Tag Archives: Mark Manson

How the Color Purple is Harming Your Relationships

(Image/Science)

Pop quiz: If your relationship problems are decreasing mathematically and your romantic partner is observably adjusting his or her behavior in an honest attempt to connect with you emotionally, but your brain and subsequent emotions are telling you otherwise, is your relationship actually improving?

But Matt! What a silly question! If my partner were lovingly changing their behavior for my benefit and the benefit of our relationship, my mind and heart would NEVER tell me otherwise!

Awww. It’s cute because I would have totally said that too before learning about the Blue Dot Effect.

It occurred to me only after learning about the Blue Dot Effect that sometimes it doesn’t matter whether there is objective, measurable improvement. Our brains will sometimes invent new negatives to replace the ones that went away.

Simply put: Even though the world is measurably the best it’s ever been (longest life expectancy, best health care, most material wealth, most educated, most freedoms, most mobile, most access to information in human history), everyone feels shitty and complains to each other about it on social media when they’re not too busy bragging about the awesome new thing they just acquired or did to earn street cred with all of the people they went to high school with.

It’s largely the premise of Mark Manson’s new book Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope. (It’s good.) Manson is among my favorite writers because he tries to do what I try to do, only more effectively and his focus extends beyond romantic relationships.

What is the Blue Dot Effect?

It was Manson’s book which introduced me to the Blue Dot Effect, but writer Sam Brinson had written about it a year ago not long after a group of scientists published their findings on “Prevalence-induced concept change in human judgment” in the June 19, 2018 issue of Science.

The conclusion of the study was simple: When humans are on the lookout for something, like bad behavior or threats, when instances of that bad behavior or those threats lessen, people will expand their definition of “bad behavior” or “threats” to include things they wouldn’t have previously.

From Brinson’s Medium article “The Psychology of Finding What You’re Looking For”:

“The researchers ran several experiments, most of which involved participants identifying blue dots from a series that ranged in color from ‘very blue’ to ‘very purple.’ After some time, the number of blue dots would reduce, and the participants would react by selecting as blue dots those they had previously considered purple — their category of ‘blue’ expanded as the number of examples of blue decreased.”

Brinson continues:

“In further experiments, the researchers found the same effect when participants had to identify aggressive faces from a group that ranged from ‘very threatening’ to ‘not very threatening,’ and again when separating unethical research proposals from ethical ones.

“When increasing the number of blue dots instead of reducing them, the effect reverses — what had previously counted as blue suddenly gets left out. What’s more, the researchers also found the effect to occur when people were told they were doing it, and even when those people were paid to not fall into the trap.”

Important note, Brinson points out:

“This experiment seems to prove that we are incapable of making our concepts rigid, and must give in to ebbing and flowing. It should be noted, however, that this effect occurred when people were looking for instances of the concept — the blue category expanded as people sought to find blue dots, neutral faces became threatening when people were on a mission to find threatening faces.

“People in normal circumstances, who aren’t actively looking to label certain things, might not be as susceptible to the same concept shifts. If I remain indifferent to acts of aggression and acts of kindness, even if the frequency of either act changes, will I be more likely to recognize that change or to alter my definition?”

What This Means for Your Relationships

What this means is, if you’ve identified a pattern of behavior in your relationship partner that you don’t like—like a wife who feels disrespected and unloved because of an incomplete house chore or display of forgetfulness from her husband; or like a husband who feels disrespected and unloved because he perceives EVERY attempt by his wife to communicate with him about her feelings as an unprovoked and unfair attack on his character—you’re likely to find instances of your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend doing the same old bullshit things they always did even if they are legitimately doing things ‘better’ per previous conversations and agreements between the two of you.

And it’s not always because your partner is a huge, selfish asshole who will never change.

Sometimes, it’s simply because things you used to be cool with are now things you’ve labeled unacceptable. Things that were once benign are now painful. Things that were once just humans being humans are now relationship killers.

This tendency to find negatives even when things are improving around us is NOT a weapon for narcissists to wield in another mind-game argument where they invalidate their partner’s expressed feelings and try to convince them that the things they think and feel aren’t real.

It’s merely another opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth. An opportunity to check your own biases and bullshit at the door.

Human behavior is messy. Human emotion and mental health is messy.

It’s HARD to be an adult.

And that’s why finding someone to walk side-by-side with for the rest of our lives is such a beautiful thing. Sometimes we need to be lifted up. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we’re not the only ones who are afraid or unsure of what to do next. Sometimes we need to be forgiven.

The people who promised to love us, and who we promised to love in return, deserve our best. They deserve our most generous thoughts and assumptions. They deserve our most humble and compassionate responses. They deserve our focus and energy and effort to remind them that we’ve got their back.

That they are respected, appreciated, and cherished.

That they are good enough, honored, and supported.

Sometimes, they show up as purple dots and we should lovingly and compassionately remind them they’re kind of being dicks when they do.

Other times, the people who promised to love us forever are showing up as blue dots, and because we are imperfect creatures, we think that dot is purple. We’re LOOKING FOR purple. And we treat those purple-dotting sonsofbitches accordingly.

But really, that dot is blue. Our person showed up just as they’d promised. It feels like they failed us, but really we’re failing them.

And we don’t have to.

We can do better.

We must.

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Prison Break: Free Yourself By Taking the Red Pill

yellow saltwater fish

This fish has spent its entire existence swimming in water, yet is probably completely unaware of what water is. Maybe the fish does know, and we have even bigger problems than I thought. It’s hard to be certain. And that’s the entire point. (Image/Unsplash)

We’re going to talk a little red pill, blue pill.

Not the way dudes who hate women sometimes talk about it, though.

But like Morpheus does—the impeccably dressed part-time sage, part-time badass in The Matrix.

We’re going to get a little weird. Please don’t run like I would have five or six years ago.

Try hard to not do the thing I always did in late-night college pot-smoking circles when one person would inevitably start waxing stoner philosophy, and I thought they sounded like morons and thus insta-dismissed whatever they were saying.

Because there’s this idea that I think might be the most important idea in the world.

The idea that we’re dangerously blind to what’s constantly in front of us.

Like fish that spend their entire lives in water, but don’t actually know what water is.

And I think the amount of people we hurt or help in life, and how people will remember us after we’re gone, and the relative success of our marriages and work life and parent-child relationships is entirely dependent on how well we manage to execute this ONE life skill.

You see, when I consider what makes someone interesting, or “deep,” or intelligent, I tend to think about it in terms of how much they know, and their capacity for learning, or their capacity for thought.

Maybe you do too. I believe it’s common.

But the more I think about this way I thoughtlessly measure how intelligent I consider something to be, the more I agree with the brilliant David Foster Wallace’s suggestion that a good education should be less about someone’s capacity to think, and more about a person’s ability to choose WHAT to think about.

And that is going to seem intolerably banal to many people, and maybe you want to stop reading now.

Like breathing.

Like blinking our eyes.

You almost never think about doing them even though they might be the two things you’ve done more times than anything else in your entire life. Boring as hell, to be sure. But so important. If you stop blinking, you’ll go blind. If you stop breathing, you’ll die.

I think this idea is just like that. Like blinking. Like breathing.

If you’re feeling that mental-auto-pilot nudge to shut your brain off now and move on to the next thing, then maybe that is your little warning light to hang on just a little longer. That means I’m writing this sentence just for you.

I know you might not care, and that’s okay.

I’m not writing it because I think you’re wrong or bad or dumb, or need help from some idiot writer on the internet.

I’m writing it because sometimes we humans mess up our entire lives, and damage our children, and lose everything that’s fragile and dear to us, and if someone asked us to explain how it happened, most of us wouldn’t be able to.

Not because we were careless, even though it might feel like that afterward.

Not because we were reckless, even though it might feel that way to the people we hurt.

But because we CHOSE to think about something else in moments when thinking differently would have changed our entire lives for the better.

That’s not a small thing.

Our health.

Our bank accounts.

Our human relationships.

Our souls.

I must ask, as Wallace did in his remarkably poignant commencement speech that first introduced me to this idea, that you please “bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.”

The Real Value of The Matrix’s Red Pill/Blue Pill Lesson

Morpheus - red pill blue pill The Matrix

(Artwork/Joel Jerry)

Before it was hijacked by men who I perceive to be intentionally trying to recruit broken, depressed and angry guys to join their Women are the Real Enemy Cult, the red pill/blue pill symbolism portrayed in The Matrix served as a valuable thought exercise.

20-Year-Old Movie Spoiler Alert: The film’s protagonist Neo is given a choice by Morpheus.

Neo can choose the blue pill, which will put him to sleep and allow him to wake up in his bed with no memory of recent events, and carry on with his low-stakes, ignorance-is-bliss life. That would have been easy. No risk. Very little danger.

Or, he can choose the red pill. The red pill won’t taste so good going down. It will be hard to swallow. He’ll have to face some really uncomfortable truths, and life will inevitably feel harder. But it will be REAL. It will be the TRUTH. Even if it doesn’t feel as good. Even if it’s more difficult.

Neo chooses the red pill.

After swallowing it, the world melts around him. Neo wakes up in this alien goo pod with a bunch of cords and shit sticking out of him. His weird, goopy, hairless body is hardwired into some kind of massive biomechanical machine tower with millions of other human bodies all sleeping and hardwired into the same system.

Big machines are flying around.

Aside from the machines and the enslaved humans in sleeping pods, the world is nothing but rubble and ash.

Neo had spent his entire life in a simulated computer life that the machines built to make him think he’s living just like the rest of us. With houses and cars and day jobs.

But actually, he was unwittingly a slave to an intelligent race of alien machines harvesting humans to produce energy.

Whoa.

The Importance of Choosing What to Think About

My mind wanders. A lot.

I have an ADHD brain, and I take medicine every day for it.

That means I have a capacity for unawareness (when I’m on auto-pilot) that I believe exceeds the average person, and which I think contributed heavily to the demise of my marriage.

But even if you don’t have similar brain chemistry, you are still affected by blindness to all of the things hiding in plain sight. (Breathing. Eye-blinking. Fish not knowing what water is.)

Our minds—on autopilot—file everything we see, hear, taste, feel, or experience into some kind of bucket.

OMG. That’s amazing.

Or.

OMG. What hot garbage.

Or.

OMG. What happened, again? I wasn’t paying attention because I just dripped coffee all down the front of my shirt and now I’m for-sure going to look extra-assholey today. NEAT.

We automatically—without any thinking whatsoever—classify stuff in our own minds. How good a movie or song is. How attractive that gal or guy is. How we perceive what others will think about us if they know that we like or do [insert whatever here].

We value and measure whatever we just heard or saw or tasted based on a million prior experiences—which calibrates our personal measuring sticks totally differently than other people’s measuring sticks.

It’s cool that this happens because it saves us an enormous amount of mental energy. Our brains go on auto-pilot, and for that we’re not needing to start drinking heavily or go back to sleep by lunchtime just to survive the mental strain of our brains working a thousand times harder than they do now.

But it’s also NOT cool.

Because maybe when we were young, we were either taught something that wasn’t true (or was only partially true) because we were too innocent, inexperienced and naïve to question what people taught us.

I’m not talking about the big, scary things like religion and politics. Most adults, parents, teachers, older siblings, celebrity influencers aren’t intentionally trying to brainwash people. They simply believe something as surely as everyone else does, and if we value their thoughts and opinions, maybe we adopt them for ourselves.

Most of the time, it’s harmless.

Some of the time, it’s not.

I’m talking about the stuff most people think very little about—whether it’s cool for a man to be a ballerina; whether dogs or cats make better pets; what the vehicle someone is driving says about them.

I know a lot about NFL football and NBA basketball, which many guys like to talk about.

But if I go to a random pub in Dublin, Ireland; or Juneau, Alaska; or Istanbul, Turkey, will the average guy there give even a miniscule shit about North American football and basketball?

I don’t know.

But certainly less than you might expect to find in downtown Cleveland, Ohio; Chicago, Ill., or Boston, Mass.

It’s because people know what they know, and NOTHING else. We can’t know what we haven’t been exposed to or experienced ourselves.

And for everyone, everywhere, we are the stars of our own stories. You, me, the people in Bangladesh, and some other people in Argentina. Everybody. Everywhere.

We have experienced EVERY moment of our entire lives from the view inside of our own heads and first-person perspectives, and filtered through the prism of our specific individual experiences.

And really, this is great most of the time. That you are a unique individual. It’s awesome that you’re not identical to everyone else, because that would seem really boring to me and others. It’s amazing that you’re you. Don’t stop being that.

But it’s also a handicap, even though most people don’t think of it that way because few people like selfish egomaniacs, and most of us want to be liked.

A significant handicap. One with life-and-death consequences.

“Blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up,” Wallace said in that commencement speech. “The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way.”

This isn’t about being a good person or being a bad person.

This isn’t about encouraging people to be virtuous.

“It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being ‘well-adjusted,’ which I suggest to you is not an accidental term,” Wallace said.

The Life-Saving Opportunity Crowded Supermarkets, Traffic Jams, and Adulthood Monotony Provide Us

busy supermarket by ABC News

(Image/ABC News)

Note: I just want to reiterate one more time that these aren’t my words. They are from Wallace’s commencement speech to Kenyon College graduates in 2005. And the only reason I know about it is because one of my favorite writers, Mark Manson, shared it several years ago.

It affected him profoundly.

It affected me profoundly, even though I still mess up often.

And I wonder: If it affected EVERYONE profoundly, would most of what’s wrong in the world go away?

I think the answer to that is: Yes.

And I think people who apply what Wallace is encouraging us to do to our relationships with our spouses, friends, siblings, children, co-workers, and even the strangers we encounter in the world—I think if we can muster the strength and courage to take the extra step of choosing WHAT to think, then we can prevent the worst things in our lives from ever happening in the first place.

Maybe we don’t get cancer because we quit smoking.

Maybe we don’t have a heart attack because we exercise and eat healthy.

Maybe we don’t get divorced because we don’t spend years accidentally swinging bats wildly in a room full of the most precious and fragile things in our lives.

Now, Wallace is going to take us home.

“And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what ‘day in day out’ really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.

“By way of example, let’s say it’s an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home. You haven’t had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be but you can’t just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store’s confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough check-out lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

“But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to ‘Have a nice day’ in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

“Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn’t yet been part of you graduates’ actual life routine, day after week after month after year.

“But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides.

“But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

“Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] — this is an example of how NOT to think, though — most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

“You get the idea.

“If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.

“The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.

“Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

“Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.

“But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

“Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.

“This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

“Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

“They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

“And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

“That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

“I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

“The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

“It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“’This is water.’

“’This is water.’

“It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out.

“Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

“I wish you way more than luck.”

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Do You Want to Dance? Or Do You Want to Dance?

Napoleon Dynamite dance

“What are you gonna do today, Napoleon?” “Whatever I feel like I wanna do. Gosh!” (Image/firstandmonday.com)

I’m probably a sucky dancer. Like, to people who evaluate dance quality.

When I was a little kid there were a lot of weddings to attend because my parents are from relatively large families. I remember my aunts trying to coax me onto the dance floor, but something about dancing in the center of the room with a bunch of people watching made me super-shy and I didn’t want to.

Eventually, they’d let me scurry off to do something else.

I got into school dances around 8th grade because then I was allowed to be close to a girl. High school dances were always fun. And by the time college rolled around, bottled Budweiser, the ice luge, and test-tube shots from the shot girls were more than enough to erase what little shyness existed during my social and physical prime. We be clubbin’. Yaeeyaae.

When I was the editor of my college newspaper, the president of the Black Student Union invited me as her date to the BSU homecoming dance. I was the only white person in the banquet hall. Despite having a dozen friends in the room, I still froze up pretty hard when she drug me out to the dance floor.

That was an opportunity to demonstrate courageousness in a life where I often hadn’t needed to. And I wasn’t up to it because I was worried about what everyone else was thinking.

Later, I ended up engaged and married to a competitive ballroom dancer who knew how to navigate dance floors of all types. She always wanted me to dance with her.

I did sometimes. But I mostly declined.

It was always about bravery. It was never rooted in not actually wanting to.

It was rooted in being judged by others and deemed inadequate. It was rooted in being judged by my partner and deemed unworthy.

3 Critical Dancing Tips That Aren’t Actually About Dancing

“I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It’s permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable.” – Martha Graham

1. It Doesn’t Matter What You Think

Your opinions regarding how good or bad you are at something couldn’t be less relevant. People are wrong all the time about most things. It’s because we’re not divine or psychic.

I stumbled on this excellent thing from Brian D. Buckley somehow several weeks ago, and loved it. In his post “You Do Not Even Have To Believe in Yourself” he recounts the story of famed dancer and choreographer Martha Graham who he learned about after clicking a Google Doodle honoring her.

He wrote this:

“The story goes that another artist came to Ms. Graham to talk about her own worries. She ‘confessed that [she] had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that [she] could be.’

“Martha’s response:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

“I love this because it removes entirely the idea that you might not be good enough.

“She’s not saying you are good enough, she’s simply saying it doesn’t matter. That variable isn’t part of the equation. There is art inside you that exists nowhere else, and you must bring it out, and that is all.

“This doesn’t mean you can be passive. You can’t wait for the Muse or your inner self to inspire you, nor can you merely dump your feelings on the page. Every art is a craft, and you are expected to forever push your skill to its limit. That’s what it means to ‘keep the channel open.’ And of course, keeping the channel open is tremendously difficult.

“But most artists – myself included – tend to make it even harder by piling worries and doubts on top of the work itself. Am I good enough? Will they like it? Will anyone remember this a year from now, or ten, or a hundred?

“None of that is your job. It isn’t part of the equation.”

2. It Isn’t Even About You

Mark Manson—a writer I admire very much—just published a new piece yesterday called “3 Important Life Skills Nobody Ever Taught You,” and it’s phenomenal.

I’m including two of the three here because they are must-share “dancing” lessons.

Because everything we have ever experienced or will ever experience involves ourselves, we mentally and emotionally treat EVERYTHING that happens to us as actually being about us.

“But here’s a newsflash: Just because you experience something, just because something causes you to feel a certain way, just because you care about something, doesn’t mean it’s about you,” Manson wrote.

But then he wrote the most-important thing I’ll read today, or possibly ever, and it speaks to the heart of why I was afraid of my wife thinking I was a shitty dancer, or hundreds of black students at a homecoming dance thinking I was a dorky white kid who needed to go back to the barnyard square dance where I belonged.

“When people criticize you or reject you, it likely has way more to do with them — their values, their priorities, their life situation — than it does with you,” Manson said. “I hate to break it to you, but other people simply don’t think about you that much (after all, they’re too busy trying to believe everything is about them).”

3. There’s Value in Doing Things Just Because We Can

You know how the internet and inspirational posters took the phrase “Dance like no one’s watching” and made it cliché, so now it’s lame to say even though it totally makes sense because we’ve all secretly danced by ourselves at home when no one was watching (except for our dead relatives and creepy binocular-using neighbors)?

You’re not dancing because you’re at a dance. Not to be close to a partner or find one after midnight on the dance floor. Not to win the approval of a bunch of peers who are clearly superior dancers to you, OR to win the approval of judges in a competition you want to win.

You’re doing it just because.

If someone wanted you to explain why, there might not be an answer.

I felt like it? Works for me.

Manson wrote that people need to learn how to take actions without knowing what the results might be.

“But most of life — that is, real life — doesn’t work this way. When you decide to change careers, there’s no one there telling you which career is right for you. When you decide to commit to someone, there’s no one telling you this relationship is going to make you happy. When you decide to start a business or move to a new country or eat waffles instead of pancakes for breakfast, there’s no way of knowing — for certain — if what you’re doing is ‘right’ or not,” Manson wrote. “And so we avoid it. We avoid making these decisions. We avoid moving and acting without knowing. And because we cannot act on what we don’t know, our lives become incredibly repetitive and safe.”

Paralysis by analysis is the saying, I think. Using the fear of the unknown to avoid taking any action at all.

I think that’s how we die in the suburbs after spending 35 years punching clocks, and where most nights were spent in the living-room recliner watching Law & Order and shit.

Some people may genuinely not want to do certain things.

Genuine things, authentic things, actual things—REAL THINGS—are always okay. Those things are truth.

But sometimes we pretend things are true that aren’t just because we’re afraid of something.

I think most of the time we pretend things are true because we’re afraid of change.

Because we don’t know what might happen next. Scary!

And maybe we’re not good enough. Our opinions don’t matter!

And maybe everyone will point and laugh and call us shitty dancers. Maybe she’ll stop wanting to kiss us. Their opinions matter less than ours.

So dance.

Maybe that means buy the plane ticket. Change careers. Buy the ring.

Maybe that means take a chance. Have an adventure. Start your family.

It doesn’t matter what the dance looks like, and it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of it—not even you.

It only matters that you do it.

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Maybe You’re Giving Too Many F*cks: A Q&A With Author Mark Manson

Tim doesn't give a fuck. Image/Mark Manson

This makes me laugh every time I see it. You go, Tim. (Image/markmanson.net)

There are bad words in this post.

More than usual. I used to publish many bad words here, but have cut back, probably because I worry too much about what other people think. Which is bad.

That’s what Mark Manson’s new book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: The Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life is mostly about (along with Mark’s original blog post which inspired it).

We all spend a lot of time and energy on trying to be who and what we think other people want us to be. And it leaves us feeling a little dirty and dissatisfied because it’s inauthentic and bullshitty.

Our mental, physical, spiritual and emotional well-being is affected by a variety of meaningful and important things. Some people think profanity is meaningful and important. Some people want to use only nice words and feel comfortable all the time.

But sometimes, I think we MUST feel uncomfortable, because that’s when we figure out what really matters and what doesn’t.

I don’t intentionally cuss in front of children (or my grandma), and I value politeness and respecting others’ opinions.

But once in a while, boats need rocked, beliefs need challenged, and taking a counterintuitive approach is what’s needed to live well.

You might not like it. I’m fairly certain my mom doesn’t.

But for this post, at least? I just don’t give a fuck.

subtle-art-cover

F-bombing the book title is a bold choice. The word “Shitty” will live in mine.

Mark Manson is one of my favorite writers, possibly my very favorite.

He’s smart. He’s funny. And many of the things he writes hit me in that place where your mind, heart and body go: Ohhh. That feels uncomfortably true.

Other than me being a big fan and admirer of his work, Mark and I don’t know each other. I’m not pimping Mark’s new book for any other reason than I believe his writing has the ability to help certain people have better lives.

I truly believe that Mark’s work helps humans flourish. And that matters.

I think you should read his book. It would be awesome of you to buy a copy. By the time you read this, my pre-ordered copy should be sitting atop my book stack. Which is awesome.

A Q&A With Mark Manson

Matt: I’ve read a lot of your work and have been majorly influenced by a handful of your ideas. I value your opinions. What is so important to you about this specific concept that made it meaningful enough to dedicate an entire book to it?

Mark: I wanted to write a book about the importance of pain — that pain is often a good and necessary thing in life. It’s something that’s not said often and I feel like in our overly-consumer culture these days with social media and everything, it’s more important than ever for people to allow life to suck sometimes. They need to learn how to stop giving a fuck about everything all the time. In a sense, you could say it’s an approach to personal growth not through pursuing and achieving more, but rather by pursuing and achieving less.

Matt: I mostly write about relationships (the dating/marriage kind). How can learning how to give fewer fucks help someone or couples experience greater relationship success?

Mark: Not giving a fuck is essentially about choosing what to care about: choosing your priorities, your values. Most people who struggle in the dating/relationship area struggle because they’re giving too many fucks about the wrong things — being admired or receiving validation, avoiding rejection, or pumping up their own ego. For a relationship to function and flourish, one needs to get clear about what truly matters to them and what does not, and then develop the ability to sort and screen through potential partners to find someone who shares those values.

Mark Manson

That’s Mark. (Image/Forbes)

Matt: It was you who introduced me to David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech which you shared in your post “This is Water.” It had the same chemistry-shifting impact on me as I believe it did on you. (So, thanks.) How do we balance in healthy ways critical concepts like Awareness and Empathy with the self-preservation techniques of fuckage withholdment?

Mark: One of the subtleties to not giving a fuck is that it’s not about being indifferent, it’s about being comfortable with being different. Many people see not giving a fuck as this armor of indifference — by learning to not care about anything, they’ll protect themselves from being hurt. But the truth is that indifference is just another way of giving too many fucks. To truly not give a fuck about what does not matter, we must first discover those things in our life that matter the most.

Matt: If you had to pick just one of your articles, which would you choose that hit on one of those life-altering moments for you, in an effort to help others see the world as you believe it is?

Mark: It’s funny, the articles I love the most are often not the articles that readers get the most out of and vice-versa. For me though, the biggest ones would probably be “Being Special Isn’t So Special,” “Love is Not Enough” and “The Four Stages of Life.”

Matt: One of the great lessons of adulthood for me has been learning about Hedonic Adaptation. It is, in my estimation, the root cause of human dissatisfaction across the board, from how we always grow tired of our shiny new toys, adjust to pay increases, and perhaps most importantly, take for granted our romantic partners. What besides Mindfulness would you recommend to people (especially guys) for combating that psychological condition on behalf of their marriages and families?

Mark: The hedonic treadmill usually only applies to superficial, worldly pursuits — earning more money, buying nicer cars, banging more women, etc. This is why these things are generally considered superficial values and poor things to pursue (or to put another way, poor places to invest your fucks). As humans, we need a sense of progress in order to feel happy, therefore it’s important to choose goals and values that have no definitive end to them — becoming a great musician, being a good father, having a pleasant social life, etc. These are things that can always be worked on and improved upon.

Matt: The No. 1 question I get is: “How can I get my husband to understand what you’ve written here? He never listens to me any time I say anything he perceives as critical.” I care about helping others, and I believe husbands actively listening to their wives (hearing her, I mean; not following her directives) would dramatically improve relationships/marriage. What advice would you give women on how to communicate concerns or dissatisfaction in ways men are more likely to truly listen to?

Mark: Questions like this are hard because they’re so person-dependent. It’s hard to say with certainty without knowing the couple. After all, maybe there’s something in the wife’s communication style that is preventing him from hearing her. Maybe the husband has some deep insecurity that is causing him to avoid dealing with the issue. It could be a million things.

But in general, the short answer, is that whenever someone in a relationship has problems with their partner, it always needs to be communicated in such a way that responsibility or blame for each person’s emotions are not shifted to the other. For instance, many people naturally approach their partner by saying something like, “You don’t care about me and make me feel horrible because all you want to do is X.” Because this is said in such a way that puts all of the responsibility on the partner, they will naturally become defensive or seek a way to avoid dealing with it. After all, I can’t control how my wife feels 24/7!

A much better way to communicate it is something like, “When you do X, it often causes me to think/feel badly because I feel unloved. Maybe that’s my own insecurity, but is there something we can do to make it better?” In this example, the person approaching their partner with the problem is owning their responsibility for their own feelings and reactions, and are looking to find some solution. There’s no blame or guilt-tripping going on. This is far more likely to be successful.

Then again, a lot of men are raised and socialized to be emotionally shut down and distant from pretty much everyone (but especially women), so it can be a much more long-term issue that may actually have little to do with the wife herself.

Thanks, Mark

A big thank-you to Mark for making time for our tiny corner of the internet.

If you think as highly of Mark’s work as I do, perhaps you’ll give his new book a read and share it with anyone in your life who might benefit from it.

This sort of thing is good for everybody.

Because we mostly give too many fucks about the wrong things. And it makes us feel bad as we invest in other people’s opinions of us, or chasing things that ultimately leave us feeling empty.

Remember: Fuckage withholdment isn’t about being indifferent. It’s about being comfortable with being different.

We can participate in bullshit group-think and try to blend in.

Or we can be like Tim in the image up top. Each of us gets to decide.

Now, where did I leave those red balloons?

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How to be Less of an Asshole in Life and Relationships

you're an asshole

Yes, even you. (Image/dailycal.org)

Sometimes I’d walk into the living room to find my wife watching 16 and Pregnant or some other TV show I thought was stupid or morally baseless.

I could have ignored it.

I could have sat with her to try to better understand the things she liked and why.

I could have suggested another activity that didn’t involve TV or seem stupid to me.

But instead of those mature and relationship-nurturing alternatives, I usually acted like an asshole.

I think deep down in the furthest recesses of my heart and subconscious, I believed I was doing the right thing by reacting negatively.

Because I loved my wife and wanted her to be the best person she could be, I didn’t want her to enjoy watching things that were “beneath” her or “bad” for her.

Because I thought television programming like MTV’s 16 and Pregnant was ultimately a bad influence on young girls and the world in general, I didn’t want my wife supporting it, or even wanting to.

Because she was the person I wanted to have children with, and I was sensitive to the sacred responsibility parents have as moral guides for their kids, I wanted my wife to share my opinions and values—even though I totally watched things like Family Guy, South Park, The League, and other raunchy and sophomoric comedies that have made me laugh through the years.

I didn’t share her tastes, beliefs or opinions about some things, and I sometimes valued my feelings more than hers. I felt morally superior to her on this topic, despite all of the insufferable hypocrisy. And since speaking in mocking tones or even just sarcastic ribbing was NOT something I judged to be hurtful or demeaning (because I loved her and married her, thus couldn’t possibly be trying to cause pain, I reasoned), I’d make asshole comments about her personal entertainment choices.

Sometimes those comments hurt her feelings. Sometimes she’d say so.

Maybe I apologized sometimes. It’s hard to remember.

Mostly, I don’t think I did. I think because I “knew” I was right and she was wrong (Because I just want what’s best for you and our kids, babe!!!), that any resistance from her was met with invalidation and probably some insistence that my “morally and intellectually superior” opinions were somehow more correct than hers.

This is the same kind of thinking hate groups and terrorist organizations use to justify hate speech, discrimination, kidnapping, rape and violent murder—sometimes on a massive scale.

Their beliefs are unwavering absolutes which in their minds gives them the moral high ground to carry out the worst things that happen in the world.

If hostility is your default reaction to people challenging your beliefs, then you probably have some Inner Asshole self-control issues like me.

What you believe may or may not be an established fact. Documented facts are easy enough to prove.

If what you believe can’t be proven easily, it makes sense that others have beliefs that conflict with yours. It would be weird if they didn’t.

If you want to have good relationships and make life suck less, you should stop being an asshole about it. Here’s how.

Think of the Times You Were Proven Wrong Despite Feeling Certain

When you’re in the midst of a disagreement, ask yourself: “Is it possible I’m wrong about this despite feelings of certainty, just like those other times I mistakenly thought I was right?” Of course, it’s possible. But sometimes, you’ll feel certain in your correctness anyway. You probably mostly will because of the Actor-Observer Bias, which you accidentally use every day to forgive yourself for behaviors and actions you typically admonish others for doing (texting while driving, using profanity, having an affair, etc).

Unfortunately, your feelings of certainty are not always a reliable measuring stick for determining truth. Feeling certain has no bearing on whether your beliefs, opinions, or even what you think you know, is actually true. We can feel equally certain about things that are right as we do about things that are wrong.

…..

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I started coaching in 2019. Clients and I work collaboratively through current and past relationship stuff in order to improve existing relationships or to prepare for future ones. Other clients are trying to find themselves after divorce or a painful breakup. We talk by phone or video conference. People like it. Or at least they fake it really well by continuing to schedule future coaching calls and give me more money. If you’re going through something and think I might be able to help, it’s really easy to find out for sure. Learn More Here.

…..

The best thing I’ve done following my marriage imploding and subsequent divorce was closely examine how my behavior contributed to my divorce and intentionally seek out explanations for how—despite how uncomfortable it sometimes made (and continues to make) me feel—my choices were largely responsible for the relationship’s death and depriving my young son of a better life with his family intact.

I was always so certain of my correctness, and that bullshit “certainty” fueled the asshole behavior that ultimately led to my life’s worst moments.

I believe the key to being less of an asshole and more of a kind, humble human being who people like and respect, is to adopt a Nothing-is-Certain mindset.

I used to care so much about being “right” during disagreements with my wife, that I:

A. Never challenged my own sometimes-incorrect beliefs in pursuit of truth.

B. Exercised WORSE behavior morally by being an asshole than she ever did innocently watching television, and…

C. Ultimately destroyed the very thing I was attempting to “improve.”

All because I “knew best.”

All because I was “right.”

All because of certainty.

The reason this humbling journey of self-discovery has been so freeing is because I no longer have to be a slave to “being right.”

Every disagreement is either an opportunity for me to share my beliefs with others, or an opportunity to correct one of my false beliefs and stop being wrong about something.

I “win” no matter what. And God-willing, am less of an asshole in the process.

What You Should Do Next

Author Mark Manson, one of my favorite writers, said it best when he wrote that “the only certainty is that nothing is certain.”

“This is the only ‘safe’ Super Belief as it limits your ability to force your certainty onto others, while simultaneously always leaving you open to new and improved ideas. It keeps you open to new experiences and capable of coping with whatever pain may arise in a realistic and safe way. It also just makes you less of an asshole,” he wrote. 

Advance your noble quest to reduce your Asshole Quotient and improve your relationships by reading these two awesome and thought-provoking pieces from Mr. Manson:

The Virtue of Doubt

Why You Can’t Trust Yourself 

I’d like to tell you I’m certain you’ll like them, but I suppose I don’t know.

And that’s okay. Not knowing things is so much better than I ever imagined.

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I’m Not Special and It’s Okay

one million people

I’m going to die and no one will care.

I don’t mean “no one,” like zero people. Maybe someone will cry or write a nice note on an online memorial. I mean “no one,” like hardly anyone.

I’m not whining. It will probably happen to you, too.

Sometimes I hear about someone dying—someone famous. So famous that the death gets reported on primetime news, or becomes a trending story online. And even though they’re so famous that that happens, AND I’m a pretty informed guy, I still often won’t know who the dead celebrity was. Maybe they were an older actor or musician. Maybe they were successful business people or a famous Olympian.

I don’t always know.

They lived and made so much noise that their deaths were national or global headlines. And yet the news doesn’t faze many of us because the loss doesn’t register in our daily lives.

The World Doesn’t Revolve Around You (or Me)

It kind of blows your mind when you first realize this.

I had always heard how “special” I was, and that I was destined for big things.

The doctors told my parents I was probably going to die when I was born, and so when I didn’t, everyone said: “It’s a miracle! God kept you alive for a reason! You’re here to do something special!”

I heard that a lot, and because I didn’t think my family lied, I believed it.

But then you wake up one day divorced with a disappointing bank account and an untidy home. My family is a bunch of dirty liars.

“A lot of people are afraid to accept mediocrity because they believe that if they accept being mediocre, then they’ll never achieve anything, never improve, and that their life doesn’t matter,” Mark Manson, one of my favorite writers, wrote in his most-recent post In Defense of Being Average. “I find this sort of thinking to be dangerous. Once you accept the premise that a life is only worthwhile if it is truly notable and great, then you basically accept the fact that most of the human population sucks and is worthless. And ethically speaking, that is a really dark place to put yourself.”

I always wanted everything bigger, better and faster. More money. Bigger houses. Cooler “stuff.”

Maybe I wanted it because there wasn’t much money floating around when I was growing up. Maybe I wanted it because I felt entitled since psychologically, I’d always bought the I’m gonna be special! notion.

I think my sense of entitlement was a major factor in my divorce.

My mom was better than some (in terms of teaching me about personal responsibility), but the truth is, I didn’t have a lot of chores growing up. If my school work was complete, I could mostly do what I wanted.

Then, when I became an “adult,” and wasn’t working, I wanted to be playing.

Sometimes my wife would get upset with me because I’d scoff at housecleaning on a Saturday morning when there was fun to be had.

Maybe that happens to a lot of couples. Maybe some moms spend so much time serving dad and babying sons that some boys grow up never understanding what personal responsibility looks like.

Maybe a lot of women are married to guys like that.

After my wife left and I started seeing my son only half the time, I completely freaked out. Maybe it was grief. Or sadness and anger and feelings of rejection. Maybe it was shame or guilt.

I just know I woke up every day feeling so horrible that dying didn’t scare me anymore.

When something scares you and gives you anxiety, and you can’t escape it because it comes with you wherever you are, and always greets you first thing in the morning, it fundamentally changes who you are on the inside.

I think sometimes people feel that feeling for the first time when they’re younger because they lost a loved one unexpectedly, or because of some other unfair trauma.

I somehow got to 33 before learning the most-important lesson I have ever learned: There’s no such thing as happiness when everything hurts on the inside.

Meaning, all these stupid things I thought mattered like money and toys and houses? A billion dollars and a yacht couldn’t have saved me from despair.

It was my wake-up call. None of this shit matters.

Imagine yourself at the end of your life. What sort of legacy will you leave? Describe the lasting effect you want to have on the world, after you’re gone.

I couldn’t think of anything to write. So I was grateful to WordPress editor Krista for posting this prompt today.

What do I want my legacy to be?

The truth is, in 100 years, no one will remember me. No one’s going to care.

There’s something unsettling about that. But maybe liberating, too.

I like to imagine myself peacefully drifting off in my old age looking out a window at something serene outside my home. And maybe that will happen.

But I could just as easily die in some dreary hospital room.

Or in my car.

Or five seconds from now if my heart stops beating.

Manson continues: “The people who become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they are obsessed with improvement. And that obsession with improvement stems from an unerring belief that they are, in fact, not that great at all. That they are mediocre. That they are average. And that they can be so much better.

“This is the great irony about ambition. If you wish to be smarter and more successful than everybody else, you will always feel like a failure. If you wish to be the most loved and most popular, then you will always feel alone. If you wish to be the most powerful and admired, then you will always feel weak and impotent.

“All of this ‘every person can be extraordinary and achieve greatness’ stuff is basically just jerking off your ego. It’s shit sold to you to make you feel good for a few minutes and to get you through the week without hanging yourself in your cubicle. It’s a message that tastes good going down, but in reality, is nothing more than empty calories that make you emotionally fat and bloated, the proverbial Big Mac for your heart and your brain.

“The ticket to emotional health, like physical health, comes from eating your veggies — that is, through accepting the bland and mundane truths of life: a light salad of ‘you’re actually pretty average in the grand scheme of things’ and some steamed broccoli of ‘the vast majority of your life will be mediocre.’ This will taste bad at first. Very bad. You will avoid eating it.

“But once ingested, your body will wake up feeling more potent and more alive. After all, that constant pressure to always be something amazing, to be the next big thing, will be lifted off your back. The stress and anxiety of feeling inadequate will dissipate. And the knowledge and acceptance of your own mundane existence will actually free you to accomplish what you truly wish to accomplish with no judgments and no lofty expectations.

“You will have a growing appreciation for life’s basic experiences. You will learn to measure yourself through a new, healthier means: the pleasures of simple friendship, creating something, helping a person in need, reading a good book, laughing with someone you care about.

“Sounds boring, doesn’t it? That’s because these things are average. But maybe they’re average for a reason. Because they are what actually matter.”

Life is my son being happy to see me after a long weekend.

It’s a sunny day on the lake with friends.

Life is a new album I want to listen to over and over.

It’s when someone likes something they read here.

Life is finding joy in the mere fact we’re breathing.

It’s giving more than we take.

There are 7 billion people in the world. And if even 10,000 people (which is a lot) knew who we were and cared, we’d still be impacting less than one thousandth of one percent.

Describe the lasting effect you want to have on the world, after you’re gone.

I won’t have one.

Life is being okay with that.

It’s leaving things around us just a little better than we found them.

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A Time for Fighting

(Image courtesy of HuffPo.)

(Image courtesy of Huffington Post.)

If I kill a pedestrian with my car while obeying all laws and cooperating with law enforcement, I am unlikely to be charged with a crime.

If I kill a pedestrian with my car while texting and drunk driving 15 miles per hour over the speed limit, I will almost certainly be charged both criminally and civilly with wrongful death and/or vehicular homicide. Even though it was an accident, a life might have been saved had I been more responsible.

If I kill a pedestrian with my car intentionally because I’m acting like a homicidal maniac, I would be a murderer and could easily spend the rest of my life in prison.

In all three scenarios, a person is dead because I hit them with my car.

But the consequences and whatever happens next all vary dramatically depending on the details.

If you’re my ex-wife and reading this, you’re probably annoyed because you’ve heard this one before and think I’m full of shit. And you wouldn’t be wrong to think so because I used this example in arguments with you when you were right and I was wrong.

The idea wasn’t wrong. I was just wrong to use it.

It’s a fact that I never intentionally—not even one time—set out to hurt my wife’s feelings. But, sometimes I hurt her feelings anyway. “It was an accident!” I’d protest. She’s overreacting AGAIN, I’d think. I didn’t MEAN to hurt her feelings, so she shouldn’t be so mad at me!!!

But I didn’t know then something I know now, and I wrote about it in An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 10.

The “intent” argument only works the first time.

If you’re out hunting and you fire a shot that accidentally kills someone in a nearby home you didn’t realize was there, you are unlikely to be charged with murder or homicide. Because it was an accident.

But if you go out hunting again to that same spot and accidentally kill a second person due to negligence? Have fun in prison.

My crime wasn’t hurting my wife’s feelings the first time. An accidental one-time offense is almost always forgivable. My crime was hurting my wife’s feelings repeatedly, even after she explained why it was happening.

Because I don’t respond to things the same way she does, I never really changed, and expected her to adjust to my “correct” way of thinking and feeling and behaving.

In other words, if you’re not willing to set aside stubbornness and defensiveness and pride in order to not inflict emotional pain on your spouse, you’re being an asshole. You get a pass the first time. Apologize and try again. But if you keep doing it and she keeps getting upset and you keep trying to convince her YOU’RE right, and SHE’S wrong?

You’ll be the captain of the masturbation squad in no time. (The implication being that she or he will stop having sex with you because you’re doing a bad job.)

There are two points I want to make and they somewhat contradict each other which is always a problem.

1. INTENT MATTERS

Accidents and malicious intent are not the same thing, and if you treat both the same (with me), we’re going to go rounds.

And I think people need to establish strong personal boundaries and draw the line where they’re not going to let other people mess with, or manipulate them, emotionally.

The best thing I have ever read on personal boundaries was written by Mark Manson. It’s titled The Guide to Strong Boundaries, and will take you about 15 minutes to read. Even if you don’t have time, you should make time if you feel like you’re the kind of person always getting the short end of the stick or always in dysfunctional, dramatic relationships.

Manson says it’s a sure sign of boundary issues, and I think being conscious of these things and changing your normal operating procedure is an excellent way to make yourself a higher-functioning, happier, more-confident, more-capable, more-attractive person.

In conclusion? Don’t let someone charge you with murder when you’ve made an honest effort to do the right thing.

However, it’s easy to be dishonest with yourself about this one, and I used to be, so it’s critical to know the difference.

Here’s what I mean.

2. YOU MUST SACRIFICE AND COMPROMISE FOR PEOPLE YOU LOVE

You must.

I used to tease my wife for watching shows I thought were beneath her. Stuff on MTV, or Real Housewives of Bitchville, or whatever.

Anyone who knows me in real life (and I always assumed—incorrectly!—my actual wife) should know that I respect her intellectually. I don’t like talking to people I think are dumb, let alone, living in the same house with them.

My teasing would offend her. Sometimes, it would erupt into a real-life argument. She was upset because I wasn’t respecting her. I was upset because of all the people in the world, you’re not going to give ME the benefit of the doubt!?!?

I bet this exact same fight happens in virtually every marriage.

This is another classic guy-being-dumb scenario in which I became an expert. (Because I was being dumb.)

Because her teasing me about some show doesn’t bother me, I would get offended by it bothering her. I literally thought I should get special treatment since we were married.

I did something that upset her, but I didn’t think it SHOULD bother her, so instead of working really hard to stop the behavior, I just kept doing whatever I wanted without apology because she shouldn’t have been upset in the first place!

The time for strict boundary enforcement is in your professional relationships. With family and friends in adulthood when you are mature and wise enough to sniff out emotionally manipulative bullshit. And in your romantic pursuits—at the very beginning when you’re first meeting people and deciding how much you’re going to let them in.

Partners change the game.

It’s not just about you anymore. It’s about we. It’s about us.

Strong personal boundaries are critical to healthy living.

But those walls have to come down when choosing another. Vulnerabilities and scars exposed.

And you build new boundaries and walls around both of you. Together.

Because you are them.

And they are you.

Two tangled souls.

A beginning.

But no end.

There’s a time for fighting.

And a time for not.

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