The Super bowl winning coach Bill Walsh used to script plays at the beginning of his games.
The opposing team comes out strong, establishes an early lead, and you never had time to recover. You walk into a business meeting are caught off guard, and the whole thing goes poorly. A delicate conversation escalates into a shouting match. You switched majors halfway through college and had to start your coursework over and graduate late. Sound familiar?It’s the chaos that ensues from not having a plan. Not because plans are perfect, but because people without plans—like a line of infantrymen without a strong leader—are much likely to get overwhelmed and fall apart. The Super bowl winning coach Bill Walsh used to avoid this risk by scripting the beginning of his games. “If you want to sleep at night before the game,” he said in a lecture on game panning, “have your first 25 plays established in your own mind the night before that. You can walk into the stadium and you can start the game without that stress factor.” You’ll also be able to ignore a couple of early points or a surprise from your opponent. It’s irrelevant to you—you already have your marching orders.Don’t try to make it up on the fly. Have a plan.
Do you have a vacation coming up? Are you looking forward to the weekend so you can have some peace and quiet? Maybe, you think, after things settle down or after I get this over with. But how often has that ever actually worked?The Zen meditation teacher Jon Kabit-Zinn coined a famous expression: “Wherever you go, there you are.” We can find a retreat at any time by looking inward. We can sit with our eyes closed and feel our breath go in and out. We can turn on some music and turn out the world. We can turn off technology or shut off those rampart thoughts in our head. That will provide us peace. Nothing else.
“What we assume, what we willingly generate in our mind, that’s on us.”
On tough days we might say, “My work is overwhelming,” or “My boss is really frustrating.” If only we could understand that this is impossible. Someone can’t frustrate you, work can’t overwhelm you—these are external, objects, and they have no access to your mind. Those emotions you feel, as real as they are, come from the inside, not the outside.The Stoics use the word hypolepsis, which means “taking up”—of perceptions, thoughts, and judgments by our mind. What we assume, what we willingly generate in our mind, that’s on us. We can’t blame other people for making us feel stressed or frustrated any more than we can blame them for our jealousy. The cause is within us. They’re just the target.
Take a look at some of the most powerful, rich and famous people in the world. Ignore the trappings of their success and what they’re able to buy. Look instead at what they’re forced to trade in return—look at what success has cost them.Mostly? Freedom. Their work demands they wear a suit. Their success depends on attending certain parties, kissing up to people they don’t like. It will require—inevitably—realizing they are unable to say what they actually think. Worse, it demands that they become a different type of person or do bad things.Sure, it might pay well—but they haven’t truly examined the transaction. Too many successful people are prisoners in jails of their making. Is that what you want? Is that what you’ve working hard toward? Let’s hope not.
Jim Rohm’s widely quoted line is “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” James Altucher advises young writers to find their “scene”—a group of peers who push them to be better. Your father or mother might have given a warning when they saw you spending time with some bad kids: “Remember, you become like your friends.” One of Goethe’s maxims captures it better” “Tell me with whom you consort and I will tell you who you are.”Consciously consider whom you allow into your life—not like some snobby elitist but like someone who is trying to cultivate the best life possible. Ask yourself about the people you meet and spend time with: Are they making me better? Do they encourage me to push forward and hold me accountable? Or do they drag me down to your level? Now, with this in mind, ask the most important question: Should I spend more or less time with these folks?The second part of Goethe’s quote tells us the stakes of this choice” “If I know how you spend you time,” he said, “then I know what might become of you.”
Instinctively, we protect our physical selves. We don’t let people touch us, push us around, control where we go. But when it comes to the mind, we’re less disciplined. We hand it over willingly to social media, to television, to what other people are doing, thinking, or saying. We sit down to work and the next thing you know, we’re browsing the Internet. We sit down with our families, but within minutes we have our phones out. We sit down peacefully in a park, but instead of looking inward, we’re judging people as they pass by.We don’t even know we’re doing this. We don’t realize how much waste is in it, how inefficient and distracted it makes us. And what’s worse—no one is making this happen. It’s totally self-inflicted.The world can control our bodies—we can be thrown in jail or be tossed about by the weather. But the mind? That’s ours. We must protect it. Maintain control over your mind and perceptions. It’s your most prized possession.
We underestimate our capabilities just as much and just as dangerously as we overestimate other abilities.
Most people resist the idea of a true self-estimate, probably because they fear it might mean downgrading some of their beliefs about who they are and what they’re capable of. As Goethe’s maxim goes, it is a great failing “to see yourself as more than you are.” How could you really be considered self-aware if you refuse to consider your weaknesses?Don’t fear self-assessment because you’re worried you might have to admit some things about yourself. The second half of Goethe’s maxim is important too. He states that it is equally damaging to “value yourself at less than your true worth.” Is it not equally common to be surprised at how well we’re able to handle a previously feared scenario? The way that we’re able to put aside the grief for a loved one and care for others—though we always thought we’d be wrecked if something were to happen to our parents or a sibling. The way we’re able to rise to the occasion in a stressful situation or a life-changing opportunity.We underestimate our capabilities just as much and just as dangerously as we overestimate other abilities. Cultivate the ability to judge yourself accurate...read more
You don’t miss that routine until it’s not there anymore.
It’s been said that there really is no such thing as an objectively good or bad occurrence. When a billionaire loses $1 million in market fluctuation, it’s not the same as when you or I lose a million dollars. Criticism from your worst enemy is received differently than negative words from a spouse. If someone sends you an angry email but you never see it, did it actually happen? In other words, these situations require our participation, context, and categorization in order to be “bad.”Our reaction is what actually decides whether harm has occurred. If we feel that we’ve been wronged and get angry, of course that’s how it will seem. If we raise our voice because we feel we’re being confronted, naturally a confrontation will ensue.But if we retain control of ourselves, we decide whether to label something good or bad. In fact, if that same event happened to us at different points in our lifetime, we might have very different reactions. So why not chose now to ...read more
Like the horizon, you can walk for miles and miles and never reach it.
I’ll be happy when I graduate, we tell ourselves. I’ll be happy when I get this promotion, when this diet pays off, when I have the money that my parents never had. Conditional happiness is what psychologists call this kind of thinking. Like the horizon, you can walk for miles and miles and never reach it. You won’t even get any closer.Eagerly anticipating some future event, passionately imagining something you desire, looking forward to some happy scenario—as pleasurable as these activities might seem, they ruin your chance at happiness here and now. Locate that yearning for more, better, someday and see it for what it is: the enemy of your contentment. Choose it or your happiness. The two are not compatible.
Many of the things that upset us are a product of the imagination, not reality.
The author Raymond Chandler was describing most of us when he wrote in a letter to his publisher, “I never looked back, although I had many uneasy periods looking forward.” Thomas Jefferson once joked in a letter to John Adams, “How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened!” And Seneca would put it best: “There is nothing so certain in our fears that’s not yet more certain in the fact that most of what we dread comes to nothing.”Many of the things that upset us are a product of the imagination, not reality. Like dreams, they are vivid and realistic at the time but preposterous once we come out of it. In a dream, we never stop to think and say: “Does this make any sense?” No, we go along with it. The same goes with our flights of anger or fear or other extreme emotions.Getting upset is like continuing the dream while you’re awake. The thing that provoked you wasn’t real—but your reaction to it was. And so from the fake comes real consequences. Which is why you need to wake up right now instead of creating nightmare....read more