“Most human beings have an absolute and infinite capacity for taking things for granted”
I try to be aware of myself and of my surroundings and to be grateful for the world around me. Sometimes, though, I slip into the habit of routine and I take things for granted. Occasionally, I need to give myself a compass check and remind myself of some lessons in life and to not take things for granted. If I live my life too much on cruise control, I’ll find myself towards the end of my life wondering just what happened and where all the time went. I don’t want to have that regret.
I won’t even try to pin these all to a wall or to even remember all of them. If I can remember and live by 20 of them, then I’ll live a more fulfilled life.
I can never gain my time back. There are days when I’ve accomplished what I want to accomplish and simply don’t have creative juices flowing. I thrash aimlessly about the Internet searching for inspiration and wind up wasting time. I should know by know when I can achieve flow and when I can’t, and when I’m not being productive, I should spend my time on something more meaningful.
Work will always be there. As an entrepreneur, there are always things to do. It’s not like I’ll wake up one day and wonder what I should do. I can always do more promotion, as an example. Self-imposed deadlines help to accomplish tasks, but unless I’m going to pay a financial or legal penalty or I’ve promised a client something by a certain time, they are, in the end, fungible.
Good friends are worth keeping in touch with, even if you’re not physically near them. When I was at West Point and stationed in Germany (or deployed to Bosnia), I wrote a lot of letters. Free mail from a hostile fire zone (which Bosnia technically was) saved me a ton of stamps. Now that we’ve moved from Virginia to Texas, it’s been hard to keep in touch with old friends, but it’s easy to tell who the ones worth the effort are.
Live in the present. I have to tip my hat to Ryan Holiday for this one. One of the trips that my wife and I joke about is our 24 hour jaunt into Barcelona. We arrived one evening and left the next evening, and briefly saw every main highlight of the city. Even though we loved it, our whack-a-mole pace ruined Barcelona for us in that we think we’ve seen it all. The reality is that we rarely look at the pictures we’ve taken, but we certainly revisit the memories that we created. When our memories fade, we’ll probably mentally be in a state where all of the people and places in the pictures are strangers to us anyway.
Life isn’t a race from weekend to weekend. If I treat life as weekends interspersed with drudgery, then I’m going to hate 71.4% of your life. Even if I put Friday evenings in the good column, I’m still going to have 67.9% of my life. I have to find things to treasure each and every day. Start out by thinking about them when I wake up, and it will filter the rest of my day.
Few things are worth getting as angry over as we actually do. I have to tip my hat to James Altucher for this. I used to get ticked off to extremes when someone cut me off in traffic or did some other dunderheaded move involving automobiles. It was never, ever worth the blood pressure rise I experienced. My life is much better when my blood pressure readings are in double digits, not triple digits. It took a little practice of denying myself angry thoughts by telling myself that they weren’t useful, but it’s been worth the effort. I rarely get rattled and put off keel, except for the happy moments. Those are worth being put off keel for.
It’s OK to fail. We are incredibly resilient. The ability to get up from defeat is one of the hallmarks of what makes us top dog (hmm…wrong species?) in the food chain. But, even though I’m an entrepreneur who should know better, I want everything to work out. Sometimes it doesn’t. People will still love and respect me. My shortcomings define me as much as my strong points.
It’s OK to succeed. There are times when it feels like society wants to drag everyone to some sort of mean. I’m all for giving those who are down a hand up, but why must we grab onto the legs of those who have climbed the ladder in an attempt to pull them off? Sure, my success may have been attributable in some part to luck, but I created a lot of opportunities for luck to smile upon me as well. It’s possible to be successful and humble, but don’t let humility overshadow accomplishments.
The older I get, the harder it is to catch up on lost sleep. When I lived in Germany, we’d go out to the bars in Frankfurt. There was a set of 2 AM bars, 3 AM bars, and 4 AM bars. You had to get invited into the 5 AM bars, because bars weren’t able to stay open past 4 AM, so only private clubs were open until 5 AM. Then, we’d head home. At 6 AM, the local bakery in Wisselsheim would open up, and we’d get breakfast before going to bed. By Monday morning, we were waking up at 5:30 AM to go to PT. I can’t do that anymore, and I can rarely sleep past 7 AM, no matter how late I stay up. So, I have to manage my own body and the expectations of others regarding my bedtime. The time I can control is when I go to bed and go to sleep. Plus, sunrises are much more beautiful than whatever it is I see at midnight.
The older I get, the more set in my ways I become, and the harder I have to work to break the pattern. I tell myself I am someone who likes spontaneity and doesn’t like routine. I like to explore. I like to see new things. However, I’ve recently noticed that I am becoming a little more set in my ways. I know my brain likes to use the same neural patterns, so I have to consciously work to break them. Otherwise, I’ll keep the same routine and never leave the house.
Leave the house occasionally. Working from home is a blessing. I don’t have a commute. OK. I have a commute from the bedroom to the living room. It’s 20 feet. I don’t have to spend time in traffic, and I rarely have to dress up in anything beyond a t-shirt and jeans unless I’m going to a meeting or someone is going to see me on the other end of the webcam. There are times when I’ve spent 5 straight days inside except for dog walks and trips to the gym. That creates the routine that I mentioned in the previous point. Sometimes I just have to break out of that routine to actually see other people, even if I don’t interact with them. Online friends are great, and I’m thankful for all of the new people I’ve met through my virtual reactions, but that’s not a complete substitution for physical human interaction.
It’s OK to let things go. My mother asked me if I wanted the baby blanket she used for me when I was young. At first, I had a sentimental twang about it. It was my blanket, mentally. Just thinking of it brought back my earliest memories of my mother. Then I realized two things: 1. If I took it, it’d sit in the attic. There was a child somewhere who needed that blanket more than I did. 2. Thinking of the blanket brought back the memories. The blanket itself didn’t, since the blanket was still in Georgia. I could let go of it without letting go of the memories.
Stand for something. I’m a collaborator at heart. I want everyone to get along. When I led and managed, I did so by consensus, because I wanted everyone to be in agreement. Rare is the time when everyone will agree with me. Believe what I believe and make a stand. Not everyone’s going to hop on the ride with me, and that’s OK. Be open to debate. Be willing to hear the other side. Once I have enough information, be strong in where I stand. The world is full of fence riders. Not being on the fence makes me stand out.
Be willing to change my mind. I’m a firm believer in what I believe. I don’t come to my conclusions easily. However, when presented with superior information that contradicts what I believe, I need to be able to change. I shouldn’t remain firmly rooted to a belief just because that’s what I believe in. Instead, I should remain firmly rooted to a belief as long as evidence doesn’t disprove my position. When it does, I should be willing to change and explain why I did. Flip flop is only a bad term in politics and when you step on a pop top.
An extraordinary amount of what I read in the news won’t change my life one iota. There are a lot of sad events in this world and a lot of great events in this world. To get up in a lather over something that happens to someone somewhere else over which I have no control and which won’t affect my life one way or the other is a waste of energy. Care about the things which truly matter to me and which I can change. Don’t be ignorant to the world. Be selective instead.
Self-promotion isn’t bad. I live by this naïve belief that if I toil in silence long enough, people will notice, talk about me, and send others my way. While that would be ideal, at least to me, the reality is that getting people’s attention in the first place allows them to determine the merit of what I have done. Creating meritorious work without gathering attention is the equivalent of leaving my magnum opus in the attic and hoping that a subsequent generation will discover it and publish it posthumously.
Read or watch something funny as often or more than I do for the serious stuff. Humor is the best cleanser of the soul for me. When I have a true, raucous belly laugh that people five streets over hear, I feel much better for a very long time afterwards. If I could do that three times a day, I imagine it would extend my life significantly, so I better start on that.
Complaining solves nothing. Either learn to deal with something I don’t like or find a solution for it. Staying in the middle between solving and adapting will only focus my mind on whatever it is that I’m complaining about, amplifying my misery more than whatever it is I’m complaining about should do.
Where I am is a result of the choices I made. I always have a choice. Even if I don’t like the alternatives, I get to choose what I do. Traffic didn’t make me late. Me choosing not to leave enough buffer time in case I ran into traffic caused me to be late. Bad luck happens, but I can choose how I deal with it when it does happen.
Be more compassionate. Because I’m a strong believer that people create their own luck and situations, I can be pretty hard-headed and unemotional when it comes to the bad fortune of others. Sometimes, though, bad things happen to people who don’t deserve bad things to happen. I need to remember that more often, even as I keep up a filter for people who want to create excuses.
Crap food only tastes good for five minutes, but it can leave a hangover that lasts for days. I’ve flirted on and off with the Four Hour Body slow carb diet for about 3 years now. When I stick to it, I feel great. When I don’t, there’s a slow deterioration in how good I feel. The The 4 Hour Body recommends one binge day per week, both as a psychological and physiological reset button. If I really go hog wild, though, I feel like crap the day after, just like a bad hangover. If I binge in moderation (a conflicting idea, isn’t it?), then I feel great the day after.
My subconscious is a great messenger, but terrible at timing. My right anterior superior temporal gyrus loves to throw great ideas at me. I’m just rarely in a position to catch them when they’re thrown. I’m either in the shower, about to fall asleep, or on a walk in the middle of nowhere when the flood comes. I should know by know that it’s going to happen and have something handy to catch the ideas. I’m sure I’ve come up with and forgotten many more ideas than I’ve ever been able to capture and turn into substance.
Be more willing to let things work out. I have a tendency to try to tinker with things and make adjustments before they’ve had time to really settle in. It’s like messing with Jell-o before it has time to set. Yes, that’s a bad analogy. A better example is with my dog. Dogs will quickly work out who’s the alpha, and while it sounds nasty and vicious while they’re snarling at each other, it almost never results in an injury. Yet, each time my dog is being snarly and growly, I want to jump in there and separate them and send them back to their corners. If I wait five minutes, they’re almost always playing with each other like they’ve been best friends for their entire lives.
Being active is a lot more fun than sitting at a bar. I like going out and having drinks with friends. However, I like better going camping, hiking, rock climbing, canoeing, etc. with them. Being physically active is extremely engaging and rewarding. I love the feeling that my body has when I’ve comprehensively used it for a purpose that closely resembles what it was designed to do. Sure, I didn’t bring down a woolly mammoth, but I feel good afterwards. Plus, then, I’ve earned that beer!
Other people may be terrible drivers, but I’m probably not that great either. While I’d love to believe that the ratio of times when someone else has drifted into my lane on the Interstate versus me drifting into their lanes is about 10:1, it’s probably more like 3:1. I make mistakes too, which means I should be more prudent when I get behind the wheel. It’s easy to mentally go somewhere else when driving, but the older I get, the more dangerous that behavior is going to become.
2 hours a week really isn’t that much to ask to keep my body tuned up. I’ve refined my workouts to about 30 minutes apiece 3 times a week, so including commute time to the gym, I’m spending 2 hours working out. It’s not much to ask, but I’m still great at making excuses that I shouldn’t be making.
I earn the right to be in people’s lives and they earn the right to be in mine. 10 years ago, when I met friends and talked to them, that’s all I did. 5 years ago, smart phones were a neat trick to be able to look up some piece of information that we couldn’t recall. Now, they’re a constant temptation to substitute usually meaningless information (really, will I find out something on Facebook that I need to act on in the next hour and leave my friends?) for meaningful conversation. I need to be present and aware when I’m with my friends and continue to earn the right to have that friendship.
It’s OK to waste some time; just don’t waste a lot of it. If I try to be intentional about everything I do, then I’ll get exhausted from the effort. It’s OK to have some meaningless distractions and diversions as long as those don’t get out of balance with spending time meaningfully.
Thinking something is a great idea doesn’t make it so. I am very much a victim of the IKEA Effect – if I build something, then I value it more than if I get something pre-assembled. I think my ideas are great because, after all, they are my ideas. I shouldn’t navel-gaze at my own ideas. They need to be justified and backed just like every other idea that I ever come across. If I don’t put in the effort to support my ideas, then the only person I’ll ever convince of them is me.
Teaching is fun, mostly because it’s an extension of learning. I love that feeling of, having discovered something which I think is cool, then sharing it and watching that “a-ha” moment happen with someone else. Sharing knowledge is fun not to appear smart to someone else but to watch change happen.
I can always find more ideas. In the company I co-founded, one of our first clients was MITRE, who brought in our people to teach them everything new and interesting that we’d learned. We feared that in doing so, we’d have given away our “special sauce.” It never happened. Instead, it forced us to go find new, even better things so that we always had something to share. I sometimes get frustrated when I see someone else covering a topic I’ve recently written about. I need to remind myself that all that does is force me to go find new and better ideas.
I can go back to places more than once. When my wife and I went to Barcelona, Spain, we tried to see everything there was to see in under 24 hours because we had only planned that much time to see it. We saw the highlights, which removed our desire to go back, even though we loved it. What else was there to see, after all? I still get that urge whenever I see a new place – see as much as I can in the visit. Instead, I should pick a few things and dive deep into them. I can always come back, and I want to leave somewhere wanting more.
Jack of all trades and master of none is a frustrating title. The world is full of interesting ideas and topics, and I easily stray from interest to interest, dabbling in many of them. However, I’ve always been frustrated in that I was never a master at one particular thing; I’ve never had a true calling card of being known for something. Maybe this is going to simply be an outcome of my interests and choices. I don’t know, but I still don’t like that tag, and I impose it on myself.
Focus more. I am really bad at taking “mini-breaks.” It’s a wonder my Alt and Tab keys work anymore for as much as I hit them. Letting my mind wander to give my subconscious a chance to chip in is one thing. Creating bad habits as an excuse to “reward” myself for progress is another. It’s really hard to get flow when I’m checking website stats every 30 minutes.
Ask myself if I would enjoy a meal more if I cooked it myself or if someone else cooked it for me before leaving the house. Again, there’s probably a bit of the IKEA effect in my cooking, for I’m no Anthony Bourdain or Gordon Ramsey, but there are things, such as salmon, that I enjoy more when I prepare it myself than I’ve ever had in a restaurant. So, rather than simply going out to a restaurant on a Saturday because of habit, I should ask what I’m really hungry for and if I can cook it better. If I can, then I should. If I can’t, then I should let someone else.
Don’t let other people’s actions affect me as much. Why should I care if Hostess reintroduces Twinkies? If someone else eats them, so be it. I’m not forced to buy and eat them, so why should I care? When I start to get irritated at the actions of others, I should remember that a) I can choose a different path, and b) not all of my decisions are brilliant, either.
Stones I cast my mind are just as bad as ones I would otherwise cast. Thinking negatively is just as poisonous to me as acting on a negative thought. My body prepares all of the same chemical (and stressful) reactions as if I actually did anything. The only difference is that the other person isn’t negatively affected, which is good, but not nearly as good as if I didn’t think a bad thought in the first place.
When I voice an opinion, I’d better be prepared to deal with what happens if someone else disagrees with it. Since, despite what I can sometimes think, not every idea or opinion of mine is going to be awesome, sometimes people will disagree with me. Some of that disagreement may be more heartfelt than other times. If I’m going to express an opinion, then I need to be prepared to deal with what happens when others disagree. It doesn’t mean I’ll change my mind or profusely apologize (though it might), but I shouldn’t be surprised and taken aback when the rest of the world doesn’t follow in lockstep with my thinking.
Music shouldn’t fill the gaps in car rides. If I am driving somewhere, my default decision is to turn on the radio and listen to music. I really enjoy music, but often, I get to the place where I am going and think “Oh, I should have listened to that podcast” or “I could have called my parents.” I enjoy music, but in relative terms of priorities, I enjoy it less than other things I could do to pass the time while driving.
Hard conversations are rarely as hard as the consequences of not having them. I’m bad at starting what I think will be tough discussions, but I invariably find that they were not as tough as I thought that they were going to be, and when I’ve had them, my life improves for having had them. It doesn’t mean I want to go seeking them out, mind you, but I tend to make them worse in my mind than they will be in reality, and then I put them off becuase of the self-inflicted trepidation.
Facebook and Twitter are no substitute for a good book. Yes, I like knowing what my friends are up to, but I don’t need to find out what they’re up to every four hours. Consistent scanning of Facebook and Twitter has taken away from time that I used to spend reading books, and I’m not better off for the trade.
Drink more water. This may be too much personal information, but I always feel best when I drink at least one glass of water for each time I, well, get rid of a glass of water. I probably live in a state of constant dehydration, and water is an awesome transport mechanism for flushing toxins out of the body.
Naps are probably an indication of understimulation. As an entrepreneur who’s worked mainly at home, I’ve developed a habit of napping over the past 8 years. I’ve noticed, though, on the weekends, when I’m having fun, I never want a nap. Correlation? Probably.
Social media shines a light on the best and worst of humanity; pay attention to the best and forget the worst. Great stories that deserve an audience come out on social media, but so do stories about Britney Spears having a breakdown in LAX. Who gives a crap about Britney Spears’s latest breakdown? I often let the outrage or crudity of humanity draw my attention rather than paying attention to the meritorious.
People who don’t share my opinion aren’t bad, and they aren’t necessarily wrong, either. I often am my own worst in-group bias. Instead of wondering how people could arrive at the conclusions they do, I should instead make sure mine are bulletproof and then look at what evidence I need to provide to enable others to arrive at their own conclusions. After that, let the winds blow where they may.
The dog never does anything just to spite me. There are things he does which almost seem like he’s doing to get back at me because he didn’t get a treat or a walk or a game of fetch, but he’s just doing what dogs do. The concept of spite, revenge, or even malice doesn’t exist for him. Heck, he usually can’t remember what he did 8 seconds ago.
I’ve had more time in my adult life not in the military than I spent associated with the military. While my military service shaped who I am, I’ve had more time as a civilian than my West Point and Army time combined. That breakeven point happened a few years back, too.
Self-interested doesn’t mean sleazy. This applies for both how I view myself and how I view others. It’s OK to ask people to compensate me for the value that I provide, just as it’s OK for others to ask me to compensate them for the value they provide. That request doesn’t immediately make any of us become white-shoed used car salespeople. It’s only when there’s a request for compensation and no value provided that the white shoes get polished.
Expertise is a credential that is earned, not one that is self-imposed. If I want someone to call me an expert in something, then I need to consistently demonstrate mastery of that subject. Others provide that appellation, not I. I can say what I do, and others can provide commentary on the quality of what I do.
Good neighbors increase the value of a house, if not the price. A price on a house is what I pay money for. The value of it is my comfort there. Good neighbors increase my comfort in my home, creating much more value. Along those lines, I bet someone could make a killing if they could create a service that evaluated how well you’d get along with your potential neighbors when looking for a home. I’d certainly pay for that service.
I may be the master of my own destiny, but it took a lot of people to give me that power. I had a good education, wonderful family, supportive friends, and an environment where I could make choices. I need to be better about paying that forward.
Be more careful about my skin. I’m a pale skinned person AND I shave my head. I’m just asking for sunburn when I spend more than 15 minutes in the sun. I’m pretty good about covering up or using sunscreen – my preferred answer is to cover up – but pretty good may not be good enough. I’d love to see a leatherback turtle, not become one, and when my wife, ever the diligent one, asks me if I want to put on sunscreen, I should think more often of the leatherback turtle.
Don’t be ashamed to outsource the unimportant things in my life. We have a housekeeper and a lawn guy. We are in a financial position where we can make that choice. The opportunity to pay someone else to do things that we don’t want to do is an outcome of our life’s decisions. That’s fine. I shouldn’t have that tinge of guilt which hits whenver I think about it. If I felt that badly, I’d mow the darn yard myself, so apparently I don’t feel that badly. I need to get rid of the guilt.
Be more aware of the point of diminshing returns. The more I think about this, the more areas I think of where this applies. The second bite of dessert never tastes as good as the first. When I’m looking for more information, once I start seeing the same answers repeat, I should probably stop looking. An extra hour in bed rarely makes me feel more refreshed. Two 15 minute massages are more relaxing than one 30 minute session.
Appreciate the joy of rediscovery. I get just as much joy when I rediscover something that I haven’t recently used or done as I do in finding something new. It’s probably because they’re equivalent. I hadn’t been rock climbing in years, and went again, and had a blast; it was like a discovered a new hobby. Sometimes I find neat clothes in my closet that I enjoyed but then somehow got stuck in a pile or between two hangers, and I’m thrilled to find it again. There are opportunities for rediscovery everywhere as long as I look and pay attention.
I can’t change what I’ve done in the past. I occasionally catch my brain beating myself up for something I did as a kid or as a younger adult. Those days are gone. I can’t go back and undo what I did. I can learn the lessons and not be that person in the future.
Other people want to talk about what’s interesting to them as much as I want to talk about what’s interesting to me. I can sometimes fall into the trap of waiting for someone else to finish what they’re saying so that I have an opportunity to speak. If I don’t want them to be in that same position, then I need to pay attention to and engage in what they’re saying. If I can’t be interested enough in what they’re saying to be engaged, then I should walk away from the conversation, as it’s not really a conversation at that point.
Remember that most justifications or reasons I come up with for not doing something are just excuses. If I really examine why I do or don’t do things, then most of the reasons I come up with don’t hold water. If I really wanted to do something, then I would. Since I don’t, then the most likely reason that I’m not doing it is because I didn’t want to do it as badly as I wanted to do something else.
Come up with better motivations to do something. Since I don’t do some of the things that I think I want to do because I apparently don’t want to do them badly enough, then I need to come up with, in my mind, better benefits and reasons to do something so that I overcome inertia of the default choice of sticking to my routine. I’ll do something when I think more about the benefits, so if I think I want to do something, then I need to think about the benefits up front.
I want my house to be functional and comfortable enough to live in, but not so appealing that I have no motivation to leave the house. We have friends who have a nice house, with a ton of amenities and a beautiful view. I am a little overtaken by envy and think “Hmm…it’d be nice to have a place like this” and start plotting. I need to remember to finish that sentence, which is “…and I’d never want to leave it.” For some people, that’s great. It’s just not for me.
I love my country, and other people love their countries, but we’re all citizens of this planet. Maybe I’m too idealistic, but wouldn’t it be nice if we were all members of one organization – planet earth? What makes my country better than someone else’s? Aside from casting the occasional vote and serving in the military, I did nothing to make this country what it is, and that contribution is microscopic. Being an American is simply an artefact of where I was born, nothing more. That artefact provides no position of moral superiority for my citizenship.
Inspiration comes from blending everything else with my mind. I can find many, many sources of inspiration, but the sources still have to percolate through my brain before they come out the other end as motivations for me to do something. My brain is always the middleman for the inspiration, so I need to allow it to fulfill that role rather than filling it full of useless junk when I could otherwise be inspired.
Politics, despite the headlines, only influences my life at the margins. I once had the opportunity to run for a Board of Supervisors seat in my county. I’d have probably won, not because I was awesome, but because there were no contenders for it. I’m glad I chose not to. I’d have been caught up in the minutiae of other issues which don’t really matter that much. I’m glad other people serve those roles. Depending on your political views, you either decried the current or the previous President as the end of the world as we know it. Yet, in both cases, the world still seems to be ticking along fairly well.
Don’t worry about the permutations that are likely to never happen. I can get myself spun up in thinking “well, what if [X/Y/Z] happens?!? What will I do?” The reality is that most of the things which I worry about happening won’t, and I’m trying to live a life of prevent defense worried about preparing for a bunch of different outcomes that may or may not happen. I need to know the difference between preparing for disastrous outcomes and insuring against them and worrying needlessly about various unlikely and, relatively speaking, unimportant outcomes.
When time seems to be flying by, do more. The perception of time is a result of what we’re doing. If we are doing the same routines, then time will seem to fly by. If I want time to slow down – which I do, since I only have so much of it on this earth – then I need to do more new things to force my brain to take notice of what’s happening around me.
If I don’t care enough to change something, I should probably look away. Rather than seeing something that bothers me get me worked up, but not worked up enough to actually do something about it, I should look away. Dog chained up in someone’s front yard? That irritates me a lot, but I am not going to go to the front door and try to lecture the owner (I’ll probably get shot), I’m not going to sneak up in the middle of the night and take the dog away, and Animal Control won’t do anything. It’s a sad situation, but me worrying about it won’t change it. It only upsets me and doesn’t cause anything different to happen except for an increase in my blood pressure. Am I being too cold?
Don’t get lured in by online poker when it becomes legal (again). A friend of mine went to Las Vegas recently and spent most of his weekend playing poker. I enjoyed playing poker, but 16-tabling sit and go tournaments becomes mind-numbing, and I got much more ticked about losing $100 than I ever was happy about winning $200. The money wouldn’t make a material impact on me, and I’d remember the losses much more than the wins.
There’s no deal that’s so good I can’t pass it up. Really good deals are infrequent, but not so rare that they’re in a class of Picasso original. When looking for investment opportunities, I should look for the great deals, but don’t be in such a hurry to act on any given deal that I get stretched or change my parameters.
Don’t idealize something so much that it can’t live up to the expectations. When went to Chile, I had created such a mental image in my mind of what it would be like that, by the time we arrived, there was no way that it could live up to the Shangri-La that I’d mentally built it up to be. Instead, I need to have idealistic expectations about travel, about experiences, and about business expectations so that I allow for positive surprises rather than putting myself in a position where I can only be disappointed.
Hate behaviors, not people. I tend to conflate behaviors and the people who exhibit the behaviors, as if the people themselves are inherently evil. With very few exceptions, people aren’t evil. They just make bad choices. I do too. I’m particularly guilty of this with smokers. I despise smoking. That doesn’t mean smokers are bad people. I have to remember that.
Don’t keep the panic button so close. I am likely to expect the worst outcome when I receive nebulous information. There are two examples of this which happened recently that come to mind. The first was when I received an e-mail from the Texas State Securities Commission. My immediate reaction to seeing the e-mail was “Ohmygoodnessauditargh!” Then I opened up the e-mail and realized it was something I’d actually opted-in to subscribe to. Face, meet palm.
The second was when I received an e-mail from the bookkeeper of the company I founded. I am still receiving payments from my buyout, and I’m still a minority owner. I e-mailed her to ask about a distribution for the taxes accrued, since we’re an LLC. She responded that “unfortunately,” I’d not be receiving a payment for the month, and that the contracts administrator would be e-mailing me shortly to explain. My first reaction? “Ohmygoodnessthecompanyisgoingunder!” Far from it. In 7 months this year, they’ve already earned more in revenues than in any previous year. Instead, the accountant was changing how the tax allocation was calculated, so it was all a wash for me. I need to hide my panic button.
People’s kids are really important and precious to their parents. We don’t have kids by choice. I’m OK with kids, but not like some of my childless friends who are AWESOME around them. But, for parents, their kids are important, and what’s happening to their kids is something they want to share. I share about my dog; they should be able to share about their kids and get the same level of attention from me.
Parents are usually pretty aware when their kids are being hellions. Most of the time, when a kid is crying on a plane or yelling in a restaurant, the parents are more exasperated than anyone else around them. The looks of dismay and embarrassment tell the story. I was a precocious little kid too. I’m sure there were times when I had meltdowns in public places and my parents wanted to sink into the floor. Actually, one of them would take me outside and REALLY give me something to cry about! I should try to remember the times when I went up to strangers at the grocery store and talked to them the next time a kid comes around when I’m in a public place.
There’s a line somewhere between moral relativism and moral absolutism. Some things are unquestionably wrong. However, just because someone else believes something that I disagree with doesn’t mean that my morals are right and theirs are wrong. If there is a book of moral absolutes somewhere in the universe, I am most certainly not the author.
Ranting solves only a very few problems. I can get caught up in quite the motherlode of rants if I get wound up about what I perceive to be the injustices of the world. What gets accomplished from said rants? Just about darn nothing. About the only time a rant is good is if I need an energy boost from people whom I admire and respect to encourage me to keep up the good fight. Of course, sometimes they also (hopefully politely) inform me that I was dead wrong.
I’ll never get around to it if I say “I’ll do it when I get around to it.” Using that phrase is just my way of procrastinating something that I’d really rather not do into the future. Well, in the future, I’m really rather not going to want to do it either. I should pick one or two things like that every day and knock them out in the few minutes it takes to do them rather than waiting until they pile up to make a day (or days) of work. Once the pile gets high enough, I’m pretty apt to just knock the pile over and start anew, not doing any of the things I’d been putting off doing.
If I need to do something, I’ll find the time to do it. Whenever I say that I “should” do something and procrastinate about doing it, that’s usually my code word for “would like to, but haven’t prioritized it high enough to where it would actually get accomplished.” I need to trust my internal prioritization system. I know what’s important to me in life. If it’s important enough, it’ll well up to a high enough level in my consciousness to spur me into doing it.
I need to turn off the computer more often. I grew up with a Commodore 64, so I’ve had computers in my life since 5th grade. I’m comfortable with them, and they are an extension of me in that they enable me to do a lot of things that I couldn’t otherwise do. However, a computer is not who I am, and instead of using a computer as a default form of keeping me entertained when I am not working, I should find other sources of engagement. The Internet will still be there when I come back, and if I missed an important tweet, so be it.
Nature makes some pretty cool sights, and so does man. When I travel, I lean towards seeing natural beauty, but man can create some pretty remarkable stuff as well. From works of art to buildings to intricate dance, it’s amazing what our fairly limited physical structures can coerce the rest of the natural world to do.
Don’t get exasperated that some people like stuff more than you. I know what the research says about materialism and happiness. So, I’m fairly minimalist. That doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Adults are allowed to make their own choices and live with them, and if a house full of stuff makes them happy, then great! Who am I to make a judgment? Some people truly are happiest at home, and that’s OK.
The best rewards don’t come right after you’ve done something. I’m just as guilty as anyone of programming myself to want immediate rewards. Immediate rewards are life’s sugar high – quick, spiky, and generally meaningless. The real rewards take time and don’t always manifest themselves the moment that you’re finished doing whatever it is that you hope will lead to the reward.
The world is still, by and large, a meritocracy. Good work rises to the top. I need to not be frustrated when I see schlock succeed. More often than not, substance succeeds more than schlock, and good people who do good things get their due in good time. A good example is classmates of mine from the Army who have received early promotions. I can’t think of a one who wasn’t deserving.
Maintaining something is just as important as the process it took to get there. I used to go to a chiropractor for back pain. The first one was good, but never really solved the problem. The second one gave me one exercise to do every day to solve the problem. It did. When I do the exercise, I don’t have pain. When I rest on my laurels (“hey! No pain!”), I don’t do the exercises, and I start to have pain again.
Instead of clutter, I should just have a box labeled “I might need this someday.” I’m bad at creating piles of things which I tell myself I should file but wind up rarely doing. I should, instead, create a box of “I might need this someday” and throw everything in there. I should create one for each year. After 5 years, I should burn the box.
Occasionally, the poop I step in on dog walks was truly from a wild animal. Instead of being a conspiracy theorist believing that NOBODY picks up after their dogs but me (hello, self-attribution bias), I should acknowledge that, yes, there are coyotes and other wild animals, and perhaps they also poop in the wide open spaces where we take our dog to poop. Novel concept, and one that I occasionally forget.
I haven’t done enough running in the past decade to rely on my running from my youth and military time to keep my lungs fit. I may as well face the fact that I’m effectively at ground zero when it comes to cardiovascular training and approach it as such rather than expecting to run 6 minute something miles and then being quite disturbed when I can barely huff my way through something much slower than that. We change over time, and I need to acknowledge that I’m not the athlete I once was.
Define my happiness through what and who I am rather than in comparison to anyone else. “I’m not as [BLANK] as [PERSON]” is a terrible way for me to try to define my happiness. Instead, I should ask myself where I am with where I think I should be, and where I fall short (in many places), what am I doing to improve. I’m myself. Nobody else.
Don’t look at e-mail right before you’re leaving. I am SO bad about wanting to check e-mail before getting into the car, leaving the house, whatever. It’s not like there’s anything which will get into my inbox that has to be acted upon IMMEDIATELY! Nothing! I’m not making heart stents! Whenever I do that, if there’s something I see which I will respond or react to, the Zeigarnik Effect kicks in and distracts me for the next hour. I should only check e-mail if and when I’m in a position to appropriately respond right then.
Remember, when your wife suggests “Let’s go do something,” it’s almost always a good idea. I almost never think “boy, was it a bad idea to leave the house” when I actually do leave the house. So, instead of coming up with excuses, I should get up, grab the keys, make the sure the dog has water in his bowl, and head out.
I never regret going to the gym. Even if I am zapped after going, I never think “I should have never gone to the gym today.” Even when it’s crowded and I have to wait for weights or equipment, I’m always glad that I went. I should remember that feeling when it’s time to go and my excuse machine gets fired up.
Not everyone is going to like me, and not everyone has to like me. The great thing about this world is that I get to choose. I can be who I am and if people like it, great! If they don’t, that’s OK too. I’d love it if everyone liked me, but that’s simply not going to be the case. I’m not going to be disappointed if, for example, Kim Jong Un doesn’t like me. I don’t like everyone I meet either, so it should come as no surprise when that feeling is reciprocated. We all find our niches.
I rarely need a break when I tell myself I need a break. I’m just making up excuses as a reason to procrastinate. There are few times when I am simply not making any progress, and it usually involves my chin hitting my chest and the upper eyelids hitting the lower eyelids as I’m trying to do something. All I’m doing with constant breaks is shortening my attention span and my ability to focus – both of which are trainable, and I have the habit of training them in the wrong direction.
The movies are never as good as the books, but sometimes the movies are pretty darn good. I don’t watch movies often, and it’s usually, I tell myself, because the books are better. However, that didn’t stop movies like the The Lord of the Rings Trilogy trilogy or the Harry Potter series from being very enjoyable to watch.
Be more empathetic to people’s pain. When I had my knee surgery, I talked about it quite a bit. I didn’t want sympathy, but awareness; I couldn’t walk as fast as others while I was healing. Yet, when someone else goes through a painful experience, I’m not always the most aware or sympathetic. I need to remember their pain more and inquire more often on how they’re doing.
Wave to the neighbors while on the dog walk. A lot of cars drive by while we’re on the morning dog walk. They’re en route to work, I’m sure. I need to wave at them and be friendlier. Maybe it’ll make the morning commute a little bit better.
People under intense stress or pressure don’t like choices. If people are in high stress situations, they don’t want a list of options. They want a recommendation, and possibly a reason why. I was reminded of this recently. We’re the alternate contact for the alarm system for some friends. The friends work in the medical industry, so they aren’t always available to take calls. When I received a call from the alarm company telling me that there had been an alarm and that the police were en route, I tried to call both friends unsuccessfully. I then texted them both and one of them texted back. I asked if she wanted me to head over there to check things out. There was a delay in answering, and I then just told her that I’d head over unless she didn’t want me to. She was happy that I went. Fortunately, it was one of their dogs who had set off the alarm.
I have to get in the right mindset to enjoy driving more than 3 or so hours on a trip. When I was in college and in the Army, it was nothing for me to drive 6 to 8 hours each way for a weekend. Now? No way! I have to really get into the right mindset to drive that far – usually involving an audio book that I can really get into so that the time passes by much more quickly. Otherwise, it’s worth it for me to pay for someone else to get me there, whether by plane, train, or bus.
Classic books are classics because they’re almost all good. It’s possible to get a ton of classics for free for my Kindle. I’ve read a lot of them and enjoyed almost every one that I read. The exception was War and Peace (#aff). It took forever to read. I understand why people think it’s a classic, although I’m sure the truly epic length is a contributor, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. However, I’ve found that I really like Wilde, Wolfe, and Stevenson, and I wish Fitzgerald had lived 40 more years and written the entire time.
Some people need encouragement and some people need a kick in the rear to get them going. Always try the former first and be encouraging, and if that doesn’t work, then try the latter. I can only help people who truly want to help themselves, though. Change always comes from within, even if it has an external ignition. But, if the ignition doesn’t spark despite my best efforts, I also need to learn when to leave it alone. The people who truly want help and want to change will kick on.
If I set an audacious goal, keep working until I hit it, and don’t give in until I have finished. When I originally thought of this post, in my mind, it was titled “101 Things I Need to Remind Myself About More often.” Then I started writing. The first 20 or so were easy. After about 50, it was a slog, dredging my mind for every memory or experience I could think of. I thought about changing it to “51 Things” or “76 Things” (I could make a 76 Trombones reference, after all). But, I didn’t. I challenged my brain to keep coming up with ideas. My brain rose to the challenge. Yay brain!
I have a darn good life. It’s not perfect, but it’s really good. I have a wonderful family, great friends, and the freedom to do what I want. That’s an incredible combination, and I don’t appreciate it nearly as much as I should.
What was your favorite in this list? Your least favorite? What did I miss? I suspect those of you who have kids may have some suggestions to add to this list.