Equidistant

Depth perception is “the ability to perceive the relative distance of objects in one’s visual field.” In other words, how close we are to something or someone. If anyone has ever felt alone amongst friends or loved ones, you understand that physical closeness can pale in comparison to feeling emotionally connected to others.

On the first day of high school, back in the late 1900s, I recall a riddle the math teacher presented to the class as an icebreaker. The riddle was this: How can two people stand on a single piece of loose leaf paper, be facing each other and still not be able to touch each other? The quote attributed to Cesare Pavese, “We do not remember days, we remember moments” is apropos here. I remember this moment simply because I happened to be the one in class that solved it. I felt clever, which was something I rarely felt at that age, and so it stuck with me. It was also one of the last and very select few positive memories of that year and the years to follow. The answer is to slide the piece of paper underneath a door. That way, two people can be facing each other, with both their feet touching the paper, and still not be able to touch each other. Depending on the door, they may also not be able to see each other. It serves as a wonderful visual metaphor for how we can be physically so close to someone, yet literally unable to connect. The riddle is an example of two people being equidistant. Yet, in life, the feeling of being “so close, yet so far” is anything but equal. Feeling alone in the company of friends or loves ones is a terrible feeling.

This is paradox of self-improvement. When working on yourself and pushing yourself to be the best version of yourself, you often feel isolated. When you try to rid yourself of ego and maintain the even-keeled stoic state of being, you fail often and often feel alone. In striving to develop deeper connections, you may feel like you are slipping away. In your quest for depth, you may find it in a deep dive, only to realize your lost in the deep, murky unfamiliar waters, tugging at your lifeline and feeling no response. It’s a dark place to be – in waiting for a response, waiting for others to realize where you are. Do you wait? Or, do you keep swimming to save yourself?

As we wait, time doesn’t. Not all truths are warm and fuzzy, but that doesn’t make them any less necessary to know.

Stakes to the Heart

We’ve all heard the expression “risk vs reward”. This is the ratio of what you’re putting up in relation to what you can lose/gain by doing so. If the loss is too great, it’s not seen as being advantageous. The risk determines the worth. This is understandable in terms of business, or where there are perhaps monetary stakes, but what about when the only thing to gain/lose is expectation? This is a far more common occurrence. When is it worth it to risk the reward?

When it comes to right action, the answer is: always! For example, it’s worth the disappointment of holding the door open for someone, because the only thing at stake is not receiving a “thank you” for doing so. We can control our expectations. Even better, we can choose not to have expectations of others. We can choose to simply have expectations of ourselves and ourselves in relation to others. This affords us the freedom to risk all day long without consequence. Unexpected behaviors happen all the time. They are actually quite expected. That’s why expectation is the root of disappointment. Without unexpected behaviors, there would be no need for the expression “I told you so.” And we all secretly love the times when we get to tell someone, “I told you so!” Why? Because it means we were right! The reward is sweet validation. But how many storage units and safe-deposit boxes do you currently possess to stow all the pats on the back you’ve received for being right? Validation in this regard neither takes up any real estate nor has any monetary value. Therefore, risk the reward! Risk being proven right or wrong when all that’s at stake is validation. Why? Because it’s just easier to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, the kind thing to do, the compassionate thing to do, the empathetic thing to do, the decent thing to do, the polite thing to do – the human thing to do. Go “all-in” when the stakes are validation, because the true reward is the courage to risk being let down, knowing you’ll be unfazed by that outcome.

Curiosity Killed the Assumption

Resist the urge. Resist the urge to judge, to make a blanket statement, to write something or someone off, to jump to a conclusion, to assume you already know.

If that feels like an impossible ask, simply turn your assumptions on yourself. Make yourself the target, and simply assume your ego is in control opposed to your reasoned choice. Now, resist the ego’s request to ignore this idea – take a breath and take a moment. Simply pause long enough to allow curiosity to enter. Begin with considering what is so scary about getting closer? What’s so scary about moving in opposed to pulling away? Then, go deeper! Challenge the fragility of your false absolutes.

Curiosity slays assumptions, and in its murderous wake, so dies hypocrisy.

The Me in Metamorphic

When we hear the word, metamorphosis, we usually think of a cocoon, and the process of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. We see it as a beautiful transformation. What we often miss is that although that magnificent change is complete, it’s still day one as a butterfly. There’s still learning to be done as the butterfly adjusts to its new life. The change is not the final step, but the first step of a new life. Does the butterfly mourn the loss of its former self, or simply move forward, knowing that going back is not an option? Does it realize that going back to the drawing board in this case means drawing up an entirely new design? An entirely new playbook? An entirely new path?

When we have transformative experiences, we often continue to dwell on the past, or continually examine the impetus of the metamorphosis, more than we choose to figure out what else we must leave behind in order to move forward. It’s important to consider what needs to be subtracted, however, it’s for more powerful and productive to consider what we will now add to our lives in order to create a stable foundation for this new way of being. Either you’ve changed or everything else has, but in a moment’s time, it was most likely you! That’s far easier to accept because you have control of you – you are the “me” in your metamorphosis. Onward!

Mind the Gap

In the absence of knowledge the mind will make connections wired by assumption. Bridging the gap in this manner serves no one well. We tend to fear vulnerability as a means of self-preservation, which may feel like a quick fix, but lacks foresight. There too is a balance between leaning into vulnerability for the purpose of meaningful communication and oversharing. Vulnerability exists on the surface and in the present. It’s taking ownership of how you feel in the moment, and expressing it with wholehearted courage. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean doing a deep dive into past pain to justify your present state of well-being of lack thereof. There’s a specific audience for that, and it’s up to you to know the difference. For example, it’s not the burden of your co-workers to entertain your excuses. That level of insecurity borders on arrogance. Everyone is dealing with life, which means everyone is living somewhere on the spectrum of joy and pain too. To presume your reasons are more valid than someone else’s, may very well lead them to assume your are unable to maintain your professional responsibilities. Conversely, never speaking up and/or constantly making excuses that don’t speak to the reality or severity of your situation is equally ignorant. Now you’re allowing plenty of runway for assumptions to be made, which will likely not be made with much empathy. The phrase, “Mind the gap” is used as a visual or audio warning, calling your attention (making you aware) that there is a gap to be mindful of. Minding the gap is the starting line of self-awareness.

The Two Faces of the Preface

The purpose of a preface is to set the stage for what’s to follow in order to provide some context. When on the receiving end of a preface, our curious minds are put at ease because instead of giving extra energy to deciphering or decoding, we can settle into something with the small comfort of having enough of a clue to about what’s to come. This can prove to be beneficial. Sometimes, however, this creates bias. A lot depends on the quality of our listening skills. Are we attempting to fill the informational gaps with assumptions as we begin, or are we going to absorb all the information first before attempting to determine how we feel about it? Conversely, there’s something to be said about the reliability of the narrator too? There’s a complex dance here. What initially begins as a slow dance can quickly turn into a tango.

The complexity is rooted in trust. Am I choosing to trust that the narrator is reliable? Or, am I choosing to trust myself as being a reliable, unbiased listener? It comes down to choice once again. The complexity may be rooted in trust, but the soil that surrounds that root is self-awareness. Are we self-aware enough to be open to receiving?

When we are the ones providing the preface, are we careful about the words we choose to do so? If we often feel obligated to preface our thoughts with qualifiers, what does that say about the quality of our words? Are we only sincere when we preface our thoughts with declarations of their sincerity? If so, what’s preventing our sincerity in other instances? Why are we afraid to be honest and truthful so much that it requires us to preface others to inform them of when we are being honest and truthful? If these questions ring true for you, what then are you thinking when you hear someone else preface something they are about to say to you with such qualifiers?

The DX of Self-Deception

According to the Center On Addiction, addiction is a “complex disease of the brain and body that involves compulsive use of one or more substances despite serious health and social consequences. Addiction disrupts regions of the brain that are responsible for reward, motivation, learning, judgment and memory. It damages various body systems as well as families, relationships, schools, workplaces and neighborhoods.”

Mental health issues are increasing in societal discussions, and stigmas about mental illness are beginning to be broken down. However, there is a downside to this. What inevitably balances out progress in certain areas is the surfacing of the watering down of the true severity of clinical diagnosis. For example, how many times have you overheard someone say “it’s just my OCD kicking in,” because someone happens to prefer a certain aspect of their life to be organized? Organization and tidiness are not the same as determining if your safety today is dependent solely upon whether or not you see nine red umbrellas on your commute to work this morning.

The point here is that we often let ourselves off the hook for our unattractive behavioral choices by bemoaning that some clinical diagnosis is the cause, and therefore it’s not our fault. Think about this for a moment because there’s both good and bad here. The good is that conversations about mental illness – true mental illness – is now part of our conversational fabric, as it should be! The bad is that it’s now also used as a scapegoat. It all boils down to what’s socially acceptable. Until quite recently, admitting you went to therapy or took medication was seen as an admission that there’s something wrong with you, when every weekend (and weeknight) bars are filled with people escaping their pain through vice instead of self-reflection. Why? Because it’s socially acceptable. It’s attractive to do so. Let’s break this down. “I had a tough week, so I’m going to drink to forget about it, and hope it never happens again, even though deep down I know it will, because I’m not actually trying to change, because I’m surround by people that are experiencing something similiar, and we validate each other, and so it’s easier for us all to blame others anyway for why I feel this way” has long been seen as a better solution than “I had a tough week – I don’t like feeling this way – I want to gain some insights as to why I feel this way, so I can build some healthy strategies to cope when similar situations arise.”

Alcohol and drugs are the umbrella vices, but food, technology and other more seemingly innocuous vices that can be equally damaging. The crucial element here is choice. Addiction is when we’ve lost control of our reasoned choice. This is severe. This is diagnostic and there are criteria associated with this on the clinical level. If this is you, please seek help and don’t go it alone. However, that’s not the point of this post. The point this post is for those of us using clinical language as an excuse for believing we are not in control of our choices. When we knowingly and actively choose to react poorly to a given situational stressor, and try to shirk responsibility by noting some clinical reason for our inability to momentarily maintain self-control. Breaking bad behavioral habits is not easy, and excuses are the paraphernalia or poor choices. When self-deception, “the action or practice of allowing oneself to believe that a false or unvalidated feeling, idea, or situation is true,” is the real diagnosis, the only cure is acceptance. Acceptance holds space for reflection, which in turn creates opportunity for right action.