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: 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: 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!

Pilosophy is for everyone, every day. 

I used to think philisophy was for academics. Then I grew up and recognized many of the timeless philosophical questions repeating themselves in my own life. 

The primary one of course is “How does one live this life?”  Actually this death. Because we all are born to die.  We are trying to do this very difficult thing – living and dying – as well as we can.  We can let circumstances push us around and passively be a passenger on the trip.  Or we can engage our reasoned choice of how, why, and what for to live.  In that way we must become philosophers.  

The philosophers who have made the most sense to me are the Stoics.  The don’t ask us to believe in anything really. Just to wake up, contemplate, pause, question and decide for yourself.  A pretty good program I must say.

Review: The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo

The AlchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Much ink has been spilt over Coelho and The Alchemist. Here is some more (e-ink).

Having heard Coelho recently with Krista Tippett ON Being, I was motivated to re-read The Alchemist. The first time I read it was shortly after everyone else read it. Just after Bill Clinton was photographed with the book. That is the first and last time I ever took a cue from Bill Clinton. I wonder if he gave it to Hillary? She should probably read it now. And Bill should re-read it. But I digress.

After a 23 year hiatus, the re-read fell a bit short. My first read was in my late 20’s in Italy as a single guy working for Microsoft. I was searching for something and hungry for guideposts. The Alchemist spoke to me on many levels. At that time, it did help me move in the right direction. Re-reading it today at 52 with three children, an ex wife and multiple careers behind me the context was a bit off. When I read the story around the same time as “the boy” it was motivating and engaging. Today it seems a bit naive and idealistic.

Yet I still rate it 5 stars. Not every book has to connect with me the same way every time. This is truly one of the top ten books anyone under 30 must read. In a weird way I might also put it on the list for those over 50 who are looking for an “act three” in life to also read. For at the core it is a story about moving on, about taking a risk, about having faith, about re-discovering what you know but lost. Despite setbacks it is never too late to regain faith. Go ahead, you won’t be disappointed.

View all my reviews

Review: The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho

The PilgrimageThe Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

 

A couple weeks ago I had a long car trip so I caught up on pod casts. One of the backlog was the Paulo Coelho interview with Krista Tippett for On Being. I read The Alchemist years ago and rehearing the story and Coelho’ deep spirituality I decided to read some of his other books. I had also been considering walking the Camino de Santiago and wanted to read more about The Way.

Unfortunately, I was thoroughly disappointed in The Pilgrimage. Ok, it was his first book, written very late in life. But there is nothing special about the book. No great insights, no great narrative, lots of weird magical plot lines without much context. It is unclear how much of the story is supposed to be allegory (as he perfected in The Alchemist) and how much is memoir. I found the story unengaging and plodding. I only finished it to write this review, not because the story was enjoyable or interesting. If you are you read The Alchemist and are looking for more of the same, go forward in his works, not back to The Pilgrimage. Give the Pilgrimage a pass.

There are a few tidbits of appealing philosophy tucked into the book, but they are surrounded by ramblings and magical sword searching so as to be almost unrecognizable. For example,

” Changing the way you do routine things allows a new person to grow inside you.”

“We kill our dreams because we are afraid to fight the good fight.”

“The first symptom in the process of killing our dreams is the lack of time. The second symptom of the death of our dreams lies in our certainties. …the third symptom of the passing of our dreams is peace.”

“All of us seek eros, and then when eros wants to turn itself into philos, we think that love is worthless. We don’t see that it is philos that leads us to the highest form of love, agape.”

I also found the exercises Petrus gives Paulo during the trip to be useful. I have tried them all. While not as spiritually transformative as daily meditation, they are interesting diversions. Try them.

Further Future PTSD

2016-04-30 12.04.11

Ever since returning from the Further Future gathering out in the desert I have been experiencing symptoms that a psychiatrist pointed out most closely resemble PTSD.    Night sweats, fear of being alone, nightmares of floods, constant base thumping in my brain, etc.  Sure, the unexpected rain, lack of AC, poor bathroom facilities and constant threat of lightning strikes added drama to the weekend, but were they really war like trauma?

Sebastian Junger in his new book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging has an interesting new theory about the true causes of PTSD.  Junger notes that while less than 10% of US troops deployed to Iraq of Afghanistan faced actual combat, over 60% of them are approved for PTSD claims.   Since the vast majority of diagnosed PTSD sufferers did not actually experience any direct war based trauma, there must be something else going on.  Junger posits that the primary trauma which causes the disorder may not be from any physical trauma, but rather from the psychological trauma of leaving a supportive tribal environment and being placed back into America’s go it alone independent competitive culture.  The trauma may be more a loss of community and confidence that comes from being in the military tribe, facing adversity but knowing there are people who have your back.  The small group tribal community living has been the natural state of man for millions of years until very recently.   When the natural state is experienced, even under duress like in war or at Further Future, then you are pulled out of that natural state and put back into individualistic capitalist America in a minivan by yourself sitting in the Starbucks drive through, the trauma can be significant.

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I am feeling some of that loss after Further Future.  The event was my first big gathering like that, I am not a regular at Burning Man, Cochella, yoga retreats or any other group events.  I did attend as part of a tribe i have been loosely associated with for about 20 years who have a regular Burning Man camp and do a number of other events together each year.  My girlfriend Jen (below) also was a first time tribal participant.

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There was really something different about the culture in that place for that weekend that is glaringly polar opposite of “normal” life.  It makes one wonder, why is “normal life” so great then?  A couple of experiences stand out as striking.

  • Talking to strangers was 10x easier.  How many times do you strike up a conversation in the coffee line?  It happened every time at FF.  Many times the conversation started over a crazy outfit like this one:

2016-05-01 12.20.09

  • Adversity brought everyone together, created memories.  On Saturday as the clouds gathered and they evacuated the aluminum structures for lightning strike fears, Jen and I were laying in a couch pod waiting for our IVs with two other people we didn’t know.  Guys from the Mid East in robes talking about missing their Ferrari and needing a cigarette.  Rather than evacuating back to the Airstream, we decided to ride out the storm with our new friends.  Suddenly a blue tarp appeared and covered our little pod.  Then as the rain started in earnest the IV guy joined us on our little couch arc.  As the wind whipped up, we all held down a piece of the tarp to keep out the rain and started telling each other stories of our childhood to pass the time.  Looking out the water was running by inches deep.  It felt like our couch would float away.  As the rain subsided, the IV guy stepped out into the mud, whipped off the IV bags and got us hooked up.  We chatted all along with our new-found friends.  While avoiding the adversity would have been easy, it would not have created a bonding experience with out fellow travelers, nor provided an improved feeling of community, common cause.  It would have been an opportunity missed.  Shared adversity gotten through with help from the tribe produces significant positive affect in life.  Individual adversity endured alone (the default “normal” life experience) does exactly the opposite.
  • Sound can unite us.  While there was 24/7 sound walls all around at FF, a couple of experiences really stood out for me in their ability to create massive shared positive affect for everyone there.  Friday night, Jen and I were wandering around and stumbled (literally) into the Envelop satellite sound stage.  Standing in the middle, the waves of sound hit just the right frequency to cause waves of happiness and love to flow through our bodies.  We stood there hugging and slow dancing for over an hour, completely lost in time and space. On Saturday night, the Pharcyde set was truly transcendent.  There is really something to sound that can align (for better or worse) the body’s energy and unlock levels of consciousness and experience that are unavailable in “normal life”.

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As I make my way through “normal life” back in Seattle, it is clear that there is some feeling of cultural loss when separated from the tribal community.  I certainly know plenty of people who spend more time cultivating their tribe and tribal experiences than I do, and now I know why.

In Tribe, Junger also noted how in early colonial America many settlers were leaving the Puritanical western culture to go live with the Indians. Even prisoners who had been captured by the Indians and lived with them for some, when “saved” and returned to Puritan New England, tended to want to go back to the Indians.  The Indian tribe was a communal meritocracy where every member had the ability to contribute in their unique way and the rest of the tribe had their back.  While the Puritans believed their form of society was the “ultimate society” at the time (we now know very different), the pull to return to the tribe was undeniable and strong enough to make it a leading issue of public debate at the time.   There is virtually no history of mental health problems in traditional tribal cultures. Everyone has a place and a value, or they move to a tribe where they fit.  Further Future, Burning Man, there are opportunities to return to the tribe today.  And loss of tribe is causing much of today’s mental health crisis.   The way forward is going to be interesting.

DO This: Recover your Grit

Someone recently asked me : “How do I recover the grit and will to succeed in life I had a long time ago, but I lost over time?”

As someone who has had a +/- net worth swing of over $500M in the last 15 years, this question, unfortunately, I know something about.  Rediscovery of yourself is also a happy side effect of taking the Red Pill.

Grit is the magic combination of perseverance and passion. Put that on top of above average intelligence, some money and your social network and BINGO : success in life. See where you are on the GRIT scale today by taking the assessment. Personally, Grit is not something I can keep applying over the long term (say 10 + years) without burn out. Grit takes ALOT of energy. It is easy to loose without quite a bit of resilience.   The good news is most everyone has the CAPACITY for GRIT for certain things. If you feel you once “had grit” and have “lost grit”, I suggest you do the following:

1. Go back to the time you “had grit”. What were you doing? Why were you doing it? With whom? What about that time/activity gave you the extra passion to put in the extra effort? The purpose here is not to re-create the same conditions in the past, rather to become aware of what they were.

2. In remembering and reliving the time you “had grit”, write down as many specific feelings that come up about those times. I find it helpful to use a detailed feeling list like this one. (who knew there were more feelings than “happy” and “angry”?)

3. Now roll forward to today and take an assessment of how your current life is going by doing some self assessment tests like these. Pay most attention to the values exercises and strengths/weaknesses.

4.   Next, create a list of all activities you are doing today within a week that take more than one hour of your time. Here is one I did way back in 2005 as an excel spreadsheet.  My typical week Jan 2005.  List work, family commitments, raising children, volunteering, sleep, workout, etc. Next to each activity, put the number of hours a week you do that activity. The total must be 168 hours. Add to this list three activities off your “if only i had the time” list. The things you believe you would love to do, or would be good at if you only had time to get around to them.

5. Take the top five positive feelings you felt way back when you had grit (from step 2) and write them down on the left side of a piece of paper. On the right side list all the activities from step 4, including the “if only” items, from the greatest time suck to the least. Now draw lines from each feeling word to each activity that also produces that feeling.  Write the number of feeling connections made next to each activity.  Here is one of mine from today:

mgt feeling activity matrix june 2016

 

6. What activities on the right are related to the most number of positive feelings from the previous “success state”? Those are the activities to peruse to regain a feeling of success.  In my recent exercise, the top 5 positive “success” feelings were, flowing, appreciative, curious, helpful and balanced.  The top three activities which created those feelings were “teaching my kids a life lesson, helping them”, “sharing my life lessons with friends/others”, and surf/harley/take a month off every six months.

It is important to remember that “success” and the “feeling of success” may be different things. What you are capable of generating grit for may not result in “success” as defined eternally. It is important to note that what feels like success may not pay the bills of life.  If that is your situation, you need to then decide how much of the bills you are willing to give up in order to live more in line with your feelings of success.  What you choose to apply grit to very definitely feeds your soul in a successful way. I define success today at 52 much differently than when I was 30. I am not trying to recreate the “success” of my 30s, rather define success into my 50s and beyond.

Why Upgraded Self Assessment Questionnaires are important

On any journey, it helps to know where you are starting from, what strengths and weaknesses you have, and what tools, stories, assumptions, modes of being and values you are consciously or unconsciously bringing along.  It also can help to understand how what you bring compares to the other travelers.  Where are you strong, where are you weak, what skills do you want to build and how do you build them?  Self Assessment Questionnaires can be a good Red Pill to help you figure these things out in a structured way.

I have taken over 1000 of these things and provide the most useful here in upgraded form.  Most of these questionnaires come from theoretical academics for research purposes and often lack any applied analysis or “What next” guidance.  My “Upgraded Self Assessment Questionnaires” attempt to provide four improvements over their purely research based cousins:

  1. Peer reviewed, well-studied assessment frameworks.  Stay away from pop psychology “quizzes”.  Choose questionnaires that have been thoughtfully designed, tested for correlations, run over large and varied data sets, and subject to critique and comparison to other available measurement methods (and survived).  I am not trying to find the “best” and “only” frameworks, just ones that have been proven to work well so far.
  2. Cohort analysis and objective results placement.  Provide some analysis of your individual results as compared to other people who took the assessment either through my tools and/or in the overall research samples.  This is the “where am I in relation to the other traveler” piece.  Understand this relationship may be an “ah Ha” moment or it may confirm what you already know/feel.  The pay off here is understanding, waking up a bit, become aware just a little more of yourself and your surroundings.  Pause a moment and let it sink in.
  3. Factor analysis where available.  Most assessment tests, while testing a high level item like “happiness” will have groups of questions that are testing the sub-factors that the questionnaire designer has found to make up “happiness”. For example, Jung would say happiness has five factors, health, relationships, ability to perceive beauty, wealth, and spiritual practice.  If you want to improve happiness, the biggest bang for your buck may be to focus on improving the weakest sub-factor.  My upgraded analysis will provide factor analysis where possible.
  4. How to improve recommendations and further reading.    I didn’t take hundreds of these things in a selfless devotion to furthering academic research.  I took them to gain self-awareness and take action to change things I don’t like.  So every analysis section includes extensive links to further reading on the subject as well as pointers to “interventions” which have been proven through research to result in higher assessment scores over time.  Many of my favorite “interventions” are on my blog section called “Try This”.

 

I have started using the words “assessment” and “questionnaire” purposefully instead of “test” or “evaluation”.  I have found “test” and “evaluation” to have a somewhat pejorative connotation toward a yes/no, pass/fail, you have it or you don’t have it mindset.  “Tests” can tend to put you in a box and keep you there.  Early mental health practices were big on this approach, picking out the “bad apples” and putting them in institutions.  Even today, a “diagnosis” (read “test result”) of depression tends put the patient into a treatment “box”, usually pharmacological, the vast majority palliative in nature.

It is important to remember with all assessments and measurements that you are not the sum of your parts. You are not your test results. You are not your grit scale, or Meyers Briggs type, or any other measurement.  You are not your job title.  You are not your relationship status.  Many of these assessments, the results change over time, or when applied to different circumstances.  Just like your emotions change, and the weather.  You are not your temperature reading.  These are characteristics, parts, points in time.  Your authentic self is something else. Something larger.  Something deeper.  In my experience, in the search for these larger, bigger more meaningful things, the assessments can help uncover pathways, stepping stones, issues which are enabling or preventing discover of your authentic self.  Keep in mind these are all just tools.  Your analysis, synthesis and implementation of  growth/change is the most important thing to move the journey forward.

Based on my own self awareness work and supported by more modern existential psychotherapy and positive psychology science, I find that most things measured can be changed.  The purpose of an “assessment” is to calculate a set point, a starting point.  If you want to change the measurement, do some interventions, therapy, growth work, whatever is suggested by the science to improve what you are measuring.  Then take the assessment again.  And Again.  Over time if the interventions are working you should see improvements.  If you don’t, change what you are doing, try something else.  An assessment can lead to awareness which can lead to growth OUT of the box.

I provide these Upgraded Self Assessment Questionnaires to help you wake up and get out of your Boxes.