Why I am developing/testing self assessment and analysis tools

Martin Office (10)

As I walked out of the theater at the premier of The Matrix, while everyone else was talking about the game changing special effects and innovative fight scenes, I was obsessed with something else.  The Red Pill and the Blue Pill.   The nagging brain worm that something wasn’t right with the world, there was more underneath if you could just find it. The idea that we are asleep to reality most of our lives and it is possible to wake up and maybe even tap into some superpowers.

For the last three years I have been indulging this brain worm on a deep dive into waking up and becoming aware. Waking up is hard.  Sleep walking through life is so much easier.  I enjoy wandering and bumping into trees and having random experiences along the path, but sometimes I end up stuck in a traffic circle, or endlessly distracted by shiny things.  At that point I need tools, catalysts, doors finders. Lately I have been digging into the science behind finding your path and am uncovering some helpful self assessment (wake up) and intervention (stay awake) tools.  I hope to get a bunch of these into easily digestible forms for broad distribution.  Why?  To improve my own understanding and awareness.  To maybe connect a couple of dots.  Should you take the tests and investigate your own life also?.  Not because I say so, but because you are searching too.

The two central elements of Eudiamonist philosophy are: (1) “know thyself” (inscription on the temple of Apollo at Delphi) and (2) “choose thyself”, or in the words of Pindar, “become who you are.”  Eudiamonism calls on each person to live in accordance with his/her inner daimon, that is, to strive toward self-realization.  However, before it is possible to make any notable progress toward self-realization, it is necessary to have recognized and decided what type of person one is now.  The ancient Greeks could spend a whole life in this search.  Who has time for that now?  We need updated tools. We need to use technology and the accumulated wisdom of the ages to hack self-discovery.  New tools should speed this process up and then we can get on to the doing and being part of life.  It took me too long, I hope your journey helped with these tools.

I am not a therapist and don’t play one on TV.  I am not an expert in any scientific or academic field.  But I have connected a couple of dots along the way.  These are examination tools and you are the patient and doctor.  They are designed to be short and relatively dense allowing for Hopefully their use raises relevant questions, opens new paths on the journey, increases understanding and awareness.  You are the one that has to take the steps, open the doors, decide on the direction and keep going.  The Red Pill or the Blue Pill.  Your decision.

For me this journey has little to do with today’s self help industry or positive psychology movement. I have had my fill of “you can do it” sloganeering, that is part of the dream world.  I am wholly uninterested in platitudes and empty motivation.  I want to know myself and understand what works and what is real and true. Sometimes the truth is you can’t get what you want. But everyone can examine their wants for authenticity.  I have found that some prior wants were based on screwed up value systems and were inauthentic to my true self so they were put aside.  This journey for me is about finding the red pill and putting aside the dream world.

Over 2,200 years before the Matrix, Marcus Aurelius wrote, “It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.”  His “Meditations” were primarily for himself as my musings here are.
Not making a decision is making one.

Ignorance is not an excuse nor is it bliss.

Only you can figure out yourself.

I took the Red Pill.

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A step along the path of life: The new car on your 16th birthday

Along the journey of life there are many paths, many doors, many side trips and some major milestones that mark significant achievement and can change the path/journey in significant ways.  Getting my first car was definitely a defining moment in my life (even though I didn’t appreciate the significance at the time).  Yesterday, with the benefit of 36 years of hindsight, I set my own daughter on the road with her own car.  The experience has caused my monkey mind to go into overdrive, some of which I share here.

Yesterday my daughter Finn turned 16.

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For the past year she we have been practicing driving, talking about driving, reading books on driving, taking courses on driving, and generally obsessing about the day Finn can drive herself around.  That day came yesterday.  2016-05-29 12.37.50

Getting a drivers license and your own car has got to be a high order American coming of age ritual.  It is a big step up on the road to independence.  It lies on a foundation of trust, learning, responsibility and achievement.  As a parent the decision to provide a car required contemplation (is she ready?) and not an insignificant amount of mourning (no more time together driving around town).   Finn earned the car through hard work and deserves all the freedom and responsibility that comes with it.

Martin Tobias at 16 was not ready for his own car.  While I doubt my parents put as much existential angst or contemplation into the issue as i have given the demands of 6 other kids around the house and far less money to go around, looking back, it was a very good thing that the 16 year old Martin Tobias did not get a car.  I was rebellious, irresponsible, boundary pushing, and generally an unhappy kid.  I had already been in the hospital three times from thrill seeking bicycle accidents.  As high school graduation loomed large and all my friends already had their college plans locked down, a stark reality hit me.  If I didn’t get my shit together I would be working in the damn pizza parlor my whole fucking life. I got my shit together.  Just before heading off to college I invested my pizza cook savings into a $300 1972 Ford Galaxie 500.  I loved that car because it was mine.  I was ready for that responsibility.

What does it mean exactly to “being ready for your own car” ?  My criteria include:

  •  A demonstrated history of responsible decisions. (demonstrated self regulation)  Choosing to do the homework instead of hang out with friends.  Saving money instead of spending it all. Ability to eat only one piece of cake.
  •  Significant attention to detail.  Driving is all about attention and pattern recognition.  80% of collisions are caused by driver inattention.  Even without the distractions of music, texting (1 in 4 accidents), et al, can you pay attention to details when necessary?
  • Ability to take on part of the financial and logistical responsibility.  When you spend your own hard earned money (job or allowance) on something you take better care of it, reinforcing responsibility.  Saving for a car was the #1 reason I got a job in high school.
  • An absence of clearly dangerous behavior traits.  If your child has problems with drugs or alcohol or depression or has clear impulse control issues, wait on the car.  You do not “owe them a car” because their friends got one. You owe it to them when they are ready, or when they make themselves ready.

Now I know many parents don’t put this much contemplation into what the car at 16 means in life. Plenty of parents are just happy to get the kids out of their hair and get more of their own time back.  But 16 is two years before most kids head off to college (a top 3 milestone) and definitely the beginning of the end of childhood.  How do we recognize, honor and note that transition in our lives?  With the decline of traditional religious adulthood rituals (Bat Mitzvah, Quinceanera, etc.) how do we do this?  Making a big deal about the car and what it means has served well as a coming of age ritual for generations.  Not everyone does it, but it works well for those that do.

All this stuff was sloshing around in my head as I sat down to feed Harper, my 9 month old.

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Driving day for Harper T-15 years.  Suddenly a horrific thought came to my mind.  Would advancements in transportation technology destroy the first car ritual for Harper’s generation?  How will Uber change individual car ownership in 15 years?  What about self driving cars (my Tesla is already there, but hobbled by software and liability issues)?  If technology could free all that driving time to do other things, would we choose to free up that time?  Coming of age rituals very significantly across the world and have changed over time, but I am not sure I am ready to see this one go.  With regret I predict that Harper will be very unlikely to have a significant coming of age experience around getting her drivers license and first car 15 years from now.  By then she will likely have already been shuttled around town by inexpensive on demand transportation services of all types for many years.  Why waste time driving yourself?

As with many monkey mind sessions, I am not sure there is a solution in here.  Mostly observations.  After having so much swirling around I have found it helpful to name the major feelings that arose around this issue.  The Coming of Age Car Crisis elicited:

  •  Apprehension.  For all the trips without me Finn will take.  With all the increased access to the unknown now, access to the harmful, the hurtful, the danger in life will also increase.  Letting go is very scary.
  • Humble.  By the wonderful person Finn has become, one who is ready for all that comes with a license and a car.
  • Excited.  To see where the road continues to take Finn.  And for my own next chapter without all the driving of her and her friends around.  For where the path goes from here.

Stay tuned for more updates from the path of life and invitations to contemplation.

Some of my favorite teen driver resources:

How to Drive: Real World Instruction and Advice from Hollywood’s Top Driver

Measure and Understand Your Grit

DO This: Practice beating fear and facing the flinch. 

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A couple of months ago my 15-year-old daughter asked me how she can overcome some of her fears.  The “I don’t like to be home alone at night or walk down a dark alley” type.  At the time I was stumped. As a manly man if a buddy had asked that question the obvious answer would be “grow a set you pansy!” Followed by endless shaming until the guy admitted he wasn’t a wuss anymore. As a man I have been shamed out of fear my whole life.

A little birdie (years of therapy) in my hypothalamus sat up and urged me to take a different tack with my daughter.  So I mumbled something about “you only get good at things you practice” and proceed onto google.  Four months, much reading and many trials later I actually have found a few things that are appropriate for exactly the situation I have: a 15-year-old girl with normal age related anxiety  in a few areas and a desire to get a little more gritty and tough.

We tried the first fear buster test at home tonight.  Watch the video of my attempt below.  Hat tip to Julien Smith in The Flinch for this technique that I have added onto.

Directions are simple.  It takes less than two minutes.  Get up right now and go to your cupboard.  Pick out a little used but once loved coffee cup or glass.  Hold it out in your hand at arm’s length, shoulder height.  Now drop the cup!  Yes you heard me drop the damn cup!  Now clean it up.  Sit down and write a list of every feeling that you felt before during and after dropping the cup.  Use a feeling list like this if you have to.  Naming feelings in detail reduces their power over you.  You can just notice them like anything else.  “oh, there is dread.  And his friend fear.  How interesting.”  This exercise takes you through (slight) emotional distress, into analysis and onto (hopefully) some increased awareness and confidence all in less than 10 minutes with very little risk to life or limb.

It took my daughter a couple tries before she could drop the cup.  The flinch made her arm go limp a few times before she pushed it aside. All the training to be careful and don’t break things.  Yet there was her father giving her permission to break stuff and there would not be any consequences.  The monkey mind couldn’t deal. Couldn’t reconcile the conflict.  Multiple disaster scenarios raced through her head. Fear and dread took over. But with my encouragement she pushed through and found out that nothing bad happened.  She stared down the flinch and won.  One step at a time. Keep building and practicing and larger fears will lose their sway.

Like anything else the journey starts with the first step. If you want to get tougher try the cup drop challenge. All you have to lose is a little fear and a cup you don’t use anyway.