Do This: be a philosopher and discover real life solutions

solve life’s practical problems

 

In college, studying philosophy was an excruciating exercise in memorization and focus on minutia between different schools of philosophy.  It seemed very dry and very dead.  The idea that all of these different schools were trying to get at the same thing; how to live life well and what that means was totally lost on me.  That is often a failing of the industrial-academic approach to teaching something.  I have found it easier to learn something when I have a practical problem in search of a solution.  So it has been lately for me with philosophy and I am glad for that perspective.  Here are a few practical real life problems for which I have found solutions in no small part from philosophy and especially Stoic philosophy:

  • How to be in a crowd and in the spotlight as a natural introvert. (post coming soon)
  • How to beat the flinch.
  • How to have an argument with someone you love.
  • How to accept reality and live in the present.

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: Morning Pages 

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Morning Pages is a tool promoted by Julie Cameron in her Artist Way book as a daily practice for anyone interested in creativity, not just writers.  This guy also describes the practice very well.  Basically first thing in the morning, right after waking up, before you get going with the day, while you are still in that in-between mind state, write for 15 minutes in stream of consciousness style.  Just whatever comes out.  Cameron recommends using pen and paper in a journal.  I did the hand journal for about a month and a half, then moved the practice over at 750words.com since I can do it on my smart phone in bed and get some interesting analytics (data nerd alert).  I am going back to pen and paper to slow it down again and get away from the distractions inherent in working on a screen.

I have been doing Morning Pages for about three months now.   Concrete results from doing morning pages:

1. I produce 3x the writing as before. Basically I believe doing the 15 minutes of work right in the morning in the alpha brain wave stage sets up a creative foundation for the day. I find later when I sit down to write a blog post or something else it comes easier and more clear. Even if the topics are completely different.

2. Greater understanding of the dream world in relation to the real world. Since mp are done in that waking up phase while your dreams are still somewhat present, I have noticed that more of my dreams are making it onto the pages. That brings their content into the conscious. Without mp the dreams were forgotten. There was no mechanism to connect the two worlds. There is a lot of understanding going on in the dream world. Good to get it up to the surface.

3. I have built confidence overall. Basically it is about 15 minute job each day. I can find 15 minutes. If I can find 15 minutes for mp i can find 15 minutes for something else.

4.  More creativity in general. Even if you are not a writer, or trying to write, mp is a creative exercise.  Often times, solutions to issues reveal themselves in morning pages spontaneously.  A motorcycle maintenance solution popped in the other day.  As did a stream of good names for a new web site.  And a landscaping solution.  Creative solutions in diverse areas of my life, nothing to do with writing.

5. More clarity to the day:  Doing a brain dump first thing in the morning is kind of like a clean sweep.  You can get all the monkey mind thoughts and inner critic out on the page and start new.

Other Observations:

Long Hand VS on a device:  I did both.  Started out long hand, three pages in a note book.  It was hard to use my hands that way after such a long time on the keyboard.  It felt very slow and I had the desire to want to use some of the writing later, or do analytics on it.  So after awhile I moved the practice to 750Words.com.  Very good interface, good device support, challenges to keep you on task, merit badges, and some interesting analytics.  While I gained the ability to write on more devices, to share the work, and the analytics my nerd desired, I lost some of the soul of the exercise.  Writing long hand is slower and that is good.  You have to actually slow down your brain to your hand speed. You also don’t have a web browser or other apps there to quickly engage with in diversions that come up during the writing. When I write long hand with the phone and computer off, I begin and end the exercise without distractions 99% of the time within 20 minutes.  750words has a handy analytic of start, stop times and words written over time.  Using 750words I have completed the words in less than 20 minutes less than 40 percent of the time.    Due to the ease of indulging distractions on a device, my productivity goes way down.

What to write about.  Some people structure their writing.  Two pages on this, one on that, etc.  I have done it with and without structure. What I find is that without structure many times the stream can get stuck and I end up filling up space with mumbo jumbo words.  That is especially true on 750words where the word count at the bottom of the screen is menacing you the whole time.  If you are sitting there staring at the page, just start writing about staring at the page.  And why the exercise is so hard.  Then write your to-do list.  If you run out of inner critic stuff, or lingering to-do items, start writing about what you are going to do today,.  Meetings, people, events, etc.  If I get stalled (rarely), I just ask “Today would be so awesome if….” and start again.  Never fails.

There are many twists on how to do Morning Pages.  Here is exactly how I do it.

I get up (without an alarm so it is a natural time to awake), take a cold shower, dress, make a cup of coffee, then sit down at a desk to write morning pages.  Leave your phone in another room.  Do NOT sit in the same room as a computer or any electronic device connected to the internet.  I write morning pages at a desk because writing by hand in my lap gets uncomfortable after 10 minutes.  I write before meditating as I have found the clearing out of MP helps deepen the meditation.  I write the pages longhand (not on computer anymore see above) in a notebook that I put aside and never open again.  I try to make my only distraction picking up the coffee cup or stretching my fingers.

  • Pro tip for the to-do list addicted among us:  Put a small sticky note on the desk next to your journal.  When something comes up that you want to add to your to-do list, write it down there.  DO NOT allow your device with the to-do list app to be there, that rathole enabler will distract you.  At the end of the session, transcribe the valuable things from the post it notes to your regular to do system, or simply get them done.  This one upgrade has alleviated the major objection my monkey mind had to not having a device within hands reach – all those amazing inspirational to-do items that came up during morning pages.  There will be a lot.  But this post-it note system ensures they don’t become a rathole of wasted time.

FREQUENCY:

Do every day for 30 days.  Contemplate the effect on your life.  Continue if positive.  Overall, Morning Pages has earned a place in my morning routine due to the clear benefits I have noticed in my life.  It is the second best ROI on 20 minutes I have during the day (#1 being meditation).

SCIENCE:

Normally on Try This exercises, I reference any science I can find behind the exercise.  I can’t find any scientific studies on MP.  But there are hundreds of positive reviews and testimonials on-line.  While I have a proclivity for evidence based solutions, when the evidence is my own experience, I honor that.

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.

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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:

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  • 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.

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

“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 every thing 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.

“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

“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 judgement, 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 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

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

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.”

“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

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.