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Remember when I was talking about how we all are part of our own narrative? About how we can write our own stories, and live our lives with a perspective of our own choosing – being the hero, the victim, the villain, even the comic relief if we want?

There’s a reason that trick works:

We’re making it all up.

The whole idea that “the world is out to get me” has to be founded on a completely ridiculous notion: that somehow “the world” is separate from “me.” It’s kind of like the silliness of “mind/body” type stuff – the “mind” is just a bunch of firing electrons, governed by genetics, hormones, environment, conditioning, all sorts of other things. It’s not “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”, it’s more “the spirit is willing because the part of the flesh that creates the spirit is weak.” That’s why diets don’t work.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. Stop me if you’ve heard this one:

Wordsworth, David Whyte, Mark Manson, and Stuart Townsend Go Into a Bar…

…or, in a better version, they walk into my brain via a few different media.

In his book The Three Marriages: Love, Work, and Self, the poet David Whyte talks about a particular scene painted by an earlier poet, the aptly-named Wordsworth*:

The sea was laughing at a distance; all
The solid mountains were as bright as clouds,
Grain-tinctured, drenched
And in the meadows and the lower grounds
Was all the sweetness of a common dawn-
Dews, vapours, and the melody of birds

– Wordsworth: The Prelude 1805 Version Book IV


Whyte talks about how this tableau took the Victorian poet to a different kind of awareness, an acceptance of his place in the Big Picture of things and even further into his life’s calling as a poet. Whyte further stipulates that it is through this kind of understanding that you can better understand how best to find your fulfillment in life:

“Life can find you only if you are paying close attention to something other than your own concerns, if you can hear and see the essence of otherness in the world, if you can treat the world as if it is not just a backdrop to your own journey, if you can have a relationship with the world that is based not on triumphing over it or complaining about it. When something beautiful and overwhelming like a waterfall or the morning light on the moutainside takes us outside our worries we are put in a privileged position that is far more than the ability to appreciate a good view.”

– David Whyte, The Three Marriages (emphasis added)

The Confidence Man

When I heard that word “privilege” (as I was listening to the book read by the author, which I highly recommend) my brain took it in a less flattering direction: the constant arguments and reminders of the intersections of “privilege” that we all have to some degree. One of the uncomfortable aspects of examining your own privilege is that it can create a crisis of confidence – we no longer feel quite as sure of ourselves, and there’s this really sour feeling that life is not as fair as we’re taught it needs to be.

To combat this there are a zillion books and articles about how to boost your confidence, using affirmations and twisted logic (from Gamergate to Meghan Murphy**) and all manner of ideas. A solution that resonated with me comes from the blogger Mark Manson, who wrote:

No, the solution to the confidence conundrum is not to feel as though you lack nothing and delude yourself into believing you already possess everything you could ever dream. The solution is to simply become comfortable with what you potentially lack. – Mark Manson

It may be a stretch, but I believe that in a way you get both the lack and the completeness when you are able to find that place that Wordsworth and Whyte are talking about. When you look into a child’s smiling eyes, when you deliver that combo that takes down the Boss Level, when you really lose yourself in the flow of the writing or the feel of the dancing – when, as Stuart Townsend phrased it, “you don’t play the music, you play the song” – that’s when you are confident because you are not the center of the universe.

Instead, you realize there is no center – there’s just everything, and you’re a part of it.

Not that I think it’s terribly easy to do that for more than a split second. Then all the attachments you have to the rest of life come crashing back down, the dirty diapers, the bills, the problematic chapters and the confusing change to 5/4 meter.

But wow. That split second. That sure is something.

  • I really hope, when I have another grandchild, my daughter names them “Blogsworthy”

  • *Oh Great Blog-God, please protect me from the dangerous flames of mentioning both of these names in the same post!

I mentioned in a past post that I really need to work on my practice of sleeping.

Later I got a very friendly email from a bloke named Wally, telling me that he had read the article, liked it, and thought that you (my erstwhile readers) might benefit from a smorgasbord of sleep tips he’d created on his site. I read his post – “50 Ways to Beat Insomnia” – and he’s right. There’s a lot of really useful tips, which I’ve read in many different places, all compiled in one easy place. What makes it even more appealing was that he backs up his tips with the scientific sources where possible – something that appeals to my inner skeptic.

I Almost Didn’t Post It

Why? Because the URL, if you look at it, is “whatisthebest-mattress.com.” Which on a certain level offends my purist blogger sensitivities, because it’s a URL designed to grab search engine traffic. It’s the grandfather of clickbait, back when people were trying to game Google and other search engines (yes, at one time there were actually other search engines) into sending traffic their way.

Google is a lot of things, and dumb is not one of them. A lot of the techniques people used back then at the turn of the millenium to try and “trick” the algorithms were quickly discovered and blocked, often with severe penalties (I once had to talk a client out of trying a technique he’d read about online because if he’d done it, Google would have blacklisted his site.

Now it’s gotten to the point where a person can actually make money helping companies find good, easy, and memorable site names (such as, ahem, LoveLifePractice.com). Not because they are hoping that Google will find them; no, you want a name that is easy to remember and type into a browser so that people can easily talk about you. Think about the problem that Wally has: how does he easily tell people his site? “whatisthebest (all one word) hyphen mattress dot com” doesn’t roll trippingly from the tongue.

It’s Not About Links. It’s About People.

Instead, though, Wally found my blog – probably from a Google search engine auto-notifier that saw the word “tired” – and reached out to me directly. Yes, it may have been a form letter – but he’s right, you know, there are some good things in there. In fact, here’s five practices (yes, this is actually a blog about practice) that I’m going to be working on to improve my sleep:

 

  1. Chamomile Tea – One of the many benefits of living with Natasha is that she knows her teas. More to the point, she probably knows how to make a tea that will help me sleep and taste ok.
  2. Meditation – While I already do meditation in the morning, for a while Natasha and I were also doing a meditation before bed. Renewing that practice may help both of us sleep better.
  3. Avoid TV – We are notorious for the “Well, we have to get up in 7 hours, but we can handle one more episode” kind of binge-watching that shows like Longmire and Justified tend to inspire. Cutting off TV emphatically 8 hours before we have to get up is a start.
  4. Avoid Late Night Snacking – It’s kind of a catch-22 – often, in order to stay awake through the aforementioned “one more episode“, we will snack. It’s not terrible snacks – often carrots and hummus – but still, maybe we could listen to our bodies when they say “sleepy” and not hear “hungry“.
  5. Nighttime Ritual – This one will be both the easiest and the hardest, I think. I already have a good set of morning protocols, so I’m not unfamiliar with the process. And we already have some bedtime customs that will fit into the “ritual” idea pretty easily. But we don’t have a terribly regular schedule, and it will be hard to keep events from interrupting. Wally recommends “Repeat the routine for at least a week to get into the habit before you allow changes in schedule to interfere with it.” A week? That I can do.

That’s why I’m suggesting that you do actually visit WhatIsTheBest-Mattress.com. Because even though it is designed to make money, it’s designed to make money by giving people what they need. I had already decided that I needed better sleep (based a bit on James Altucher’s work) and he gave me a head start on how to work on that.

A while back a friend complained about podcasts that talk about other podcasts. He couldn’t understand why they had to do that. I don’t think I really was able to explain it well enough to convince him, but it’s another part of this: the big failure of the internet is that old marketing doesn’t work. The new marketing is about people talking to people they trust and helping them find the things they need.

That’s why, on Wednesday, you’re going to read my review of the Stash Belt, and it won’t be about security or emergency cash or even anything that they expect their customers to write about. It’s going to be about how my StashBelt helped me feel very happy about myself, make another person’s day, and in general contributed to an Abundance Mindset.

If that’s the economic model of the digital age – at least this particular corner of it – I’m ok with that.

 

This Love.Life.Practice Weekend Roundup podcast also contains readings of the following posts:

This podcast was produced by Gray Miller Creative LLC.

This interview and podcast is made possible by support from my patrons. You can be as cool as them by becoming a Patron of Love Life Practice or making a one-time donation in any amount via cash.me/$graymiller.

Yes! I support LoveLifePractice!

If you like this podcast, would you please recommend it to your friends? Send them a link to iTunes or a link to the podcast feed – or tweet about it!

Send feedback, questions, or suggestions for guests I might interview to gray@lovelifepractice.com.

 

 

New Episode of the Love Life Practice Weekend Roundup Podcast!

Antifragile Love

“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness.
The resilient resists shocks and stays the same;
the antifragile gets better.”
– Nasim Taleb

“We’ll Get Through This.”

Comforting words, yes? Whether you’re hearing them from your doctor or your lover or your spelunking buddy, it’s a nice thing to know. In particular it’s a nice place to be when you’re in love with someone and something goes wrong.

When you first enter a relationship, it’s a tenuous place. The combination of hyperfocus and emotional rawness makes every moment that you’re not in contact an agony, and every text or phone call a rush of dopamine-fueled thrill. At the same time there’s a feeling of fear proportional to the amount of pain you still feel from the last time you were in a relationship. It’s called being “head over heels” for a reason.

After a while, though, that fear usually goes away, replaced by a particular level of security where you don’t need to worry quite as much. Where the thrill of the new is replaced by the comfort of the familiar and you’ve managed that transition without making the mistake of thinking it is love fading away (been there, done that). You recognize that love changes, and it feels comforting. It feels safe.

And that’s a trap.

courtesy of Julia P. via Flickr CC

The Chimera of Self-Criticism?

Not the love – that’s fine. The trap is the feeling that the comfort is a “safe” place. Because what it really means is that you are letting your guard down and opening the way for the Taking For Granted Monster. The Demon of Miscommunication. The Spectre of Ennui. For any number of things that make you more vulnerable for when things do go wrong.

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t enjoy the comfort of a relationship – it’s a wonderful thing. But when you reach that point of stability, what if you went further – allowed it to deepen? What if you both identified the weak points and built them up, or chose intimate goals that you could work on together? I’m not sure it’s enough to simply “endure” the bad times – because there’s no telling when the bad times will stop, or even if they will. If all you are doing is being resilient and surviving, I suspect it will diminish the quality of any relationship.

On the other hand, working on becoming “antifragile” means that when the hard times hit – and they will – you instead greet them with bared teeth and a feral roar, knowing that they are opportunities for your relationship to get stronger than you ever imagined. You use that familiarity as a weapon against the stresses, leaning on your partners when you need it and supporting them when they fall short, and hobbling along together when you’re both not at your best. Love becomes not a status you wear but rather the framework on which everything else is built – and if the time comes that all the outer manifestations are torn away, the love remains, stronger than ever.

In other words, it’s not about just “getting through it.” It’s about moving beyond it. Together.

Like this post? How about becoming a patron or making a one-time donation?

 

Lifehacking a Path

…every man who is his own lawyer, has a fool for a client
– The Flowers of Wit by Henry Kett, 1814

Over the past month I’ve been practicing what I preach – namely, getting help. While I have been called upon to coach and counsel many people and organizations both professionally and personally, when it comes to my own personal development it is not always so easy to find your way through things. For smaller things, like “meditate every day, sure, it’s no big deal to set a reminder on the phone and make sure your butt is on the floor every morning.

But what about bigger things? Things like “re-wire your brain so that you have a better relationship with money? Or “figure out why you keep self-sabotaging your writing”? For those kinds of things you might need an outside voice. Call it a study buddy, a lifecoach, a mentor, or a MasterMind Group, it’s a cross between accountability and support that has helped many people get further in their goals.

The Life Makeover Coaching Funnel

lifecoachAfter listening to one of the James Altucher podcasts where he interviewed T. Harv Eker, I found myself curious enough to dip my toe into the “free” content he was offering – specifically a “webinar” about designing your life.

Now, before you roll your eyes, please know I was rolling mine as well. I understand the “freemium” model of marketing, as well as the concept of “sales-funnel”. It’s a scientific process with things like honey-trap pages and artificial urgency (“Order in the next hour or you may miss out!”) and over-valuation (“Coaching sessions like these normally cost $253 each, but we’ll give it to you for $97 if you order NOW!”). I’m a bad capitalist myself; I can’t quite bring myself to use those methods.

On the other hand, they do work, even when you’re realizing they’re being used on you. Even as I marveled at the circular logic of “If you don’t think you can afford this, you should ask yourself: when will I make the change that will make it affordable?” I was rationalizing that even if the coaching didn’t work on me, it would be a valuable lesson in how my own style of coaching works in comparison, and reaching for my wallet.

Creating a Path

I’ve had a month of the sessions so far, and they are remarkably simple. T. Harv Eker has a particular method he uses to identify areas where you want to improve, create strategies to improve them, and then track how it happens. It’s a rote form so flexible that it doesn’t matter if you come into the session brand new or you’ve been doing the program for years – you all follow the same model.

That kind of simplicity definitely makes someone like me say: I could just do this myself. And I’m right – I could. The thing is, I didn’t. Much like the sales techniques, even when you understand the motivational techniques for behavior change they are using on you they still work. In the past month I’ve made great strides in several projects that were stalled as well as insights into problems that seemed insurmountable.

It’s not to say things are fixed. When your goals are things like “changing neural pathways” they don’t happen all at once. But at the same time, having a framework to set your intentions on makes a huge difference in how stressful a problem seems. It’s the difference between being lost in a jungle completely surrounded by tangled vines and branches, with no idea which direction leads out – and being in that same jungle but seeing a path leading…somewhere. Even if you don’t know where the path leads, just having a path makes all the difference.

Especially when you are on that path with others. I’ve been very grateful in past weeks as several people who enjoy this blog have shared their micro-changes and their own personal journeys that these words help fuel. Please share!

It is great to hear validation about certain practices I have as well as exploring new ideas on how I can improve my own journey. – Traeonna

I’ve talked a lot about the many benefits – both personal and reported – of meditation. It’s one of the few lifehacks that both lives up to the reputation and has been relatively simple to do consistently.

Soto zen meditation, as I’ve mentioned, is not very fancy. You don’t get to chant, you don’t get to visualize, you really aren’t even supposed to focus on the breath (though that is kind of the “training wheels” version of sitting when the monkey brain takes you off the rails.

Instead, you’re expected to Just Sit There – to experience the world exactly as it is, no filters, no assumptions, no baggage. Of course, you don’t actually get there – even the “enlightened” tend to say they only experience satori for a moment – but the view of the world does change.

Resilience Fuel

Over the past few weeks the feeling I’ve gotten from meditation was that it was a refueling of my resilience. Kind of like the Green Lantern charging his ring at the the Power Battery, every morning that fifteen minutes of sitting was fifteen minutes of not stressing about money, about work, about deadlines or relationships or blog posts – my job, for that fifteen minutes, was just to be sitting there.

Recently I realized that the feeling was actually even more than refueling. I was experiencing the world a bit more directly, stepping outside of the set of assumptions I call “My Life” and the thought came to me: I can handle it. For some reason all of the hectic things and hopes and disappointments seemed…bearable. It felt, as I “experienced” my world, for just that moment, that I could meet and survive any obstacle that might come my way.

Self-Defense

Of course, shortly after that thought – the same day, in fact – I ran into some stresses that I did not handle well. In fact, I behaved rather spectacularly badly, hurting people I cared about with some thoughtless words and emails. At first there was a lot of recrimination, beating myself up – but after a surprisingly short time the you suck, Gray! inner monologue was replaced with Did you do what you could to mitigate the damage? Yes? Then try not to do it again. And like coming back to the breath after a monkey-mind detour, I came back to trying to live my life with the solid understanding that I am human and just as capable of thoughtless mistakes as the next hominid.

So those were the two unexpected benefits of meditation I found this week: One, Life doesn’t seem so overwhelming. You get the feeling that you can handle it, even with some grace.

And two, when you’re wrong and you don’t handle it gracefully at all, you don’t beat yourself up about it quite as much.

How about you? If you meditate, has there been anything that has surprised you, positively or negatively? And if you don’t meditate…what do you think might change if you did?

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This Love.Life.Practice Weekend Roundup podcast also contains readings of the following posts:

This podcast was produced by Gray Miller Creative LLC.

This podcast includes an interview with Dan Taylor of Expressive Consulting. He shares his tips for teaching, presenting, and traveling. He includes one of his favorite pieces of gear: Eagle Creek Packing Bags

This interview and podcast is made possible by support from my patrons. You can be as cool as them by becoming a Patron of Love Life Practice or making a one-time donation in any amount via cash.me/$graymiller.

Yes! I support LoveLifePractice!

If you like this podcast, would you please recommend it to your friends? Send them a link to iTunes or a link to the podcast feed – or tweet about it!

Send feedback, questions, or suggestions for guests I might interview to gray@lovelifepractice.com.

 

 

New Episode of the Love Life Practice Weekend Roundup Podcast!

Unlikely Love

Never tell me the odds. – Han Solo

There’s a friend of mine, who I care about a lot, and who I’ve known for years, who used to be sure he would live his life alone. He knew he was a nice guy, he was successful at his job, but he figured that the odds of finding someone who could match his particular set of quirks and also find him attractive was so amazingly small that, realistically, it just wouldn’t happen. Being a very smart man, he devoted his time to figuring out how to be happy without a love interest in his life, because why worry about something with no chance of ever occurring?

He was absolutely right – about the odds, that is. Via Maria Popova’s blog we can find a great little video on the likelihood of anyone finding a love interest, in fact. The scientific formula has a whole lot of “N’s” and “subs” in it, delineating the various factors that go into the imagined partner, some of which are controllable (like residence and education) and some of which aren’t (like biological gender or sexual preference). What it comes down to, though, is a lovely little realistic quote:

“The more rules you make for how you define love, the fewer special people there are out there for you to find.”

…which is why my friend is now happily married with children. Because while he’s great with words, he apparently sucks at statistical love analysis. He’s not alone in that; there are lots of other videos and articles about the idea of scientifically attempting to figure out love. This one is my favorite, and a digital strategist named Amy Webb actually succeeded.

TMI

However, one of the problems with taking a statistical approach is that it commodifies the un-commodifiable. While it’s useful to try and find the love in places where people you love are likely to be, that’s far more a reflection of you being in the places you enjoy being rather than trying to make someone fit into a mold. In fact, knowing too much about your potential partner can be a very bad thing, as you learn in the article Why You Should Stop Googling Your Dates:

“Technology makes it very easy to eliminate people on the basis of what, in the grand picture of a relationship, might end up being a pretty negligible point,” says Nicole B. Ellison, Ph.D., an associate professor of information at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who explains that the treasure trove of data available via social media sites has encouraged people to treat their dating options like a shopping experience. 

“You’re trying to suss out: Will this person and I have a connection? Actually, there is no evidence that we can assess that online,” says Eli J. Finkel, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, whose research on online dating shows that misconceptions are rampant. “You think you know what you want, but what you really need is to sit across from each other and get a beer.”

All of the same things that trigger our “fear of missing out” come to bear when we look at people through the filter of their online presence. You have many options, you focus on the one thing that you don’t like and overlook the things you do or the reverse. You create what a past girlfriend and I used to call the “head-you.”

At the time we were dating long-distance, and during the times apart (this was pre-text message days) we often would have hypothetical conversations with each other in our heads. We didn’t have time for many phone calls, either, so often when we did reunite there was a jarring time while our imagined ideas of each other reconciled with the real people we were. When you’re looking online at someone you don’t know well, you get all kinds of facts and impressions with no holistic context.

In short, someone who seems totally unsuitable on screen may be a beautiful love. And someone who seems perfect according to their profile may be completely unsuitable in person. The only way to know is to take the chance and find out. Yes, it’s a risk; you have to take the chance of being hurt to get the chance of being loved. Most of the time, though, I think it’s worth it.

"The End of the Trail"

It’s actually kind of sad how much this statue has always resonated for me.

Tired is OK

The last week has been a busy one – two open-space conferences facilitated in two different cities, two interviews for podcasts I produce and one where I was the person being interviewed, all the regular client work plus some emotional situations in personal relationships. At the end, though, everything ended up in a satisfactory place, and on the day I was supposed to fly home from Rochester my host noticed that I looked a little worn out.

“You ok?” she asked.

“Oh, I’m just operating on momentum right now.” We were on our way to a social gathering with the board members of her local community group – not something we really had the energy for, but protocol and politeness dictated that we pay our respects.

“Yeah, you look pretty tired,” she agreed. “Is there anything I can do to help that? Caffeine? Food?”

I smiled and said “Nope. I’m ok being tired. I’ve earned it.”

The Fight Against Fatigue

I had. It’s funny that we will often talk about how good “the burn” is from exercise, or use one of the many repetition-to-failure regimens, but don’t tend to look at it from the bigger-picture perspective.

Remember that muscles don’t grow during a workout, only during rest periods following exercise. If you don’t allow your body to recover, you won’t see the benefits of your workouts. – ACE Fitness

Why don’t we allow the same type of philosophy to apply to the rest of our lives? Instead we have things like Red Bull Gives Us Wings! and articles like ”How to survive the workday when youre completely exhausted.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that kind of pick-me-up now and again. The problem is when you (and by “you” I of course mean “me”) see these as long-term strategies instead of emergency measures.

My own achilles heel is in the realm of sleep: I tend to minimize the effects of very little sleep, even though I know better. I want to think that I can be fine with six hours of sleep; I wish I could go down to four; I’ve even played around with the idea of doing a polyphasic sleep schedule due in large part to the writings of Nancy Kress.

Luckily for my partner Natasha, I have done enough research to see that there is far more promise in the idea of improving my sleep than there is in the idea of doing without it. Kind of like diet: if you’re eating bad food, the solution is not to eat no food, it’s to eat better.

Life is tiring; it requires energy, and it uses up energy, and if you find yourself nodding off or longing for your bed, instead of fighting the urge, listen to what your body – and your life – are telling you. Maybe it’s Hey, good workout! on a macro scale. Or maybe it’s Hey, this really isn’t sustainable and it’s time to look at what you can change.

Me, I’m looking hard at sleep, and how I can get better at it. Supposedly there’s a lot of ways to make that work; got any suggestions?

Get a Pen and Paper: Pop Quiz!

Today’s bonus question: what did you do today that you also did yesterday? Can you think of anything?

Let’s make it a little harder: did you do it the day before? Did you do it last week?

If it is difficult to think of something, maybe you’re trying too hard. Take something simple: I showered. I ate pizza. I meditated. Write it down, along with as many other things you can think of.

imageOK, now for another list – go ahead, start a new sheet of paper. This time, write down the three most important things that you think you should be doing. Your big goals, the projects that you dream of, the things that you say you’ll get to when things “calm down” (such a lovely euphemism!).

Again, don’t think too hard; you can put something big like “Work on my Great Novel” or something small like “Floss“.

Last step, I promise: for each of those three things, put a little check mark next to it for every concrete time you can remember actually doing it. By concrete, I mean that you actually have a date in your mind that you remember doing the thing. I remember opening the rough draft file last thursday is concrete. I think maybe I exercised yesterday – no, wait, was that the day before? is not so concrete.

The Grade You’ve Made

Take a look at the list. What you’re looking at is possibly a stark contrast. Your Every Day Practices – EDP, to borrow some geek traditions – are the reality of what you value, of what your priorities are.

I am not saying they are what is important to you – it’s entirely possible that something like “eat healthy” is important to you. At the same time, when pizza comes your way, it becomes a priority, and so you eat some – perhaps even doing it with a thought of I’ll just work out extra tomorrow. Aside from the fact that the caloric value of that slice is much more than you likely expect, unless exercise is somewhere high on the first list or has a lot of check marks on the second then you are basically engaging in a cheese-laden form of self-sabotage.

Don’t feel bad; most of us do it at one time or another. It’s through lists like these that we learn our patterns, and then get to choose what we want to change. It really doesn’t matter which list you decide to adjust – it’s just kind of important that your actions align, to some extent, with your intent.

Otherwise you’re basically flailing about like Alice and the Red Queen, running as fast as you can to stay in the same place.

Surely you owe yourself better than that?

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