a resting state. For most of us, I think, happiness is the effect to a cause. That is, our natural state is not bliss; it is neutral. Babies, for example, do not spend every resting moment giggling and smiling and enjoying life. Something happens that delights them (a game of Peek-a-Boo) and then they are happy (until something else happens and they react to that–a soiled diaper, for example). This morning I did not wake up “happy”; I had to work to get there. I had to find a cause (morning birds, being alive, a day with only an hour or two of work, etc.) that I could react to.

     

  2. There is no such thing as “Happy”. We have adopted the concept of happiness as something nearly tangible but “Happy” is a label given to an entire group of complex emotions that are individually determined. Consider that what might make you happy is racing down an empty freeway on a motorcycle. Motorcycles might not make me happy but perhaps a nature hike could bring me close to bliss. Your happiness is unique to you and it is merely a representation of things you decided make you “happy”.

     

  3. Entropy. It is hard to be happy when the universe is given toward entropy–a tendency toward disorder. Because of Entropy, cars break down over time, our bodies decay as we age, and the world continues a march toward greater randomness and chaos. Entropy is necessary for the universe to work, though. Imagine if the world did not trend toward disorder. What if when you tried to make an omelet, cracking an egg did not break the egg but instead put it back together? Or if every time you ate, food reassembled itself in your stomach rather than broke down? Or if nothing ever died… how quickly would the world be overpopulated and unable to sustain all the people, plants, creatures and microbes that ever existed or ever will? Unfortunately, entropy is a sort-of necessary evil.

 

 

Happiness is not impossible to obtain but it requires work. Our natural reaction to a flat tire is, of course, not happiness, but because happiness is a reaction, it means we can choose to be happy (maybe not about the tire but in finding gratefulness that we have a car and somewhere to go).

 

Since there is really no tangible thing called “happy” that we can put our hands on directly, we have the advantage of picking what “happiness” is and finding that individual thing that can make us smile in any given moment. How cool is that? You have the ability to choose your “happy” in any moment!

 

Thanks to the Law of Entropy, we know everything is temporary, including pain and suffering. We know we will eventually break down and one day not wake up, so we have a built-in mechanism for enjoying life… recognizing life is temporary and every moment is therefore valuable. Having entropy also means there will be many surprises to come (a little randomness is usually good) and although some surprises will be better than others, having a life full of surprise, I think, is better than having no life, simply living as automatons with no concept of surprise, delight, or happiness.

 

It is hard to be happy but I guess that’s the point. Like anything we accomplish that is difficult or arduous, there is a certain sense of accomplishment and pride when we are happy–we know we have attained something special. And like anything difficult achieved, it is usually fleeting… enjoy happiness while it lasts and when it is gone, appreciate the moment, and then start the work of achieving it again.

 

Nothing comes easy, not even happiness, but it is worth the effort.

 

 


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Live With Regret (And Love It!)

If anyone suggests you should “Live without regret”, they are either not alive or do not understand what they are telling you.

If you live, you have regrets. There is nothing wrong with that; if you live long enough to gain any amount of wisdom, you must make and learn from mistakes (or how would you gain wisdom?). If you learn from any mistake (burning your hand, for example), you will regret not having made a better decision in the first place (not putting your hand in the fire). Thus, we live with regret as naturally as we live with thinking.

The secret is not to live without regret. The secret is not to regret living.

 

 

 

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“Love Me For… Me?”

I have seen this meme a few times on Facebook. I am saddened and angered by what the originator is promoting here, and it is ironic the iconic Betty Boop is used to depict everything opposite of what the character stood for.

 

Betty Boop Doesn't Get It.

 

The last line is a prompt to be proud of who you are, which is fine, except the line comes after describing an obese, lazy, unattractive lady with an unapologetically difficult personality. Really? Do you want to herald that? Do you want to post that on your Facebook wall to celebrate your own mediocrity?

“You should just love me for who I am”; “This is just who I am–take it or leave it…”

Any variation of “be proud to be below average” is a moral cop-out. Before subscribing to popular sentiment, be careful of what you are supporting. Think first and think a lot. The sentiment on that post is that you should be proud of who you are and what you have accomplished in life without comparing yourself to others–that you are perfect just how you are.

Truly? Is there no reason to grow or further who you are as a human being? If you do not compare yourself to others, particularly to others who are more successful than you, then how will you measure your success? Imagine if no basketball player ever compared themselves to Michael Jordan, what would the median success of all basketball players be? In such a world, the greatness of being human would only be in reaching the average and then celebrating the mediocre.

You do not have to accept that you are lazy and unattractive by default, and that is the best you can do, therefore people must lower their standards to love YOU. I hope you think you are better than that or at least recognize you have the potential to be better.

Perhaps the most depressing part of this Betty Boop meme, to me, is the vague proposition from this Zero of a person that IF she loves you back, she will do it with all her (mediocre) heart.

Consider this instead (and it is too bad it will never be popular enough to become a meme):

Be proud of yourself and what you have accomplished, but do not celebrate the parts of you that are average at best. Work to improve them. If you want love, then know who the hero of your love will be.

And know a hero will never want to love you for who you are… he will love you for who you strive to be.

Rather than settle for average, strive to be the person YOU want to fall in love with.

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It’s Supposed To Hurt: The Healing Power of Pain

Sometimes friends or family who know me as someone with great emotional self-control ask for advice on how to get through trying times. For me, there are 3 key elements to dealing with loss, heartache, or pain. If I am good at dealing with such things, it is only because I have been through enough that I have grown wiser and more durable along the way. Here is what I know about hurt and what helps me through the worst of times:

1. Remember it is supposed to hurt. Of course, no one likes emotional pain, like the end of a long relationship or the loss of a loved one, and we want the pain to be over as quickly as possible so we can move on. The trouble is we forget we are supposed to feel pain when we are hurt. If you accidentally put your hand on a hot stove, it burns your skin. After you take your hand away, the pain does not immediately disappear. It throbs for minutes, days, or sometimes weeks.

Pain is your body’s way of alerting you something is wrong.

The depth of the pain we feel is usually commensurate to the time it will take to heal. If it hurts deep, it is going to take a long time to repair. It is too bad but it is also okay. It is the way we are intended to work. Rather than trying to ignore the pain (which is like trying to ignore a crying baby), listen to it. You do not have to agree with it; you do not have to accept it as an absolute; you definitely do not have to accept it as a permanent state. That is the beauty of emotional pain–it is 100% repairable. It might feel like losing a limb but it is not the same. Emotions heal. Emotional pain is your body and spirit crying out for care and attention because something has gone awry.

2. Treat the wound. What happens to a cut left unattended? It becomes infected and the increases the damage. Emotional pain is no different. If left untreated, it will grow worse and leave scars (and scars are okay, by the way–they are only reminders of hard-won victories you survived to tell about). When you are going through a heartbreak or emotionally challenging time, do what is necessary to care for your Self.

It is so important to treat yourself well when you are feeling down. Pamper yourself. Go for long walks and get a little exercise. If you like movies, go to a movie–treat yourself to a date with you. Reacquaint yourself with what you like about being you. Write. Draw. Take-up yoga. Go to a cafe and enjoy a latte if that is what you need. Take a relaxing bath. Be among people if it makes you feel better.

Hint: if you like attention when you are sick with the flu, then you probably want attention when you are sick with a heartache; it will make you feel better to be in public. On the other hand, if you normally like to lock yourself away, sleep, and be left alone when you have the flu, then you will probably benefit from living a quieter life and staying in but still taking care of yourself over a heartache. Either way is fine; do what works for you. Remember you are healing and do things that affirm your body and spirit; this is like dressing your wounds and changing the bandages as necessary.

Healing takes time. While you are taking time to heal, take advantage of the process to learn new things about yourself and explore new parts of your personality. Healing has to happen no matter what, but the hurting and repairing of damage does not have to suck.

3. Hurt, but only to the point you choose. I say it is important to hurt and acknowledge that pain requires healing, but you do not have to give everything over to the pain. When I have a headache, I often forget about it if I become lost in work or in a good story, until someone or something reminds me I have a headache and I feel it again. I can choose to suffer with the headache the whole time or I can choose to be in control and live normally with or without a headache.

Inevitably, because my entire attention is not focused on the pain, the pain slips into the background. It does not disappear (it is not supposed to) but it does not have to take center stage. Sometimes I even set aside time to feel the pain–for 10 minutes at home alone after dinner, for example. I use the time to really explore the pain, go into it and feel it all, but once I find that point where I know it is going to turn to despair or rage, I stop. I mentally choose to be in control, breathe, and turn my attention back to healing or something else. I might do this a few times during the healing process. It is good to know how deeply I am hurt so I can recognize the warning signs of big pain in the future and hopefully avoid repeating mistakes.

 

There is no way to avoid pain or emotional risk, but I have learned that I am in the driver’s seat of my life and my life goes how I decide it goes. There are many ways to deal with trying times (learning from your mistakes, seeking help from friends or therapy, practicing not being attached to outcomes, etc.) but the three principles I listed are the primary tools I use to pull through rough spots.

I hope they help you. Feel free to leave other suggestions or ask about specific situations in the comments or on Facebook.

The only pain we can not heal is death. Everything else is survivable.

 

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Patience And Vision – 2

Is there a time when having Vision and Patience is not appropriate or useful? Sure.

If your house is burning down (figuratively or literally), it is not the best time to map out and reassess a strategic goal and reflect on the nuances of your path and potential obstacles between your destination and you. You want to either grab a fire extinguisher or get out of there!

In other words, do not chase so single-mindedly your overall vision that you dismiss what is in front of you right now. Focus on both, and practice becoming better at weighing the benefits of each.

My family thinks I am too quick to fall in love, for example. When I meet someone compatible with my needs, I am not afraid to commit and try to enjoy every moment together, even if I think the predictable future is not likely to be success. Though I might know where I want my future to ultimately lead, there is always a chance I may not reach the goal I desire. I would be a fool, then, to pass an opportunity for joy only because there is the potential for sorrow.

I must choose intelligently, of course. I must have the Vision and Patience to continue working toward my overall goals, but I also must live in reality and acknowledge that I can lose everything at any moment. The trick is to be content in every moment I can.

To follow suit with my examples from Part One of this post, in martial arts if I am fighting someone else, I must have the vision of my goal and patience to make the right decision at the right time, but I must also be clever enough to spot an open opportunity if my opponent drops his guard for a moment or loses his balance.

In business, I need the patience and vision to master my career and follow my goals, but I also must be cautious not to foolishly turn down a promotion or opportunity that presents itself now, as long as it is still aligned with my overall vision.

Live for the future but live in the present. Exercise Patience, follow your Vision, but don’t lose sight of the fleetingness of life. Everything changes, all the time. Allow yourself to be content in every moment.

Sometimes you just have to wait… but sometimes you only have to wait a moment.

 

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Vision And Patience – 1

I have never won anything in life by simply racing to the finish (not even a race). Whether business success, relationship needs, or material wants, any victory of significance for me has come from having patience and vision.

I am certain the goals I reach in life happen because I am able to see, where others do not, the long road to the future I wish to make reality. I can not express the value of waiting for the right time to make the right decision. In the interim, though it can be extraordinarily difficult, sometimes all there is to do is wait. Patience, then, is an action. Patience is the act of finding inner peace when your mind is racing, of answering to your calmness and self-control, which in turn allows you to think clearly and move swiftly when the very decision itself runs out of patience.

Patience without vision, though, is boredom, is death. If it is time to wait, then be sure you know clearly what you are waiting for. Vision is an action, too. Vision is the act of looking into possible futures and choosing the one you will make reality, and then seeing the road to travel from where you are to where you want to be. Further, you must keep looking and checking the state of the road, over and over–obstacles can change–indeed, will change, causing you to re-assess both the goal and the direction to reach it. The trick is never losing sight of the goal or the future you are choosing.

This applies in relationships, of course. What is sweeter than the wait for the first kiss with a new love? But without patience, you might jump the gun and find yourself rejected. Without vision, the first kiss may never happen and you may find yourself watching the woman of your dreams meet someone else because she simply was not sure if you wanted her.

Another example is in martial arts. When you are fighting, you must start with the vision of your victory over your opponent and then see the path to reach it. You must be patient when he strikes to avoid traps, feigns, or mistakes in your own balance and emotion that he might turn into his victory (naturally, his success depends on his patience and vision, too).

This applies in business as well. To reach number one in any field, you must know what the metrics are to surpass them (Vision) and you must build yourself or your team by learning and applying and gaining experience (Patience) to overtake one-by-one the opponents or obstacles in your way.

Sometimes the hardest part is waiting, but knowing what you are waiting for and why can make it infinitely easier to bear. I suppose the secret here is to know when the waiting is no longer worth the reward, but to understand that you must know your own values and how well those values are aligned with your vision.

It should go without saying, but Vision and Patience are only values if  they stay true to your other moral and ethical values. Taking that kiss the wrong way could be rape. Getting ahead in business by being unscrupulous could be stealing or cheating. Not having patience and vision in a competitive fight could lead to serious injury or worse, death.

 

Anything worth winning is worth waiting for, to what extent it is worth waiting is up to you, but the best things (or goals, or people), I can tell you, are often the ones that require the most patience and surest vision.  Sometimes you just have to wait.

 

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