“Fall down seven times, get up eight.” That’s a Japanese adage that I always found meaningful, in the symbolic sense. It wasn’t until I started martial arts training that I realized how very practical and physical this advice is. Learning to fall properly is an emotional skill, something that builds resilience and mental toughness. It’s also a literal, physical thing that we do with our bodies. I don’t just “learn to fall,” I commit my actual body and throw myself on the ground. Dozens of times. Per class.
This is something I’ve quickly come to enjoy.
As an unfit person, I wouldn’t even have stood by as a spectator to watch this sort of thing. I would have felt total disinterest, or possibly something closer to scorn or annoyance. THAT’S STUPID. This is the biggest block to overcome when learning to inhabit the body. We’re in a weird cultural moment when millions of people genuinely believe that “I” is something separate and distinct from “my body.” “My body” can “want” different things than “I” can and “my body” has different interests and desires than “I” do. Physical conditioning is the fastest way to resolve that bizarre fracture.
It isn’t necessary to integrate body and spirit, because they are one and the same. What’s necessary is to discipline the ego to accept the physical limitations that come from pretending the mind is superior to the body.
It’s my ego that complains when I trip on the jump rope. It’s only my ego that complains when I get tired from doing twenty push-ups. It’s my pride that tries to talk me out of ten or fifteen minutes of high-intensity interval training. For my pride, even ten seconds of looking foolish or clumsy, feeling tired or weak, is far too much. I can only maintain my knee-jerk egotism by not jerking my knee. Ooh, I’m a cool cucumber, sitting in a chair at the sidelines with my arms crossed over my chest. My ego has me convinced that I’m much too smart for that folderol.
My ego isn’t going to help me, though, when I’m called by chaos. Crisis shows up whether you want it to or not. Sometimes, you find yourself in a collision or a natural disaster. Then what? “My body wants” to not freaking be here right now. If “I” am going to climb the stairs because the power is out and the escalator doesn’t work, then “I” am going to have to use “my body” to climb stairs. When it really matters, I don’t have the luxury of indulging in the metaphysical mental gymnastics. I’m committed.
This is even more true with aging. If longevity is the goal, the focus is trained on mobility and functional fitness. How old do I want to be the last time I sit on the floor? What day on the calendar is going to be the farewell anniversary of climbing stairs? Should I have a goodbye party for the last time I walk a mile? Do I decide I’m never going to lift a box onto a shelf again, do I try one last time and hurt myself when I can’t do it, or do I train so I can continue to do it safely whenever I please?
One of the huge advantages of physical training is that it gives you the opportunity to meet dozens of elderly people who kick serious butt. (Certainly including women). I’ve been passed by octogenarians on bicycles or running up hill. Just the other day, I was in the gym at my apartment complex when a guy older than my dad dropped to the floor and started cranking out push-ups, using hand weights for extra depth. I couldn’t have handled sixty seconds of this man’s workout and he has at least twenty-five years on me. “Teach me,” I thought, except I fear I’m not ready for everything he would have to say.
I also meet younger women all the time, women who either quit or never got started. They can barely handle bringing their groceries into the house or picking something up off the floor. This is the mindset that makes my current age, forty-two, sound “old.” Someone who is completely sedentary, one of the 40% of Americans with an activity level of zero, will feel physically old long before age forty. “Over the hill.” Yeah I’m over the hill! My martial arts academy is up a hill and I have to go over that hill three or four days a week. I’m not metaphorically over a hill, I’m physically up a hill, and down it again, so often that it barely registers in my mind.
I don’t train because of my body image, or at least not in the way that most people would understand it in our current cultural context. I train because I want to maintain my independence when I’m old. I always take the stairs because I want to be able to take the stairs. I carry my own bags and boxes and suitcases because I want to be able to keep doing it thirty or forty years from now. I sit on the floor because I still can. I throw myself backward over and over again, bouncing up into a jump squat if I’m so ordered, because I need to know how to fall. Falling is the death of independence when you’re frail and weak. The fall, the snapped hip, then the hospital stay, then the pneumonia. I look ahead and I want more for myself than that, than the common fate of so many older people who deserve better. I’m working now to give Old Me stronger bones and the ability to fall like a professional.
Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life. The older I get, the more I realize the truth of this. I make the hard choice of punishing my ego and forcing back my foolish pride, and I get the relatively easy life of having a strong, agile body. I make the hard choice of sacrificing my mornings and going to a difficult class, so I can have the easy life that comes through self-discipline. I make the hard choice of falling so I can have the easy life of being able to get back up again, as many times as it takes.
This book is a total trip. I follow Benjamin Hardy on Medium, so I knew that his book would be worth the read, but I have to confess that it blew my mind. Slipstream Time Hacking! I’m still processing it. I have the suspicion that it has permanently affected how I perceive the nature of reality. If this intrigues you, you should definitely read it even if I make a complete hash out of this review. It’s short but it has a lot going on.
Briefly, a slipstream is a way of rapidly jumping forward in time. Not on Star Trek but here, in our ordinary daily reality, we can time-travel. Time hacking means that we can change our results by looking at time differently and learning how slipstreams work.
Historian’s note: We ARE traveling through time. We’re just doing it at 1x speed.
Okay, now that I’m wearing my historian hat, I have to keep it on, because it always puts a dent in my hair. Let me give a bit of perspective here. Compare a kindergarten-age child of 2018 to a five-year-old child of 818 CE. Twelve hundred years ago, that typical little kid would be small and frail due to malnourishment and early fevers. He or she would have a household job, like knitting socks, fetching water, or searching for firewood. This child would never learn to read or write, and might struggle with basic arithmetic as an adult. Now, quick! Grab the little tyke and run for your slipstream! After the lice treatment, the vaccinations, a long, hot bath, and a couple of visits to the dentist, enroll the kid in a local school. A year later, this medieval child will be living twelve hundred years in the future, literally and physically, but also mentally. Open the slipstream and send the poor kid home to the thatched hut where you found him/her. The villagers of 819 CE would find this very confusing. Where did this kinda large, clean child with the sparkly teeth come from? Where did this child learn to read, write, and understand basic sanitation? Worse, what the heck is this kid saying about cars, electricity, airplanes, rocket ships, “other planets,” phones, microwaves, dinosaurs, and Hot Pockets? Somebody call a priest.
Now, forget that poor medieval child and turn your attention back to the kid who was born in 2013. This child is exactly like a medieval child that traveled twelve hundred years into the future: a little child that still needs naps and snacks, gets skinned knees, and plays with an imaginary friend. The human part of us is the same. The difference is the cultural context in which we live. This is the part of us that can time-travel.
Here is where it gets crazy, and where it’s helpful to read the book for yourself.
Everything you are trying to do with your life exists on a time continuum. For example, let’s say you want to pay off a $20,000 balance on your credit cards. At your current rate, you hope to be caught up in four years. If you win a contest and use the money to pay off your cards, you’ve effectively traveled to 2022! Monetarily at least, you’ve jumped ahead into the financially secure future.
Now, imagine something similar happening with all your other goals. What would you do if you suddenly woke up and you were already at your relationship, career, financial, fitness, and home improvement goals? What goals would you make then? Why not just make those goals today and skip the middle steps?
This is the reasoning behind working with a trainer or a coach. If you can move to a specific vision for the future more quickly with a little help, then it makes every kind of sense to seek out that help.
Hardy’s book goes beyond these basic, ordinary goals. How do people make groundbreaking leaps in business, sports, publishing, and other fields? What are the geniuses doing? How do they strategize and make their decisions? This is the part that’s messing with my mind. Now that I’ve read Slipstream Time Hacking, I have to ask myself: What would I be doing right now if I lived a hundred years into the future? What would my home look like and what would I be doing with my day? Is there any reason why I couldn’t be doing that right now?
You Do You. If ever there were a concept that this world needs, this is the one. Yet again, we have Sarah Knight to thank for explaining something so integral to a happy life, so carefully and yet so swearingly. This is the same author who taught us how to “give fewer and better fucks” in The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck and followed up with step-by-step instructions on how to Get Your Sh*t Together. Please can’t there be an illustrated children’s version?
Well, not really a “children’s” version. Just something with little anthropomorphized animals flipping each other off would be fine.
Let’s talk about Lowest Common Denominator Living. This is a theme in You Do You, and it gets its own acronym. This is what happens to us when we feel that we have to conform to external standards and suppress our individuality. No freak flags shall be flown. It always blows my mind when I hear people saying “society tells us” this, that, or the other thing, because I live in Southern California. I have honestly seen bare-ass naked men (plural) walking down the city sidewalk with their danglers hanging out, on more than one occasion. Nobody cares, at least where I live. I was on the bus the other day with a young gal combing out her massive four-foot-long hot-pink wig. There’s a guy in my neighborhood who rides around on a bike covered with rainbow lights and a full stereo sound system. My upstairs neighbor has a little white dog with lime-green highlights in its fur. If you feel stuck in LCD Living, spend a weekend in my town. Nobody is actually watching you, nobody really cares what you look like or what you do with your time, and you genuinely are free. You Do You, honey.
The biggest argument against being your sparkly rainbow self seems to be that it’s selfish. Hashtag ObligerProblems. On the contrary, it’s selfish to hide your light under a bushel and contribute to any vestiges of unhelpful social conformity. You were born with certain irreplaceable gifts and it’s your responsibility to fulfill your destiny, and if you refuse to step up and do it, you’re extremely selfishly depriving the world of those gifts, for all future generations. Geez. How dare you. If you aren’t you, well, then, who will be??
The core of the You Do You philosophy is to follow a social contract, so that you can express yourself and get your preferences met without being a psychopath. How do we deal with peer pressure, fear, and guilt? How do we deal with haters, doubters, and naysayers? This is a very hands-on manual in that respect. It has scripts! This could be the “He’s Just Not That Into You” of learning how to have awkward conversations about your agency and autonomy. (Pro tip: You don’t actually have to keep most people informed of your plans; if you don’t tell them, they can’t naysay you).
You Do You is a great, wise, hilarious gem. It’s a handbook for how to be a free elf and make your own decisions in life, while also participating fairly and altruistically in society. If this is the new wave of ethics and practical philosophy, why, I’m for it. Read it, and then run your freak flag right up the mizzenmast.
PS [Spoilers] Please tell me there isn’t actually a person who spreads pimento cheese on their Pop-Tarts!
What happens when you just jump into doing something new? When you decide that you want to test out this thing called ‘bias toward action’ for yourself, or perhaps debunk it? What happens when you breathe through your tendency toward analysis paralysis and start, ya know, doing stuff? When you make motions in the direction of a goal rather than waiting around for the willpower or the motivation to show up?
What happens is that you come up with more reasons to do it.
My philosophy is: Do Things That Are a Good Idea; Don’t Do Things That Are a Bad Idea. I know, I know, that sounds too meta and deep for the general user. How did I ever come up with that? From reading lots and lots of super-heavy philosophical tomes. Just trust me. I’ll explain it a little more, though, just to make sure it makes sense.
Do things that are a good idea: If something is a good idea, then I only need one reason to do it. My dentist told me to floss my teeth, so I do. I’m not going to spend any more time researching and reading articles about flossing, because it only takes me two minutes a day.
Don’t do things that are a bad idea: If something is a bad idea, then I only need one reason NOT to do it. Don’t put a fork in the electrical socket. Don’t slam your finger in a metal door. Don’t read the comments. Don’t wear tights that are an exact match for your skin tone.
Most people tend to do a better job avoiding things that are a bad idea, especially if they’ve done any of them. Not me, though. Today is perhaps the third or fourth time I’ve spilled green tea soy latte inside my work bag.
Apparently I need more reasons to sit and savor my tea slowly. ...?
Think of your favorite thing. It could be an object, a place, an activity, a song you play over and over on repeat, just something you totally love.
Okay, now think of reasons why it’s so awesome.
Fun, huh? If you did that exercise, I highly recommend doing it every day. It’s good brainstorming and it reminds you to do stuff you like.
I’ll share one of mine. I love reading. What do I like about it so much?
Can’t stop myself
Learn new things
Keeps me entertained while I do boring stuff
Or folding laundry
Or driving on a long road trip
Or standing in line
Always have a way to squash bugs
Handy way to repel unwanted attention of strangers
Keeps me from perseverating or pointlessly worrying
Way to connect with old friends
And make new friends
Always have something interesting to talk about
Share with friends and family who want a book recommendation
Way to keep papers flat in my bag
Reminds me of other books that I also loved, like in the same genre or series
Financially support my favorite authors
Cheaper cost per hour than going to the movies
What the heck else would I do with my time?
I could go into exhaustive detail if I wanted. If I started sharing what I loved about particular books or authors, this could go on forever. The point is that I love something so much that I’ll never stop doing it, and I’m convinced it will always be a part of my life. I can’t think of a single reason why I should ever stop.
What else can I do that with?
If I were asked to come up with reasons to do something I know nothing about, I’d be a bit stuck. Why should I... buy a luxury vehicle? Um... I guess because maybe it would impress people who don’t currently talk to the likes of me? Maybe it would make me enjoy driving? I dunno. You tell me. I have a bunch of reasons NOT to buy a luxury vehicle, especially because it would be out of my price range.
This is the position in which we find ourselves when we’re contemplating a change in our behavior.
Why should I start running? I shouldn’t! Running sucks!
Why should I go to bed earlier? I shouldn’t! Late night is my only time to decompress from being so burned out and exhausted all the time!
Why should I pay off my credit cards? I shouldn’t! Please allow me to unroll my lengthy scroll of unavoidable expenses and I’ll document them for you.
Status quo bias. We all have it, and it’s a supremely useful tool for making rational choices. Obviously the status quo is fine, because what I’m doing right now works for me. Why should I change anything at all?
Allow me to offer some More Reasons:
Because making even one tiny change in one area could make your life easier, better, more fun, or more interesting;
Because no status quo is permanent, meaning that change is coming for you whether you approve of it or not;
Because it’s generally better to plan changes for yourself rather than having to react to the changes that fate throws at you.
It’s also worth mentioning that we usually don’t realize how uncomfortable the status quo was until we find ourselves in a better situation later on. Certainly this feels like the story of my life. I never really realized I was obese until years after I started gradually losing the weight. I didn’t really realize how unhappy I was in my first marriage until quite some time after the divorce. Arguing for the status quo is, in some ways, slamming the door shut against serendipity, felicity, or simply a shift in perspective.
One way that I started to look for more reasons to do things that are a good idea was to read through lists of other people’s reasons for doing that thing. I do this with extra focus when it’s something toward which I feel a strong resistance. The more I reject something that other people like doing, the more I want to inquire of myself: what’s so bad about it? For instance, I’m very afraid of snorkeling, but I keep hearing that many people find it absolutely magical, even peaceful. If my list of reasons to try it keeps getting longer and my only reason not to try it is that I’m scared, then at some point I’m going to sign up for lessons. Why would I deprive myself?
The reason I seek out more reasons to do things I don’t already do is that I’ve ruled out the standard default mode. I am insufferably bored by sitting around watching TV and I lack all interest in gaming. If I don’t watch TV or play games, what else is there to do? Watch paint dry? Listen to the grass grow? I already know why I do the things I enjoy. For a more interesting life, all I need is more reasons to do the things that other people enjoy, too.
I broke my 415-day activity streak on my Apple Watch. By five calories. Why? I was distracted and didn’t notice the clock ticking toward midnight. Also, I was getting over the flu.
That blank space is all the different ways I tried to put into words the inchoate rage and bottomless disappointment I felt when I realized that there was no going back. My streak is gone and I can’t even pick it up again until March of 2019. No perfect week badge. No January 2018 badge. Two and a half years, and I still haven’t managed a perfect calendar year.
I feel significantly worse about this than I did earlier this month, when I realized I had paid nearly $40 for an online class that I didn’t need.
The work that goes into maintaining a 14-month streak. The focus. The dedication. The, shall I say it, obsession. I’ve maintained that streak when I was sick. I’ve maintained it when I was injured. I’ve maintained it while traveling across eight time zones. I’ve maintained it with house guests and on road trips. I even bought an extra $30 charger to keep from breaking the streak when I forgot to pack that key, irreplaceable item. On the way to a major family event.
It got really bad the first time I broke my streak, by one calorie, because I didn’t notice it was past midnight. I went out into the yard with my hammer and beat a foot-wide hole into our lawn. I’ve been less angry at being burglarized!
Why midnight? Why this arbitrary split second of a minute of an hour of a day?
Why can’t the user set when a “day” starts and ends?
Why isn’t there a reminder, like the stand-up reminder, to point out that the “day” is nearly over and you’re really close to closing your ring?
Why am I so susceptible to this digital brain-prodding?
Obviously, the reason to wear an activity tracker is to bring awareness to your activity level. This is great. Certainly the Apple Watch has done that for me. I can look and see that I walk an average of over six miles a day. I can see how many flights of stairs I’ve climbed, literal stairs, because I skip escalators now. I can see my average heart rate and all that awesome stuff.
The problem comes in for me, and I suspect for a lot of other achievement-oriented alpha types, with the badges and the streaks.
My desire for a complete collection of rainbow-colored virtual badges knows no bounds. I know that other people have hacked and cheated by setting their goals artificially low, or coming up with some other method to trick their tracker. You could shake the old pedometers and get the step count to go up. Apparently you can dangle your arm from a chair and convince the Watch that you’ve stood up. The badges redirect the focus to badge-getting. Whether that’s through fair means or foul, we want to get those badges. It can be hard to distinguish one form of gamification from another, especially if the user is also playing other sorts of games that come with badges. OOH PRETTY.
I’m a fairly serious amateur athlete. I ran a marathon, I take martial arts classes four hours a week, I walk everywhere because we don’t have a car, I routinely go on backpacking expeditions. Someone who does not have a digital hook in their brain may believe that a real athlete would simply focus on the activity and ignore those dumb old badges. Sure. That person probably doesn’t need or wear an activity tracker.
I’m starting to think that I can’t do anything that involves tracking a streak. It... activates something inside of me. Something very dark and negative and unhelpful.
I want to rage-quit. I want to crush things. I want to throw something off my balcony. I actually had a flash of an image that involved me breaking our glass sliding door with a hammer, just to exorcise the demon of BROKEN STREAK somehow.
Only a few weeks ago, I spent no fewer than three hours at the Apple Store, while no fewer than three separate geniuses sat with me and helped me transfer my iPhone 6 to my new iPhone X. The specific reason was so that I could keep my activity streak on my Watch. Nobody knew how to do it. Finally the floor manager came over and figured it out. I guess I let down the team. Sorry, guys.
I’ve felt less bad when I’ve shattered my phone screen. I’ve felt less bad when I’ve spilled dinner on the floor. I’ve felt less bad when I’ve gone to purchase airplane tickets only to see that the price has increased before the transaction was complete.
This is an entirely contemporary, artificial emotion created by technology. Or, rather, by the designers of it.
This isn’t the first time I’ve developed a little problem with streak maintenance. I was trying out a meditation app. I completed the meditation at 12:00 AM, and didn’t get credit. I had meditated for seven days straight and the app was only showing a two-day streak. There was no way to turn the feature off, so I wound up deleting the app. It struck me that a meditation app that generates the competitive streak feeling was counterproductive.
I want a cute little enchanting reward for doing well. Sure, of course I do. I want a collection of pretty, sparkly rainbow stickers to show off. Look how hard I worked! Straight As! Isn’t there a way, though, to set up those badges and stickers so they still reward the user, even if the clock has ticked past 11:59 PM? Couldn’t the rewards come for reaching mileage goals, or resting heart rate goals? Could a monthly badge come from the average daily activity rate, rather than an unbroken 31-day streak? Couldn’t there be a skip, or a make-up function, or a freaking doctor’s note?
The cruelty of the digital god. Applehovah.
I’m wearing this thing that I call The Overlord, feeling despondent and thoroughly demoralized. Do I actually want to keep wearing it? If streak tracking is going to mess with my equilibrium this much, shouldn’t I be wary of it? Maybe take it off? I looked through the other apps and features, asking myself if the other use cases are worth setting myself up for this kind of digitally mandated despair.
Maybe it’s just the flu, and I should have spent the day in bed, rather than trying to close all my rings.
Maybe there’s something fundamentally wrong with a system that incentivizes people to stay active even when they’re ill.
I’m an active person now. I didn’t start out that way. It wasn’t until my thirties that I stopped being almost 100% sedentary. Various digital displays have helped encourage and inspire me. I beat chronic illness and thyroid disease to become a marathon runner, and that’s saying something. What I want is a device that brings out the best in me. Not the beast in me.
This book is not for amateurs. Or, rather, an amateur who picks it up is in real danger of abandoning amateur status. Jocko Willink is not messing around. Discipline Equals Freedom has the makings of a cult classic, the sort of book that is handed down from person to person, possibly to inspire a series of tattoos. For the standard-issue procrastinator, it could be fun to explore this as poetry. Regard it as a peek into the mindset of a hardcore, never-quit action-oriented achiever.
Stoic philosophy lives and breathes. It’s really the only difference between a super-achiever and an ordinary person. Discipline Equals Freedom is an example of that. It’s a common fallacy to think that a muscular person is dumb, that bias toward action is a demonstration of lack of depth or strategy. That’s because most people don’t talk and act at the same time, at least not at an extreme level. Even the fittest elite athlete in the midst of the most strenuous training period is still resting at least part of the day. What are they thinking about? Now we get a chance to find out.
I freaking love this book. I love it so much that I bought a digital copy to keep on my phone. I’ve been following my husband around, demanding that he listen to sections of it.
“Is this what I want to be? This? Is this all I’ve got—is this everything I can give? Is this going to be my life? Do I accept that?”
We’re both huge fans of the movie Full Metal Jacket, and we often quote whole sections of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman going off about something or other. “A jelly donut?!” This is how I got through my first mud run. “Are you quitting on me, Private Pyle? Are you quitting on me?” If only I’d had Discipline Equals Freedom; I could have had so much more variety in my self-talk.
Discipline Equals Freedom is divided into sections. The philosophy section is Part One: Thoughts. Part Two: Actions has more philosophy, and then it’s divided into nutrition, injury prevention and recovery, and workouts. The nutrition section is based on the Paleo diet. While I dispute the premise of Paleo, I wouldn’t let that mess with my appreciation of the book overall. I agree with Jocko on a few important points, namely that sugar is poison, that we need to take sleep seriously, and that we should be as physically active as possible every day. I haven’t eaten meat in twenty-five years, and almost the entire cadre of instructors at my martial arts academy are completely plant-based. Both locations. Our paths are different, but we both agree that the Standard American Diet will kill you.
As for the workouts, even the Beginner level is quite tough. Jocko has modifications for those of us who can’t do a pull-up, a handstand, or a regular push-up. I’ve been there, and it works. If you really want to be able to do a pull-up badly enough, you can make it happen, even if, on the first day, all you can do is grab the bar and hang there with your arms straight. The first time your chin clears the bar is a feeling of childlike dazzling joy.
People constantly say, “I wish I had your willpower” or “If only I had the motivation.” These are core misunderstandings of what makes other people tick. It’s self-discipline. It’s the inner philosophical alignment that says I refuse to accept inferior results for myself. If I want a better life, more grit and determination, more education, better communications and relationships with other people, then I can’t accept anything less from my own behavior. Discipline Equals Freedom is an instruction manual that teaches the mindset of self-discipline. Now read it, and liberate yourself.
Brene’ Brown makes a wish in this book: “I wish there was a secret handshake for the wild heart club.” Well, I wish there was a secret handshake for people who have read her work or listened to her speak! Maybe a button or something. Brene’ Brown is a one-woman revolution. We need her work, and after we drink it in, we need to DO her work. Braving the Wilderness is perhaps her most important message yet. Essentially, it’s about how we rebuild our culture and sense of unity in the face of worsening polarization. How can we create more of a feeling of belonging despite our conflicting values?
Words that come up in Brown’s research: Blame. Rage. Cynicism. Distrust. Fear. Loneliness. Contempt.
As much as we recognize these universal emotions, it is almost absurdly challenging for us to acknowledge that people we perceive as our rivals, our competitors, our opponents, or our enemies feel precisely the same way.
Vulnerability and shame are themes throughout Brown’s work, and we recognize how these interior feelings are magnified from the social to the cultural level. So this is what happens when we deny our darker emotions!
One of the qualities that makes Brown such a superstar is that she transcends regional, cultural, and political differences. Everyone feels like she belongs... to US! She’s able to straddle so many divides in such a totally unique way. This book will push a few buttons, but it does it magnanimously and fairly. Everyone gets a turn.
I am heartily in favor of Brown’s call for a return to civility. It’s not that difficult to practice; often all it involves is not joining in or piling on when someone else makes a snarky comment. Another simple, easy, relaxing way to achieve civility is to avoid introducing political topics. I consider it a victory when I have no idea what someone’s political affiliation is, and an additional level of triumph when I participate in an event where politics are irrelevant. For instance, we’re probably evenly divided in my public speaking club, but I genuinely couldn’t guess the alignment of about 90% of my fellow members. It’s better that way. We can and do share stories, laughter, hugs, and high fives, enjoying each other’s company, face to face. Almost every social gathering and event could be this way. All it takes is reminding ourselves that we share most things in common, and the most important of these common traits are mutual affection and respect.
“He likes you way more than you like you.”
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
“Is there a faster, easier way to make friends with a stranger than to talk smack about someone you both know?... I don’t really know you, nor am I invested in our relationship, but I do like that we hate the same people and have contempt for the same ideas.”
“When we’re suffering, many of us are better at causing pain than feeling it.”
“Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong.”
I’m the worst. I am the absolute worst, and I’m really pretty proud of that. Let me explain the core of my little home version of Stoic philosophy, the one that I call “You Suck.” It’s what drives me to try to spend as much time as I can in beginner mode, trying new things, and pushing myself in pursuit of humility, grit, and self-discipline.
Affirmations are one thing. I’m a rainbow-striped, super-sparkly, sugary sweet extreme optimist, and I believe in the infinite power of radical change. On the other hand, affirmations only work if you truly believe them. Like, already believe them. You can’t talk yourself into an affirmation if underneath you suspect that it’s a lie. You have to do considerable homework before you can genuinely talk yourself into stretching your self-image that far. This is why I mix my motivational self-talk with curses and insults.
My self-efficacy is really high. I believe I can push myself to do anything, and that most things are so easy they can be learned by doing a basic web search and watching a how-to video. That’s why I don’t give myself allowance for any excuses or justifications. If I’ve made a commitment to do something, I’m doing it. No sense being a waawaa about it.
That would be an example of some of my private and personal self-talk. “Don’t be a waawaa.”
“Ohh, it’s toooo haaaard! Ohh, I don’t WANT to! Oh noooo!” Said in a sniveling, mocking tone.
These are my most obvious weaknesses, the ones that are most likely to interfere with my pursuit of all the stuff I like to do. (Hiking, backpacking, adventure races, distance running, travel, basically anything interesting).
I hate waking up early
I hate being cold, and by “cold” I mean temperatures below 65F
I hate the wind
I hate, truly hate, having dirty, sticky, or sweaty hands
I hate bug bites
I hate blisters
I pretty much hate wearing shoes
I hate when my hair gets frizzy
I hate wearing damp clothes
I hate to eat in a car
I hate sleeping on the ground
I can’t tolerate boredom for more than about 40 seconds
My inner child is, well, I AM my inner child. If I let that part of me dictate my life, I’d do nothing but sit around wrapped up in a blanket, reading and stuffing Oreos in my cheeks like a diabetic hamster. I say I am the worst because I know I am. Inside me is a whiny little whiner, a quitting quitter who quits. The absolute worst.
The other reason that I say I am the absolute worst is that today is the worst I’ll ever be. When I show up and force myself to do something I’m really bad at, when I make myself keep showing up even when I fail and fail and fail, why then, I’ll get better. That’s where skills come from. Skill comes from diligence and focus and attention and practice and repetition. Skill comes from humbling yourself before your teachers and trying and trying to get it right.
I am the absolute worst because I deliberately seek out areas where everyone in the room is more skilled and experienced than I am. If I’m the best in the room, I’d better be there to teach, because otherwise I’m wasting mine and everyone else’s time.
Let me talk a little about how good I am at being the absolute worst.
In dance class, my instructor stopped and asked me why I was having so much trouble learning the basic rumba steps. “My third leg keeps getting in the way,” I replied. He looked at me, agape. “Your third leg? Your THIRD LEG?!”
In bowling, I bowled the ball behind me and it jumped back into the ball rack.
On my first day of running, I couldn’t make it around one block in our neighborhood and I had to lie on the floor afterward.
When I gave my ice breaker in Toastmasters, I ran out of material at least a minute early and had to stand there basically mumbling to myself until the green light came on.
I just started taking Krav Maga and Muay Thai kickboxing this year. I strained an abdominal doing, I am not kidding, ten sit-ups. I hit myself in the face with a foam target. I don’t even want to say how many times I’ve tripped on the jump rope.
I still suck at bowling, although I managed to win a free pass for my brother because I’m better at granny bowling than facing forward. I kept at the ballroom dancing until I reached Bronze I, and now they clear the floor for us when my husband and I dance together. I kept at running until I made it through a marathon. I kept at public speaking until just the other day, someone said she thought I was already a Distinguished Toastmaster. Even though sometimes I think they’d rather I went away, I keep going to class and showing up to meetings and trying hard. Eventually, months or years later, I finally start to show a basic competence.
What I’m chasing is an inner sense of satisfaction with my own performance. I want to feel like I actually know what I’m doing. Often, I still feel clueless or useless or incompetent long after the compliments and external validation start to roll in. Sure, anyone appreciates compliments, and it’s thoughtful of people, but it’s... really irrelevant to why I’m there.
Today is the worst I’ll ever be, because I’ll never be this bad again. At least at this. I’ll never be as clumsy again as I was today. I’ll never be as ignorant again as I was today. I’ll never be as weak again, my stamina will never be this low again, my aim will never be off quite this far again. Today is the last day I’ll make this particular set of mistakes. Today, I am the absolute worst I’ll ever be again.
The most addictive book I have read in years is Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World. Tim Ferriss invited dozens of fascinating people to answer a series of set questions, and the result is a big thick door-stopper full of their responses. Each section is just a few pages, creating a book that can be read in any order, dipped into and out of for any length of time. If you have anywhere from five minutes to five hours, spend it with Tribe of Mentors.
The book begins with Ferriss’s own questions upon turning 40:
Were my goals my own, or simply what I thought I should want?
How much of life had I missed from underplanning or overplanning?
How could I be kinder to myself?
How could I better say no to the noise to better say yes to the adventures I craved?
How could I best reassess my life, my priorities, my view of the world, my place in the world, and my trajectory through the world?
What would this look like if it were easy?
He went on to compose the set list of eleven questions that he would pose to the most awesome people he could find.
There’s almost guaranteed to be a section including someone you admire or find intriguing. Participants run the gamut from famous actors, comedians, writers, and athletes to other interesting people who are not exactly household names. I was excited that the book includes a number of people whose work I’ve reviewed on this blog: Gretchen Rubin! Stephen Pressfield! Mr. Money Mustache! Brene’ Brown! Seriously, everyone is in this book, from David Lynch to Bear Grylls. Tim Ferriss should have a gala and invite all of these people, just to see who is first to jump into the swimming pool wearing a tuxedo.
What I really loved about this book is that the answers are so idiosyncratic. Much of the time, they go against mainstream advice. Part of the time, they’re so unique to the individual that the standard advice seems to come from an entirely different, irrelevant universe.
Competition is the opposite of creativity. The idea that we learn the most from failures is wrong. In creative fields, networking actually hurts you. Don’t find an area of expertise. Ignore the concept of ‘being yourself.’ “When everyone is saying no, you know you’re doing something right.” These concepts, taken out of concept, don’t necessarily make sense and won’t necessarily help guide anyone to better life outcomes. That’s why “quotes” can be something like the opposite of advice. While this is an extremely quotable book, it’s best to read the anecdotes in full.
I loved this book, and I’ll probably go back and re-read sections of it. It’s introduced me to people I wish I had heard of sooner, like obstacle racer Amelia Boone, and reminded me that, hey! Tim Ferriss has a podcast where he conducts this type of interview all the time! I have a copy of Tools of Titans and I’m going after that next.
He stumbled and almost fell. That’s when I was sure. I was waiting to cross a busy street in downtown Los Angeles, when a tall man walked up. I noticed him, because I am always eyes-up in the city and I make it my business to notice people. Then I noticed his white cane. Oh, he’s blind! I put myself in standby, ready to help him out, but mostly to avoid being his obstacle. He had headphones on, and he was murmuring to himself. Adaptive tech?
This is when I let my brain cancel out my intuition.
I’ve known many differently abled people over the years. What I’ve learned is that they’ll generally ask for help when they need it, and that they can find it annoying when people fawn and fret over them. I’ve also had some incredibly interesting conversations about adaptive technology and the way that smartphones have revolutionized the world for people who are not fully sighted. Basically I took one look at the headphones, saw the man’s mouth moving, and assumed he was either listening to GPS instructions, talking to an online assistant, repeating some memorized directions, or counting his steps. Alrighty then! Robots to the rescue!
Then the light changed, and things got real.
The man fumbled his footing and looked really nervous. I slowed down and hung to the side, watching to make sure he was okay. It quickly became clear that he was scared, using his cane and making progress in the right direction, but flinching and wobbling.
Quite frankly, if you’ve been anywhere near Pershing Square on a weekday around evening rush hour, and traffic was rushing by, you’d be scared, too. California is well above the national average in pedestrian fatalities.
I continued to hover about a yard off to the side, still second-guessing myself, wanting to be respectful and dithering, dithering.
Then the man just... froze. He just froze in the middle of the crosswalk.
Nine seconds left.
“We’ve got time,” I called out. “You’re okay.”
He moved forward again, whimpering, his cane going side to side like a windshield wiper.
“You’ve got it.”
He was only two yards away.
“The curb is right there. You got it.”
As soon as that white cane tapped the curb, the man sighed in relief. He stepped up about as gracefully as he had stepped down, looking about like I would feel if I were pulling myself out of a river with an alligator in it. He thanked me and we went our separate ways.
I wanted to kneel in the street and cry. HOW?
How can that poor guy do his life? He obviously hasn’t been blind for very long, and he’s my age. How does he keep his clothes and shoes so dazzlingly clean? How does he make his lunch? Why was he by himself? Where was he going?
Was this ever going to get any easier?
I don’t tell this story to make myself look good in some way. On the contrary. I did the bare freaking minimum at the last rational moment. What kind of a jerk would leave a blind man standing in the middle of traffic? I mean, sure, I’ve been a jerk in my lifetime, but I’m not that far gone.
I don’t even tell this story because I have an axe to grind. That axe: It makes no sense to share every single moment of annoyance and frustration, but then keep our “good deeds” secret. It is a wrong thought. It gives an objectively false image of the way the world works. We have it upside down. We should speak of altruism routinely and irritation rarely. Why is it egotistical to say, yeah, I gave a measly ten dollars to charity, yet somehow NOT egotistical to go on and on about The Rude Waiter and The Dish I Sent Back and The Lousy Customer Service? I’d rather portray myself as someone who serves (poorly, clumsily, infrequently) than as someone with exalted expectations of BEING served. But I digress.
The reason I tell the story about the frightened blind man is that it felt like an allegory.
The way we feel when we try new things? That’s just an emotion. When the blind gentleman dared to walk by himself and try to cross that busy street alone - THAT is true fear. THAT is the real Place of Uncertainty. THAT guy knows what it’s like to have no idea what lies before him. He’s putting his life on the line just to run some errands. What we have, well, put that on a scale of one to ten.
The other thing?
There was someone right there, waiting and watching. There was at least one person within arm’s reach, practically begging for a single word, the smallest gesture, anything at all that passed for a request for help. All he ever had to do was ask. Even though he didn’t - I wouldn’t have let him fall. I wouldn’t have let him stand there in traffic. I would have grabbed him if I had to. I would have let him use my phone, ordered him a Lyft, or basically anything he needed. What was so challenging for him was trivial for me, not because I’m special but just because I could see what he couldn’t.
It’s the same with any change.
Whenever you want to do something scary and new, chances are really high that someone else has done it. Someone nearby is probably doing whatever it is on a routine basis. That person may not be at mastery level, may not be a great teacher, may not be a professional. Still, that person can see at least the next few steps on the path. All you have to do is speak up, and that person will appear practically out of nowhere to help you over at least a few yards.
Why do we do it? We push ourselves because that’s the only way to live in the world. We do it because it’s the only way to adapt and survive. Whether we choose it or not, challenge is always coming for us. We step off into the unknown, step after step after step.
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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.