Don’t Feed The Monster – The Truth About Risk-Taking

Published July 5, 2018 in Mindset - 0 Comments

Over seven years ago, I stared at my laptop screen, emitting a sound like “Aaauuughhh…”

Then I slid off my rolling chair, eased onto my apartment’s tan carpet floor, and curled into the fetal position.

It wasn’t because of a heart attack. Or receiving a disturbing email from a family member.

Instead, I had just gotten home and looked up the day’s profits from my advertising campaign. The one I’d prepared for months. The one I’d spent two weeks’ worth of pay on. At the time, I struggled to afford my rent and food. I needed that money.

Let’s rewind a few months…

In the fall of 2010, I hired a contractor to help me with an advertising campaign.

“I’m not as experienced buying ads as I am in copywriting, so I’ll work with someone,” I thought.

Smart business strategy?

Sometimes, yes. But in this case, I was scared. So instead of plowing through my fear, I threw money at the monster to placate it. Good idea? Bad? Let’s see…

The contractor charged into the project. Then he asked for more money. I clicked the PayPal button. He asked for more. I loved clicking the PayPal button. Every time, I felt a jolt of emotional relief, like applying a salve to an aching joint. That’s how I pretended to move the project forward without confronting the fear.

Every time I clicked that button, a subtle undercurrent of doubt flowed along with the relief…

Then the ad went out. After a long day at work, I scrambled home to see the results. The subtle doubt turned into panic as I stared at my computer screen. I realized I had flushed thousands of dollars and many weeks down the drain.

The contractor disappeared.

Since then, I’ve thought about that experience, to explore what lessons I could extract.

Here’s a common refrain: “You have to take risks to be successful.”

True. But you don’t have to take massive financial risks.

Many unsuccessful people back themselves into risking too much money.

Why?

Because they’re trying to replace emotional risk. They’re trying to quell fear and self-doubt instead of conquer them.

For instance, someone comes up with a product idea. He knows it will be a bestseller. So he creates a company… hires someone to design a brand… recruits a marketing team… places a large order with a manufacturer… all while staying in a safe emotional bubble…

… without ever walking up to just one person and trying to sell just one of his products.

Because that’s scary. It’s an emotional risk. Better to throw dollars at the monster, right?

Then, the product fails to sell. He goes bankrupt.

The monster’s hunger always wins.

You can’t bargain with fear. You can’t bribe it away.

The worst part is when the aspiring business owner becomes bitter. He blames luck. He blames… risk-taking.

Is he right?

Well, let’s see…

After the advertising failed to attract any customers, I could have claimed the contractor screwed me over. Or that I didn’t have enough money to take so many risks. Or that I couldn’t grow my business without venture capital.

Instead, I let out a sigh… and admitted I was scared. Instead of plowing through that fear head-on… instead of learning advertising strategies myself… I threw money at the monster. I risked money instead.

It felt so good to click that PayPal button. But the monster got hungrier…

Don’t replace emotional risk with financial risk.

Don’t throw money at fear.

Also… don’t get me wrong – hiring expert contractors can be a wonderful thing.

Today, I do zero advertising myself. The key difference is, I’m not patching over an emotional risk with a financial one. No more feeding the monster. Instead, I’m making an objective choice.

Are you spending money because you’re worried about doing something? Are you desperate to avoid its emotional pain?

If you’re farming out salesmanship because it scares you…

If you’re buying any kind of course promising “done-for-you” results…

If you’re partnering up with someone before you confirm it’s absolutely necessary…

Then, to paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, “… you might be replacing an emotional risk with a financial one.” You might be feeding the monster.

Face the pain or fear instead. Learn how to sell. Study and practice the new skill you need rather than forking over big bucks to someone else.

If you lose? What did you lose? Some time? Some peace of mind? Maybe. But you learned plenty – without spending a damn thing. Plus, you trained yourself to spend money only from a centered place.

Wear a seatbelt. Wear a condom – or insist on one. Those are positive examples of reducing risk. But don’t try to bribe fear to reduce emotional risk. Don’t feed the monster. It’ll grow hungrier.

Six-Year Promise Fulfilled: Losing A Mercedes-Benz Key At Rooney Road Trailhead

Published June 8, 2018 in Origin Story - 0 Comments

“Damn I can see why this kicked my ass six years ago.”

Less than an hour before this revelation, I strode from my apartment to Broadway street and unlocked a Mercedes-Benz I’d reserved.

For the past few weeks, I had been enjoying the service Car2Go. They have a fleet of cars parked throughout Denver. If you want to drive one, whether for a few minutes or a couple days, you click a few buttons on their app and you’re in.

We didn’t get the flying cars promised in Back To The Future Part II but this is a fine consolation prize. It tickles me to no end that I can waltz down the street, hop in a car, pick up a wonderful companion, and zip up to the mountains…

… and that’s exactly how I’d been using the cars.

Today, I was going alone – on a special mission.

You could say it was a reunion.

Between six and seven years ago, I made a weekly journey to Rooney Road Trailhead. Once there, I selected one of the small but steep hills just off the trail and sprinted up.

It kicked my ass.

The first couple visits ended with me collapsed on the grass, staring up at the clouds, trying to catch my breath.

The sprints gave me a bit of grounding as I stumbled through my life, barely conscious and barreling towards a bankruptcy.

Then I got the gig as a sign-spinner. Because I’d be on my feet outside for almost 40 hours per week, I figured it was probably a good time to take a break from sprints.

Just before beginning my job, I took one last trip to the hill. While savoring everything, I thought about my eventual return. For some reason, I decided to vow I’d be financially successful before coming back to sprint again. What did that mean? I batted around incomes like $5000 per month or $10,000 per month. Really, I just wanted more money to flow in than out, as consistent as a river, living the life I wanted while doing what I loved to do.

“I’ll return…” I said to the hill six years ago.

Then I battled through the cold months of winter as I began my new job…

Through a season of oppressive summer heat…

A whole year flew by…

Then two…

Every now and then, I imagined returning to that hill.

Three years…

The business closed and I jumped into a new job as a truck loader. Back-breaking. I scrambled for a way out.

Several months later, I caught my lifeline… and bear-hugged it and climbed it as fast as I could.

I moved to Baltimore for a year and a half.

Then I returned to Denver. Still thinking about that hill. But even though I’d fulfilled my requirements and could officially return, I still didn’t go. On the surface, I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of venturing to Rooney Road Trailhead without a car of my own. But maybe things had to align at a deeper level?

Who knows. Another two years passed.

Then, finally, after starting a wonderful relationship and figuring I could use this nifty car rental service, I returned to the hill.

Six years. I was surprised to see some changes. Some tents were set up for a dirt bike place or something across the street. “Isn’t that crazy? In six years they managed to put up a tent! How things change!” I chided myself.

But the hills were the same.

I walked off trail, watching the grass ripple in the wind like gentle waves on a lake.

Everything shimmered a lush green.

I found my hill.

Said to it, “It’s been four years. No, wait, six years. Wow, six years! And I did just what I said I would. Even better, in fact. It’s so good to be back. Six years is a blink of an eye for you. But I’m honored to be part of the blink.”

As I dug in, preparing to blast off, I said, “It’s amazing what happened in those six years. I’m going to enjoy what the next six years bring. I’m enjoying… right now.”

With that, I charged up the hill. And remembered why it kicked my ass so much.

“Hmmm, maybe this wasn’t the particular slope I sprinted up.”

At the top, I walked to another section and eased back down. Yeah, that seemed more like it. So I sprinted up that part four times – adding a rep compared to six years ago. And I didn’t have to collapse in a heap, at the top. Progress!

As I stepped through the grass back to my car, I spotted a reminder that my life’s just a blink for the hill:

And said hi to a friend who wished me well:

Then I got back to my rented car, reached into my pocket… and discovered the key was missing.

“Ah. It probably fell out of my pants as I sprinted. I’ll just retrace my steps,” I thought.

Funny, because earlier I’d checked my pants a couple times to make sure they were still there. But I realized my mistake – I was probably feeling just my apartment keys.

Six years previous, I made a habit of putting all my stuff into a bag and leaving it at the bottom of the hill. Good idea. And I usually ran in shorts with zippers. Another good idea… for next time.

I returned to the hill… and couldn’t quite figure out the path I took. And there were technically two. “Was it over here? Yeah that looks familiar. Well, let’s just dive in.”

For almost an hour and a half in the 90-degree heat and Colorado sun, I paced up and down the hill, repeating, “I’m finding my key.”

At no point did I feel angry, frustrated, worried, or any other negative emotion. Mostly, while peering around the ground, I thought about how I preferred losing the fob compared to my phone or wallet. Or hurting myself. Or a snake biting me. All in all, a good day. I even called Car2Go to see if they could make the fob beep.

While doing this, I pondered: Could I be unfailingly polite on the phone, even in this situation? Other than the tiniest bit of frustration when the wind broke up our call – which meant only that I lost my sense of humor for a moment – I succeeded. The company was apologetic about my situation. But hey, I lost the key.

The dull dryness of growing sunburns creeped around my arms and neck. Even after a brief meditation to get me in the flow, the key was nowhere to be found. It felt right to end the search, so I grabbed an Uber home. Car2Go would have to charge me for a new fob and the tow.

“If a problem can be solved by money, it’s not a problem,” I thought.

Would I have dealt with this situation the same way, six years ago?

Doubtful.

Just a couple days before, I’d gone to the Mimosa Mastermind in Scottsdale. Both to learn how to build an affiliate marketing program and to teach copywriting. During the trip, I had felt upgraded on a spiritual level.

After losing the key fob, I mused how those upgrades almost always involve pain. Whether earth-shattering or little annoyances. So I was glad to say, “See universe? I lost the key fob but I still feel great! Neener neener!” and do a fun little dance.

Perhaps I was meant to visit the hill and lose that key. Just as I returned to fulfill a promise, the universe lobbed me a little test to see if I were ready for more. Perhaps I knocked it out of the park.

I’m going to enjoy the next six years. I’m enjoying… right now.

The Discouragement Cure

Published May 28, 2018 in Mindset - 0 Comments

As I eased down the 14 flights of stairs in between reps of sprints, I found myself pondering a certain word.

A few days before, a friend told me she noticed discouragement creeping into me and she wanted to help stop that. Her phone call worked – a few minutes after we talked, I felt renewed energy surging through me.

I mulled over the word discouragement as I covered the last few flights of stairs down, before I whipped around to race back up.

Dis-courage. I’ve always liked the definition of courage as plowing through your fear, rather than the absence of fear. And doing so in the face of uncertain results and potential failure.

So, what’s discouragement?

Losing that momentum and breaking your contract with yourself.

The potential reward that inspired your courage, still exists. So are the risks and the ways to fail.

When you chose courage, you accepted those odds and decided to plow forward anyhow.

Discouragement is changing your mind when nothing else has changed except your level of pain.

By digging into the word, I put together the remedy for that state of being.

When you’re feeling discouraged, look at your situation and ask, “What has changed? The reward? The danger? The risk?”

Chances are, it’s none of the above. You’re in the thick of your task and your growth and it hurts. But pausing like this to clarify your perspective can put the pain in its place. Then, you can rekindle the courage you need to keep moving forward.

Funny note to end on: I wrote the first draft for this short article several weeks ago. Since then, the part of my life causing me to feel discouraged, completely turned around. Just as my friend said it would.

How 10,000 Hours Of Deliberate Practice Can Still Fail

Published May 11, 2018 in Mindset - 0 Comments

“I’m going to help you stay motivated to practice, so you can succeed.”

“But I’m already motivated. And practicing. But it’s not getting me the result I want.”

“Ummm… hmmm…”

In the book Peak, the authors reveal the results of their research on athletes, musicians, and a couple guys who developed the ability to memorize really, really long strings of digits.

The authors’ goal was to discover what makes people great. What makes people masters of a certain ability. And the best way for everyone else to get there. Like playing the violin like a master. Or performing a prostatectomy without any cancer reoccurrence.

The author’s research was Malcom Gladwell’s inspiration for the now famous “10,000” rule.

Peak, however, reveals how the rule has been misinterpreted. First of all, the 10,000-hour number comes from the average amount of practice time expert violinists performed by age 20. Some had done more – some less. And this was simply by a certain age. It didn’t automatically bestow them expert status.

Plus, the research revealed simple practice was not enough. It had to be what the authors call deliberate practice. This involves consistently pushing yourself beyond the edge of your abilities, so your brain and body adapt, while getting useful feedback. For example, studying the chess matches of grandmasters and attempting to predict their moves, and studying why they did what they did, while under the watchful eye of a qualified teacher, is deliberate practice. Playing tournament chess, is not. Pushing yourself to play the banjo faster is deliberate practice. Playing a tune (diddy?) you’re already comfortable with in a concert, is not.

Not so simple and sexy as 10,000 hours, is it?

The book goes into more detail…

… but it’s still missing something.

One of the most prominent case studies, is a college-aged man who practices memorizing digits. The author read him a single digit per second, until finished. Then, the man repeated the whole string. The average person might be able to handle eight digits, which falls within our short-term memory. Through practice, however, the man was able to memorize and repeat back 82 digits flawlessly.

Peak briefly mentions how the researchers chose an athlete, assuming he’d have a natural propensity to push through a challenge. Later in the book, the authors dabble into motivation again, mentioning its importance for practice. They briefly cover setting aside time in your schedule, accountability within a group, and the drive to look good in front of others.

It’s a shallow treatment compared to their thorough studies of deliberate practice.

And that’s what I think is missing.

We now have a very clear picture of what someone must do to succeed, if they’re already psychologically, emotionally, and – dare I say – spiritually aligned with what they want to achieve. Researchers found key differences between good, expert, and world-class musicians. They got a very clear picture of… let’s call it… “the second half of the story.” These men and women have already proven they can identify and overcome their weaknesses. But what about the first half of the story? What if someone wants to learn a new skill, but has impediments that are not solved by working on the skill itself?

For example, perhaps someone wants to become an expert investor. They’d like to use deliberate practice to improve their craft, but are unknowingly dealing with a psychological self-destruct mechanism, put in place by an alcoholic mom who spent every penny of the family’s money.

Or someone who’s trying to attract the opposite sex, but whose parents felt only contempt for each other, and never spoke. This person could spend 10,000 hours in a bar with the guidance of a successful friend, but still never overcome the programming that’s doing the damage.

In both cases, it’s like someone spending 10,000 hours trying to clean up a spill, without plugging the broken pipe that’s causing the mess in the first place.

Something else is required, where the prospective expert needs to reach back, to realign what is internally out of whack, while progressing with the deliberate practice. And this work is more vital in the more important areas of life. The parts that, if not mastered, cause the most pain.

What do you care about more? Loving relationships with other people, or memorizing digits? Which has more potential for emotional and psychological hang-ups?

If therapeutic work combined with deliberate practice, we could have a complete system for helping someone become a master. And they don’t even have to start as average. Their life could be in psychological and emotional shambles. If something could help them become ready to benefit from deliberate practice, it wouldn’t just be life-changing, but life-saving.

5-Second Quiz Reveals How Much Hidden Tension You Are Suffering From

Published March 28, 2018 in Health - 0 Comments

20 minutes ago, I stood up for a break from my first daily round of writing. I began a series of movements to loosen up my joints, increase blood flow, let go of emotional gunk… and get the energy cranking in my body.

I sent waves rolling up the front of my body, culminating in rotating my shoulders. As I enjoyed the waves, I scanned my body for where some hidden tension might be.

Let’s focus on your upper chest, where your pecs tie into your deltoids.

Aha. Instantly, I noticed the waves struggled to flow through that part of my body. Like the rolling ocean surface lapping up against a rock outcrop. So, I continued to focus on that area without judgement, and observed tension begin to melt away.

Then I stopped to jot this down in my notebook.

Everyone wants to get rid of their pain. It’s a multi-billion-dollar market.

But getting rid of tension, when it’s still at the “merely annoying” level?

Not nearly as lucrative – massage businesses notwithstanding.

Because pain gets your attention. Tension, on the other hand, stays anonymous.

When part of your body resigns itself to chronic tension, you literally don’t get the memo. In fact, like an unruly teenager or thieving employee, your body hides the evidence.

Which is why, if asked, you may claim, “I’m not tense!”

Riiight.

We’ll test whether you are, in a moment. Before we do, keep in mind that virtually all joint and muscle pain has its roots in tension. It throws you out of alignment.

Just yesterday, I was getting some training from a coach of mine, and we talked about a celebrity in the personal development niche. One of the biggest names of all time. My coach happened to know that his body is riddled with constant pain, because of the tension he’s carrying around.

So, here’s a quick exercise to prove whether you’re suffering from chronic, hidden tension:

Sitting here, reading this message right now, how does your body feel?

If you notice tension, then you’ve got your answer.

On the other hand, what if your body feels fine?

If so, then I’ve got news for you:

You just passed the test… to prove you are engulfed and imprisoned with full-body tension that’s completely hidden from you.

Surprised? Skeptical?

Let me explain…

Feeling “fine” is the perfect way to describe the sensations of a physical body constantly blocking signals of chronically contracted muscles.

If you had zero tension, you wouldn’t say you feel fine. You’d say you feel divine. A melted mess of gooey extravagance, that somehow simultaneously feels primed to spring to action, whenever and wherever needed. Pulsating with warmth. Radiating love. A fully-charged, dynamic battery. And so much more.

That’s how a true lack of tension feels. Just ask a baby.

Not quite there? That’s okay. You can return to that state of being. Right now, I’m phasing in and out. Soon, I’ll embody that state virtually all day and night.

A major key, is to consistently upgrade yourself.

When I do my morning ritual to loosen and enrich my body, I’m not merely warming myself up to a state of “normal.” Instead, I seek out new levels of relaxation and alignment. Every day provides the opportunity for more progress.

There are physical practices that help… psychological ones… and some downright weird ones.

It’s just like the buildings under construction, that I can see beyond my computer screen, as I type this. Right now, a crane swings to lift and place new material. Nothing is static. The workers do not assemble a wall of concrete blocks, just to take it back down. Every day, the building becomes more refined.

As living beings, we have an advantage and disadvantage, compared to the building.

The disadvantage is, we can accumulate more tension and emotional gunk throughout our day. Barring some seriously inclement weather, the building will simply stay where it is, left untouched. So, we’ve got to get some extra momentum going. When it comes to eliminating chronic tension, “2 steps forward, 1 step back” is the norm.

Fortunately, we have an advantage that the building doesn’t possess. We have a choice. We’re the creators.

How Ray Dalio’s Principles and Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc. Completely Screwed Up

Published March 18, 2018 in Copywriting - 0 Comments

While scrambling some eggs yesterday, I shook my head in frustration, bolted over to my computer, and began busting out this public service for anyone writing a book.

You need help. Your opening sentence is terrible. Chances are, nobody else will tell you. So I will.

Skeptical?

Then read these two opening sentences and decide which is compelling… and which is boring as hell:

“We watched in horror as nine months of files began deleting themselves. The Toy Story sequel, which the world was already buzzing about in anticipation, was self-destructing… and we couldn’t stop it.”

Or:

“Every morning, as I walk into Pixar Animation Studios – past the twenty-foot-high sculpture of Luxo Jr., our friendly desk lamp mascot, through the double doors and into a spectacular glass-ceilinged atrium where a man-sized Buzz Lightyear and Woody, made entirely of Lego bricks, stand at attention, up the stairs past sketches and paintings of the characters that have populated our fourteen films – I am struck by the unique culture that defines this place.”

Here’s another pair:

“$700,000 gone in a whiff. Our client was furious. I was humiliated. Most CEOs, in this position, would publicly fire the employee responsible. I did something different.”

Or:

“When we are children, other people, typically our parents, guide us through our encounters with reality.”

Here’s what I did.

I took the opening sentences from Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc. and Ray Dalio’s Principles… and gave them a makeover. No, they’re not perfect. They could use a second set of eyes. As well as a fact-checker. But those are minor points compared to how I changed the tone of the opening.

Specifically, I used one of the most powerful techniques I’ve ever learned about the craft of writing, when it comes to opening sentences.

Call it the James Bond Technique.

I’ll get to the specifics of the technique in a moment.

First… how dare I critique the words of a self-made billionaire or the driving force behind one of the most successful film studios in history?

Because, apparently, nobody else did.

These two gentlemen, Ray Dalio and Ed Catmull, hammer home in their books how their companies’ success derived, in part, from honest feedback. Sometimes scathing, encouraging, specific or vague feedback… but always welcomed.

That dynamic disappeared when they scuttled off by themselves to pen their messages to the wider world. I can only guess, but I wonder if their own reputation harmed them. Perhaps their editors were afraid to throw their first drafts back in their faces and roar, “You lost me in the first paragraph!” Maybe the authors got solid feedback but ignored it. Or maybe some things just slipped through the cracks.

Either way, Ray Dalio and Ed Catmull had the opportunity to produce works on par with their previous careers. Instead… they wrote mere darn good books.

Perhaps the difference is dust mite-small…

… and I care only because I’m a writer who lives and dies by crafting pieces that get attention. I don’t get to say, “I’m Ray Dalio so slog through most of what I’ve written because the gems you learn will be worth it.”

The truth is closer to… I saw what could have been. Especially in Creativity Inc. Spoiler Alert: A rough, nearly-complete copy of Toy Story 2 was almost destroyed because of a technical glitch. The peeps at Pixar watched in real-time as it got erased, but salvaged a back-up copy stored on an employee’s personal laptop. When they transported the laptop back to the studio, they wrapped it in blankets, and all held it as they walked across the parking lot.

Guess when you read that incredible story? Not on page 1, where it belonged. Not on page 10 or even page 50. First, you must meander through Ed Catmull pointlessly recounting his schooling and job history before getting to anything approaching action or drama. And he made his dent in the world telling stories.

Look, I get that Ed Catmull was taking the reader through an opening montage much like a Pixar film, highlighting the various characters. The use of movement in the opening is good. But he buried the powerhouse opening. Something gripping.

Something that could have made his readers gasp.

I’ll stop picking on Ed Catmull. Instead, I’ll return briefly to Ray Dalio’s opening, simply to say it’s only one step above “Humans do things, often involving other humans and objects too. And stuff.”

Now the James Bond Technique.

Think about how James Bond films begin. 007 could be tracking a terrorist in the midst of a crowd watching a snake and mongoose duke it out… chasing a suspect through cavernous hallways in the middle of a desert town… or careening through traffic on a winding highway.

You may have zero clue what’s going on…

… but you’re hooked. And you’ll figure things out as they unfold.

The openings dive into the middle of the action. When you’re crafting an opening sentence and you’re in doubt – and you should always be in doubt – then defer to the James Bond Technique.

Start in the middle of the action.

At the height of tension. Get the reader hooked. Weave in the exposition from there.

Look through my other blog posts, to see how often I do it. Even here, I chose a scene of mild mental anguish from my life, rather than the more obvious “Here’s a trick to make your opening sentences more gripping…”

Special thanks to Sol Stein, author of Stein On Writing, for opening my eyes to how crucial first sentences are. He did a much better job describing the stakes, than I have.

I might keep calling out poor opening sentences, as a public service. It’s not just Ray Dalio or Ed Catmull who have eye-grabbing tales of struggle and triumph. Or James Bond, for that matter. Everyone who sits down with something to say, can harness a moment of pain from their lives to create interest, bonding, and facilitate the change they want to make in the world, with their writing.

Asking This Question Guarantees You Will Fail At Everything

Published March 14, 2018 in Mindset - 0 Comments

I can’t count the number of times at a business seminar, marketing conference, fitness expo, gym, workspace, or restaurant… someone describes a skillset they achieved… and then a person in the crowd asks the magic question that guarantees failure.

They could be talking about building a business. Or losing 50 pounds. Or writing a book.

Inevitably someone will pipe up, “How much time do you spend per week, writing?” or “How much time do you spend per week, on your business?”

Which are both examples of the magic question that guarantees failure:

“How much time do you spend on [fill in the blank]?”

Wrong question. Wrong mindset. And I’m not sure if there’s a cure.

As soon as I hear that question, I know that person’s doomed to fail.

Yeah, I’m an asshole.

Yes, it’s sooo arrogant to write something like this.

I’m also right.

Here’s why:

That question opens a doorway into the person’s thinking. It shows their brain is weighing the pros and cons of spending time writing a book. It wants to determine the bare minimum number of hours required to do something abhorrent –  to barely scrape by with a positive result.

They might as well ask, “How long do I have to hold my nose and do something I hate, just to bask in the results? To hell with feeling fulfillment and enjoying the growth along the way, or aligning myself with the flow of life. Just give me the guaranteed minimum I must do. The cut-and-dried answer. I want my life’s canvas to be paint-by-numbers.”

You’re screwed.

You haven’t even started, and you’ve already projected a path of deeper and deeper suffering as you slog through hours of forcing yourself, until you finally throw your hands up in the air and quit.

If you’re asking how many hours of writing you need to put in, to write a book… then follow Nike’s advice in reverse:

Just don’t do it.

If you ask how many hours per week are required for a project to increase your income, just don’t do it.

If you ask how many hours of exercise you need to spend in the gym, to finally get in shape… just don’t do it.

Instead, take a step back. Figure out what you can do, where time commitment is a non-issue. Because you actually want to dive in and relish every moment. Or, even better, time is a non-issue because you’re obsessed with what you’re doing.

The best definition I ever heard of a writer, was from Sol Stein: “Writer’s cannot not write.”

Writers don’t ask how many hours they need to put in. They’re too busy doing it. Day after day. Because they can’t stop.

When I first began an unusual kind of standing meditation, I asked my teacher, “What’s the maximum amount of time I can do this every day, without diminishing returns?”

“There’s a guy in India who does six hours,” he said.

Think of a champion athlete. They don’t ask how many hours they need to devote to training in the arena, or the gym, because those are the only places where they feel at home.

Good luck competing with them.

Instead, figure out where others have no hope of competing with you, because you’re too obsessed with practice. Or, if that paradigm doesn’t jive with you, figure out where hours become lost because you just don’t give a shit. You’re too busy practicing.

Here are two ways how:

  1. If something just isn’t you, don’t bother.

If I could snap my fingers and make it happen, I’d enjoy sampling the Rockstar lifestyle. I remember reading one of the Motley Crew guys saying sex with four women at once was too many, and two was too few, but three women simultaneously was just right. I wouldn’t mind verifying that. But trying to spend hours per day, and years of my life, practicing a musical instrument with that goal in mind, would be insane.

On the other hand, I cannot not write. It’s me. How many hours per week do I write? Per day? Who gives a shit? I can’t stop. It also happens to bless my life. Perfect combination. Find yours.

  1. If you know a practice that truly is you, but you’re still struggling with your commitment, then there’s an inner issue to work out.

Again, I want to emphasize, make sure it’s something that truly is you. Don’t beat your head against the wall just because you want the toys and trinkets on the other side. Find a wall you can enjoy knocking down.

Once you do, arrange your day as best you can, so you can practice when you have the most energy. An old friend of mine taught, “Do the thing you fear, first thing in the morning.”

Here’s another version: “Do the thing you obsess over, first thing in the morning.” Or before you go to bed at night. Or whenever you’re primed for peak performance.

And don’t ask how much time you have to put in, in the morning.

Now that you know the question that dooms you to failure, you can scout out similar questions. They all revolve around minimal effort, guaranteed results, and dumping the responsibility of deep thinking onto another person. Here are a few examples:

“If I only had to pick one…”

“What’s the best way to begin?”

“What’s [anything that can be answered with a single Google search]?”

“How hard is it to…”

“Yeah BUT how do I…”

Ouch. I’ve asked questions like this, many times. See if you’ve done the same. Then compare different parts of your life – where you’ve excelled and where you’ve stumbled. Where do you ask these questions more often? And is it correlation… or causation?

When It Is Time To Move On

Published March 3, 2018 in Mindset - 0 Comments

“Now that you’re living in Aurora, I can give you shifts at the Parker and Smoky Hill stores. They’re closer, and we need people there,” my supervisor said.

“That’s great,” I said over the phone. “Actually, could I keep doing one shift at Broadway on Sunday, just for old time’s sake?”

“Sure.”

When I got my job as a sign-spinner in 2011, I lived close to downtown Denver. The gold-buying business’s nearest store was on Broadway street, about 17 minutes south of where I lived.

So, five days a week, I stood on that street corner.

Broadway and Nassau. For almost nine months.

To this day, I can imagine every detail of the sidewalk, the auto shop across the street, and the weird characters that lived around.

That job became a lifeline of drudgery, which I clung to as my life shifted in scary ways. Sure, it sucked… but the mindless routine was sweet relief for me.

The street corner became a second home. Complete with memories of the time I dialed 911… sweltering in 100-degree heat… dancing in the middle of a blizzard… watching cops silently swarm the check-cashing store next door… getting assaulted by a crack head…

I loved it.

Then, when I moved to Aurora, commuting to the Broadway store didn’t make sense. I felt a pang of loss. Hence, me asking my supervisor to go back – at least once per week.

When the first Sunday came around after my move, I approached the corner to begin my shift… and something felt different.

All the energy around me felt dead. The passing cars, the occasional breeze, and everything else seemed just a bit more muted and lifeless.

“I was supposed to move on,” I thought to myself, “but I didn’t.”

After a couple more weeks to confirm this was true, I asked my supervisor to take me off Broadway.

“The end of an era,” I thought.

It seems like such a silly thing (when your life consists of waving a sign, meditating, writing, and sleeping, small things take on significance). But – in more or less overt ways – we all cling to things that are familiar, even if they’re not right for us. Because we prefer suffering we’re used to, rather than the unknown that could be better. And we romanticize lame circumstances because we doubt we can claim something better.

How often do people live in the same home for years, just because they’re “settled” and moving would be too much of a pain in the ass?

Or the same job?

The same spouse?

How often do we declare something feels right, when we’re just clinging to our comfort zone?

How often do we overstay our welcome, because we’re trying to soak in the last bits of an energy field that’s already gone?

Here’s how to tell if you are.

Ask yourself:

“Am I choosing this because it’s fulfilling for me, and part of my growth… or am I hunkering down because I’m nervous about something new? If I doubt I can have something better, is this rational or emotional? What’s my evidence?”

I didn’t ask myself those questions. So it took me an extra few weeks, to figure it out.

Some people take a few extra decades.

I did end up seeing that Broadway store a few more times. Occasionally, I had to work a shift there. Then, as the business went bankrupt, I hauled furniture out of the store and closed it.

Sometimes, if you resist change, it has a way of insisting.

What Makes Your Task A Joy Or Torture

Published February 19, 2018 in Mindset - 0 Comments

“How many trucks are you guys going to unload before lunch today?!”

My co-worker and I shrugged our shoulders, as we grabbed dirty floor mats from the trailer. Ted, our boss, flashed an impish smile before walking away. He was thrilled with how much we were busting our asses.

This was circa 2014, when I unloaded trucks for a living. Every afternoon, 12 of the monsters lurched into the commercial laundry facility, pregnant with thousands of pounds of dirty pants, shirts, floor mats, and other assorted grimy stuff. The two of us unloaded them all, one by one. Then, we finished our shift with a huge trailer from Fort Collins. That required a forklift.

We threw almost everything into giant baskets that ended up weighing over 250 pounds, and sent them through a complicated conveyor system.

Some of the laundry was so nasty, we threw up as we handled it.

One truck contained clothes from a spice factory. That stuff smelled nice.

Most two-man teams could unload six or seven trucks before the first, and usually only, break.

My co-worker and I set records. One day, we managed to unload ten trucks before the “lunch break” at 6PM.

Before working that job, if you had told me the mass of stuff two people were required to move, and the time-period they had to get it done by… I would have sworn the task wasn’t humanly possible.

That job expanded my beliefs, for the human body’s capabilities.

Just yesterday I was reminded of this. While enjoying the Sky Lounge at my new apartment, I watched gym goers next door, march up and down the parking lot while carrying kettlebells. Then, I looked one block over, where a new building was under construction. There, workers hauled all kinds of metal and wood back and forth. Huh. On one side, people were paying good money to drag heavy stuff around, for their health. On the other side, people were getting paid money to drag even heavier stuff around, because that’s their job. What if the gym goers could volunteer to help the construction for an hour? I guess the local GDP would slip a bit.

Anyway. While unloading trucks, I learned what can make your daily task a joy… or torture. Here goes:

  1. Sleep. If you get a good night’s sleep, you’re a full battery that may or may not require food. If you lose out on quality sleep, you drag ass. This spirals downward into a miserable day. Your head hurts. Your body’s weak. You stress about how much everything sucks.
  2. Coffee. There’s a reason I put this 2nd, instead of 1st. If your sleep sucked, then coffee will trick you into getting near normal, but not quite. Millions of people think it’s normal to trudge through their life like this. On the other hand, if you get good sleep and add coffee to the mix… you’re closer to, as Sgt. Blain Cooper put it, “a goddamned sexual tyrannosaurus.” Or just a regular tyrannosaurus.
  3. Peeps. When you’re surrounded with good peeps, it’s a fun upward spiral. You help each other. You’re in the flow. You enjoy the synergy. But when you’re stuck with bad peeps, it’s like gears grinding and wearing out. Energy drains from your body.
  4. The future. Friday’s were a joy, because our three-day weekend was on the horizon. That energized us to overlook the pain and finish faster. But your vision of the future can also be quite the hot potato, if you mishandle it. If we began unloading the first truck and thought about truck number two… three… four… five… that drained our energy. Keep a firm grasp on your distant vision. But save your dwelling mind for the next immediate step.
  5. Meaning. When I worked the mat-folding shifts, I emptied a basket the size of a Subaru… only to see two more full ones wheeled in. That’s when I realized why poor Sisyphus experienced the worst hell, when he pushed that boulder up the hill, only for it to come crashing back down, ad infinitum. When I fixated on how there would always be more freshly-washed mats to fold, a little speck of despair crept into my work. I would have been better off focusing on how I was helping businesses around Denver, display nice, clean mats for customers entering their domains.
  6. Competency. When I switched to another position in the company – a big mistake – I realized it’s crucial to feel like you’re good at what you do, or you can at least grasp it and improve. If you feel hopeless at your job, you get scared and feel like a loser.
  7. Food. I had to figure out how to consume maximum calories with nutritional value, for the least amount of money. Bad digestion meant dragging ass.

When I pondered this list a few years ago, I realized none of these items required a fancy position, or degree, or even much luck. I also realized that, if I ever had a job that prevented me from the positive side of this list (like a company with bad peeps), I’d quit. Because even a pay cut, or harder work, was worth the joy of good sleep, coffee, peeps, a future, meaning, competency, and enough food to keep me going. They’re worth more than anything, so it’d be insane not to prioritize them.

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