Athlete, Father, Leadership, Marketer, Musician, Runner

Showing you still know how to do it

Ever find yourself in a situation where you have to tackle a specialized task, and flex muscles that you haven’t used in a while? And imposter syndrome starts to set in?

Maybe it’s helping your child with his algebra homework.

Maybe it’s cooking or baking a complex recipe for company coming over.

Maybe you’re taking the field/pitch/gym/rink as an athlete for a sport you abandoned years ago.

Maybe you’re up in front of others and you have to convince them that you know what you’re talking about, like teaching a class, leading a group exercise, or presenting at an event.

Maybe you’re showing off a talent of yours in a performance, like singing or dancing or acting, but it’s been a long time since you last took the stage.

It’s like riding a bicycle – once you learn how, you can always do it… right? You know that you know how to do it. Well at least, you knew how to do it, once upon a time. You’re pretty sure you can do it again. All the evidence shows you can do it. And yet, deep down inside, there’s a tiny but convincing voice saying oh my god what are you thinking you haven’t done this in forever how dare you think you can do it again oh god oh god this is crazy you know you can quit now and you won’t be embarrassed this is nuts stop stop STOP…

There’s joy in re-discovering that yes, you can still do it.  And in the satisfaction of telling the tiny but convincing voice of your lizard brain to shut the hell up.

Father, Musician

Admiring perseverance

Sometimes we run into people or things that should be more flexible, but instead become obstinate obstacles. We can accept them as they are. Or, we can decide to do something about them.

Case in point: my 9th grader received a vibraphone rental for Christmas this year. However, being a cheap rental, it did not come with an adjustable height frame – a problem for my 6′ tall son. Grandpa to the rescue!  But… not without lots of experimentation and failures. The holes drilled in the stilts weren’t wide enough. When they were wide enough, they didn’t deal with the curve of the frame. Then he stacked them to get the height right… but the adjustable pedal couldn’t reach the ground. I was about ready to give up and lobby for acceptance. Instead … we got this masterpiece:

There’s joy in seeing others persevere to overcome an inflexible obstacle.

Human

Joy is not all ponies and rainbows

The last two posts make it sound like choosing happiness is easy – just a matter of programming ourselves to always do so. Let’s be realistic, and not buy completely into the hype.

First of all, many people are playing life on “hard mode,” as they fight chemical dependencies, depression, or other neurological illnesses. Those require more than a personal choice. They require professional treatment, sustainable management, and the joyful support of friends. The choice is often to recognize and accept those requirements, and to take action.

Secondly, while we can reprogram our lizard brains with some success, it’s not a panacea for all emotional reactions. We get annoyed, we anger, we feel helpless, we worry, we mourn. That’s as it should be.

Finally, it’s hard. We’re not only fighting evolution, we’re fighting our own learned habits. We are constantly tempted to enjoy the short-term “joy” of recreational complaining, of vengeance, of being the victim, of blaming others. (The Internet is built on those instant dopamine hits.) It’s the easy path with a quick reward, but one that sets us on a programmed path for long-term unhappiness.

Optimism is not the opposite of realism. We can expect the best while preparing for the worst. We can seek joy in hard work. We can look for happiness in the face of suffering.

Finding joy can be hard. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.

Human, Marketer

Using consistency to choose happiness

In my last post’s story, the always-happy friend is concerned about self-consistency. That’s not surprising, because consistency is a great tool to persuade our brains to behave the way we want to behave.

Psychologists will tell you that, as humans, we want to be (and to be seen as) consistent with our self-image. We want to follow through on our commitments. We want to live up to statements we made. We don’t like wrestling with the cognitive dissonance of behaving inconsistently. Our “lizard brain” takes over the decision-making process.

This leaves us open to manipulation (for good or ill) if someone can get us to express the behavior they want us to emulate. For example, clipboard carrying researchers who asked “Do you consider yourself a helpful person?” before inviting people to participate in a survey saw their volunteer rates shoot up from 29% to 77.3%, as detailed by Robert Cialdini in his book Pre-Suasion, among many other examples of influencing people.

But it also gives us a tool for self-programming. For instance, many weight loss approaches have been shown to work because they create habits through self-consistency. You stood up and told your Weight Watchers group what you were going to do this week… how can you go back on that now? Rather than just counting calories, you promised to avoid carbs or sweets or dairy… and are you the kind of person who goes back on promises? Your desire for consistency can convince you, at that moment of truth, to think I’m not a person who buys a candy bar in the checkout line as that belief becomes part of your identity.

So, as extreme as the “if I were any happier, I’d be twins” guy may have been in his response, he does provide a model for all of us. Wouldn’t we all like to say, in that moment of truth:

I’m not the kind of person who stops being happy when bad things happen to me.

I’m not the kind of person who gets angry at others and looks for someone to blame when my plans are disrupted.

I’m not the kind of person who lets problems take away my joy for more time than it takes to experience those natural negative emotions.

It’s up to you to decide how you want to program your brain. But if you don’t make a  conscious effort to decide, your programming will be decided for you by your unfiltered life experiences.

 

 

 

Human

Owning happiness

There’s a (possibly apocryphal) story that a motivational speaker gave which has stuck with me over the years. It goes something like this:

“I have a friend who I think was the happiest guy in the world. When people asked him, ‘How are you?’ he would respond, ‘I’m great! Because I’m happy. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. If I were any happier, there’d be two of me!’ It wasn’t an act, either – he was genuinely, authentically happy. He was always a ray of sunshine, and he brightened up everyone’s day.

“One day I got some terrible news. My friend had been in a car accident. Several bones were broken. He would probably be in the hospital for weeks recovering. Just a horrible, horrible event. So I went over to the hospital to see him. I said to him somberly, how are you doing? Without delay he said, ‘I’m great! Because I’m happy. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. If I were any happier, there’d be two of me!’

“I couldn’t believe it, and he explained: My happiness is a choice. Bad things happen that we can’t control. I’ve chosen to be happy. It’s easy to choose that when things are going well. I choose to be happy even when they’re not.’ ”

Whether or not this extreme case of a story is true, it’s an admirable, aspirational philosophy. We may not all be able to follow it, but we can all remember it the next time choosing happiness is hard.

Athlete, Human, Husband, Marketer

Out of sync with the world

You’re ready to go. You’ve got this. You come out of the gates at full speed. Chaaaaaaarge…!

But wait – the world has different ideas today. What’s the old Yiddish saying? “Man plans; God laughs.” Maybe the emails and calls you’re waiting for don’t arrive. Decisions aren’t made, leaving your work in limbo. The injury is worse than you feared. The cost higher than budgeted. The time it takes longer than expected.

It’s frustrating when plans change from things out of your control. What we can control is our reaction… which initially often has no joy in it. But the joy is there… because in deciding how to react, we take control of our reality. A setback is a chance to reevaluate. The forced replanning is an opportunity to make plans more impervious to disruption. The delay is a moment to breathe. You’re out of sync for now, but you know what flow looks like, what Felix Felicis tastes like, what the effortless effort of wei wu wei feels like when you’re totally in the groove. But not now. Not today.

Fine. Sometimes the joy plays hide and seek, and you’re “it.” Unfair? Maybe. So what? Count to ten and go find it — ready or not, here you come.

Athlete, Father, Friend, Husband, Marketer, Musician

Self-care and recovery days

There’s a lot on the calendar some weeks. It could be fun stuff like holiday celebrations and gatherings of friends. Or it might be a nonstop schedule of family chauffeuring. Sometimes it’s long hours at the job for a crunch week.  Sometimes it’s an array of previous commitments (choir rehearsals, weekly basketball, networking events) — chosen responsibilities that individually are worthwhile but eat up a lot of combined time.

Even for those of us who love being active as much as possible, over time all that activity adds up, like sleep debt. That’s when self-care comes into play. It’s up to us to take care of ourselves so that we don’t devolve into a harried state that prevents us from enjoying our chosen activities.

Over time, we learn where our limits are. Over time, our limits start to pull in. Over time, we begin to recognize when we need a power nap, a day off to vegetate, or a quiet weekend to recharge our batteries.

Be joyful whenever you have the luxury to take that hour, day, or weekend of self-care to recovery.