As I noted in my last post, I've had some pretty bad writer's block over the second half of this year. Not surprisingly it coincided with a back injury. As most exercise enthusiasts will tell you, injury is often a quick route to depression. It's understandable that not being able to participate in an activity you enjoy is a downer, but injury can also wreak havoc on your psyche. Is my body breaking down? Am I getting old? Is it all downhill from here?
Over the next couple of weeks I'm going to discuss some of the things I learned while dealing with my back injury. But the most important lesson is a philosophical one. Nelson Mandela once said, "No matter where you find yourself, there is always journey ahead". Life isn't fair, and we can certainly find ourselves in disheartening situations. Once you accept your reality you can then get to work. The work may get you back to where you were... or it may involve transformation. It is this work wherein lies the salvation.
As my readership of three can tell you, I've had classic writer's block for some time now. The book The War of Art is about our inner battle with a character the author calls Resistance. Resistance is very crafty - sometimes posing as your friend... other times your harshest critic. Regardless of the form he takes, at his core Resistance is the voice of self doubt.
Resistance can never be vanquished completely, and the more he wins the stronger he gets. It is a lonely battle, but sometimes we get unexpected help. My stagnated blog recently got a new reader who let me know how much the story of Ugly Becky touched her...
"Your writing is genuine, wise and and to me, captivating. I find so many people posing as motivators who are lacking the gifts of humility and believability. You have those gifts."
In an instant all the carefully placed papers of self doubt were blown off Resistance's desk. Oh, he was furious! That's right... I'm back, baby. But more importantly, I am reminded of the positive impact our words can have on each other.
Have you ever done something or reacted a certain way, and then said, "Why the fuck did I do that?". I'll tell you why - because your brain was designed 70,000 years ago to reward you for actions that increased your chances for survival or reproduction. It goes something like this. Every time you do something your brain asks itself, "Did what this fool just do increase our chances for survival or making children?". If the answer is yes, your brain releases some dopamine (the feel-good drug) as a reward.
This is why we pursue food, sex, and social status as if they were drugs. But the world has changed on us. We're chasing a dopamine high for things that don't necessarily improve our chances of survival. Back when getting enough food was a challenge it was beneficial to be chemically rewarded for eating, but now that it is overly abundant this mechanism leads to over-eating and chronic disease.
In tribal days, social status was important for finding a mate, but now even after finding a mate we're still stuck in the endless loop of trying to impress others on Instabrag and Facebook. The caveman in us is still running the race for survival when in reality we've already crossed the finish line.
Our brain was designed for our survival... not for our happiness. However, we were given a tool - consciousness. We can be aware of our nature and therefore seek to master these things that no longer serve us. Be master of your dopamine.
I don't fly a lot - a couple times a year - but when I do I like to peruse the bookstore at the airport. Traveling tends to put me in a different frame of mind, so it's a good way to throw a changeup into my reading list. A couple weeks ago this habit resulted in picking up a copy of You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero. There was a time when I read self-help books 24/7, but it's been a while, and I felt like I needed a kick in the pants.
With the title and bright yellow cover I have to admit I felt a little self-conscious reading it, but I liked the author's voice. The part I found most interesting was when she discussed the power of our subconscious mind. She put it like this.
"Our conscious mind thinks it's in control, but it isn't. Our subconscious mind doesn't think about anything... but it IS in control".
She goes on to say that our subconscious mind develops its belief system in the first five years of our lives. Usually this belief system is dominated by our parents' fears and insecurities and whatever emotional trauma we experience. Then, for the rest of our lives we're walking around with this 5-year-old part of our brain setting the tone for everything we do and how we react. Scary, right?
The good news is that if we're mindful of this dynamic, we can slowly start to unpack our subconscious belief system. Understanding the emotions that are driving our behavior is the first step in changing it.
Birthday number 48 passed quietly while I was traveling with my daughter on the left coast recently. They say the Pacific Ocean has no memory. That may be true... but I do. It's been a good life. The experiences are what I cherish most. As the California sun bid us a fond farewell that evening, I thought of all the wonderful lessons learned along this bumpy road.
I remember one summer day back in 5th grade. My mother was taking my sister and me to the lake. We stopped at a gas station, and I immediately noticed a girl from school everyone used to pick on. "Ooh, Ugly Becky!", I shouted. My mother turned around and gave me a look like, "What the fuck just came out of your mouth?". So you know what she did? She walked over to Becky's father who worked at the gas station, and asked if Becky would like to spend the day at the lake with us. Becky was totally down with that, so into our car she jumped.
That was my mother - ferocious, kind, and just. I wasn't able to appreciate the lesson she gave me that day. Like a punk, my only thought was that she had ruined my fun. But now her act of kindness reverberates in me with the subtlety of a 1000 sticks of dynamite. We all hold such awesome power to impact each other. And make no mistake, a small act can alter the trajectory of another person's life.
I listened to an interview with CJ Martin recently. He has coached many high level Crossfit athletes and even went to the Games himself back in their infancy in 2008. What I found most interesting was when he discussed motivation - how it can either come from a negative or a positive place - and the difference it makes in pursuing the goal.
When he coached Camille Leblanc-Bazinet in 2014 she was motivated by a desire to see how well she could perform in the sport she loved. It was an internal desire based in joy. She won the Crossfit Games that year. But the following year he noticed that her motivation was coming more from a place of external pressure and expectation to repeat. Her emotional state and performance suffered.
We're taught to make goals and then pursue them, but it's important to look ourselves in the mirror to figure out whether the motivation is based on a positive desire... or a negative fear. Both will provide energy, but only one will result in a happy journey.
The other night I engaged in some Netflix binge watching... with absolutely no remorse. Wanna know why? Because Kimmy Schmidt is my freakin hero. I'm serious. In the show, Kimmy is rescued from a doomsday cult where she had been abducted as a teenager and kept in an underground bunker for fifteen years. Now, rather than return home to Indiana she attempts to reboot her life in New York City.
Kimmy is determined to be seen as something other than a victim. She will not allow an unfortunate event to define her. Unbreakable. Look, we've all had shit happen to us over which we had no control. Hopefully it didn't involve being held in an underground bunker. Ultimately, it is still your responsibility to create a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul. Either get busy living... or get busy dying. Kimmy Schmidt, I salute you.
You probably know that about 66 million years ago a meteor struck the Yucatan peninsula kicking up a huge dust cloud that blocked the sun and led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. But did you know that this event also paved the way for us to inherit the earth? It's true. If that meteor hadn't flipped over the game board we never would have been able to get a start in this world.
Our species began about 200,000 years ago in Africa. What's interesting is that we stayed put in Africa for a long time... 130,000 years. That's a long damn time considering our restless nature. Don't you think? By that time (70,000 years ago) our numbers had dwindled to only about 2,000 people. We almost bit the big one. Then, all of a sudden, our fortunes changed. We migrated all over the freaking planet establishing magnificent civilizations everywhere we went.
Wanna know what changed our fortunes? Language happened. This enabled us to work together. Think about that. Being able to get along and cooperate saved our asses... literally. It's an awesome legacy and one that we should honor every day through kindness and compassion for all our brothers and sisters.
I recently got stood up for a date. As the minutes ticked by I thought back to the first time that had ever happened to me. I remember thinking, "WTF is going on? I'm on a date... but I'm not on a date". It was like getting punched in the face. I was confused, hurt, and angry. But time mellows us. On this occasion all I could feel was empathy for her. When the moment arrived she just got scared and didn't show up.
Woody Allen once said that 80% of life is just showing up. There are two parts to this. The first part is simply; All things are possible when you show up - Nothing is possible when you don't. But there is a second part that is more subtle...
"The willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time."
- Brené Brown
I don't have a lot of talents, but one thing I've always been able to do is psyche myself up enough to show up... no matter how scared I was. Now, don't get me wrong. There have been some spectacular disasters! Only my best friend knows some of those stories. But I can rest easy at night knowing I've collected my 80%.