DO this: Trade your expectations for appreciation.

Want a formula for instant wealth?

Trade your expectations for appreciation.

Your entire life will change in that instant.  In my experience, lack of appreciation is the only thing that will make you truly poor.  I personally define “wealth” as “having enough.”  When you have enough of anything, you are wealthy in that thing.  Only you can decide when you have “enough.”  Unfortunately many of us let others (society, family, friends, work) decide what “enough” is.

I know what you are thinking.  Webster defines “wealth” as “a large amount of money and possessions.”  Yes, but further on it says “abundant supply”.  Now that leaves room for judgement of what “abundant” is as well as supply of what?  When your life has an abundant supply of expectations, goals, precursors to fulfillment, it is VERY hard to feel wealthy.  You never admit to yourself that you have “enough.”

Appreciation on the other hand works exactly the opposite way.  When you have an “abundant supply” of appreciation, it is VERY hard to NOT feel wealthy.  You see the value in everything you have and do not pine after more.  You have “enough.”

So try it for a day.  Whenever you find yourself feeling the pull of expectations, stop and replace it with appreciation.  For example, you see a guy in a Ferrari and the expectation that you want one too grabs your brain.  Stop, look around your own car.  Is it better than the car you had 10 years ago?  Appreciate it.  Thank the car you have for being there for you.  Bam!  You are wealthy.

You cannot change the world, but you can change how you react to it.

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.

2016-04-30 12.40.31

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.

2016-05-01 00.01.12

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”.

2016-05-01 14.36.03

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.

Review: Life on Purpose, Victor Strecher

Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes EverythingLife on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything by Victor J. Strecher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Been reading alot of positive psychology books lately. As well as thinking quite a bit about what i want to do when I grow up. Am very interested in the science behind purpose and how having a purpose changes your life and even more importantly how to get focus on a purpose that makes sense and doesn’t overwhelm you. Victor does a good job in the first part of my questions, a very bad job on the second. This book has alot of his own science and research on the value of purpose in life, work, etc. He also spends quite a bit of time talking about the wonderful companies he has started to commercialize his work (two of which are now owned by Johnson and Johnson), all of which are focused on employee performance (the enterprise – where the money is). If you mostly care about purpose to drive your work career forward, you will find lots of justification for hiring his companies to do that for you in this book. In many ways, this book seems like a sales job for his enterprise software company, Jool Health.

If, on the other hand you are looking for some practical ways to develop purpose in your personal life, this book fails to deliver. While he proposes a framework of positive habits that support development of purpose : Sleep, Presence, Activity, Creativity, and Eating (SPACE), there are no detailed interventions only high level platitudes like “meditation is good” and “more sleep is good”. The analysis and direction of how to develop purpose is missing. I actually thought that would be part of the book, but it is sorely lacking.

If you want to understand Strecher’s framework for Purpose, read this book. If you are looking for how to develop or define purpose in your own life, go find another book.

View all my reviews

DO This:  My favorite quotes on living well

MY OWN THOUGHTS:

“Be decisive.  Right or wrong, make a decision.  The road of life is paved with flat squirrels who couldn’t make a decision.”  Martin Tobias

“When I can buy anything I want and decide to buy nothing, that is something.”  Martin Tobias

“The grass isn’t greener on the other side. The grass is greener where you water it.”  Martin Tobias

“Have a budget for all the fucks you give.”  Martin Tobias

“Not making a decision IS a decision.”  Martin Tobias

“Tranquility is achieved through equality, not superiority” . Martin Tobias

FROM OTHERS:

“You will never find yourself in what you have bult to define yourself.”  Untethered Soul

“If you take the blue pill, the story ends.  You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.  You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland and I will show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”  The Matrix

“It is all just stuff that has to be done.  So do it.”  Linda Treger (former therapist)

“Put fear in its place – as and advisor, not the captain.”  The Flinch (book)

“Be like water my friend” Bruce Lee

“The master should have the selling habit, not the buying habit.”  Cato the Elder

“Distraction destroys Destiny” . Sachen Patel

“Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive”. Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values.

“A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time”, Mark Twain.

“The thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.”  Soren Kierkegaard.

“Work is about the search, too, for daily meanings well as daily bread, for recognition as well as for cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”  Studs Terkel, Working.

“One swallow does not a summer make, nor one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.”  Aristotle

“When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.”  Seneca.

“It is no exaggeration to say that every human being is hypnotized to some extent either by ideas he has uncritically accepted from others or ideas he has repeated to himself or convinced himself are true. These negative ideas have exactly the same effect upon our behavior as the negative ideas implanted into the mind of a hypnotized subject by a professional hypnotist.”
Maxwell Maltz, Psycho-Cybernetics, A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life

“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”
Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

“Always pass on what you have learned.”  Yoda

“Do. Or do not.  There is no try.”  Yoda

“You will find only what you bring in.”  Yoda

“Just keep swimming.”, Dori, Finding Nemo

“The happy man is not he who seems thus to others, but who seems thus to himself.”  Publilius Syrus.

“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you’re not going to stay where you are.”  John Pierpont “J.P.” Morgan

“The man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder.”  Thomas Carlyle

Steve Jobs vision of innovation and the world on You Tube.

“The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent, but if we can come to terms with this indifference, then our existence as a species can have genuine meaning.  However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”   Stanley Kubrick.

“A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring. A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to, often for years.”
Byron Katie, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life

“Don’t believe everything you think.”
Byron Katie

“Placing the blame or judgment on someone else leaves you powerless to change your experience; taking responsibility for your beliefs and judgments gives you the power to change them”
Byron Katie

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop and look fear in the face.  You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”  Eleanor Roosevelt.

“We have two lives.  The first life and the second life after you realize you only have one life.”  unattributed.

“There are only two tragedies in life:  One is not getting what one wants; and the other is getting it.”  Oscar Wilde.

“Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful”  Warren Buffet.

“Objective judgment, now at this very moment.
Unselfish action, now at this very moment.
Willing acceptance – now at this very moment – of all external events.
That’s all you need.”
Marcus Aurelius

“Our actions may be impeded … but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions.  Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle of our acting.

The impediment to action advances action.
What stands in the way becomes the way.”
Marcus Aurelius

“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind.  Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.”  Marcus Aurelius

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” -Thoreau

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” -Richard Feynman

Epictetus asked the question: “How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?”

“You shouldn’t give circumstances the power to rouse anger, for they don’t care at all.”  – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7.38

“You are not your body and hair style, but your capacity for choosing well.  If your choices are beautiful, so too will you be.”  Epictetus discourses 3.1.39b-40a

“We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”  Epictetus.

Alan Watts: “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim, you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do, you will sink and drown. Instead, you relax and float.”

“If you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.”  Henry Ford.

“For such a small price, I buy tranquillity,” Epictetus’s line about ignoring small slights.

Philosophy,” Juvenal wrote, “by degrees, peels off most of our follies and vices, first shows us what’s right.”

“It is not that life is short, it is that we waste alot of it.”  Seneca

“Certainty is created within YOU not by your environment.”  Tony Robbins

“Beating the competition is relatively easy.  Beating yourself is a never ending commitment.”  No finish line.  Nike ad

“The duty of a man is to be useful to his fellow men; if possible to be useful to many of them; failing this, to be useful to a few; failing this, to be useful to his neighbors, and failing them, to himself; for when he helps others, he advances the general interests of mankind.”  Seneca

“A rock thrown in the air, it loses nothing by coming down, gained nothing by going up.”  Marcus Aurelius.

“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life:  it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising us the future.   The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today.  The whole future lies in uncertainty; live immediately.”  SENECA

From Kim-An Williams, wife of my friend Matt Williams who died young after a long battle with cancer.  “I did not like being sick, but I did realize some important things through that experience.  One especially important lesson I learned is NEVER TO ASSUME THAT YOU KNOW SOMEONE ELSE’S STORY.  Everyone has something that they struggle with in life.  Everyone understands what it means to miss someone that they love.  You will meet lots of different people in your life, and not all of them will share your experience of having a mom who died when they were young, but they might have a different experience that can help them to relate to how you feel.  You become a stronger person when you really understand what it means to be sad and what it means to be happy.  You will be able to help other people understand their own sadness and happiness too.”

“Knowledge can be conveyed, but not wisdom.  It can be found, it can be lived, it is possible to be carried by it, miracles can be per-formed with it, but it cannot be expressed in words and thoughts.”  Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse

“There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so” . Shakespeare Hamlet

“In war, the moral is to the physical as three is to one.”  Napoleon

“Complaining isn’t a strategy.  You have to work with the world as you find it, not as you would have it to be.”  Jeff Bezos

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today” . Abraham Lincoln

“For countless generations our biochemical system adpated to increase our chances of survival and reproduction, not our happiness.”  Homo Deus

DO This: How I prepare for conflict situations

Conflict-photo

2016-05-30 15.43.10Monday was haircut day.  I mean seriously dude?  Cut that hair.

Ok, I have been busy.  Conflict.  I am getting there.  As I walked into Rudy’s on Capital Hill (no I didn’t use the damn app to book an appointment – you shouldn’t need a damn appointment for a barber shop), a buddy of mine was sitting in the chair finishing up.  I had been thinking about this friend lately and meaning to connect.  Love that about Seattle.  The desk guy said it would be a half hour wait, so I ask my buddy if he has time for a coffee.  He says “How about a beer?  Or five?”  Seeing as it was well past noon (around 2:30) I say “Sure.”

Turns out my friend was staring down the barrel of a potentially explosive rendezvous with his girlfriend on Thursday who he had the distinct impression was trying to dump him in the middle of a bunch of other shit at work.  He had about a dozen tactical offensive strategies tumbling around in his head and wanted some advice.  Less than half a beer in it was clear that his monkey mind was in full-blown panic.   Summoning my best practices over the years I directed him toward strategies I have found successful.  Three beers later (thankfully it didn’t take all five) we had agreed on an approach which was not originally on his list and in fact was about 180 degrees from the direction he was going.

This episode has caused me to think about and organize (somewhat) my thoughts on how to prepare for upcoming potential conflict.  Here goes.

While every type of potential conflict has a different fact pattern, I have found that this framework can significantly reduce the fireworks and generate a greater percentage of “win-win” (hate that term) results. I have used this basic approach both when I am the instigator/aggressor of the conflict (firing a poor performing employee, talking to a family member about money, collecting a debt, etc.) and when I suspect to be the target of aggression (the board member wants an impromptu  “update” on company performance, the girlfriend wants to “talk”, a key employee wants to “have a coffee” just before bonus time, my daughter says “dad, do you have a minute?”).

The Old way: Outcome Oriented Offense.

Until very recently, my normal response to impending conflict/danger was:

Delay/Deflect.  Try to avoid conflict at all costs. Change the subject.  Move the meeting.  Deny everything.  Cut the conversation short.  Have sex instead.  Turn on the TV.  Take a trip.  Bring up a much larger problem involving someone else.  This avoided 60-70% of the conflict.

If defensive fails, move to offense.

Ready.  Figure out who/what was the threat.  Demonize them.  Remind myself of my superiority and righteousness.

Aim.  Plan an offensive attack.  Rehearse all the reasons I was right.  Be clear on what I wanted/needed out of the situation.  Be prepared to fight to the death for the win.

Fire.  Go in with guns blazing.  Do not listen (that is weakness) or only listen as a delay/distraction tactic.  When faced with arguments that diverged from my own beliefs, double down on beliefs, say them louder.  Win with superior force, will and might.  Win at all costs.  Never retreat.

Move on.  If I win, gloat.  Do not be gracious in victory, maybe even flip the looser off, give them a kick in the ass out the door.  If I lose, cut that person/thing out of my life as irrelevant and continue on with my own original beliefs intact. Conflict was not a learning experience, it was win/loose.  Win/Win is just what winners say, not an actual desired outcome.  Keep moving at all cost.

This was basically the approach my friend was taking to his upcoming potential conflict with the girlfriend.  This approach is very outcome oriented – Win, stay alive.  In certain existential situations (war with a clear enemy trying to kill you, the tiger trying to eat you) our natural fight of flight response serves us very well.  Unfortunately about 95% of the conflicts we face are not truly existential, yet we tend to respond as if they are.

The New way: Process oriented empathy and understanding.

I have heard many people express a fear that focusing on process over outcomes (taking your eye off the ball) will lead to less goal achievement.  In my experience stacking up a bunch of wins while everyone else looses eventually leaves the winner very alone, unfulfilled and wondering what went wrong.  This process orientation strengthens my life force and my interpersonal network rather than weakening it through solo victories and cutting off the looser.

Here is what I (try) to do these days which I have found to be much more successful in resolving conflict (I still hate “win/win”).  Occasionally I even learn something or grow (imagine that).  This approach is definitely preferred with anyone who you must continue to deal with over time (family, friends, co-workers).   Fewer people will feel like you are an asshole.  Even a few may appreciate your problem solving skills and want to hang out more often (a particular benefit with the girl/boyfriend).

When facing a potential conflict situation:

Prepare.  Get the facts straight.  Focus on the facts.  Try to remove any judgement or critique about the situation.  Answer these questions for yourself.  In fact write them down on one side of a blank piece of paper.

  1. What do I think happened (or is going to happen)?  If the boss calls you into the office and you start catastrophizing that he may want to fire you, ask this question.  What really happened?  He asked for a meeting.  Nothing more.
  2. What feelings are you having about the situation?  Name every feeling you are having.  Use a feeling list.  Believe it or not there are more feelings that fear and anger and happiness.  Keep away from judgments about the feelings.
  3. What do I want out of this situation?  Not the tactics, like I want the fight to be over as soon as possible.  Or I want to win.  What is your real motivation here? What is your deepest desire for an outcome here?  Do I want to win against my girlfriend, or do I want us to grow in understanding of each other?  Again do not judge.  One good tactic is imagine the optimal outcome of the conflict and list the feelings you would have about the outcome and the other person involved (yes another feeling list is useful).  You may decide you just want the win and don’t give a shit about the consequences.  Just be crystal clear.

Now do the same for the other person who will be in the conflict. Write those down on the other side of the paper.  Exercise your empathy muscle.  While you can’t absolutely know someone else’s motivation, their feelings or what they want, you can certainly try to figure it out.  Many conflicts have started over misunderstandings and without clear motivations on either side.  While some differences are irreconcilable, the severity and intensity of conflict can be significantly minimized when there is empathy for the opposition.

Listen First.  Especially if you are on the receiving end of the aggression.  Put your own feelings and desires aside and listen.  Really fucking listen.  Do not interrupt.  Keep eye contact.  Nod your head.  Yea some call it “active listening“, but you damn well know how it feels when someone is really paying attention to you.  Do that.  Put your own thoughts aside, especially if you are a guy and constantly want to jump in and solve the problem. There will be plenty of time for that.

Focus on understanding.  In the “old way” I listened as a delaying tactic, as a rope a dope while I prepared the main offensive attack. Don’t do that.  Stay curious.  Is what you are hearing what you expected from the person during your preparation?  Do you really understand what feelings, needs and desires they have?  Do you really understand what they want out of the situation?  Keep the judgement out.  Even if what you understand they want is totally fucking stupid and useless.  Try to dig down the real basic needs being expressed not the surface needs.  For example if your girlfriend says “I just need you to take out the trash once in a while” the old me would be just like “sure I can do that” end of conversation.   If you focus on understand what is really underneath the requests, you might get to the core issue.  Like “I need to feel loved or appreciated.”  Often times the real needs and motivations are buried under hurt, distrust and layers of daily details.  Focus on understanding the true needs and motivations. Focus on understanding not winning. The “win” is the understanding.

Remain mindful.  This could be the first step, or a step that underlies the entire situation.  Basically stay awake and engaged with listening/understanding. Your monkey mind will want to bust in with your own feelings, needs, wants, desires, solutions.  Your monkey mind will want to tune everything out as it prepares offense.  Stay focused.  There is time for everything the monkey mind wants to do, but your goal here is to stay focused on process not outcome.

Pro Tip:  For the Really BIG conflicts, the ones much further down the existential fear scale, you should employ role-playing.  Talk the situation and your approach through with a friend, mentor or in extreme circumstances, actually role play with them.  Start the expected conversation and play the scene through.  This is what Presidential candidates do for the big debates.  For big conflicts, this investment will pay off.

What often happens to me in armed conflict situations when I deploy the process oriented approach is that the opposition is quickly disarmed and we start working together from a position of empathy on a solution we are both happy with.  In situations where mutual happiness is not possible (firing an employee, breaking up with the girlfriend, collecting the debt), the wounds of the conflict are significantly reduced.  No one limps away mortally wounded.  The opposition may be wounded but they probably still have their dignity.  Over time they may even appreciate the conflict as a turning point.  Today’s looser needs to have the confidence and ability to be tomorrows winner.  The world is not well served by armies of wounded losers zombie walking through life.

Sometimes with all the empathy and understanding of the other’s needs, I still can’t give them what they want.  I can’t keep the employee.  I can’t take out the trash.  But with the understanding and empathy the parties can leave the conflict feeling understood.  Feeling that they were not steamrolled.  Far fewer grudges arise later.  The Process Orientation of conflict resolution still has an outcome.  The negative outcome you fear may still happen.  In many ways there is still a winner and loser.  But there is less damage to both sides.

Well that certainly is much more organized than the three beer advice I gave my buddy, and it was produced with coffee instead, but I am happy with it.  I certainly will admit to having changed my approach to conflict over time and the results are 10x better when the process approach is deployed.  Meditation is the superpower that has given me the ability to pause and choose a strategy.  While sometimes I may still choose the “old way”, I know have an option and the skill to choose.  Those have been steps in the right direction.

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I hate email lists.  I have funded two different companies to kill SPAM of all sorts.  But lots of people have asked if I would send out an occasional email with my favorite Life Hacks in it.  Originally I thought “Sure, but don’t expect more than a couple a month.”  But I have since decided to not do an email at all so I am removing the ability to subscribe.  I am turning DGC more introspective, a notebook to myself, like Meditations, so outbound publishing to the world is not a priority.  If you want to follow my internal process, subscribe to the blog or follow me on Twitter.

 

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.

2016-05-29 12.34.59 HDR

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

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.

The Book agrees 

I have been contemplating much of my life on the fact that truth can only be found when you know the opposite.  You can’t understand white without seeing black.  What is left without right?  What is true without a lie?  Pleasure without pain is meaningless.  So many things can only be truly understood when you also understand their opposite. 

This morning I am re reading The Book from Alan watts.  He says  


Maybe that is where that brain work came from.  However long ago I read it I have found it to be true all my life so far.