In 2016 I wrote a post titled, “Calling my shot.” In it, I committed to valuing authenticity and service over vanity metrics and popularity. At the time I worked as a speaker.
Since then I closed several financially successful businesses (more here) and learned to tame my inner demons (see here and here). I went to grad school (more here) and enrolled in a two-year certification program to become a meditation teacher (check it out here).
Today I’m a registered psychotherapist and in the process of being certified to teach meditation.
I was trying to untangle two core issues that hindered me as a writer:
I’m not the guy I was when I started this blog. The darkness that inspired some of my most popular posts doesn’t grip me like it used to.
While I was in school, I realized that writing about the human condition, mental health, and spirituality in a way that is valuable, true, and responsible is extremely difficult.
We don’t actually know that much about psychology. Though there are endless studies that appear to be statistically significant, their reproducibility rate is an abysmal 36% (Open Science Collaboration 2015).
Further, what helps some people heal and flourish can be harmful or a waste of time for a different person in a similar situation.
While this isn’t a problem in a therapeutic setting where the therapist and client interact, it is a problem for writers.
Suddenly, I found myself stuck. I struggled to thread the needle of true, helpful, responsible, engaging, and worth your time.
Should I write from personal experience? Should I write based on what the latest studies say? Is it ok to write about things that seem to work even though they haven’t been heavily researched? How do I factor in the myriad research considerations (reproducibility rates, applicability across different intersections, controls for various researcher and publication biases, etc.)? What about the ancestral wisdom that clashes with materialist perspectives? What about the clinical stuff that counselors swear by, but researchers fail to validate? What about the stuff that has an amazing research base but just doesn’t seem to work in the real world (CBT, I’m looking at you…).
Everything felt so grey to me. I agonized over this problem for months, before landing on a simple solution: I’m going to embrace the grey.
I love writing about the intersection of psychology, inner game, spirituality, and philosophy even though they often fail to agree on first principles.
I love writing for the artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, executives, students, misfits and rascals who want to face their demons, live vividly flourishing lives, help others, and stare unflinchingly into the void while making an ill-timed joke. It’s an embarrassment of riches that y’all read my shit.
We’re living through an era that no longer values traditional credentialing or expertise. This is a dangerous and misguided trend. With that in mind, I aim to hold my work to a higher standard.
Moving forward I will explain what type of article you’re reading and where the evidence for its potential effectiveness comes from. Life experience? Clinical experience? Philosophy? Ancestral wisdom? Research? A mashup? When I lean heavily on the research, I’ll cite my sources. When making controversial claims about health, healing, and flourishing, I’ll engage a peer review process similar to those used in traditional journals.
My goal is to share what I’ve learned as a clinician, a meditation teacher, and a dude in a t-shirt while also doing my due diligence.
As before, I plan to place all of my chips on the following bet: I will do the best work I can, make it accessible and trust that worthwhile things will materialize.
This is overdue and I’m ashamed of that. And I acknowledge that I’m not in a position to meaningfully advance the conversation.
But still, silence is far worse than tardiness, so I’ll state it plainly: I stand with the people who want to end white supremacy, structural oppression, systemic violence, and the blatant racism that plagues much of this country and its people.
There is a brokenness out of which comes the unbroken, a shatteredness out of which blooms the unshatterable.
There is a sorrow beyond all grief which leads to joy, and a fragility out of whose depths emerges strength.
There is a hollow space too vast for words through which we pass with each loss, out of whose darkness we are sanctioned into being.
There is a cry deeper than all sound whose serrated edges cut the heart as we break open to the place inside that is unbreakable and whole.”
– Rashani Réa
– 1 –
There are forgotten truths about the human experience and society.
We’ve been led to believe that we’re less capable and less resilient than we truly are.
There is a part of you – of all of us – that knows how to get through this. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again.
Beneath the pain, fear, and uncertainty we know how to get through this, how to get back up, and how to flourish in the eye of the storm.
We can wake that part up.
– 2 –
First, you need to stop fighting against the darkness. To deny your deepest and most complex feelings is to become both victim and aggressor.
Instead, allow yourself to feel the things you’ve been longing to avoid.
Ask yourself, bravely, “What is standing between me and greater well-being?” Of course, we know some of the easy answers: the virus, uncertainty, stay at home measures, an economy in tailspin.
But those aren’t the answers we’re looking for. We want the feelings beneath those concerns: the fear, the confusion and smallness, the lack of preparation or ability, the sense of being unloved or unlovable, and/or the specter of death and loss.
Surrendering to whatever is true for you is the first step to rekindling the strength and clarity that so many of us have been tricked into forgetting.
Then, simply ask, “Can I be with this feeling?”
You may be surprised to find that the answer is a calm and stable yes. Stay with that yes for a moment. Recognize that your fears do not own you.
– 3 –
Next, we come together to help one another.
This is trickier now than it used to be. It feels like there is only so much we can do from the confines of our homes. And many of us are more afraid of other people than we ever were before.
So we must learn to distance our bodies but not our hearts.
We ask an elderly neighbor if we can pick up food or prescriptions. We check in with our friends and family who have been struggling. We donate a bit of our money to people who need it more than we do. If we have a skill that can help others, we offer it.
We thank the countless medical professionals, delivery and mail people, law enforcement officers, people providing food and working on the supply chain, scientists, reporters, and others who are risking their well-being to keep the world running. We thank the people who stay at home and share their resources.
We mourn with the people who have lost loved ones, who have fallen ill, and who don’t know how they’ll pay rent or buy food. We do our best to lend an ear and to shoulder some of the burden.
– 4 –
Finally, we treat ourselves with compassion. We take breaks from the pain before we need to. We watch a movie, sleep in, lower the bar, smoke a joint, go for a walk, whatever. We accept that some days are going to be better than others and that there’s nothing really wrong with us. We’re just getting used to it.
Just as we must find the courage to stare it all in the eye, we must also find the compassion to take a break.
And when it feels like the darkness just won’t abate, we ask for help and call a friend or a professional.
None of us will get through this alone, so reach out. Check in on old friends, your family, and colleagues, because we are all affected by uncertainty and history in the making.
We only ever heal and we only ever persevere together.
I’m taking a few months off from writing for this blog.
I’ll be back in the spring / summer of 2020.
The long version, part 1: I need to dedicate time to projects in the works
I finish grad school in May to become a therapist. After that I’ll be launching new projects, including:
Live-online groups to help people develop self-love and self-compassion
One-on-one consultation to help individuals understand the mechanics of their mind, address blind spots in their psychology, and work to live at the edge of their happiness, connection, and success
An in-person event (potentially)
All of these projects will be built around evidence-based practices and will live at the intersection of psychology, spirituality, and philosophy. They won’t be for everyone – or even most people – but for the right person, they’ll be transformative.
Updates and applications for all of the new projects will go out to my mailing list before they are posted here. If you haven’t already, I’d be honored if you considered signing up for the mailing list here.
The long version part 2: I need to go back to the drawing board
I’m taking a break from this blog for a few additional reasons…
1) Many of the most loved articles on this blog, especially those in the first year or two, came from places of darkness.
On the other hand, I think that most people who turn to self-help and personal development (both practitioners and providers) are deluding themselves; they don’t need a clever book, article, podcast, or coaching business – they need a therapist.
All of us are wounded and many of our wounds need another person’s care, attention, and perspective to heal. I wish we could bypass it, but I don’t think we really can.
As far as I can tell, true flourishing works like this:
1) First, you work to address the core wounds that hold you back from your true self. This almost always requires the assistance of someone else, and it may require medication too as you work to get your life together. Note that many people (myself included) will spend countless years of their lives ignoring the reality that we can’t heal alone.
3) Finally, as you gain possession of your life and develop comfort in your skin, you work to unfetter your heart and mind. This is where personal development really comes in.
Of course, none of these steps exist in isolation, nor are they perfectly linear. However, it’s extremely difficult to flourish when you’re still being controlled by your demons. When I started this blog, I thought self-help was the first, and maybe only step. I no longer believe that and want to take some time to think about what that might mean for me as a writer.
3) I don’t want to play in the sandbox anymore. Real talk for a second: 99% of the influence industry is gross. (By influence industry, I mean speakers, coaches, podcasters, bloggers, vloggers, social media influencers, etc.).
So many of the people involved with churning out content are doing it for the wrong reasons. They say they just want to help people, but in reality, they’re looking for validation. They say that they know how to build a business and will teach you, but in reality the only business they’ve ever built is teaching you how to build a business. And don’t get me started on the army of influencers trying to help others lead vibrant lives while privately struggling to keep their own heads above water.
Even really good people with pure intentions and strong work ethics still fuck it up. Something I didn’t fully understand until I went to grad school is that unless the person is a trained expert or a researcher, they almost certainly have no idea what they’re talking about and are confusing anecdotal evidence for science.
Reading a scientific paper and understanding its applicability is deceptively difficult. Before you even get out of the gate, you need to have a decent grasp of statistics and the science behind research. There’s a huge difference between a prospective study with 22 participants and an experimental design with 50,000. Yet, both can be published in credible, peer reviewed journals.
Crazier still: just because something is published, well designed, peer reviewed, and statistically compelling doesn’t mean that it can be reproduced. In fact, a shocking number of studies – especially in psychology – can’t be reproduced. Of course, most successful influencers don’t concern themselves with any of this (even though many pretend to).
So the problem boils down to this:
Much of the best science around psychology is shaky, irritatingly nuanced, and difficult to fully understand.
Many of the most qualified people to help us understand the research don’t work in public or haven’t put in the effort to make themselves and their work engaging.
Many of the people working in the influence industry are unaware that they lack the expertise to actually understand (let alone communicate) what they’re talking about; by the looks of it, many can’t even differentiate anecdotal from empirical evidence. However, unlike most experts, they’ve learned to be amazing at marketing their stuff.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of people in the influence industry are motivated by validation, vanity metrics, fame, and money, not ensuring that what they say is true and useful.1
So we have a problem. The stuff that gets rewarded online is overly simplistic and often straight up wrong or incredibly misleading. The content that’s evidence based and useful is nuanced, long, and at times dry AF. One is Laffy Taffy, the other is a poorly made kale salad.
Can this problem be solved? Certainly. There is a way to write about science that is both engaging and helpful, but again, I want to think about what that looks like for me and for the people who trust me enough to read my work.
So, with all of that in mind, it’s time to take a break. I want to integrate everything I’ve learned in grad school and figure out how to meaningfully – and responsibly – contribute to the conversation around mental health and personal growth. I’ll be back in a few months. Until then be well!
2019 was a year lived in the extremes. On one hand, for the first time ever, I feel firmly on my path. I experienced a flow, joy, and ease of life that used to be alien. On the other hand, returning to school has been tedious and extremely time consuming. Far worse, five people close to me died.
As always, I’ll end the year with a personal review of what I learned, what went poorly, and what went well in 2019. I’ve also added a section on my favorite books of the year. (If you really want to see what’s changed, these are my reviews of 2016, 2017, and 2018).
It is life’s imperfections that make it beautiful: in October I flew to Virginia to officiate a close friend’s wedding. I worked for months on the ceremony and was proud to deliver it, especially since my new girlfriend was going to be there, too. As I started to say, “I now pronounce you man and wife” the bride interrupted me, saying, “I want my ring!”
First, I was confused. Then, my stomach twisted in knots. Despite months of preparation I forgot the part where the bride and groom exchange rings. Yeah, that part. The part that the entire ceremony builds to. I literally walked off stage, half as a joke, and half because I needed to recompose myself before completing the ceremony.
Earlier this week I hung out with the bride and groom. They were recently interviewed for an article about their wedding. When the interviewer asked, “What was your favorite part of the wedding?” they responded, “The officiant forgetting the exchange of rings. It was funny and it reminded us that life doesn’t need to be perfect to be beautiful and fun. It also made our wedding unique.”
Life is a lot better when you’re on your path: changing careers and going back to school while still working full time is the opposite of fun, and huge parts of 2019 were defined by things I disliked. And yet, I found myself mostly feeling happy and playful. I think this happened because I took the time to find the right path for me, and then did the hard work of redirecting…everything… so I could step onto it. Not only did I feel happy against the odds, I had one of my most successful years in business ever which I suspect is an artifact of getting on the right path.
How to be a productivity wunderkid: More than anything, 2019 was defined by a relentless stream of work. I took on:
An accelerated Masters program to become a therapist that requires 66 credits and 1200 internship hours
A 2.5-year training in Buddhist psychology and meditation that requires multiple practicums and retreats
A full client load all year long
In any given week I had limited hours of free time. To pull it all off I focused intensely on the basics. I:
Stopped using social media as a form of distraction or entertainment (article on how to do this coming in 2020)
Spent 45 minutes meditating 6 mornings / week
Made sleep a priority
Hit the gym at least 2x / week
Developed a strong organization system
Attempted to take one full day off every week (I succeeded at this less than 50% of the time)
The real trick to productivity isn’t some fancy hack, it’s getting the basics right. Everything else flows from there.
Sometimes you have to move down if you want to move up: 2019 created a weird dual reality between my professional and academic life. As a consultant I worked with some of the most esteemed and recognizable people of my career. But when I wasn’t doing that, I was a student and unpaid intern.
In one half of my life I was treated like an expert whose time was valued. In the other half, I was treated as a beginner whose time was worth little to nothing.
It was harder to keep feet in both worlds than I expected, and it was extremely humbling.
And yet…there’s no other way.
I have no desire to pretend to be an expert on mental health. I want to be able to read and produce the research that shapes the field. I want to be able to implement evidence-based practices with precision and style. I want a licensure board and world class supervisor holding me accountable. Doing that requires going back to school. And while the academic path is slow and tedious, I’m absorbing tons of important stuff along the way that will make me a much better therapist, researcher, and innovator.
WHERE I MESSED UP
Five people I cared deeply about died this year. Five. I miss you.
Many of my relationships floundered. The demonic levels of productivity in 2019 came at a cost. I spent less time with my family, friends, and my girlfriend than I wanted to. I have a perpetual backlog of unreturned calls, voicemails, and emails from people I adore.
Though I’ve done my best to communicate that my absence is a reflection of the career change and not apathy, I worry that I’ve been gone too long. The busyness ends in May of 2020 which is when I intend to make up for lost time in my relationships, though it feels shitty now. Sorry guys. I love you. Forgive me.
This blog. Woof. I published fewer articles in 2019 than any other year. Instead, the majority of my writing time was spent on papers for school. While this is a necessary evil, and one that I won’t need to deal with after May, I still miss writing here. Thank you for your patience.
WHAT WENT WELL
Business. This was my best year as a consultant, by far. Most of my competitors missed a significant shift in the market last year. I didn’t. Consequently, my clients soared while my competitor’s clients flagged. That feels good.
I also made a subtle change to how I decide whether or not to work with a client or not. I ask myself: do I adore this person? Am I confident I can knock it out of the park for them? If the answer to either of these questions is “no” then I don’t take them on as a client. This strategy has worked extremely well.
For those of you in the beginning stages of your business, keep in mind that this is a late stage strategy. I started working for myself by doing 100 cold calls/week and charging less than my competitors. The trick is to consistently do your best, always strive to improve, be honest, and be fun to work with. Start there and things will go well.
Meditation teacher training. Holy shit has this been cool. I’ve learned more about the mind and the spirit than I ever imagined possible, and I’m not even halfway done. Of course, this is largely due to my teachers Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, as well as my teaching mentor P*. While there have been countless highlights from the training, two stand out:
1) RAIN partners. RAIN stands for Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Nurture. It’s a psycho-spiritual approach to identifying the blocks in your life and weakening their hold. While you could do this practice on your own, it’s more powerful with a partner. I started doing RAIN meditations every other week(ish) with a guy friend and can’t recommend it enough. It’s transformative. Instead of attempting to explain the process myself, I’ll let my teacher Tara do so here.
2) In October I started teaching meditation classes in Denver’s jails. Doing so has been one of the most educational and rewarding things I’ve ever done. While my thinking on working with incarcerated people is still developing, I will tell you this: the punitive approach to criminal justice is cruel and almost certainly deleterious to everyone involved.
Vacation! I took a real vacation this year for the first time in four years! I went to a small surf town on the Pacific coast of Mexico. I left my computer at home, kept my phone off, and spent my days sleeping, reading, surfing, journaling, and walking along the beach. The world slowed down. Eating a popsicle or taco felt like a spiritual experience. If you haven’t been on a real vacation in a while, do yourself a favor and prioritize one in 2020. You deserve it.
BEST BOOKS OF 2019
Most years I read a lot of psychology and spirituality, but this year, between grad school and meditation teacher training, I was drawn in different directions. In no particular order, my favorite books of 2019:
The Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson: I spent a huge amount of time in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series, and OMG is it amazing. The series starts with “The Way of Kings” and continues across 2.5 other books with several more in the works. My personal favorite so far is “Words of Radiance”, but honestly, every book in this series is great. If you’re a fantasy fan this series is a must read.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare: earlier this year M* and I saw “Sleep No More” (if you find yourself in NYC, I highly, highly recommend). In preparation I read Macbeth. Though I remember hating Shakespeare in high school, I loved Macbeth. Turns out Shakespeare is pretty legit. Who knew?! Protip: if you’re like me and struggle to read Shakespearean English check out “No Fear Shakespeare”. It makes understanding the text infinitely easier.
What it Takes: How I Built a $100,000,000 Empire Against the Odds by Raegan Moya-Jones. I don’t read many business books anymore; they’re mostly redundant. However, “What it Takes” stands out. The author has an unusually human and transparent approach to entrepreneurship, leadership, management, and innovation. This was the first book on business that I’ve read in years that felt fresh. One of the things I loved about “Shoe Dog” was how transparent Phil Knight was about building Nike. Raegan Moya-Jones generously offers the same transparency about how she built aiden + anais while also explaining how she thinks about leadership and innovation.
Here is Real Magic: a Magician’s Search for Wonder in the Modern World by Nate Staniforth. If I have a spiritual cousin out there, I’m pretty sure it’s Nate. Both Nate and I fell in love with magic at a young age, became working pros, burnt out, and travelled the world trying to find whatever it is we lost. “Here is Real Magic” is Nate’s memoir about what it’s like to be a working magician, what happens when something you loved becomes a chore, and travel. Though I left professional magic much sooner than Nate, reading this book felt like coming home. In many ways it echoed another favorite, Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist.”
Fair warning: I bribed my book club into reading this by promising to do magic for them if they selected the book. While they took the bait, they didn’t love the book. If you don’t have a background in live entertainment (especially as a kid) or interests in magic or travel this book may not be for you. But then again, my book club also disliked “The Alchemist”, so… maybe they just have bad taste.
The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer. This was a suggestion from my RAIN partner and good lord did it resonate. I read it three or four times during a silent retreat. Though Iyer is a travel writer, in this book he talks about the beauty, challenge, and adventure of being still. It’s accompanied by beautiful photography and great storytelling. Did you know that when Leonard Cohen wasn’t busy being a rock star, he lived as a monastic? Neither did I. If your life is filled with noise and motion, I can’t recommend this book enough.
The Stand by Stephen King. A mishandled chemical weapon kills almost everyone. The survivors who are mostly good move to Boulder, CO. The survivors who are mostly wicked move to Las Vegas. Both parties become aware of one another and battle for control. Like the Stormlight Archives, this book kept me up at night and I ended up missing the characters when I finished the book.
The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. Murderbot, a lethal military robot hacks his governor and becomes self-aware. Along the way he becomes socially awkward, self-loathing, and kinda lazy. In other words, he undergoes a crash course in becoming human. But also Murderbot can kill and out maneuver pretty much everything. The Murderbot Diaries, which starts with “All Systems Red”, is a collection of short and fun books that walk the line between thriller, sci-fi, and entry level existentialism. They’re excellent for when you need a thrilling escape.
My early 20’s were chaotic. I studied abroad in Hong Kong, then dropped out of school, traveled until my money ran out, and started volunteering and working on an international development project in South Africa.
When I came home, I was lost. My days were spent sleeping in my parent’s basement, drinking Jack Daniels, and playing Guitar Hero with my brother. In two fast years, I went from being a student, to a traveler, to an international developer, to a burnout.
I was broken.
People seemed to expect that after so much adventure I would be confident in my next steps and ready to make something of myself. Heck, I expected that of myself.
And yet, I couldn’t. I didn’t understand myself or the world I lived in.
Right around this time, I started meeting T* for lunch once a week or so. T* was a psychology professor and an experienced international volunteer with the Red Cross. He was one of those people who seemed to live in the crosshairs of wisdom, compassion, and action.
One day, after listening to me wrestle with everything, he said something that forever changed my life. He said, “It’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to be broken. Not only is this a normal ebb and flow of life, it can lead to greater insight, clarity, joy, and direction.”
He explained that there are times when the best thing you can do is to step away from the world. Doing so may feel chaotic and reckless but it allows you to reflect on your past experiences. More importantly, it gives you the space to step into a truer, more mature, more integrated version of yourself.
He explained that in developmental psychology, these phases are called moratoriums. Though moratoriums tend to be associated with adolescents, T* believed that the people who live in mental, emotional, and spiritual integrity will likely go through multiple moratoriums in their lives.
In effect, he said, “Look, if you need a bit of time to crash in your parent’s basement, drink, and play Guitar Hero, so be it. Use that time to gently process and reflect on everything that you’ve experienced. It’s been a lot. Be curious about your past. Be brave enough to let go of the imagined futures that no longer feel right. You’ll need to pop out of this eventually, but in the interim, realize that time away from the world – painful and confusing as it is – will help you develop.”
And holy shit was T* right. With time, I moved to Montreal, worked on new projects in Uganda, and started working in leadership development. All of that was born from learning to be cool with stepping away from the world for a bit. It allowed me to find – and eventually trust – a newer, more mature version of myself. A year ago, when I realized I needed to change careers, I went through the same process of stepping away from the world. And once again, it helped me reconnect and find clarity.
T* passed earlier this year. His insight has forever transformed my life. For that, I am more grateful than I can easily express. Thank you, T*.
P* was in his 80’s. Without warning he was moved into hospice where he died a few short days later. While he was alive I used to think, “I should let P* know how he affected me,” but I never did. I kept putting it off to some undefined tomorrow and then suddenly, there were no tomorrows left.
When I learned that T* had fallen ill, one of the first things I did was write a letter thanking him for his guidance and letting him know that I still feel – and cherish – his influence. To my delight, he responded. It made saying goodbye a bit easier.
Life, strangely, is both fragile and enduring. Learn from my mistake. If there’s someone who may be close to the end of their life, and you would like to reach out one last time, do it now. There may be fewer tomorrows than you think.
Mexico, Sept 2019, during my first solo trip in 4.5 years: I didn’t think that eating a taco could feel like a divine experience – I mean, most of the time I barely even notice what I’m eating – but right now, this taco is making me believe in God.
And no, I’m not high. It’s just that for the first time in ages, I’m rested, relaxed, and focused on what’s right in front of me.
When we try to take care of ourselves, we generally think in terms of adding more to our plate. Exercise. Meditation. Salads (blah). Date nights. Massages. Time management software. Whatever. And that makes sense. In many instances, we need to add stuff to our plates. It also fits culturally: we live in a world obsessed with doing and taking action.
For years, when I thought of self care, I thought in terms of doing. The catch is, doing more inevitably creates further complexity and often complication. I recently realized that there is another approach to self-care that can unlock new levels of happiness, contentment, productivity, and creativity. Specifically, it’s learning what not to do and what to remove from your life. In this article, we’ll cover three approaches to improving your life by doing less.
1: Strategically block out the world
Have you ever been so stressed that you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be at ease? Though I didn’t realize it until I was in Mexico, that’s exactly what happened to me. While it’s tempting to point at a busy schedule as the main culprit, that’s not exactly it.
In fact, the real problem is much less complicated: it’s my damn phone.
If some acquaintance from way back when happens to have my number, he can make my phone vibrate – without my permission – from a million miles away. In doing so he’s killing my focus and inspiring a mini existential crisis as I debate, “Do I respond now? Later? Never? Maybe now because my attention is already broken. But also, maybe later – I don’t want to get into a text conversation. I’ll schedule a reminder. Also, why in the world is he contacting me? Wait. Do I even want to talk to him? AHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!”
There’s also the more mundane occurrence of someone I know and love texting something non-urgent that I quickly reply to, and before I know it, 20 minutes have vanished into the ether.
Of course, the problem isn’t the phone itself. It’s how we respond to it. Though we live in a world that pretends that multitasking is possible and fun, it’s not. Studies are very clear: we’re happier and more productive when we’re focused on one thing at a time. This is especially true if our phones are out of sight.
The trick is to get cool with shutting the world out. With intent, I’m responding to texts, emails, and calls more slowly. I want the people in my life to understand that unless it’s truly urgent, I’m not able to drop what I’m doing. This isn’t easy for me. As a people pleaser, I feel an almost moral obligation to respond ASAP, but I’m working on it and it’s making my life better. For me, this is especially important – and difficult – in the relationships that aren’t as balanced as they should be. In some cases I’m learning to just delete or ignore the emails, voicemails, and texts that just aren’t worth my time.
2: Set boundaries with yourself
I’ve developed a stupid habit. I’ve been watching Lucifer and simultaneously playing with my phone, checking email, and skimming the news. The end result: what should have been relaxing is actually mildly stressful and horribly unproductive. This, of course, is just one example of dozens that show I’m failing to set good boundaries with myself.
Fortunately, the solution is equally obvious: protect time just for yourself. Go for a walk. Garden. Journal. Nap. Read. Watch Lucifer (without checking your email). The activity is less important than the time dedicated to rejuvenation and big picture thinking. And of course, keep your phone off and leave your computer at home. This is time just for you.
Doing nothing can be scary. We tell ourselves that we hate boredom without realizing that boredom is a defense against the moment. We fear that if we examine our mind we may not like ourselves all that much.
But allowing boredom can be an enchanting experience. When you turn the volume down on the rest of the world, the simplest things, like eating a taco, can become borderline divine. With luck, you might notice your demons are less powerful when you surrender into the moment.
I realize that doing nothing is such an alien concept that some people will need instructions:
Make a cup of tea and grab a piece of chocolate (or pour a whiskey and get a sandwich, whatever).
Turn your phone and computer off.
Hide somewhere beautiful where people won’t find you (or lock the doors and make the space you’re in beautiful).
Now slowly, drink your beverage and eat your snack. If a brilliant idea strikes you, write it on the back of a napkin.
That’s it. After an hour or two, you can resume your normal life of doing.
If you’re anything like me, your mind will go nuts at first. Then it gets bored. Then, it finally becomes enchanted. Somehow, you become a bit more equipped for it all.
Earlier this year: It was already an impossible week. After 60 hours at work and school, I needed to hop on a red-eye to attend another funeral.
To make matters worse, A*, my then girlfriend, and I had a stormy sort of love. Before leaving for the funeral, I made a reservation for us at a little Japanese place hidden away at the foot of the Rockies.
The pressure of it all overwhelmed me. I longed to connect with A* but knew we couldn’t always pull it off. I doubted my ability to continue meeting the demands of work, school, teacher training, and life. Quietly, I feared that I wouldn’t be able to offer my friend the love and support I wanted to at the funeral.
As A* waited outside to pick me up, I paused to try something a meditation teacher suggested. I was skeptical, but also desperate, so I took a slow, deep breath, placed my hands lightly over my heart, and whispered, “This is hard for you.” Without expecting it, some of the pressure, stress, and fear that seemed to define this chapter melted away. Moments later I realized something simple. This must be hard for A* too. And for my friend who lost his mother. Amidst the isolation of enduring more pressure than I’m cut out to handle, I quietly felt connected to myself and the people I loved.
It’s inevitable that every now and then, you’ll get torn apart by the world. For many, our natural reaction is to fight through the pain, grit our teeth, drown it out, or deny it. And while I understand the tendency, I fear that these approaches are little more than covert forms of self-denial.
Though it can be harder than running from the weight of the world, I suspect that the most skillful way to deal with being broken is to hold yourself with a sense of care and compassion. After all, this is almost certainly the way you would tend to a friend who’s feeling beaten down.
When you pause to acknowledge, “This is hard for me,” with sympathy and grace, two things seem to happen. First, you stop fighting against reality, and instead, embrace it. This is a position of true power and courage. Second, you seem to drift back to becoming a bit more whole and at ease.
I know that claiming that compassion and vulnerability is a truer path to strength, healing, and power sounds like a contradiction. I don’t want you to take my word for it. Instead, next time you notice that life is more difficult than it should be, pause, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, place your hands over your heart1, and allow a momentary sense of grace and compassion to wash over you. Perhaps whisper, “This is hard for you,” and see what happens. You might also spend time cuddling with your puppy, choosing to cancel a meeting, dedicating a few minutes to coloring, or whatever. The point is to extend a bit of gentleness and compassion to yourself amidst the storm. You may notice that you too deserve the same care that you so willingly give to others. You may sense that granting yourself a bit of affection restores your ability to face a world that refuses to let you live in peace.