DO THIS: How to make Decisions

Ok, so after reading 25 different ways that the Stoics tell you the only thing you have in your life is your own reasons choice (the ability to make decisions, to react to things), I have to say I agree.  Philosophically this one tenant whisks away the importance of many other things like possessions, status, wealth, relationships, etc.  It is actually a very heavy cognitive lift to realize that the ONLY thing that is TRULY AND EXCLUSIVELY mine is my Prohairesis.  Everything else is outside my control and allowing things outside my control to determine things like my happiness or wellbeing in life is a losers game.  Ok, over that cognitive hurdle.

Now comes the hard part.  Similar to my advice of “I Hope you don’t get what you want in life.”  Because then you have a REAL problem.  You have to decide what is next after your wants and desires are gone (either fulfilled or given up).  The hard part is when you accept the fact that you only have rational choice, then how do you make the best decisions?  One guy has put together a handy dandy Modern Stoic decision chart which I have found handy:

In the Stoic way, the high order bit is always “Is this decision in my control or not?”.  If it is, then decide if doing the thing would build one of the four virtues (wisdom, justice, temperance, courage), if yes, then do it.  If no (not build a virtue) does it deal with one of the indifferent things (wealth, health, status, etc.)  Do if preferred but not if dispreferred.  I found this very complex.  So I have come up with my own set of guardrails when faced with decisions.  And of course, I created a daily exercise to support the decision process.

Whenever I am faced with a decision in life, even small ones daily, if the answer is not immediately clear I ask myself the following framing guardrail questions:

  1.  Is this in my control? The standard Stoic question.  90 percent of decisions are here because the ones that are not in my control don’t even become decisions.  Habits are not decisions. If I decide to do morning pages as a habit, it is not a decision every day to do or not do morning pages.  The decisions that tend to fall outside my control have to do with other people.  Like if I ask myself “Should I try to make my girlfriend happy today?” That one has two terminal errors.  First, it has the weasel word “try”.  Never ever decide to try.  There is no try.  There is only do or not do.  It is NEVER a decision to “try”.  Second, it is impossible to “make” someone else anything, so there is nothing to decide.  The affirmative is impossible.
  2. Choose people.   There are many decisions in my day where I can choose an activity that engages with people or one that I do myself or with things.  Say to work out alone in my home gym or go to coffee with a friend.  Or work at home or work in the co-working space (where I may run into friends).  Or dinner with friends or a stay at home organizing the garage.  While I am an introvert at heart and my instinct is to do the alone thing or the inanimate thing, my experience has shown me that by choosing the decision that engages with other people, over time it results in a more well-lived life.
  3. Create instead of consuming.  Most activities in life can be put into either the creation (making something new, new experiences, new things, writing, making, etc.) or the consumption (watching TV, reading, eating, passively taking in the world) bucket.  The difference is engagement.  Am I active in creating something or am I passive?  The allure of passivity is very compelling.  Especially after a long day of work or mental engagement.  The desire to unplug can be overwhelming.  But again, after years of experience, when I choose the thing that creates something it always leads to a more well-lived life.
  4. Move your ass.  Basically, if the choice is between sitting at the desk or working out or doing something active, do the active thing.  Always choose the active thing.  When deciding where to have a meeting, a coffee shop or walking and talking?  Walking and Talking.

With any decision if I don’t know what to do, after going through those four questions, the best decision always comes out.

DO THIS:  Question everything you are carrying through life (exercise)


Life is a journey. The stuff you bring along on the journey either helps or hurts you.  Much of what we are draging around with us we are barely aware of. In order to wake up to what is actually going on in your life you need to periodically stop and check what you are carrying along. And ask the question:  “does this serve the journey now?”  You may have picked the stuff up at one point when it felt necessary. But is it still?  Yes each and every thing.

I am big on learning by doing so here comes another paractical exercise.  It will take you less than 10 minutes to do and it will literally and figuratively lighten your load on the journey of life.  Last week I took a look around the hotel room and questioned everything I saw.  This week it is time to uppack the backpack.

The exercise:

Grab your backpack. Yea the thing you carry to and from work every day. Or your purse. Or Bike bag. Whatever you carry your stuff to and from work in, including your computer.

Put it on a scale and weigh it.  Mine came in at 11.83 lbs.

Now unpack it.  Here is an overall picture of what is in there then thrrr pictures of each compartment. 


Man that is a lot of stuff!  All added to the pack at some time when they seemed important.

Now go through each and every item and ask the question:

“Does this serve me for my journey ahead?”

If it does leave it in the pack.

If it does not, take it out.

Re pack for the journey ahead.  Weigh the backpack again.

The Results:

Here is a picture of the new contents with all the stuff taken out. And each pack section. It is noticeably less stuff.



Some of the stuff taken out:

6 pens (I only need one)

4 pairs of sunglasses (kept 2)

Fleece (I will pick the right one for the trip from closet)

Various trash items.

Keys I never use.

Out dated business cards.

Travelers checks that expired in 2008. (Yea I have been carrying them for almost 10 years).

Resulting new weight:  8.96 lbs.  a reduction of 2.87 lbs.  I have literally lightened my load in life. Going forward the journey will be easier and I will have more energy for the challenges ahead.  I will not be bogged down with as much from the past.


Whar are you carrying around that no longer serves you?  How much could you lighten your load?  Go ahead. Try it.  10 minutes now could save you days of carrying around stuff you no longer need.

The science:

I am sure some attachment theory applies here. But I invented this one myself.

References:

Self invented.

George Carlin said commented on “stuff”

Do This: Do Not stay on top of everything 

Last week I was reminded of this by the daily stoic passage 


In the end you are what is in your head. So what if you cut down on media consumption and worry about external events?  Would there be more room in your head for other things?   Say yourself?  Or things in your control?  Yes.  

This is the same message of mark Manson’s new book and the 40 years of zen program and the core idea of stoic thought.   Be very conscious of what you give a fuck about.  Fucks are expensive cognitively. Free up headspace spent on external events, the past and the future and you have more resources for what is right in front of you.  Your life. 

DO THIS: Be tolerant of others and strict with yourself. 

Stoicism came of age in a time of political turmoil as well.  Remember that Stoicism isn’t about judging other people. It’s not a moral philosophy you’re supposed to project and enforce onto the world. No, it’s a personal philosophy that’s designed to direct your behavior.
This is what Marcus Aurelius meant when he said: “Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.”
Be open to the idea that people are going to be fools or jerks or unreliable or anything else. Let them be. That’s their business. That’s not inside your control.
But you have to be disciplined with yourself, and your reactions. If someone acts ridiculous, let them. If you’re acting ridiculous, catch the problem, stop it and work on preventing it from happening in the future. What you do is in your control. That is your business. Be strict about it.
This is especially important to remember at a time when many people seem to be consumed with every tweet or quip from certain politicians.  Leave other people to themselves. You have enough to worry about. 

This does not mean “sit down and shut up” like some will infer.  If other people are doing something that does intersect with something in your control than you can and must act.  But don’t keep reposting “outrage”.  Don’t let other people into your head.  Don’t let the monkey in your head run wild worrying about other people. Focus the monkey on what is in your own control.  

DO THIS: Be kind to your older self (exercise)

Barrels of ink has been spilled over “be kind to yourself.”  This one guy even wrote a new song about it.  So how can we get a new twist on this ancient advice?  I thought about this over the break while watching SuperWhy (ignore the haters) with my daughter Madison.  In every episode, the characters change just one word in a story to change the whole story.    Let’s try it here.  Insert “older” between “to” and “self.”  So “Be kind to your older self.”  The self you are going to become.  The old guy farting in the corner.  The slow driver in front of you.  The guy in the grocery checkout line digging for change in a wallet while you impatiently clutch your ApplePay iPhone, thumb hovering over the touchpad.  Yea that guy.   So here is how to do it

The Exercise:

  1. Download one of the photo aging apps.  I used the free AgingBooth.
  2. Take a picture of yourself, age it at least 30 years (the default in AgingBooth).
  3. Put this picture somewhere you will see it every day for at least 30 days. I put next to my computer monitor next to the Lucy skull (double whammy).  I will likely move it around the house.
  4. When you see the picture, say or think something kind of the person.  Initially, there will be revulsion. Get over it.  It is you.  Be kind.

Results Hypothesis:

I didn’t want to do this.  My father is 30 years older than me.  I don’t want to be my father.  Ever.  Getting old is scary.  But that is why I needed to do this.  It is very Stoic to face your fears. And the fear of getting old is one of the strongest in life.

I hypothesize that facing the fear of getting old will reduce the charge that fear has.  I hope to be less fearful of getting old and more at ease with my place in the world.

Actual Results:

It is Feb. 2 and I have done this for the last 32 days.  Noticeable results include:

  1. Less emotional charge when I see the picture of my older self.  Less revulsion.  Less tilt.
  2. Meaningful conversations have been started.  “What is that all about?” a couple of friends asked on seeing a copy of the “old” picture on my coffee table.  I am always looking for smart conversation triggers and that picture has been a good one.
  3. A couple people saw the picture and shut down completely. Didn’t want to talk about getting old or the exercise at all.  Upon reflection, these people are generally asleep, generally plowing through life with blinders on, generally adverse to contemplation.  I didn’t try to prod them into anything, but it was an interesting confirmation bias test for a couple of people I thought were asleep to life.  Show them this exercise.  If they are asleep they won’t want to engage.

Summary:

A fun exercise that reduced the emotional charge of a common fear in my life as well as energized my tribe with contemplative conversation.  Worthwhile all around.  I will keep the pictures around, but likely not focus on daily observation.

The Science:

There is plenty of science on Kindness in general, usually focusing on being kind to others. There has been plenty written on random acts of kindness.  I found far less relate to self-kindness.  Some recent studies show self compassion can improve mental health (duh).  I don’t know of any specific science studies around self kindness to your older self, but the general kindness research would apply.

References:

The idea to practice self-kindness to my older self I must admit was not my own, it came from a Tim Ferris podcast with AJ Jacobs.

http://www.refinery29.com/2016/09/123999/kindness-health-benefits-selfless

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161005102254.htm

7 Science-Backed Health Perks of Being Kind

DO THIS:  Contemplate the impermanence of things (exercise). 

Today a friend said “I am worried about loosing my money in XYZ investment.”  To my own surprise my first thought was “You really believe it is YOUR money?”  The stoic stuff is really getting ingrained. I recently highlighted these passages:

“What fortune has made yours is not your own.”

Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

“Until we have begun to go without them, we fail to realize how unnecessary many things are. We’ve been using them not because we needed them but because we had them.”

Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

“No man is crushed by misfortune unless he has first been deceived by prosperity.”

Seneca, Dialogues and Letters

“There is no enjoying the possession of anything valuable unless one has someone to share it with.”

Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

“Fidelity purchased with money, money can destroy.”

Seneca, The Conquest of Happiness
Okay.  Okay. Enough quotes. It is better to really experience a concept than just read it.  So I have been making up practical exercises to remind myself of these truisms (exercises are very stoic).  Here is the one i developed today to remind myself that none of the things in my life are actually “mine”. I do this about once a quarter. It will take you 10 minutes. Do it right now!

The impermanence of things exercise.

On a rulled sheet of paper write “things” in the center at the top of the page.  To the left write -5, -10, and Birth.  To the right write +5, +10, and Death.  Make columns for each with the middle one under “things” the widest.

Now look around where you are and start writing down the middle column all the things that are “yours” that you see.  Fill the page, should be just over 20 or so.  Now down the left columns for each thing put a “Y” in the -5 box if it was in your life five years ago, or ten years a go or at your birth.  Do this for all the things.  Then go down the right side columns and predict if this thing is going to be in your life five years from now +5, ten years and at your Death.  You get the idea. Now count up the number of “Y” in each column and put it at the top along with what percentage it is of the total number of items. Here is one I did today in my hotel room in Honolulu.


Of the 24 things on my list (and there were like over 100 things around the room) less than half (42%) were in my life 5 years ago, almost none (8%) were in my life 10 years ago and exactly zero were in my life at birth.  Looking forward I was fairly optimistic that a majority (62%) would be in my life five years from now, exactly a third (33%) would be around in 10 years and 17 % would be with me at death.  But then I will be dead and I can’t take them with me so they will be someone else’s at that time so 0% will go with me at Death.

What did this exercise remind me of is a very visceral and visual way ?

1. Coming into this world I had nothing.

2. The majority of things around me are recent additions.

3. The things I believe will be with me at death have lots of experiential value to them (I have had meaningful experiences with them with other people to create memories additional to the thing itself).

4. Most of the things I see are temporary objects in my life (were not here 5 years ago and will not be here 5 years from now).

5. While some things may be with me at death I can’t take any of it with me so the things really are not “mine”.

Side note:  I have an absurd number of things with me on vacation. And multiples of things. Seven paddle shirts. Three surf shorts.  The experiential value of a thing is inversely related to the number of them I have. For example I have only one watch with me (while I own many). The one watch i wear the most often has the most experiential value. Is the one I see myself with at death.  So the obvious question is “do in need all those other watches?”  This exercise made me contemplate that question.  While I don’t have an answer it is a good thought exercise and moves my thought in the right direction (which is to keep asking the questions).

Summary:

This exercise builds on the stoic idea that DOING philosophy is the best way to ingrain the core ideas.  I like this exercise because it is short, can be done anywhere, and is a stark reminder of a couple major philosophical concepts that I struggle to keep the top of mind including:

  1. Give up your attachments (they aren’t yours anyway)
  2. Things don’t make a life.
  3. Meaning comes from experiences with other people.
  4. I was born with nothing and will die with nothing.

The Science:

I designed this exercise myself so it is not based on any academic or scientific study.  There has been a lot of research around attachment theory which sometimes includes “stuff” but mostly is focused on relationships.

References:

The Psychology of Stuff.

How interest in science has been fueled by attachment to “things” but that is fading.  A little off topic, but interesting idea.

DO THIS: 30 days of Thank You

New Year, New exercises for your well lived life.

One of the most impactful category of exercises and practices for me in 2016 were those related to Gratitude.  For 2017 I am building on those with a specific practice around “Thank You”.  While many Gratitude exercises are internally focused on building your OWN CAPACITY FOR GRATITUDE, the Thank You practice turns gratitude outward and includes the objects of your gratitude in the practice.  In some ways externalizing gratitude is a “next step” or “advanced” gratitude practice as you are taking a risk putting yourself out there to other people.  While there is very little downside to this (and lots of potential upside!) I would not recommend the Thank You practice as a first step gratitude practice.  This is best done from a place of quite confidence built on a solid Gratitude foundation.

Lots and lots and lots of other bloggers have written similar challenges, but I like mine because it is all notes to people.  External.  Not just a list of cues for a personal journal.

The Exercise:

Every day for 30 days I send an asynchronous “Thank You” note to someone who has done something for which you are thankful as part of your morning routine.

Try to be specific.  Thank them for something specific.  Like “remember the time you came and brought flowers to the hospital when my daughter was born? Thank you.”  You can go general, but the more personal the connection, the more authentic.  Do NOT include anything else with the thank you.  Focus on sincerely expressing the gratitude.  You can catch up in the follow up.  And remember to leave out the weasel words.

In my case, I wanted this to take less than 5 minutes each day from beginning to end, so I allowed the Thank You to be either a text, email, phone message, thank you card in the mail, Slack message, Facebook message, Instagram comment, or any other form of asynchronous communication.  No phone calls.  Why Asynchronous?  Because I didn’t want to blow the 5 minute budget catching up or getting off topic.

Pro TIP:  Because I am a nerd, I actually brainstormed a list of almost 100 people and created a google spreadsheet of the 30 I was going to do this exercise with before hand.  I listed what I am going to thank them for and I am tracking the reactions also.  I put them into three categories, Family, Close friends, Acquaintances with 10 in each.  I wanted to have a balance of close, near and far to see if there is any material difference in the reactions or the feeling of different categories.  You don’t have to plan it out that much if you are more spontaneous (and less of a data nerd).  You should be intentional about it though. Think through who you are going to include and why.  Try to reach a bit to people who you should have thanked long ago, but have not talked to in quite a long time.  The oldest “thank You” in my list is 40 years ago.

Results Hypothesis:

My hypothesis is that the exercise will:

  1. Build gratitude and overall happiness of myself with my life and friend network through the regular recognition of thanks to other people.  I hope that engaging with the network will reinforce the internal feelings of overall gratitude in life (and replace the negative monkey).
  2. Re-ignite conversations with some network nodes (ok friends/acquaintances yes I am a nerd) that have been dormant.  (excuse for connection). I am interested in the long term network effects here.  How many people will get “infected” and do something similar?  How many dormant connections will be reconnected?
  3. Make each day happier by starting off with memories of someone I am thankful for and acting on that thanks.
  4. I also believe this exercise has a chance to reinforce resilience.  Or build some resilience.  When the day shovels me a pile of shit I can remember that just earlier that day I had something to be thankful for. That should make the pile of shit easier to dig through.

Actual Results:

Not complete yet, will post in Feb.

Initial results (after five days) include:

  • My daughter Finn (16) cautioned: “You should probably tell people why you are sending the notes up front so they don’t think you are going to kill yourself.”  A highschool student in our town had sent a series of “thank you” texts just hours before committing suicide earlier in the year.  Result:  This post and linking to it in my messages as explainer.
  • Since I planned the whole thing in advance and had a list much longer than 30 people to thank, the exercise of planning was very interesting as well, figuring out the categories of people, who to include and who to drop.  Who would make your list?  Who will you cut?  Why?  I prioritized the top 30 as the “greatest” appreciation I had for the event. Sure it i subjective.  And not all the things I am most thankful for in life have gotten thank you cards in this exercise, it is more related to finding 30 people who I am most thankful for.
  • I read a good blog post and added the guy to my list for that day, dropping him a email just saying “thank you for writing that post”.  Not asking for anything. He sent back a nice note as well.  Small connection.  Authentic appreciation.  Maybe I will email him again about something else, but the start was not an “ask” it was authentic thankfulness, gratitude.

 

Summary:

Gratitude is a well documented good life enhancement.  Externalizing this with outbound thank you notes is an advanced practice with interesting potential network effects.

More coming in Feb.

The Science:

Harvard wrote about this

There is a 26 study round up here.

Berkeley is doing good work here.

 

 

References:

There is a Coach.me 30 day thank you exercise here (slightly different as they tell you what to be thankful for each day).

There is of course lots of Pintrist boards on this  (also typically giving ideas of what to be thankful for each day rather than focusing on people).

 

DO THIS: Build your Agency skills

Here at DGC, we have discovered first hand the power of reframing and Agency.  One of the keys to building the capacity to make a decision (agency) is facing down your fears.  I have talked about the coffee cup facing the flinch experiment and examining minor fears with data before.  This week I found another very instructive situation in which there is a choice to build Agency or not.

A key tactic in the war to build Agency and overcome Fears is to pick your battles.  Pick the right ones. The ones where you have an advantage.  Ones where you have enough Agency to win.

This week a friend was over for dinner.  Around 8:30 she headed out to her car to leave.  She came back in 5 minutes later.

“I don’t want to leave.” she said.

“Whats wrong?”

“I only have 25 miles of gas and it is dark and cold and I don’t know if I can make it home.”

“There is a gas station less than a mile away, just stop there.”

“No, I am scared of getting gas by myself at night.”

“Well are you more scared of not getting home?”

“I don’t know, what should I do?”

And there you have it.  Dueling fears causing paralysis.  But a decision has to be made.  How to decide which fear to face?  My recommendation is always to face the fear in which you have MORE AGENCY, more capacity to make a decision.  Regardless of the outcome, having made an affirmative conscious decision, builds capacity to make more decisions. Being passive and submissive builds more of the same as well.

Lets consider the facts and relative merits of each fear.

Fear of getting gas at night alone as a single woman.   There certainly is merit to this fear.  While the absolute probability of something bad happening is VERY low (probably less than 1:20,000) (FBI stats put overall threat of woman rape at 52:100,000 or a 0.0529% chance of being raped anywhere in one year, so a GAS STATION AT NIGHT is even more rare):, this one is very easy for the monkey mind to catastrophize about.  The story is “don’t be alone.”  And there are things you can do at a gas station to make you less of a target to reduce the odds even more. You can choose a full service gas station where the guy pumps for you.  I offered to drive down in my car with her to fill up so she would not be alone.  The bottom line is that with she had a HIGH degree of AGENCY with this fear; she could do some actions to modify the out come, change the odds in here favor.  So the FACTS say this is a VERY unlikely event to occur, she had high Agency relative to the fear, but the emotional merits/appeal is quite high and understandable.

Fear of running out of gas.  The facts for my friend were that she lived about 10 miles away and had 25 miles on the range meter in the car.  Most cars are conservative on their range meters so you are likely to have half a gallon or so left when the gauge reads zero.  With a 30 mpg car (which she had) that means the real range is likely 40 miles.  So the probability of running out of gas is likely equal to the probability of an electronics failure causing improper measurement combined with the probability of some other major car system failure.   While I couldn’t find any hard stats on either of these, I did find anecdotal predictions between 0.01 – 0.10 % of each type of failure (combined 0.02 – 0.20 %)  It is not a huge logical leap to conclude that fear of running out of gas an fear of being attacked at a gas station are approximately the same.  But there is VERY LOW AGENCY in running out of gas.  You either are or are not.  The only thing you can do to improve you odds is Fear #1, getting more gas.  On the harm scale, being out of gas somewhere random is probably more dangerous than being out of gas at a gas station, but you have to stack the odds of attack onto the odds of running out of gas making the odds of both running out of gas AND something bad happening much longer than either event separately.  But emotionally I can understand that being alone with a broken down car on the side of the road would cause more angst than being alone in a lit gas station with an attendant. So low probability event (likely equal to fear #1), low agency in fear, and roughly equal emotional appeal on outcomes.

So what did I tell my friend?  To face the gas fear, go get more gas.  Why?

  1.  She has Agency in the gas fear. She can change the odds.  Face her fear at a time and place of her choosing.
  2. By solving fear #1, you also solve fear #2.  Two birds with one stone.

What did she do?  Took her chances with the gas and put off the fill up.  That is completely understandable. But it was also a missed opportunity.  An opportunity to face down and practice overcoming a paralyzing fear.  One which is keeping her from enjoying driving around the city at night.  Why let a 0.05% chance event cause you angst EVERY NIGHT of the year?  Instead her monkey mind choose the easy path, the path of passive acceptance that an unlikely event may happen and she would deal with it then.  While that decision is understandable, it does not grow the individual.  Not every growth opportunity should be taken every time, but I encourage you to take more when you see them.  The first step is awareness and recognition that you do in fact have a decision and one option is better (growth) than the other.

So next time you are faced with a decision between two fears, choose to face the one in which you have more Agency.  You will be stronger for it!

DO This: Examine a minor fear with data and contemplation

authentic-person-image

DeepGreenCrystals is all about waking up and discovering your authentic self.  A big part of this task is facing the deep rooted stories that hold us back.  Any story which is impeding growth should be examined under the harsh light of data and contemplation against the yardstick of authenticity and “does it still serve me?”  Recover your grit,  15 minutes of Honesty  and Stop Multitasking are exercises which resulted from a moment of clarity that turned into a useful contemplation and data collection tool.

Despite thinking and writing about authenticity nearly every day, I found another example of bad storytelling holding me back this morning while doing Morning Pages.  How I noticed it and what I did about it is generalizable across many circumstances, so here comes another post.

Every now and then when doing something, I notice a slight tingling feeling in the back of my head.  Or a non-specific feeling of unease.  Sometimes it is a shallow slight feeling of dread.  Not sword of Damocles threatening, but a hint of impending doom, a minor fear.  Many times the source of the fear never becomes clear.  Often times, when the source is revealed, the fear is so minor that my rational mind just sets it aside as irrelevant.  My rational mind has become very good at suppressing/denying minor fears.   Save the energy for the big things right?  But this background noise still saps energy and creates a cloud that makes authentic operation much more difficult.  When the big things do come you are starting from a cloudy drained state rather than a rested strong one.  Facing down minor fears and getting beyond them is the only way to lower the background noise and start to clear the fog.

authentic-stamp

This morning, the tingle started right as I sat down to write.  The tingle had been there for a couple of days, but today I decided to try to figure it out.  I stopped writing and I stared at the small journal with wide ruled pages it, turning the feeling over in my mind.  What am I doing?  Morning Pages, 750 words.  Three pages in the journal.  Why?  Because I am a more authentic person when I do Morning Pages.  I am start the day out with a success by doing Morning Pages.  Am I really doing Morning Pages?  Maybe not.  Three pages in this small, wide ruled journal is probably not really 750 words.  Ah, there it is.  The Flinch.  The Fear.

I have been congratulating myself on doing Morning Pages fairly regularly, but I was uneasy about accepting the praise because something felt inauthentic about it.  Three pages is a shortcut to 750 words.  That is three pages of 8.5×11 small ruled paper, about 250 words per page.  Here I was writing in a smaller journal with wider lines.  My rational mind knew there was likely something off, but with all the praise and compliments coming in daily, why rock the boat?  Could my monkey mind be taking a shortcut to get the reward while doing less actual work (avoiding pain)?  That disconnect could be the source of the tingle.  So I went back and counted the actual number of words on each of the previous six journal pages.  The average was 160 words per page.  Bingo!  Three pages in this journal was 480 words (35% less than the 750 goal).

The minor fear uncovered here was “Morning Pages are hard to be successful at, so lets lower the bar.”  So the story in my head was “You are a great success with Morning Pages”, but my monkey mind had cut the work by 35% through obfuscation (maybe even weasel words) in an effort to reach the goal with as little effort as possible.  The true story is “You are great at completing 65% of your Morning Pages goal every day.”  I can’t fault the monkey.  He is doing his job.  He is keeping me alive by avoiding pain and achieving goals with as little effort as possible.  It is not his fault.  The monkey was afraid of failure and hard work, so he lowered the bar.  Creative and smart actually.

Now, armed with the DATA, my rational mind can contemplate the question of  “does the story serve me?”  Do I want to continue with the Monkey’s tactic of lowering the bar, or do I value the benefits derived from the greater effort?  The monkey says “3 pages = success” when the truth is “5 pages = success”.  One word in the story changes and authenticity is restored!  Yes, I want authenticity, so I am going with “5 pages = success”.  The monkey will likely still try to do his job to avoid pain, but now I am making a conscience decision to tilt the story toward my conscious mind’s goal.  I faced the fear, disrobed it, and am moving forward with a revised story.  I know exactly where the bug in the program is and how to fix it.

One down, hundreds to go.   This process of examining a minor fear created by the monkey, getting to the bottom of it, reframing the story to one the rational mind wrote can be used any time you come across a fear.  Try it for yourself.  Let me know how it goes.

DO This: Rid your vocabulary of Weasel Words

Weasel words.svg

Weasel Words:  “words or statements that are intentionally ambiguous or misleading”

Being the political season, the air is full of ambiguous statements that dodge the real question, or slant the facts in favor of the speaker.  Who can forget:

Bill Clinton: “I did not have sex with that woman.”  (he didn’t consider “oral” to be “sex”, or “that woman” could be another woman other than the one we all thought he was speaking about.)

Trump: “The polls say I’m winning.”  Yea, your own polls, or a few outlier polls, but the Real Clear Politics average of all leading polls says something else completely.

Hillary Clinton:  About Benghazi “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet.”  Sure, “some people” say that, but you told your family it was a terrorist attack.

Weasel Words also came up recently when I was going through the 40 Years of Zen program (review post coming).   Dave Asprey has written about them here.  Then this morning while talking to the Purpose Goddesses Tay and Val, weasel words came up again.  The Universe obviously wants to hear my thought on this subject, so here I go.

Becoming more aware of my own use of weasel words has been an important part of my waking up and becoming more conscious.  When I find myself using some of the worst offenders, I endeavor to observe rather than indulge the judgemental thoughts (I just had to rewrite that from “try not to be judgemental”).  The words are neither good nor bad in and of themselves.  The issue is in the context and the intention behind their use as opposed to other words that could be used.  In the political sphere, a person is usually trying to dodge a direct question purposefully with misdirection.  We have all seen that.  On a personal basis and between people, weasel words can be serving some very valid goals including:

  • Avoidance of pain to self or others.  The ego doesn’t like to fail. So it says things like “I will try.”   Success is then the trying not the doing.  Lowering the bar.  This is basically a natural defense mechanism.  So it is when we beat around the bush with bad news to a friend.  We are “trying” to spare them pain.  But many times the pain just gets elongated, delayed, or suppressed.
  • Avoidance of responsibility.  Again, ego doesn’t like to fail or be responsible for anything that it could fail at.  So it shirks responsibility at every chance.  “I” will do something is hard, “we” will do something shares the responsibility around and gets off my shoulders alone.  So do politicians. They want to please as many voters of different stripes as possible so saying platitudes keeps them out of hot water.  We are so used to this behavior from politicians that in many ways an in your face guy like Trump is a refreshing alternative to many people.
  • Motivation from narrowing of alternatives.  The ego also doesn’t like the paradox of choice.  Too many choices means hard work will be required to decide between the alternatives.  Not only could you choose incorrectly leading to pain and failure (see above), but the work to make the decision is difficult in an of itself.  So we say we “can’t” or “Have to” or “Need to” do something. That means it is an imperative with no other alternatives.  The only way.  The narrow path can seem attractive versus the hard brain work of sifting through alternatives.

Recognition that the ego is just doing its job to protect me from pain and increase the chances of success has enabled me to be much less judgemental of my own use of these words.  When encountering my own use of a weasel word I ask myself

  1. Is this word phrasing serving me (or just my ego)?
  2. Is there an underlying issue which my ego is trying to avoid here?
  3. Is there a way to reframe the sentence which is more in line with my authentic purpose?

Often times lately I have reframed weasel words, sometimes they get through even an attentive filter like mine.  My personal reason for becoming aware of these words and working to get them out of my vocabulary is because they typically are impediments to action, destroy motivation, debilitate and discourage me from moving forward in life.  I have decided that brain energy spent on them is generally wasted and I would rather spend that energy on actually accomplishing something rather than the avoidance.

Here are my personal top 5 offenders:

Try

To “try” lowers the bar so that success doesn’t require any actual accomplishment.  Try pre-supposes failure.  “Try” also doesn’t have any time table attached to it so the scale is open ended.  I can be “trying” for a very long time, years even.  Try doesn’t have a logical end point.  The name of the major category of this post used to be “Try This:”.  I thought “try” would be a less judgemental or declarative word that wouldn’t scare people as much as “do”. People would be more willing to “try” something that to be told to “do” something.  And that is probably true on the surface.  But here at DGC we are about waking up and taking the Red Pill.  The Red Pill says “There is no Try, Only Do.”  Ok, Yoda and the Maharishi said it before me, but even with my antennae on high alert, I still create a category with the word “try” in it.

Reframe:  “I will.”  “I will do everything I can.”

Should

Saying I “should” do something is the same as saying nothing. It is stating the obvious.  These statements are usually complete wastes of time, often procrastination of the actual work.  There is also an easy way out.  Stuff you “should” do is not very important, you “should” do it, but there are not obvious harsh consequences for not doing it.  I have often found myself saying I “should” do something 10-20 times before actually doing it.  “I should take out the trash.”  Taking no responsibility for actually doing the thing I “should” do.  It is a statement of desire not action.  Replace with action words.  What would your brain do with all that wasted energy?  You could have taken out the trash in a fraction of all the time your brain was saying you “should” take out the trash.

Reframe:  Want.  Choose to.  Going to.  Get to.

Need/Have to

The near cousin of “should” but with an absolutist set of blinders on.  Much more declarative.  “Need” ratchets up “should” with the implication of dire consequences if you don’t do it.  “Have to” leaves all alternatives off the table, there are no alternatives, I “have to.”  Ratcheting up the pressure like that the ego wants to force you to get that thing done. “I need to get the new Apple Iphone.”  “I Have to get tickets to the play offs.”  The existential stress goes up accordingly. So ask yourself the question, is this story I am telling myself about “need” or “have to” really an existential question?  Are there truly dire consequences of not doing this?  Does your rational mind agree with the upleveling of this desire to the “need” category that your ego has done?  Stop and ask the question.

Reframe:  Ratchet down the consequences.  Change to “want” or “get to”

Can’t

For me, the worst kind of weasel words are those that cut off all options.  That put up walls to progress of any sort.  “Can’t” does that but shutting down discussion.  There is no way, I “can’t”.  No explanation, to alternatives, no deliberation.  Just a clean line in the sand.  I heard Seth Godin talking one time about writers block and deconstructing the claim “I can’t write.”.  “Really?  you forgot how to use a pen?  Your fingers are broken?”  The point is that the story “I can’t write” is not true. You can, technically.  The real underlying issue is that your ego is afraid that what you write might suck.  Or that the writing will cause the brain to heat up and hurt.  Or that there will be editing and re-writing.  “Can’t” just killed your motivation.  Cut off any forward motion.  Until you break that story, no progress will be made.  Specifically around writing that is why I love the Morning pages exercise.  Write for fifteen minutes a day without judgement, without critique.  Just fucking write.  You can do it.  Break the block.  Rewrite the story in your head. You CAN write.  Now go on and write something good.

Reframe: Can.  or if you are honest about not doing something, say “I won’t”.

Pride

In an era of participation trophies this one is a killer on our kids.  This word is WAY over used.  This one should be very parsimoniously given out.  Save it for the big things.  “I am so proud of you for getting that trophy!”  Dude, it a participation trophy.  This is the Near cousin of Try.  You are “proud” that your kid “tried”.  Talk about a low bar.  Be proud of actual achievements.  Or complement effort.  My daughter was recently in the regional championship meet for her high school swim team.  She is a middle of the pack swimmer so didn’t have any expectations of winning or medaling and I didn’t want her to be focused on those things anyway.  In the meet she achieved a personal PR in her 50 meter and 100 meter swim!  I didn’t say I was “proud” of her.  I complimented her on finishing the season with a bang.  Finishing with the best effort she had had all year, a Personal Record.  Congratulations.  A PR is an actual achievement.  A measurable accomplishment.  Take note of that.

Reframe:  Your effort was very impressive.  Save “pride” for your country.

 

My personal goal is to reduce the use of these five words by 50% next year over this year.  As with “Do This” posts, your personal mileage may vary.  Your goals may vary.  Everyone though can benefit from a little more consciousness in relation to our vocabulary and how it reflects the stories in our heads.  Be aware.  Be precise.  Be awake.