A Life Made of Moments

1257 Relax and Succeed - What makes a life awesomeYou’ll find cases who are big stars, or some will be your friends, family or maybe a mentor or lover. They don’t feel like failures to you because they don’t feel that way themselves. Even someone with a small life filled with disasters can really like how it all unfolded, because they know that even most awesome-looking lives are filled with reactions to failure. What makes a life awesome isn’t based in our results, it’s found in the quality our interactions in pursuing them.

A good example of the results not mattering was yesterday’s post, where we looked a gold medal athlete who might move into retirement feeling sorry that they passed on a must-win attitude that makes both themselves and their child their worst, most impatient, critical selves. A gold medal can’t fix the fact that the quality of their daily interactions will have suffered to get it and, in the end, which is worth more when the athlete’s 50? Love and companionship, or ostensibly a necklace too ostentatious to wear every day?

When we hear of people shifting in this direction or that, extremely few of them are following some muse or calling, because, even if they were that does not remove the fact that life doles out a lot of punishment on its way to giving us its rewards. (Warning: movie spoiler alert.) This is what makes the ending of the film Arrival so beautiful; even though she knows she’s signing up to watch her daughter slowly die, and to be deserted by a beloved husband, when given the chance to do it all again, she joyfully takes it.

1257 Relax and Succeed - Successful people aren't betterMost of the moves we see people make in life are because of the punishment life delivers. Part of this life-game is down at the bottom of Maslow’s Pyramid and we all need to eat, so some aspect of life is invested in providing for ourselves and/or others, and our comparative minds we tend to evaluate a large part of ourselves on the basis of how much ‘food’ we’re able to provide. Likewise, we judge others on much the same basis.

This means we can detect the possibility that a manager who moves into a lower position in a new company may have been fired by the previous company, but we don’t often realise that the creation of a new TV show was actually the product of someone having their previous show fail and be cancelled. We see the new show as a victory, not as a reaction to the failure of the old show.

Lawyers lose a lot of cases. Athletes lose a lot of games. Lovers have their heart broken, and a parent can move up or down in status in their pursuit to ensure they’re providing for their children. This means that lives that we may judge as failures are also filled with successes, just as the lives we view as successes are always also filled with rejections.

1257 Relax and Succeed - When your'e not concerned with succeedingWhat counts is: what did that person do in the face of rejection? Curl up and die? No, they move forward on whatever path is best, whether it appears to lead up or down? Because it’s not like we can tell where a path is going by how it looks at the start. No one begins thinking their wedding will lead to a legal nightmare, just like they won’t assume divorce is the greatest thing that will ever happen to their love life, and yet both things often happen just that way.

Our failures will come. Some we’ll see coming, some will be unexpected. The healthy reaction is to avoid turning that fact into a personally destructive internal narrative about failure. We must free ourselves by understanding that failure litters every life, and that the quality of your life will actually be dictated by how you react, and not by what happened.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Big Mistakes

1244 Relax and Succeed - there is always a simplicityIn life we will vary in our risk-taking. Some people have the sort of childhood that encourages them to be naturally bold, whereas others like things to be safer, with less risk of major downsides. It’s one kind of doctor that wants to deliver babies and another who will do your surgery. There’s some overlap, but they specialize for a reason.

Even if we’re the type of person that is careful about risk, our circumstances can alter our natural setting. Being unusually attracted to a person can lead us to be braver, romantically, than we might ever have been before. There’s entire industries built around offering the poor unlikely though not impossible relief from constant struggle. Even going a long time without a win can really motivate someone to take chances they otherwise wouldn’t.

The trick is, even when we’re reacting in-the-moment and we know our extra effort or courage is coming from a much-desired opportunity, we still must stay aware of how we have shifted our identity and what we have left at risk. That doesn’t mean you never take chances–you have to to live–but it does mean that they’re calculated. This not only helps you succeed, it also helps you fail.

1244 Relax and Succeed - Things are just thingsWhen answering readers questions about time management, I’ve posted before that sometimes a failure to succeed is not even within reach. I myself have very elderly and frail parents that often can’t wait, but I also need to earn a living and attempt to maintain the rest of life, including maintaining friendships, although that last one is often the sacrifice when caring for people who generally can’t be left alone for a long stretch. There is no amount of management that solves that.

The worst thing we can do is regret that we may not be able to avoid failure in some significant way. Either you’ll run out of time, resources or enthusiasm before you’re done or not. Understanding those limits allows us to act quickly, and with as much wisdom as possible, if things tumble out in unpleasant ways. This is inevitable in any life, so we can’t live seeking to avoid it, we must learn to surf the bad waves as well as the good ones.

The hardest part for people is their attachments. If we believe we need some object or amount or victory before we can feel good about our lives, we’ve lost control. But if we feel our duty is to say balanced and minimize damage, then we’re just doing what we’ve always done–we’re managing our life with the most balance possible.

1244 Relax and Succeed - The reason most people give upIf staying on your surfboard requires you to throw away some valuable weight, spending time assessing the loss will only delay your reaction and generate more pain. Conclude, accept, act and then move forward with grace and dignity. Ultimately there is no other way and resistance only creates more pain and delays things further.  It’s not like your priorities will dissipate just because you have. No matter how bad the work day was, your children or your parents or your other responsibilities don’t cease to exist. In fact, they’re a gift. Because when you can’t do much to improve your own life, a really great reaction is to try to improve someone else’s.

Don’t dwell on big mistakes, even if you worked hard to plan or work around them. Don’t get caught up in ideas of fairness or the volume of your effort, those are all irrelevant at some point. Take solace in the fact that the effort will still have helped strengthen you, even if the effort itself failed. Knowing how to face hardship is ultimately more valuable than any other life skill, and even there, you can fully exercise your character and values.

Everyone experiences hard times. If you’ve put in a good effort and tried your best, as the Dalai Lama notes, there is no basis for any regret. We can take a moment for the painful acceptance to sweep over us but, once it has, our duties are usually self-evident and there is little else to do but to change paths and begin walking anew. By that point, the only thing that will make it particularly painful will be your own voice, in your own head, discussing what-ifs. Those can be compelling, but they are also created by and for you. So you’re free to create them. But all your ego will do is keep you from the clarity you require from success. Even in the din, a quiet mind will stay closer to wisdom.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Wrestling With Life

He had been that way since the 1970’s but I had no idea he was hugely famous until I moved to Australia. I was just horsing around with a buddy at my uncle’s and when I grabbed him in a mock headlock I said, “Bret Hart throws him in a sleeper,” and the two kids in the room just exploded in excitement at the idea of an adult that would voluntarily mention Bret Hart. Likewise, I couldn’t believe two Australian kids would even know who he was.

Now I’m not into wrestling at all, but I come from Alberta, and if you’re from here it was almost impossible not to know about the huge clan of Hart children and their father, Stu. They ran the Stampede Wrestling League out of Calgary, the birthplace of modern technical wrestling. And then Bret took over worldwide wrestling for a few decades. So why should you care?

There’s a great lesson in Bret’s life. Here we have a guy famous for being very polite and kind (when not playing part of his character’s role). He’s intelligent, he comes from a big, hard-working family with a great work ethic, plus he’s a respectful, likeable person. He became a huge star and made a ton of money. It seems like a dream life if you’re okay with the wrestling part.

Bret has respect, admiration, good parents, physical prowess, intelligence, business sense, financial success and he’s well liked. None of that protected him from a two divorces, a bicycling accident that lead to a debilitating stroke, and very recently he was diagnosed with cancer. And while all that’s going on, I heard him mention in an interview that his body is pretty badly banged up from all of those years in the ring and he’s in a lot of pain. So again, he sounds like a nice guy but what’s this got to do with your psychological health?

I would submit to you that the reason Bret has been so successful is that he has a great attitude. I don’t mean every second of every day, I mean overall. We can’t judge people by when their stone skips off a surface when that’s a tiny portion of how far they go.  That’s just the price Bret was willing to pay for his success. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as he accepts it, and he seems to do that with the same grace he did all his training with. He just digs in and does it.

But look at what got him to where he is. Note how double-edged every decision is. Bret’s great work ethic lead to a broken body. Maybe his success contributed some to his divorce. Maybe his money made it harder for his kids to trust that their friends were real. There’s all kinds of negative spinoffs out of everyone’s life choices.

Even a good work ethic and dedication to one’s career had downsides, so do you see how life works? You’re not supposed to avoid the downsides. Those are inevitable. That’s not what failing is.

Failing is not living; Bret Hart has really lived. Pain is mandatory in life, so rather than whine about it, just ask yourself if you’re in a situation where the pain seems appropriate both for its reasons and its duration. And then if it is: just feel it. It’ll hurt, but it won’t last as long as the agony of resisting.

Don’t avoid life because you don’t want to get hurt. You will get hurt. But it’ll hurt a lot worse if you die with your life left unlived. Go.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Fitting In

We all know that cloying feeling of wanting to fit in. We imagine a warm feeling, like a blanket that covers every part of us. The revelation is when we really go from intellectually knowing to truly understanding that absolutely everyone–within their own reality–feels the same way we do. They experience the same emotions all of us do. No one escapes, everyone wins.

757 Relax and Succeed - We all live with the objectiveYes, the people you feel are super confident, the ones who seem to fit in everywhere with everyone? They experience the pain of not fitting in too. Yup. Everyone feels like the outsider sometimes. And our identity is the narrative story we tell ourselves to explain our out or in-ness.

Our natural desire to belong is a healthy drive toward cooperation that has been turned ugly by modern life. We used to all live together and share, now we all live in separated boxes called houses that we have to pay for, many people are alone, everyone works and everyone has artificial light tricking their brain into thinking it’s daytime. So first people have insomnia and then they’re exhausted all day. Where is there any connection in that? Where is the value in that?

The truth is, if you have feelings of disconnection and longing you just have to understand them correctly. That isn’t you failing at life. You’re not failing at the Rat Race. You don’t add that lack of connection into your pathetic narrative of you–you use that feeling as an indicator of what is really going on. It’s feedback for steering your life. It’s feedback for taking action.

757 Relax and Succeed - The more I traveledIf you feel longing then don’t assume you’re a failure–go find people to be with. If you’re unhealthy, don’t beat yourself up. Use that same energy to join a running or cycling group. If you’re just lonely, go to one of those board games clubs, go bowling, take some classes in a field of interest, learn to paint in a class, walk your dog in a dog park during busy times. Whatever.

Don’t blame yourself for having human feelings in an inhuman world. You’re healthy and correct to be pushing back against many modern bits of life. If you could break free of all of your programming you would be absolutely amazed at how much of our lives are a bizarre collection of rules created by us, for us. Even the keyboard I’m writing to you on is laid out to slow typists down because typewriter keys used to jam.

But after the world’s typists had learned how to work around the machine by training their fingers to move rather unnaturally, there was no way anyone wanted to learn a new machine pattern and re-train their fingers and brains when we changed to computers. So instead of being healthy, we do what modernization tells us to. Then when we don’t feel connected to others we attack ourselves instead of the frameworks we live under.

757 Relax and Succeed - Comparison is the theif of joyWe don’t need to find out how to be better to feel better. We have to get conscious and start caring about the world and our place in it in a different way. A way that prioritizes how life feels and not how well we fit into a larger patterns. The things we’re taught to do as a society are acts surrounding life but they are not life itself. Those things are representations. But that’s like saying a Profit and Loss Statement is the same as the business itself, rather than saying it is a picture of the business taken from very specific angles that show some things and hide others–as every perspective does.

Don’t look to be more popular or more successful or hipper. Those are illusions. Try to make your life more humane instead. Ask yourself what brings you joy as a person and then look to build opportunities for that to happen into your daily life. Create connections with others that are meaningful and personal and deep. I’ve said it here before: the two dates on a tombstone are brackets. The dash in between is your life. It’s shorter than you think, so start living it like it’s yours–because it is.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is a writer, mindfulness instructor, coach and communications facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.

Other Perspectives #70

696 OP Relax and Succeed - Life is too short

Hey, odds are I know how to get and stay happy better than you and even I would never set a crazy expectation like this. It’s a nice basic idea but if you go in by defining success as you being happy then failure is any time you’re not happy. But now you’re trapped because you can’t even know that success exists unless you know failure exists. But failure doesn’t use happiness to imprint itself on you. Different emotions imprint different types of experiences. Thinking you’re failing because you’re sad is like thinking a book you wrote is bad because of the librarian who filed it. That’s just who files it. One’s not better versus worse. It’s not this librarian is smarter than that one—your librarian is never wrong, they just understand more about the library than you. But your ignorance causes your ego to divide them up into the librarians you like versus the one’s you don’t like. So there’s the happy librarian versus the sad one, the calm one versus the angry one etc. etc.. But they aren’t actually good or bad. They just handle the books of experience that are appropriate to them. It was your ego that placed them in categories. The librarians don’t rank themselves. They don’t think happy is better than sad nor should you. Because if you’re going to sit in judgment of your librarians—of your own mind, of your own self—then you will criticize them for ever including failure in your library. And yet we’ve already established that you need some failure, so that very criticism of the librarians ends up just being a source of more failure and negativity. That causes the library to receive more of the types of books that will be carried by the librarians you don’t like. So don’t try to build an all-happy library. That’s a myth. Build one you can really enjoy, and that one doesn’t have more of this kind of book versus that kind of book, it just has lots and lots and lots of books. Because it turns out that reading (read: living) a lot is what leads the universe to deliver more of the books of experience that you enjoy the most. So by just reading your painful books without complaint you will actually cause more enjoyable ones to be delivered. So go have yourself an awesome day by accepting all of your emotions. That will allow them to be quickly filed so that you can get on to your next book/moment. Because in the end life is never about our judgment of the books, the real secret is that life is about the reading.

peace. s

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The Friday Dose #50

595 Relax and Succeed - You're mad

Welcome everyone! It’s the first Friday Dose of the year, and we’re starting off with a Washington Post piece on parenting in the age of the internet and cell phones. Parents will often come to me with very sensible and realistic concerns about their kids and their developing brain’s ability to wisely negotiate cyberspace. I don’t blame them. Kids haven’t fully built the part of their brain that fully comprehends consequences until they’re out of their teens and yet the kids will believe they know all they need to know. And yet there’s no way to turn the internet off, and the constant access of a phone is largely understandable in the modern context where so much of what kids are given to do by schools and clubs etc. will be made easier through the use of both social networking and by phone apps. Who knows how long these things last, but for now it’s a tricky issue and there’s no clear solution. Fortunately the best answer is always the best answer: give the child what they need to calculate well reasoned answers to questions so they can take in their facts and context and then prudently and logically develop appropriate responses. You also want them to have a foundation of self esteem and the knowledge that they are loved and have value no matter what their circumstances might be at any point in life. And last but definitely not least, you want them to believe in the unbelievable. In magic. In things outside the bounds of current thought. Because that is where the discoveries are made. Where we push on our assumptions. But as good as it is, absolutely none of that fine parenting will have much of an impact on the weirdness that is kids hanging out in a place called cyberspace:

The Washington Post: Parenting as a Gen Xer

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Next we’ll go to an interview with disgraced journalist Johann Hari. For a man who had spread so many mistruths in his efforts to elevate his status and ego, his fall has created a humbler, wiser man who has surrendered any concerns about what we think of him. He agrees that you shouldn’t think much of what he did. But he makes an observation about addiction that I’ve mentioned in my blog many times. It involves the idea of not stopping an addiction, but rather starting to have such meaningful contact with people and the world that there would be no interest in an addiction. I place this here in the hopes that if I made the concept too abstract, perhaps you’ll grasp it when you hear how Mr. Hari states it. However the wisdom comes to you, I hope you too come to know the value of genuinely and enthusiastically investing in the enjoyment of your own life:

The Guardian interviews Johann Hari

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Next I’m gonna surprise you. I often refer to advertising as the most damaging and insidious force in our world today. But to be a fair-minded person you must be prepared to disagree with your friends and agree with so-called enemies. And so it must be the truth we seek more than to be right or to win. And so I must admit I recently saw an ad that I thought struck an impressive tone, where it honoured a living truth of the world and it approached the viewers with positivity instead of negativity. That it would come from a diet company is something we should all take heart in. Because we all know most advertising is fairly ridiculous lying. But if the world is shifting to greater positivity and it’s leading companies in this direction then advertising will significantly lessen its negative impact in the world. Enjoy:

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And finally we’ll finish off with another beautiful way to convey an extremely important point to every man on Earth. The video’s so well done I will simply let it speak for itself, but the agency that came up with this should be proud. I won’t be surprised to see it in Cannes this year. It’s as beautiful as it is clever. Enjoy:

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Have yourselves a spectacular weekend everyone!

peace. s

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The Friday Dose is a collection of cool, interesting and surprising things that are chosen for their potential to distract you away from any painful thought loops that may currently be disrupting your sense of perspective. Focus on these and change your mind. Enjoy.

Expectations

205 Relax and Succeed - Our expectations lead to sufferingYou are such an arrogant little sailor. The ocean is fantastically huge. It’s wonderful sameness flows to infinity in every direction. Some of it is glass-flat, with no wind and no current. Other portions are stormy and violent, or have low winds with a heavy current. You have zero control over the ocean so there’s nowhere specific you’re supposed to get to. Your job is simply to sail.

People spend the first part of their lives just trying to get fundamental control over their little boat. Then they shift to an awareness that they are riding in the wake of their parents or guardians. That is followed by an often jerky, sloppy, half-dangerous exit from that wake, and then they start finding their own way.

Until leaving that wake, most kids think that their parent’s choices are dumb and uninteresting. They have imagined all kinds of places that they will go when they are the lead boat. Those imaginings are also expectations. And expectations are a form of attachment, and attachments impede happiness.

205 Relax and Succeed - What screws us up mostLike all of us did, kids sail off to show us where we adults should have gone. And just like it was for us, the act of growing up is when they head out into the world to have the sort of experiences that slowly bring about the realisation that our parents were dealing with a challenge the children had failed to take into account—their imagination left out details like the ocean and the weather.

You may want to sail your boat in a certain direction, but if the winds aren’t favourable, or if you have the wrong kind of boat, then you have little choice. You may even have a light wind in “your” direction, but maybe there’s a current going twice as fast the other way. We don’t control the ocean or the weather. We control only our our boat. And life is about learning that our boat can only do so much, and yet at the same time it’s always on this magnificent ocean, which means there are always things to appreciate about it, even if they may not be immediately evident on the surface.

Sure, choose a destination and sail that way if it suits you. But don’t expect to get there. And don’t criticize those who prefer to aimlessly wander, rather than goal-set and “achieve.” I mean, what is an achievement when it’s just one giant ocean? The water and weather is always moving anyway. And if you can’t control enough to actually guarantee your way anywhere, then why not just let go right at the start like the Buddhists say? Because it’s all awesomely powerful, it’s all dangerous, and it’s all beautiful. 205 Relax and Succeed - Wherever you areSo make your plans. But don’t get attached to them. Rather than being good at maps, you are better to have learned to be a skillful sailor, because the ocean will take you in unexpected directions. It is a force that is as benevolent as it is dangerous, and wherever you go you are on it. So rather than thinking you can sail around every unknown current or storm, get good at dealing with when you can’t. Because that’s reality.

Life will give you lots of what you want, but it will offer you amazingly more if you keep your mind open. Its gifts to you will be incredibly valuable. They just won’t be exactly what you wanted or asked for.

So don’t worry about it if you can’t get where you’re headed. That’s the reality of the ocean. That does not mean you are not somewhere worthwhile instead. So stop just looking at your plans, and start looking at where you are in the moment. Because there is an ocean of possibility beneath your feet every single day of your life.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.