Dr. Gabor Maté’s work in Compassionate Inquiry posits that addictions begin as solutions, not problems. The fleeting euphoria initially assuages pain via drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, sex, attention, technology, etc. Before long, the chase is on. We all know addiction. We’ve all flirted with addictive behavior. When behavior is driven by unmet needs, the driver is ego. That insatiable ingrate, the archetype of entitlement. Anyone born in the latter part of the 1900’s will likely remember the anti-drug commercial where an egg is displayed and then cracked over a sizzling frying pan accompanied by the tagline, “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.” Curious though where ego fits into the equation. “This is your brain. This is your brain on ego.” Perhaps there’s some truth in this statement as well. Eckhart Tolle considers the following idea: “If you’ve ever thought: ‘I cannot live with myself any longer.’ Who are you in that sentence? The ‘I’ or ‘Myself’?”
Brain and ego together make for a frightening duo. To quote the comedian, Emo Philips, “I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.” For all that’s been written about the ego, all the dust-covered spines that line the shelves of any Psychology section in any Barnes and Noble, that joke alone could be a best seller! That profoundly hysterical and/or hysterically profound statement sums up the ego’s grip on the brain, and demonstrates the degree to which our behaviors are shaped by our thoughts.
We live through our hearts! Or, at least we’re built to. This internal pulse beats with purpose and intention. The ego cannot control the heart: only the mind. The ego craves attention and starving the ego creates the space needed to gain awareness of yourself (your self). Starvation is subtraction: Removal for solution. The ego cannot discern between euphoria and gluttony. It only recognizes recognition. Positive change occurs when the ego is not fed, so that the decision-making process has clarity. Clear purpose! Non-ego moments, when we are not tethered to the desire to validate something that cannot be satiated, are the moments where we begin to see who we are at our core. At our core, we need very little. No matter how big a bucket we can buy, if it has even the smallest of holes, it will never be able to stay filled for long. We all have buckets, and they all have holes. Do we remain aware of them and do nothing? Do we remain aware and try to solve the imbalance of spillage by adding more holes? Or, do we patch the holes, knowing that fulfillment is an imperfect process, and not let ourselves get defeated by the fact that we’ll never be free from the hole-poker that is daily life? Subtraction is the key to fulfillment. Removal of the unwanted rewards organically through positive natural consequences. We often try to remove harm through addition. For example, sugar is bad for you. We know this, but sweetness is also delicious, so we crafted artificial sweeteners. Chemically artificial sweeteners, along with all the other ingredients we cannot pronounce, are these additions proving to be solutions or are they creating bigger problems? The solution is to eat less sugar. To subtract the things that cause us harm and simplify our needs begets fulfillment.
Why are there no new clichés? For some reason it seems that clichés haven’t caught up with the vernacular of modern-day. We’re still “putting carts before horses,” and “putting our ducks in a row.” However, when it comes to inspiration, we’re continually finding new ways to express ideas initially expressed 2,000 or more years ago. Thus, the progress of wisdom is horizontal. The progress of science, on the other hand, is linear. Scientific progress shapes and pivots via proving and disproving, and the evolution of that has been remarkable to watch from the periphery whilst enjoying its byproducts on a daily basis. It’s an ever-evolving, forward-moving timeline. To draw an analogy, some bands have linear discographies while others have horizontal discographies. The Beatles, for example, were linear. Their timeline began on one end as bubble gum pop and continually evolved as they explored new sonic territory that echoed their lives at a given moment in time. Other bands are horizontal. They create a sound on their first record or first few records that connects with an audience, and then spend the rest of their careers trying to either perfect that sound or recapture its magic on subsequent albums. Every effort is stacked upon the prior; regardless of whether it’s better or worse (that’s subjective after all), it never branches out. Neither approach alone is correct nor does it a good band make. It’s all about how it resonates over time. If you’re lucky, the appreciation of your craft and creative contributions occurs while you’re in that flow. The point is that anything can only be original once. After that, it’s some form of reinterpretation. In the world of music, that reinterpretation is called influence on one end of the spectrum and sampling on the other. Plagiarism lives here too! When it comes to inspiration, the reality is that humans understood human nature from the beginning. There’s nothing new to report. We can shapeshift words to our heart’s content and package it as something new, but the meaning has already been expressed elsewhere. We’re horizontal, stacking onto a pile of wisdom. If we’re lucky, we may sometimes stumble upon a combination of words that creates a “new” phrase that resonates. Maybe this makes us suddenly important. Maybe we can make a new career simply from expressing how we see the world. But, that’s only a perhaps. What’s more true is that wisdom is the most plagiarized commodity, and ultimately, it’s only words. Any positive result of wisdom has been through the actions of the person that took the words to heart and decided to live – to act – differently as a result.
It’s Saturday morning rush at a local coffee shop. Every table is occupied by an array of couples, families, friends and loners. Some feverishly type away on their laptops, some are deep in conversation, others deep in a book, while others are blissfully aloof. There’s a bell that chimes whenever new patrons enter, and, for a split second, the majority of the occupants glance briefly up at the door in Pavlovian acknowledgment before returning to their conversations, computers and books. The aloof continue to demonstrate their aloofness.
An insecure person is the next to enter the establishment. You are this person. The bell jingles your arrival, triggering the aforementioned Pavlovian glance, and in an instant, everyone is back to their business. However, those momentary glances toward the door trigger your insecurities. “Is my fly open?” “Do I look bad?” “I knew I shouldn’t have worn this shirt!” “They are all mocking me!” “People suck!”
Two minutes later an arrogant person strides through the door, becomes immediately aware of the glancing patrons, and pauses to bask in the glory of this immediate attention. You too are this person. You smile and think, “They all know what’s up! I look good, and they are drinking me in along with every sip of their coffee. A few weren’t lucky enough to see me, but that’s their loss.”
It may be easy to separate these responses into opposing categories of negative and positive, or fear and confidence. Neither would be true. Both internal monologues are rooted in the irrational. The truth is that nobody cares! That statement may sound harsh, but the truth is that the glances were a response to a neutral stimuli, not you. It could be argued that both insecurity and arrogance are both forms of vanity. Even if insecurity is painted with the negativity of self-doubt, it still requires the irrational idea that you are the focus of everyone’s attention, even perfect strangers. The truth is that nobody cares because they have their own lives to focus on. This is a liberating concept for the insecure person, and a humbling one for the arrogant.
Rivalry. It’s human nature to oppose one another. Look to any competitive sport from chess to MMA, curling to baseball, poker to football. Gamification is part of the fabric of our society. Reality programming depends on it (Chopped, Cupcake Wars, Storage Wars, Survivor, Guy’s Grocery Games, Flea Market Flip, etc.). We are a society that has taken mundane and leisurely activities like food shopping and going to garage sales seem skillful, glamorous and savage. In these situations, you are with or against, friend or foe. A soup can sitting on a shelf is worth $1.50, but if that one can is the final item needed to claim a grand prize, its value increases, and we will let our baser instincts steer our shopping carts to victory, plowing over anything that gets in our way. Victory is mine, not yours! We seek out rivalry, and yet we are also hardwired for connection. What binds the seemingly diametrically opposed ideas of rivalry and connection are the belief systems, more specifically, all-or-nothing belief systems. Belief is not truth. Imagine this scenario. You go to a friend’s house to watch a baseball game: Yankees vs Red Sox. There are 15 people there, you being the 15th, and the room was divided equally with 7 Yankee and 7 Red Sox jerseys. From the moment you arrive, which was later than everyone else, the trash talking is intense. The rivalry is real when it comes to this game! These people all liked each other…unless of course the Yankees happened to be playing the Red Sox. Wearing no attire to suggest any allegiance to either team, someone asks, “Who are you rooting for?” Without thinking, you blurt out, “I don’t really care, I’m just here to hang out and watch the game.” Then, something interesting happens. You become the target of all the trash talk. You’ve done something remarkable. You’ve connected the disconnected. The rivalry disappears momentarily for a greater cause: the desire to learn whether you are with or against. You hold the key to giving one side some advantage. You could tip the scales in favor of one team. Neutrality is unacceptable. When this need goes unmet, the two opposing sides join together because they know where they stand and there is comfort in that. There’s discomfort in not knowing where you stand. Obviously, none of what happens in this room has any impact on the game itself. There’s something powerful about choosing to not choose sides, in not pledging allegiance to things that can divide, compartmentalize and distract us from what’s truly important. Connection.
Stepping into vulnerability is akin to physically exerting yourself to the point of nausea. Nausea may be the reaction to the situation, yet that’s clearly not the desired result. A daily routine, the cooperative of behaviors and choices that make habits, lead to the desired outcomes and reveal the benefits over time. Once in the flow, it’s near impossible to pinpoint what specifically is the shining star. You can’t look in the mirror this morning and say, “it was that one particular set of push-ups Monday of last week that did the trick,” – “that one run stride during a 5k that took fifteen seconds of my time this month” – “that one healthy meal that made the weight come off” – “that one day I woke up early that increased my productivity this year.” Consistent effort drives transformation; never a single instance. Life is a Rube Goldberg machine. It can be simple or overly complicated. It can be as ugly, messy, quirky and clunky as it can be beautifully rhythmic and exciting. Nested within the contraption itself is the knowledge that in order for the machine to work properly, everything has to execute as it’s intended. It’s more important to know that the odds are in failure’s favor. You’ll naturally spend more time resetting and reworking than you will celebrating. And even when you’re celebrating, the afterglow is spent in harmony with the aftermath of effort. Taking the painstaking time every day to reset and examine what worked and didn’t work, gives you the insight of how to fix problems that cause flaws in execution because you understand why they happened. It’s not glamorous. There’s no glory in setting up the machine. OK Go’s video for “This Too Shall Pass” is a massive Rube Goldberg machine. It’s a triumphant video and a perfect analogy for life. The final product is the closest they come to “perfection,” but you also get to see the mess of their previous attempts. Practice makes progress, not perfection. The room was only pristine once. To move the machine to a new room for every take would be unrealistic. Our lives are pristine only once – the day we’re born. Sometimes, even those days aren’t pristine.
For me, this is a step into something absolutely terrifying. Why a blog? Because my goal of writing a book seemed a lofty goal for someone that currently has no audience. I’ve always feared putting out original content, whether it be music, poetry or simple thoughts. For what purpose? Who the hell am I? Why would or should anyone care? Well, what a lovely excuse to ensure that I forever remain comfortable by avoiding discomfort. Stepping into discomfort, through the help of listening to the wisdom of likes of Brené Brown, Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin, Eckhart Tolle, Jocko Willink, Ryan Holiday, and the many great Stoics, has allowed me to grow exponentially in the past year. At the core of that growth is action. I’ve been known to quote quotes that were meaningful to me as a way to let people into what I believe or where I stand, and sure, there’s good in that. I turned 40 this past December, and I wouldn’t say that triggered some life crisis, but it did kick start what’s been eight months of rather deep reflection. With any luck, I’m at the midpoint of my life. I’m starting to consider mortality as a coming reality. My parents and in-laws are in the winter of their lives as are other relatives that always seemed to be older but naively timeless. I’ve witnessed the physical weakening and the body beginning to fail, but more importantly, I’ve seen that the lack of action only exacerbates the inevitable. As a result, accountability has become a priority in all areas of my life. My current mantra is: Reflection + Action = Normalized Accountability. I will do more with the time I have left, and I don’t want a future diagnosis or some unforeseen tragedy to be my catalyst for change. All I have to do is watch and listen to what’s around me to realize that there are valuable lessons to be learned from what others experience. And, what I know to be true, is that inaction – doing nothing while holding the expectation that something will change – leads to disappointment. Expectation is the root of disappointment.
“Reflection + Action = Normalized Accountability” – me