I’m going to share with you a nifty little trick you can use to travel into your future and your past and change things. No joke. And yes, I’m going to rely mainly on the power of your mind, but that’s ok, because that’s how you experience time anyway.
Step One: Get in touch with your Future Self
You know who I’m talking about. The person you imagine you could be – or the person you want to be. This may be someone with more money, or with better health habits, or maybe someone who writes every day on the novel that Future You is the author of. Maybe it’s simpler: Future You is playing a board game with your kids, enjoying their company. Maybe they’re at a museum, or volunteering at a food pantry, or…well, you get the picture.
You know who that person is. Maybe you try not to think of them too much, because as Buddha said, “the measure of your suffering is the difference between the way the world is and the way you think the world should be,” but really, this time that Future Self is your ally.
So close your eyes, and imagine that Future Self that is the person you really want to be.
Step Two: Establish the Objective
Now that you’re in touch with Future You, ask a question: Hey, Future-me, what do you wish Now-me had done to make things better?
There could be many answers. It’s easy to figure out, because I promise you that Now-You has spent time berating Past-You for things you wish they’d done. Wanna see me do it?
- Practice guitar more.
- Don’t date that person. But don’t let that other person go!
- Daily yoga. I don’t care if it’s boring, do it.
…and so forth. But Past-me didn’t know this trick, so that stuff doesn’t matter. We’re talking about Now-You talking with Future-You.
What would have made Now-Me becoming Future-Me easier? (Yes, I’m aware the tenses are getting a little weird, but what did Past-You expect when they started reading a blog post about time travel?).
Now, it’s important that you don’t stop here. Because the fact is, I did say to myself many times in the past “I’m going to do yoga every day”. But as I mentioned, I didn’t really understand this trick as well as I do now, so I have an intermittent yoga practice instead.
Step Three: Get in the Way
You know what Future-You needs to have happen – but that’s Future-You, and they have (at best) hazy memories of what Now-You is actually going through. They don’t really remember how hard it is to get up in the morning, or how alluring that Netflix series is, or how amazingly delicious the Gravy Hose can be. No, they are sitting there reaping the benefits of the work that Now-You still has to do, smugly taking credit.
Ok, yes, maybe they’re entitled to take that credit. But it’s ok to resent them a little, because Now-You still has to do the work.
And notice I’m not saying it’s The Work. Nope, I’m talking about the little w, the tiny steps that are required to get to Future-You. And this is where you have to let Future-You inhabit your brain for a moment, looking around at your environment:
Where can I get in my way?
That is, Now-You has a particular way of doing things. If there are any parts of that particular way that do not lead to Future-You, then that particular way needs to be interrupted. It’s the classic time-travel scenario: I placed the magazine on their bedside table; now they’ll be inspired to invent the magic whatsit. Or I hid their shoes so they were late for the bus and on the walk to work they met their true love.
Except now it’s Future-You using Now-You to change things. Here’s an example:
Now-Me gets up and walks right past the yoga mat in the corner every morning and picks up the phone to check Twitter. Tonight, though, Future-Me is going to have Now-Me power down the phone completely and also put the yoga mat in the middle of the floor. Yoga will be easier than waiting for the phone to boot up!
Maybe it’s taking all the icons off your computer desktop except your writing app (or better, shutting down your computer every night but making it so when you start it the first thing that opens is your writing app). Maybe it’s putting the salad in the front of the refrigerator. Maybe it’s hiding the TV remote at work and leaving a board game out on the table tonight.
It’s a little thing – and it’s almost certainly not the only thing that Future-You needs help with – but it’s something. And it’s time travel, because Future-You is looking back to the past and saying Wow, if it weren’t for that thing, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
That “now” is a good place to go. There’s only one way that you’ll get there, though:
Another way that Future-You can enjoy the Future is by helping to support this blog! If you feel like you’d buy me a cup of coffee, how about doing it literally via my Patreon page? Every little bit helps!
“To cook or fix some food, is not preparation; it is practice….Whatever we do, it should be an expression of the same deep activity. We should appreciate what we are doing. There is no preparation for something else.” – Dogen (1200-1252
Ever have one of those times when you get the same message from three different directions?
Let’s start with that quote up there – shared by way of Tim Ferriss’ excellent Five-Bullet Fridays newsletter. I halfway suspect that George Lucas read that and shortened it into Yoda’s famous “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
It’s kind of fatalistic, at first. There is no preparation for something else. That means there is no “happily ever after”, no riding off into the sunset, no rolling credits and sweeping orchestral piece by James Horner.
Then it becomes a bit more freeing, when you think about it more deeply. If the practice is all there is, then you can enjoy it thoroughly – in fact, you might have your best practice at any moment! Think of it: this could be the best blog post I will ever write. Ever. And what does that mean? Most people look at it as a “glass half empty” kind of thing – things will never be this good again.
But doesn’t it also mean that I sat down at the computer often enough, practiced the craft of blogging and stringing words together long enough that I was able to realize the ultimate expression of my craft that I was capable of? So what if I never make my “personal best” again – isn’t that what “personal best” means in the first place?
No, pity the person who gives up and never reaches that pinnacle of achievement. That’s the person that we should feel sorry for.
Depressing News From Successful Writers
I attended a panel discussion by three professional writers. Two wrote non-fiction, and one wrote for TV. They were at the top of their particular fields, and the awards they had accumulated included several Emmies and a lifetime achievement or two. They were there to talk about what it’s like to be a professional writer.
It was pretty bleak.
Remember, these were people at the top of their fields – but both of the “book” authors were not even close to making a living off their books. Nope, they had day jobs. Even more, they didn’t have any fancy systems, new computer apps, or visualizing meditations that would turn you into the next Rowling.
How can I learn to be a writer?
“Writing can be taught – but really, it can only be self-taught.”
How do I find ideas?
“Your experience as a human being is valid. There’s your book.”
How do I get past writer’s block?
“Writer’s block is advanced notification you’re gonna write something bad. Write it anyway.”
How do I find the time to write?
“There’s no excuse for not writing. Sit your ass down, and fuckin’ write.”
How much help was your publisher when it came to marketing and publicity?
(Hysterical laughter from all three, one of whom makes a zero sign with her hand).
How do I finish a book, the editing and rewrites and stuff I hate?”
“You need to be your own publishing house. Deadlines help.”
In Other Words, You’re On Your Own
That last question was one that I asked, and like the others, it basically comes down to this: you’re on your own. As someone who struggles to balance current content with pushing completed content out the door and juggling all the hats involved in self-publishing, I confess it was a little disheartening at first. I had this dream of getting “noticed”, of having someone edit my books, design the covers, plan the distribution book tour, book my travel, arrange the Oprah and Tim Ferriss interviews, etc.
Nope. These were people with contracts from Simon & Schuster and the like, and they were saying: there is no help here.
Then again, that means that I am doing the best I can do. I have made several hundred dollars from my books; that’s more than many authors. I have complete rights to them, I get to decide where they go, who reads them, and what is done with their content. That’s a level of control that many other authors dream of.
In other words, there is no “success” on the horizon. I’ve already succeeded. Instead, there is practice. Continuing to write the next book, the next post, the next article. If my next book makes more money, great. If not, great. The only sadness is if it is unrealized for no particularly good reason.
What are you practicing? And more to the point: what are you waiting for?
I gave something up.
Something that I was passionate about, a project that I’ve put two years of my time and effort into. It had reached a point where my involvement in it was beginning to hold it back. I didn’t have the skills or experience to take it through the next stage of growth.
I know that starts to sound like a “child-parent” metaphor, but that wasn’t what it felt like.
It’s more like starting to climb a mountain, and getting about halfway up, blazing a trail…and then realizing that in order to blaze the rest of the way up, you have to let some other skilled mountaineers go by. The goal is to create a path that everyone can use, but whoever ends up on the peak with that flag…it won’t be me.
That’s hard for a socially uncultured middle-aged white male personal development blogger to take.
In fact, it kind of looks and feels a lot like what they call “failure.”
The Right Words at the Right Time
On the other hand, one of the benefits of being a personal development blogger is that you have a lot of tricks and defenses when your brain starts to tell you a story you don’t like. And I was doing pretty well, but it was a struggle…until a very dear friend sent me a message:
Failure is just a dot for you.
I had to blink back tears when I read it – mainly because this is something that I really needed to hear a long, long time ago. In fact, I dare say that if I’d internalized that concept long ago, I might not have needed to write a personal development blog to fight my own demons.
“Failure is a dot. Just one dot on a long and beautifully complex line of your life, with intersections and tangents and connections beyond the scope of our understanding. That’s the thing that self-help books miss, when they talk about making you a “winner” or a “success”. They pretend this is some movie, with the inspiring final shot (maybe with a sunset and orchestral music) and when you’ve “done it” there will be credits.
Here’s a hot tip: there are no credits. Just changes of scene. Just “meanwhile, back in…” moments mixed in with a whole lot of “Little did they know…”. Failure – and winning – is just a dot.
What comes next is up to you.
It’s an imperfect rhyme, and a tad sexist to boot, but it’s worth taking a moment to remember one of the principles of life: you are the reflection of those closest to you. Which means that you should look at the people you spend your time with, and every once in a while ask some hard questions:
- What are they working towards?
- What am I working towards?
- Are we helping each other get there?
These aren’t complicated questions. It’s pretty easy to tell whether your time with friends is leading towards a better job or a deeper understanding of the Real Housewives of Someplace Else. Leading towards finishing your novel or more frequent trips to the recycling bin with beer cans. Leading towards a better feeling of your body or a new pair of pants because ice cream tastes so good…
Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That
Please don’t take this as me saying that you have to live the life of a monk and cut off all outside contact in a feverish devotion to your goal. For some people that is the right path, but for others that simply means a life of missed opportunity (watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi for a good example of how monomaniacal mastery can destroy a family) (or maybe that’s just my interpretation).
No, it’s been proven many times that taking breaks from your goals not only gives you a chance to recharge but also gives your subconscious a chance to work on the problems. It’s the Eureka phenomenon, common to bathtubs, showers, long walks, or any other activity that engages a different set of motor functions. Friends are great for getting you out of your head – it’s just important that they, and you, understand that even the “down time” is in service to your goal.
Your Goals Won’t Go Away
I have a very dear friend, the talented writer Dr. Milena Radzikowska. She has an idea for a book, and I watched her face as she told me about it. It was a combination of anguish and excitement – because the book is a really neat idea, and it’s going to take a lot of work to do, and it’s pushing the boundaries of her comfort zone in terms of writing. That’s all the exciting part.
The anguish is that she also has a family, and friends spanning the globe, and a career, and other books and writing, and a thriving embroidery hobby, and – and – and…Now there’s this other thing: this goal, this book idea, like a monster perched on her shoulder whispering in her ear: Write meeeeee…
She can distract herself from it, of course. She can throw herself into other worthwhile projects, she can decide that she’s going to volunteer or take up a new hobby or even pull the old “Well, I will write, but first I need to learn more about plot…or dialogue…or bookbinding…or something that will keep me from having to face the actual blank page.”
I should note that I don’t think she’ll do any of those things – she’s too smart for that. Among other things, we both agreed that this is the kind of thing that won’t go away – that will come back to haunt her in the wee hours of the night. There are some goals that simply refuse to leave, and there’s no way out of them except through.
Which is why it’s worth looking at your life, and asking yourself: Are the people I spend time with helping me reach my goals?
They may not be, but that’s also possibly because they don’t know about them. If they are your friends, your family, then share with them what you want out of life. I know one person who spends the bulk of her days with her small children – and yet she’s come up with ways that they can cheerfully help her move forward in her process.
In other words, if your friends are distracting you from the work you were born to do, then enlist them as allies. Make them part of your team. Explain to them where you’re headed, and when you get there, it will make the achievement a shared joy.
And shared joy, as they say, always increases.
Today’s post is in response to reader Jessica’s request for “Advice to younger self”. It occurred to me that the traditional Letter format was kind of outdated — we barely read through our emails. But if I really wanted to get my attention, I would text myself.
A conversation in my head while journaling a couple of days ago.
(Bold is what I wrote. Italics are what went on in my mind.)
I would like to –
Really? What's stopping you?
I will make some time –
Oh, so now you're the master of time and space? Where is this magnificent machine with which you'll create the most valuable and irreplaceable resource in the universe?
I will find some time –
Come on. It's not like it fell out of your pocket between the couch cushions.
I will prioritize some time to sketch –
Better. When? What time will you pull out your sketchbook?
(sigh) I will do some sketching from three to four p.m.
"Some", huh? This gonna be like the morning when you sketchnoted your goals for the year and decided the little cartoon hearts and letters counted? Is that really going to get you to the point where you can draw the kinds of dancing human beauty that you want to?
I will work on sketching the muscle structures of the back for an hour today starting at 3pm.
Yeah? Cool. That sounds like a good idea. What else you gonna do?
I bring this up as kind of a defense for the times when I've had similar conversations with my coaching clients (and, prior to getting some better self-control, with friends, loved ones, and occasionally complete strangers). I do this with myself as well. This is part of the whole idea of awareness that I brought up earlier in the week: calling yourself out on the ways that your own thinking and language may be keeping you from getting the life you want.
It's annoying. It took me nearly a minute to write that final sentence. But you know what? It was a whole lot easier to change I'd like to do more sketching into actual lines made with my own hand when I had it in a concrete way.
Yeah, I was nagging myself. If someone did that to me in everyday life, it would be annoying as heck, right?
Unless…it was helping me achieve my dreams. Unless it was making it possible for the life I want and the life I have to become indistinguishable from each other.
Someone who does that – well, that person must love me a whole lot, to go to that much trouble.
Got any love you can show yourself today?
While I was at that retreat last weekend I had a conversation with the man who organizes it (we’ll call him Craig, for privacy’s sake). Craig has been doing this for a while – decades, perhaps – and so he knows a thing or two about organizing events. I was lucky to have a brief window of time to talk with him, and so I asked him a question that had been hovering in my mind for a while.
“Craig, when one of these events starts…how do you feel? Is it a terrifying rollercoaster of ‘Oh my god I hope this all works and we survive to the other side’, or is it just a ‘Whee! Here we go! This is gonna be fun!’ all the way?”
Craig thought for a moment, and then he answered. I’m paraphrasing, but this is pretty close to exactly what he said:
The Narrowing of the Vision
“It’s a little of both, actually. But it’s not really that simple. See, six months, even three months out – I can do anything. I could have a parade of unicorns with rainbow glitter fountaining out of their horns as they prance down the street with acrobats and jugglers and dancing bears and whatever. That far out, I can make it happen.”
“But as the event gets closer – two months, one month – that spectrum of what’s possible gets narrower and narrower. Three weeks, two weeks, there’s fewer choices that can be made, there’s less that’s able to be changed.”
Craig leaned forward at this point, intent. “I have to hope that I communicated my vision to my team well enough to make it happen in the way I want. Otherwise,” his face grew serious, “when the event happens – I watch those unicorns die.”
Craig knows that I have organized many small events, and that I’m looking at organizing a much larger one in 2017. “That’s my advice to you, Gray,” he said. “Don’t let the unicorns die.”
I have to think that applies to pretty much any plans we make in life: at the end of the day, how many of our unicorns are still alive?
…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
After 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 didn’t make my life possible!” – Amanda Palmer, in an interview with Tim Ferriss
That quote came shortly after Tim suggested to Amanda that she was living a life that most would think impossible. It’s true, in a way – her story, going from street performer to million-dollar KickStarter, bestselling author and icon of Goth Marriage is pretty intense. But what struck me was that she was wrong; she had, in fact, created the circumstances that led to what happened – it followed the Open Space principle of “What happened is the only thing that could have.”
She has an entire song about the concept, in fact – In My Mind is all about the things that we tell ourselves that we want to be, when in reality we are exactly who we actually wanted to be. I enjoy the song, but I do give you a warning of profanity in case you’re listening to it around delicate ears.
And it’s funny how I imaginedThat I would be that person nowBut it does not seem to have happenedMaybe I’ve just forgotten how to see
That I’ll never be the person that I thought I’d be
Quantifying What You Give Up
This concept, that your actions and choices reflect more what you want than your expressed desires, is a hard one to learn. It’s the final triumph of instinct over habit and discipline, after all. In Max Kotin’s excellent essay about things he learned while quantifying many of his habits, he explains that one of the more valuable things gained was the realization of where his priorities really were:
“If you track time you will see that while you don’t do something important, you almost always do something stupid or at least not so important and so you waste a huge amount of time. It’s a strong incentive to ask yourself: is your so-called super important task in reality so significant for you?”
It’s funny; the topic for this post was selected over a week ago, as part of my efforts to become a better blogger. Yet circumstances in my life recently have shown me that it’s not just an interesting topic; it’s an essential one, and I’d invite you to join me in spending some time, first writing down the things that you prioritize: the kind of person you want to be, the kind of relationship you want to have, whatever comes to mind when you think of the word “values.”
Then spend some time trying to step outside yourself – looking at your life as it really is, at the things you do, the people you surround yourself with, the influences you read or watch or listen to.
I don’t suggest this because it’s fun. It’s been pretty miserable for me, at least. But perhaps it can help you get a little closer to being the person you want to be – or at least give you a more realistic image of the kind of person you are.
Last Monday I let an opportunity slip through my fingers.
I had a chance to visit the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles meditation evening which is led by Brad Warner. I’ve been reading and learning from Brad’s books and columns for well over a decade now, and this would have been a chance to meet him in person.
But there was also a big family dinner in Los Angeles where my hosts and their friends were all coming together to share food and convivial celebrations. Included in this was one of my longstanding friends and patrons, a man who has always supported me and my work, and someone who (for various reasons) I’d not had much chance to talk to.
So what do you do when two of your goals collide? I confess I felt conflicted. On the one hand, I’ve wanted to meet Brad Warner for ages. Surely there would be other times I could hang out with my friend. Then again, surely my friend would understand me wanting to take this chance to see one of my heroes!
I have several different goals; certainly I want to get out and meet other people in this wonderfully lucrative field of personal development blogging. But I decided back when I moved back to Madison that I was going to follow Dan Gilbert’s advice about happiness and focus on friends and family.
What Would You Do?
I can tell you what I did: I focused on strengthening the connections I already have, staying with my hosts and sharing a meal and laughter and spending some specific time with my neglected friend. I can’t say it was entirely purely motivated; I was also very tired from facilitating an Open Space that weekend. But I do know this: at the end of the night, I did not feel the worse for having missed Brad’s zen meditation session. That’s no reflection on him; in fact, I suspect if I’d asked him what I should do he would have suggested exactly what happened.
What it comes down to is: building on what you have probably has better odds of success than neglecting it to try and find something new. Not always. Had there not been a dinner that night, I certainly would have gone to the meditation session, and this would be a different blog post.
Have you ever had your goals or practices collide? What did you do?