Category Archives: Just Thoughts

An Alien Among Us That’s Just Like Me

We all sometimes feel just so damn different from others. Like strangers in a strange land.

And we are. All of us are different. All of us are unique. And that’s a good thing – I’m studying this concept in my analysis/attempted discussion of “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

But… at the same time, we are all the same. There are actually more similarities than differences. These similarities cross all sorts of lines: race, gender, class, intellectual ability, sexual orientation, even species. More and more, we are seeing just how similar all of life is.

That’s a good thing. Without our “sameness”, we wouldn’t be able to cooperate. Without the understanding that we all basically want the same things – to survive, to thrive, to be happy – we would never have gotten beyond life in the jungle and the caves.

Different people have different strategies, some constructive and some destructive, but they are all intended toward those same ends – survival, thriving, happiness.

Some of us have strategies that are based on the differences, geared toward the destruction (or at the very least separation) of themselves from others. This can happen on a small scale, like when I just want the person across the hall in my apartment building to leave me alone. This can happen on a large scale, when one group has decided that the best thing for them is to wipe out all of those who are different.

This is a really crappy strategy. It may allow for survival in the short term, but a closed system cannot grow, and will break down once a new survival strategy is needed.

Others do it differently. They open themselves up to others, learn about them, cooperate with them, and love them. This is how we grow as a race, as a gender, as a group with a sexual orientation, as those blessed with intelligence, as a class, or as a species.

In the society that I live in (and much of the world), power has been concentrated in the hands of a certain combination of the things I listed above: the white, cisgender male, straight, intelligent, upper class, financially well off human being. The way that they came to and stayed in power was by using a combination of the two strategies – taking what they needed from the other groups while keeping their boots on their necks.

Me? I fall into four out of six of those “power categories”. I recognize that because I do, if life were a video game, I’d be playing on easy-mode (not my concept – and I really wish I could find my source for that idea).

This isn’t a single player game. It’s massive, it’s multiplayer, and we’re all on the same team. People like me, no matter how much they feel like they are losing when someone in another group gets something, really aren’t, and it’s my responsibility to use what I have to help my overall team – not just those who are “like me”, but all of them.

This isn’t some benevolent version of the White Man’s Burden. It’s a recognition of the privilege I’ve been given and my desire to walk hand in hand with my team – all of the residents of this Pale Blue Dot.

At the very least, I can stay out of their way.

You aren’t so different from “the others”. You aren’t an alien. The fact that you can read this tells us that we are more like each other than we can ever understand.

Express your uniqueness, while also celebrating the things that allow us to move forward – our differences.

 

Voting For Yourself (like you live in Chicago)

For a few months now, I’ve been using an app called “Randomly RemindMe.” I’ve set it up so that, up to 20 times a day, my phone will pop a message up containing a short, useful bit of wisdom.

Here are some examples of short phrases I’ve used:

The saying that has been on there for the longest now (and still my favorite) is:

“Who Are You Becoming.”

I got the idea from Atomic Habits by James Clear. One of the main points of the book is that everything we do is a vote for the kind of person we want to become.

Smoke a cigarette? That’s a vote for being someone who doesn’t care about their well being.

Go for a run? You are voting for being someone who lives a healthy lifestyle.

Short with your spouse? Voting yourself into being a shitty life partner.

Tackle a project you aren’t sure you’re up to? You just got a vote for living a courageous life.

Beating up on yourself or ruminating on smoking a cigarette or being short with your spouse? Now you’re voting for being someone who spends more time thinking about shit than doing something about said shit.

You get the idea.

This stuff is easy to forget, which is why the reminder app helps. But even that has it’s problems – it’s so easy to just swipe away the notification, rather than spend 5 seconds thinking about what we are voting for in the moment. Of course, doing that is a vote for becoming someone who would rather go through the personal development motions than actually apply this stuff. (doh!)

Here’s the cool thing: it’s like voting in Chicago. You get to do it early and often. You get as many votes as you want. As a matter of fact, you can’t help but vote over and over and over again.

Whatever you are doing right now is a vote for being the person that you are right now. If you’re cool with that – great! If not, you get to vote differently right now. And now. And now.

Get out the vote!

[image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/users/pjedrzejczyk-9849537/]

Add On:

It’s a few hours later and I was just thinking about this post – I think it slanted a bit too much to the “If you aren’t voting for who you want to be, change it!” side. I didn’t  highlight the other side of the coin enough – when you catch yourself voting for who you do want to be. When that happens, make sure that you give your brain a good “That’s Like Me!“. It’ll help you remember to vote the way you really want to the next time.

 

Obligatory New Year’s Day Post

Blah blah blah full of promise.

Blah blah blah anything is possible.

Blah blah blah you can do it!

… No.

Being jaded isn’t any more helpful than being unrealistic. It’s just as much of a shield for our stupid little egos as Pollyannaism.

Every time someone says “I’m going to [insert creating a better life action here]”, the only proper response, whether it’s a new year’s resolution or not, is…

“That’s Fan-Fucking-Tastic.”

Because “I’m going to…” is the start of everything. It’s the first step. Don’t worry about whether they take that second step. But if they do… “Awesome! More Fan-Fucking-Tasticness!”

If they don’t… it’s none of your fucking business (unless they’ve specifically asked you to call them out on it.)

And if they don’t take that second step *and* you find yourself judging them for it, there is only one proper response for that as well:

Turn that judgement back on yourself.

What haven’t you followed through on?

What could you be doing better?

What haven’t you even started because you are scared to?

Then follow through, do better, get started.

Happy New Year!

 

You *Can’t* Do Whatever You Set Your Mind To

This message is sponsored by Reality.

You can’t do whatever you set your mind to. You don’t have “infinite potential”. You aren’t going to be successful at whatever you try.

Can’t, Don’t, and Aren’t (Oh My!) Them’s some dirty words among personal development gurus.

But here’s a little more from our friend Reality.

Your potential may not be infinite, but no one (you included) has any idea what’s in there that can be tapped.

You may not be able to accomplish whatever you set your mind to, but no one (you included) has any idea what you *can* accomplish with a little (or a lot of) perseverance.

You may not be successful at everything you try, but no one (you included) has any idea of what heights you could reach in the domain you want to apply yourself to.

You can’t go beyond your real limits. But if you’re alive, you can blow past the bullshit limits that you and others have placed on you.

Personally, I find this to be much more impressive than if you were a “spiritual being with infinite potential.” If a creature like that accomplishes something, who gives a shit?

But take a finite, corporeal, relatively weak entity, and watch it blast through obstacles and rocket beyond the limits it thought it had?

Now that’s pretty cool.

 

Grow or Deteriorate

“When you are uncertain whether you should do something or not, just think whether doing it you will grow or deteriorate, and act accordingly.” — Theron Q. Dumont

OK, so I know I’ve been on a bit of Brian Johnson kick lately… but there is a way to get me to stop. Just tell him to stop putting out so much great stuff to comment on!

This morning I was reading his Philosopher’s Note on The Power of Concentration by Theron Dumont. When I came across that quote in the note the truth of it hit me over the head like a pile of … something really heavy.

Everything we do either helps us to grow or to deteriorate.

And in every moment, we can choose which we want to do.

This doesn’t mean that we are going to make “perfect” (whatever that means) choices every moment of every day. Sometimes we are honestly mistaken about what will promote growth. Sometimes we are blinded by our own defects. Sometimes we know that what we are about to do isn’t good for us, but we go ahead and do it anyway.

Bottom line – sometimes we choose wrongly. In my opinion, as long as we maintain a sincere desire to move into growth on a regular basis, we’ll find a way. We’ll grow in wisdom, so that we won’t be mistaken as often and won’t be as blind as often. We’ll grow in discipline, so we have the strength to make those choices that are best for us.

Abraham Maslow said something similar:

“In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.” (source)

Let’s step forward into growth today. Again. And Again. And Again.

 

Calluses of the Mind

Something else I’ve picked up from David Goggins, and another reason that we should follow the path of most resistance, is to build up “callus our mind”.

Our bodies are amazing things, fragile as hell yet able to toughen themselves as need be. Calluses develop on our skin (mainly our hands and feet) when it constantly rubs against something that it normally doesn’t come into contact with.

They develop in order to protect us – and so that the rubbing can continue without pain.

But the process itself involves pain. Sometimes calluses start as blisters and pop, spewing pus everywhere…. and the callus making process starts all over again. Not a fun processes.

Calluses of the mind work the same way.

Doing something different, something beyond our current level of comfort, by definition involves pain – sometimes mental, sometimes physical, usually both.

Calluses of the mind only develop when we come into contact with mental discomfort, over and over and over again.

Sometimes mental blisters develop and sometimes mental pus oozes. But if we keep at it, the calluses develop. And lo and behold, that thing that was soooo mentally painful no longer causes the discomfort it once did.

When you are deciding if you are going to to do something outside of your comfort zone, there’s always at least one excellent reason to do it.

In order to callus your mind.

 

Who The Fuck Are You?

“No, really, Lyman. Who the fuck are you to be writing this shit?”

“What qualifies you to write about Stoicism, ACT, Mental Health, or any of the other bullshit that you spout.”

I’m drawn to this stuff. Whatever the reason, I’m pulled toward expressing my ideas on personal development and how people can create better lives for themselves.

No matter how many times I quit, no matter how many blogs I’ve deleted, no matter how much criticism I get… I keep coming back for more.

For a while there, I started thinking that there was really something wrong with me. I thought I was one of those pathetic people who would just keep buying book after book, seminar after seminar, course after course… looking for that one thing that would finally make me ok.

Guess what. I was right. That’s exactly who I was. Still am to some degree. Probably always will be on some level.

But something kind of cool has happened. I gained a lot of knowledge. Knowledge is good. It’s one of the very few things out there where more is always better than less.

Some of the knowledge that I’ve gained is the knowledge that there’s a whole lotta bullshit out there in the world of self improvement. So many things that we thought were true when it comes to personal development were either just plain made up or put out there with only anecdotal evidence.

I like to think of it as a signal to noise ratio. And the noise in the self-help world can be deafening.

So who am I? I’m a guy who dabbled in almost every form of self help that you can imagine. A guy who can tell you what has worked for him and what hasn’t. A guy who can point people in the direction of those experts with a high ratio. A guy who, because he hated himself so much, was brought to the brink of death by his own hand, but is still here. And still kicking.

That’s who the fuck I am.

 

 

The Path of Most Resistance

I’m currently reading “Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds” by David Goggins. I’d seen the book floating around out there, but it didn’t interest me much. I thought it was just another “military guy has a rough time of it but succeeds in the end” kind of book. Yeah, they can be inspiring, but they don’t always have a whole lot of original, actionable material.

Then I came across this comment on Reddit, which pointed me to this video, which convinced me to find a copy of the book, read a few pages, and buy it.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about the book. I’m about a quarter of the way in, and it’s fucking fantastic. But this article isn’t about that.

This article is about a single idea that I picked up in the video.

The idea of taking the Path of Most Resistance.

Normally, we hear and talk about the path of least resistance. It’s how water and electricity move. We design aqueducts and wire homes to take advantage of this.

Human beings default to the path of least resistance as well. I really like the idea that it’s an evolutionary trait – we aren’t lazy, we’re just conserving energy because who knows when a lion or that asshole from the other tribe is gonna leap out from the bushes? You better be ready.

In order to conserve that energy, we design our lives to take advantage of this property.

This isn’t a bad idea. Simplifying is a great example of taking the path of least resistance – get all of that crap out of your life so that you can focus on what really matters.

The problem we have now is that we’ve created lives that are so easy when compared to the lives that the majority of people lived just a hundred years ago, it’s almost laughable.

Not that people don’t have problems. When everything is difficult, *of course* you should take the path of lease resistance. You don’t need to train for life when every day is a constant struggle for survival – the race itself is the training.

But that’s not what (most of) our lives are like right now. Most of the people in the society we live in (I’m assuming you have at least a few creature comforts if you are reading this) have an essentially zero chance of being surprised by a mountain lion, and a very small chance of being physically attacked by a member of another tribe in the in the near future.

“Wait a minute, buddy. You obviously don’t live in my neighborhood if you think that I only have a ‘very small chance’ of being physically attacked.”

Right. But it’s not going to happen *constantly*, unless you live in a literal war zone. So even in a “bad neighborhood” situation, how much time do you think you need to rest, and how many calories do you need to pack on (without immediately using them properly) to be ready?

Not as much or as many as we are, that’s for sure.

We relax. We “conserve energy.” We consume mass amounts of readily available calories because our caveperson brains think that it may be the last time that we see food. Then we get mesmerized by the media that convinces us just how dangerous the world is, repeating the cycle. And to satisfy the need we have for adventure, we live our lives through our screens, watching others do the things that we want to do instead of doing it ourselves.

And it’s killing us.

Taking The Path Most Resistance, whenever possible, is a solution. Start taking it. On purpose. When you don’t have to. Whether it’s connected to a major goal or not.

It will make you stronger.

That’s why people go to the gym or hit the trails for a run. To get stronger. We don’t have to. We do it in order to feel better, in order to look better, in order to be able to say “Yeah, I can do that.”

Make your life your gym. Take the path of most resistance as often as you can.

Of course that dish in the sink isn’t going to hurt anything by being there. Rinse it out and put in the dishwasher anyway.

Of course it’s more reasonable to drive the mile to the grocery store. Why waste your energy walking and carrying the stuff back?

What’s the point of talking to that attractive person and asking them out, when you know you are going to get shot down?

It isn’t only about getting the sink clean or taking care of the shopping or being in a relationship with a particular person.

It’s about your ability to get shit done that needs to get done. And the more you can make getting shit done a habit, the more shit you’ll get done. And maybe (maybe!) you’ll have a clean sink, a well stocked fridge, and your dream partner in the process.

Take the path of most resistance more frequently today. It doesn’t have to be be huge at first. When you feel fear, discomfort, or laziness when facing the prospect of doing something that you want or need to do, recognize that this is path of most resistance. And take it.

 

Locked Doors

About a week ago, I was outside with my dog for his morning business.

Petey is an awesome dog – fun, loving, loyal – unless there’s another dog around. He came from a shelter and is a bit emotionally damaged. Other dogs freak him out, and he can get very aggressive (barking, snarling) when he sees them, whether they are near him or not. When they get close by, he goes insane. My wife Tracy and I refer to it as “going Cujo”, and that’s not an exaggeration. Luckily, he’s a small (30 to 35 pounds) Corgi mix, so the leash and harness allow us to manage him, but it is difficult.

Anyway… I’m outside with him at about 4:30 am, and I notice another dog owner out there. When this happens, I always do my best to move away. Since it’s my dog who’s the asshole, I figure it’s my responsibility to do the moving.

But… this person starts coming toward me with their dog in tow. I stand there, talking softly to Petey, telling him it’s OK, telling him to be a good boy.

“Do you have a key to the apartment building? I locked myself out.”

Ugh…

No, not the most compassionate response. I’ve locked myself out of the building myself a few times, but luckily my wife has always been home when I’ve done it so she can just let me in. It must really suck to not have someone to do that for you. If the person didn’t have a dog with them, it wouldn’t have been a problem at all, but I know what’s coming.

I realize there’s a solution!

“The side door is unlocked,” I tell her. “Just go in through there.”

“But the inside doors…”

“The one on the first floor hasn’t locked in the two+ years I’ve lived here. You can get to the elevators that way.”

“But the inside doors lock.”

O boy.

“No, it’s unlocked. You can get in that way.”

“But the inside doors lock, and I won’t be able to get to my floor.”

“You can go through the side door, then the inside door, then the elevator.”

“But the inside doors lock.”

OK… I guess she needs her hand held. Here we go.

She’s between me and the path leading to the doors. So I start walking toward her and her dog to get by her and there goes Petey. Barking, snarling, up on his hind legs, pulling at the leash trying to get at the other dog.

She gives me almost no room to get by, but I manage and get to the door. I open the outside door without my key and point to the inner one. “That door is unlocked. It’ll get you to your apartment.”

“No, it’s locked.”

Fuuuuuuck!

“I promise you… go up there and you’ll be able to open the door.”

She grudgingly gets by me (freaking Petey out even more) and goes to the door. She turns the handle, and low and behold, it’s unlocked and she gets through.

The response you’d expect? “Wow, thank you!”

The response I got? “Well, these are supposed to be locked!” as she goes through the door without another word.

“Supposed to be” is not equal to “is”.

I understood that she was having a hard time. Locking yourself out of your building at 4:30 am is a pain in the ass at best, scary at worst. She was reacting to her situation with anger and wanted someone to fix it for her.

Again, not my most compassionate moment. Now I see I should have shot her some metta – “May she be free from suffering.”

When do I just stand around and wait for a savoir, consciously or not? When do I not try solutions that are offered to me? When do I not even look for a solution? When do I just sit around and give up, completely misusing the principle of acceptance?

What doors are wide open in my own life – physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, socially, etc. – that I assume are locked and I can’t get into? What could I be, do, and have if I’d just make a tiny bit of effort and try to open the door?

There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. It’s usually necessary if we want to do something we haven’t done before. That’s something I need to work on myself. But once a solution is offered, we need to try it before discounting it.

What door do you assume is locked and haven’t even tried to open in your own life? Even if you’ve tried before, try again. Ask for help, then implement the solution if it isn’t something you’ve actually tried to do before. And if that doesn’t work, try again, look again, ask again. There are two possible outcomes –  you’ll eventually find a solution, or you’ll die before that happens. Since you’re going to die anyway, you might as well spend your time working on getting those doors open.

It’s way better than standing outside the apartment building of life waiting for your key to come.