The last day of 2021. A remarkable year. So much promise. So much tumult. Change. Evolution. Love and loss. A year of so many highs and lows in my life like really none other I can remember.
I woke up this New Years’ Eve morning after a night of terrible, restless, barely continuous and certainly unrefreshing sleep to a gray and dreary New England December morning. The house is quiet and cold and in wild disarray befitting my current state of focus. The people I love most in this world are scattered about in the world. I’m alone.
I brewed myself a cup of coffee, looked out the kitchen window and preceded to listen to no fewer than five different versions of “The Sound of Silence.” It’s really only that first lyric that sticks though. I thought I was going to write a retrospective of the year – what made it tumultuous in my own life as a microcosm of the journey we all took this year. It turns out that what I really want to write is something a little different.
June 15, 2008 was to be my dad’s last Father’s Day. We tried to take him for breakfast, but he used all his energy walking down the stairs and getting into the truck and just couldn’t get into the restaurant. He was so weak, I had to carry him. It was difficult getting him out of the truck, and we tried to get this to work so much, but just lost sight of the fact it wasn’t going to happen.
We eventually decided to call it, placed an order to go, carried breakfast out in styrofoam containers and ate the now pathetic breakfast back at my sisters. Just a disaster all the way around.
It was a disaster mitigated only by the time we spent with him. It wasn’t well thought out, breakfast was just what we did, so why not take him to breakfast? I should have known he was so weak and made other accommodations. I should have done something different, but I relied on what we always did instead of what would have been more thoughtful. 11 years later, I regret that one of the last days of my dad’s life, one that was meant to recognize what he meant to me, stands for that failure.
I wish I could say I’m better at these things because of it, I’m not. I wish I could say I did something better for him, but I didn’t. Today it was just hanging there in my mind, like the gloom here in New England on this, Father’s Day 2019: 66-degrees, rainy, dark and gray.
I had a chance to visit his memorial this week, spend a few moments with him front of mind, perhaps a prayer. Something I do not do often enough. The memorial park is a peaceful place, quiet – especially mid-day mid-week. The day we laid him to rest fresh as though it had been the day before. It was good to share that time alone with the man.
His dad’s marker is across the memorial park – Dad was a special guy, devoted to his father, and specifically picked a marker within easy eye shot of his dad’s – and I recall as a youngster heading out to the park on Sunday after church, so he could pay his respects. Kneeling on one knee, crossing himself, and praying, I recall the man hurting. I was a child when my grandfather passed away, and although I missed him as much as a child can I didn’t quite understand how Dad could still be so sad years later.
Its now been 10 Fathers’ Days since we buried my Dad, many more than had passed in my recollection above. I get it now, in fact I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten it from the moment I entered the room with his now lifeless body the night he died. I kneeled by the edge of his grave marker on one knee, crossed myself, even prayed a bit and couldn’t help but to cry. Recalling him in the same place, mourning his dad, lets me know that I need to bring my son more often, so he can see that it’s okay and normal and good to feel these things. Even after all this time, that its not a weakness.
I started writing this post this morning. I was really feeling the regret. Today, my Father’s Day was pretty much the routine. I was around family who came together to celebrate the dads among us. I sat around and watched baseball, ate some pulled pork sandwiches, and drank a few beers. No special circumstances, just what we always do. It was good.
And I realized that while Father’s Day 2008 was a mess, it wasn’t because he didn’t feel loved. He didn’t complain that he didn’t want to go, he tried to make it work – perhaps it was just that routine that he wanted desperately to have as much as I did. I’ll never know that, and while I regret that I hadn’t better considered present circumstances and made more thoughtful choices, I need to remember he didn’t feel forgotten. He didn’t feel unloved or ill-considered. I didn’t do my best that Father’s Day, but I was there. Maybe that’s most of what matters: today everyone was just there, we were together.
Today was Father’s Day and despite my attempt at a pity party for myself, my Dad may well have just given me another gift. Perhaps the day wasn’t a disaster mitigated only by the time we shared together, but rather was a cherished time because we shared the time together – even if was eating soggy eggs out of a take away container.
Although he’s a public person, unless you follow ultramarathoning you’ve probably never heard of him. And even if you do follow ultramarathoning, you may not have heard of him. He is one of those personalities I see from afar, I don’t know him, I don’t know how heavily curated his “story” is nor just how much what he puts into the world is actually his or if it’s what he thinks the world should see.
This matters not one ounce to me. What he puts out to the world is all about striving to be the best you can possibly be. Which is great, but who is he and why should I care?
A quick read of his Wikipedia page answers those questions. He’s got asthma, has battled obesity, and has had a congenital heart defect repaired. A lot of us have faced these or similar challenges – my weight over the course of my adult life has yo-yoed between 175 and 230. He tried and failed to get into USAF Pararescue twice before succeeding and eventually becoming a SEAL. The work he’s done since reads like a guidebook of mind over matter. This is an exceptional person and I want to believe the majority of what he puts out to the world is actually his belief system. You cannot do what he has done, you cannot overcome what he has overcome without the fortitude and strength of mind he expresses.
His Facebook post of Monday, September 10 struck a nerve for me. It resonates as true and I can see the truth looking back as far as High School: I’ve said for years that I was a mediocre student, but my comparator group was far more high performing than I gave credit for at the time; had I gone to my public high school, I would have been a mediocre student there too…but my comparator group would have been less high performing and I would have set my targets lower.
His message? Be mindful of your comparator group.
If you are always comparing yourself to mediocre people, that’s exactly what you will be! A lot of people think that they are at the top of their game because they are the best amongst a group of people who don’t even [care].
He goes on, much like Bill from yesterday’s post (“it’s supposed to be hard,”) that “mediocrity feels good.” Lower your expectations. He acknowledges that performing at high levels is uncomfortable, and people shy away from people that make them uncomfortable. Comfort is a drug, it becomes addictive.
A week before he said:
The most important conversations you will ever have are the ones you have with yourself. You wake up with them. You walk around with them. You go to bed with them. Eventually you act on them. Rather it be good or bad.
We live in a world full of haters and jealous people. People so [messed] up in their own lives that they can’t move forward so they put their hate for themselves on you. This world is full of distractions- a lot of them are from other people, social media, some are self-imposed. In a world full of distractions, you must learn to live in it undistracted, unphased.
Never let the weakness of this world infiltrate your mind! To do that you must truly know yourself! Don’t allow people to puppet master you from being [flipping] great!
Here he’s speaking the language of refusing to contribute. You’re in control of your own greatness. THAT is a powerful and scary message: it means that if you fail to be great, it’s on you. How many of us want that much power and control? Control your negative self talk, live your best life, conquer your goals, avoid mediocrity. Don’t allow anyone elses’ mediocrity, no one else’s reasons for not striving for better be your reasons.
We all have our challenges and opportunities. Accept them, but do not excuse them. Compare yourself, your results to those you wish to emulate. We’re the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. Choose the right 5 people. If you choose to be angry, you will make certain choices. If you choose to make a difference, you will make different choices. But make no mistake, you’re making the choice.
About a month before the last Presidential election, I decided to opt out of the nonsense, opt out of the manufactured outrage, opt out of the negativity and use the remaining days through election day to instead demonstrate reasons why we should be inspired by each other. As you can see from the history of this blog, I’m not always the most inspirational person, not always the happiest, not always the sun-shiniest. I am, however, hardheaded. I refuse to succumb to the manufactured outrage I see everywhere from Sports Illustrated, to the Wall Street Journal, to my Twitter feed.
We’re all angry with each other because we live in our own little echo chambers, we consume the news that confirms our world views. We’re angry with all the things that should be and aren’t; we’re angry with all the things that are that shouldn’t be.
We’re angry that Colin Kaepernick disrespects the flag and military, we’re angry that Colin Kaepernick is out of football because he was protesting racial injustice. We’re angry that Nike has made Kaepernick part of their ad campaign. We’re angry because “they’re” cutting off the Nike Swoosh off the socks that have already been purchased in protest.
We don’t stop to listen and really consider the transformation of the protest: it evolved from sitting during the anthem to kneeling – because it wasn’t about disrespecting the military, it was protesting police violence against minorities. Has there been an increase in violence? Are minorities disproportionately targeted? We don’t get that far into the conversation before we start yelling at each other. Even more than that, though, Kapernick wasn’t going to be the starting Quarterback.
He was going to be benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert; he wasn’t going to be released – the cap hit to the 49ers payroll would have been prohibitive – and he wasn’t going to play. A reasonable person could conclude this could be a ploy to be released more than a social justice statement. As it turned out, he would replace Gabbert 4-weeks into the season, a season in which his team went 1-10 behind him and he sported a 49.5 QB rating…which was actually a slight improvement over his 2015 play. Should he have a place on a roster? Perhaps, but then again there are plenty of second string quarterbacks that don’t ask for the same money – CBS reported before the 2016 season that he was looking for $9-10 Million and a chance to start. Not too many backup QBs make that kind of money and no wonder he didn’t get too many calls. So conspiracy to keep him out of the league, or over-reaching for salary? Perhaps a bit of both – no one side is the carrier of truth here. Sports Illustrated suggested that should his asking price come down and still not get a contract, then there would be questions. Note the if/then: if he lowered his salary expectations, based on his mediocre play the previous couple seasons, THEN the questions about other than football considerations would be valid.
That is a lot to read and process. It doesn’t make for a quick read, or ad slogan.
Of course, Nike has come down on the side of “Social Justice,” by portraying Kaepernick as the warrior truth teller, knowing this would again manufacture outrage on the right. This is a $30-Billion company. This move has been vetted at the highest ranks of the company. The folks most likely to be outraged would be the golfing demographic…a group that had pretty much abandoned the brand by the time Nike Golf got out of the equipment business. The folks most likely to stand behind the company are the people the brand wants to sell to. There’s no fear from losing their NFL exclusivity – they’re locked in for the next 10 years. It’s not rocket science – its pure naked capitalism.
Then there’s Fear, a forthcoming book on the Trump Presidency where the President is reportedly described as unhinged from reality. We’re angry Bob Woodward says Jim Mattis claims the President has the comprehension of a sixth grader; We’re angry Jim Mattis says that’s fake. Just one more cog in the attack on the press, or is it really fiction driven by an agenda driven puppet of the #fakenews? For the record, I believe Woodward’s account: well documented, multiple sources, and no apparent need to bolster his reputation – he could have done nothing more than “All the President’s Men” (1974) and he would be relevant. Mattis? An honorable man, a warrior, and American hero, but a member of the Trump administration – with loyalty to that President. He has reasons to refute the characterization. The book hasn’t even been released and we’re outraged.
So here we are. Figuratively at war with each other. Unmoored from facts and understanding even though we’ve never had greater ability to get information. Having the “facts” and “truth” spun around, warped for us. Unable to hear each other over the competing voices. We’re more interested in being pissed off, than actually listening to each other. So I’m unplugging from the noise.
I’m going to make the effort to find inspiration in the every day. To find exemplars of people who have made a difference, who have overcome, who have contributed to our understanding of the world. I’m opting out of the manufactured outrage, and instead I’m hoping to manufacture a little inspiration and perhaps a little humor or love…or something, anything positive that can push back. Everything does not have to be struggle, Some things do and I’m opting out of the fake ones.
I won’t hold myself to a schedule as I did with my original 28-Days, and I can’t completely opt out and still be a well-informed person. I can, however, call BS when I see it and counter it with something I consider not-BS. I can contribute to a positive conversation. Wouldn’t it be great if we all spent a little less time focused on why we should be outraged, and a little more time focused on how we can make the world a little better place.
A friend of mine ran a Boston Qualifying time of just about 3:17:00 at the Providence Marathon on Sunday. On Monday before our group run my buddy Duke and I had done a bit of a warm up, and when we arrived back to catch up with the larger group, Bill was there, ready to run. To highlight his stellar achievement, I mentioned that he had just the previous day run a marathon in the time it took us to do our warm-up run. Let’s not pay attention to the fact that here was a guy who had just run a 7:30 min/mile marathon the day before and he was out for a 5-mile run the next day. This guy is pure animal.
On our way home, my boy – he’s 12, mind you – asked me why I always seem to denigrate myself in complimenting others. Obviously, I protested – c’mon, boy, what are you talking about? I suggested that he was fast running the marathon, not that we were slow running our 5k, but he came right back with the devastating question, “why couldn’t you have just said he was fast?”
And that just kind of hung out there for a while.
What am I going to do? Deny he was right? My 12-year old is a sophisticated enough speaker of English that he recognizes that linguistic habit. He gets the idea that the net effect of doing that is lowering my own standing with other people. In some cultures, that’s not necessarily the case, but in Twenty-first Century America, it certainly is.
I’ve never really thought about it before, but now that its been pointed out to me I can think back as far as high school and see that pattern. To show people how good they are, I have to be less.
That’s not normal.
I think it is a competitive thing for me. I strive to be better, I want to be better, and somehow someone performing at a higher level diminishes my performance. Its a ranking. While most 12-year olds don’t understand linguistics quite to the same level – or perhaps they do, they just don’t articulate themselves that way…or perhaps we just have a relationship that allows him to speak honestly to me – he nailed it. In taking control of the conversation in the way he did by just making an observation, he demonstrated a skill I didn’t know he had and demonstrated an aspect of our relationship I am proud of.
Either way, he not only went straight for the unvarnished truth, he reframed my experience, just. like. that. He listens. He processes. He knows. We all know kids are sophisticated processors of information – as a parent, I’ve wondered and worried for years just what my kids would say about me to each other many years hence. What they’d each remember of their childhoods with me. What sort of counseling they’d need because of me, or perhaps more specifically what maladaptions would they take with them that work to a certain point and then doesn’t?
I feel a lot better knowing that, while he has definite expressions of a strong personality that will both be a great attribute for him and will also get in his way, he knows enough to be able to process these traits. I listen to him and wonder where he picks certain things up…only to hear myself utter similar things hours or even minutes later, so I know I have to show him the same skill he’s shown me. I also know that I should expect a similar response, “c’mon Dad, that’s not what I’m doing…”
He demonstrated he trusted me to listen to him and respect his point. We have some tough conversations and yet at the end of the day, he always wants to check in with me and at the start of the day, he always wants me to walk with him to the school bus. He knows me pretty well and he’s comfortable asking me questions like “why do you denigrate yourself?”
So, it was important that I follow up with him, and thus I did. I told him that I thought about what he said, and despite my protestations I thought he was right and would seek to change my linguistic habits. “Great job” is a lot more positive than “That’s so much better than what I could do.” Positive for the recipient, and without denigrating anyone. Lifting someone up without cutting anyone down. My boy has helped me be a better friend and person. And, I hope, a better father.
Sometimes we just get caught up in all the wrong stuff. I’m probably the best example of this, my most recent debacle for instance. What’s more important: actually getting out there and doing the work, or getting the credit for having done the work? I started a fitness journey with the sole purpose of being able to do these things, to improve my overall health, to have fun. The purpose wasn’t to leave a legacy of official times littered over the internet, to wit, the very first race I ran on my 46-in-46 year was a self-timed 5k.
Ah, but that little goal set me off on the wrong course: 46 races by the end of the year wasn’t what I needed to focus on. It wasn’t long before I was running 2 races a day, or 3 in a weekend to push the number up. That in and of itself wasn’t bad, but hell why run anything longer than a 5k when you’re only getting credit for one race? Why not run 2 5ks and get two done? The next year I course corrected.
“ I used to think the human brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.” Emo Philips
Sometimes, we get what we need right when we need it. Earlier this week I was out for a run with a friend. It wasn’t a long run, or a hard run. It was pretty easy for the most part: while it eased off during the obstacle races, my piriformis is still pretty much in a knot and has really hindered running. I know this guy from running- we met on the first long run either of us had done, where we spent the time talking and really got to know each other; you learn quite a bit about people when you have 90 minutes to do nothing but chat. Of the topics of conversation that day, books and life philosophy topped the list, so its really no surprise that a year and a half later thats what we should be discussing.
He’s mentioned it to me in the past, but this day he had pulled out a specific reference from The subtle art of not giving a f#&k,illustrated it in practice and I decided I needed to check it out. It was the perfect antidote to my Spartan funk.
There’s absolutely nothing special about that race, about having that finishing time. Nothing. The only thing that makes it remotely special to me is that I did it. There’s literally thousands of people that run these races every year. Not special.
So I picked up the book, and swallowed it whole. The vignette that really caught my attention was one where in his late teens while at a party in the woods, the author and his friend were discussing jumping off a cliff into the water. The last time he saw his friend alive, he was on his way to get a sandwich and the friend was heading to the cliff.
I could see myself in the same situation, overthinking the “what ifs” and “if onlys.” Spinning endlessly into depression and self-loathing. It took the better part of that summer to come to some meaning to his friend’s death, but he ultimately settled on the idea that if there is really no reason to do anything, then there’s really no reason NOT to do anything.
There is literally no reason to ever give into fear or embarrassment, and in not doing something to avoid these things you’re actually avoiding living. Death is inevitable, but living isn’t.
And there is it. My friend Duke had given me the key to what was really messing my head. You screwed up. So what. What are you going to do next? I wasn’t afraid of failure to start, why do I fear it now? Seriously. If I was that fearful, I wouldn’t have done it in the first place. Failure is always a possibility, giving up is not. Failure is a possibility only as long as you’re alive – only the living get to experience it, and if I fail because I lose focus doing something badass, that means I’m human.
I’m stopping blaming myself, stopping the self-flagellation and moving on. At some point you realize that you’ve lived more of your life than you have left, and I’ve decided that I’m going to live that time to the best of my ability and I will not let myself get in my own way. It doesn’t matter anyway, so get out there and life your best life. I’m not building some “immortality project” (from another book the author references), I’m just out there living.
Much earlier in the week we were discussing a couple of races to run together, and I was goading him on. There’s a 10k trail race this weekend with an option for a half marathon. He’s running the 10k, I asked him why not the half – predictably, because most sensible people would say this, his answer was that he’s running the half we had just signed up for in a couple weeks. To which I said there’s no reason he can’t do both. As it happened I decided to run neither.
This went around a bit to this point in the conversation where I said that I feel more bad-ass now than I did at 45. I love that I can kick ass on most guys my age. I am celebrating the idea that I can do this stuff. I hate running. I hate these aches and pains. But, I LOVE kicking ass. I’m not masochistic. I’m showing anyone who pays attention that it can get done if you want to get it done. All of which sounds like the book that I’ve just finished, I just didn’t realize it. He then said something most unexpected and most appreciated: “You’re scratching your itch which is to inspire others, motivate others through your karma…I love this about you.”
I’ve never thought of myself as anything of the kind, but I appreciate the words: letting go of the reasons you can’t do something, and giving yourself the permission to challenge boundaries, to live your life may have the effect of inspiring others to do the same. Thank you Duke for that inspiration.
ADDENDUM: I had included a copy of the “Subtle Art..” book here, but was served up with a copyright notification. So It seems that while the author encourages one to not give a F, someone clearly does:
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My definition of stress for this purpose is along the lines of “the physio-emotional response to external demands/stimuli.” Stress doesn’t necessarily have to be negative: psychologists differentiate between “eustress,” that stress springing from demanding situations where a positive outcome is or can be expected, and “distress,” which is that which comes from situations in which a negative outcome is or can be expected. Want some examples? Basically, when TØP sing about being “Stressed Out,” they’re really singing about being “Distressed Out.”
Of course, that’s my undergraduate level understanding of psychology speaking – there’s a greater level of differentiation to be sure, but for current purposes I think that dichotomy will suffice nicely. It’s been a long time since I graduated college so my understanding is likely more than a little rusty as well.
There’s all kinds of negative jazz that goes down when you’re constantly experiencing your world though the lens of “distress.” Anxiety, perceived loss of self-control, feelings of lack of coping ability. Which is ultimately what it comes down to for me: it’s a RESPONSE to these external stimuli, and our choice of response is ours. In other words, we own our response and that the stimuli doesn’t inherently cause eustress or distress.
I find having a running partner – whether or not they know they’re my partner (which sounds far creepier than I intend…basically someone I use to pace myself) – creates a eustressful situation: it keeps me moving toward my goals. I run more consistently, longer, and better when I have someone else to run with. I went for a run last night with someone whose a better runner than I am; I wanted to quit half way through, but I didn’t because I was responding to that potentially stressful situation by pushing myself toward the end of the run, by keeping up with him, by not quitting when it would have been easier to do so. I could have gone the other way: quit because I was feeling uncomfortable, but I chose the opposite response.
There are variables in our life at play that affect our choice of responses: if your boss is being secretive about plans, or perhaps leaving you off invitations for meetings to which you should be invited, you could respond in several ways: “I can’t change the situation, so it is what it is…” to “I must be getting fired! What am I going to do?”
In the second scenario, is it really about the prospect of losing THAT job that concerns you or is the the ramifications of losing that job that concerns you: money concerns, job searching skills to brush up on, employment prospects…the list goes on. It’s the variables in our lives that affect how we will respond to those stressors: have we maintained our professional network and continued to develop skills or have we coasted? Have we been saving money for a rainy day or have we spent it as we got it?
I want to make that point without getting into a conversation around privilege – I get it, there are many many people who due to circumstances cannot make ends meet even with a consistent paycheck, never mind save a portion of it for a “rainy day,” for a great multitude of reasons. The fact of the matter is that folks in lower socio-economic levels are generally more stressed than higher income earners. It’s really hard to find time to relax or work out, if you’re commuting between two part time jobs.
I also know many, many folks who make choices that inhibit that ability to save for a rainy day. Here’s an example: Cigarettes consistently sell for more than $11/pack – or about the after-tax take home for an hours’ work at minimum wage. There’s a choice to be made between saving that hour’s pay and buying a pack of smokes. If you’re making $12/hour full time, your gross pay is $480. If you’re smoking a pack a day, that’s about $77/week or about 16% of your pre-tax wages. This isn’t to say you should or shouldn’t smoke, this isn’t to place judgement on a choice to smoke, it is saying that it is a choice and a value judgement that it’s more important to smoke than it is to have that $77/week. There are these variables and choices around every one of us, every day. There are other, too many to name, variables that aren’t as easy to identify.
Back in 2017, the NPR podcast “Hidden Brain” did a piece on the “Scarcity Trap,” where the scarcity of needs causes the person experiencing the scarcity focuses the brain on that need. If money’s the problem, all you can think about is all the things you need – to the exclusion of future needs. Perhaps quitting smoking would be more stressful than having that additional means for other purposes.
“Scarcity takes a huge toll. It robs people of insight. And it helps to explain why, when we’re in a hole, we sometimes dig ourselves even deeper. ”
– Shankar Vedantam, “Hidden Brain”
Everyone’s circumstances are different, and the purpose of this post isn’t to discuss why those circumstances exist, but rather simply to identify why someone may feel distressed. Also, it’s at this point that you may be interested in the full length version of the “Hidden Brain” story from above. As it happens, quite by happenstance this episode was recently replayed.
Feelings of helplessness or lack of control impact one’s ability to see the brighter side, or in other words, affect your ability to see how you can see the control you can exert. Part of that is taking control of the situation before it seems so far out of reach. Amazon is really, REALLY good at connecting you to things you want, and makes it really easy for you to get them — until you max out your credit card buying them. You’re far more likely to pay attention to Amazon than the credit card’s website…or CreditKarma or any of the myriad credit scoring sites.
I say “part of that is…” and not the far more complete, “the key is…” because the key isn’t necessarily to catch it before you believe you’ve come too far, the key is to acknowledge your situation. “I’m drowning in debt,” “I’ve been written up a couple of times at work and if I mess up one more time…,” “My spouse has been really kind of crummy lately…”
I’m also aware of folks who have to work really, really hard to keep their status where it is – they’re exhausted because they’re always on point, always working to their full potential, meaning there is no leeway – a wrong step, a lost opportunity takes longer to recover from. Which is why, I can imagine, bandwidth being so problematic. There are no easy solutions in life – any life advice designed for a general audience will fall flat. Everyone has their unique situations, we all have courses to navigate. BUT because of that, you have to be honest with yourself. You have to know what your limits are – challenge what you “know,” but understand where you are currently and just how long it will take to build your capacity. Not everyone can do that.
That said, what I’ve found is that it’s rarely too late to course correct. Certainly, when they’re tossing dirt over your body it’s too late; “rarely” is not “never” but so much of progress is having the realization that you’re not where you want to be and working toward where you do want to be. It’s not getting discourages with incremental gains. Temporary set backs. Injuries. Whatever. But those are long term goals. You’ve got to be able to focus on the long term, and if you’ve got a deficit you’re not able to.
The eustress of working toward a future, further-out positive goal has to outweigh the distress of the negative feelings of the immediate situation. Feeling that deficit – “I’m so fat, and I’m not losing weight fast enough” – leads me to eat that bag of Cheetos. When I can focus on the longer term goal and realize that as long as I’m staying on track, I’m losing weight slowly and surely AND, more importantly, I’m losing body fat then I can concentrate on just drinking the glass of water.
Getting oneself out of a crummy credit score takes time. It takes concerted steps to pay off more than you’re spending, but it’s really hard to do that if all you can see if what you don’t have. Its about maintaining control. Understanding where you are, understanding there are steps to take – even if you don’t know what they are just yet, and continuing to work toward them. It’s about wanting that goal more than wanting the shorter term pleasures. Losing THAT job would hurt, afterall we have THAT job to make ends meet, to pay for the things we need in life, but if we spend a little more time focusing on the future – tucking a little away – we could alleviate the distress of the current situation (am I going to lose my job?) by reframing saving for a rainy day as a eustressor. Having enough FU money that you don’t really have to deal with worrying about whether or not you’re going to lose your job.
Whatever journey you’re on, whatever you you’re looking to become, it is at the end of the day a process. A process requiring long term commitment. It’s stressful – distressful – to see just how far/long it is to get to where you want to be, so be kind to yourself. Give yourself the opportunity to experience eustress – small milestones along the way. Its really about reframing the perception – stress is all about how you perceive it: if its negative, its distress. If you want to run a marathon, you have got to start working on 5ks. Focus on them until you’re ready for a 10k…and a 15k…the marathon is someday, the 5k is the now. Chunks big enough to swallow.
We have learned one more truth about ourselves: when we think an object is worth more, we enjoy it more. When told a bottle of wine is worth $90, researchers have found our brain tells us it’s more enjoyable than the same bottle of wine priced at $10. As if we don’t already have enough inflation to worry about – $3.10 gallons of gas, $4.00 gallons of milk, and Starbucks coffee costing more – we have to worry about the damage to the pocketbook we’re self-inflicting. Now, it may not mean we’re likely to actually go out and pay more for a bottle of wine – afterall, I’m as big a cheapskate as they come – but we’re more likely to feel better about the Night Train we’ve just bought on sale…marked down from $90 to a paltry lucky $13.
We are conditioned to believe that if something costs more, it must be better. To the point that in this California Institute of Technology and Stanford Business School study, we find that our brains actually change to accommodate this belief, by sending more blood and oxygen to the medial orbitofrontal cortex – the area of the brain associated with reward.
The study itself purports to provide evidence that marketing actions can influence the consumers’ not only expectations of quality, but our actual experience of enjoyment.
In a way, it makes sense and it is something from which marketers have made a living for as long as there have been marketers – if a person believes they’re getting a deal, they’re more likely to spring to buy a product. For instance, consumers as a whole do not understand the varying qualities of jewlery and when we see an advertisement for a sale – “with prices slashed” from/to – we think we’re getting a good deal. What we fail to notice is the caveat at the end/bottom of the advertisement: “original price may not have resulted in actual sales.” We’re told that the item is worth $X, and that the sale price is now some percentage reduced from that value, but we have no real way of knowing if it actually could sell at the “original” price.
This goes one step farther. This study asserts that marketing can actually change our physiological experience of a product, or in the argot of the profession, it can actually change the intrinsic quality of the product. Meaning that, at least with wine, if we’re told that it is an expensive bottle, we enjoy the wine – “enjoy” as operationally defined by brain activity in the pleasure center of the brain – to a greater extent.
That’s some heavy stuff. Watch out for more studies on this – the more we find out, the more likely we are to be paying more for the perception that we’re getting products of quality.
Afterward: I wrote this in March 2008, so I don’t know if any of the links still work, but I figure it was worth reposting. For instance, gas has come down some in the last 10 years…this caused me to remember what it was like leading up to the economic crash. I’ve found a few things from 2008 and am culling through them to see what’s relevant to post.
I started this post in 2012. I’ve come back to it a few times in the intervening six years, to the point that I’m not sure what caused me to start it, where I was planning to go with it, what my intention was behind it. It had no title – it sat as a “draft” known only as ‘Untitled’ as it sat. Writing is an interesting thing: sometimes it takes ideas years to percolate and come to their own meaning. Ironic, really, that it takes so much time and energy to process these thoughts on being present. Sometimes it’s not as ironic as all that: sometimes its the serendipity of finding relevant ideas in a seemingly unrelated book. This entry is really the result of persistence, coming back off and on over a period of time – enough so that when the right inspiration came along, I knew how to apply it.
And thus it begins with a question: What makes one happy? I don’t mean a funny joke, or laughing with old friends. I don’t mean pleasurable. I mean generally happy. The kind of happiness that at any one moment of clear presence, you realize you’re smiling or content. The happiness you feel when you’re alone with your thoughts, no one else around, no media to distract, and you realize you’re happy.
I spend a lot of time alone in my head – to the point that a lot of people think I’m aloof, until they get to know that is an outside wrapper and that I can be a warm, engaging and caring person. Introverts are often like that: larger groups, where the potential for the spotlight of attention being focused on you at any given time can give you the heebie jeebies, but smaller groups of 1:1 interaction on meaningful, deep interesting topics are energizing. I think I’ve gotten better about that over the years, but it’s still difficult for me to break the ice. I’d rather mull ideas over, and get lost in my thoughts.
“Some people make the mistake of thinking that they are being mindful because they are focusing diligently on problems. But if they are doing so while subconsciously bound up with their worries and expectations, with no awareness that they can’t see clearly or that others may know more, they aren’t open at all.”
In that alone alone time where I do get lost in thought they’re not overly deep thoughts, not pondering the nature of the universe or heavy, complicated concepts. Its actually super easy to just live in that place. But that’s the issue; its easy. There is no achievement, there is no improvement.
Ed Catmull citing research in his book Creativity, Inc., says that “mindfulness helps us accept the fleeting and subjective nature of our thoughts, to make peace with what we cannot control. Most important, it allows us to remain open to new ideas and to deal with our problems squarely.” It’s that proclivity to dive inside myself that keeps me from being mindful, and perhaps content. Happy.
Catmull also visits the idea that meditation could actually lessen physical pain by helping people to be in the moment: by being in the moment, you shut off your monkey brain from overthinking and mulling over what the perception of pain should be. Now, there is a fundamental disconnect between “thinking” and “feeling;” the two don’t necessarily share a vocabulary, and feelings are fundamentally different than rational thoughts, but I do try to think about what I’m feeling. I spend time thinking about what’s causing me to feel a certain way – it seems almost disconnected, doesn’t it? Like a scientist observing a subject. And that’s where I’ve been going wrong – I just need to experience, not think about it. Just. Be. In. The. Moment.
While it does seem disconnected, it is important, because its not even really about discovering the why of the emotion, but rather realizing that it’s being felt. Being present. Looking around, taking myself off autopilot, and observing. When you’re so inclined as to spend that much time in your own head, it becomes very easy to be oblivious to the simplest things going on around you.
When you’ve owned a pair of shoes for a while, you notice a wear pattern on the soles. Yet, it’s not likely that you’ve ever consciously thought about how your feet hit the ground each time as you walk. Often the greatest release of stress can be just taking that deep breath, coming out from yourself, and looking around; taking in the air, the sights, realizing what you’re doing. Feeling how those feet hit the ground. And you realize, you’re happy. Content in your existence.
And so there it is: 6 years of percolating these words and the idea eventually reveals itself to be presence. Not feeling.Not thinking. Not introversion vs. extroversion. Just being present in the moment.
The number 47 is something called a “safe prime” number. Now, being a social science guy myself, I really can’t wrap my mind around the “safe prime” definition, other than to say it has something to do with other prime numbers – 2p+1 – and that its useful for cryptography. How? I cannot say. I’m just leaving it at “it’s a thing” and moving on. In some circles, it’s regarded as the quintessential random number – apparently when asked to pick a number at random, 47 is the most likely one picked. That’s a concept I can more readily accept, perhaps because it’s decidedly a social science study about people and less about the inherent value of the number itself.
And hence the rationale for the post. Today is the last day of my 47th year. It’s been an interesting year, one in which I challenged myself to bigger things. I demonstrated endurance and, to a lesser extent, resilience. I screwed some things up wildly. I did other things very well. Much like the “random number” that 47 is, Mo at 47 was a bit of a mixed bag. It definitely wasn’t “safe.”
I took some calculated chances this past year and tried some things I wasn’t sure I could complete. I completed some, failed at others. I think I was a better friend this past year than I have been in the past, I hope I have been a better parent and partner. I try to be the best me I can, but I fail at that sometimes.
New Mexico became the 47th state in January 1912, about 9 months before the Red Sox beat the New York Giants in the World Series. That’s relevant because ’47 brands designs some of my favorite Sox lids; Recently acquired starting pitcher Tyler Thornberg currently wears the typically un-baseball number 47 for the Sox. Alas, they’re not playing this time of year; The Patriots are, however, and little known rookie Jacob Hollister, a Tight End, wears 47 for the Pats. Over the last two decades, it has been a not uncommon feature of my birthday to get Patriots gear – 8 times since my birthday in 2002 I’ve gotten AFC Champion or Patriots Super Bowl gear. It’s mind boggling, and as a fan I love it. I know it’s not common and I cherish every time it happens because you never know when or if it will happen again. The Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII (47) after having knocked off the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, which was a drag.
We took a trip I never expected to take this past year – a week in Italy. It was an amazing experience, and I’m so thankful for having had the opportunity. A week in an ancient mountainside castle in Umbria with amazing views; we spent Easter Sunday in Assisi. We drove the Italian countryside, visited a vineyard and made our own Italian dinner. You never know when or if that will happen again; if it happens to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip for me, it will absolutely be one of my favorite memories.
Apparently, 47 is the new “Middle Age.” Apparently, according to this article, I can be expected to live to about 86. While, that’s all well and good but that bit of information reminds me that I am on the clock…at least there would seem to be a little more time my clock. I’ve made it farther than Alexander Hamilton who died at 47 years, 183 days (showing you shouldn’t play with guns), Jack Kerouac at age 47 223 days from complications of cirrhosis (kind of not a shock, really) and Francis Gary Powers at 47 years, 349 days when his U2 spy plane was shot down. The difference between those guys and me, though, is that while I’ve outlived them in terms of how many days on the calendar I’ve been on the Earth, it’s hard to say I’ve “outlived” them in terms of how they lived. We still talk about these guys no less than 49 years after the last one passed away. I’m pretty sure no one will be talking about me. I still have some time to give back, but I am on the clock. Time to step it up.
It’s also harder to keep what you’ve gained. I started exercising regularly at 45. I’m not likely to ever be the fastest runner out there, but I have gained speed, I have gained strength. Now, comes the hard part: keeping it. That’s part of what freaked me out when I was hurt a couple of times this past year – I was afraid I wouldn’t get it back. I found that it was a lot harder to get back than I expected. This last time I’ve found it’s more difficult than it had previously been to lose some of the excess weight I had packed on.
I’m also pretty far behind saving for retirement. I can chalk that up to all kinds of things, but at the end of the day, I made choices. So there are two choices now: sit around and hand-wring or do something more. I’ve chosen to do more.
The last time I wrote an entry like this it was for year 38. It was 9 years ago today to mark the passing of my 38 years, the year my father had passed away. I can’t believe this July will mark 10-years – almost 20% of my life – that he’s been gone. I miss that man and his influence more than I can say. I don’t know that I ever adequately made sure he knew what he meant to me. A significant regret, but I’ve come to find regret to be a powerful motivator to being a better person. My hope is that I’ve become a better person in that time, and that the people close to me know what they mean to me. That’s a regret I never want to have again.
I very clearly have a lot to work on and a lot to look forward to in the coming year. And perhaps that’s the key: giving yourself the opportunity to be proficient while building additional capacity. In a sense then its good I’m headlong into middle age, in theory I’ve got some time to figure out that which I haven’t figured out and to learn what I don’t already know. Who knows where year 48 will take me, but I feel like I’ve given myself the opportunity to make something good and different from it. 48 is what’s called a “semi-perfect” number, a number equal to the sum of all or some of its proper divisors. In way, then, it’s fitting I find myself at this place in life. Not quite perfect, room for improvement, but not wholly imperfect either.