“The older you get, the more you realize—life is just chores. That’s all it is. In fact, the day you officially become an adult is the day you accept, ‘…this is only chores.’ It doesn’t matter how well you do them, how fast you do them—they’re coming back tomorrow, they’re coming back the next day, they’re coming back next week. And some people are like, ‘…—I thought there was more to life than this.’ There is. There’s a medicine that you can take that makes you think that every chore you have to do is a…video game that you get to live inside of.”
While his bit was touching at how ridiculous the marijuana laws of the United States were in 2013, his reframing brought to mind a type of reframing for our lives that doesn’t quite require getting high, but rather by changing one word in our typical thought patterns:
Simply replace “have to” with “get to.”
I have to get the mail.
I have to go for a run.
I have to take a shower.
I have to go to the grocery store.
I have to cook dinner.
I have to to work.
I have to drive home.
Let’s see what happens when we replace that single word.
I get to get the mail.
I get to go for a run.
I get to take a shower.
I get to go to the grocery store.
I get to cook dinner.
I get to go to work.
I get to drive home.
The truth behind this shift is that most of us take many of these tasks for granted.
Some people would love for nothing more than the ability to stand, walk, and get the mail from their mailbox.
Others would love to run, but for some reason, physically can’t.
Taking a shower for many in the world requires running water that they don’t have.
Going to the grocery seems downright exotic to some in the world—either due to living in a food desert or not having enough money to buy food.
Cooking said food is yet another luxury.
Going to work means you have a job—something many pray for.
You get to drive home while many have to walk through the elements or simply have no place to even call home.
While it seems like a pretty insignificant shift that likely won’t likely positively impact your mindset the first time you apply it, I challenge you to give it a shot.
So, what do you get to do today?
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There have never been more ways to spend your time. Even if you have chosen to sit on your duff and watch a screen, the choices are endless.
Do you want to watch Netflix? Hulu? HBO? It seems like we’ll never scratch the surface of even figuring out what show to watch next.
And that’s just watching TV. If you want to listen to music, read a book, take a class, cook a meal, or anything else—the options aren’t virtually endless, they’re genuinely endless in the span of a single human lifetime. It feels like we’re on a crusade against the word “boredom”—committed to ending its use.
So, how do we determine how to spend our time?
I had been experiencing this dilemma lately. It would start with something mindless—a YouTube binge, a meme-scroll session, or something else. Then, after a while, my default mode network would flicker slightly and I’d “wake up” to the recurring question:
Is this is what I should be doing? Is this how I should be spending my time?
Don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with the occasional mindless escape into the world of entertainment with low nutritional value. But like consuming loads of empty calories, I never found myself feeling especially glad that I had done so.
That’s when I asked myself a question that has become an immensely useful litmus test for gauging whether or not I should doing something:
How will this activity make me feel after I’ve done it? Will I be glad that I did that?
I’ve come to personally refer to this sensational-gauge as the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test.
One of the first times I put this litmus test for time consumption to work was while getting back into reading great stories. I’ve been on a John Grisham kick—reading A Time to Kill, Sycamore Row, A Time For Mercy, The Innocent Man, and The Rainmaker all within about the span of two or three months. I not only thoroughly enjoyed the stories but also just the act of reading.
Setting my phone in the next room and arming myself with my Kindle Paperwhite connected to my public library account, reading became effortless. I turned off all page indicators so I had no idea how far I had left to go. Hours would fly by as I got lost in the texts. I would usually only stop when life’s other obligations would arise or when my reading would take me into the night and I found myself nodding off in the early morning hours.
Usually, when I’d binge a show or fall down an hours-long YouTube wormhole, I would come out the other side exhausted—beat, but with my mind still racing. However, every time I’d close my Kindle after a hearty reading session, I would feel refreshed—almost rested. There would be a genuine feeling of whew—that was great. I’m glad I did that.
Soon after realizing this difference, I became cognizant to gauge how certain activities made me feel—what I call the “subsequent tone” of an event or activity. The following are a few experiments and their outcomes.
As a musician and a huge fan of the subgenre of Reggae known as “Dub,” within the past few months, I decided to try my hand at producing some Dub recordings of my own. Like reading, I found myself immersing myself in the process of piecing together drum sounds, recording bass lines, experimenting with chord progressions on my midi keyboard, and finding the perfect melodica melodies to tie up every “riddim” like a bow. Once I had recorded all of the instruments, I’d spend hours tweaking the recordings, effects, and molding them to my liking on my dinky laptop.
I proudly released two of those recordings as singles—accessible to most streaming platforms. You can find them on the platform of your choice on my music page.
As I completed the tracks and uploaded them for distribution, never once did I feel like I was wasting my time. Even after exhaustedly re-recording a bassline at 2 AM because the intonation on my bass guitar was off on the original recording, I felt the same sensations—man, I’m glad that I did that. Though I could barely keep my eyes open, I felt full of life.
Rarely do I ever start a journaling session because I have a craving to scribble my thoughts onto a page. I usually do so because I feel like I have so many things on my mind that my own lack of clarity is starting to weigh me down. However, by the time I’ve laid out all of the “paperwork” of my mind onto the table of the page, I can begin to see what I can fix, what I should ignore, and what is holding me back. I start sketching out plans, goals, aspirations, and fixes. Then, closing my journal, I’m hit with the wave of man, I’m glad I did that.
Rarely do I leave my house in the morning anxious to break a sweat. Whether I’m going out to my deck to jump rope or to walk or run laps around the nearby park, my soft bed still calls out to me. However, after my body has warmed up, my pulse increases, and I hit my stride, I start to feel alive. Heading back inside my house with a sweat-soaked beard and clothes sticking to me, I feel great. The rest of the day seems to go easier because I got my increased pulse and sweat to blow out the morning’s cobwebs.
Like journaling and exercise, I rarely initiate my prayers pumped to be there. It can be an immense slog that requires many mindset and liturgical shifts before finding a groove. In Judaism, we have a concept referred to as “kavannah” — which most translate as “intention” but I prefer Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser’s translation, which I’ve heard is actually more accurate — “alignment.” The moments leading up to my moments of kavannah—my spiritual alignment with my Creator—can feel like a dial-up modem circa 1998 trying to log on to the internet. Like that dial-up modem, there is a lot of internal static, whirling, and sharp creaking—spiritual turbulence that accompanies such ascension. But like flying above the turbulence, there is a moment of soaring above the clouds where the connection is made.
When I have moments of immense kavannah, while it doesn’t feel like I can hear the voice of a Higher Power, it does feel as though Someone has picked up the receiver. Paraphrasing a quote from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, z”l —“This call is being monitored for quality purposes.”
As much as I may have to wrestle to get myself to get into a place of spiritual alignment, I always walk away from prayer with the feeling in my bones of, “I’m glad I did that.”
Though I stopped using about 97% of all social media years before officially using the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test as a decision-making tool, similar feelings resulted in me deleting my accounts. I can’t think of many if any instances in which I would conclude a social media scrolling session and feel better for having partaken in the social media experience.
Applying the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test to Activities
If you’re struggling to determine how you should be spending your limited time on this planet, I would urge you to apply this test to your own actions: after completing an activity, do you feel better having participated in that activity?
Do you feel elevated or deflated?
Do you feel inspired or simply tired?
Do you feel fulfilled or drained?
Applying the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test to Life
Activities aren’t the only area of life where the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test can be applied. You can also use this test to determine other decisions—career choices, people, what foods to eat, and the like.
Sometimes, making a life-changing decision simply means asking yourself — Is this going to make me feel better or worse when it’s all over?
…for a lot of different reasons. It was rough for me because I was experiencing levels of health anxiety only matched by the week before I received a positive cancer diagnosis in 2017.
This was different, though.
Was I displaying any physical symptoms? Eh, probably not. Then what was the source of the anxiety? For those who have experienced bouts of anxiety, you know that you don’t need a reason. In fact, most of us pray for a source of our torment so that we can know what the hell to fix. The worst anxiety often makes the least sense.
But I did find something that turned it all around—two ancient notions that have been helping people like me for thousands of years. But these require additional context.
Anxiety is a lying snake.
Impending doom continued to swirl around my perception of how I was doing inside. These feelings were briefly alleviated by trips to my doctor. He would immediately tell me that nothing was wrong. In fact, that I was in better health than I had been since my teenage years. I would ride this high of relief for a few weeks only for the feelings of anxiety and dread to slither back into my life.
My health anxiety would crack fever pitches just before surveillance appointments—routine follow-up scans with my urologist following my cancer treatment in 2017. This bubbling dread leading up to scans is what is known as “scanxiety” in the cancer community.
He’d usually just walk into the examination room, tell me how the scans showed nothing abnormal, and remind me that I hadn’t displayed any signs of cancer in several years.
A few months later, the dread would reappear—like Ol’ Pap Finn back in town, looking for his Huckleberry to knock around. Rinse and repeat.
But that was all about to change.
One morning in early spring 2021, the dread slithered up my spine and sat atop my shoulder as I examined my appearance in the bathroom mirror. With it’s split tongue tickling every consonant, it whispered—
“You’re going to die soon.”
Taking a deep breath and realizing it was [only] the anxiety talking—something meditation had made me hip to—I let a deep exhale flap my lips in cheeky facetious exasperation as I let out my reply.
“Well, if that’s the case, I better make this summer count,” chuckling to myself, scoffing off the serpent’s lies as I dried my hands and walked out of the bathroom.
I didn’t know it at the time but something shifted inside. That serpent, who thrived on my fear and dread, was defanged.
Did I truly believe that I was going to die soon? No—it was just another lie my mind was trying to get me to believe.
But I started living as though it were true.
I made an extra effort to spend time with people I cared about —sometimes seeking out old friends who had slipped through life’s cracks.
I became more conscious of what foods, habits, and activities made me feel my best and made a point to fill my life with them.
I sought out moments of peace.
I made conscious efforts to be more present in everything I did—especially while spending time with loved ones.
And yes, this was around the time I quit social media—an activity I’ve mostly replaced with more pleasure-reading than I had done in my entire life. Thanks, John Grisham.
With these activities and the mental residue that accompanied them, my dread was rendered powerless. The whispered lies grew increasingly faint and manageable. Ease and contentment snuck their way back into my life reminiscent of childhood.
There’s no doubt that these activities aided in managing my mood and anxiety levels. Still, I attribute much of this relief to the combination of two philosophical pillars of Stoicism I had learned about years prior but had begun inadvertently practicing—amor fati and memento mori.
We have little control over what happens to us in life. And how boring would life be if we could? Without a little uncertainty, you may not have ever met your spouse or discovered your passion.
Amori fati literally means a love of one’s fate—whatever that happens to be. Even if it sucks. Because ultimately it will teach you something or play a role in helping you become the person you were meant to be just as it had up to this point. Fighting fate is a losing battle, so you might as well fall in love with it.
Speaking of fate, you’re going to die.
“Yeah, but not for a while.”
Says who? You could die in a few months. Next week. Tomorrow.
Instead of letting this idea burden your thoughts, use it to bring clarity to your life. When tomorrow is not promised, this notion should make your next meal delicious, every sunset spectacular, and moments with those close to you an extravagant privilege. The governor just gave you a stay of execution—what are you going to do with it before he changes his mind?
Memento mori means “remembrance of death” — which is actually a remembrance of life.
Death is inevitable and thus a silly fear. The true fear is never having truly lived.
Still, it is important to remember that yes, you’re going to die. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Simply make sure you’re squeezing the juice out of life and not leaving any meat on the bone.
These notions may not click for you or change your life right now or even in the near future. That’s ok. But they’re planted. If you’re like me, your subconscious may need to chew on them for a few years before they “turn on.” My prayer is that one day, your mind finds use for them when you most need them.
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Quick disclaimer: There is a significant difference between sporadic spells of anxiety and a chronic anxiety disorder. This piece is meant more to aid with periodic anxious spells rather than treating any condition, which should be addressed by a mental health professional.
Two emotions. Endless misinterpretations.
Fear and anxiety are two of the most perplexing emotions one can have. Both can overtake you and result in a miserable daily life. Conquering fear and anxiety is the work of life and not a life hack that can be acquired by reading a short online essay or listening to a podcast episode. This being said, I’ve personally found the following mindset shifts to be immensely helpful when attempting to control or even leverage fear and anxiety. When these mindset shifts are combined, they may even be able to help the average person pull themself from the occasional bout of anxiety.
Mindset Shift 1: Fear can be useful when correctly identified.
Fear — ”an unpleasant emotion caused by being aware of danger.” – Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary
Though fear can be debilitating, it is an instrumental emotion. Without fear, we might find ourselves attempting to cross busy highways on foot, coming too close to the edges of steep heights, or petting dangerous creatures. Fear is a mechanism to protect us from many of the dangers of life.
While this is true, fear is only helpful when it can be leveraged or applied — when it results in a discernable behavioral shift. When it cannot be, it ceases to be fear. It is, instead, anxiety.
Mindset Shift 2: We frequently confuse fear with anxiety and vice versa.
One of the biggest reasons we cling to debilitating anxiety is because we confuse it with helpful fear. As we’ve discussed before, fear is instrumental. Anxiety, however, is not.
The shovel of fear can dig us free from a situation.
The shovel of anxiety only deepens our rut.
For this reason, it’s crucial to correctly identify the shovel of fear and the shovel of anxiety. So, the first step out is knowing when you’re clutching the wrong shovel.
Mindset Shift 3: Becoming mindful of anxious thoughts can help you manage them.
You are not your thoughts. If this were the case, you would be incapable of thinking about your thoughts. Humans are unique from other creatures on this planet in that we are capable of offering the Director’s Commentary of our own thought process.
Most of us, however, can rarely distinguish our thinking from thinking about thinking. This thinking about our thoughts can be referred to as “metacognition” but is most commonly referred to as “mindfulness.”
The term “mindfulness” is meant to be used to contrast our default mode — mindlessness. When our thoughts are allowed to ricochet in our heads without control, the result is a dangerous rumination and can culminate in severe anxiety and depression.
Mindset Shift 3: Mind control is an obtainable superpower if it’s your own mind you’re controlling.
Like stopping a ricocheting bullet, catching a mindless thought before it tears through our emotions can feel like a superpower. Mindfulness, however, is not the act of catching speeding bullets but rather slowing them down to the point of plucking them out of thin air. When a thought or reactionary emotion can be slowed down, its details can be more objectively analyzed, its intent considered, and the most appropriate response deployed.
Examining Fear vs. Anxiety in Practice
The next time you experience the frantic gloom of fear or anxiety, as soon as you can identify the sensation, do your best to cease what you’re doing and take hold of the moment for yourself.
Focus on the raw sensation of your breath entering and exiting your nostrils. This present action will help pull the emergency brake on your thought processes.
Once grounded in the present, aim to perceive this negative emotion as though belonging to someone else. Aim to observe it as objectively as placing a glass slide under the lens of a microscope for examination.
Carefully inspecting this thought or feeling, ask yourself, “What action is this sensation prompting me to do?”
Leveraging Useful Fear
If this sensation has practical next steps that can prevent ailment or injury, whether of your body, relationships, career, or overall wellbeing, this is valuable fear. Consider how these steps can be positively applied to the betterment of your daily life. Break each action into its tiniest achievable steps — with no effort too small as long as you’re moving forward. Construct a plan for following these steps with scheduled times and deadlines.
The following are a few examples of how to possibly leverage useful fear to help resolve a fearful state.
If a bodily symptom is fearfully weighing on your mind, an executable action is to present your concern to a doctor. If this action feels daunting, break the activity into smaller parts. Perhaps, start by sending a message to the doctor through email or your health care provider’s online portal. Maybe even start as small as scheduling a time to make an appointment with a deadline for the completion of this action. If even this feels like too much, perhaps your first step is looking at yourself in the mirror and saying out loud, “tomorrow, I’m going to call my doctor’s office.” Again, no step is too small if it means moving forward from your present fearful state.
If you’re fearfully concerned about the future of your job, whether due to your performance or the support of your employer, an executable action would be to make a list of actionable items you can take in case your fears are founded. If the fear is performance-based, identify your weaknesses as an employee and develop ways to strengthen them — even little by little. Asking colleagues, even superiors, for constructive criticism can help in this matter and express your dedication to your duties and role. If your fear is with your employer’s support, you can either bring these fears to your employer to quell or confirm them. If you don’t feel comfortable with the potential confrontation, consider taking tactful steps toward securing employment elsewhere.
Suppose you’re fearful about the deterioration of a relationship. In that case, an executable action may be to identify why you feel this way and what actions you can take to nurture or remedy said relationship. If, upon closer analysis, the relationship does not seem salvageable, begin devising steps to end the relationship on agreeable terms.
Quelling Pernicious Anxiety
The sinking feeling in your gut and increased heart rate are helpful biological responses to approaching the edge of a dizzyingly high cliff. Such sensations are your mind’s signal to your body to be fearfully conscious of impending danger. However, the same sensations while simply lying in bed can be immensely hazardous to your mental and physical health. These are not leverageable sensations but rather potentially debilitating ruminations.
As previously discussed, properly identifying fear versus anxiety is a practical means of quelling either. When fear is appropriately identified, actionable steps can be executed to leverage and squelch such sensations.
But once anxiety is identified, then what?
Once anxiety is correctly identified as such—as a senseless nuisance—we can begin to leverage the lack of teeth in these ruminations — aka no discernable executables — to shift our minds to efforts worthy of our attention. We do this by pivoting our thought process from anxiety to the raw perception of the present moment.
“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
― Lao Tzu, author of Tao Te Ching
Mindset Shift 4: Simply sensing the present is your oasis from pernicious anxiety.
Upon realizing that a particular mental and emotional sensation is harmful anxiety rather than helpful fear, there is a place we can go to manage such disturbing thoughts—the present moment.
In the present, there is no fear or worry—there is only the moment itself. At this moment, all that need exist for us is the space we occupy and our body’s involuntary biological function.
Our heart beats in our chest, sending blood throughout our body.
Our skin forwards data about the temperature of the airflow of the space.
Our eyes perceive the shapes of objects and the flow of light around us.
Our nostrils detect the coolness of inhaled air and the warmth of exhaled air.
None of these sensations of the present moment require thoughts of the past or future. In fact, they can only be perceived clearly once we’ve shelved non-present thinking.
We can access the escape hatch from anxiety through any of our sense perceptions of the present moment. Tapping into the present perception of our bodies and surroundings rather than our mindless ruminations is immensely useful whenever anxious ruminations seek to creep into our thought process. A constructive way to do this is with a method that I’ll call the Monitor Technique for the sake of this piece.
The Monitor Technique
Unlike a full camera or audio recorder, a monitor—whether a camera’s viewfinder screen monitor, a musician’s stage monitor speaker, or even a medical heart monitor—has the singular job of sharing what exists in real-time. It cannot store sights or sounds. It cannot recall past moments. It cannot process data. Even though it is called a “monitor,” it is usually a secondary computer system or a user that is actually doing the monitoring. In this sense, it should be called an “allows-you-to-monitor.” But for the most part, monitors are nothing more than vehicles for capturing present data.
When you have become more acquainted with the mental and physical sensation of anxiety, instead of attempting to process your way out of such an episode, become a monitor of your present surroundings. Do not attempt to consider how any of these make you feel. Rather, simply observe them as objectively as possible. This is quite literally what many mean when they use the expression, “stop and smell the roses.”
Here are a few monitoring techniques that have worked for me:
Observe the shapes, slopes, angles, and colors of objects in your vicinity. The arm of a chair or couch. The rise of a window sill. The angles in the edges of the leaves on trees. The sunlight against the backside of a curtain.
Close your eyes and allow your ears to absorb the mosaic soundscape around you. There is always sound — from birds chirping to air vents, the whirl of distant lawnmowers, airplanes, cars on a nearby highway, a humming refrigerator, a computer fan, and beyond. You can either let all of the sounds swirl together as one at the front of your attention or isolate one sound to savor.
Sit with your eyes closed and focus on the raw sensations of your breath. Feel the cool and warm air passing through your nose, the rise and fall of your chest, or the space between breaths.
Sit with your eyes closed and simply experience the sensation of the surrounding air on your skin. If the air is moving, notice its direction, intensity, and texture. Even with eyes closed, attempt to feel the shape of the space.
While practicing the Monitor Technique, your anxieties will likely attempt to breach the doors of your focus. Your first impulse will be to fight them, but this too is a mindless reaction. When this happens, simply observe the anxiety itself as its own entity, mindfully note its existence, and then return to practicing the observation of the present moment via the Monitor Technique.
Choosing Your Shovel
A fearful mindset tends to result in reaching for one of two shovels.
The first shovel of pernicious anxiety resulting in aimless rumination is sharp and only capable of digging downward—creating ruts and holes in which to hide. Though seeming like a helpful refuge, the occupant of these ruts or holes will soon find themselves unable to climb out.
The second shovel of useful fear is broad, better able to dig oneself out from psychological and even physical harm. Though it is a heavier shovel to wield, the more efficiently it is utilized, the sooner it can be stowed until needed again.
Distinguishing fear from anxiety is not a life hack — it is a skill that requires perpetual sharpening. Honing of the perception of our mental state is aided by regularly “checking in” with ourselves in ways that pull the emergency brake on rumination and align our awareness with the present. As we sharpen this tool of discernment, we must also remain mindful of which shovel we choose to sharpen — that of useful fear or useless anxiety.
The other day, after my mother had watched our son while my wife and I ran some errands, she offered to help me pick up my beloved beater car, which had been in the shop for repairs. As I backed her car out of my driveway, she let out a positive sigh from the passenger seat as her eyes fell on our “new” house — a 2 bedroom red brick house built in the ‘60s — our “weigh station” on our road to homeownership.
“What a great little house,” she tacked to the end of her sigh.
“I know. I like it.”
“And a great little family.”
“I like them, too.”
After a few beats, she turned to look at me as I drove her car down my street.
“You seem to just have a great little life.”
“I like to think so.”
Most people want to live a great big life — whatever that means.
Don’t get me wrong — I like that great part. But making it “big”? Big already comes with living. It’s hard to define the what and why of “big.”
What does it mean to live a big life?
Does that mean to accomplish monumental feats—whatever the hell “monumental” means? To make lots of money and earn prestige or status? To be famous?
Why would someone want to live a big life?
Does this mean that the status and the money earned can grant you the freedom to do what you want? To live lavishly wherever you’d like?
I’ll take a little life over a big life.
What does it mean to live a little life?
Living little means a simpler existence. Fewer plates to spin. Fewer people to impress. Less to lose. Shorter heights from which to fall. Less time worrying about things that, in the end, don’t really matter.
Why would someone want to live a little life?
The motivations of others aren’t as regularly called into question. Your belongings are few and simple but aren’t intended to impress strangers and acquaintances. You have fewer, but higher quality friends.
Where does greatness come into play?
I don’t want only a little life, but rather a great little life. Accomplishing what I want to accomplish — never only what is expected of me. Perpetually sharpening myself — as a husband, father, friend, mensch, and artist. Enjoying a higher quality of time with the people that matter the most to me.
It is my prayer that when the wrinkled fingers of my exceedingly aged hand turn the pages of personal photo albums — drawing out memories from the deepest recesses of my hopefully-still-accessible memory — that upon closing the book, I can happily sigh — just as my mom did in the car that day — and say to myself,
You’ve been actively doing something — work, a chore, making dinner — and now you’re done. For a moment, the drive of your mind peters out like a small plane engine that has just stalled. The momentum of that task, much like a spinning propeller in front of your face, suddenly flutters and stops with a clunk. What once was the sound of a some-odd-stroke engine buzzing through the skies has been replaced with whistling wind as you begin to feel the loss of altitude in your guts.
Left with nothing that needs to be immediately done, the need to be mentally stimulated begins to bounce around inside your head like ballpoint pens and paper coffee cups in a now-dropping cockpit. Rather than clutching the headliner of the cockpit in anticipation of impact, you’ve remembered that you have a default safety mechanism for aimless thought — a shining screen.
As soon as you’ve booted up that screen — whether it’s a phone screen, tablet, or television — you can feel your pulse begin to normalize and your palms begin to dry. The engine of your attention turns back over, the propeller sputters to life, and you begin to regain lost altitude. Whoa, that was close.
After a time, though you’re relieved that you’re not likely to plummet to the earth, you wake up from behind the controls. The auto-pilot had taken over and you’re now headed in the opposite direction. You’ve been down the rabbit hole of social media vanity metrics, social comparison, paparazzi voyeurism, and sensationalist news for a while and are now even further from your destination. Due to your original panic, you left control of your attention to the auto-pilot. Once control was happily handed off, it took you further away from your destination of contentment than had you made an emergency landing once you lost engine power.
Here’s the interesting thing about where the airplane analogy differs from your attention: there’s not actually any ground below. You could kill the engine, prop your feet up on the instrument panel, and lean back with your fingers gently interlocked behind your closed eyes, and never actually hit anything. The Cessna of your attention span will simply continue to fall toward…nothing — like a flight simulator whose developers forgot to write the code for mountains, oceans, trees, or even firm land.
The plane of our focus will stall out every day, likely hundreds of times a day. And that’s ok. Why? Because there’s no ground beneath that plane.
But if there’s no ground, what’s down there?
The present moment — that’s all. And it’s really quite nice. And it’s especially nicer than an auto-pilot that is specifically designed to take us away from actually living.
One of the reasons why most lifestyle enhancement plans and products fail is that they were not designed with you in mind. These influencers and plan developers don’t know you. They have no clue about what lifestyle changes would be sustainable for you. They don’t know what activities you hate doing and which you enjoy. But do you know who does know? You do, that’s who!
What do you enjoy doing?
To design a growth-oriented lifestyle tailored to your specifications, the process itself must be enjoyable—or at the least, potentially enjoyable.
Step 1. Jot Down What You Like to Do
Bring to mind all of the things you currently enjoy doing as well as the activities you once enjoyed—regardless of their positive or negative implications. Physically jotting these down on a piece of paper or typing them into a document may prove to be helpful.
Step 2. Strikethrough the Destructive Habits
Recall or look through these activities and strikethrough all of the activities that are bad for you. These can range from unhealthy habits like smoking or excessive drinking to compulsive social media checking, maintaining toxic relationships, and the like.
Step 3. Highlight the Activities That Are Good For You
Regardless of how unhealthy your favorite activities are, there are likely a few that aren’t bad for you. Heck, some may even be good for you. There are probably even some that are extremely good for you that you haven’t thought about in decades. Even still, there are likely some activities you enjoy that share an unlikely component with something that is good for you.
Let’s use some examples to get the wheels turning.
Activities You Currently Enjoy That Are Good For You
Ok, maybe you’re not a total loaf of soggy bread. Maybe you genuinely enjoy the occasional walk around town. Perhaps you enjoy learning from historical documentaries. Consider the things you do every day that aren’t actively hastening your demise.
Activities You Once Enjoyed But Hadn’t Thought About Since
Did you play sports in high school? Middle school? Elementary school? Did you enjoy writing stories as a kid? How about painting? Have you stopped playing a musical instrument because life got too busy?
Activities Your Enjoy That Could Correspond to Something Good For You
Do you enjoy sitting still? Look at you—you potential meditator, you.
Do you tend to doodle during inconsequential meetings? Is that a budding illustrator I see?
What are your personal goals?
We all have positive goals in life. Maybe you want to achieve and maintain a certain level of fitness. Perhaps you’d like to get more sleep. Maybe you want to become an avid reader. Bring these specific goals to mind and jot them down—the more specific, the better.
And finally—use your favorite activities as tools in your growth.
Whether you physically wrote down your goals and favorite activities or just have them at the forefront of your mind, begin to draw lines between the two.
Which of your favorite activities can you leverage toward your goals?
Which of your past favorite activities could you revisit to aid your progress?
Which of your favorite activities are negatively inhibiting your goals?
How can you replace these harmful-yet-enjoyable activities with positive activities you enjoy?
Stuff You Enjoy + Stuff That’s Good For You = Stuff You Should Do
When you leverage your favorite activities that also happen to align with your goals, you can begin to craft a growth-oriented lifestyle you enjoy. This Venn diagram should summarize the point of this article as well as anything.
I jump rope because it’s fun. Fitness is a side effect.
April 2019, I was living a sedentary lifestyle and at my heaviest of 235 pounds, though I didn’t see a problem. I saw a YouTube video of a guy jumping rope. It looked fun, so I started, too. Now, I jump rope 6 days a week for fun, but the side effect is now being 187 pounds. pic.twitter.com/iKnlzfNRq9
When I was in elementary school in the early-to-mid ‘90s, Jump Rope For Heart was on a crusade to get kids jumping rope. I remember enjoying the experience thoroughly. However, once I moved into middle school, where gym class was optional, I didn’t touch a jump rope again until I was into my 30’s.
Why did I pick up jump rope again? Was it because I was at my heaviest weight of 235 pounds? Was it because I was researching various forms of exercise and found jump rope to be one of the most underrated forms of cardio?
Nope. It just looked fun. And it was.
Beginning again as an easily-winded sack of flab means it wasn’t necessarily easy, but even as an utterly sedentary desk jockey, I enjoyed the challenge.
Every week, my stamina increased, and my body began to change. I had no specific weight-loss goal in mind, aside from possibly dipping below 200 pounds for the first time in about five years. That happened rather uneventfully because, though the process was challenging, it didn’t suck. I enjoyed pushing myself to my limits and leaving puddles of sweat in my driveway. I would look forward to my next jump rope session with anticipation rather than dread.
At the time I write this, I jump rope six days a week, regardless of the weather, for 15-30 minutes, striving to keep an average heart rate of above 145 bpm.
Is it hard some mornings? Yes.
Is it challenging to push through when I feel like giving up? Definitely.
Does it suck? Absolutely not.
Leverage what you consider fun. Lean into what you consider challenging.
Whether you’re looking to run a faster mile, lose and keep off a certain amount of weight, or develop a useful meditation habit, utilizing the activities you already enjoy will help you not only tolerate the growth process but crave it. When you use enjoyable activities to push your journey towards achievement, you pour rocket fuel on your progress.
Most of us are probably familiar with the “rock bottom” scene from 1979’s comedy classic, “The Jerk.” If you’re not, Steve Martin’s character, Navin Johnson, has lost all of his wealth and his relationship with love interest Maria (played by Bernadette Peters) is on the rocks. In an attempt to prove that he hasn’t quite hit rock bottom, he walks out of his mansion, only taking “all I need.” As he scoots out of the house in his bathrobe, pants around his ankles, he grabs random items as he passes them. Cradling them in his arms, he bellows out that these few items are all he needs.
“The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure. And this. And that’s all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine, and the chair.”
What started out as an act of defiance against the universe’s attempt to crush his spirit turns into a hilarious joke about just how dependant on petty materialism he really is.
The joke is on us.
We laugh at this scene—partially because of its absurdity, but also because of its relevance to our own lives. Not only do we not know how much is enough, but we also don’t know how we should decide how much is enough for our lives. However, determining how much is enough and why is absolutely crucial—not only for the sake of our own contentment but also so we can understand our role as conduits for giving in the world.
“How much is enough?” vs. “How much can I afford?”
Most of us have never taken the time to really consider what kind of stuff and how much of it is necessary for us to be content. For most of us, the question is answered by “how much can I afford?” Cheaper goods and open lines of credit have made this method of thinking immensely problematic. Suddenly, even once we no longer have enough money to keep our bills paid, we’re still allowed to feel like we don’t have enough stuff to feel satisfied.
Really, though—how much is enough to make you “happy”?
We’ve been conditioned to always seek out more without really taking the time to assess if accumulating more material goods is really worth the sacrifices we make to attain them. We’re simply never expected to ask ourselves certain contentment-determining “how much is enough” questions.
“How much (insert item here) is enough?”
How much house is enough?
How much car is enough?
How much consumer technology is enough?
How much wardrobe is enough?
Getting to the Root with “But Why?”
For anyone who has been in the presence of an inquisitive child, the question of “but why?” may seem annoying, if not maddening. However, asking ourselves “why?” we want anything is an effective practice in cutting away motivations that do not result in a contented spirit.
Why do I need this much house?
Why do I need this much car?
Why do I need this much consumer technology?
Why do I need this much of a wardrobe?
Asking “Why?” About Your Whys
To truly chip away at weak motivations, repeatedly and honestly asking “why?” about our answers to “why?” can expose flimsy reasons for wanting certain things.
“XYZ is enough car because I want a modern SUV from a luxury brand.”
“Well, because I want my car to reflect my success.”
“Appearing successful, even to strangers, is important to me.”
“Because I need outward affirmation to convince myself that I am successful.”
Not all “why” roots will be negative truths that require deeply psychological remedies. Some will be legitimate reasons, even if they seem a bit superfluous initially. Eventually, your answer to “why?” may start to become repetitive once it has begun to hit its root and may feel like a semi-compelling argument. While this is possible, it’s important to not attempt to rationalize every superfluous material desire.
You are a conduit for others.
Most of us have more than enough. We convince ourselves of the need to upgrade perfectly adequate items. We buy several versions of the same thing that differ slightly in ways only we could ever perceive. We purchase more of something than we could ever consume—from channels to data plans and beyond. Is this really the best use of our excess?
There are people, believe it or not, who do not have enough. Through unfortunate events or even as a result of systemic oppression, there those who lack even the most basic of essentials. Perhaps one of the most important reasons for determining our levels of “enoughness” is so we can be activated as a conduit for blessing in their lives. By determining what is enough for you, you will be in a more comfortable position to give. Instead of buying yet another version of that thing that still works for you, perhaps consider donating to a food bank, picking up someone’s groceries, or paying the rent for someone who has lost their job.
Once you realize what is enough for you, this is an opportunity to be a blessing for others without enough.
Contentment is a choice.
Happiness is an “inside job.” If we build our joy with the approval of others as its foundation, the moment their attention shifts or wanes, this structure will collapse. That’s why it is imperative that we choose to perpetually cultivate self-sustaining happiness and do our best to avoid conditional “hits” of happiness.
Happiness through material possession is unquenchable.
Happiness through social approval is fickle.
Happiness through accomplishment is untenable.
Happiness generated via chosen contentment within the present moment is abiding.
The only truthful answer to “I’ll be happy when…” is “…when I decide to allow myself to be happy.”
Putting Enough Into Practice
Answer the following question about all material possessions you have or feel you need.
What do you feel is enough (house, vehicle, technology, wardrobe, etc.) for you?
Why do you feel that this is so?
Could the resources you’ve invested in this item or service be better utilized for others while leaving you feeling like you have enough? How?
About 16 months ago, I deactivated my personal Facebook profile for reasons I covered in a previous article. This week, in preparation for a move, I reactivated it to offload stuff on Facebook Marketplace. In the meantime, I decided to give the platform a second look. The following are my thoughts.
1. It was nice to catch up.
For as much trash as I have been talking on Facebook for over the last year, it was refreshing to revisit the profiles of many people I hadn’t heard from since my departure from the platform. Seeing how much their kids had grown, what they were up to, and interacting with them in the comments section was what my quarantine-tarnished spirit needed.
2. It’s definitely not a replacement for socialization.
There are many that use Facebook as a replacement for natural socialization. During these times of pandemic and lockdowns, there’s some logic to this. Still, I believe that this type of socialization may even be worse than no socialization at all.
Let me explain:
In a natural social encounter, any conversation is typically confined to the number of people who can occupy one restaurant booth — I’ll even include those big corner ones that require a butt-scoot to get into and an awkward request to get out of when you have to pee. The conversation darts from person to person — either just two people or seven — like a game of hot potato. And it’s one of the most enjoyable experiences one can have — one that has even been shown to lengthen our lifespan. This is not what happens on Facebook.
On Facebook, I essentially take control of my own jumbotron and blurt something in the form of a post. Others then “react” (their lingo, not mine) with sub-posts of their own. What results is not a conversation, but a subliminal performance for a large audience. And performances, realized or subconscious…are exhausting. That’s frequently why after a scroll session, I don’t feel invigorated, but downright drained — and worse, anxious, which leads to the next thing I noticed.
3. I can’t truly turn it off.
Because it had been over a year since my last posting, I felt it would at least be nice to catch my “friends” up on the gist of what had transpired since we last exchanged the proverbial ones and zeroes. I typed up a 500-ish-word update on the state of my immediate family and posted it along with a few pictures taken since then. The “reactions” immediately poured in — Likes, Hearts, and occasional comments.
“Hmm, how nice,” I thought and then went to have dinner with my family.
All throughout dinner, wondering how others were interacting with that post ran in my mind — not in the front, but in the back, like a program running on a computer. While interacting with my family over a delicious meal, the post’s “performance” metrics ran in the background.
After helping get our son ready for bed, tidying the living room, and pouring myself a glass of wine, I returned to my laptop to see how the post was “performing.” Because I refuse to look at social media on my phone, there I was — checking the stats on the equivalent of a family newsletter to my 654 “friends” in the dark.
And for what? Metrics that suddenly felt emptier than ever.
4. I’d trade a million “likes” for one meaningful comment.
Back when I was an avid Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter user, “likes” “loves” and “favorites” were my key performance indicators (“KPIs” for those in the biz). I don’t know what has changed in the past 16 months, but the present significance of these one-click interactions don’t correspond to their intended emotional correlation of “I like this” or “I love this” Rather, they feel to me more like, “I’ve observed this and find it palatable” or even just, “I want you to know that I’ve witnessed your post.”
And while I’d trade a million “likes” for a comment, I’ve noticed that many people’s comments aren’t much more supportive than their single-click versions. Comments that once wielded new perspectives or a truly sympathetic timbre now feel boilerplate, microwaved, and lacking genuine connection — like small talk about the weather or the banal “how was your weekend?” “Not too bad. And you?” chitchat.
5. Let’s face it — most of it is a performance.
I’m far from innocent of the practice of portraying my family life as sterling. While I do feel like my immediate family unit is pretty incredible, there are items I choose to conceal.
Like the time when my son tripped on a pillow this week and busted his lip open on the coffee table, leaving some of the skin of his upper lip stuck between his tiny teeth —leaving one of my favorite shirts with toddler bloodstains.
Like how I’ve had to call the police multiple times at 3 AM due to the mentally-imbalanced, blood-curdling-yet-involuntary shrieks of an extremely close neighbor whom I believe has been abandoned to live by herself by…who knows.
Like how my home office desk is about eight feet from my cat’s litter box.
Like how I suffered from severe hypochondria-induced anxiety around the beginning of the summer leading up to my routine CT-scan because I’m in remission from testicular cancer.
Fortunately, my son’s lip healed up in about a day, my anxiety dissipated (or I got over it — not precisely sure which happened), and we’re moving soon away from that poor screaming lady to a home with more room for a home office.
To onlookers who viewed my update, I received comments such as “Glad to see you’re doing well!” — a comment that is totally appropriate based on the filters I subconsciously massaged into the post. But I’m far from the only one. These are the performances and curated lives I see up and down my timeline. While most would say there’s nothing wrong with these, it tends to make one ask two questions:
1. “Is their life actually as amazing as they make it appear?”
And more dangerously:
2. Why can’t my life be that perfect?”
As a dear friend Brian Hughes said in a recent email exchange with him on this subject:
“We are all the stars of our Facebook page…love me, acknowledge me, encourage me, agree with me, ‘you go girl’, etc… It’s like blowing air into a balloon but not tying it off. It leaks out quickly and needs more ‘air’ constantly.”
An apt analogy, Hughesy.
6. It’s been ok for me to let go of most of these “friends.”
It’s true that we don’t include our true selves in our posts out of fear of not providing a positive Facebook viewing experience for others. I didn’t post the details about my anxiety or my son’s busted lip because it didn’t seem like the place. I also feared being judged by many “friends” — most of whom are acquaintances at best.
The Game Changer: Dunbar’s Number
Engaging in these social performances for acquaintances can be mentally exhausting. It wasn’t until I learned about “Dunbar’s Number” that I learned why.
According to acclaimed anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, there is a cognitive limit to how many relationships we can effectively juggle — roughly 150. As he put it, 150 is “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.” Just think about your own Facebook “friends” — how many of them, if spotted in a pub or coffee shop, would you feel ok about inviting to pull up a chair or bar stool to shoot the breeze?
How many Facebook “friends” have you actually hidden from in public? C’mon — you know you’ve done it.
If we’re honest with ourselves, given the option, most of these people would not bother to maintain an email correspondence with us, much less a meaningful in-person friendship. How do I know this? Because I tried it. After days of both displaying Instagram and Facebook posts announcing my leaving of the platforms and my desire to carry on email correspondence, only one person who didn’t before have my email address reached out. Thanks, Roger.
Everyone else was already close enough friends to already have my phone number and my email address or, I’m assuming, didn’t care to continue a digital friendship with me on another platform.
And you know what? That’s fine. Nobody needs 654 “friends.”
While the sounds of crickets in my inbox after announcing my departure from most social media platforms would have made me feel down in June of 2019 when I originally left Facebook, these days, that’s not the case. The fact that so few have reciprocated my requests to continue friendships offline leads me to two possible conclusions:
1. I’m a jerk.
2. We don’t need to fake being friends.
Genuine friends would want to hear about your highs and your lows.
True pals will return your calls.
Legitimate buddies will actually check up on you.
Real amigos will put their phones away when you sit down for a drink.
When they ask you how you’re doing, they’re not just making small talk — they genuinely want to know.
I feel immensely blessed to have wonderful people in my life. I wish the present times allowed for more in-person interaction, but for now, I cherish the one-on-one interaction of a phone call or even an email or text correspondence.
So, I’m deactivating again — not because I’m better than Facebook, but because I’m too easily fooled and distracted. A multi-billion-dollar industry wants my attention. And it wants to convince me that these 654 people are my “friends.” 95% of them aren’t, and I’m ok with that. If anything, that frees me up to focus on the 5% who are. If I can enjoy a pint with the 32.7 of them that remain and ask, “how are you really doing?” through good times and bad, that means more to me than a billion “likes.”
If you enjoyed this piece, consider subscribing. Thanks. – Ken
There are few things more liberating than kicking off your kicks in the backyard and letting the piggies roam the grass. However, if you look at an old person’s shoes in the developed world, they’re more akin to a medical device. This is odd because when you look to cultures that have maintained connections to their past, they can walk in the most minimalist of sandals, if not barefoot, for miles and miles. What gives? A possible cause: we’ve been babying our feet our entire lives with modern, thick-soled shoes.
We prop up the arches so they don’t have to hold up themselves.
We cram the toes together so they can’t feel the ground beneath.
We raise up the heel so the Achilles tendon is disengaged, so then we have to support the ankle to keep the whole thing steady.
Shoe Heels Have a Purpose, But It’s Super Dumb
Now in the defense of the shoes of the last several hundred years, heels on the shoe a purpose — to KEEP BOOTS IN STIRRUPS. Oh, and to make derrieres appear pronounced. Those are really the only two functions of a heel on the shoe. The rest of their functions are purely aesthetic. However, having this heel has completely changed the way modern humans walk and run. Instead of walking with the ball of the foot doing its job of absorbing the initial impact of walking or running, the pronounced heel has taken that job — a role it was never meant to have. Growing accustomed to making initial contact with each step heel-first, the ball of the foot is bypassed and the additional shock rattles it’s way up in chain reaction through the ankle, knee, hip, and back — all because of this device meant to keep people on horseback. Look at our genius.
Fortunately, many have begun to question our need for a heel and atrophy-inducing cushioning in our shoes. A whole industry of “barefoot” style shoes has taken off—dozens of companies all vying for who can make the best minimalist shoes that let the foot move and feel as its designed. The results? I’m going to level with you—most look like rubber socks. But you know what? Maybe that’s what we need. At the very least, we all need to spend as much time barefoot as possible.