Cause and Effect

Have you ever wished that you could change the past?

Most of us have at some point – “If only I’d done this differently” or “If only I’d said this instead” or “If only I’d done this” or “If only I’d done that.”

Quite often, we know in the moment of choice what the “right” one is. Not always, but often. I may not know the effects of going a different way to work in the morning, but I sure as hell know where willfully picking up a drink or a drug will bring me.

Here’s how to change your past:

Recognize that you are living in what will instantly become the past *right now* – and make the best next choice that you can.

By “living in the past right now,” I don’t mean it the way that mindfulness teachers mean it – ruminating over past events instead of seeing the ugliness and beauty of the present moment.

I mean that you are literally living in what is going to instantly become the past – *right now.* By making different choices than the ones you’ve made, you will change what quickly, in less than the blink of an eye, become your future.

Everything, you included, is both an effect and a cause. You are the sum total of all of the things that have taken place, including the choices you’ve made, since wherever and whenever this universe we are living in started.

Right now – oops, it’s gone – right now is just the culmination of literally everything.

You can never know what the “right” thing to do next is. You can make an educated guess, but it’s always a roll of the dice.

But that’s OK, because the dice are loaded in your favor. If they weren’t, you wouldn’t have made it this far.

We are here to make choices and make choices and make choices again. Creating another effect that becomes another cause that becomes another effect, constantly writing everything that has already happened.

(The idea of “choice” is a big one… maybe I’ll write about and define it better someday. Spoiler Alert – it has nothing to do with “free will” as we usually think of it.)

You are who you are because of who you were a moment ago, a day ago, a week ago, and on and on and on. You are who you are because of who your parents were, who their parents were, who their parents were, and on and on and on. You are who you are because of who your neighbors were, who your friends were, who everyone who ever lived was.

You are who you are because of who the Universe was.

Create a better choice for all of us, and make the best choice you can… now (oops, it’s gone.)

[the basic idea of “changing your past by changing your future” isn’t original to me, but I can’t for the life of me remember where I first learned it. Thank you, whoever you were.]

 

You Are a Part of the World : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 033

Continuing our discussion of “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.


“If we cannot at once rise to the sanctities of obedience and faith, let us at least resist our temptations; let us enter into the state of war, and wake Thor and Woden, courage and constancy, in our Saxon breasts. This is to be done in our smooth times by speaking the truth. Check this lying hospitality and lying affection. Live no longer to the expectation of these deceived and deceiving people with whom we converse. Say to them, O father, O mother, O wife, O brother, O friend, I have lived with you after appearances hitherto. Henceforward I am the truth’s. Be it known unto you that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law. I will have no covenants but proximities. I shall endeavour to nourish my parents, to support my family, to be the chaste husband of one wife, —but these relations I must fill after a new and unprecedented way. I appeal from your customs. I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men’s, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last. —But so you may give these friends pain. Yes, but I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility. Besides, all persons have their moments of reason, when they look out into the region of absolute truth; then will they justify me, and do the same thing.”


Maybe you can’t do everything, but you can do something. The “sanctities and faith” that he’s talking about here are those two ourselves. While we may not be able to physically break away from others, we can at the very least not be what we are told we “have to” be simply because we are told to be that.

“I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men’s, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth.”

Living with self-reliance is not only good for you, but for the world.
If self-reliance is good for the world, then self-reliance is good for you.
You are a part of the world.
The world needs you to be you.
It’s not too late to start.


Thoughts? Feel free to drop them in the comments.

 

Don’t Be Like Them : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 032

Continuing our discussion of “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.


“But now we are a mob. Man does not stand in awe of man, nor is his genius admonished to stay at home, to put itself in communication with the internal ocean, but it goes abroad to beg a cup of water of the urns of other men. We must go alone. I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching. How far off, how cool, how chaste the persons look, begirt each one with a precinct or sanctuary! So let us always sit. Why should we assume the faults of our friend, or wife, or father, or child, because they sit around our hearth, or are said to have the same blood? All men have my blood, and I have all men’s. Not for that will I adopt their petulance or folly, even to the extent of being ashamed of it. But your isolation must not be mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation. At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door, and say,— `Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me, I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act. “What we love that we have, but by desire we bereave ourselves of the love.””


“Why should we assume the faults of our friend, or wife, or father, or child, because they sit around our hearth, or are said to have the same blood?”

There are only two reasons a person would “assume the faults” of others:

  1. They aren’t seen as faults.
  2. The assumer wants to be accepted.

#1 can be understandable if the assumer doesn’t have the information necessary to make an informed decision, or if they *do* have the information but don’t think that they are faults in the first place.

#2 comes from a basic instinct to “survive and procreate.” In the early history of human beings, no one could stand alone, isolated from a social group, and survive for long.

“At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door, and say,— `Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion.”

And now, about 180 years later, the knockers are on steroids. Stop letting them distract you! You have great things to do, and binge watching a season of 90 Day Fiance (giving myself the side eye here) probably isn’t going to help.

But it’s not just the “trash TV.” Political debate, health advice, personal development material… 80% of it is also trash, 10% is actually dangerous, and 10% is useful. And I think I’m being generous with the useful estimate.

“No man can come near me but through my act.”

To a large degree, you are responsible for what you let into your life, into your body, and into your mind. In modern times, the whole world is sitting “around our hearth.” Choose carefully who you’ll let stay, and who you will show to the door.


Thoughts? Feel free to drop them in the comments.

 

Evaluate Before Following : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 031

Continuing our discussion of “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.


“Thus all concentrates: let us not rove; let us sit at home with the cause. Let us stun and astonish the intruding rabble of men and books and institutions, by a simple declaration of the divine fact. Bid the invaders take the shoes from off their feet, for God is here within. Let our simplicity judge them, and our docility to our own law demonstrate the poverty of nature and fortune beside our native riches.”


Huh?

I had to go out to Google to get an idea of what the hell this paragraph was talking about. It seems that it’s about worrying about your own stuff, and only your own stuff. Trust the ideas that are right for you. When a new one comes along, evaluate it according to your own values. Don’t just follow it blindly because it’s something that others say you should do, or even because your own inner critic tells you to.

But don’t just reject ideas either. Let them “take their shoes off” and stay a while. But once your “simplicity judge[s] them” based on your “native riches”, if they aren’t a good fit with your life, kick the fuckers out.

[thanks to The Simple Dollar and Quizlet for the information about this passage]


Thoughts? Feel free to drop them in the comments.

 

B = MAP : Behavior is the result of Motivation, Ability, and Prompt

First I read Mini Habits. Changed my life.

Then I read Atomic Habits. Meh. Nice explanations, Gave me some ideas. Massively positive reviews, but just didn’t do it for me in the long run.

Then I read Elastic Habits. Motivated the shit out of me. Quit pretty quickly. I made it too complicated.

Now I’m reading Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. Excited about it, but considering my history, that doesn’t mean that it’ll have a long term positive impact.

I’m only about a quarter of the way through, but I’m fascinated by the Fogg Behavior Model:

B = MAP.

Behavior is the result of Motivation, Ability, and a Prompt.

Motivation: not reliable. ’nuff said.

Ability: can be developed. I don’t remember if he says this or not, but I’m thinking that “ability” should include our belief that we have the ability. Or maybe that’s all that it is?

Prompt: something that happens just prior to the desired behavior that instigates the behavoir.

Like I said, I’m only partially through the book. While I have habits that I’m developing using methods from the other books I’ve read, the one that I’m working on now specifically using the Fogg Model is what he calls the Maui Habit:

“After I wake up and put my feet on the floor,
“I will say ‘It’s Going to be a Great Day'”

(Originally I changed it to “I’m going to make it a great day” to stress the fact that I am the one responsible for making it a great day. Then I decided to stop being so shallow and pedantic and go with the original.)

I’ve done it 5 times over the past 6 days. On the missed day, I literally forgot, and remembered about a half hour after getting out of bed. I did it as soon as I remembered, but I decided not to count it in the habit tracker that I use (Loop Habit Tracker for Android).

No, I don’t suddenly have a million dollars and six pack abs, but I did meet the woman of my dreams! (wait, never mind. that was 26 years ago.)

What I do have is the start of a healthy habit.

Because I have a prompt: feet on the floor for the first time.

Because I have the ability to do it: I can say 8 words pretty easily.

Because I have the motivation to do it: it’s a new behavior that I still want to do.

We all know that the motivation will drop off. But that’s OK, since the prompt will always be there, and the ability will be there too.

It can even be graphed out: as long as the prompt is there and the ability remains high enough, it’s going to happen.

Follow this link to see the graph.

I’m also paying close attention to how this model relates to my current bad habits.

Smoking is a good example. I haven’t smoked in 3 weeks as of this writing. This book has nothing to do with starting this quit, but it’s fascinating (and helpful!) watching how the model fits the behavior.

This is the longest I’ve gone without a cigarette in quite a while. Here’s what I’ve noticed:

Motivation – there are multiple reasons to quit smoking, but reasons aren’t motivation. It took a global pandemic to get that going.

Ability – I’m using NRT (specifically, 4mg White Ice Mint Nicorette Gum) to enhance my ability to quit. Allen Carr and Joel Spitzer fanatics, don’t bother berating me in the comments. At this point, I’m perfectly happy using the gum for the rest of my life if i never have to smoke again.

Prompts – two big ones I’ve noticed are the nicotine cravings themselves and boredom. Just recognizing them as prompts helps me to deal with them quickly using the gum and ACT Defusion exercises.

I’ll be writing more about the book and model as I work my way through. What do you think about this so far?

It’s OK To Be Tired

There’s a lot going on in the world right now. Loved ones are getting sick, people are dying, our lives are upended. The way we shop for food, the way we travel, the basics of interacting with one another… it’s all changed.

We are told to stay in our homes, binge media, cut physical contact and distance from others as much as possible.

These are the things that those of us with mental health issues were told, in the Old World, not to do. Many times, isolating and social distancing are symptoms of our illness rearing it’s ugly head.

We know that it isn’t the monster. We also know that these things can be both symptoms and causes.

So we do what we can. We avoid useless news and social media. We get outside and take walks alone or with loved ones that we already live with. We try to stay connected online.

But it’s tiring. Exhausting even. Many of us don’t do well with change. Our routines were our lifeline, and now they are gone.

So if you’re tired today, it’s OK. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t pull the “Other people have it worse!” bullshit. Feel the tiredness. Rest.

It doesn’t mean you have to fall into the hole that we all know so well.

 

Quantity Over Quality

It’s been a dream of mine to be a professional writer for as long as I can remember.

I’m 49 years old. I make my living as a warehouse supervisor.

I made exactly $0 from writing last year. Rough estimate – probably $400 total over my lifetime.

It’s not like I’ve been slaving away like Charles Bukowski over a typewriter getting rejection after rejection after rejection.

I’ll try for a bit, then quit. Then try for a bit, then quit.

Because I’m not William Shakespeare, and I know it.

Now I’m wondering why I ever gave a fuck about that.

No, not wondering. I have a deep seated fear of others thinking I’m stupid, of others laughing at me.

My ego (thinks that it) just can’t handle it.

At the same time, I enjoy getting content out there that helps others improve their lives. I don’t have to be William Shakespeare to do that.

But I do have to get content out there to help others improve their lives.

This morning I signed up for Four Minute Books. One of the summaries I read covers Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I haven’t finished it yet, because the first lesson that the summary offered hit me like a freight train. It was to Do The Funeral Test.

One of the questions to ask yourself: “For what do I want to be remembered.”

I’d like to be remembered for being someone who “persisted until he succeeded, despite the internal obstacles he had.”

So how do I do that?

I fucking write. I put my writing out there. No matter how imperfect (which is just a polite way of saying “shitty”) it is.

Then I remembered a story about a ceramics teacher, and found a good article about it: If You’re Stuck Creating Content, Remember The Ceramics Teacher

The point of the story is that, unless you are naturally gifted, you need to produce massive quantities of your art before you can hope to create quality.

I’m going to do that. And I’m going to do that publicly. I’m done hiding.

(Bullshit you are. You’re gonna quit again. You always do.)

Thanks for trying to protect me, Mind. I really appreciate it, but I’ve got this.

Go.

 

Good Morning, I Love You

I first heard of Dr. Shauna Shapiro on the Being Well Podcast. The ideas she presented are something I would have considered “sappy” and “unmasculine” not very long ago.

But I was intrigued, and have started reading her book, “Good Morning, I Love You.” Normally I wouldn’t write about a book until I’ve finished it, but there have already been a couple of things that really struck me.

Here’s one of them:

“We must change our mindset from one of self-improvement to one of self-liberation. Self-liberation means freedom from our limiting beliefs, our misguided idea that there is something wrong with us that needs to be “fixed.””

Which reminds me of something I’ve heard from Steven Hayes (paraphrasing this one) : You and your life aren’t problems to be solved, but processes to be experienced.

I’ve lived most of my life as a “personal development” addict. But the only thing that I’ve stuck to developing is a vast knowledge of personal development material. Just like food, sex, alcohol, most drugs, shopping, gambling… all the stuff that we do, but some go over the line and abuse them rather than use them – that’s what I did with personal development. I had good intentions (I think), but I used it as a distraction from life rather than as a way to engage with life. Embarrassingly, I also used my “vast knowledge” (which was 99% bullshit) so that I could feel good about myself – of course I was better than all of the people out there who didn’t care about “getting better” (whatever that means).

Liberating my mind. Moving from self-improvement to self-liberation. That’s the direction I’m going to point myself in today.

I said there were two things that struck me so far. I’ll write a second post about that one soon. A little teaser – it’s what motivated me to write this post in the first place.

 

Past to Future

Warning – super self indulgent me me me post coming up.

Maybe it will help someone out there, if only to let them know that others are out here, we’ve seen some shit ourselves, we’ve been able to move through it, and we care.

This morning, I had the thought that the way I’ve been living has been just plain wrong. I’m going to hit 50 this year, and I’m still ugly, sick, broke, and stupid.

Then, another thought: maybe the things I’ve been doing have been working perfectly. Everything I’ve ever done, everything I’ve experienced from the time I was able to make decisions for myself has brought me to where I am today.

Of course, there are some things that happened to me that I had no control over. Those brought me here too. But I had no control over them, so I couldn’t have “done” them differently anyway – I didn’t do them in the first place. Therefore… no fucks for them.

But…

If I hadn’t gotten so drunk and high before the concert I was supposed to play the lead for my senior year in high school that I passed out just beforehand and couldn’t go on…

If I hadn’t engaged in sexual behavior that was ridiculously physically risky and financially devastating to both me and those who bailed me out…

If I hadn’t gotten myself kicked out of the Navy because I was too scared to commit to sobriety…

If I hadn’t spent most of the 90’s (and some of the 2000’s) in various mental hospitals and rehabs…

If I hadn’t forced my family to move halfway across the country to get away from me…

If I hadn’t run away from more jobs than I’ve had…

… I wouldn’t been where I am today.

… I wouldn’t be *who* I am today.

And you know what?

I like where I am today.

I like who I am today.

I’m not successful by the standards of the marketers of my society, but I’m (finally) ok with that. I’m generally happy. Content, yet still have a desire to grow and improve.

Let’s go over that list that Jim Rohn said to avoid becoming:

Ugly? Really?

Objectively, probably not. But objectivity about one’s physical appearance isn’t possible – eye of the beholder and so forth. Can’t really control that one, barring plastic surgery. So let’s drop ugly into the no fucks given category and move on to…

Broke? Really?

Sure, if you look at it from a straight up financial point of view, a net worth of -30K is pretty forking broke. (Shout out to my fellow Good Place fans!)

But holy shit, I *live* in the goddamn Good Place… *and* I get to fucking curse!

I get to experience:

A wife who I love and who loves me. She’s my best friend and my soulmate.

Family that I love, and who love me.

No shortage of good food to eat, both nutritious and otherwise.

A pretty nice roof over my head.

An income that provides me all of the basics, plus some creature comforts.

Both activities and medication that allow me to maintain my physical and mental health.

That last one seems like a good segue into…

Sick? Really?

From a purely physical point of view, I’ve been blessed with a naturally strong constitution. It’s amazing how healthy I am, considering all of the crazy stuff that I’ve put myself through.

On the mental side, I’m so fucking lucky it’s unbelievable. (BTW, if you don’t think there’s such a thing as depression or mental illness, fuck off now, go educate yourself, and come back when you aren’t an ignorant dingleberry.)

I’m lucky enough to have been born at a time when there is medication that exists that has helped me with my Bipolar II disorder, and to have been born into a part of society where that medication is available to me. AND to have been born at a time and in a place where there are scientifically backed therapeutic resources for people like me.

And finally…

Stupid? Really?

No. I’m not. I’ve done some pretty stupid things, but I’m not stupid. Not that the thought that I’m a dumbass doesn’t still pop into my head from time to time – I just no longer identify with it.

One of the things that I value is the alleviation of suffering, and the increase of fulfillment in the universe for all sentient beings (hat tip to Shinzen Young for the suffering/fulfillment thing).

Maybe one of the ways that I can do that is to share self-absorbent posts like these, to let others know that no matter what you’ve done, no matter what’s been done to you, you can use it as a stepping stone to a better live, both for you and others.

There’s a line in the Big Book of AA that says “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” It’s a beautiful place to be in. You can be there to, if you keep on moving toward it, no matter how slow you go.

 

Inner Critic or Inner Coach

Have you ever come across a tiny distinction that immediately changed the way you look at things?

This happened to me recently when I was listening to Episode #219: Making and Breaking Habits, Sanely of the Ten Percent Happier Podcast with Dan Harris. The guest was Kelly McGonigal, and something she said hit me hard:

“Why would you let your inner critic decide what it is you want to change?”

We all want to change something about our lives. Quit an addiction, exercise more, eat better, etc etc etc…

As a general rule, and especially if the thing you want to change is extra tough, it’s best to stick to one at a time.

But how do you choose exactly what to work on?

Don’t follow your inner critic. Do Follow your values, those things that are intrinsically meaningful to you, and link them to the behavior you want to change.

McGonigal calls the part of us that tries to shame us into change the Inner Critic. I can’t help but compare this to Steven Hayes’ Dictator Within.

But it doesn’t matter what you call it. This Inner Critical Dictator evolved to make sense of and help you survive in a hostile environment. It’s not interested in helping you create the life you want.

Here’s a few questions that are worth thinking about:

What are your values? How can you link them to your goals? Who is it that’s choosing those values and goals?