It was inevitable that I would read this book. All my favorite writers talk about Marie Forleo all the time. Most of them thank her in the acknowledgements. Who IS this woman? I thought.
Then I read Everything is Figureoutable and found out what the fuss was about.
This is an incredibly motivating book. It is packed with examples of Forleo’s students solving problems from their lives, and sharing the thought process they went through when they realized that they actually had the power to do something about their situation.
The book takes on skeptics, starting with the very concept that everything is indeed figureoutable. I like this approach. As a coach, I find that people on the low end of the readiness scale spend a lot of time venting, telling others that they “don’t know what it’s like,” and exclaiming that they’ve “tried everything.” Meanwhile someone who has resolved the very same problem in the recent past may be sitting right there, waving for their attention. Everything is Figureoutable but contrarians don’t want to believe it, or admit it.
Perfectionist? Procrastinator? Naysayer? Give it a look. Literally what is the worst that could happen?
If you’re hell-bent on looking for reasons why this won’t work, congratulations. It won’t. But neither will anything else.
No matter what you believe your limitations are, I promise that if you look hard enough, you’ll find someone with more challenges than you.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those with reasons and those with results.
Embrace the fact that if you were powerful enough to create an overcommitted and overstretched life, you’re powerful enough to uncreate it.
If you had to find the time, you would.
You never get stronger if you only do easy things.
The horns of a dilemma are no place to be. Whatever situation you’re in, feeling unable to make a decision will extend it and prolong the difficulty. The only way to be free is to figure out what you’re going to do.
This is exponentially more true if you feel stuck on a lot of undecided decisions.
Not everyone has an issue with being indecisive. It’s good to appreciate that. I think indecisive people can learn by example, too, and free themselves and the others around them. We have to lower the bar on most decisions and save our mental energy for the big stuff.
You know what I tell people when they’re having trouble figuring out what to do?
If it were obvious, it wouldn’t be a decision!
The only reason it feels hard to make a decision is if there are good reasons for each option, and choosing one cancels the other. The flip side of this is if there are negatives to each choice, if no matter what you pick, there will be some bad outcome for someone.
Not deciding does not, unfortunately, allow you to collect on all possible positive outcomes. Not making a decision also does not help anyone avoid the negatives.
Eventually, this crossroads will be passed, only visible in the rear view mirror... until the next major intersection, that is. The thing about choices is that the same type of decision comes up again and again.
Should we stay together or break up?
Should I stay at this job or leave?
Should I go to this party or stay home?
Should I spend money on this or not?
What should I order off this menu???
Personally, I refuse to bog myself down with petty decisions. I’m never going to spend more than two minutes choosing what I want off a menu, or deciding what to wear. The minute I realize that I’m caught up at a choice point and that I need to make a decision, I’m 90% of the way there. Why would I drag it out and make it worse on myself?
This is a benevolent attitude because nobody around me needs to waste time listening to me try to make up my mind, either. Nothing spreads like stress. I have no way of knowing what other people are going through, and my concern of the moment may be only 1% of the valence of anyone else in my social group.
I actually prefer talking to other people about their problems, rather than talking about my own. It’s a great distraction! Sometimes it gives me perspective or teaches me how to solve an issue later on. Sometimes I can help.
It may be easier to help someone else resolve something. Then maybe you still have your original problem, but you’ve made a difference to someone else, and nobody can take that away.
Everything we do to solve a problem reminds us that problems can be solved. Try to think of a completely unique problem, one that no human in the history of the world has ever dealt with before. If you can, DM me, because I’d love to know!
There are a few heuristics I use when making a decision.
One: Is this problem actually mine, or someone else’s? *drama detector ON*
Two: Is this an animal problem or a human problem? If my dog, a squirrel, or a crow would know how to handle this, then can I?
Three: Can this problem be solved by money? How much?
There are three other things I’ve started doing to preserve my precious mental bandwidth.
Status meeting. My husband and I save all our mutual pending decisions to discuss once a week at Status Meeting. We also share what’s going on in our personal lives, and we’re usually able to help each other make decisions because of our non-overlapping skill sets.
“Decisions” email folder. If it isn’t an urgent, Quadrant I issue, I immediately drag it into the *Decisions* folder. Default to no.
A “Decisions” list in my day planner. This list is the opposite of the email folder. Email comes from someone else and requests your time and attention. My list is self-generated and reflects my own priorities. These are Quadrant II questions, things that could be strategically important and valuable, but will only happen if I choose to put my attention, time, money, social support, and other resources behind them. They also need their proper timing. Often they need research, too, because if I knew how, then I’d already be moving ahead.
It helps to have policies in place for as much as possible. It saves time and makes it easier for others to get along with you, because you are consistent, they know what to expect, and they can plan around you. It also sets the example that they can set their own policies. Example: don’t bother to bring me a coffee, because I won’t drink it, but thanks for the lovely gesture.
A new situation can often generate a new policy. We may sometimes have to learn things the hard way, but at least that bitter experience can help us avoid it happening again.
One of those policies is simply to force yourself to confront your pending decisions. Is it time to change jobs or relocate? Is your budget working? Are you sacrificing your health and peace of mind for something that doesn’t deserve it? Has a relationship reached the end of its natural lifespan? Is a lot of your time disappearing into the ether when you’d rather be doing something more intentional?
Keeping a list of pending decisions is a way of putting your foot down. It’s a way of reminding yourself that if you don’t set your own priorities, someone else will set them for you. Are you getting the rewards of your efforts, or is someone else? Are you heading toward the outcomes you’ve chosen for yourself, or blowing around like a tumbleweed? Exert your free will and confront your pending decisions today.
We always have our reasons for doing what we do, and those reasons can change. While sometimes our situations and perspectives change, that may not always be a reason to change what we’re doing, too! Anything can continue to be a good idea despite whatever else is going on.
Weirdly, we’re more likely to hang onto our negative constants, like a toxic relationship, than we are to keep up our better habits. We believe in dark circumstances in a way that we don’t believe in good fortune.
The talented person who stays in a dead-end job out of total inertia, resisting the effort involved in a resume update
The former smoker who always starts up again under stress, as though an extremely expensive habit like that is going to help somehow
The family living in a run-down rental for years, never quite getting around to calling the landlord for routine maintenance issues
We probably don’t talk enough about the emotional reality behind positive change. Cynical people don’t want to hear it because they want everything to stay down at their frequency. Skeptics don’t believe it. Positivity always sounds like someone is selling something.
One of the most convincing testimonials I ever heard came from a friend who had all his teeth pulled to get dentures. He said he never realized how much chronic pain he was in from the inflammation of his infected teeth until they were gone. Sure, his mouth was sore for a while, but his entire body felt better. He said if he’d known what a relief it would be, he would have dealt with it sooner.
His original reason for finally seeing the dentist was to move past this cosmetic issue that was holding him back. He became a true believer when this massive amount of hidden pain left his body.
I originally went back to school because I kept seeing job listings for which I was qualified in every way except that they required a bachelor’s degree. I sat down with a calculator and estimated the monthly payments on my inevitable student loans, realized I could afford them even if I never got a better-paying job, and enrolled. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I understood how much advanced education had changed me. I felt that college taught me how to think, how to research an idea, and how to write in ways that would not have arisen from my previous life.
It paid for itself in the first year, of course, but that was beside the point. I was no longer the same person I had been.
We make decisions because they seem like a good idea at the time, because they seem like the obvious next step, or because “everyone’s doing it.” We don’t usually make decisions thinking: Yes, it is time to transform completely.
When I took my first pink collar office job, all I could think about was the money. Suddenly I was earning triple what I did at the convenience store where I worked the summer after high school. I had no idea that the years of boredom and drudgery would turn me into an efficiency machine. It never occurred to me that I would develop a solid foundation of skills that would benefit me no matter what else I did.
This summer I met a kid, a teenager. He was being homeschooled, and he was going around asking everyone what was the most useful thing they learned in high school. Calculus, said my husband the aerospace engineer. Typing, said I. My typing teacher was the bitterest, most sarcastic and pointlessly mean woman I have ever met in life. She would stand against the wall with her arms crossed over her chest and rant about how naive and lazy we all were. That class was terrible. I just wanted to get through it so I could type letters to my boyfriend. Now I type 100 words per minute and it’s possibly the only skill I learned in high school that I use every day.
Two adults in that conversation said they had never learned to touch-type, and they wished they had. It’s not too late, I said, you can get typing games where you shoot zombies or whatever. Ah, but how many people in their thirties through fifties are really going to set aside three weeks to do something that mundane?
Come on. When I started marathon training, I had to relearn how to tie my shoes.
If you think that’s bad, I’ve known at least three men who had to relearn how to WALK after one catastrophic accident or another.
We’re so, so poor at testing our limits. Everyone has a limit somewhere, but how many of us ever test them out? Have you ever worked a muscle to failure, where you send the mental command to move and your muscle does not respond? It’s tiring, but you can indeed move again the next day. We could all be pushing ourselves so hard and finding out what we’re really made of, but we don’t want to. We’d rather live in our comfy little incubators, snuggling under the heat lamp.
The first time I got on an elliptical trainer at a gym, I’d never seen one before and I just wanted to know what it did. My friends invited me. The next time, I got in a row with them and we pedaled our way on our gossip machines. I moved, I went back to school, I changed gyms. The elliptical became my homework machine, the place I did my reading for history. Then it was the “avoid my ex” machine. Now it’s the place I read the news, and also the place I reset my mood. I keep finding elliptical machines with different programming and different strides, different views and different background music, because although my reasons change, the habit continues to serve.
Our reasons may change for things we do, like journaling, saving money, or staying married. Often our positive habits get cast aside, just because we changed schedules or relocated. It can take five minutes to discard years of what supported and nurtured us, just like bad habits can seem to pop up out of nowhere. Every now and then, it’s good to take stock of what we’re doing, compare it to what we were doing at different points in our lives, and remind ourselves of what works and what doesn’t. No matter what situations we might find ourselves in today, our reasons can change and so can we.
Giving each other thinking space starts right as you walk in the door. This has nothing to do with the time of day or whether it’s a weekday or the weekend. If someone has just come in from somewhere, even a quick walk to the mailbox, this is when it starts.
Don’t say anything except “hi” for the next five minutes.
That’s it. If you only have one rule, let it be that one.
Five minutes is enough to start if anyone in the household ever feels burned out, frustrated, distracted, sad, angry, ill... really any other feeling than ‘elated’ or ‘enthused.’
Not everyone does this. It actually boggles my mind all the time, how I might be hanging out with someone in their home, and someone else comes in, only to be immediately barraged with a tidal wave of news and complaints and task assignments.
Whoa! I think. Do you people do this to each other all the time?
The answer is always yes. A household that doesn’t understand or respect transitions probably has no idea how it feels, or that there’s another way to do things.
Why is this important?
When we first see each other after an absence, even a brief one, we have no idea what the other person has been doing. We have no information on their state of mind or their physical sensations, and vice versa. It’s a bit like a poker game. Your news update might well be a four of a kind, but theirs might well be a royal flush.
I don’t know about everyone else, but when I walk in my front door, I usually have a lot going on. I have my keys in one hand, a dog leash in the other, a bag over my shoulder (and sometimes two), I’m listening to something on my headphones, and I probably have to pee. Anyone who is trying to get my attention is simply going to have to wait while I:
Unclip the dog
Turn off my audio
Put my keys in my bag
Set my bag down
And only THEN leave the room for ninety seconds.
Can’t you wait for two minutes??
That’s on a normal day. I may also need to turn around and leave for another appointment and have barely 20 minutes to get ready. It’s not that you’re not fully entitled to my attention, it’s just that I can’t give it to you. Not yet. I have none to give.
What we need is a buffer, a way to pause between one phase of the day and another. We need to make a mental and emotional transition, not just a physical one where we move from one location to another. Just because my body is in the room does not mean my attention is!
A five-minute pause is respectful. It says (without saying): I acknowledge you and your day. You have obligations other than me. You have the perfect and absolute right to collect your thoughts, put your stuff down, make a quick phone call, listen to the end of a song, take an aspirin, sort the mail, tap dance, get mud off your pants, or whatever else you need to do in order to feel ready to interact with me.
The reward for this natural pause is that your friend is now able to give you their full focus and attention. (Child? Roommate? Spouse? I hope you’re friends, in any case).
This pause may not always be reciprocated, because the other person may not realize you’re doing it. It can take time. You may have to spell it out, say, “Give me a minute,” and then explain why you were distracted. Like several hundred times. Eventually, gradually, anyone can be taught. Even pets.
Our rat terrier used to jump up on everyone, as a puppy and a young dog. After much practice, he started crouching next to someone instead. He could then avoid getting in trouble and simultaneously invite a nice rubdown. It’s pretty similar with people. If you start giving them a few moments to shake off the day, when they come in, it gives them time to want to come over for a hug.
There are a few other guidelines for giving and getting more thinking space. None of these are universal by any means.
One, no yelling from room to room. If you want to talk to someone, go to the room that they’re in. I don’t know about you, but if I’m in the next room, I can’t even hear or understand what someone else is trying to say. Raised voices are pointless. It’s worse when the person you’re calling turns out not to be there at all, or they’re on the phone with someone from work.
We avoid raised voices partly because we have both a parrot and a dog, and it tends to give both of them the wrong idea. She’s internalized this idea that there is a Quiet Time and a Noisy Time, so if you’re quiet then she’s quiet, too. But if you’re trying to watch a movie or talk on the phone then that is obviously Noisy Time. A free-for-all. She starts running through her full discography of electronic sounds, and then he stands underneath her and starts howling.
You think your house is loud...
Two, set aside your administrative discussions and do them all in bulk. This eliminates so, so much tedious daily choremastering. A lot of this can be done without discussion at all. For instance, I bought a four-way dishwasher magnet and we haven’t had to ask each other whether the dishes were clean or dirty ever since. (Clean/dirty/running/empty). We also have a shared grocery list on our phones. We do a status meeting every week to go over finances, travel plans, etc.
The idea here is that most of your conversations should be interesting, fun, relaxing... something other than vexing, boring, or infuriating. The time that was formerly taken up by discussions about the dishwasher or what to have for dinner is then freed up. Everyone can finally have a moment to think. This is how we build space in our lives for daydreaming and peace of mind.
In the urgent care examination room, I read a poster on the wall while the nurse took my vitals. There wasn’t much else to do while simultaneously wearing three pieces of medical equipment, trying to hold still for a pulse ox, thermometer, and blood pressure cuff.
This poster outlined the clinic’s policy for pain medication. It was pretty long!
I happened to be in a pretty distracting level of pain myself, due to a sports injury, and it had gotten worse during the hour I had just waited. As a routine part of the exam, the nurse asked me to rate my pain on a level of 1 to 10. I told her ‘4,’ on which I will elaborate.
Then I mentioned the poster and how it put things in perspective for me. I don’t like being in pain, but I also have no interest in a prescription painkiller habit.
“I’d have to be screaming on the floor before I would want painkillers,” I told the nurse. “I have enough to deal with right now. It’s like you walk in with one problem and walk out with two problems.”
She laughed ruefully. Nurses are prone to dark comedy. With her level of experience she likely dealt with patients trying to score extra pills on a daily basis.
I avoid painkillers for many of the same reasons that I avoid sleeping pills. I have a firm conviction that almost all medical issues originate in a person’s daily habits, and a prescription is a short-term fix for what most likely started as a long-term problem. I’ve had sleep issues since I was seven, for instance, and these issues are poorly understood. The most common medical solution for night terrors like mine is a prescription for barbiturates.
Okay, great. Two years later I’ll still have a sleep problem, and also a pill problem. Thanks. (No thanks)
I used to work at a drug rehab. The program was court-mandated, meaning that over 99% of our clients came in to avoid jail time. Many of them were clean-cut and looked like any other suburban business professional. They got busted by having multiple prescriptions at multiple pharmacies. It could happen to anyone, I’m convinced of that.
I had oral surgery a few times this year, and I was not offered painkillers. I didn’t take anything stronger than ibuprofen, even when I had sutures in my mouth and couldn’t eat solid food.
I’d rather spend a week thrashing around in mind-numbing pain than spend years fighting an addiction.
This is a philosophical position, and by no means something that I expect to appeal to anyone but me. Painkillers are there for a reason, and it is possible to die of shock. I don’t blame other people for succumbing to what is a built-in risk of a rational, legal, and standard choice. I know this is a neurochemical thing, not some... “willpower” thing or what-have-you.
I don’t believe in “willpower.”
I do, though, believe in the Pain Scale.
Sitting in a veterinary office one day, I saw a little poster on the wall. It was a pain scale for animals. It impressed me that veterinary science had worked out a way to rate the pain of animals who can’t speak or write. We can tell how they feel by looking at them, by the way they behave.
According to this poster, a ‘10’ for an animal might show up as loss of consciousness, convulsions, and possibly death.
Whoa! I thought. Good point. I know I have never experienced a 10 on the pain scale in my life. It occurred to me that few people probably have, even if they’ve been in labor or had major burns.
The pain scale I’ve seen for humans is subjective. It asks us to rate our pain according to what we have experienced before, or whether we feel it is ‘severe.’
A stubbed toe rates as a 1, according to one scale. Everyone has stubbed a toe at some point, and the universal reaction is to hop around swearing a blue streak. This is one of the three reasons I haven’t owned a coffee table for the past twenty years. We don’t call 911 when we stub our toes, though, because we know it will only hurt that much for a minute or two. Acute but brief and not dangerous.
Chronic pain is what tends to get us into trouble. I started getting migraines the same year I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a long time ago when there weren’t any reliable prescription drugs for either condition. Those were some tough years.
I figured out along the way, though, how to avoid flare-ups. Everything I ever did that worked was a permanent, often quite radical, lifestyle modification. I figured a lot of things out accidentally, coincidentally, and sometimes by trial and error. Problems like these are systemic, and they are hard to treat because they are the result of multiple inputs. Changing even three things might not be enough to make a difference, and they might not even be the right three things.
If I’d gotten some prescriptions, I’m convinced that I would not have pushed through and figured out how to leave the pain state. I would have thought of myself as a sick person who needed to take pills forever.
Pain is an invader, but it’s also a messenger. Pain tells us, Hey, whatever you’re doing, knock it off. Pain is an opportunity to learn something.
Not everyone is interested in receiving the message from pain. Emotionally - why do we continue to interact with people who hurt us or betray our trust over and over? Mentally - why do we dig in and double down on ideas after we’re exposed to contradictory evidence? Physically - why do we keep eating foods that make us ill, deprive ourselves of sleep, or ignore doctor’s orders?
When I’m in a difficult situation, I like to ask myself, What would an ordinary person do right now? Sometimes I can say, Okay, that’s what I should do, and other times the response should obviously be, Okay, definitely don’t do that. It depends on whether the standard response seems to lead to good or bad results. If the standard response to pain is to get a prescription for painkillers, and a common response to painkillers is to develop a tolerance, then I want to avoid that common outcome.
When I think of the pain scale, my personal version of it, it helps me to stay in my right mind and think about Future Me. The truth is that Future Me has probably already gotten over this.
1 - stubbed toe, paper cut
2 - headache, common cold
3 - migraine
4 - distracting pain
5 - “better get that looked at” pain
6 - “incapable of doing anything else” pain
7 - involuntary sobbing pain (antibiotic eye drops)
8 - cry yourself to sleep pain (losing a fingernail in a metal door)
9 - uncontrollable screaming
10 - unconscious, seizure, coma
I survived an 8, my personal 8, and that was a level of pain that made me believe that torture works. It also helps me to believe that there are of course worse levels of pain within human experience. Maybe I’ve already experienced the worst pain I will ever feel in my life! At that level, I could still speak, could still get up and walk, could go about my business without pain treatment. I knew that my body can heal, that my brain can eventually tune out pain, that this too would pass. Not a single one of the most painful experiences of my life is bothering me today.
I believe that there is a natural neurochemical response to pain, and that this neurochemistry can be permanently disrupted after even a short period of using various pharmaceuticals. I don’t trust them at all. I trust that I can handle almost any painful experience that comes my way, and that almost anything is easier than fighting an addiction.
Jealousy is the parking space; envy is the car.
Envy is what we feel when someone else has something that we think is out of our league, that they got it and there’s none left. Jealousy is when we feel that someone else has intruded on our turf or taken something that belongs to us, like cutting in front of us in line.
Jealousy is probably one of the most misused emotional terms out there. We tend to say it when envy is what we’re really feeling. Many people won’t cop to envy at all, and it seems to be the hardest of the “seven deadlies” to admit.
This is how it works.
My pets are totally capable of jealousy, and they act it out all the time, but I don’t think envy applies to them. Jealousy is when you believe that something belongs to you and that someone else is threatening something of yours. Example: ALL THE SCRITCHES.
If my parrot is getting a scalp massage, the dog will launch himself onto the couch and belly-crawl up to whoever is doling out this attention, then nudge for some of his own. It’s not like “You have a free hand, you can pet both of us.” It’s more like “stop paying attention to her! ME NOW!” And vice versa, of course. “Oh, anyone can pet a *dog*, but not just anyone gets to touch feathers. But you need to give it your full attention, so why not kick him onto the floor?” They’re constantly trying to bulldoze each other out of the way.
Does he wish he could fly? Does she wish she could catch a ball? Not really. Animals don’t feel envy - because they believe they are magnificent. They do feel jealousy because if there are scarce resources around, then they want it all for themselves. They don’t even feel guilty about it.
This is helpful as a demonstration of abundance mentality.
When am I going to feel rabid with jealousy?
When someone else takes the last slice of pie
When I see someone else in a restaurant or store that has locked its doors before I got in
When someone is sitting at “my” table
I don’t feel *envy* about pie, because I can either get the recipe and make my own, or I can order one. It’s just when I’ve got that hankering for yummy leftovers and someone else beats me to it. I also wouldn’t feel envy about someone else walking into a store or a restaurant, because I know they’ll serve me, too. I’m jealous when I feel entitled to a limited window of opportunity that has closed to me.
A few times, I have had the misfortune to meet a woman who is obsessively jealous over her boyfriend. (This is far less common with husbands, because the commitment has been made official in public). In the mind of one of these women, HER man is the BEST man and every other female in the world wants to steal him.
I don’t work this way, at all, and I’d venture that most people don’t. Why on earth would I want someone who was willing to cheat and lie?
Also, why would I want someone with fresh breakup cooties? Dealing with someone on the rebound leads to nothing but trouble, gossip, and drama. Ick.
The funniest part about the jealous lover is when the person they are clinging to so tightly is not a catch. Like, seriously, I got a man, and have you met him?? Off the top of my head, I can think of three instances when a specific jealous woman thought I was after her specific man.
Two of these women finally wound up marrying their man, which, good for them. The remaining one was finally presented with irrefutable evidence that he cheated, broke up with him after many years together, and wound up happily married to someone at least 3x better looking.
I would never feel either envy or jealousy about someone else’s relationship. It makes no sense. The way one person gets along with someone is no guarantee that they would get along in the same way with me! If two people are having what looks like a fascinating conversation, I might find that it’s a topic that doesn’t interest me at all. Dating and marriage are the same way. Hey, have fun talking Inside Baseball over there, or comparing your favorite craft breweries. Bye now!
Envy is an arrow pointing in a great direction to go.
If I envy someone’s house, vacation, or job, that’s my sign to figure out how they got to where they are. Worst case scenario, I could always hire an architect and copy their floor plan, maybe try to get their landscaper to come over and do my place. (I actually live in a small apartment). Whatever their job is, unless they are Beyonce then someone else out there is hiring for that job description.
Celebrity is the most widespread thing there is. If someone is singing then there’s a demand for that genre of music. If someone has a bestseller, then there’s a tested audience for that type of material.
Caveat: Only envy someone their fame, wealth, or number of downloads if you are 100% certain you have fully documented the number of hours/years they put in and that you know you are willing to work at least that hard.
I saw an extremely famous and very talented Hollywood actress in a bikini once. I sat up straighter, feeling great pride, because I knew I had better ab definition than she did. I have no interest in being an actress, but I liked how it felt to compare our gym ethics. I can’t even afford a trainer!
Envy and jealousy are both about social comparison, and social comparison is a killer of happiness. There is only one way to live comfortably with it, and that is to compare downward.
Nobody feels envy toward someone else’s quarrels, their veterinary emergencies, their mess, their debts, their low moods or poor self-esteem.
Personally I love comparing my life to what I read about celebrities, because fame seems to trap them at whatever emotional age they were when they got famous. They often act like bratty children or out-of-control teenagers. I’ve never wrecked a car, slapped a cop, thrown my phone in someone’s face, tried to get a gun through airport security, or been sent to rehab.
I might not be a multi-millionaire, but I can go to the grocery store in peace and there are no paparazzi following me. I know how to live my private life in quiet dignity. Envy that!
For all the advice out there to Find Your Passion or Follow Your Bliss or whatever, there is very little recognition that most people don’t actually know what they want. Most people don’t have a passion! Rather than feel motivated or inspired by this kind of talk, they feel inadequate, like they’re missing something. The truth is that it doesn’t require anything like passion, motivation, or inspiration to find happiness and live a pretty great life.
Also, it isn’t as hard as it seems to figure out what you want.
What most people do, when asked what they want, is to start talking about what they don’t want. Seriously, if you charged them a hundred dollars each time they said what they DON’T want instead of what they do, they would notice and they would keep doing it anyway.
It’s simply the natural reaction when people don’t have a clear picture of something they would like better than the status quo.
This is why it’s so helpful to write these things out on two separate and distinct pieces of paper. Paper, so you can put them in your journal, tape them to your wall, clip them to the visor of your car, carry them in your wallet, post them on your fridge, or pin them up in your cubicle at work.
What’s your favorite color? Okay, that’s the DO WANT list. If you don’t want to use a solid color of paper, then make a colored border around the edge or use colored ink. Or not. This is your first choice, your first opportunity to express your preferences.
What’s a color you don’t like? Can’t think of one? Okay, then use beige or gray. That’s the DON’T WANT list.
Every time you think of something that you DON’T WANT, write it on the ugly page with your don’t-wants.
The pretty page is only for stuff you know you DO WANT.
Whenever you start getting wound around the axle about things you don’t want, you can put the ugly page and the pretty page next to each other, then drag them farther and farther apart. Remember that what you do not want has nothing whatsoever to do with what you do want.
When you go out for tacos, you don’t have to think about pizza or sushi. It’s not on the table. It’s not up for consideration.
You’ve chosen. It really is that simple and straightforward when you know exactly what you want.
Almost all choices are non-zero-sum. That means that just because you choose it, does not mean you’re locked in. If you get tacos on Tuesday, you can have sushi on Wednesday and pizza on Thursday. No problem. You can even do one for lunch and one for dinner, or go nuts and have all of them on the same plate!
Almost all choices are minor and inconsequential, as well. Whatever it is that you’re planning to eat for dinner, it will only change your life if you get food poisoning. If you’re the kind of person who worries about that as a legitimate option every time you go out to eat, maybe you could… learn to cook your own meals? Just saying.
Worrying about What If all the time tends to destroy most options. Decision paralysis can take so long that the option expires.
My brothers and I got into an argument one evening. The one didn’t want to go to a restaurant where all three of us had been recently. Fine, we said, Where do you want to go?
I don’t want to go [there]! he replied.
Right, fine, we’ll go anywhere you want. You pick. Where do you want to go?
We went back and forth like that about eight times, and finally we agreed that we would just eat separately. It was nuts. Now, when the three of us get together, we often cook at home. It turns out that my brother’s “I don’t like that restaurant” energy was really more of an “I am willing to make my own beer-battered onion rings and bake my own bread” energy.
This is why it can be tricky to differentiate between the do-wants and the don’t-wants.
“I don’t want to be single anymore” is very different from “I want to marry someone who already has at least two kids” or “I think I might be into polyamory” or “Hmm, maybe I should get a roommate.”
The more specific you are, the easier it is to get what you want - because you know what it is!
One great way to break free from a stuck paradigm is to start asking people about themselves. If you can’t think of what job you want to do, get everyone you meet talking about how they chose their job and what they like about it.
If you don’t like your town and you think you want to move, ask people what they do and don’t like about their hometown. Weekend trips to various cities can be similar in cost to a weekend of going to the movie theater, getting brunch, and going out for drinks back home.
Try things out! It’s a good way to get information without feeling forced into a commitment.
I’m an extremely decisive person and I feel like it makes my life much easier. None of my choices are the end of the world. My clothes, what I eat, what I read, what music I play, what movie I will see, all of these rate an absolute zero on difficulty of choosing. I did put a lot of thought into it before I got married for the second time, but I haven’t regretted my choice of husband or my choice to remarry. That’s because I knew my page of DON’T WANTs was only 10% of the information, and I needed to be clear about the DO WANTs.
Knowing what you want is fine. It does not have to be selfish or greedy - and remember to write down all these negative thoughts on the DON’T WANT page. Good information. What job you have, where you live, your choice of workout, and what you like to eat really don’t impact anyone else. It doesn’t take anything away from other people when you get what you want. It is perfectly okay and safe to have preferences, and if all you’re doing is writing them down, then nobody even has to know.
Oh, it’s happening. It’s going down. I’ve got my Halloween costume and my bags of candy and my full game-day agenda.
What, for the kids? What kids?
Oh no no no. This candy is for ME.
Candy isn’t good for little kids. Why would I give it to THEM?
I look forward to this day all year long. It’s the ultimate cheat day. I’ve spent enough years waiting around all night with twenty dollars’ worth of candy only to have two kids knock on my door. If they want candy they can go to the fire station down the street.
One year I waited around to hand out candy. I wore a plain black cotton dress and I took a strand of my roommate’s fake cobwebs and stretched it into a shawl. Some kids knocked on my door and I gave them each a handful of candy.
“You’re scaring us,” said one little boy.
What, in this? I don’t even have scary makeup on. You should see what I wear on laundry day. Or is this about having to talk to a childless woman?
Hey, it’s not my fault you had kids, don’t blame me. I wasn’t there.
Anyway. Back to my candy.
I really don’t eat candy most of the time. Usually it’s too sweet, and a lot of it is just gross. For instance, I am not a fan of gummy candy or Swedish fish or any of that nonsense. Chocolate doesn’t impress me and I don’t like sour flavors. I also tend to hoard a bag and want to nibble at it over months, but at that point even peppermint candies have started to dissolve. Either it goes in the freezer or it goes in your mouth, right?
Planning a single day for major candy consumption requires forethought and planning. Over time, I’ve probably spent more brainpower thinking about my Halloween candy than I did in planning for my marathon.
For instance, I’m not very well going to be mixing peanut butter cups with fruity candy, am I? There are rules about these things.
Last year, I spent a month accumulating and organizing my candy. Then I ate only a small part of it on Halloween. I still had some of it six months later and my husband made fun of me.
I’ve decided that instead I should just splurge and choose one flavor. Eat as much as I want on Halloween, and then I’m done.
People tend to associate “willpower” and “self-control” with this kind of behavior. That’s inaccurate. First of all, I have no willpower. That’s the entire point of this exercise. Second, it’s not self-control if you just don’t like something. I’m sure everyone can easily think of something they don’t want to eat.
Cold greasy fries
I eat oatmeal every day for breakfast and I get “eww gross” commentary about that all the time. Basically anything with dietary fiber goes on most people’s yucky list, and that’s why 95% of Americans don’t get enough of it.
Ask yourself, does it take willpower or self-control to not eat things you think are gross? No it does not.
And you know what’s gross to me?
That’s my name for the feeling I get the day after I eat a bunch of candy. Actually sometimes it’s the same day.
A sour, stale, thoroughly non-delicious feeling.
Halloween mouth is the reason I don’t go crazy eating candy all the time. I have a vivid memory of the consequences that I refresh every year.
There are similar reasons why I don’t eat certain other foods. Fast food french fries tear up the roof of my mouth. I’ve cut my lip on corn chips. Popcorn bothers my gums. Pop Tarts, on the other hand, are simply nasty. Some foods I have thought were gross beyond words since childhood. Even as a kid I didn't like syrup, marshmallows, or popsicles.
I’m allowed not to eat things, especially when those things are treats that other people are delighted to have. Someone else always drinks “my” beer on race day, because why would I want to punish myself after all that training by drinking a beer?? Of all things???
Yes, I like candy, sometimes. It’s available to me literally twenty-four hours a day, every single day. It’s small and portable and a lot of people give it away for free, like at our veterinary office. If you plan your route you can get free candy every day and you don’t even have to say Trick or Treat, or ask anyone to smell your feet, although I suppose they might at the podiatrist.
For these reasons, I don’t need to feel scarcity around candy. Just like any other snack or dessert food, if I wake up at 4 AM with a craving, I can walk across the street and satisfy it. I can order it and have it delivered. I could keep it in my kitchen all the time, although that isn’t really fair to my husband.
A lot of people will eat whatever is in front of them, and eat it until it’s gone. I’m not like that because my memory is too good. I remember that while I *have* eaten an entire large pizza, or a family-size bag of chips, or a pound of candy, I didn't like how it felt afterward. Why do that when it’s actually better to have just the right amount? It’s not like pizza is canceled after tomorrow.
That’s why on Halloween I eat all the candy I want. I know at a certain point I’m going to go “You know what? Bleah” and seal the bag. As a child I was rationed to two pieces of Halloween candy a day, and that made it last until Easter, when, guess what? More candy!
My fun and holiday indulgences are not limited by availability, by cost, by tradition or by social pressure. I could literally have a piece of candy in my mouth every waking moment, and nobody would say anything, unless maybe I happened to be meeting the Pope. It is completely up to me to decide what I think is fun and how I like to celebrate. My limiting factor here is Halloween mouth. I respect my natural limits, and that allows me do whatever I want, all the time.
Ryan Holiday has mastered the art of making the wisdom of antiquity sound and feel current. It’s incredible to think how many fantastic books he has already written, and even more so to think that they just keep leafing out of him like a fruit tree. Stillness is the Key to his writing prowess and your autumn reading list.
Stillness is hardly a hip, cutting-edge quality. It’s the missing piece we had no idea we were missing. One might think that in an age when apps and labor-saving appliances can do everything for us, we’d have copious leisure time that we could use to cultivate tranquility. Instead it seems that the faster we can go, the slower we feel we’re going.
I have a robot vacuum cleaner and a personal secretary in my pocket that can take dictation. Does this help me feel peace of mind? Laws, no. Why not, though?
Holiday has answers for this, timeless answers that paradoxically make even more sense now than they did in the past. (Isn’t it funny that a man who advocates for stillness goes through life with the name ‘Holiday’?) Take the time to pause and reflect. Take the time to remind yourself of your values and whether you are living up to yourself. Take care of yourself before you burn out.
At one point in the book, Holiday discusses having a higher power. I always thought it was funny that so many people get hung up on this, because to me it is a one hundred percent secular and rational concept. Most powers are higher than me, and I couldn’t be more grateful. When I get my teeth cleaned, my dental hygienist is my higher power. When I read a book, both the author and the publisher are higher powers, powers that do things I cannot do. I also don’t have to make the plants grow, take charge of gravity, or even remind myself to breathe when I’m asleep. Of course my puny human mind is not the highest power! Why would anyone think that, or want that?
Stillness is the Key to so many good things in life. Whatever you are missing, if you’re modern, it’s probably sleep, time for strategic thinking, and tranquility among everything else. This is a great companion, a book to carry around with you or keep next to your bed, a book to read when you could use a pause from the business of everyday life.
We sign up for endless activities and obligations, chase money and accomplishments, all with the naïve belief that at the end of it will be happiness.
Who is so certain that they’ll get another moment that they can confidently skip over this one?
Both egotistical and insecure people make their flaws central to their identity—either by covering them up or by brooding over them or externalizing them.
No one will stop you, most of the time. This is one of life’s biggest secrets. No matter what you are doing, whether good, bad, or ugly, nobody will stop you. You’re free, like it or not.
Sure, people might sometimes try to interfere with you. Usually they only do it when you’re doing something positive and constructive, though. It helps to keep that in mind. It also helps to know that their ways of being your obstacle are pretty predictable.
Tantrums. Usually that’s the method of choice. Someone will bawl you out or get angry and start shouting or slamming things around.
Maybe they’ll give you the silent treatment or be passive-aggressive instead.
When someone behaves in such an immature and loud way, it’s never going to be for a good reason. Nobody throws a tantrum to convince someone to donate blood or get an early start on filing their taxes. Nobody throws a tantrum to convince someone to eat a taco or help themselves to another slice of pie. They throw tantrums to Get Their Way.
Why does someone care whether you do or don’t do something? Either because they think it will prevent them from getting something they want, or because they simply don’t like the thought of you doing it.
What are these things, these things you might want to do that someone else might not want you to do?
Have a successful friendship
Go back to school
Go on a trip somewhere
These are things I’ve found that other people will try to talk me out of. I’ve also found that I was able to do all of them, often more than once, and nothing bad happened. The tantrum-thrower eventually gets over it. Don’t expect them to ever admit that they were wrong, because it won’t happen, but do take note that you got away with it.
As much as people love to insert their opinions, there are other areas where they won’t. I’ve found myself in a couple of situations (going on a date, taking a roommate, moving into an apartment complex with a reputation, eating at Chipotle) where I would have appreciated knowing what my friends already knew. They only admit afterward that they didn't think what you were doing was such a wise idea.
This basically depends on whether you are talking to a group of people who freely share their opinion, or a group who generally choose to “stay out of it.”
There may also be something in there about whether you thought to solicit their specific individual opinion before or after the fact. Some will seek to punish you for your supposed lack of deference.
Yes, yes, you must run all your choices by me in advance. I am the arbiter of all decisions, group or individual.
What I’ve found is that if you simply don’t tell anyone your plans, you can pretty much do what you want all the time.
Often you can also avoid telling them after the fact.
There are two things I chose to do that seemed to arouse the ire and wrath of many of my friends and family like nothing else. Nobody had an opinion (with one exception) when I married my ex-husband. Everyone had an opinion when I 1. Chose to deliberately lose weight and 2. Took up distance running.
I was baffled by this at first. Then I found out that the furor only comes up when you're in the contemplation and beginning phases of something new. After you’re up and running on your own, they lose interest and find some other scandal to occupy themselves.
The next phase of realization set in when I discovered that I could do the exact same things, privately, and if I didn't tell anyone, then nobody had a comment.
Rearrange my furniture? Try a new recipe? Color my hair? Go to Morocco? Read a banned book? Fortunately, because we are a free people in a free country, I did it all. I did it all and nobody said a word because nobody knew.
Another secret to doing what you want and having nobody stop you is to move to a new area. If you have no track record there, nobody knows your backstory. If nobody knows your backstory, then nobody knows whether what you are doing is out of character or entirely consistent with your past behavior.
There is a dark side to this, of course. Pretty much nobody will stop you if you develop an addiction or embezzle money or engage in any other sort of risky behavior. You’ll only be stopped by the natural consequences of your actions, whether legal or merely predictably unfortunate.
You can go out and get a bad haircut or wear unflattering pants or start a project you’ll never finish. You can buy a ticket to a boring movie with a weak ending. You can hoard up your house or go three years without cleaning your bathroom. You can do a lot of stuff that isn’t really all that great an idea, and no one will stop you.
What this all means is that it’s up to you. Whether you love your life or shuffle through it in boredom and resentment is up to you. Whether you live out your dreams or cringe in avoidance of someone else’s disapproval is up to you. Whether you transform your body or go back to school or change careers is up to you. You have choices and you have the power to take action on them. No one will stop you. Let your path be dictated by your own insights, not your naysayers.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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