Digital Craft Time…
On my schedule, it says “Writing”, and has for the last hour and a half. However, I’ve been doing something else, something that was inspired yet again from Chris Brogan’s The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth.
In this case, it’s in the section called “Make Your Own Compass“. “Write down maybe five to seven reminders you need to focus on daily.” Then he gets bossy:
And I don’t mean that you should think, “Hey, I’ll do this later.” I mean stop what you’re doing and make a compass right now.
As you might guess, I think you should do that as well. So don’t click until you’ve done it. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
Mantra? I barely know ya!
If you’re like me, words like “mantra” and “affirmation” tend to leave a bad taste in your mouth. The problem I’ve always had with them is that life is far more complicated than a simple aphorism can usually handle. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you“, for example, may be golden but doesn’t apply so well if you’re a personal trainer, a surgeon, or a childcare provider. If you’re response is that it’s more of a generalization – “Be nice to each other” – I would argue that first that’s not always the case (a police officer, for example, making an arrest) and second that the usefulness of the mantra becomes diluted to the point of uselessness when you’re generalizing life into big categories like “Be nice.“
Then again, I tend to be cynical. There’s a reason this blog’s motto starts with the word “Practical”. Mantra’s seem like a cop out, a way to avoid the realities of life in favor of some simplistic phrase.
At the same time, I love things like the artist True’s culture-jamming art installation on the MTA in the late 90’s. Titled “Life Instructions”, he took the banal warning stickers so ubiquitous in the subway and subtly replaced them:
I am not sure why I am so enamored of the project. It could be argued to not only be very mantra-ish and also somewhat dangerous (what if someone didn’t know how to evacuate because they were too busy striving to be happy?). I think perhaps it is because these types of signs become so ubiquitous in our world as to blend into the scenery and go unnoticed. On the other hand, changing things up just slightly – having the subway suddenly take an interest in your psychological health, for example – seems to be the kind of rapturist (the opposite of a terrorist, that is, with a goal of joy rather than terror) act that could turn someone’s day around.
“…instructions you give yourself repeatedly to reset your thoughts and clear your frustrations.” – Chris Brogan
That’s his definition, and when you put it that way, I can actually get behind it. In thinking about that part of his new book, I realized that I do have a mantra. In fact, it’s one that I created almost a decade ago, when life was quite different. I had sat down with my then-partner and going through a goal-setting exercise with her.
She was very much into goal-setting – still is, in fact. Me, on the other hand, I tend to believe pretty strongly in the inevitability of change. Considering that I currently make a living doing work that didn’t even remotely exist ten years ago, much less twenty, setting long-term destinations has never seemed to be useful to me. Still, I was a man in love, and so I was working through the goalsetting with her.
The goals have long since been forgotten. But another part of the process was creating a mantra or motto that you would put up in order to help you along the way. The mantra I came up with, after much thought, was:
Dance. Don’t Scramble.
Which, upon reflection, could be simplified to simply “Dance.” Why have a couple of negative words in the motto, when one positive one will work? It was a reminder that while life was motion, dance was intentional motion, and by remembering to move with intent I could handle the obstacles in my way with grace and, dare I say it, aplomb.
I don’t have a nifty set of iconographic stickers to remind me – though I know of a lot of people who get tattoos for exactly that purpose. For now, though, this image of one of my heroes reminds me of the many possibilities a dancer creates:
Do you have a mantra that works for you? How do you keep it in the forefront of your actions? I’d really like to know…
Love Hack, Baby, Love Hack!
“It starts in the language. If you claim to hate doing invoices, they’ll never get easier to do. Instead, say “I love the grind. I love getting paid. I’m going to get this done so I can do other stuff I love, too.” – Chris Brogan
Chris Brogan is one of my heroes, not the least because he’s the most Internet-Famous person I can claim to actually be friends with. In case you’re wondering, he’s every bit as ebullient and fun to talk to in person as he is to listen to speak or to read.
Much to my surprise, by page 20 (kindle) I was reaching for paper and pen to start making my own notes. He was talking about the difference between “willpower” and “discipline”, but that’s a topic for another day (Monday, maybe). However, he did outline several steps for building discipline, and the first one resonated:
“Change Your Program”
I’ve always been resistant to the idea of affirmations, ever since my parents gave me “The Power of Positive Thinking” as a young man. It’s awful easy for those words to go from encouragement to accusation to guilt, as research has shown. But Chris wasn’t talking about that; instead, he was talking about accepting that you might not like something, but finding some effect that you did like can help you power through it.
I’m thinking of as fine-tuning what you love. Do I love yoga? You know the answer to that. What I do love is the feeling of my shoulders and arms feeling loose and competent, and the feeling of walking up the staircase to our apartment without pain in my knees. Do I love doing my financial spreadsheet every month? Not in the slightest. But I love being able to check it off the weekly SitRep meeting that I have with one of my partners. Even more, I love realizing that there have been entire weeks that I haven’t worried about money – for the first time in as far back as I remember.
In other words, if there’s something you don’t like doing that needs to be done, don’t lie to yourself. Don’t tell yourself it’s actually fun, or good, or that you should like it.
Instead, how about focusing on why you’re doing it, and why you love those effects. Seriously, try it out. Right now, with pen and paper, write down that thing you don’t want to do, and then write down what it is that you love about it being done.
It should be easy. If it’s not…then maybe you need to rethink that thing you think you need to do. Because if there’s no reason why, then maybe there’s something better you could do?
“Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words! I get words all day through; first from him, now from you!” – Eliza Doolittle, My Fair Lady
Yesterday I got an email from Chris Brogan. He reminded me (ok, and about a zillion other email list subscribers) that the time has come for the Three Words. Roughly speaking, they are supposed to be the words that describe the themes you want to focus on for the upcoming year. He’s been doing this for years, and occasionally I’ve tried it as well – “Beauty. Grace. Passion.” was a pretty interesting year, for example. And as you’ll see from the title of this blog, I’m a big fan of the triplet.
I was extra excited when I saw that one of his words for 2012 is going to be Practice. Hey, Chris, have I got a blog for you! He’s written a lot of neat posts about the idea, but in this case he says “And by that, I mean to honor this sentiment: “the practice is the reward.” He has some interesting ideas on how to do that, with weekly, monthly, and yearly challenges and goals.
The problem with coming up with three words to try and sum up your principles and direction for the entire next year is one of accuracy. For example, one of the words I thought of using was “money“. That’s kind of a shallow goal, though, right? Besides, I really don’t have any problem making money; it’s my general relationship with it, one of antagonism and scarcity, that is the problem. After some thought, I decided that “abundance” would be a better word.
Abundance? If you’re like me, hearing that word set off the WooWoo alarms in your head. What does that even mean? It’s slapped on so many different things these days that it can mean everything from the plushiness of toilet paper to the divine grace of the Lord and Savior. If money is too broad, then abundance is too…abundant. Amorphous. Imprecise.
And if I’m having that much trouble with one word, how the hell am I supposed to come up with three? That will last the whole year?
Letting It Be OK
The answer is to remember one of the wisest things a friend ever said to me: you can change your mind. It’s ok to use the word “abundance” as long as I know what I mean by it, because this is my guiding word. I’m the only one who needs to understand it. If I find a better word later on that better expresses my intention, I can use it. If I find that my pursuit of abundance is not working well for me (hey, it could happen) I can always decide on something less , like monster trucks.
I think some of the time we avoid these kinds of exercises – goalsetting, guiding words, any kind of long-term planning – simply because we worry about failure. We worry about letting ourselves down, about saying to a friend “I’m going to lose weight!” and then feeling like we’ve let them down when we’re sharing their birthday cake. For some reason, we seem to think we can foresee what is going to come in the next year, what we and those we love are going to need.
Guess what? We can’t. It’s like telling an early explorer “Hey – draw me a map of that place you’re heading towards. I want to know what’s there, so I know what to expect.” How accurate is that going to be? What you can do is look at where you’ve been, look at where you might go, and express an intention. I intend to cultivate an attitude of abundance – the idea that there are plenty of resources available to me to live a wonderful life. I may do that in ways that look goofy, like throwing my pocket change on the floor, but that’s ok: this is my life, I get to do goofy things with it. So do you.
In case you’re wondering, I’m considering music and practice as my other two (the one because it’s been conspicuously absent in the past year and the other just as a reminder).
What words speak to you?