Victim, Villain, or Hero? You Choose.

Underdog

Last week I wrote about “winning” and equated the concept less with the sports or business arena and more with becoming a better version of ourselves. I both highlighted and reinterpreted a powerful model from Derek Sivers with four steps that build upon each other.

The first of these is our penultimate opportunity – managing and directing our thoughts proactively. We are unique from every other breathing species on the planet in our ability to potentially do this. But how?

For some reason, the classic storytelling framework featuring the victim, villain and hero comes to mind. Why? Many years ago while at Oracle my boss’ boss, JB, who ran Applications Product Marketing, assessed his team and likely saw an opportunity for us to work better together. Yes, there were plenty of abrasive misfits — and boy do I raise my hand on that one.

JB organized an “onsite offsite” in a large conference room with gray carpeting and dimly lit fluorescent lights. He brought in an outside facilitator from his hometown of Chicago. I cannot remember his name, nor do I have any notes from the event.

Similarly, I can’t recall the specific details of how this facilitator ran the day, except that he repeatedly emphasized the theme that while at work we tend to specialize in one of these three roles. And we do so on autopilot, unaware of the potentially damaging wake effect we cause if we behave like villains or victims. Villains can create a toxic workplace. Victims can sap morale and just as likely cause destruction to their own psyche.

The big A-HA? We get to choose! Therefore, when we think and behave more consciously, which part do we choose to play? I think most of us would opt for the role of the hero. But as research has long proven there is a big difference between our surveyed attitudes of what we desire and how we actually behave.

Now, as the wise and older (by seven months) sage “Rod” in my gym asked me this morning in his typical morning gravelly voice, “Come on Steve! Who in their right mind would self-identify as a victim or villain?” And he is right. Nobody would. He also emphasized that the meanings of these terms are open to wide interpretation. True, but isn’t this the case with most of our vocabulary? For example, one of my favorites: what is “reality?”

Here is the opportunity and I’ll keep pounding this into the ground. With more consistent levels of awareness, we get to choose. The goal is not to label ourselves as a big old V or H noun. Instead, we can think and behave more fluidly, like graceful ‘ing’ verbs flying through the air. Iterating. Experiencing setbacks. Course correcting. And ultimately, improving.

Here is my highly subjective synopsis of these three categories.

VILLAINS – These are the people who wittingly or unwittingly behave in ways that make the unprepared feel “less than.” They destructively put down, or they bully, or they yell, or all of the above. As an excuse in a moment of seeming clarity, they may say, “Hey, I know I’m tough and abrasive, but this is how I get things done.”

If you recognize a villain’s typical playbook and patterns, you can innoculate yourself more effectively. Every workplace seems to attract villains, but assuming your corporate culture is relatively positive, there shouldn’t be too many lurking. If this is not the case, get out. Or could it be that you are behaving with a victim mentality?

VICTIMS – I have the hardest time with this role, as I am a reforming victim. My wife is the first to hit me upside the head during those moments when I wear a big “V” on my forehead. And therefore I’m sensitive when others in my presence complain why something is or is not happening to them, or much more often, why it always does. Victims like labeling themselves with negative characterizations and engaging in self deprecation. “I am bad at math, PowerPoint, directions, remembering names, cooking, finding a mate, keeping a mate, losing weight…”

Victims get quite divisive and agitated about politics. “If Clinton wins, I’m moving to Canada!” “If Trump wins, I’m moving to…ummm…Canada!” “If Sanders wins I’m moving to Stalingrad!” OK, that’s the only one I haven’t heard.

In short, they are big on making excuses and blaming others – or society as a whole – for their real or imagined plight and/or failure to get ahead in life. Our workplaces are increasingly filled with victims, or have you not been reading the Interwebs lately. The tragedy is that victims rarely “win” or succeed in their aims. Even when they do, the savoring of victory is often short and hollow. In his book, The Charge, Brendon Burchard calls the most extreme example of victim mentality “the caged life.”

Speaking of Brendon Burchard, every personal development expert I’ve ever read or listened to – from Napoleon Hill to Tim Ferriss – says the same thing. We as individuals are fully responsible for our thoughts, behaviors and actions. It is the ultimate and potentially only source of our control.

And this always fills me with hope and optimism, because the results to be gained by proactively taking the wheel and steering ourselves toward a more positive direction more consistently are huge. And so let’s conclude our story with some good old-fashioned…

HEROES – Here are seven words.

Determination. Focus. Courage. Resilience. Empathy. Directness. Generosity.

Yes, I have read umpteen definitions of the qualities that constitute a hero. ‘Courage’ and ‘resilience’ are the ones that popped up most frequently, but with the help of a beautiful TOPS Double Docket Legal-Rule Notepad, I wrote down these other terms, and then placed all of them in a sequential order that means the most to me.

In short, we have the opportunity to:

1. Act with more determination, particularly when experiencing setbacks
2. Maintain focus and consistency for longer periods of time
3. Behave with more courage as we willingly take on new challenges and face the inevitable headwinds of life
4. Build up our resilience and stamina, particularly when we don’t succeed
5. Increase our empathy by staying attuned and responding to the needs of others
6. Communicate with more directness – not rudely, but accurately and concisely
7. Practice more generosity with others by helping, giving and praising

There can never be enough heroes.

Decide to think, behave, and take more hero-like actions for the people in your life and yourself in some little way each day, even if you screw up every freakin’ day. You’ll get better at it over time, as we do in any area we place more intention on more consistently.

Namaste.

How to Not Be a Loser, Baby

loser

It was 6:08 a.m. yesterday morning. Before contemplating a five mile run in the 47 degree dewy outdoors, I walked past the entryway to the second floor of the Bay Club in Redwood Shores, California. And there it was – a crinkly piece of paper on the bulletin board by the squash courts. It contained what looked like an essay – old school, more than a bit judgy, and yet it captured my attention. Here it is.

WINNING ISN’T NORMAL

Winning isn’t normal. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with winning. It just isn’t normal. It’s highly unusual.

Every competition has only one winner. No matter how many people are entered, only one person or team wins the championship.

Winning is unusual – as such it requires unusual action. 

In order to win, you must do extraordinary things. You cannot just be one of the crowd. The crowd doesn’t win. You have to be willing to stand out and act differently.

Your actions need to reflect unusual values and priorities. You have to value success more than others do. You have to want it more. WANTING IT MORE IS A DECISION YOU MAKE AND ACT UPON – NOT SOME INHERENT QUALITY OR BURNING DRIVE OR INSPIRATION! You have to make that value a priority.

You cannot train like everyone else. You have to train more and train better.

You cannot talk like everyone else. You cannot think like everyone else. You cannot be too willing to join the crowd, to do what is expected, to act in a socially accepted manner, to do what is “in.” You need to stand out in the crowd and CONSISTENTLY take exceptional action. If you want to win, you need to accept the risks and perhaps the loneliness because…………..WINNING ISN’T NORMAL!!!

Apparently, this essay is excerpted from an old and very short book by sports psychologist Keith Bell called, Winning Isn’t Normal. While there are parts I find a bit repugnant, it is arguably filled with plenty of truisms. My favorite take-away is disbanding the notion that so-called normal is a good thing in most any aspect of one’s life. (EXTRA ordinary sounds much better to me.). Oh, and I believe an abundance of “burning drive” is required.

But how can those of us in the daily work world translate this concept of winning to make the most positive impact? Also, how can we add to the notion of winning while ensuring it is less black-and-white?  By black-and-white I mean abandoning the “second place is nothing but first loser!” meme, which inevitably makes me chuckle but…come on…is a bit harsh.

Well, lucky for you I listened to a brief Tim Ferriss podcast yesterday featuring Derek Sivers. He was asked to define “success.” As soon as he dismissed the BS that success has anything to do with acquiring a lot of money, I was intrigued. When he then said success is about mastering your “inner game,” I was hooked. And I think his definition is equally applicable to winning.

I am going to loosely interpret what I remember, given that I was walking my dog, it was a beautiful and sunny day…I mean, come on people!

ONE: Manage and direct your thoughts proactively. – Hey, nobody said this was easy, or that you need to be a one-hundred-percenter in this area, but what a lovely concept. Managing your thoughts in a positive direction ultimately leads to more positive emotions and productive actions. This also includes managing your reactions more positively in response to the many minor and not so minor adversities we inevitably encounter.

TWO: Add value and contribute to others. – This certainly includes philanthropic endeavors but also encompasses what y’all do during your workday. Heck, it includes everything in your life. For example, do you think marriage is a 50/50 partnership? OK, then please tell me what other area in your life you think you can phone it in with a 50 percent effort. Nope, marriage is about giving everything you can and dropping the transactions ledger.

THREE: Master ‘people skills.’ – This means seeing things from other people’s perspective, or stated differently, gaining more empathy. Daniel Goleman has written the book – actually many books – on emotional intelligence (EQ).

FOUR: Keep learning. – Continuously feeding your curiosity is where it is at. Constantly being willing to learn something new in existing areas of expertise and acquiring knowledge in new areas is what I’m referring to here. This is because the very idea of the value of “knowledge” is subservient to the ability to constantly learn. If you don’t believe me, let me introduce you to my friend, the “Neighborhood Carburetor Repair Man.” For you non auto junkies out there, carburetors started disappearing from automobiles about 25 years ago. However, mere learning isn’t enough. You need to apply that learning in order to master yourself and help others. This requires long amounts of focus and single tasking.

Think about it this way: you proactively direct your own thoughts in order to gain more inner peace and take more meaningful actions, thereby adding more value for others. You ensure you are able to connect with those “others” more effectively by increasing your EQ. You constantly nourish your mind and this entire process with continuous learning. And with focus, this all comes together.

The end result is a self-reinforcing mastery machine for winning in the arena that counts the most – becoming a better version of ourselves.

And no, not for a minute do I believe winning in the game of life is a zero-sum game. This is because there does not have to be a “loser” in the contest I am referring to.

WOO-HOO!!

NOTE: And one more thing: I use the term “loser” in complete jest as I only appreciate the term in a humorous and/or the occasional sarcastic context.

 

Is There Power in Emotionally Detaching at Work?

dude with headphonesLook, I understand the mention of emotional detachment may conjure up images of highly drugged individuals living in a perpetual zombie state with saliva slowly dribbling from their mouths. Or perhaps it is this fine young man, staring at a calm ocean while listening to Kenny G on his headphones.

But these states are not what I am referring to. Instead, let’s think for a moment about the potential power of emotionally detaching oneself from negative external ‘vibes.’ Note that I am not necessarily referring to physically removing yourself from people or situations. While I don’t subscribe to cutting off from the rest of the planet, I am continually solving for more inner peace.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about you in your daily work world. Wouldn’t you be able to kick even more ass if you were able to maintain an even greater sense of balance and centeredness more consistently each and every freakin’ day? Don’t you admire those folks who possess this quality?

Here are five typical workday scenarios. What if:

ONE: During your many meetings where there is any level of conflict transpiring, you became less emotionally charged? How much would your impact or effectiveness as a participant be compromised, if at all?

TWO: You were able to assertively convey your own points of view in those same meetings and at other times during the day without investing any negative emotional equity? Sure, you can be as positively passionate as you’d like, allowing for the cultural norms in your company.

THREE: You received the predictable daily barrage of emails from that one perpetual shit disturbing colleague, but you simply breathed deeply and responded on your timetable without your heart rate going up even a smidgen?

FOUR: You got reprimanded “wrongly” by your boss and then respectfully stood up for yourself while maintaining your composure and ‘cool?’

FIVE: A colleague somewhat mercilessly and non-constructively crapped on a draft deliverable you just produced, and after taking in whatever meaningful feedback you could glean, you then simply moved on with no agita or thirsting desire to down a fifth of Smirnoff during lunch.

This sounds simple, right? Just chill the F out! Easy peasy. But alas what is simple is often not easy peasy. In my case, where I can still get triggered somewhat easily, this utopian ideal is going to require more INNER WORK. This is why it is called WORK.

But why bother? I mean we are who we are and cannot change because “it is what it is.” Isn’t that right, bunky?

WRONG! In my book, we are who we consciously choose to become and how we direct ourselves, with intention, to think and behave. I for one don’t like freezing myself behind negative and limiting labels.

What is the upside of the possibilities here? I can pretty much guarantee you that turning down that toxic external emotional bass line by fifty percent or more will dramatically increase your effectiveness during the workday while helping you generate more calm and positive contributions in every aspect of your life.

Gobs of money and a sweet Maui vacation cannot buy that. It all starts and ends with that noggin of yours.

HINT: Getting in ‘the now’ for at least 10 minutes every day, a.k.a. meditating, is arguably the best way to start or continue on this journey. I hear and read about more people recommending the Headspace app. But in my typical old school ways, let me also point you to this classic book, written by the godfather of western mindfulness who doesn’t lather on any dollops of woo.

Aloha!

NOTE: Next week I am probably giving the keyboard a rest. That said, I have penned an essay nearly every week since the Summer of 2015. I hope you have enjoyed my take on ways to achieve a more positive mindset in all aspects of your life. My request: If you like what you’ve been reading, please consider subscribing to my WordPress blog. All you need to do is click on the menu icon on the top right and then click on FOLLOW. Or you can subscribe via RSS by clicking on “Subscribe via RSS.”And please tell a friend. Thank you!

Your Priorities Don’t Matter

wewantyou-revisedBefore getting offended, please indulge me in pondering how you determine your daily priorities. Do you keep a constantly running daily list that plays in your brain like a Spotify playlist on repeat? Perhaps you follow a GTD-like system. Or maybe you track your priorities in Evernote. Maybe you are all about the tech, and therefore use one of the burgeoning number of productivity apps, including my favorite. Ah, you old school purist you, writing your priorities, to-do’s, or tasks on pen and paper – nice! Or maybe you don’t even bother.

What if I told you none of these techniques are making much impact compared to a concept I am about to introduce? Furthermore, what if I disclosed this idea is not my own? Oh come on – THAT should be no surprise!

Let’s discuss my source with a bit of background. My favorite audio podcast of late comes from the enchanted land of Missoula, Montana, where Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn reside. These two young thirty-somethings are known as THE MINIMALISTS. I mean hell, I have Eagles records older than these guys. But do not equate a paucity of facial wrinkles with a lack of hard-earned wisdom. In the last few years these guys have pumped out multiple books, a bevvy of thought-provoking essays you can find on their site, and a soon-to-appear documentary film. They have also attracted millions of worldwide followers, myself included. And no, itIMG_1949 is not because they tout a life of deprivation…ya know, like living out of your 15 year old Subaru, picking up nasty cigarette stubbies from the sidewalk in order to smoke the rest, slurping down stolen ketchup packets from the local Carl’s Jr. and of course meandering the streets of your local downtown wearing nothing but a Hefty trash bag as an overcoat while strumming on an old banjo because you just love your ‘Americana.’

Nope. To me anyway, their seeming mission is for each of us to consider a life filled with less in the way of needless physical possessions in order to become more inner directed, intentional and purposeful. I believe a huge reason for their popularity is simply due to their many examples and easily absorbed lessons on how we can increase our awareness, apply more focus on our health and relationships, and spend more time contributing to a greater good while living out our passions – simply by HAVING less. In contrast, perhaps our endless quest to acquire and maintain costly ‘collections’ of rapidly depreciating consumerist crap doesn’t do much more than drain our savings and fill our minds with useless clutter not to mention our local dumps with slowly decomposing mierda.

Arguably, these guys are not only self-proclaimed minimalists, but even more importantly are among the new breed of highly impactful personal development thinkers helping us to bring out the very best in ourselves. And this brings us back to the topic at hand.

“Our priorities are really how we spend our days. It’s what we do.”
– THE MINIMALISTS

Mother f’ing BOOM. Is there really any more to consider in relation to our priorities? This lifetime quotable comes from a shorter than usual podcast episode THE MINIMALISTS released early this week focused exclusively on priorities. You might opine, “Of course! What else could it be?” Great, and so how are you making this concept ‘real’ in your life? Because if you actually spent 50% or more of your time today building that upcoming Sales Kickoff presentation, and this was your intended priority, then you are on solid ground. But what if you spent four or more hours consuming long forgotten television ‘classics?’ Hey, if this is what you set out to do this morning, then rock on! But since I doubt this is the case…

Please do not fret, bunky. Here is a three step process to make this work for you. Put it to work for a week or a month. Come on, indulge me! Here is how.

Oops. First I need to reveal another source of inspiration for what I’m about to introduce in Step #2, Internet Marketer Eben Pagan. I ‘think’ I riffed this concept from his “Wake Up Productive” coaching product. Eben is worthy of a separate article ‘some day.’ Meanwhile, here are the three steps:

ONE – Each morning, take no more than five minutes and write on a piece of paper your top five priorities for the day. If it takes more than five minutes, then consider that what you’re writing out are not actual priorities.

TWO Attach time percentages to each of these priorities as follows: #1 gets 50%, #2 gets 25%, #3 gets 13%,#4 gets 6%, and #5 gets 3%. At this point I think you are getting the idea to spend the most time by far on your top priority, i.e., half of your workday. And you will likely start juggling the order of this list repeatedly. Good! Yes, I know you have this thing called a j-o-b with a boss who downloads her priorities into your brain, plus meetings, email, yadda yadda yadda. And sure, there is a strong argument to be made for spending plenty of time ‘managing up’ and making your manager’s priorities yours. But without the focus in applying Steps #1 and 2, you may inevitably fall victim to the numerous distractions that befall so many of us, thus serving as a lifetime disappointment to your manager, spouse, mother-in-law, kids, pets…

THREE – Each evening, take five-to-ten minutes and track what you actually spent your day doing. This is where the novel concept espoused by THE MINIMALISTS comes into play. Let’s say your morning intention is way off from your actual behavior for the first few days. This is beautiful in that it informs you of your opportunity for improvement, which can only lead to increasing your productivity if you follow through. For example…

Now you can investigate rituals such as removing unnecessary repeat meetings from your schedule, and routinizing minimal time blocks at set periods of each day for creating and responding to emails. With your newfound time, you can book the crappy conference room nobody ever reserves with the HVAC system that sounds like an ancient propellor plane, turn up some Groove Salad on your earbuds, turn off your phone and laptop notifications for anything at all, and fire up a few 25 minute Pomodoro rounds during which you focus on doing one thing.

I don’t know who our next President will be or whether more goodness or evil will prevail upon us as a result.

Will the S&P 500 end on an up or down note in 2016? Heck if I can figure that one out – I just do whatever Jim Cramer tells me to with my liquid fortune (but not really – yikes).

However, I am quite certain that following this three step method will help you become more intentional in identifying and living out your priorities every single freakin’ day. Of course these priorities matter. What you do always matters.

HUZZAH! 

Happiness? Who Gives A Crap!

Inside Out - SadnessI give up. I give up on “happiness.” I give up on happiness because I can’t define it. Sure, I can refer to a dictionary definition, but for me it is an abstract term.

How many times have you been asked if you’re happy? If you’re like me, the question instantly makes you self conscious, a bit nervous, and then maybe a lot anxious. “Wow, am I happy? What does happiness even feel like? What should happiness feel like? Have I ever been happy? WILL I ever be happy?”

Stop Trying to Be Happy and Start “Happy-ing”

Several years ago I attended a personal development seminar where I heard a neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) expert named Wyatt Woodsmall share his wisdom about how we humans think. The NLPers of the world will tell you that words like “happy” are indeed abstract terms, just like the word “fair.” What is “fair?” OK, that’s a topic for another day.

On the other hand, concrete nouns are literally ‘material things’ you can put in a wheelbarrow. Water. Stones. Flowers. iPhones. Bacon. Kittens. And yes, concrete. But you can’t put HAPPY in a wheelbarrow.

The NLPers will suggest that instead of focusing on the abstract noun that can mean so many different things to us, we ‘denominalize‘ the term by inserting an ‘ing’ at the end of it. Therefore we can think about what the act of ‘happy-ing’ encompasses rather than pondering our levels of so-called happiness.

For me, ‘happy-ing’ would include starting the day with a great cup of coffee, working out, taking an outdoor hike, spending time with my wife and daughter, laughing with friends, eating a simple and tasty meal, or listening to great music. Of course there is always the next Hawaii vacation, which is pretty much the cure for everything.

Better Yet, Give (Inner) Peace a Chance

In one of his former “Ask Altucher” podcast episodes, James Altucher spoke about the potential folly of striving for happiness because we tend to associate external circumstances we cannot control with our happiness levels. For some reason this concept really stuck with me. Therefore I am now taking James’ lead and focusing on ‘inner peace’ instead of happiness. Even though the term is still abstract, I have a much easier time defining what it means for me. Note: James Altucher called his desired state ‘well being.’ I will stick with ‘inner peace.’

Inner peace for me includes feelings and thoughts of ease, calmness, confidence, tranquility and harmony regardless of what is going on in the outside world and despite whatever obstacles I encounter. It is also the ability to consistently maintain self control. This is what I am striving for. I may not be able to accurately assess how happy I am at a given point in time, but I know for sure that if my heart is pounding while I’m luxuriating in a La-Z Boy Maverick Recliner looking at a bed of roses, I am not experiencing inner peace. Don’t get me wrong. I do not subscribe to denying or repressing emotions like sadness. For me, the biggest message of the stellar movie “Inside Out” was that each of our emotions serve us provided we harness rather than over-indulge in any one of them.

You can recognize people filled to the brim with ‘inner peace’ by what they don’t do. They do not destructively criticize, tear down, attack, tease, or gossip. In your job setting, they don’t needlessly share opinions and critiques, nor do they derail projects at the inevitable last minute. In short they don’t break glass or shit disturb.

Instead, they fill your bucket, act as empowering role models, and are consistently positive and self assured. In group settings they typically ask amazingly insightful open-ended questions. “What if we could…How can we….What do we need to do in order to….What’s the best way for us to…What can we learn from…?”

While they are often demanding, they wrap civility, respect and discrete humor around their urgency. They manage their time well, and are willing to help out as long as it doesn’t compromise their productivity.

Five Building Blocks for Inner Peace

How does one get to this seemingly unattainable level of inner peace? Hell if I know! But I believe it comes more easily through a combination of self-acceptance, present moment awareness, detachment, gratitude, and seeing the best in a situation or person.

Self-Acceptance: The best way to grasp this concept is to think of the opposite scenario – rejecting any part of oneself. Years ago I worked with a woman named Tina. She was fairly serious and took herself…fairly seriously. One time, in drawing one of many contrasts between her personality and mine, she said, “I never put myself down in any way. Even jokingly, I don’t engage in self-deprecation.” At the time, I thought she would have been better off removing the large metal pole from her behind, but in retrospect I appreciate her wisdom. This means accepting your imperfections. Of course you can and hopefully will strive to ‘do’ better and aspire to a higher standard. But it means being comfortable in your own skin and loving who you are right now with no put-downs. And speaking of right now…

Present-Moment Awareness: No ‘what if’thinking in dreading the future. No ‘if only’ thinking in regretting or getting pissed off about the past. It is about simply living in the ‘now.’ Yes, this is an insanely ideal state but there is a long road between spending eighty versus forty percent of one’s day not living in the future or the past. I’ll take the forty percent – thank you very much.

Detachment: This is a big one for me. It’s not just about detachment from ‘things’ but from negative thoughts, emotions, and yes, even people. “How important will XX be in 10 years?” is a great question to ask yourself because if you acknowledge its lack of importance, then why does ‘it’ have such a hold on you now?

Gratitude: Yes, I know…we hear this all the time. Practice gratitude yadda yadda yadda. “Yes, I’m grateful I can clench my fists and punch you in the nose.” Well hold on their sailor and take a deep breath! Again, let’s engage in a good old fashioned George Costanza ‘Do the opposite’ moment and see how far thanklessness, condemnation, and ingratitude takes us toward achieving inner peace. Being thankful for every little thing pulls you back into the present moment, which helps you in…

Seeing the Best in a Situation or Person: Do you ever notice those people who are highly adept at constantly reframing seemingly negative situations in the moment? We need to learn from them. Tony Robbins used to suggest asking the penultimate question when encountering a suboptimal scenario or personality, “What else could this mean?”

All of this seemingly platitudinal advice does not imply you need to don a flowing white robe, crank up the Enya, pull out the Tarot Cards and squirt patchouli oil all around your cube.

And of course aspiring to higher levels of inner peace doesn’t mean you should stop setting and attaining goals. In fact, I’d submit you are likely to think more clearly in defining what you want and will accomplish more in a state of relative ‘chill’ than when constantly behaving like the building is on fire.

This is the promise and potential of gaining more inner peace. Namaste.

 

Do We Really “Hate” Hillary More Than Hitler?

Clinton HItler

Violence: 70,800
Muslims: 56,200
Racism: 56,100
Jews: 53,800
Blacks: 31,400
Donald Trump: 23,100
Fox News: 20,100
Whites: 14,700
Mexicans: 13,200
Rand Paul: 12,900
Hillary Clinton: 8,640
Cruelty: 7,620
Willfull Ignorance: 4,480
Losing Money: 4,070
Ben Carson: 3,370
Bernie Sanders: 2,370
Adolf Hitler: 2,150
Ted Cruz: 2,170
Chris Christie: 2,130
PBS: 1,860
Jeb Bush: 1,660
Carly Fiorina: 692
Marco Rubio: 412
John Kasich: 338
Martin O’Malley: 65

Yup. This might be the article, if you want to call it that, which finally gets me some hate-filled comments. You see, I believe now more than ever in the power not just of our thoughts but also of our words, given that our words impact our thinking and vice-versa. There are a few words in particular we loosely throw around way way WAY too much in all walks of life.

1) Hate; 2) Idiot; 3) Disagree.

Arguably, “hate” is the most overused and damaging of all of them.

Now let’s talk about this list. The numbers above are an extremely unscientific series of Google queries, “I hate XXX,” with each of the preceding terms inserted instead of XXX. In addition to inserting most of our presidential candidates, I considered some of the most incendiary topics- and in almost all cases they’re incendiary for no good reason at all (!) – I could conjure up. I used quote marks for each search term to ensure the specific phrases were included in the results.

To all you seething analytics geeks out there, I don’t think there are any meaningful conclusions one can derive from these non-findings. At least I sure as hell hope there aren’t any, except for one. A lot of people are searching for hate-based topics.

Here is one of many flaws. Do we really think the hatred for Donald Trump is more than 10 times more pronounced than it is for Adolf Hitler, or are these search results compromised by a recency bias? In other words, how much is Adolf Hitler a theme in our current everyday thoughts and conversations versus Mr. Trump? Perhaps this is why legions of people, including myself, say “Never forget” in relation to one of the darkest moments of modern humanity.

An additional flaw is the “buzz factor” or lack thereof that sparks one to conduct a search query in the first place. To be blunt, and I mean no disrespect, Martin O’Malley probably wishes more people hated him, for if this were the case they would actually be thinking of him.

Yet still, my overall question is: Do we incite more hatred in politics, in our workplace, in our neighborhoods, in every day life, and most importantly in our own thoughts and minds by using the term “hate” as loosely and frequently as we do? Let’s not forget that while we cannot draw meaningful inferences by looking across these results, it’s pretty clear real ‘live’ human beings conducted these search terms, all of which used the word “hate.”

Therefore, I’m happy to inform you my mother was right all along in barking at me as a kid every time I said the word “hate.” I wonder if we should we impose upon ourselves a temporary “Don’t Say Hate” policy? I think so, because as powerful as words are they lose their potency if not used with discretion. If we lather “hate” on top of so many topics, then what word do we use during those rare instances where we may want to express complete disgust and disdain?

Last week I wrote about addiction and shed a bit of my personal light on alcohol addiction. Just as through overuse I can increase my alcohol tolerance to a level where gulping down a bottle of red wine is like what sucking down a few beers may have been in an earlier era, I can just as easily and habitually pepper my language and mindset with too much hating. And so can you. All it does is bring us down. As my wife says, hate carries so much negative energy. Therefore, why not pay much more attention to the use of the term. In her words, “Where do you go with something when you hate it? There is no path forward.”

We are now well into January and New Year’s Resolutions are so last week. Well, how about if we embark on a Seven Day “No Saying Hate” Cleanse we can begin right now? You are not allowed to say or even THINK the word “hate” for seven days. Yes, this includes those many seemingly lighthearted, “Oh I hate that” comments.

For me, this seven day exercise should be pretty easy. While I can be an abrasive mofo, my mother trained me well. In fact, the only things I ever express hatred for are interspersed in the list.

Violence. Racism. Cruelty. Willfull ignorance.

As for Hitler, he sparks more than hatred inside of me. It’s an at times all-encompassing and anxiety producing fear and lack of comprehension how in our very recent past such a despot could have persuaded so many to commit such an unthinkable evil that destroyed an absolutely mind-boggling shit ton of human lives. This doesn’t even take into account the multiple additional barbaric ethnic cleansing incidents around the world since World War II – all because of humans numbing themselves with too much hatred.

Enough.

 

On Becoming Less Addicted

leaving las vegas

Yesterday morning, while walking home after taking my daughter to our neighborhood elementary school, I watched 10 cars drive down our street. Of those automobiles, four were piloted by drivers with their faces turned sideways and downwards – completely glued to their smartphones as they were moving at speeds of at least 25 miles per hour. Typically this turns on my highly judgmental “rage cage” button. Instead, I decided to yet again revisit my thoughts about addiction.

Heroin, alcohol, lifting weights, love, sex, eating, kindness, anger, meth, pessimistic thinking, Internet, Facebook, work, television, news, Facebook, running, Facebook, complaining, meth, Facebook…

Aaaagh!!!

I wonder how blurry and ill-defined the term “addict” is. The first definition provided by Merriam-Webster? “A person who is not able to stop taking drugs : a person who is addicted to drugs.” And now let’s turn to dictionary.com: “a person who is addicted to an activity, habit, or substance: a drug addict.” I vastly prefer the dictionary.com definition as it is much broader.

That said, I know almost nothing about this topic. Please remember this as you read on. I am simply and ignorantly opining here.

Yes, people very close to me have suffered from alcoholism and are now…well…ummm…they are dead.

Yes, I’ve attended several AA meetings to learn more, out of fear I might be an alcoholic.

Changing subjects, yes, I’ve witnessed people at my gym who are ‘down to the bone’ emaciated and yet still spend two or more hours every single day grinding their bodies out further on elliptical machines.

I have far more questions than answers on this subject. But I have still identified 10 action steps that work somewhat — albeit not fully — for me.

ACTION STEP ONE: Conduct an addiction audit of your own life. What do you seem incapable of giving up? In other words, what are the areas in your life that cause psychological or physical pain if you attempt to let them go? Now, separate those areas into positive and negative. Here is a sampling for me:

Negative: Fear, anger, stress, alcohol, sweets, food, caffeine.

Positive: Exercise, music, personal development. There are many more here because I am so amazing.

Of course we can acknowledge that even our seemingly positive addictions can turn negative if taken too far, i.e., let’s say I love music so much I live in my own walled garden with a pair of acoustically awesome Audio-Technica headphones and isolate myself from society. Not good.

ACTION STEP TWO: Rate your negative addictions on a scale of 1 to 5. “1” means you believe the addiction causes minimal long-term damage to yourself and others. “5” implies the addiction is very harmful. Also consider how difficult it is to leave your habit behind for a day, a week, a month, forever. When I conduct this audit, alcohol tops the scale for me. How do I know that? Gee I don’t know, but 60 days in a row starting last November where I drank every single night, wistfully staring at the clock starting midday and waiting for 5 p.m. to arrive. To me this indicates the need for a pause.

ACTION STEP THREE: Resolve to only work on one addiction at a time. Perhaps you can group a couple of complementary addictions together. For example, you could abstain from alcohol for the first 30 to 60 days of a diet plan.

ACTION STEP FOUR: To strengthen your resolve, conduct a cost/benefit analysis and put it in writing. Example:

Benefits of boozing on up: Numbing, relaxing, I enjoy the taste, I feel more comfortable socially, I laugh more, I fall asleep faster.

Costs: It’s expensive, it causes weight gain, it reduces my physical energy, it harms my liver, it increases my risk of cancer, it increases my risk of heart disease, it increases my risk for experiencing anxiety and/or depression, it probably causes some form of brain damage, and left completely unchecked it can lead to an existence none of us want to experience.

ACTION STEP FIVE: Now that you’re focused on a single addiction and are convinced the costs outweigh the benefits, it’s time to identify the most frequently occurring adverse life situations that cause you to indulge. For example, it is the end of the day. I may be tired, stressed, scared, angry, bored, and/or indulging in self-deprecation. What do I turn to? A lovely bottle of IPA followed by copious amounts of red wine is a great short term fix and a sub-optimal long term one.

ACTION STEP SIX: Write down several healthy substitute activities, i.e., take a brisk walk, do push ups, read, laugh, spend time with your kid, work on a project you’re passionate about, and most importantly breathe deeply. To that end, mindfulness, and more specifically meditating, is pretty much the answer to everything in life. Learning to reduce the number of thoughts in your head by focusing on the now, and over time gaining an increased ability to consciously direct your thinking over prolonged periods of time can only be beneficial.

ACTION STEP SEVEN: Get stoic and just say NO. I mean seriously, billions of people are starving on our planet. Poverty is still so widespread. War torn nations? We’ve got ‘em a plenty. Therefore I think I can live without a fecking cocktail or four. 

ACTION STEP EIGHT: A classic AA technique is to chunk down: “One day at a time.” And you can take it further — one hour, one minute….To that end, earlier as I wrote this section I was sitting in a coffee shop in Redwood City, California staring at a slightly bearded dude who is one of the Dads in our Mom’s Group. I hadn’t seen him in several weeks. Before we engaged in a hearty and amicable (imagine that) conversation about politics, he casually mentioned how “the ladies” had consumed a few cocktails last night. And I self-righteously responded that I’m taking one of my several pauses from booze. He asked, “How long are you doing it, Steve — 30 days?” And I responded, “This time out I have no idea how far I’m taking this, but for today I am not drinking.”

ACTION STEP NINE: Practice the highest level of self love and self acceptance you can. Do whatever it takes to become more informed on this subject and live it. This is because there is no “perfect.” As a result the more you butcher yourself for your imperfections, the further away from perfection you will inevitably land. While I don’t subscribe to letting yourself off the hook when you fall down, self-loathing doesn’t work. In practicing self acceptance, honor your journey, your struggle, your challenge – whatever you’d like to call it. Find a positive meaning in what you’re doing. Don’t be glib, cynical or derogatory. Instead, try being grateful, which may start with thanking yourself for mustering the courage to give it another shot.

ACTION STEP TEN: Finally, and this is the area where I have the biggest opportunity for improvement: reach out for help. It’s interesting how in the personal development world, the term “accountability partner” is so prominent. These are the people who check in on you daily or weekly to ensure you are doing what you said you would. How many people do you know – and this could be you – who won’t workout unless it’s with a trainer because she or he keeps them on track. At work, it’s the daily check in meeting. Everyone is in some conference room named for a reptillian rock band (“Hey man, I booked us into Jefferson Airplane“) staring at the same Google Sheet projected onto a 60 inch Samsung LED screen. Your name is on each of the deliverables from Rows 37-45. Well, did you get ’em done? DID YOU?? You didn’t??? YOU. SUCK.

Go find someone to hold you accountable now — a friend, a stranger, a group, a cause, your spouse.

And to that end, thanks for supporting me honey. I love you! Yes, I remember last night when you suggested I not write about this topic. I just couldn’t help myself.