Action Plan: Changing My Habits With A New Phrase

For as long as I can remember (probably since college which was twelve years ago) I’ve written ‘to do lists.’ They’re my way of helping me keep track of all the things I need/want to do. I don’t recall ever crossing off every item on any particular day’s list. I don’t know if I’m too ambitious with my planning or too poor at time management or just lazy, but my to-do lists never get done. Ever.

Often I’ll make a very large to do list that includes things on it I know I won’t accomplish for months (like write a novel). The purpose of those lists is simply a macro version of the same purpose for the smaller lists – to keep a record of things I want to do and help encourage me to do them. But regardless of how comprehensive or localized the list is (usually I make daily lists) I can’t finish them. It’s been a constant source of frustration and fuel for the self deprecating voice in my head to tell me I’m not that great. I mean that voice can honestly tell me I’ve never crossed off a complete list. It’s exhausting to think of myself as handicapped in an invisible way.

When I had a cast on my hyperextended ankle in 2002 I knew I was damaged goods. Negotiating stairs, showering and playing sports were just a few of the activities I could not accomplish either at all or without exerting a large amount of energy and likely also experiencing a significant amount of discomfort. My ankle eventually healed and I’ve never forgotten that I’m lucky as hell to have all my limbs in working condition.

But now, I face a mental handicap of sorts. It feels similar to another affliction I used to have – over eating. As of this writing I have not overeaten two meals in a row in over two months. That’s huge for me. I used to be a chronic overeater. I would eat past the point of satisfaction and deep into the realm of discomfort and pain. I didn’t enjoy the pain. At least, not in anyway I could ever understand consciously. But despite the overwhelmingly simple solution – stop eating sooner – being evident to my mind, I could not for the life of me stop. I might be able to sneak a meal in here or there where I didn’t feel bloated afterward, but rarely did I ever go two meals in a row without overeating.

Part of the reason I was able to stop overeating so much is the fact that I went to therapy and I realized for the first time that my thoughts are often saying super negative things to myself. It feels like there’s someone who is me, but at the same time isn’t me. Think of the voice more like a character I would portray in a film or better yet, cartoon. I can tell the voice is me. It sounds like me. But I’m not the one who wrote the dialogue for the character I’m playing. And therefore, that character feels separate from me in a meaningful way.

And I often hear that voice – my voice – telling myself that I’m a disappointment and that I’m lazy. Really, that voice says a slew of negative things. And I don’t know exactly how my overeating correlated to that voice, but I also don’t need to know. I just knew that any change I made to that voice would only help and not hurt. So, what did I do? Through the insight of my girlfriend, my therapist, several friends, a number of books and lectures on youtube and a podcast called Invisibilia I have been able to somewhat tame the voice.

The voice still speaks to me and still says negative things sometimes. But now those negative things are less frequent than they used to be. Previously, the felt like a backpack full of bricks. It was like a steady stream of negative thoughts pouring down on my exposed head like Chinese water torture. Now, it feels more like someone occasionally throwing ice cold water on me. It’s still not pleasant, but it’s also not constant.

And what’s more, I’ve also learned that I am under no obligation to take that voice seriously. Since I didn’t write any of his lines, I’m not responsible for what he says. And he has no authority over me anymore than a stranger on the street might. It’s still not pleasant with a stranger insults me, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to shrug off the insult from a stranger than from myself. So, it’s like getting freezing cold water thrown at me sometimes, but also I can sometimes jump out of the way.

A way to think about it concretely is to say that the voice used to throw punches on me nearly constantly and everyone of them landed. Some hurt more than others, but they all made solid contact with my face. Figuring out how to love myself was the metaphorical equivalent of breaking up the fight into rounds. Just like real boxers, after a few minutes of fighting a bell would ring and the fighting would stop for a little while.

Then, realizing that the voice had no authority over me was the equivalent of me subbing out the heavyweight boxer with a bantam weight. In other words, he still throws punches and they’re still strong, but their not even in the same weight class as they used to be.

Then, realizing that the voice was not in fact me gave me the ability to sometimes (not always) see the punch coming early enough to duck away or block it with my arms. So, in total I’m getting hit less often, by a weaker opponent who’s now slow enough to allow me to dodge some of his punches…yeah, I feel good about that metaphor. Hope you like it too.

So….back to the to do lists. Despite my rather miraculous and life changing ability to tame the nasty voice in my head a bit, I still don’t cross off my to do lists. Whatever prevents me from doing this is still getting it’s power from somewhere. I was hoping that voice was also responsible for this inability of mine. But since the problem persists even now after I disarmed the voice, I’m going to try another approach.

George Carlin was famous for his theory that the state of the English language had a profound affect on our individual thoughts and consequently our actions. One memorable reference I remember he made about death:

“And thanks to our fear of death in this country, I won’t have to ‘die’…I’ll ‘pass away.’ Or I’ll ‘expire’ like a magazine subscription.” -Doin’ It Again (1990)

His point was that we use certain words in ways to help trick our thinking. In this case, we used euphemisms for ‘die’ into tricking ourselves out of the fear of dying. He had several examples I won’t get into, but my point is that I agree with what I think he was getting at. I think words can be very powerful to the point that they can change our very thoughts and decisions. So, I’m going to conduct an experiment.

For the next month I’m not going to make anymore ‘to do lists.’ Instead, I’m going to make ‘action plans.’ For some reason the term ‘action plan’ fills me with a sense of urgency. It sounds more official and potentially more important than ‘to do list.’ Things I have ‘to do’ sound boring. And whether they are or not, the phrase paints them in a negative like. It sounds and subsequently feels like drudgery.

But the term ‘action plan’ sounds more like something a high powered CEO or a military general does. The consequences for failing to execute an action plan sound more severe and the whole endeavor sounds more challenging and exciting.

The funny thing is that the content of the action plan is identical to the to do list. I’m fully aware of this. But I believe that by merely changing the name of these documents will up my chances for completing them more often. Less often would be impossible as the number is zero, but the good side of that is that even minimum progress is 100%. As the old axiom goes, ‘you can’t fall off the floor.’ Honestly, I don’t know if that’s an axiom, idiom, cliche or some other category of phrases.

So, my hope is to change this part of my personality. I want to heal my metaphorically broken brain. I’ve been on mental crutches in this arena for far too long. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to write tomorrow’s action plan.

Thanks, y’all!

Rich

Racism, Homophobia, & Facebook Controversy

Yesterday I posted the following on Facebook:

“If you’re uncomfortable with two men kissing on a TV show in 2015 then just know that in 1968 some people were uncomfortable with a white man kissing a black woman on a TV show (Star Trek). If you’re cool with being this generation’s version of that person, then by all means carry on.”

With it was a link to how some fans of the show ‘The Walking Dead’ were bothered by the fact that there was a kiss between two homosexual male characters on the most recent episode. When I posted this I thought it was going to be a throw away post that almost no one acknowledged. Apparently, I was really naive.

As of this blog post there have been 84 comments. Some of those are mine responding to other comments, but mostly they’re from other people. Even though I didn’t intend to stir up such a storm of controversy, I did, so now I’d like to clarify it a bit.

1. I did not mean my original post to be passive aggressive or condescending.

Even as recently as a few years ago I was uncomfortable with seeing two men kiss. It’s perfectly understandable. When I was a little kid I was uncomfortable with seeing a man and a woman kiss. It was something I didn’t understand back then and it was weird to me. As I got older I realized what kissing (heterosexual kissing) was and I discovered that I enjoyed it as well. Also, it was everywhere. Every TV show and movie for the most part showed it. And after being exposed so much to seeing people kiss I stopped being uncomfortable with it and started to accept it and even find it endearing.

It makes complete sense that someone who has not been exposed to seeing two men kiss would be uncomfortable by it. It’s different. It doesn’t jive with their personal experience. And even though it does occur on TV and movies more now than it ever has, it’s still not super commonplace.

That said, I believe that in the future it will be commonplace. I believe that homosexuality will be as prevalent on TV and movies as heterosexuality is now. I don’t think kids will be raised in a world where they never see two men kiss. But for right now, we live in an in-between stage. Twenty or thirty years ago, no one saw this type of stuff in the media. Twenty or thirty years in the future it will be commonplace. But for right now it only occurs rarely.

2. I’m not talking about morality, but about social acceptability.

Racism used to be open and blatant in the US. In his autobiography (Still Follin’ ‘Em) Billy Crystal says that when he was a freshman in college he tried to order a sandwich at a deli in Virginia and was told they would not serve him because he was Jewish. The deli owner knew because Billy Crystal had been wearing a Star of David necklace. The deli owner was not shy about the fact. In the story it sounds like he was proud of the fact that he would not serve a Jew in his store.

If that happened today, people would freak out and call it injustice.

Racism is by no means done in our country, but the argument for it is done. It’s not socially acceptable. Some people are still racist, but for the most part it’s only done behind closed doors and it’s done way less than it used to be. It’s my hope that the spirit of racism will continue to fade and eventually completely vanish, but regardless, I think we can all agree that it has definitely dwindled.

Is it moral to be racist? I don’t think so, but I’m not going to tell you what is moral. My morality is for me and me alone. That said, it’s empirically obvious that it’s not socially acceptable. And it’s not legal to discriminate based on race. You’re allowed to believe whatever you want, but because we’re all part of a society we have to live in the context of what is socially acceptable. You’re welcome to challenge that, but your challenge may be met with some harsh criticism.

I believe that challenging what is socially acceptable is sometimes a good thing. I don’t think women would have been given the right to vote so early had it not been for the efforts of some to challenge the societal norms. Sometimes challenging social acceptability leads to change. Other times it does not.

3. I am not talking about The Bible.

People have interpreted the Bible (and many other holy books) differently throughout history. In many classic works of art, certain old testament characters are portrayed with horns on their heads because someone misinterpreted a part of the Bible. In the Civil War era there were many people who justified slavery using the Bible. Most people I know in the modern era would say that those were misinterpretations. And they’re probably right, but my point is that I’m not arguing whether the Bible condemns homosexuality or not. That’s up to your interpretation as far as I’m concerned.

The point of my post in the first place was to show that if you’re uncomfortable with a gay kiss right now then you’re in the same camp as someone who was uncomfortable with an interracial kiss 47 years ago. Sure, it’s understandable, but it’s also going out of style. I hope that it doesn’t take 47 years, but I do believe that future generations will look at the very idea of being uncomfortable with homosexuality as a completely foreign concept. They’ll see it as antiquated as I see racism or the idea that women couldn’t vote in this country one-hundred years ago.

What I’m saying is that people in general won’t be uncomfortable with homosexuality nearly as much in the US in the future. And if you agree with me, then you have a choice. You can either be okay with being uncomfortable with it even though future generations will see that as odd or you can try to get over your discomfort and be okay with it. I chose to do the latter, because I saw nothing good coming from being uncomfortable. And I was able to work through that by exposing myself to it more and more.

Our brains are fascinating things. There are some parts of it that we can manipulate. And I’m glad I was able to get comfortable with homosexuality. But I genuinely understand that it’s difficult to do and some people aren’t going to want to even try. And that’s okay. The future’s coming whether we’re comfortable with it or not.

Thanks y’all!

Rich

What’s the Secret? Just Be Your Grandmother

The stereotypical thing people say to someone who’s recently lost weight is usually, ‘What’s your secret?’ And it’s a valid question. There’s not one way to do it, there are several. And gaining information about a way that may be unfamiliar with you could result in helping you. But almost every time I hear someone share what method they used to get in shape, I hear about their diet or their workout regime. And that’s fine. Those things are good to know. But learning those things never helped me to accomplish the same goal.

First of all, there is no ‘secret’ to getting into shape that will give you both increased muscle mass and less body fat that does not involve eating better and working out. The closest things are anabolic steroids and gastric bypass surgery. Steroids won’t necessarily reduce your body fat, but even if they did you can’t get benefits from steroids without also working out. It’s not like the Captain America formula. Rather it’s a hormone that allows your body to respond to your workouts better with increased muscle mass. Gastric bypass surgery can help reduce someone’s body fat significantly in a very short amount of time, but it is possible to re-expand the size of you newly shrunken stomach by eating more than a recommended amount.

And besides, both of those methods – steroids & surgery – come with a huge list of negatives. So, I strongly recommend not doing them if you can help it.

I apologize for the bad news, but the truth is that there is no herb or protein shake or new exercise or piece of cardio equipment that will help you acheive a better body without a ton of effort. There’s one tried and true method that works every time – eating better & working out more. Maybe some day technology and chemistry will come up with a way for us to get a shot in the arm and turn into Captain America. I don’t know. But that day is definitely not now. So, suck it up and get over the fact that if you wanna get in shape you simply must use this method.

I currently feel and look more in shape than I have in years. I’m by no means at my goal body, but I feel a lot better about where I am in February 2015 than I did in February 2014. Do you wanna know my secret? Well, I hate to say this, but I didn’t really do anything different as far as working out or eating well except that I just did more of it. Any given workout or day’s worth of meals in the last five months might look identical to a workout or day of meals I had last year. The only difference as far as that’s concerned is that my frequency increased.

To me, this isn’t helpful or teribly surprising information. I worked out more in the last five months than I had the previous seven months. I ate better much more often too. I didn’t need to learn a new type of workout or a new diet. What I was doing was fine. I just needed to do it more.

So, to me the much more interesting and potentially helpful ‘secret’ to share about my success has nothing to do with what I did in the gym or how I ate, but rather how I felt. In October (four months ago) I started to see a therapist. I have seen her once a week since then and I feel much better mentally than I have in a long time.

A lot of what I’ve written in previous blogs has described some of my new outlooks on life. And the most important one is that I actually like myself now. I can’t remember if I used to like myself and then stopped for some reason or if I was more or less like this my whole life. I wasn’t depressed in a clinical sense, but I did have a terrible self-esteem problem. I can’t say ‘did’ as if I don’t anymore. It feels like I still have it. I just now can overcome it often. The bouts of time where I mentally beat myself up and stress myself out for reasons that aren’t actually logical or helpful still happen, but they are fewer, farther between, and often less intense.

And that helped me to increase the amount of days/times I could devote to working out and it increased the number of times I was able to not eat junk food or avoid overeating in general. And that’s my secret. Let me try to describe it in a way that might be helpful.

Is there anyone in your life that you genuinely love to do stuff for? I think of my late grandmother. When she was alive I was happy to help her. I loved her and didn’t want her to have to get out in the yard  or whatever if I could do it for her. I was eager to help her. Do you have anyone in your life like that?

I used to mow my grandma’s yard. Her yard was easily three times the size of my parents lot (she lived on a decent chunk of land for a single family home). I dreaded mowing my parents’ lawn when I was growing up. It was part of my chores that my dad expected me to do. I didn’t like it. Didn’t wanna do it. However, if my grandma needed her lawn mowed I was right on top of it. I smiled and took pride in the fact that I was doing something to help her.

What was the difference? I was still pushing a mower in the hot sun for a time. The work wasn’t any easier on me physically at my grandma’s. In fact, it was harder. Her mower wasn’t as new and I would have to go over the same spot several times. And her yard was way bigger. Yet I could enjoy it. How? Well, my mind felt differently. That’s it. The difference existed solely in my head.

So, my secret is simply changing my mind.

It may sound silly, but it’s true. I now make decisions about how I’m going to feel about something. And I’m very stern with those decisions. Now, there are times I can actually tell myself I’m going to like something that I had never previously liked before. One example is cleaning. I hate cleaning. My girlfriend loves it and wants to do a full cleaning of the apartment once a week or once every two weeks at the least.

Well, cleaning isn’t pleasant. I hate scrubbing and being around chemicals. It takes time and energy that I don’t care to expend on it, because it’s unenjoyable. So, used to, I would clean, but not like it. Now, I tell myself “You’re gonna have fun.” This sounds ridiculous, but it actually worked. Not every time and not always for very long, but there was a measurable difference in my mood. Cleaning didn’t magically become pleasant. I still disliked the smell of some of the cleansers and the grossness of the bathroom floor and it still took a while and made my joints ache from getting on my knees and scrubbing things. But my mind changed.

I just told myself that I was going to have a good time. I was going to be thankful for the fact that I had a home to clean at all. I could be homeless. And I told myself that despite the unpleasantness of the activity I was still going to have fun.

And this is exactly what I did when it came to working out and eating. I treated myself like my grandmother’s lawn instead of my parent’s lawn. I just told myself that I was awesome and I wanted to do anything I could to help myself. Sure, taking the time to workout is hard. But you better believe if I knew it was going to help my grandmother, I would do it with no complaints. I would feel good about it.

So, I just started treating myself like I would my grandmother. I have become the person that I am happy to do things for. I am the one who deserves to be treated well by myself. I changed my mind.

“But how do I change my mind? I can say something, but not believe it. Your advice seems impractical.” -Potentially you right now.

Think of your feelings like a math problem: situation + your reaction = your feelings

Simple math, right? How you react to situations determine your feelings. But what if I were to throw you one more?

your reaction = your feelings – situation

Now, I’m saying that how you feel before a situation will determine your reaction.

Think of your psyche like a video game. Do you remember how sometimes if you did the same thing three times or something like that then you would unlock a secret to the game? I believe that the human psyche can be like that sometimes. But the ‘secret’ is merely the command. In other words, if I have to have my video game character jump three times in a row in order to reveal a secret door then I probably don’t know ahead of time that there is a secret door. But if I tell myself to be happy three times in a row then the equivalent of the secret door is merely the state of being happy.

Now, I must say that some people probably don’t work out because they simply don’t know how. Same with eating. If you just don’t know what exercises to do or what types of food to eat, please message me. I used to be a personal trainer a decade ago and I’ve read a lot of books on nutrition and the human body. But if you’re like me and you already know that stuff, maybe the only thing keeping you from your goal is that you’re not treating yourself like you would your grandmother (or insert person in your life that you’re happy to do things for)

And why not? You deserve it, right? If you don’t think you do, then maybe you just don’t like yourself. It’s worth exploring.

Thanks, y’all!

Rich

You are the CEO of ‘You Inc.’

I really love this coffee shop in Hollywood called Rise & Grind. It’s not a franchise, but it’s awesome. They serve cold pressed juice, coffee and snacks. Like other coffee shops they have wifi. The decorations and feng shui (by this I just mean the layout, not any supernatural associations with the arrangement of furniture) are really cool.

I also love Apple. I have never had an iphone, but I’ve had mac computers for ten years now. I like the company. They’re innovative and pushing the rest of the tech market to step up their game. I’m a fan.

Both Rise & Grind and Apple Inc. are businesses. They’re primary function is to make profit. They are very different in size, number of employees, services, location, customer base, profit margin, etc. are very very different. But I like both of them for different reasons. And they both have someone who founded them. They both have someone who’s in charge of the direction of the company – CEO or President or something like that.

I used to believe that CEO was just a job. Someone will have that job, but they’re more like an employee occupying that position for a time and their influence over the company won’t be significantly different than anyone else’. But I was incorrect. The CEO of a company can make a huge difference in the future of that companies. Some CEOs like Alan R. Mulally (Ford) made a huge positive difference. Other CEOs like Ken Lay (Enron) made decisions that led the company to bankruptcy. So, now I believe that there really is one person in charge of the major decisions of a company.

What’s my point? Well, if you start a business, it’s largely up to you what kind of business it will be. Obviously, in order to keep it going for a while you need to make it profitable. But other than that, you get to choose every aspect of it. You decide who you market to. You decide whether to buy land or lease it. You decide who to hire and your company policies and everything. You could have a small business like Rise & Grind that probably supports twenty part time employees and five or six full time employees or you could aim to have a business like Apple that employs thousands and markets to billions. Either way, you’re gonna have to put in some effort. Either way, you’re going to not get everything you want. Either way, you’re going to have to make tough decisions.

Well, I have some good/bad news for you. It depends on how you look at it as to whether its good or bad. You’re the CEO of your life. Your life is completely up to your decisions. You decide if you want to try to be more like Apple or Rise & Grind or any other type you like. And at the end of the day, as long as you keep the business going, you get to call the shots. To some people this is scary. They don’t want the responsibility to guide their own life. They want permission or constant reassurance from outside sources as to whether or not they’re making the right choice. Other people might be excited by this news. They want the ball, because they know that they’re gonna get the touchdown.

And a great consequence of this analogy is that you cannot ever feel bad about being you. The world can’t be made up of only companies like Apple. We need small businesses just as badly as we need the multibillion dollar corporations. Just like we need the conservatives and liberals, the religiously devout and the atheists, the dog lovers and the cat lovers, those who loved Freaks & Geeks and those who simply haven’t seen it yet. If we truly need all kinds of people then you can’t feel bad about being yourself. We need you to be you. We don’t have another one of you.

So, be you. Be you loudly and on display. Don’t make others feel bad about being themselves loudly and on display. Everyone gets to peacock around the world with confidence. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re short or tall, bald or blonde, Team Jacob or Team ‘I don’t care.’ We all get to be ourselves.

It pains me to read articles or see videos about people who hate on other people for no other reason than that they were just being themselves. People get hated on because they’re gay or black or overweight or on a reality show. If you’re doing any of that hating, stop it. They’re just being the CEOs of their life. They’re just being themselves. They have that right as much as you do. And no one should make you feel bad about being you…unless you’re breaking the law. You can’t be that part of you if that’s who you really are. But other than that, you be you. And let others be themselves.

So, just to recap:

-You’re in charge of you.

-Maximize your happiness by choosing to be the type of you that you want to be.

-Don’t feel bad about being you.

-Make sure you remember that everyone else has the right to be themselves as much as you do.

-Don’t hate.

-Freaks & Geeks is amazing. You should really watch it if you haven’t seen it.

Thanks, y’all!

Rich