Tag Archives: Self-Help

Influence Your Relationship Using the 6 Principles of Persuasion

influence

(Image/justinmarroquin.com)

Most divorce and breakups could be avoided if the partner most dedicated to the relationship could effectively persuade or influence the other to adjust their behavior or communication habits in relationship-strengthening ways.

You know—theoretically.

In real life, the problem often lies in one person believing their ideas, opinions and ways of doing things are right while their partner’s hare-brained ideas, opinions and stupid way of doing things are wrong.

Sadly, it frequently breaks down along gender lines.

It’s good for all of the people who can benefit from the whole Mars/Venus, Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti concept.

It’s bad for all of the people who don’t fit neatly into those molds, and value things like equality and not being pigeonholed by stereotypical labels.

I think most rapists and serial killers are white men. It would be awesome if people didn’t assume I’m a threat to rape or kill someone based on my gender and skin color. I think other people with different skin colors and gender profiles probably feel the same.

Yet, mountains of Gottman Institute data has demonstrated that the top predictor of divorce has direct ties to gendered behavior, and that is: A husband’s willingness to accept his wife’s influence has the greatest statistical correlation to, and is the No. 1 predictor of, whether or not a marriage will last.

Sorry guys.

Understanding What Influences Human Behavior

That’s a powerful word.

Influence.

I like it. I like how it sounds, what it means, and the idea of people being influential (if you’re not an evil dickface planning a poison Kool-Aid® party or whatever).

Setting aside my belief that many men are accidentally sexist because of their Father Knows Best upbringings where they were exposed to women catering to, or being belittled by, men who were the bosses, primary decision makers, and group or organizational leaders by virtue of their stoic manliness and not being slaves to their emotions and menstrual cycles like all those diaper-changing, laundry-folding, lunch-packing women… setting all that to the side for a moment…

Human beings, regardless of gender or any other categorical label, often believe things or react emotionally to things in ways that are radically different than another person. It happens all the time, every day, in every conceivable type of relationship or life scenario.

First, something happens.

Then one person thinks and feels one way about it. And another person thinks and feels something different. It’s common for the two people to debate whose thoughts and feelings are better, or right, or most accurate.

Sometimes the debates are reasonably friendly and/or professional.

Other times, such disagreements can lead to name-calling, or fist fights, or divorce, or homicide, or violent riots and rebellion, or one country bombing another country.

It’s a problem.

An incalculable amount of human misery is generated by the equivalent of someone with colorblindness identifying something as being green (the color they accurately see) fighting with someone who sees the same object as being red.

When we tell people that their feelings and life experiences are wrong, and deny honoring their wants or needs simply because they’re not the same as ours, we end up breaking a lot of things AND being stupid assholes. Because if we had the same eyes and brain as the person we’re talking to, we’d see the color green, too.

The 6 Principles of Influence and Persuasion

The most sensible solution, I believe, is to master the skill of empathy and teach it to our children at home and in schools.

But that’s like saying the most sensible solution to our financial problems is finding hidden pirate treasure or riding our pet unicorns to Leprechaun McGee’s pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The transformation of the current human race into a more empathetic version that won’t fight and troll one another on the internet at every opportunity will probably take longer than it takes my 8-year-old to put his shoes on before school. (An inexplicably and painfully long time.)

So, we turn to the next-best thing: Persuasion.

We develop the ability to influence those within our influential sphere—the most important being our marriage/relationship partners, our children, our co-workers, etc.

The long-time thought leader in the psychology-of-persuasion space is a man named Dr. Robert Cialdini, a professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, and author of the classic Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

Cialdini spent 35 years studying what moves people to change behavior, and broke it down into six basic principles.

Cialdini wrote the book to help people protect themselves from manipulative mind tricks (from con artists and shady sales pitches), and to help marketers tap into the human psyche ethically to succeed in their profession.

But since only a small percentage of people work in marketing and since I believe marriages and families matter more than product sales, I thought it might be interesting to explore how we could use persuasive behavior to positively influence our partners in an effort to strengthen our relationships.

Principle #1: Reciprocation

We feel indebted to people who give us gifts or do nice things for us. And we are societally conditioned to think of people unwilling to reciprocate favors as assholes. And since we don’t want to be assholes, we are much more likely to do things for people who have done things for us.

“The implication is that you have to go first. Give something: give information, give free samples, give a positive experience to people and they will want to give you something in return,” Cialdini said.

I know what many of you are thinking: “But Matt!!! That’s bullshit!!! I do EVERYTHING for my spouse and children, and they don’t do anything for me!!!”

I get it.

Your partner and/or family takes you for granted. Welcome to the human experience.

This exercise isn’t about what feels fair.

It’s about influencing another human being to do something we want them to do. When we are willing to go first, and give before we try to get, we have a MUCH greater chance of cooperation from anyone.

What nice thing could we do for our partners that they don’t expect that might earn us a kind and empathetic ear when we want to ask them to do something for us?

Principle #2: Social Proof

When people are uncertain about a particular course of action, we tend to look around for cues from others to help guide our actions and decisions.

Cialdini and a research team conducted an experiment to see what type of messaging on hotel room signs would result in hotel guests reusing their bathroom towels.

Sign #1 cited environmental reasons.

Sign #2 said the hotel would donate a portion of laundry savings to an environmental cause.

Sign #3 said the hotel had already made the donation and asked “Will you please join us?”

Sign #4 said the majority of hotel guests reused their towels at least once during their stay.

When guests were told that most other hotel guests were reusing their towels, they were more likely to comply with the request. Sign #4 got 48 percent of experiment participants to reuse their towels.

I would STRONGLY discourage someone from telling their spouse that “So-and-so does all these great things for his/her spouse! Why can’t you do them for me, loser?” and contrasting undesirable behavior with something that looks more attractive. That will prove counterproductive.

But, how might we use proven, successful relationship behavior from other people to help influence our partners to change a harmful behavior?

Principle #3: Commitment and Consistency

Obviously, people don’t always do what they say they are going to do. That probably includes more than half of everyone who has ever made a public marriage vow.

However, the science is the science. People are more likely to do something after agreeing to it verbally or in writing.

People strive for consistency in their commitments, and prefer to follow pre-existing attitudes, values and actions, Cialdini said.

How might we (with kindness and good intentions) get our partners to reaffirm their commitments to our relationships in ways that might foster more connection and positive love- and intimacy-related feelings?

Principle #4: Liking

“People prefer to say yes to those they know and like,” Cialdini said.

Physical attraction, shared traits, and being paid compliments MAJORLY influences who we like.

People struggling in shitty relationships often love, but don’t really “like” being around, their partners. Try to look beyond that for a minute.

In the context of this psychological principle, something super-subtle like having a similar name nearly doubled the likelihood of someone responding to a survey request by actually participating in it.

For example, someone named Robert James was almost twice as likely (56% to 30%) to comply with a request if asked by someone with a similar name like Bob Ames, than he was by someone named Matt Fray.

The key takeaway for relationships, I believe, is learning how to be knowledgeable about our partner’s existing preferences.

Sales people greatly improve their chances of making a sale by demonstrating that they understand their customer’s personal preferences.

Couldn’t that same principle work in our behavior toward our spouses?

Principle #5: Authority

Most people tend to respect authority figures. Not just our bosses at work or police officers, but even people like the medical office workers checking our insurance cards and asking us to fill out sign-in sheets at our doctor appointments, and others, such as flight attendants.

That’s why con artists commonly pose as company officials via email, on the phone, or by wearing some type of uniform when they knock on doors. It’s to appear “official” and authoritarian.

We tend to follow the lead of real experts.

There are an endless amount of helpful resources on improving relationships and marriage, with one of the most obvious being the Gottman Institute, and their science-based approach using big data to uncover the secrets of happy marriages, and the hallmark traits of relationships that are doomed.

How can we cleverly use an authentic expert to influence our partner to take a certain action?

Principle #6: Scarcity

Ahh. Good ol’ scarcity.

The genesis of all “Act fast! These deals end soon!” messaging and the reason why those brilliant countdown clocks on Amazon and Living Social products sometimes prompt us to click that “Buy Now” button sooner than we might otherwise.

It’s the most basic premise of economic theory: The less there is of something, the more valuable it is.

People are drawn to, and willing to overpay for, rare and uncommon things that other people also want.

Cialdini didn’t need to conduct any new experiments to prove that people OFTEN want what they can’t have.

This bears out in shitty marriages all the time. Husbands frequently demonstrate indifference in their romantic relationships with their wives, and fight with her when she calls him on it, but then freak out and cry a lot when she finally decides to leave him.

That’s kind of how it went for me, too.

While it might be tempting to threaten divorce or withhold sex in a misguided effort to manipulate our partner in a reverse-psychology sort of way, I think any relationship-damaging behavior (which any type of cruel or unloving manipulation would be) defeats the purpose of using persuasion and influence to strengthen our connections with those we love.

But the question remains: How can we use the SUPER-powerful “Fear of missing out” phenomenon to influence our partners in healthy ways to adjust a behavior that might save or strengthen our marriage?

Influencing others isn’t about luck or sorcery. It’s science.

It’s simply caring about something enough to figure out how it functions, and how best to care for it to keep it operating at a high level for a very long time.

It’s simply caring enough about the people we love to figure out how best to care for them in a way that keeps their hearts, minds and spirits functioning at high levels for a very long time.

Like, longer than my son’s putting-his-shoes-on process.

Like, forever.

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We Can’t Always Get What We Want, But if We Try Sometimes…

maslows-hierarchy-of-needs-by-angela-duncan

Everyone needs a few things. If you deny help to your partner in their pursuits, or become an obstacle, then your relationship will inevitably suck or end. (Image/Angela Duncan)

You and outside forces are engaged in a never-ending dance—working in harmony, or against each other—to motivate your spouse or partner to stay with you or leave you.

While I never thought of my marriage as any sort of Gotcha!-trap for my wife, it’s pretty clear upon reflection that my behavior frequently conveyed the belief she would never leave and that I had no power nor responsibility to influence her decisions or motivate her to choose me and our marriage over other options.

Maybe it’s because I grew up Catholic and didn’t see much divorce.

Maybe it’s because I was ignorant and oblivious.

Or maybe it’s because I was a stupid asshole.

It has become clear to me in the years following the 2013 divorce that ended my nine-year marriage that my wife needed things in life (whether or not I agreed with her conclusions) and that my job—my solemn duty as her husband—was to help her acquire or achieve those things, even if those things were as simple as more attention, more respect and more empathy.

Our opinions regarding others’ needs have little impact on their behaviors and choices. If THEY believe they need something, they will pursue those needs with or without us.

We can accept that and thrive, even if it means exerting more energy and giving more of ourselves to others.

Or we can reject it, and learn the hard way in our failed relationships (even when we mask the truth and convince others—and sometimes ourselves—things are okay even when they’re not).

What Do Our Partners Need? What Do We Need?

People need things.

We can debate semantics surrounding the word “need,” like whether electricity or indoor plumbing or Wi-Fi or sex or vehicles qualify. But if you’ll grant me some latitude on using that word, it will help very much.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow famously published his hierarchy of human needs in 1943.

It’s normally presented in pyramid form like this:

hierarchy-of-human-needs-pyramid-image-by-huriata

Image/Huriata

In reverse pyramid-stacking order, people need:

1. Physiological (Basic Needs)

We need air, water, food, clothes and shelter.

Typically, if any of those are missing, we don’t care very much about family drama, the economy, or The Walking Dead season finale.

2. Safety

We need to feel safe.

If lions and bears are chasing us, or someone is pointing a gun at us, or we are diagnosed with a life-changing or threatening disease, or the financial markets crash and we lose all of our money, or terrorists detonate bombs in random public places, we lose our ability to feel safe.

Stress and anxiety consume us, and we are stuck on the second rung of the Life Needs ladder until the feelings of safety return.

3. Love/Belonging

We need to feel loved and/or as if we belong to a tribe.

Humans have such a profound need to feel loved and part of something that they will often sacrifice personal safety to cling to physically/sexually/mentally abusive parents, caregivers and romantic partners in their pursuit of feeling loved and connected to others they identify as being “like them.”

4. Esteem

We need to feel respected and accepted.

We crave professional success, mastery of a hobby, accumulation of wealth, victory in competition, as well as fame and recognition in a constant pursuit of feeling respected by others.

Maslow called this craving for the approval of others the Lower form of Esteem.

Because we can NEVER feel respected and accepted until we respect and accept ourselves. Self-respect is the Higher form of Esteem, Maslow said.

5. Self-Actualization/Transcendence

We need to achieve whatever our individual or collective potential is, and accomplish whatever we are capable of accomplishing in order to live and die without shame and regret.

As you move up the five-step pyramid from Basic Needs for staying alive to more mind- and heart-based needs, you will notice the group sizes getting smaller and smaller.

That’s because we must not just understand, but master, a level of human need before we are able to move on to the next. Maybe people for many reasons live their entire lives without feeling loved, without respecting themselves, and never really feeling safe or comfortable in their own skin.

Also, let the record show you can regress and fall down a peg or two.

Because I’ve lived many years succeeding in the #4 Esteem space, and now I mostly stumble around back in #2 (an apt bathroom metaphor) trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with me and whether I’m even capable of pulling myself out of the sewage-like post-divorce shit bog to achieve a satisfying life for myself and those I love.

‘Is My Marriage/Relationship Suffering Because ACTUAL Needs Aren’t Being Met?’

Yep.

You need things. And she or he needs things too. And when one or both of you need things, you (often involuntarily) will pursue them.

And the simple truth is this: When we are obstacles to our spouses’/partners’ pursuit of needs, or when we neglect to fulfill any of their needs required of their partners, then we are complicit in our partners’ decisions to pursue those needs elsewhere.

No, guys. That doesn’t mean it’s cool to cheat on your wife or girlfriend because she won’t agree to threesomes, or to jerk off to internet porn at the expense of sex with your wife because you claim she doesn’t satisfy superficial sexual “needs.”

No, ladies. That doesn’t mean it’s cool to have an affair with Greg at work, or Brad at the gym because the attention they provide satisfies your feel-good emotional needs.

But I think it DOES mean that we should all be super-intentional about discovering our partner’s needs (not what WE think they are, but what THEY think they are) and commit to helping them achieve their personal five levels to become their best-possible selves.

Either that, or communicate quickly and clearly that we’re unwilling to so they can pursue a great life without us deliberately holding them down.

Your Marriage is Dying Because You Don’t or Won’t Trust Each Other

I always honed in on infidelity when discussing the word “trust” in relationships.

That always seemed like a big deal. To be loyal and trustworthy. I also believed there was merit in being a “trustworthy” financial partner and co-parent.

I figured: I don’t cheat, I don’t physically abuse, I don’t gamble away all of our money, I’m not an addict, and I’m not a threat to abandon her or our children. I’m trustworthy!

But that’s not the equation for Trust.

The equation is:

Safety + Belonging + Mattering = TRUST

That’s according to Christine Comaford who writes about neuroscience and business leadership.

There’s a problem, of course: Our faulty brains.

While amazing and miraculous, they’re also totally unreliable. If we all bought our brains at The Brain Store, most of us would have returned them already for ones we hoped would work better. Not that I’d be able to find the receipt.

Comaford helps business executives understand that their employees NEED things. Fundamental, primitive things. And that no matter how unimpressed the employer may be with those “needs,” a failure to help employees achieve them (at home for personal reasons, or at work for professional ones) will always keep employees and business teams underperforming, or inadvertently motivating people to seek work-oriented need fulfillment elsewhere.

The parallels to our marriages and personal relationships are obvious.

“So as a leader, and as a human, you must identify whether it is safety and or belonging and or mattering that is most important to the people in your life… and then do everything you can to satisfy that subterranean subconscious need,” Comaford wrote in this Forbes piece on human motivation.

“Safety + belonging + mattering = TRUST.

“This means leaders must behave in ways that make employees feel that they are safe, that they belong, and that they matter. Doing so will help shift them out of their fear-driven Critter State (where all decisions are based on what they perceive will help them survive) and into their Smart State (where they can innovate, collaborate, feel emotionally engaged, and move the company forward).”

The People You Love Need Things

And they will pursue them—again, regardless of whether you agree with their “need” list.

People are programmed to crave and pursue their needs.

The concept of meeting the needs of our spouses/romantic partners/families isn’t new to me.

But until I applied the concept of basic fundamental human need and motivation to my own failed marriage, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen so clearly how one must aid his or her loved ones in their individual pursuits up the five-level Life Need Pyramid or, at the very least, avoid being an obstacle.

My wife needed things and stated them. I either didn’t believe her or chose not to act because I disagreed with her priorities.

But our marriage WAS a priority to me, even if my behavior failed to demonstrate that.

And I think if I’d understood that NOT being an active participant in my wife’s climb up the Life Need Pyramid would stamp my divorce certificate, I might have made different and better choices.

And I think if I’d made different and better choices, I’d be enjoying the upper levels of the Pyramid, instead of the damp and musty basement.

And I think everyone who makes different and better choices gets to reach that top-floor penthouse where genuine peace and contentment live.

Where life is LIFE. Joyful. Uplifting. Satisfying.

Where energy is abundant, and we collectively give more to pulling people up, up, up to the top floors with us.

Where we’re living for something greater than ourselves.

I think maybe that’s where fear, shame and self-loathing go to die.

I think maybe that’s what it means to really live.

And I think the view’s probably pretty nice up there.

And if we try sometimes, we just might find, we get what we need.

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It’s Not About Us

not_about_me

(Image/pushbackthedark.com)

I’ve asked myself the question a bunch of times: How does some random guy in Ohio writing first-person stories about his failed marriage and divorce become someone who strangers reach out to for relationship advice? Why would anyone care what some divorced guy says about love or about marriage or about anything?

The answer materialized recently in the form of a random Facebook post about public speaking, and that answer is basically: Because none of this is about me.

I write about me and about things I’ve done and thought and felt.

And in and of itself, that matters to zero people. But because people sometimes feel alone, or like they don’t have anyone to talk to, or like no one understands, something powerful happens on the inside when they find a song, or something on TV, or a book, or some random divorced guy’s blog, and that thing they found makes them feel: This is just like me. I’m not alone. Someone else gets it.

It might seem like a small thing.

But it might be the most important thing in the world.

Because when the person you love is your world, or your children are your world, or your friends are your world, or your career is your world, the thing that connects you to that world and helps you bring light and hope and good things, instead of shitting all over it like a roid-raging Godzilla on a Diet Sierra Mist bender, is one simple truth.

It’s not about you.

It’s about them.

How a Facebook Post About Public Speaking Can be the Most Important Thing About Your Entire Life

From author and speaker Glennon Doyle Melton:

“I used to hate public speaking. I hated it because I thought it was about me. I thought it was about being amazing and making everyone think: WOW SHE’S SO AWESOME so I held my breath the whole time and tried to be fabulous and impressive.

“That’s always where we go wrong.

“Life and art and work and love: They’re not about showing off, they’re about showing up. They’re not about saying: HERE I AM! They’re about saying: THERE YOU ARE. They are not just about being seen by others—they are about truly SEEING OTHERS.

“So now, everywhere I’m invited to speak, I make sure I am fully, fully prepared before I walk on the grounds. So that with the first person I meet—from the driver to the hosts to the ushers to every person in the audience and hugging line—I can be fully present. Because those who trust me enough to invite me into the day they’ve spent months planning are not just inviting me to be seen by their people but to SEE THEIR PEOPLE. God, it took me a while to figure this out. People don’t need you to be amazing—but they do need you to be amazed. People don’t even need you to be interesting—they just need you to be interested. Want to be loved today?

“THEN LOVE.

“LOVE LOVE LOVE.

“This is my speaking mantra, from the second I get out of the car: ‘Glennon – Wherever you are, be the soul of that place.’ – Rumi. ‘Then when you get back to the hotel—you can have a cheeseburger and Bravo.’ – I added this part.

“Wherever you are today, loves, be the soul of that place.”

Want a happy marriage?

Make it about making your spouse feel seen and heard. Thank you for what you do every day. What can I do today to make her/him feel grateful for me?

Want a happy child?

Make it about them. Not toys and bullshit things. Real things. I see you, son. I care about that because you care about that.

Want lots of great friends?

Be a great friend. I’m here for whatever. You’re family.

Want a happy life?

Stop trying to make it about all the ways you can be better, smarter, happier, richer, stronger, prettier, faster, thinner, sexier, taller. And maybe try making it about all the ways you can help people—those you love, and maybe even those people over there who you might if you only knew them—be happier.

I’m a self-centered, thoughtless human being.

When bad things “happen” to me, I can always trace it back to how I wasn’t paying enough attention. Sometimes to a thing. Usually, to a person.

I’ve been trying so hard to make me better. But what if Life is about making things better for others? What if THAT is how we make ourselves better?

I am often making life, including the words here, about me. I think maybe writing and life are harder when I make it about me.

The writing isn’t about me. It’s about you.

Life isn’t about me. It’s about my son. My family. My friends. It’s about people. It’s about you.

I’m so sorry for all the times I made life about me or about things, and not about you.

There’s a fire coming that we all will go through
You possess your possessions or they possess you
And if the house burns down tonight
I got everything I need when I got you by my side

And let the rest burn

Ashes from the flames, the truth is what remains

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How to Feel Successful, Increase Self-Esteem and Eliminate Envy

all-i-do-is-win-win-win-no-matter-what

I know a guy who almost never loses a game of pool.

He’s one of my dad’s closest friends. He’s awesome in all of the ways which matter, and I love him like family.

But if you didn’t know him and love him like family, he might seem to you like just another guy. He manages a hospital maintenance staff. I’m not super-familiar with his financial status, but I’m not under the impression people who care about net worth would be overly impressed.

My father’s social circle has a lot of three kinds of guys: Guys with really nice cars who race as a hobby, guys who are awesome golfers, and guys with—at least by Midwestern terms—kind of a lot of money.

But the hospital maintenance manager isn’t really any of those things.

I don’t know whether he sits around thinking about this. As if he’s somehow deficient because he isn’t up to the same standards in those super-specific silos as most of his friends. I hope not, and doubt it.

When I was younger, I—objectively speaking in the context of 1980s Americans—didn’t have money in my family. My parents were young, divorced, and at best, lower middle-class. I ate a lot of free school lunches in my early years.

Some of my friends did come from families with—at least from my narrow perspective and life experience—a lot of money. Big, awesome houses I’d visit and sleep in on weekends, and nice, expensive cars.

Maybe feelings of inadequacy and insecurity started back then. I’m an only child and didn’t have a big brother or sister to help prepare me for The Things That Happen Next in your growing years, and I did a crappy job being transparent with my parents, choosing to live inside my own head rather than talk things out with people who loved me and probably knew Things.

But I don’t remember feeling particularly inadequate or insecure back then. In fact, I feel as if I had a charmed childhood and social life through my school years. Whatever my neurotic hang ups might have been, I can’t recall a time I felt intentionally excluded from anything that mattered to me. I felt well-liked and reasonably popular, which are fun things to feel.

It was during the slow death of my marriage where I developed some insecurities and self-confidence issues which are very un-fun things to feel.

Some combination of failing to rise to the level of Very Successful, Special and Unique Snowflake I’d always imagined for myself, and losing my job with a new baby at home, and feeling my wife pull further and further away while seeming to like, respect and want me less with each passing day, turned me into someone else.

Every Facebook or Instagram update from someone I knew with their smiling and happy family on another vacation or in their super-nice home proved to be another reminder of what a loser I’d really turned out to be.

Must be this tall to ride.

Before the hospital maintenance manager and family friend I know was someone who I knew and loved, he was a total stranger. Several years ago when I met him, he was a new addition to my father’s vibrant social circle.

I didn’t know a thing about him, except what a few guys in the room were telling me: “See that guy? He never loses at pool. He’s an absolute badass. One of the best I’ve ever seen or heard of.”

I’m not a particularly skilled pool shooter. I’m okay. I’m kind of okay at everything. I tend to be average at most things, and great at none. But if there’s an impromptu pool tournament, sure, I’m in.

My dad has a couple tables. He’s good, as are many of his friends. They all have their own, expensive cue sticks, rarely miss shots, and never take them unless they know where the cue ball needs to be to make the next one or two. They’re high-level players.

But none of them are like our friend, The Badass. The unassuming hospital employee. When he’s on, he’ll make other awesome players look average, and average players look weak and pathetic.

Generally, if you miss even one shot against him, you’re finished.

Ignoring that material and superficial things lack meaning and rarely move the Happiness needle on our lives, he can’t hang with the other guys on the golf course, nor can he buy a bunch of expensive cars, nor is he going to elicit financial envy from any of them.

Compared to them in those very specific areas, he might appear or even feel lacking.

But at a billiards table? You’re in his world.

A world where he’s king.

Who Would You Trade Places With if You Had to Take All Their Baggage, Too?

James Altucher, one of my favorite writers, was having dinner with another excellent writer, Ryan Holiday.

Holiday asked Altucher whether he ever feels envious of others.

“Yes,” Altucher said, “I’m envious of people.”

Holiday shared his mental strategy for eliminating feelings of jealousy or envy, and Altucher wrote about it in his recent post, The One Cure For All Envy and Jealousy:

“Here’s what you do, Ryan said. If you are envious of someone, you can’t just pick one or two things about them. Because it’s their entire history that has got them the one thing you are envious about.

“So, he said, picture that you can change places in every way with them. But then it’s forever.

He said: Would you do it?

“While he asked that, the hostess of the restaurant came up to us, She looked at me and asked, are you on TV?

“No.

“You’re Ted Mosby, right? From the show ‘How I Met Your Mother.’

“No, I said, but I’ll take it as a compliment.

“She kept staring and then walked away.

“Let me think, I said to Ryan. What about X, would you change places with him? – And I named someone we both admired.

“No way, he said, look at A, B, and C with him. Would you want those?

“Hmm, no.

“Who else do you admire? he asked.

“I had to think for a long time. There’s a lot of people I admire but which among them do I envy.

“I named some more people I envied but for each one, he named some attributes that I would definitely not want to have for myself if I switched places for that person.

“I guess you’re right, I said. I’m happy being me. Otherwise I wouldn’t be having such a fun dinner right now with you!”

I often wonder why it feels like I know several people in real life who would make AMAZING political leaders, but I often find the people I actually have to choose from to be deficient in several areas. I know people who you’d want to run through walls for in an effort to elect them President of the United States. People with unquestionable leadership skills, charisma, and as much integrity as you’d require from a public figure.

But they’ll never be president. There are a TON of brilliant and amazing people out there. Entrepreneurs, doctors, educators, business leaders, etc. But nobody like them ever runs for president.

Why?

I figured it out several years ago: Because none of the really smart people want the job.

It’s shitty! Have you ever studied the gray-hair quotient of presidents entering office versus leaving it? It’s a stressful, shitty job where half the world hates you, where you’re headline news almost every day, where your private life is almost always on display, where people don’t believe good things which are true about you, where people believe bad things which aren’t true about you, where you receive death threats all the time, and aren’t even paid particularly well in the context of being that famous and powerful.

In many ways, being President of the United States is one of the best jobs in the world.

In many ways, it’s also one of the worst.

Would you trade places with someone else? Even if you had to take on all the bad parts, too?

Bring Others Into a Place Where You are Master

Another of my favorite writers and thinkers, Tim Ferriss, taught me how to stop comparing my life to the highlights of other people’s lives I might see on social media, and feel more gratitude and pride about the things which make me, me.

This is The Secret to Feeling Successful, and you can start RIGHT NOW, and all you have to do is ask yourself a better question.

Ferriss’ focus was on business success, but it won’t take a business degree to understand how this mental trick can apply to ANYTHING in your life, and essentially be summarized as Enjoy Being the Big Fish in a Small Pond.

From Ferriss’ New Research and a Dirty Truth: Read This Before Chasing the Dollar:

“What to do? There are a few ways to use the currency of time, and awareness of positional economics, to your advantage to beat the Joneses on new terms:

  1. Focus on “relative income” — defined as hourly income — instead of “absolute income,” misleading annual income that doesn’t factor in time. If you assume a 40-hour work week and 2 weeks of vacation per year, estimate per-hour income by cutting off the last three zeros and dividing in half. Thus: $50,000 per year –> $50 divided by 2 = $25 per hour. Relative income can be increased by increasing total income for the same hours, getting the same income for fewer hours, or some combination thereof. More options with more life.
  2. Determine your precise Target Monthly Income (TMI) for your ideal lifestyle — the goal of most rat-race income competition — and focus on structuring mini-retirements to redistribute retirement throughout life. There’s an excellent Excel spreadsheet here for calculations.
  3. Determine your “where” of happiness. It’s not necessary to permanently move to a country with depressed currency, but even temporary relocation to a domestic (check out Forbes’ publisher Rich Karlgaard’s Life 2.0) or international location with a lower cost-of-living resets your peer group and positional economics barometer. Being perceived as rich often translates into perceiving yourself as rich. Neat trick and a hell of a lot of fun. Two of my top picks for positional resets are Argentina (see “How to Live Like a Rock Star (or Tango Star) in Buenos Aires”) and Thailand.
  4. Develop appreciation in tandem with achievement. Subjective happiness depends on appreciating what you get as much as getting what you want. The first step to true appreciation is perception: cultivating present-awareness. I recommend experimenting with lucid dreaming as tested at Stanford University, in particular the “reality check” exercises of Dr. Stephen Laberge.
  5. Develop competitive social groups outside of work. Participate in games outside of income mongering. Train or compete in a sport where income is a non-factor. That dude makes $1,000,000 a day as a hedge fund manager? I don’t care–his golf swing sucks and he has love handles. Here, it counts for nothing. Oh, and her? I know she just got promoted to national manager for IBM, but so what? I just scored 5 goals on her. In this world, I rule.

“Don’t let rat racing be the only game you play against the Joneses,” Ferriss wrote. “There is always someone willing to sacrifice it all to earn more, so let them. Just remember: it is entirely possible — in fact, common — to be a success in business and a failure in life. Take the red pill and think different.”

I’d like to believe that how we feel doesn’t really matter, since our feelings wax and wane all the time, and it’s hard to trust our own emotional swings.

But the truth is, how we feel DOES matter. Our feelings affect pretty much all of our decision making, and our decision making affects pretty much everything that happens to us.

Some people might roll their eyes at the idea of using Jedi mind tricks to feel better about their life. Like it’s fake. Like they actually have to do something more or different or better to ACTUALLY be better.

And I’m saying that’s bullshit.

Go chase whatever sets your heart on fire. I’m not suggesting we all sit on the couch, do nothing, and celebrate it.

The truth is true no matter what we believe: We’re already tall enough to be Jedi.

We already win. And we might as well enjoy it.

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This is Why Your Life Sucks

(Image/thoughtsprojected.wordpress.com)

(Image/thoughtsprojected.wordpress.com)

“Could you explain a little more about what you mean by core values?” Lisa asked.

Yes.

I think most people, including me, lack the ability to summarize their core values, and then shitty things happen afterward, and then we all struggle with trying to figure out why.

But THIS IS WHY the shitty thing happened.

Since we can’t go back in time, the only reasonable choice is to try to make tomorrow better than today.

Our inability to identify our values means we don’t REALLY know who we are which prevents us from being able to communicate it with others. This non-programmed and ill-defined Life Navigation System is incapable of getting us to our desired destination without blind luck. Thus, whenever we’re not experiencing good luck we didn’t necessarily earn, life sucks.

I’ve been hammering on this point lately and it’s not just because I think I know things (I don’t), but rather because whatever personal advancements I’ve made in the past three years can be directly attributed to me honing in on my values and learning how to enforce my personal boundaries.

And on the flipside, everything about my life that sucks can be directly attributed to not honoring (or not knowing) my values in certain life areas, or compromising my boundaries (usually because it’s “easier” in the moment, even though we always pay for it later).

“What are Values and Boundaries? This Sounds Like Psychobabble.”

The words “values” and “boundaries” are the kind of words that always sounded like bullshit to me. They don’t sound like they mean anything. They’re just words adults used when I was growing up when they were droning on and on about things that weren’t fun to listen to, and if I HAD listened to them, I’d have had less fun.

Or would I have?

When I was young, I didn’t feel motivated to explore ideas like this or learn new things because everything was always good. I was healthy and safe. I felt loved by family and accepted by friends. All of my needs were met. Because I never wanted for things, I never had to ask myself how to get something I wanted, and then go through the growth process and hard work necessary to achieve it.

But then, almost exactly three years ago (April 1) my wife left, and my son didn’t live at home all the time anymore. I was sad, angry and ashamed.

I was nothing like the happy and confident person I used to see in the mirror back when nothing was wrong.

I was a broken, crying, terrified shell of that kid. If I’m not that person anymore, who the hell am I?

I didn’t matter, and I knew it.

I was weak, and I knew it.

I wasn’t worth a woman’s love or desire, and I knew it.

Those were hard truths to accept, but life is really hard sometimes. After a lifetime of mostly blaming others for anything that ever went wrong because it’s so much easier than raising your hand and accepting responsibility, I finally asked the right questions:

How did I get here? What could I have done differently to prevent this?

The answer is simple enough: I didn’t always live my values, and I didn’t always enforce my boundaries.

Suddenly, these “bullshit” concepts skyrocketed to the top of my This Stuff Really Matters list.

Here are two of my favorite explanations for these critical life concepts.

Here’s Debra Smouse at Tiny Buddha on VALUES:

“Values are who YOU are, not who you think you should be in order to fit in.”

“Why is naming your values important?

“Values are the backbone of life. They are the beacons on our path—in personal life and in business. When you identify your values and get clear with them, something magical happens: They come alive in ways you haven’t even imagined and illuminate and nurture your entire life from the inside out.
“If we don’t know what’s important to us, we spend a lot of time wandering and wondering what we should be doing. There is tremendous power in discovering and living according to our highest values, and experiencing inner peace as the natural consequence.

Here’s Mark Manson on BOUNDARIES:

“Healthy Personal Boundaries = Taking responsibility for your own actions and emotions, while NOT taking responsibility for the actions or emotions of others.”

“People with poor boundaries typically come in two flavors: those who take too much responsibility for the emotions/actions of others, and those who expect others to take too much responsibility for their own emotions/actions.”

Why Does This Matter?

It matters because our lives suck sometimes, and outside of grieving the deaths of loved ones or developing a disease impossible to prevent, it’s pretty much always our fault. We feel INFINTELY more confident and in control of our lives once we accept this truth.

Your wife left you because you were a shitty husband.

Your kids rebelled because you made missteps as their parent.

You lost your job because you failed to make yourself indispensable.

You got sick because you make unhealthy choices.

You don’t have money because you’re unwilling to put in the work or take the risks it requires.

Your boyfriends always cheat and treat you like crap because you don’t love and respect yourself enough to not date men like that.

Bad things happen. And we really feel them because negative emotions tend to register more prominently with us than positive ones.

“A major reason for the more noticeable role of negative emotions is that they possess greater functional value. The risks of responding inappropriately to negative events are greater than the risks of responding inappropriately to positive events, since negative events can kill us while positive events will merely enhance our well-being,” Dr. Aaron Ben-Zeév wrote in Psychology Today.

Maybe everyone else grew up faster than I did, but I was in my 30s before recognizing that the common denominator in most of my life problems was me.

Because I want to feel happy (the real happy that comes from internal peace absent fear, guilt, anxiety and shame) more than I want most things, I made the choice to try to define my core values, honestly communicate my boundaries to others, and then ENFORCE them.

That means, when someone I just met at my birthday gathering says something that genuinely offends me and contradicts my core values, she and I will have a totally uncomfortable and not-fun conversation right in front of everyone, and then when she tries to play nice later and reach out to me via Facebook Messenger in an attempt to score a date, I don’t consider it, even though that’s something I probably would have done just three years ago when I was desperate to feel liked and wanted.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Your core values are who you are when no one’s watching. Your core values are what you do and say because it’s your truth, and not what you do to win the approval of your friends, family, co-workers, classmates, neighbors or romantic interests.

Your core values are THE REAL YOU, not who we think we should be so people will like us.

When we live our values and enforce our boundaries, the only people in our inner circles end up being people who share (or at least respect) our values, don’t attempt to manipulate or take advantage of us, don’t bring unwanted drama into our lives, and who love, respect and accept us for who we REALLY are (and not because of what we do for them).

Values.

Boundaries.

Not the bullshit nonsense I once chalked them up to be, but rather ideas with the power to change everything. For the better.

More on Values and How to Define Them

From Dawn Barclay at Living Moxie: How to Define Your Core

From sourcesofinsight.com: How to Find Your Values

From Mark Manson: WHERE ARE YOUR F@#%ING VALUES?

More on Boundaries and Why They Matter

From Mark Manson: The Guide to Strong Boundaries

…..

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SIDE NOTE: I finally have a Facebook page for this blog. It would be awesome to connect with you there. I’ll understand if you don’t want to, because mehhhhhhh.

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Because Your Marriage Won’t Survive Without It

(Image/unincorporatedmagazine.com)

(Image/unincorporatedmagazine.com)

I don’t have enough clout to recommend things and have people actually do what I suggest.

I love my second-grade son more than anything, have never given him a reason to not trust me, and I STILL can’t get him to do or try certain things I know to be better than his shitty 7-year-old ways that don’t work.

I’m sort of smart enough and self-aware enough to know when I’m talking out of my ass. But when I’m pounding the table, saying: DO THIS! IT WILL MAKE YOUR LIFE BETTER!, you can rest assured I believe it strongly, whether we’re talking about shredding your own blocks of cheese instead of lazily (and foolishly) buying pre-shredded grossness, or about things that actually matter, like how to not ruin your marriage and create a life of misery for you and your children who deserve better.

I received an email over the weekend which included this question, which is fair and reasonable if you don’t have access to my checking account: “Are you singing the praises of ‘How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It’ because you’ve been promised a commission?”

It kind of made me laugh. But then I let it roll around in my brain for a while, and I started to worry that other people might actually think this too. Because I DO strongly recommend the book often. To be clear, I don’t care if people incorrectly believe I make money I don’t actually make. But I do care about helping men better understand their wives, and encouraging them to give more to their marriages than they do. I also care about being credible so they won’t immediately dismiss things I’m saying that contradict their current: “My wife’s crazy and overly emotional, and if she’d just relax like me, our marriage would be perfect!” philosophy.

The answer to whether I’m a paid shill for that book, or any book, is: No. I just think it has a legitimate chance to save marriages, and better yet, contribute to happy ones.

If the woman who asked me that could look at my bank statement after the holiday shopping season, she would totally get a reverse-lady boner and realize there’s no way I’m earning secret book money.

‘I Can’t Believe I’m Asking a Stranger on the Internet for Help’

I have a series of posts that—in the context of this blog’s weak internet traffic—are semi-popular, called An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands. There are 12 posts in the series, and I secretly think the first three are crappy and I’m ashamed they are read so much. Collectively, the dozen posts are read more than a thousand times a day, and sometimes more when shared on Facebook.

Because of that, I get varying versions of this paraphrased email several times per week:

“My marriage is in trouble and I was looking for information online when I stumbled on your Open Letter to Shitty Husbands series. I’m in tears. It’s nice to read I’m not a crazy, psycho bitch and that other people feel this way too. I really think this can help people. But I have one question…”

Uh-oh. Here it comes.

“… how can I get my husband to understand this, too?”

That question is relentless. It haunts me.

I hate it because the answer sucks and isn’t at all helpful: I. DON’T. KNOW.

I’m not your husband! Some people like cabbage, and prefer winter to summer, and purposefully wear costumes to weekend Renaissance festivals for fun. These are not things I understand.

I have no idea what it’s like to be inside the mind and consciousness of another person—even people I see daily and think I know well.

I can only tell you what happened to me and hope that someone recognizes some of it, and then can make better choices that can lead to a better life.

Wives want to know how I became “enlightened.” How I figured out the secret. Because they believe if their husbands learn the secret too, their marriages can be saved and the pain and fear in their lives will go away.

I’m talking to people sometimes who are more afraid and in more pain than they’ve ever been. I remember what that’s like. It’s so bad that you stop worrying about dying, because dying is less scary than feeling like this forever.

Me telling them “I don’t know” probably feels the same as when broke, desperate and hopeful job hunters get form-letter responses from human resource departments thanking them for applying and promising to keep their information on file.

I don’t want wives to abandon hope, because I didn’t want my wife to give up on me, and at least some percentage of these men have what it takes to turn it around with the right information.

Those men and their wives and children are who I’m thinking about every day when I’m answering an email from another crying spouse on the brink.

Why That Book?

I don’t recommend that book because anyone is paying me to do so, or because I’m lazy and haven’t read any others, or because I assume everyone will feel exactly the same as I do about it.

I recommend it because—FOR ME—reading it was like Neo waking up from the Matrix, or Agent Kujan realizing he’d just spent the past few hours talking to Keyser Soze. I was seeing things as they really are for the first time. It’s the thing that flipped the light switch for me. It’s the thing that put me on the path to being able to write things that thousands of people read and say: “Oh my God! That’s just like my marriage!”

For me, it was: FINALLY!!! I get it now! I understand why my wife and I always have the same fight! I understand why she always brings up things from the past to be angry about even though I’ve completely forgotten them! I understand why more than half of all couples divorce or have unhappy marriages!

Changed my life.

The book taught me something I generally knew in a boys like blue, girls like pink sort-of way, but didn’t understand:

Men and women (to varying degrees—nothing is one-size-fits-all) are fundamentally different in how they process thought and emotion, and there are very specific evolutionary science reasons as to why. Those unique abilities and differences helped our ancestors survive bear attacks and invasions from other tribes during the hunter-gatherer days. But today, those differences wreak havoc on our relationships because our natural, instinctive emotional responses and communication techniques clash. Our fear responses now kick in during arguments in the kitchen instead of in our wigwams. Totally helpful in the wigwam! Totally NOT helpful in the kitchen! Because we usually say horrible things to one another and then storm off afterward to do whatever we do to make ourselves feel better (which has the added bonus of also making our partners feel even more abandoned).

Having a high-level understanding of what was happening for the first time was a total game-changer.

And here’s what my brain did:

When something happens, I have always assumed my wife saw it, heard it, felt it and experienced it just as I do. Because I’m pretty smart, and she’s pretty smart, it makes sense that we see things the same way. But NOW I KNOW THAT IT’S NOT THE SAME. And when I apply my natural translator to something, and she applies her natural translator to something, we are probably going to disagree about what really happened.

The moment you realize your wife or husband isn’t broken or crazy, but actually responding to things exactly as he or she is naturally programmed to do, (and if your partner can understand that and give it back to you) you can instantly eliminate the majority of conflict in your relationship.

That won’t guarantee marital happiness. But it’s a pretty good first step.

Combining the knowledge gleaned from that book with my memories of conflict between my wife and I helped me put a bunch of the puzzle together.

Then I got divorced anyway, because most troubled marriages are over by the time the husband figures it out.

My divorce destroyed me emotionally.

I am a child of divorce and hyper-sensitive about it. My parents split when I was 4, and I grew up 500 miles from my dad, only seeing him during school breaks throughout my childhood. Every day of my life reinforced divorce = bad.

It was the one thing in life I was really sure about: I’ll never get divorced!

It hurt so much after she left that I needed to figure out how to not hurt anymore AND how to make sure nothing like that ever happens again. I’ve spent countless hours reading about, thinking about, and talking about relationships and human psychology.

Now I’m this new version of myself.

And I like how it feels to know one of life’s greatest secrets. 

Will the Same Thing Happen to Others?

Sometimes husbands read this stuff and think it’s bullshit. They can’t accept that their individual consciousness and worldview can be so radically different from others’. In their defense, it’s a really hard concept to grasp, and women are equally guilty of not understanding or respecting the fundamental differences between her and the men in her life.

Sometimes husbands refuse to read it because they’re prideful and don’t believe they need help, or maybe think acknowledging relationship troubles is a sign of failure and weakness, and most men will go to great lengths to conceal failure and weakness.

Sometimes husbands don’t appear to love their wives and family, and have little interest in anything that might be difficult to save something they don’t actually care about.

It’s hard to identify with people when they’re so much different than you.

But it’s really important that we try.

Sometimes guys like me read this stuff. They’ll leave a comment or a note, or maybe I’ll hear from their wives afterward: “Thank you. This changed our lives. You may have just saved my marriage.”

If there’s really a God that I get to meet on the day of my judgment, this is the one thing about which I get to hold my head high. This is the thing I get to say I did that mattered. Punching these keys and telling people I never met how I screwed up my marriage so maybe they can make better choices. Maybe someday I’ll get to tell God that a little 4-year-old boy was able to grow up with both his mom and dad because of something his father learned from me.

That’s why I always recommend the book. Because none of this is mine. It’s years of accidentally hurting my wife because I was selfish and ignorant. It’s years recovering from brokenness following separation and divorce.

It’s countless hours of combining the wisdom and lessons from a bunch of amazing thinkers and writers into a huge vat with all my nonsense and making something new.

Most of the time, people won’t care. Until a person is in total agony and desperate for answers, it’s really hard to care.

And even if you do care, you might think I’m totally full of shit. Maybe I am.

But every so often, when the stars align just so, the right person reads the right sentence at the right moment for them and everything becomes clear.

The Eureka Moment has a transformative effect on the heart and mind.

And then that person gets to be a better version of themselves for the rest of their lives, accidentally changing the world as they go.

Just like you.

Just like me.

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Maybe Pain and Misery is the Only Way

guy at bar alone

(Image/ThatBestMan.com)

I was drinking a lot of vodka to numb the pain.

Not scary amounts. Nothing dangerous. But I was using alcohol medicinally for the first time and that’s probably bad.

But when you feel jacked up on the inside and everything hurts no matter what, and you’re so scared about tomorrow because for the first time you don’t have any sense of what the future might look like, you only have so many options.

I didn’t want to die, even though that’s the one thing I stopped fearing.

I tried to have fun, but when the brokenness is inside you, it comes with you to parties and friends’ houses and holiday gatherings even when it’s not invited.

Sleeping sounds good. But when every night your subconscious delivers a highlight reel of your wife with someone else, even falling asleep starts to scare you.

So I drank a little. Two or three vodka drinks in an ice-filled tumbler. Feeling sorry for myself. Binge-watching Netflix, but not digesting the escapist fare not doing its job.

I missed them so much—my wife and son. And the only relief seemed to be the nights my little boy was home with me. But when he was home, it meant she was with him. More unwanted highlight reels—my mind concocting vivid X-rated scenes I didn’t find arousing.

I puked a lot.

I finally knew what it meant to be a broken person.

Two things happened when I started blogging in late June 2013.

The first was that writing stuff down helped me feel better. Tangibly. Like a miracle, even though the psych community had been touting the merits of doing so for as long as I could remember. I don’t always believe things until they happen to me.

The second was that a bunch of people started writing me telling me they felt the same way. Men would write me to say they’ve been where I am, or that they were going through it also. And when you find someone who really understands you, you heal even more. Even if they’re faceless strangers on the internet. Women would write me because they were married to, or dating, men who were behaving in ways I identified as the likely cause of my divorce.

And every one of those women still emotionally invested in their relationship had one obvious question: “How did you figure this out, and what can I do to help my husband understand what you now seem to?”

Divorce is the Worst and I Can’t Be the Only One Who Thinks So

I didn’t think: Hey, I know! I’ll write about divorce stuff!

I actually thought: Maybe it will be interesting to write about being freshly divorced and single with a young child and trying to build a new life. There will probably be some hilarious dating stories!

My ill-conceived attempt to journal my dating experiences quickly turned into something else. It turned into a written journey of self-reflection while I tried to find an answer to the questions: What did I do to cause this? What could I have done differently? What will it take to make sure it never happens again?

And as the comments continued to pour in from damaged spouses (mostly wives struggling to connect with their husbands while feeling emotionally abandoned), this seemingly inconsequential slice of the internet developed a meaningful purpose.

To make people realize they weren’t alone. Husbands. Wives. Boyfriends. Girlfriends. Straight. Gay. Everyone has their own tragic love story.

Everyone wants to love and be loved.

And everyone wants to know the secret: How do I find that Happily-Ever-After kind of love?

The kind where it always feels good.

The kind where it always feels safe.

The kind that lasts forever.

Whether your soul has been infected by the worst kind of marital fuckness, or your heart simply aches for someone who is always just out of reach, love—the kind attached to marriage and dating and sex—hurts. Badly.

It’s the kind of pain you have to numb or tough out until time heals you because there are no simple fixes.

And no one makes a scar cream capable of erasing this kind.

It’s the Pain

That’s what makes us change.

The pain.

When we’re kids, we learn not to touch hot surfaces or play with sharp knives or avoid hard impacts, because when we are burnt, cut or struck, we feel pain and learn to try and avoid it.

I lived my life having exclusively positive relationships with girls. I was nice. I didn’t toy with people emotionally. And pretty much everyone I’ve dated has liked me after we stopped.

I think it might be that simple.

Hey wife! Everyone likes me! I’m friends with everyone I used to date! No one else EVER complains about me! So tell me why I should believe you’re not the one with the problem?

It’s not illogical. It’s damn near the scientific method—a systematic and logical approach to forming the (incorrect) conclusion that you are NEVER responsible for anything bad, and that you’re always a victim! Because you didn’t MEAN to do anything wrong!

I think most women think most men are: Selfish, dense, lazy (about activities that don’t interest them), and insensitive.

I think most men think most women are: Emotionally volatile, illogical, unfair, inconsistent, and ungrateful (because his flaws are constantly under scrutiny, while he never hears praise—which he craves—for all of his positive contributions).

I think women think this because it’s really hard for her to imagine how his brain works. She assumes his brain functions like hers, thus he must be mean and stupid.

I think men think this because it’s really hard for him to imagine how her mind and body work. He assumes she thinks and feels—mechanically—in a way that’s similar to him. Thus, she must be hormonal and crazy.

She says something to him that makes perfect sense, but he doesn’t get it.

He fires back with a perfectly valid point of his own, but she doesn’t get it.

The two translators are INCAPABLE of comprehending what the other is saying. Even more importantly, the man is befuddled by her reaction because what he just said would result in a way different reaction from him. The woman is totally confused about him not getting it because she’s speaking very clearly about this thing she KNOWS she is experiencing and he’s not validating it. He’s not admitting it’s true.

She feels a combination of rage and heartbrokenness and fear.

He feels a combination of shame and confusion and frustration.

Often he will feel better soon if he just gets some time alone to think about something else. He’ll come back later ready to hug, apologize and have make-up sex.

But she WILL NOT feel better if she’s left alone. She won’t think about something else. She’ll think about this and the 50 previous fights that were just like this one. She’s afraid he doesn’t love her anymore, and she’s questioning the long-term stability of the relationship which makes her feel afraid, and she feels totally disrespected and invalidated. So the hugs and apologies start to feel empty and meaningless after a while.

And she doesn’t want to have sex because he doesn’t make her feel safe, loved or wanted anymore.

It’s happening all over the world. Right now.

It’s happening to one of you. Right now.

And it ends in piles of shit and misery. Always. You either split up. One of you has an affair. Or you spend years feeling resentful toward the person you’re supposed to love, and like a prisoner in your own life.

And You Have to Want More Than That

You have two other options.

One is stay single. And it does seem easier and less complicated. But we get lonely and we crave companionship and most of us like orgasms. Preferably with other people. So, almost inevitably it seems, we seek partnership.

And for that to work, there’s only one option: Learning best practices for marriage or long-term relationships that last a lifetime.

It’s not so different than learning skills in a particular sport or hobby or profession.

The problem is, most people think they have it all figured out like I did. They’re “smart.” Everything will be totally fine!

And they take for granted that it won’t always be fine. And once it starts to get really hard because one of you lost your job, or because your house is financially underwater, or because of health problems and medical bills, or because someone really close to you dies—most people lack the knowledge and skills and emotional resolve to get through it.

More fighting. More affairs. More divorce.

More guys who don’t figure out what happened. More women wondering how they’re ever going to trust another man, because they all seem the same. More children who bury pain and put on a happy face around mom and dad who they secretly wish were still together.

It’s really hard to do what it takes to love another person more than yourself.

It’s really hard to put your spouse’s needs ahead of your own, and statistically challenging to find a partner willing to do the same in return.

It’s really hard to admit you’re part of the problem. Perhaps the biggest part.

Even the most unselfish of us still feel What’s in it for me? from time to time.

“Hey Matt! How did you figure this out? How can I get my husband to figure out what you did?”

I think there’s probably an effective way on the front end of marital problems. A way for men and women to proactively bolster their marriage so that the foundation is unshakable when the hits eventually come.

And I’m still trying to figure out what that is.

In the meantime, the answer to your question is: The pain.

Waking up every day and asking: What can I do to help my wife have the best day possible and know that I love her? (along with seeing your children every day) is the OBVIOUS choice over the gargantuan pile of shit divorce dumps on your life. You’re ashamed. You lose confidence. You have less money. You miss your children. You miss companionship. You miss the person who was your best friend, even though you can barely remember what that version of them was really like. You miss having a sexual partner. You miss holidays feeling special. You miss in-law family events you’re no longer invited to. You miss your friends who you always spent time with as a couple.

And you miss yourself.

The person you used to know when you looked in the mirror.

The one who didn’t feel as if they failed at the most important thing that ever happened to them.

I don’t know how to make men feel and respond as I did. As I do.

I only know how to write these things down.

Maybe for someone, that can be enough.

Even if that someone is just me.

And even if I no longer need the vodka.

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The Pursuit of Happiness

I think I know where happiness lies. I just don't think it's easy to get there. But isn't the climb worth it?

I think I know where happiness lies. I just don’t think it’s easy to get there. But isn’t the climb worth it?

People chase money.

They chase sex. Fame. Status.

They chase adventure. Education. Fitness.

People chase fun. Friendship. Spiritual peace.

In the end, people are chasing these things day in and day out because they believe achieving them will make them feel good.

We don’t really want millions of dollars. We just want to not be enslaved to debt. To never be stressed about unexpected bills. To never worry about how we’re going to pay for something. To have the means to acquire things or participate in various activities.

We want to do all those things because we believe doing so will enrich our lives.

It’s the pursuit of happiness.

Misery Loves Company

I was several hundred words into another post when a friend texted. Her marriage is on the rocks. Has been for a long time.

She had a rough weekend with her husband.

Then something happened, triggering some atypical emotional responses in her.

“It sent me into a tailspin,” she said. “I’m questioning EVERYTHING.”

I know how you feel.

It doesn’t take much, sometimes.

I told her we both suffer from the same problem.

That we’re both in phases in our lives where we’re simply waking up every day, doing what’s required of us, and trying to not die.

It’s a wholly dissatisfying way to live.

There’s little fun. There’s no peace. And happiness is a long-forgotten stranger.

A figment of my imagination, it seems. Something I remember feeling, but not what the actual experience is like.

Like a decadent dessert you tried long ago.

You don’t remember the flavor. Only that it was beautiful and that you want to taste it again.

What I Want

I texted my friend: “What do you want? Be specific.

“To me, the only thing that makes sense is to write down specifically what you want. Really specific.

“Then, only do things that get you closer to those things.

“Everything else is a colossal waste of time and energy.

“We don’t have a lot of time.”

Well, alright then, Matt. Try not to be a hypocritical douchebag for once in your life.

What do you really want?

  1. I want a partner who I love and trust. I want to share the same life philosophies. I want to share meals and laughs and drinks and friends with her. I want to have ridiculously adventurous and spirited sex that would make all of my friends jealous if they only knew. And I want to always be giving more to the relationship than I’m taking.
  2. I want to be a good father to my son. I want to set a good example for him spiritually, intellectually, financially and socially.
  3. I want to spend more time surrounded by friends and family.
  4. I want to wake up every day, write whatever I want, and make enough money to maintain whatever lifestyle I choose.
  5. I want to be at my physical peak. Because I like how I feel when I am. I like feeling wanted. I like having mountains of energy. I like being strong.
  6. I want to live a life where I help other people acquire all of the things on their What I Want lists.
  7. I want to achieve spiritual peace.

So, what do I need to be doing right now, and tomorrow morning, and the next day, and the next to achieve those things?

  1. I can’t do anything about #1. But it will come. I can concentrate on the rest.
  2. I can be a better man, I can read more, I can be more financially disciplined, and I can be a better friend.
  3. I need only reach out and make the effort to be with those I love.
  4. I don’t know that I can do much more than I’m doing. I need to read more. Get smarter. Get wiser. Practice the craft. And maybe, if the stars align, someone will decide to trade money for words. Goonies never say die.
  5. Work out. Stop being a chump. Make the effort. Every day. First a little, then a lot. I need it. Excuses are bullshit.
  6. I do try to help people. Perhaps I can do a much better job. Ask more questions. Listen thoughtfully. Then, when possible, take meaningful action to help others achieve their dreams.
  7. All I need to do is say “Thank you” every single chance I get and be good even when no one’s watching. That will be an excellent step toward being the man I want to be.

I don’t want to be rich.

I don’t want to be famous.

I don’t want to be popular.

I just want to feel, deep within me, the peace and happiness that has eluded me in adulthood.

And I believe so strongly that it can only be achieved through great effort.

That this world gives you what you put into it.

That you must ALWAYS give more than you take.

In your human relationships.

In your professional relationships.

In your spiritual relationship.

You can sit around like me. Play the victim card. Why me, God? Why?

Or you can actually do something.

Happiness isn’t hiding behind that bush over there.

It’s big and shiny and on display for the world to see.

Only it sits atop a mountain. A big one.

And the weak can’t get there. The lazy can’t capture it.

Without strength, without discipline, without resolve, without faith, without perseverance, without courage, the climb will break your spirit.

Better to just sit staring longingly at the summit?

Or to prepare for the difficult climb?

I’m tired of this shit.

The climb must begin.

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The Writing Itch and a Love Song for One

I've got the itch.

I’ve got the itch.

I woke up today and thought to myself for the first time in my entire life: I can write a book.

I’m not saying anyone will read it.

I’m not saying it will be good.

I’m not saying I have any good ideas. I don’t.

However, I can write a book.

I believe that because of what I’ve been able to do here. It’s a productivity thing. I’ve been averaging north of 1,000 words a day for close to a half year. You can fill a couple books with that many words.

There are people in this world—amazing, creative people—who splatter good ideas all over the place. These are how successful businesses are made. How great movies and television shows are made. How the most delicious food is made. And how the best books are written.

They start with ideas.

And that’s kind of a problem, because…

I Never Have Good Ideas

Case in point: My 10-year career as a newspaper reporter prior to my layoff in late 2009.

I could write a decent story when news was happening. Piece of cake. Event X happens. I write about it.

Same’s true of this blog, really. Some life event happens. I write about it.

Easy. Don’t have to think about it. Just tell you what happened and how I feel about it.

With the news, I just had to tell you what happened.

But some days, I had to come up with “enterprise” stories. That means, I have to dig. Find an angle on some random thing and manufacture a good story out of it. Those were my most-challenging days.

The same is true here with my daily blogging efforts. If I don’t have something specific to report on, I have to come up with some enterprise idea. I try to resort to what’s top of mind, when in doubt. To document the journey as best I can. And this is what I’m thinking about.

I Want to Love Myself Again

I stood in the shower first thing this morning. Hot water stinging my neck.

I thought about something I read before bed last night about how a man changed his life by making “I love myself” a personal mantra. By truly learning to love himself again after the rigors of adult life had stolen his innocence.

And then I got to thinking about how shitty I feel sometimes. About how I felt awesome as a kid. Every day. Even with my parents divorced. Even being alone a lot.

I felt great. I was sad when people died. I was sad when one of my best friends moved away. I was sad when I had to say goodbye to my dad after summer and winter visits. But I was also resilient. Bounced back quick.

I smiled. I was positive. I was kind. I was friendly. I loved.

I loved my family. I loved my friends. I loved myself.

Then adulthood hits. Christmas stops being magical. No one cares about your birthday. You lose touch with all your friends. You don’t go to huge parties with a hundred people anymore. You don’t get the same attention from the opposite sex that you used to. Your hopes and dreams begin to die as you watch other people achieve things and wonder what they have that you don’t.

You make bad choices.

The sins pile up.

Your insides get poisoned.

And then you frown a little more. You laugh a little less.

You darken. On the inside.

I’ve spent most of my adulthood believing this phenomenon happens because we have the wool pulled over our eyes as children. We’re innocent. We don’t know how ugly the world can be. Most of us—the really fortunate ones—don’t experience extreme tragedy and hardship as children. Those moments tend not to arise until we’re wading through adulthood. We thought we’d have life figured out once we got here.

Then we arrived. And we feel less ready than ever. Less confident than ever. More unsure than ever.

The clock ticks a little bit louder now.

Tick, tick, tick.

The bottom of the hourglass constantly filling, reminding us that time isn’t on our side.

Then we feel sad.

Angry.

Depressed.

Lonely.

Unfulfilled.

We search for meaning.

Believers ask: Why me, God?

Some believers stop believing because of this. Why have you forsaken me? I guess you’re not really there at all.

Non-believers say: I told you so. Nothing matters.

Some of us die hopeless and alone.

But not all of us.

Because maybe I’ve been thinking about this all wrong. Maybe the wool wasn’t pulled over my eyes.

Maybe I just really loved myself as a child. Respected myself. Took care of myself.

I chose good over bad. I was physically fit. I got plenty of sleep.

I had friends. I felt purpose going to school. I had goals and hopes and dreams.

But mostly, I had love.

Meant to Be More

I think I stopped loving myself after my layoff.

When I would lay around all day, unshaven in sweats and a t-shirt watching TV with my two-year-old son at home while my wife went to work.

It was a new kind of worthlessness.

I don’t remember how long my wife put up with me, but I should be grateful for whatever amount of time she did.

How could I expect her to love and respect me when I didn’t even love and respect myself?

I came close to getting it back.

In 2011, I started eating right and working out every day. I lost 30 pounds and became physically stronger than I’d ever been before. People would always compliment me when they saw me. That’s always an amazing feeling.

My confidence soared.

I was offered and accepted a job in June 2011, right around my son’s third birthday. I was now making significantly more money than I’d ever made before, plus I had income from my freelance writing business.

I thought I’d finally beat back my demons at that point. Everything felt really good. Back on track.

And then in October, just a few months later, the bottom fell out again when my father-in-law died suddenly. We had dinner with him. He was the same amazing guy and grandfather he always was. Then we left. And got a phone call the next night.

Then my life spiraled out of control.

I lost everything that mattered to me when my wife walked out the door on April 1 of this year.

I fell hard. And I’m still on the floor. I just fake not being there sometimes.

And I was reading that book last night before falling asleep. I love myself. I love myself. I love myself, the guy repeated over and over and over again.

He faked it for a while.

But then the message finally started to sink in.

I love myself.

He started to believe it, because we can trick our brains.

I love myself.

Then he started living like he loved himself.

Took care of his body. Took care of his mind. Took care of his soul.

Because he loved himself. Genuinely.

And then everything changed.

He felt happy again. That really pure happiness we feel as children. Not fake happy. Not drunk happy. Not drugs happy. Not sex happy. Not money happy.

Real happy. And then all the other pieces of his life fell into place, too.

This idea makes sense to me. You say we can’t go back? We can’t have what we lost?

Maybe we can. I’ve never bothered to ask. I’ve never bothered to try.

What if life didn’t ruin us? What if we just stopped loving ourselves the way we did when innocence was all we knew?

And what if starting again is how we get to where we want to go?

Can’t hurt to try.

It’s okay if it feels corny. It’s okay if it feels fake. It’s okay if we don’t believe it.

Because if we just say it enough times, we’ll start to believe it: I love myself.

An Idea Machine

That’s what I want to be. A guy who has ideas. So I can write something that matters.

And to have ideas, I need energy. And to have energy, I need to feel good. And to feel good, I need to love myself.

I like the hot shower first thing in the morning. Some of my best thinking happens there.

I want to work out. I want to look and feel good.

I want to be good even when no one’s watching.

I want to be a better friend, father, son, grandson.

I want to be financially responsible.

And then.

I want to write a book.

I’ve always wanted to write a book. For many years, my ultimate fantasy was to sit in a movie theater watching a film based on something I’d written.

As I aged, becoming more interested in the things that make human beings do human-being things, I began to gravitate more toward non-fiction.

I like simple stories. Few characters. Emotional heartache. Forbidden lust. Poisoned hearts. Ruined lives. Healing and forgiveness. Redemption. Or stories of greed. Deceit. Or simple comedy.

I like complex stories. An EMP attack. The world goes dark. Society breaks down. It’s everyone for themselves. What’s a husband, wife and two kids to do? When the cops don’t come. When there’s no more grocery store. Or pharmacy. Or hospital. Or military defense. Or anything.

I like ongoing stories. Like great television shows or novels with reoccurring characters.

I like books that offer solutions to problems. Books that help human beings become better versions of themselves.

I need to pick one and try. Because I finally believe I can do it. And that’s a big step.

But first I need energy.

Physical fitness. Spiritual wellness. Reduced stress.

And I’ll get that by treating myself with the love and respect I feel for those who matter most.

I love myself.

I want to take risks.

Take my shot.

Choose myself.

Because I miss that happy kid from all my old photos.

And I intend to find him.

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How to Feel Grateful, Vol. 2

daily-gratitudeI’m on a never-ending pursuit of happiness.

You are, too. You might not realize that’s what you’re doing. But you are.

Our human instinct is to grab, and take, and capitalize, and steal, and stuff our pockets, and hoard.

Me, me, me.

How can I have more?

How can I benefit?

How can I feel the best?

Sometimes, I don’t have answers. Only questions.

But sometimes, I have answers.

Sometimes, I actually know what the hell I’m talking about.

How to Feel Happy

I titled this post “How to Feel Grateful, Vol. 2” (You can read Vol. 1 here—though it’s among my least-favorite posts), because gratitude is a prerequisite to happiness.

You will not feel the thing we label “happiness,” if you are not first grateful for all that you have.

And you have A LOT.

“Life is short, life is very short. I like life. I like it. I feel like even if it ends up being short, I got lucky to get—to have it, because life is an amazing gift when you think about what you get with a basic life. Not even a particularly lucky life, or a healthy life. If you have a life, it’s a—here is your boilerplate deal with life. This is basic cable, what you get, when you get life. You get to be on earth. First of all, oh my God, what a location.

“This is earth, and for trillions of miles in every direction it fucking sucks. So bad! It’s so shitty that your eyes bolt out of your head, because it sucks so bad. You get to be on earth and look at shit as long as you’re not blind or whatever it is, that you get to be here, you get to eat food. You get to put bacon in your mouth! I mean, when you have bacon in your mouth, it doesn’t matter who is president or anything, you just ahh, ahhhh. Every time I’m eating bacon I think, ‘I could die right now,’ and I mean it. That’s how good life is.” – Louis CK

Here’s how to feel happy:

1. Love yourself.

2. Give more than you take.

a. Give more than you take in your human relationships. Do the little things. Say nice things. Don’t say mean things. Apologize. Say “Thank you.” Say “I love you.” When you feel like you’re getting more than you’re giving, you should work extra hard to give more. Like a contest.

b. Give more than you take in your career. Treat the people you deal with—coworkers and customers—with respect. Give, give, give. Do more. Try harder. Be the best. Then, they give you more money. If they don’t give you more money, another employer will because they want the best person on their team. When you really figure it out, you eventually just make your own job.

c. Give more than you take spiritually. I don’t know what you believe. For the purposes of this, I’m not sure it matters. Just don’t pray and plead and beg when the shit hits the fan. Don’t cry out for help without being appreciative of life’s blessings also. Pray when it’s good. Or just say “Thank you” to the universe. Mean it. Feel it. Bottle that good. Then give some of it to someone else so that they can do the same.

3. Get plenty of sleep.

4. Exercise.

5. Be kind to others.

6. Don’t procrastinate.

“But Matt! You’re totally miserable! Why should I listen to you?”

Don’t, if you don’t want to. Feel shitty, like me. Knock yourself out.

I know I’m right because it’s hard. I know I’m right because it sounds like work. I know it’s hard because these are all of the things I’m NOT doing.

My favorite writer has already written it all a hundred times a hundred different ways and he says it all much better than I do.

You should read it. And you should pretend it’s the most-important thing you’ve ever read.

Then you should change your life.

Thank You

Today we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States.

A day to count our blessings. A day to say “thanks.”

I am grateful for the air I breathe.

I am grateful for my beautiful son.

I am grateful for a warm home on a cold day.

I am grateful for a reliable vehicle to get me to my destinations.

I am grateful for food.

I am grateful for music.

I am grateful for family.

I am grateful for friends.

I am grateful for you.

I am grateful for another opportunity to keep trying. Each day, a chance to make my life what I want it to be. A chance to wake up and do what is necessary to achieve peace. To seize happiness and make it mine.

It won’t be by frantically grabbing scraps as if there isn’t enough to go around.

It will be by sharing the treasure trove with others. By sharing a bottomless well of joy with everyone willing to make the journey there, and by encouraging the unwilling to try.

I am alive.

I am blessed.

I am loved.

I love.

You keep looking for miracles, but you don’t always see them.

Go find the nearest mirror and take a good, hard, long look.

Because you’re the miracle.

And I’ve never felt more gratitude for you than I do right now.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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