Decisions, decisions. What is it about decisions that is so difficult for people? We’d rather suffer than have to make a choice that involves a tough decision. Avoiding these choice points has a tendency of adding up, and that’s where decision debt comes from.
If you hate your job, why are you still there?
If you’re unhappy in your relationship, why are you still together?
More to the point, how many times do I have to get bangs before I finally realize that I can’t have bangs?
Decisions are easy for me because I enjoy change for the sake of change. I’ve moved over two dozen times, for instance, and I’ve literally tried every flavor of every brand of toothpaste at my store. Even apricot. Frame decisions rather as a series of experiments, and it feels less like risk and more like... fun.
Go to a restaurant and make a point of trying every dish at least once, unless of course you realize you don’t care for their food. Maybe make a point of going to every restaurant in your neighborhood instead. There was a Mensa group in my old city that had spent over a decade attempting to sample every single Chinese restaurant in the greater Los Angeles area. Fun, right?
Under those circumstances, getting the occasional uninspiring dish can be funny, rather than disappointing.
Maybe that’s one of the big problems with decisions? Being afraid that it won’t work out well? But then, what happens after that? Time continues to travel onward and other decision points continue to turn up, right?
The haircut grows out, there’s another lunch and another dinner tomorrow, there are more jobs to be had, and there will always be another musician to date.
When you’re driven by curiosity, it takes a lot of the dread out of decisions, because you can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen next! When you’re eager for the result, the decision is no more of a big deal than flipping a switch or fastening a button. It’s just a small piece in an overall grand plan.
As an example, when my husband got his dream job, a whole series of decisions popped into position. In under two weeks, we had given away or sold almost everything we owned (including OUR CAR) and moved into a tiny apartment at the beach. Other people might have agonized over whether to keep or get rid of each and every tiny item, from a pancake flipper to a pair of pants, and wept bitter tears. We were so fired up about DREAM JOB + LIVE AT THE BEACH that we couldn’t throw stuff over our shoulders fast enough.
Decisions are easier when there’s a total paradigm shift. First there was “the time we lived in the North Bay and went running together a lot.” Then there was “the time we lived in the Sacramento area and did a lot of gardening and canning.” Then there was “the time we moved south and I finally lost my weight.” After that there was “the time we got rid of everything, went car-free, and moved to the beach.” Very different lifestyles in each case, same people, same marriage, different home, different stuff.
We don’t tend to build up much decision debt because we do a lot of strategic planning.
Every New Year, we spend at least the few days around New Year’s Eve going over the past year and making plans. What worked well? What didn’t? What do we want to change? Where do we want to go on vacation? Do we need to save more money or cut back on the french fries for a while? We check in every weekend at our breakfast status meeting. It’s fun because these are our plans, plans that we made in order to have more fun and a better quality of life.
Decisions are lifestyle upgrades!
I keep an actual list, a page in my day planner called DECISIONS. They go in the format “which,” “when,” or “whether to.” I write out the decision, and then I put a check mark next to it once I decide what to do. Later on, these decisions always seem hilarious to me because they’ve worked out, like when I couldn’t decide to upgrade my desktop but it turned out to cost half of what I had expected. Sometimes the passing of time makes the decision for me.
I’ve just checked my decision list, and the undecided decisions all have to do with time-consuming activities. These are things I really want to do, but realistically, I’m overextended already. If I had the time to do them, they’d already be in my calendar. Calling them ‘decisions’ is a way of saying “I’m too busy but I don’t want to rule this out.” For a lot of people, decision debt may be more of a question of time debt, or even financial debt.
A case could be made that both time debt and financial debt are also cases of decision debt.
At some point, a strategic decision needs to be made, because at some point, being too busy and overbooked can make you ill. Being overextended financially can lead to progressively more expensive problems. Something’s got to give.
Making a decision list can be a big help in paying off decision debt. It makes the choice point real in your mind. Secretly writing something like “whether to stay in this relationship” or “when to see the doctor” is a way of admitting that the current situation is not your ultimate fantasy.
Why not be working at your dream job? Every day you stay at a job you hate is cheating both your employer and yourself, not to mention your clients, customers, and anyone who depends on you.
Why not be in your dream romance? Every day you stay in a relationship that has died for you, you’re cheating your partner and yourself, not to mention the other people you could both be with instead.
Why not be thrilled and blissed out by your life? What would have to happen in order to feel that way, to be in love with how lucky you are?
What decisions do you need to make? How much decision debt do you have to pay off in order to move forward?
If you hate affirmations, you have three choices right now. 1. Hate-read! That’s always fun. 2. Stop now and spend the next ten minutes reading or doing something else. 3. Activate your curiosity and hear me out.
You’re right, affirmations are dumb.
It’s dumb to lie to yourself and try to hypnotize yourself into something that you know isn’t true.
That’s not how I use affirmations, though. I use them, but first I put them through my process of inquiry. Aren’t you lucky that I’m going to share it with you?
(Here you could practice an affirmation: I AM LUCKY, and ask yourself whether you believe that is generally true, or only just now).
I am happy to make affirmations about my personal values, because I’m reminding myself of things I believe are important. I AM PATIENT, I remind myself, the few times that I need a reminder. I value patience and I practice it. I’m fine with giving myself credit for that.
On the other hand, I would not do the affirmation I AM BEAUTIFUL, because I don’t give a care. That’s not a quality that matters to me. In fact, I find the concept annoying.
I also absolutely hate the expression “comfortable in my own skin” because every time I hear it, it makes my skin crawl. Like, what are the other options? Comfortable out of your skin? Comfortable in someone else’s skin?? I fit the description - I have a fantastic body image and a very high regard for my physical self - (and see how I sneaked in a few extra affirmations there) - but I certainly don’t need to use other people’s preferred language to express that about myself. I will be delighted when this phrase falls out of favor and I can quit hearing it.
That’s another step in my affirmation interrogation. If I generally like the concept of someone else’s affirmation, I will rephrase it and adopt it for myself. It’s poetic. Maybe one person might respond better to an affirmation in the form of a haiku, or a request, such as MAY I BE PATIENT or:
I’m getting better
At tolerating these jerks
Though I don’t want to.
I AM A POET!
Argue that one if you like. I say if you claim to be an artist, then you are one. Presto change-o.
I also think affirmations work very well as missives of gratitude, such as I FREAKING LOVE TACOS or THIS IS MY FAVORITE! Hang around me long enough and you’ll find that I say stuff like this all the time.
Pro tip: You can do this stuff without ever publicly declaring that you are doing it, or making any kind of issue out of it. This is especially important if you find yourself amongst naysayers or those who describe themselves as “fluent in sarcasm.”
Ha, now there’s an affirmation if I ever heard one! It comes up in dating profiles all the time. I AM FLUENT IN SARCASM. *snort*
(That one is definitely not mine. I think sarcasm is very lazy, mean, and not at all funny).
The thing about affirmations is that for most of us, our self-image is far behind where we are actually presenting in the world. Try to compliment a woman - any woman! - and watch what happens. She will fight you. It’s like we’ve collectively decided that there’s a moral hazard in graciously accepting someone’s compliment.
That’s the same feeling that makes us so squirmy about affirmations. It feels icky and gross. We’re much better at the nasty kind of negative self-talk, such as:
* i am an idiot *
* i suck at this *
* i should never have come here *
If anyone comes along and tries to talk us out of these dreadful thoughts, we feel compelled to argue our point. Please, let me explain to you in meticulous detail just why exactly I suck so much.
I’ve spent some time convincing myself that what is truly important is that this other person, this tricky complimenter, is reaching out and trying to make a connection. Rejecting a compliment is more than just rejecting a gift, it’s rejecting a person and telling them that their opinion and their act of caring means nothing to you.
Also, what if they’re right?
What if, when they tell you YOU’RE SO SWEET or MMM, YOU’RE THE BEST HUGGER, what if they’re right? What if you allow that factual statement to define you such that you bring more of that desirable quality into the culture?
What if compliments are people’s preferred way of building a better world? What if they’re... a performance evaluation?
This is how I got myself into trouble. I started forcing myself to do public speaking because I knew myself to be a physical coward. <— Negation alert!
Part of public speaking is learning to accept evaluations. You have to accept that if people who don’t know each other give the same feedback, then objectively it’s true. For instance: “Nobody can hear you in the back of the room.” Okay, thanks for telling me!
I steadied myself to hear a constant barrage of difficult feedback, because I like to challenge and push myself [yeah, you know what that was just now, *nod*].
Instead, people kept telling me: YOU ARE SO FUNNY!
Dang. Now how am I supposed to get my head around that?
I didn’t agree with this assessment, but I kept hearing it. People from entirely different clubs would say the exact same thing, over and over, that I had “such a dry sense of humor.” I’m still not entirely sure what that means, but what am I going to do, call these people a bunch of liars?
I had to accept that whatever it was I was doing, the audience liked it and wanted more of it. Who was I to refuse?
As an affirmation, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I AM SO FUNNY, because that’s practically inviting my inner self to step up with an attack and a negation. I can, though, tell myself that my strong points in speaking are humor, research, and informational speeches.
What comes out of that kind of affirmation is a resume. It leads directly to a dispassionate and objective assessment of your marketable skills. That in turn leads to better jobs and contributing at a higher level.
Is it fair for a surgeon to affirm that I CAN SAVE LIVES? Is it fair to say something like I AM ACCURATE or I AM CAREFUL or I WORK HARD?
Can we grudgingly allow ourselves to admit, secretly and in private, that maybe we’re not 100% terrible?
If we come across an affirmation with which we disagree, shouldn’t we ask ourselves why we feel that it is not true? Something like I AM WORTHY or I DESERVE TO BE HAPPY?
This is how I use affirmations. I introduce something that is new to my self-concept, something that objectively seems to be true. I talk myself into why this is true and why it matters that I agree with it.
It’s allowed because we’re allowed to grow and change. In fact, we’re supposed to, partly because it makes life better for other people.
Whatever you are, be a good one.
“Don’t overthink it!” I hear this a lot in my martial arts classes. True to form, now I’m overthinking overthinking. Or am I? I’m getting my head around the difference between athletes and people like me.
It’s also the difference between anyone who is “natural” at anything and those who aren’t.
What am I doing in class that qualifies as “overthinking”? I’m asking questions when I’m doing something wrong, for instance trying to block a head shot and instead smacking myself in the face. What “everyone else” is doing is practicing the block over and over.
Makes sense, right?
The part that doesn’t really make sense is why an otherwise intelligent person would keep showing up in a room only to make hundreds of mistakes and punch herself in the eye with a boxing glove.
This is the essence of growth mindset versus fixed mindset. I’m in the room because I believe I can be taught, eventually, despite all evidence to the contrary. I believe it is necessary to my wellbeing to push myself to learn new things. I believe strength comes from facing obstacles and overcoming them.
“Everyone else” is there for more or less the same reasons: enjoying the difficult workout, needing an outlet for intense competitive drive and physicality, or simply loving martial arts culture.
Why are my fellow students grasping things so much more quickly than I do?
A young man in my classes hit upon it the other day. He’s young enough to be my son and he started training as a beginner around the time I got into the advanced class. He’s already better than I am.
“Did you do sports in school?”
I explained that when I was in school, girls weren’t allowed to play sports because Title IX wasn’t being enforced. The only option for us was girls’ softball, but that was a league sport.
“That makes no sense,” he said, mystified, and then explained why he had asked. He had two female friends who wanted him to teach them how to skateboard. One got it right away, and she had a sports background. The other, a musician, struggled terribly. He saw it as a matter of time spent rather than a matter of aptitude.
I’ve thought about this for a long time, and it’s interesting that it would be obvious to a young person. My husband, for instance, started on athletics as a preschooler. He can’t even remember exactly when he got on the swim team. It’s just always been a part of his life. He participated in every possible sport offered in his region.
Does swimming at age five have anything to do with swinging a sword at age forty? Evidently!
What all these “natural” athletes have that I don’t is a track record. (Sometimes literally on the track team!). They were up and moving their bodies at a younger age. Every year of our lives, these “natural” athletes have spent a significant part of their day in motion while I sat on my butt reading a book.
They acquired what I have to learn. It did NOT come “naturally” - it came from deliberate practice. It came from doing different things as children. It wasn’t always even their choice; their parents may have pressured them and insisted that they do stuff they deeply loathed doing.
In some cases, they’ve built a different physical framework than I have. For instance, my thirteen-year-old training partner is shockingly heavy for her size. If someone told me she had a titanium skeleton, I wouldn’t be surprised. She’s been practicing martial arts since the age of three, and her bones are undoubtedly denser than those of another child. Her body composition is also probably much more muscular and lower in fat.
These “natural” athletes have been building better cardiovascular fitness all this time. By ‘fitness’ I mean that exercise actually grows more blood vessels and expands the lungs, among other changes. While I was sitting around reading for thousands of hours, I was not building that same infrastructure.
The biggest difference is in proprioception, I’m sure of it. My classmates are able to watch something demonstrated once, maybe twice, and then copy it. I watch the same movements and I’m completely befuddled. I have to see the same motions at least five times before I start to get it. Often I’ll misremember whether to go left or right.
I have trouble knowing where my body parts are. I can only seem to track three out of four limbs. If I’m moving both legs and grabbing someone, my other hand seems to float off on its own. After a year I’m still being constantly reminded to keep my hands up. In my mind, I am! I can’t tell when my butt is sticking out. It feels like motions that should be in 3D are only 2D for me. What I’m worst at is moving with my face blocked, when I can’t see what I’m doing.
What I have is like being tone-deaf, which I’m not, or having a tin ear for languages, which I don’t. Colorblind, I’m not either. I’m fairly good at yoga, probably because I’ve spent so long in two dozen familiar poses over the years. I’m competent at ballroom dancing because I went to the kind of dance school where you drill the box step hundreds of times and learn where to put your arms separately. What I’m telling myself is that I’m already good at certain things, because I spent time on them when I was younger, and I’m not yet good at other things, because they are new to me.
I seem to be overthinking things in class because I lack the facility to copy what I see. This is strange to sporty types who have done it all their lives. They can’t understand why not everyone can do it. They don’t understand why everyone isn’t like them. They’ve never experienced being awkward or inept in the kinetic world. To them, it isn’t a subject of study. This is part of why I stay in a class where objectively I don’t belong, because I have as much to teach as I have to learn. If they can teach me, they can teach anyone.
I had a bad night. There are always at least three things going on during heavy training: the physical battle, the mental battle, and the emotional battle. Sometimes there’s also some social conflict thrown in just for fun. On this night, I had a mix of all of these.
It goes something like this. You want to train, but you’re out of condition and training makes you sore, tired, sweaty, and uncomfortable. That’s the physical battle. You aren’t convinced that this activity is a good use of your time, money, or resources. That’s the mental battle. You feel like other people are judging you, that your body is your enemy, and that you’ll never get the results of those awesome people over there. That’s the emotional battle. Then maybe you have a naysayer who keeps trying to get you to quit, and that’s the social battle.
That’s not me, by the way. Well, the physical part is, but that’s honestly part of why I train in the first place. I don’t do anything at all unless I’m convinced that it’s a good use of my time. I couldn’t possibly care less if other people are judging my physical appearance, and I’m not particularly competitive. Naysayers just make me double down on my commitment, because their presence means I’m onto something. I recognize the mainstream battles around fitness. That helps me to shrug them off.
No, I have to go out and dig up my own special fitness issues.
I’m studying Krav Maga, a non-joke sport that is officially not for sissies. Mentally I am convinced that Krav is the best and most effective martial art and that I’m training at the best school in the region. I believe that the combination of bodyweight, impact, and HIIT exercises is the optimum and that it is more time-efficient than other workouts. I also have all the grit and persistence in the world.
Keep telling myself that.
My mental block is that I am usually the weak link in class - slowest on the uptake, slowest in speed, physically weakest, lowest stamina - and that it holds others back. I keep coming back to the idea that I should put my membership on hold for a few months and come back after I put on a few more pounds of muscle. It’s when my head isn’t completely in the game that I start having more emotional issues. When I’m 100% convinced of something, then nothing but nothing can stop me.
Finally, tonight, after a couple of hours of processing, I realized that this mindset problem is emotionally driven, and it’s compounded by my overall physicality.
Everyone has the occasional difficult moment. They come in flavors. Some people default to anger and “why do these idiots always.” Others default to depressive “this is pointless, why bother.” For some it’s the self-hating “ugly stupid.” Mine runs to helplessness, specifically feeling physically powerless.
My demons: night terrors, being susceptible to the common cold, this fainting issue I had in my mid-twenties, fear of Alzheimer’s disease, and, apparently, being pinned to the floor.
Objectively, plenty of people have far worse issues. I feel dumb even thinking about mine.
Thinking about it, it’s weird that I have no problems with certain things when I do with others. For instance, I’m not afraid of snakes, the IRS, public speaking, or being seen naked. In fact, I wouldn’t even be all that bothered by speaking nude at the IRS in front of some snakes.
What I’ve learned from martial arts is that I’m not particularly troubled by wrestling or being thrown to the ground. I’m relatively unphased by choke holds, being lifted off my feet, or being attacked with my eyes closed. I can shake off being hit in the mouth, nose, or eye and keep going. I’ve been throat-tagged and continued on without a pause. I’ve had small cuts that bled and had to get a bandage (DON’T BLEED ON THE MAT) and gotten right back to it. Hands taped together? Yay, cool. Pinned under a blanket? Okay, got it. Bag over the head? Not my favorite but hey, I’m here to train. Gun disarms, knife fighting? Bring it on!
I have two problems.
Okay, now how dumb is that? Ooh, yelling, help me officer. Out of all the dumb things to set someone off... At least the other one is more obvious and realistic.
It was processing my issues with being pinned that helped me finally understand why this is a demon-level emotional block in my world. It’s that “physically helpless” feeling. Like any emotional block, it’s a package deal. Another person’s self-loathing might lead to a variety of self-sabotaging behaviors, while someone else’s contempt and rage might lead to an entirely different type of self-limiting issues. Mine is this emotional trigger that I am somehow powerless.
It’s worth looking at where else I do and don’t feel powerless, or rather, where I do feel powerful and how I can bring that into the mat room. Powerful: bureaucratic red tape, foreign languages and writing systems, wilderness survival, panel interviews. Powerless: navigation, math.
I’m good at lots of things! I’m good at learning! I’m good at talking myself back into commitments!
Keep telling myself that.
Now that I’ve found my demons and given them names, I can deal with them. I can come up with some strategies to take their power away. It’s my life and my body and I can make choices that make me stronger.
Quitting, what would that do? Because certainly I have felt like quitting. The thought has crossed my mind so many times: “you don’t belong here, nobody wants to be your partner, nobody will judge you if you switch to CrossFit.” Those are emotion-driven and temporary distractions, irrelevant to my aims. 1. Be a quitter for life. 2. Lose all the many benefits of this training. 3. What, sit in a chair? Just start quitting things and become boring?
I have another emotional demon hidden in there, the “nobody wants you here anyway, nobody likes you” demon that is a remnant of childhood bullying. When I’m pinned and I can’t get out and the instructor starts shouting advice at me, this puny feeling starts up this story. “Nobody is coming, nobody will help you, nobody is on your side, nobody is looking out for you, friendless and alone.” Really that’s pretty solid evidence that studying Krav Maga is a terrific and practical plan!
Another person would ball up all that energy of being picked on, tricked, set up, and bullied and use that to fuel an intense and sacred flame of righteous fury. I mean, that’s one way. Some natural and biologically based reactions to being pinned would be aggression, an adrenalin surge, tenacity, and territorial instinct. GET OFF ME. My feeling of helplessness is contrary to survival; it’s not innate, it was learned - and that means it can be unlearned.
I know exactly what I need to do, and the insight came as I was lathering my poor bruised shoulders with gardenia-scented soap, proof that I am fine and I do have control over my world. I need to build upper-body strength. I need to keep training. I need to visualize the specific circumstance of being pinned every time I go to my gym, and use it to fuel a strong sense of AW HAIL NO.
I also need to tell the instructor that yelling triggers me, so she’ll yell at me more.
The whole point of this training is, like everything, to enter the arena and fight the fight. Life is an endless rain of trouble and strife that will never stop. Quitting won’t make it stop. Nothing will make it stop. Might as well figure out a way to carry on, or maybe even prevail. If there are demons to be wrassled, at least I’m going to hit one with a chair before I tap out.
“I’m going to thump you in the noggin.” That’s an example of the type of comment she just made to me, only not as funny. A threat, not a veiled threat. I laughed and brushed it off, and she doubled down.
What’s going on here?
This is a basic business transaction, and this woman just implied that she wants to use physical violence on me! Twice!
“Well,” I grinned, “I’m a kickboxer, so let’s do this!”
The weirdly rude woman frowned and said nothing.
Hey, you started it, lady.
The truth was, in that moment, I was ready. If for some bizarre reason this person insisted on fighting with me, if I had made her angry or if she just couldn’t stand the sight of me... okay, fine. Let’s do this.
If she needs to get it out of her system, I’ve been shoved, kicked, punched in the stomach, thrown on the ground, and hit in the eye, nose, and mouth. Lots of times! I don’t mind, not really. If she thinks she can lay a few strikes on me, all right.
It’s a serious offer. You wanna box me? Let’s do this!
Alternatively, I’d get her on the ground and pin her until she apologized and promised to quit being rude to people for no reason. She would remember the whole thing as me being the villain. Result: even more rude to more people, because it’s so unfair that she never gets her way. Bullies are like that.
In the normal world, there are two things that have made me tough (besides living past the age of forty). One, improv comedy. I’ll “yes and” anything with anyone at any time. Two, my midlife sports background of martial arts, endurance running, and adventure races. If you want to attack me with mud, insults, cold water, heckling, shoving, kicking, or strikes to the torso, well, it’s not my first rodeo.
How have I offended, milady?
I’m the kind of person who goes to the store and constantly gets stopped by random people who think I work there. It’s a family joke that every time we go on vacation, someone will ask me to take their picture. Customer service face. I’m nice and approachable, probably too much so. It’s unusual for me to have an unpleasant interaction with anyone, whether in person, on the phone, or through email.
Nobody who sees me in business casual is going to guess that I do Krav Maga, put it that way. That’s how it should be. Secret weapon.
There’s a threshold that you cross when you cast off conventional anxieties. In the mundane world, I’m unstoppable because I know myself to be a person of high agency. Kindness and patience will get you virtually everything you could ever want, and detached amusement will probably get you the rest.
A little bit of leadership training, a little bit of comedy, a little bit of stress inoculation, a little bit of physical conditioning. Unstoppable.
In the mat room, on the other hand, I’m weak and slow.
I put myself in that situation on purpose. I strive to always be the most clueless student in class. If I’m the smartest or best, then I’m in the wrong room. I need to be pushing myself, partly so I’ll learn, mostly so I’ll stay humble, and also because I get bored easily.
If you’re willing to feel completely awkward, embarrass yourself, and do things you find crushingly difficult, and you can get through the first few months, you’ll be well on your way to developing superpowers. The areas where you struggle are the areas where you can grow the most.
The first year I spent training in martial arts, my stated goal was to work on humility and self-discipline. Find out you can’t do a pushup or a sit-up, and the humility takes care of itself. Stay committed until you can do fifty and you’re on your way to the self-discipline. The most important thing I learned that year is that I’m not afraid to take a punch.
I also learned I was afraid to land a punch. I didn’t like hitting people, I didn’t like it at all.
This got to be a problem. My partners would sometimes complain that they needed me to be more forceful. They would shout and encourage me to kick harder, shove harder, strike harder. I talked it out with several other women, and they all told me the same thing. I needed to give as good as I got. As much as I wanted to learn to take a punch, to be unafraid in hand-to-hand combat, they needed the same from me. It wasn’t fair for me to have a double standard.
I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by being “too nice.”
My training partners want their money’s worth. They want the full value of every hour they spend training. That means, when they partner up with me, I need to show my fangs. I need to go past my little bubble of niceness, at least during that hour, and I need to be scary and mean.
I scare myself sometimes.
All I’m doing is exploring something new in a controlled environment. It’s a classroom. Everyone agrees that while we’re in the mat room, we’re trying to accomplish something very specific. It’s a thing with a certain amount of physical risk, and also eerie noises and unlovely facial expressions.
This is where we cross the threshold. This is where we pass back and forth between the ordinary world and the world of controlled violence. This is why it isn’t funny to make “jokes” about fighting: because there are those of us who are prepared to engage if necessary.
Also, don’t you know any real jokes? Funny ones?
In some ways, martial arts training has made me funnier than I was before. There’s something about the confidence that comes from trusting your body and knowing you are prepared for mayhem. Garden-variety insults and threats are comical. What, you think you’re going to wound me with words? What you just said, that’s supposed to make some kind of impact?
I’m having to learn how to throw a punch, not just take a punch. It means I have to learn how hard to hit. I have to learn to strike with appropriate force. Learning to throw a punch has shown me that it’s almost never necessary. Smile and carry on.
People are so, so much less likely to believe a positive story than they are a negative story. I could tell you that someone stole my husband’s bike (true) and you’d nod your head. Yeah, that kind of thing happens all the time. What do you expect? I could tell you a similarly true story about a fun job interview I just had, which, don’t worry, I am about to do, yet I suspect that you won’t believe the details. That’s why I’ll start with the hopeless part.
I hadn’t been on a job interview since... let me think... I believe it was fall of 2008.
I haven’t had a day job since 2010.
Haven’t had a boss, either.
Sure, I work for myself, earn and invest money, and pay taxes. All of that happens under wildly different job descriptions, though, and I’m often at a loss to explain just what it is that I do. I sometimes stress out about what would happen if I had to apply for a standard office job again, and what I’d put on my resume.
Why? Because the purpose of most job interviews is to unsettle you, to put you in a position where you’ll happily take the lowest possible offer. You’re meant to come in early, stay late, be on call as close to 100% of the time as possible, avoid using your vacation time, never ask for a bonus or a raise, and submit to paranoid levels of supervision.
For a natural 10x-er, all of this is stultifying and annoying.
Don’t you realize the forces you could unleash if you let me work under my own terms and direct my own projects?
I walked away from all of that, as people of an artistic or entrepreneurial bent nearly always do. How, though, does a free elf handle a traditional job interview?
This is the way I look at it. There’s a need and I can easily fill it. I’m a good-natured, cheerful, and fun person. If this organization is doing interesting things, if the culture is such that anyone would be glad to work there, then I’ll consider a respectful offer.
I’m not going to work in the salt mines under a rude manager. I don’t have to, because there are tons of jobs and I only need one. Or, I might one day. Really there are unlimited ways to bring in money outside of a traditional day job. I’m not stuck and I won’t be trapped or forced. I have options.
I’m going to your interview because I’m curious about what you do. By the time I walk out, I’m going to have a pretty good idea of whether I want to come back or whether any sane person would run screaming for the hills.
None of this bears any resemblance to how I used to feel when I would go in for job interviews. I remember one a few months after my divorce. I had lost 30 pounds (involuntarily) and the only clothes I had that were suitable for a job interview were hanging off me. I was so nervous about how high the stakes were that my whole body would shake. I probably looked like I had a substance abuse problem! I told one interviewer: “I really, really need this job.” (That doesn’t work, by the way; or at least it didn’t for that job).
The last time I interviewed for a job that I got, they asked if I had any final statements. I said, “It would be a good idea for you to hire me.” They called ten minutes after I left to offer me the job; I hadn’t even gotten back to my car yet.
That’s the difference between coming from a place of scarcity and fear versus coming from a place of strength and confidence.
Look, I’m doing you a favor by coming in for this interview. You should be so lucky as to get a candidate like me. I’m only going to be available for a quick minute. If you hesitate, if you can’t make up your mind, if it takes you two months to make a hire, you’re going to get stuck with your eighteenth choice because the rest of us are now working for your competitors.
I promised a story, an unbelievable story about my fun interview.
It was a panel interview; I knew that going in. I enjoy panel interviews! (Keep telling yourself that). I told a friend, “Don’t worry, if it’s a panel interview I WILL be the obvious choice.”
I met another candidate in the hallway before the interview, someone I knew. I smiled inside because while this person might be perfectly competent, I am more so and I can prove it.
They were half an hour behind schedule, which was great because it gave me plenty of time to center myself and go over my material. (I spent a couple of weeks researching the organization and the competencies for the position, and then an hour with my husband troubleshooting responses to questions that might come up).
I went in smiling, thinking, JUST WAIT, YOUR MINDS WILL SOON BE BLOWN.
I was given the opportunity to make either an opening or closing statement. In my opinion, this is always an option at an interview! If you walk in fully prepared, having researched the company and the position, and you have ideas to share, just announce that you’re going to do that and start pitching. This tells the interviewers a lot more about you than their list of canned questions.
I did it. I blew their minds. I stood up and pitched and mouths physically dropped open. They laughed, they cheered.
I walked out with a marriage proposal and a business card.
I got the call later that evening, while I was making a pot of soup. “Congratulations!” It was unanimous.
I share this wild and reckless story because it’s so far from the usual vibe of the desperate, broke, and unconfident job seeker. I know that feeling because I’ve been desperately broke! I’ve had colossally bad interviews and fumbled easy questions. It’s the awkward, wretched feeling of neediness that causes those problems. Coming from a place of “I need, oh please oh please” is off-putting.
On the other hand, coming in the door like the Queen of Sheba, ready to delight everyone, now that’s something different. You’re bored, you’re having a long day, you’re worried that none of the candidates will be able to fill your needs. Suddenly this totally different energy comes in, and instead you’re entertained. You imagine that this person is your new coworker, your new colleague. Maybe you could even sit near each other!
They want to hire you. They want someone who will work hard and do a great job. They want someone who is easy to get along with. They want someone who will become a source of solutions and insight and fresh new energy. They want to feel relieved and excited that you’ll be coming to work with them soon.
You’re the best candidate because you’re trustworthy and loyal and hardworking, and you have the best ideas. They’re going to fall in love with you.
Now get out there, bring your bubble wand, and start wowing those interviewers!
Here he comes again. Tall, handsome, and dressed for his job as a personal trainer. He lives a few yards away and we see each other all the time. He’s the hot new neighbor, and it’s a problem.
It’s like the beginning of a trashy romance novel!
Let me tell you about this guy. Former pro athlete, sharp dresser, penetrating gaze making you feel like you’re the only person in the room, remembers everything you say, massive extrovert. Definite male lead material.
Oh, and it gets worse. His lady. Blonde, also a personal trainer, absolutely a ten in looks. I’d believe former cheerleader or dancer.
Every time they walk by, I smile and wave at her, he smiles and waves at me, and she sends me a death glare. When she’s by herself, she speedwalks past my apartment without returning my wave.
She hates me.
I mean, I can see why. I’m everything she’s not. Middle-aged. Nerdy. Frizzy haired. Often seen carrying fifteen pounds of laundry. Happily married.
I’m not the hot neighbor in this scenario. Or any scenario! Hotness has never been what I’m about, which is a good thing because I’m average-looking and not photogenic.
Beyond that, I have some pretty strong opinions on drama and how drama is made.
Let’s say I took an uppercut to the jaw one day in Krav Maga, and it knocked all sense and moral values clean out of my head. This is how I would look at it:
If I were going to have an affair, jeopardizing my ten-year marriage, I wouldn’t do it with someone who lives in my apartment complex. 1. The entire neighborhood would figure it out within seconds and 2. After we broke up, we’d keep bumping into each other and it would be awkward. I hate awkward.
If I were going to have an affair, also jeopardizing our hard-earned retirement funds, I wouldn’t do it with someone who was already in a relationship. I read the news. That’s a good way to wind up on the receiving end of the hate ray of an extremely angry woman.
I’m a busy person. I have a lot to do. Drama is what I don’t need.
Not having taken that sense-erasing uppercut to the jaw, at least not yet, this is my position on affairs. The idea of a man being willing to cheat on his partner grosses me out. I wouldn’t even want to see such a man take off his shirt, pro athlete or not.
Also, the idea of a man being willing to pursue a married woman? I find that profoundly, deeply disgusting. That’s a man with a much higher tolerance for drama than I have. Just, eww.
If you can’t respect my marriage vows, then you can’t respect ME.
A man who disregards marriage vows: doesn’t listen. Doesn’t care. Doesn’t feel that rules apply to him. Puts his needs first. Does not share my values. Has nothing better to do, which is boring.
Other people can do what they want, whatever they want. Not that they need my permission. People will do what they want regardless. I’m not here to judge what other people do with their lives. When it comes to my life, though, of course I judge. I judge who I want around me. Treat them well and leave the rest to their own business.
I married my husband because I like him. I love him also, which makes things easier. Mostly, though, he’s my favorite person. I married him because he’s the most interesting person I’ve ever met, and because we’ve basically been in one long conversation for thirteen years. I’m not married, I’m super-mega-married.
This is why it’s so weird when the occasional jealous, possessive woman locks onto me and despises me. It’s nothing on my end! I got a man.
What’s sad about all this is the wasted energy on her part. 1. Nobody can ever hope to replace my husband - good luck competing with him! 2. I’d never cheat on my partner. 3. I’d never cheat with someone who was in a relationship. 4. I’d never cheat where I live or where I work out of basic common sense. 5. This particular hot neighbor isn’t my type anyway.
6. We could have been friends.
She and I could be hanging out in the hot tub every night, talking about our workouts or whatever.
They have a kid together, did I mention? He’s nice. I wouldn’t have minded offering to babysit sometimes, if we were friends. He could come over and play with our dog.
About the hot neighbor, I don’t think he’s out looking for another woman anyway. I read him as a friendly person, someone who, for professional reasons, has had to build his social skills. When he was a pro athlete, he had to work with a team and talk to the press. Now, as a trainer, he has to recruit and work with clients for his living. (So does she). It’s in his nature to chat with everyone. It’s not like you can make an extrovert stop wanting to talk to people!
Word of advice, lovely: Don’t be the least friendly person he knows. That thing he does that visibly annoys you so much, that’s the thing other people are going to like about him the best. It’s what makes him who he is.
Not trusting someone doesn’t mean they aren’t trustworthy. It certainly doesn’t mean everyone else in the world is untrustworthy. All it means is that you aren’t trusting. And that’s insulting.
Not trusting someone, thinking they’ll cheat, is exactly the kind of thing that drives people to cheat. The first person who sees them as basically honest and trustworthy, who likes them for who they are, who is willing to hear them out and take their side? That person is the solace they never knew they needed, after being suspected of a crime they didn’t commit.
If we were friends, I could tell our hot neighbor about this. I could reassure her. We could laugh about the crazy ways of love.
Two days after I wrote this, I bumped into the Hot Neighbors. I was with my husband. Suddenly Hot Neighbor Lady warmed up and actually smiled at me! The four of us had a short, friendly chat. I realized that she’s shy, and also that she didn’t realize I’m married. I like her. Maybe we’ll be friends after all.
The 5-Second Rule is the sort of book that makes people pop up and exclaim, “LOVE IT!!” (That’s an actual quote from one of my mentees). It’s fair to say that this book changes lives, and the reason is that it includes dozens of real-life examples. The format includes screenshots of comments, text messages, and emails from people who have used the 5-second rule to transform their most difficult problems.
These problems include everything from basic procrastination and hitting the snooze button too many times, to battling addiction and suicidal ideation. No matter what’s weighing on your mind, there’s someone in this book who has confronted a similar type of trouble.
There are so many great things to love about this book. One is that it’s research-based, and Mel Robbins introduces techniques and terminology that are not just helpful, but also fresh and hard to find mentioned elsewhere. An example is anxiety reappraisal, such as explaining to yourself that you’re not scared, you’re excited! I’ve been teaching that in Toastmasters without realizing that there was a formal name for it in psychology.
Another great feature of The 5-Second Rule is that its design allows for dipping in and out. Even one page of this book could provide an emotional lift for someone who was feeling stuck. I’d go so far as to say that even the cover would make a good touchstone, a reminder to apply the 5-second rule to any situation.
This book feels like the missing piece to so much of what I teach. I work with chronic disorganization and hoarding, and I wish I had known about The 5-Second Rule much sooner. I absolutely know that it would be so helpful to so many people. I started using it myself before I had even finished reading the book. Pick it up for yourself and see if it works the same way for you.
“Change comes down to the courage you need every day to make five second decisions.”
“You are one decision away from a completely different life.”
“Procrastination is not a form of laziness at all. It’s a coping mechanism for stress.”
“I’ll still be the same person” is one of the weirdest things I think people say, aside from referring to “my body” as a separate entity. There’s this concern that change will make someone worse, somehow. That letting go of one of our cute habits will make us, what? Less fun? Less lovable? Less ourselves, in such a way that we might not even be recognizable.
Staying the same in every way, is that how to be authentic?
Is it some kind of expression of integrity, never changing?
I’ve always been mystified by this, because most of the changes I’ve tried so hard to make have been for the benefit of others. Interrupting less, being late less often, following through and keeping my commitments. Would it be better to “be the real me” if it meant sometimes hurting people through sheer ineptness?
In some ways, I’m exactly the same person I was at two years old. I loved books then and I love books now. I was transfixed by birds then and they still delight me today. I loved pickles then and I’m sure I always will. In those ways, there’s a continuous thread of personality that anyone in my family could recognize.
In other ways, why on Earth would I want to have anything in common with Child Me? The me who couldn’t bathe or dress herself, who couldn’t make a slice of toast or control her emotions?
At what point do we decide that we’re DONE, that we’re fully formed and that we mustn’t change anymore?
In my case, never, I hope. I like changing for the sake of change. I like experimenting. I like exploring and trying things out. If I ever felt that I had to behave in the same way, speak in the same way, and think the same thoughts for the rest of my life, I’d run screaming for the door in a last-ditch attempt to change my identity.
I don’t see a risk in changing myself. That’s because I remember what I was like when I was younger, and how many of my attitudes and habits made life more difficult, both for me and for people around me. See that list of lateness, interrupting, procrastinating, and all the rest.
Age is supposed to make us wiser, and in a lot of ways I think that happens automatically. We learn how to do very, very complicated things like tying our shoes, drinking out of cups without spilling juice down our shirts, waiting in line without throwing a tantrum, accepting critiques at work, dealing with rejection, and avoiding fights with belligerent people. We just get better at doing things, and those things include getting along with others.
We see the consequences of doing certain things, and at a certain point we don’t want any part of that.
The dark side of this is when we change, we’ve changed, we have a track record of changing for the better. Yet, for reasons of human frailty, the people around us don’t buy it. They continue to see us the way we were in the past, maybe even decades into the past.
No amount of deeds, words, or thoughts will ever convince a clique of fixed-mindset people that someone has changed for the better. That’s because it’s much too much fun to gossip about people. Is there anything in the world that’s more fun than chastising, lecturing, correcting, telling off, or scolding someone?
Witness the way that average people will sometimes bother a disabled person or leave nasty notes on their vehicle because they don’t think that person “looks handicapped.”
That one I never understood. I’m neither a doctor nor a meter maid. How am I supposed to know who is or is not disabled? Who’s going to pay me to be the enforcer when I have so many other things to do? What is this sick relish that people have for bothering people who are 99.999% likely to have very serious problems already?
Ahh, the desire to PUNISH must be so much stronger than any fear of hurting the innocent. Juicy, juicy punishment.
What does that come from? Conformity. Group norms. People have a deep-seated need to feel safe, secure, and “normal” according to what they perceive as group rules.
That’s why gossip is popular, even though it’s mean and people hate being on the receiving end. We need to keep proving that we fit in and belong with our group.
That means never improving, either!
Being different isn’t safe. Other people hate it because “you’re making the rest of us look bad.” The majority will always pull back the person who is getting ahead. It isn’t very fair, is it?
Stand out because you’re less... whatever... less annoying, less loud, less gossipy, or you smoke less or eat less fried food... If someone else in your social circle thinks you’re “winning” or gaining status, there’s an almost biological command to pull you down.
On the inner level, maybe there’s a similar identification. That “self-improvement” is vain, arrogant, shallow, selfish, preachy, pretentious, boring, uncool, elitist, or deluded.
The great thing about being dedicated to change is that it eventually separates out the like-minded from the... from the like-minded! People who want everything and everyone to stay the same will flock together. They’ll work hard to maintain one standard and force everyone to fit in. People who believe in change and growth will find themselves in a different group.
Growth-mindset people wind up outside the group of the fixed-mindset people for three reasons. One, they climbed there; two, they were in the process of being pushed out; and three, the fixed group didn’t follow or try to keep up.
That’s why it’s always fine to change, especially for the better. Wouldn’t we want those people we judged so harshly to stop doing whatever it was that was so wrong? Wouldn’t we want the “bad guys” to stop being bad? What would it look like, to give people room to change?
It’s fine to change because that’s why we’re all here in this vale of tears in the first place. It’s our duty and our mission.
It’s fine to change because change is authentic. You can still “be the same person” and be the “real you” if you’re kinder, wiser, more patient, or any other quality that matters to you. If you move in a positive direction, maybe the group will move with you.
What better way to start the New Year than by reading The Perfection Detox? In fact, I’m going to tell you now that you should plan to start it, dip into it a chapter at a time, and give yourself permission not to finish it until, like, March. The whole point of this exercise is to practice self-forgiveness and to focus more on learning and growing than on a stale, useless perfectionism.
This book places perfection on the opposite end of the spectrum from ambition. I love this formulation because it really speaks to a tightly wound, Type A personality such as myself. The only way to really loosen the grasp of perfectionism is to learn to hold it in disdain, as something inferior to a more desirable quality. Petra Kolber reminds us that our perfectionism may have become entangled with other attributes such as a strong work ethic, reliability, and organizational skills. It’s harder to eliminate when we perceive any kind of moral hazard in reevaluating this trait.
Another useful concept of The Perfection Detox is that there is more than one type of perfectionist. A self-oriented perfectionist has high internal standards, a socially oriented perfectionist is concerned about impressing other people, and an other-oriented perfectionist tries to control other people’s behavior when she thinks it reflects on her reputation. I hear the self-oriented perfectionist in myself when I think how painful and distracting it must be for the socially oriented perfectionist - “just quit caring and you can get so much more done!”
This is an excellent, thought-provoking book based on quite a bit of research. I learned a lot about rumination, for example, and that the brain perceives negative words as a physical threat. Kolber advocates replacing the negative self-talk and rigid thinking of perfectionism with self-forgiveness and a paradigm shift to wonder, curiosity, and the flow state. The book has a compelling argument in favor of imagination and upgraded goals rather than unrealistic expectations. The discussion of positivity in general is rich and nuanced, aimed at the skeptic rather than the enthusiast. Don’t simply force yourself into socially mandated “positivity” but instead learn to be a “benefit seeker.” It’s more of a neutral cognitive skill than an emotional state.
I enjoyed the exercises in The Perfection Detox, especially the exercises about procrastination and goal-setting. I particularly enjoyed learning the Diamond Rule: speak to yourself as you speak to others. Ooh, a tough one! But then how do we deal with the self-conscious emotions of guilt, shame, embarrassment, and pride? We accept and revel in our imperfection, because it means we’re alive, we’re human, and we’re growing.
Would you feel comfortable with others seeing how you talk to yourself?
The all-or-nothing mindset can lead to nothing.
I stopped striving to be perfect and concentrated instead on being effective.
When you learn to live bravely you give other women permission to do the same.
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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