My ex-girlfriend is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. Her body is a work of art, perfectly toned and golden tan with a smattering of graceful tattoos and a tiny, steel rod through each nipple. Her eyes are big and brown, accentuated by long, fluttering lashes. Her smile can level you. It’s one of those smiles that makes you smile just because you caught a glimpse of it.
She loves animals, so much so that watching her care for a newborn puppy can melt even the coldest of hearts. When she laughs, it’s as if the world slows to a pause, and all of its chaos seems petty and inconsequential. She’s a kind soul, always concerned about the needs of others. She’d often surprise me with gifts – small tokens of her affection – like a batch of freshly baked muffins, or a bottle of my favorite cologne, or some Peace Lilies for my hideously drab apartment.
She’s the kind of woman who, upon first meeting, makes you wonder how a creature so magnificent came to exist.
On our first date, we slept together, after an adventurous, alcohol-fueled romp through the city. On our second date, she proclaimed herself my girlfriend. On our third date, she told me she loved me.
During the course of our relationship, she was fired from four different jobs, had her car repossessed, got arrested for stealing beauty supplies, dropped out of Pharmacy school, and started stripping to make extra cash. I watched her experiment with a variety of medications, which may or may not have caused her abrupt and violent mood swings. In a matter of seconds, she could go from gentle, loving girlfriend to vicious, fire-breathing devil-woman. She’d give me the silent treatment for days on end. She was always late. She regularly lost her purse. And she drank like Bukowski during his Black Sparrow years. But what the hell did I care? The sex was incredible. And, she bought me a really cool welcome mat.
I believe that one of the keys to a generally happy life is learning from your fuck-ups. Touch a hot stove when you’re a whippersnapper and, odds are, you’ll never scorch your hand again. Pick the wrong major in college and, hopefully, a few semesters of failing grades and punishing boredom will prompt you to switch gears. Get a little too shitfaced at the office Christmas party and, the next time around, maybe you’ll think twice about knocking back that seventh Jaeger bomb.
There is, however, one fuck-up from which a good lot of us never seem to learn. One fuck-up that even highly discerning men and women tend to repeat, over and over…and over again. One fuck-up so common that it’s the sole subject of countless books, blogs, videos, workshops, and seminars. And, sadly, it’s a fuck-up that can drain your energy, damage your spirit, and drive you absolutely batshit.
This evil step-mother of all fuck-ups is getting into a serious relationship with the wrong person.
IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT THAT YOU CHOOSE THE WRONG PARTNERS
Choosing an ill-fitting partner is a good way to turn your whole goddamn world upside down – especially if you move in together, get married, and have children. This is doubly true if the partner you’ve chosen is a bit off their rocker. But, if you keep making bad relationship choices, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have bad judgment. More than likely, there are some invisible forces that keep steering you in the wrong direction.
Somewhere along the line, we all developed some pretty basic thoughts about ourselves and the world around us. Psychologists call these core beliefs. Some of your core beliefs are undoubtedly helpful. Others may be problematic, particularly in romantic relationships. Either way, uncovering your core beliefs can require a certain amount of self-examination.
Let’s say, for example, that when you were a teenager, your father was seldom home and your mother liked to drown her sorrows in cheap vodka. As a result, you had to fend for yourself. Thankfully, your longtime, next-door neighbors were hip to your parents’ dysfunction and welcomed you over for dinner most nights. They insisted that you consider yourself part of the family. Still, you felt uncomfortable, like you had to earn your place at the table. So, you began pitching in – washing the dishes and dust-busting the floors and emptying the trash – to an almost excessive degree.
In college, you were the roommate who bought all the booze and let everyone smoke your weed. In the workplace, you repeatedly take on more than you can handle, while your colleagues loiter around the coffee maker. And, in relationships, your efforts never seem to pan out. Almost every person you date issues the same fundamental complaint: that you act like a doormat and it’s a big, genital-shriveling turn-off.
It’s not your fault that you behave this way. You understandably developed the belief that you’re undeserving of love. For fuck sake, your own parents didn’t give you the time of day, so why would anyone else? No wonder you think that you have to win people over by being of service to them.
As for me, I was largely ignored by the opposite sex until far later in life than I care to admit. I spent my formative years convinced that I was deeply unattractive. At some point, I discovered that I could gain the attention of women if I offered a friendly ear and, perhaps, a solution to their problems. Of course, this almost never landed me a romantic partner. But, when it did, I was all in, no matter how many problems she had. In fact, the bigger the trainwreck the better. If she needs me, I thought, there’s no way she’ll break up with me.
There’s actually a name for my behavior. It’s called White Knight Syndrome, and it applies to men and women who seek out damaged partners. For a whole host of reasons, white knights have a compulsive need to rescue. Rarely, though, does it lead to a fairy-tale ending. I was the classic white knight, forever chasing the damsel-in-distress. That is, until I started to uncover – and challenge – some of my core beliefs.
Get brutally honest with yourself, and you might find that your core beliefs are why you repeatedly ignore your intuition, overlook glaring red flags, compromise your values, tolerate bad behavior, and choose partners with whom you’re incompatible. That’s the (not so) funny thing about core beliefs. They tend to lead us right into the arms of those we should avoid.
There’s good news, though. Once you identify your core beliefs, you don’t have to abide by them. Ever again. Sure, your mind may start driving you into a shitstorm; but, you have the ability to hit the brakes. Then, you can turn the fuck around and head toward calmer horizons.
It also bears mentioning that many of us recreate our earliest relationship experiences in adulthood. In other words, we do what our parents did. And, for what it’s worth, this is backed by a heap of psychological research.
In one fascinating study, Harvard University tracked the lives of several hundred men over a period of nearly 80 years. It’s the longest study ever done on happiness and well-being. Researchers started their analysis in 1938 when the men were teenagers, and followed up, year after year, until the men were in their 80s. They found that no matter their socioeconomic status, the men with happier parents had far healthier relationships with their own partners.
In another study, Michal Einav, clinical psychologist and head of the MA program in educational psychology at Peres Academic Center in Tel Aviv, examined how the quality of parents’ relationships can impact the expectations children have about their own future relationships. Her research, which was published in The Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, shows that children learn how to navigate relationships by observing their parents (or caregivers). As Einav noted: “Children construct a scheme for intimate relationships based on their parents’ relationship, as they experienced and understood it.”
Numerous other studies have shown that our parents’ behavior shapes our own behavior, as well as our relationship attachment styles. Mothers who are insecure in relationships tend to have daughters who are also insecure in relationships. Emotionally avoidant fathers tend to have emotionally avoidant sons. Children from abusive homes tend to be manipulative in relationships. Parents who get divorced tend to have children who are cynical about marriage. And parents who cheat tend to have children who are likely to cheat themselves.
It’s not your fault that you have trouble navigating relationships. Your parents may have given you a crumpled up old roadmap covered in ketchup stains. Luckily, you don’t have to take the route your parents did. It might make you uncomfortable, but you can consciously decide to go another way.
Still, no matter how much you divert from your parents’ roadmap, how diligent you become in challenging your core beliefs, how adept you become at spotting red flags, and how clear you become on your values, there’s another obstacle with which you need to contend. It’s a doozy, and it’s an inevitable part of any romantic relationship. Believe it or not, I’m referring to the honeymoon phase.
Most research defines the honeymoon phase as the first 12-18 months after you start dating someone new. You know, when you’re ridiculously excited and your stomach has butterflies and you’re pretty sure they’re “the one” and you can’t stop thinking about them and you wish you could be with them every second and you can’t keep your hands off them and the sex is fucking mind-blowing and everything they do just seems so goddamn adorable. Yeah, that. It’s a particularly exhilarating time, which is why we forget that it’s also a particularly dangerous time.
People often make big, life-altering decisions during the honeymoon phase, and then suffer the consequences.
You might think he’s your soulmate when he’s actually a lying narcissist from hell. You might think she’s a goddess when she’s actually an emotional basket case. You might be dreaming of your life together when, in reality, you’re picking out wallpaper patterns with a wacko.
You might be taking the next step with someone who couldn’t possibly be more wrong for you. But, it feels right. Right now. And there’s a reason.
Scientists have found that, during the honeymoon phase, you are literally in an altered state of mind. Your dopamine, adrenaline, and norepinephrine levels increase. Your hormones go completely haywire. Your cortisol skyrockets. You release oxytocin and vasopressin. Not to mention that your ventromedial prefontal cortex – the part of your brain that judges yourself and others – deactivates. In other words, you don’t perceive your partner for who they truly are. During the honeymoon phase, you’re basically an idiot.
It’s not your fault that you choose the wrong partners. You’re merely a victim of your own googly-eyed infatuation. This is why you need a relationship posse. Infatuation can blind you. You need people who are willing to smack the shit out of you and make you see clearly again.
GATHER YOUR POSSE
Back in the day, a town’s conservator of peace (usually the sheriff) would summon a posse comitatus – or a group of citizens – to deal with an emergency and protect the land. The term posse comitatus, which was shortened to posse in the 17th century, translates roughly to “force of companions.” Look up posse in the dictionary, and you’ll find the first definition as “a group of people who have come together for the same purpose.”
Whether you’re dating someone or not, if you have a tendency to choose the wrong partners, it might be time to summon a force of companions. Call your most trusted friends and family members – those who truly have your best interest at heart – and ask them to be in your relationship posse. Their purpose: to be honest with you about your romantic partners from here on out. No exceptions.
Having a relationship posse to tell you the truth is a good way to expose the lies you tell yourself, especially during the honeymoon phase. That she’s not flaky, she’s just a free spirit. That he’s not a drunk, he’s just going through a rough time. That she’s not unstable, she’s just passionate. That he’s not abusive, he’s just protective. That the good times are really good and the bad times aren’t that bad. If these are the kinds of rationalizations you make, gather your posse and find out what they think.
Maybe the people in your posse haven’t met your partner. Introduce them. Maybe the people in your posse don’t make the best relationship choices either. That’s okay. Offer to be in their posse. Maybe the people in your posse seem reluctant to give it to you straight. Remember their purpose and dig for the truth.
The people in your posse might tell you things you don’t want to hear. Tough shit. They’re things you need to hear.
It’s not your fault that you choose the wrong partners. But, if you want the right partner, it’s up to you to challenge your beliefs and work toward shifting your mindset. A relationship posse can help. Gather your posse and listen to what they have to say. They might just save you from a big-time fuck-up. Otherwise, it could be years before you’re able to look back and realize that you were picking out wallpaper patterns with a wacko.
Some time ago, I was on the phone with Becky, a life coach who specializes in “helping people with an overwhelming desire to create miracles.” Becky lives in North Carolina, in a quaint, sparsely populated town that sits somewhere between the Atlantic coast and the Great Smoky Mountains. She’s been coaching for more than a decade.
In addition to being a life coach, Becky is a wife, a mother, a traveler, an internet entrepreneur and a motivational speaker. She’s also the seventeenth coach who reached out to me, after I’d shared with an online community that I was profoundly desperate to have some kind of a breakthrough.
Simply put, I’d hit a wall – the same wall I’ve hit repeatedly throughout my life. It’s a hideous monstrosity; one that, somewhere along the way, I constructed in my own mind. It spans my subconscious. It’s made of fear and anxiety and limiting beliefs, and despite my goals and grand ambitions, it’s always stood in the way of my progress.
Previously, I’d have combed the self-help aisle and the blogs of influencers, looking for ways to tear down the wall – or, more preferably, obliterate it, and turn it into a useless pile of swirling dust. I’d have downloaded podcasts, signed up for webinars, purchased courses, and joined forums. I’d have locked myself in a room and devoured information, only to emerge no more inspired and no less dispirited.
But, this time around, I sought out a coach.
I wasn’t looking for just any coach. I wanted someone to guide me, expertly and without platitudes. I’d grown tired of the cheese and sleaze and baloney and bunk. I’d grown tired of hearing that I’m a remarkable badass or a magnificent spark of divine light or a conscious creator who can connect to the cosmic life-force. I’d grown tired of hearing that the world desperately needs my special gift.
For fuck sake, I just wanted some information I could actually use.
I wanted someone to show me the clearest path towards a rich life. I wanted someone to look inside the nooks and crannies and crevasses of my brain, and scrape out the bullshit. I wanted someone to tell me exactly how to break through my psychological barriers, achieve my goals, and find contentment. Indeed, I wanted someone to help me create some goddamn miracles already.
First, I spoke with Marty, a street juggler-turned-circus clown-turned-toymaker-turned-life coach whose mission is to “inspire others to call in their creativity.” An interesting man, no doubt. But, we spent much of the time discussing the intricacies of George Carlin’s most celebrated material. For some reason, I didn’t think Marty could give me the information I was so desperately seeking.
Next, I spoke with Angie, a Chicago-based fulfillment coach who strives to help young professionals “discover how bright and powerful they can be in the world.” Angie couldn’t have been kinder or more compassionate, which is why I promptly declined to hire her. I didn’t think Angie could deliver the proper, high-voltage ass-kicking I felt that I needed.
Then, I spoke with Karen, a former economist and policy advisor who spent the better part of twenty years working with government leaders in Africa. Karen affirmed that I merely needed to “look beyond thyself, shift thy perspective, and step into thy power.” When I asked Karen how to do that, she divulged that I could book a four-hour “Genius Session” with her to find out. Stupid me…I never did book the session.
I also spoke with Holly, who said she’d uncovered a transformative five-step strategy for conquering fear that she would happily divulge as long as I joined her twelve-week mastermind group. I politely explained that I didn’t have that kind of time.
Then, there was Dennis, who promised I would gain an enormous amount of clarity by using a No. 2 pencil – and only a No. 2 pencil – to draw thousands of tiny circles on a standard sheet of white paper. According to Dennis, I needed to do this for at least 45 minutes, without stopping. Reluctantly, I complied, and came away with nothing more than a tinge of embarrassment and a shooting pain in my hand.
Then, there was Jim, who insisted that I balance my checkbook.
And Rob, who made me punch a pillow while he watched.
And Mel, who unexpectedly read my Tarot Cards.
And Jackie, who demanded that I form a relationship with Jesus Christ.
And a succession of other coaches who all instructed me to do essentially the same thing: Decide where I’d like to be in a year and figure out how to get there.
Then, Becky called.
She introduced herself in a mild southern drawl, radiating warmth and positivity. She told me that she’s a strong believer in the goodness of life – that she’s driven by joy and generosity and purpose. She told me about her academic achievements, and her rigorous, post-graduate work. But, before she could tell me about her passion for helping people with an overwhelming desire to create miracles, I interrupted – quite tempestuously – and told her that I’d hit a fucking wall. Poor Becky.
I told Becky that I was frustrated.
I told her that I was angry.
I told her that I’d made some changes in my life, but it didn’t seem to matter. I told her that I just wanted to be happy and successful and do things on my own terms and make some kind of an impact in the world. I told her that I was struggling to grow my business, and struggling even more to figure out why.
I told Becky that I was tired of reading about the other coaches and entrepreneurs, making millions of dollars with their premium packages and online courses and group intensives and stupid fucking eBooks.
I told her that I didn’t get it.
I told her that I had just as much to offer as anyone else.
I told her that I’d taken classes and attended workshops and read every goddamn motivational book under the sun, and nothing seemed to help.
I told her that I was stuck. Completely, hopelessly, and inexplicably stuck.
I told Becky that I’d spoken with sixteen other coaches before her, and not one of those motherfuckers could tell me how to move forward.
“So, what do you hope to get out of this call?” asked Becky.
I told her that I didn’t know.
I told her that I’d been hoping for some sort of panacea. A magic bullet. A nugget of infinite wisdom that would blow my mind wide open and change my life forever.
Then, I told her that such a thing probably doesn’t exist.
“As we’re talking,” I said, “I’m beginning to realize that you aren’t going to tell me anything I haven’t already heard. I don’t think anyone can tell me anything I haven’t already heard. I think I know what to do. I just need to, like…you know…fucking do it.”
“I think you’re probably right,” affirmed Becky.
“I think I need a nap,” I replied.
LEARNING VS. AVOIDING
If you’re a man who is desperate to become better with women, for example, then you’ve probably read The Game by Neil Strauss, in which Neil chronicles his rise from socially awkward journalist to the world’s most notorious pick-up artist. Maybe The Game led you to its companion piece, The Rules of the Game, and then to books like Mystery Method or The Layguide or even Robert Greene’s The Art of Seduction. Maybe you took to the internet, and spent hours in online forums, poring over the latest and most commonly used attraction methods. Maybe you even bought one of Ross Jeffries’ home study courses.
Then, you decided that canned openers, DHV stories, and kino escalation patterns all seem inauthentic and creepy, and you’d much rather attract women by just being yourself. So, now you’re reading all the best books on how to become a better, more integrated man, like No More Mr. Nice Guy by Dr. Robert Glover and The Way of the Superior Man by David Deida. Maybe you’ve picked up Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Nathaniel Branden’s The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, and Viktor Frankl’s timeless classic, Man’s Search for Meaning. Maybe you’ve even joined a support group, which allows you to comfortably share your story with other men.
Yes, you’ve embarked on a wondrous journey of self-improvement, knowing it could very well lead to the woman of your dreams. And, I commend you.
My question is: When are you finally going to walk up to a woman and say hi?
Similarly, if you’re a woman who wants to attract the perfect man, maybe you’ve been thumbing the pages of Elle, Marie Claire, and Cosmopolitan, looking for ways to “get his attention” and “find out if he’s into you.”
Maybe you’ve spent some weekends at home, curled up on the couch with Matthew Hussey’s Get the Guy, Ellen Fein’s All the Rules, and Dr. Ali Binazir’s The Tao of Dating.
Maybe you hired a dating coach to help you develop more confidence, meet higher quality men, and better understand the subtleties of male behavior. But, maybe your coach seemed a little weird and charged too much and didn’t tell you what you wanted to hear and couldn’t really answer any of your questions. So, now you’re hoping Steve Harvey has all the answers because you’ve downloaded Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man and Straight Talk, No Chaser.
Yes, you’re a strong, intelligent, and ambitious woman; and you’ve become dedicated to learning the language of love, because, goddammit, you’re ready to meet your soulmate. And, you deserve to. It’s about fucking time.
My question is: When are you finally going to introduce yourself to that cute guy at the gym and slip him your phone number?
If you loathe your job, and you’ve been dreaming of starting an online business, then you’ve probably read Tim Ferris’ generation-defining chart-topper, The 4-Hour Workweek. Maybe you’ve also read The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau, The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki, and Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk. Maybe you kill time in your cubicle by scouring the websites of prominent internet entrepreneurs like Frank Kern, Eben Pagan, Lewis Howes, Ramit Sethi, and Pat Flynn. Maybe you’re even subscribed to their email lists.
And, surely you’ve clicked on a Facebook ad, which brought you to a well-crafted landing page, which prompted you to sign up for a webinar, which promised to show you The EXACT Blueprint that Thousands are Using to Turn Their PASSION into PROFIT and Consistently Land High-Paying Clients! But, maybe the webinar wasn’t as informative as you’d hoped, and its real purpose was to sell you something, and even though you took notes, the whole thing kind of felt like a waste of time. So, now you’re reading all the articles you can find on content marketing and blog monetization and SEO and sales funnels and social media.
Yes, you’ve been learning everything there is to know about running an online business. After all, you’ve got big ideas, and you’re determined to create the life you’ve always wanted. No longer will you settle for being a paper-pushing drone, a cog in the machine, a slave to the modern workplace. And, I don’t blame you.
My question is: When are you finally going to put up a goddamn website and start telling people about your services?
Make no mistake: You should never stop learning. As renowned motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, once said, “Learning is the beginning of wealth. Learning is the beginning of health. Learning is the beginning of spirituality. Searching and learning is where the miracle process all begins.”
But, at some point, you might want to ask yourself: Are you really learning…or just avoiding?
Are you filling your head with information to avoid taking action?
This, in fact, is one of the pitfalls of having an unlimited amount of information at our fingertips, and it’s especially dangerous in the world of self-help. For many of us, self-help material is just another form of avoidance, whether we realize it or not. We read books and listen to podcasts and watch videos and communicate with so-called experts, and our brains lead us to believe we’re making progress. Except, we’re not really making progress at all.
Real progress requires action. And, while filling your head with information may feel like action, more often than not, it leads to lengthy periods of inaction. It’s mental masturbation – or, as it’s most commonly called: analysis paralysis. It’s also why, as journalist Oliver Burkeman points out in his book The Antidote, “among themselves, self-help publishers refer to the ‘eighteen-month rule’, which states that the person most likely to purchase any given self-help book is someone who, within the previous eighteen months, purchased a self-help book – one that evidently didn’t solve all their problems.”
The truth is, you are not going to find a nifty, book-sized solution to your problems. You are not going to achieve your goals by analyzing them. You are not going to succeed by talking to another success coach. And, you are not going to grow by watching one more PowerPoint presentation about growth.
If you want to make progress, start moving. Put one foot in front of the other. Do something. And, if only for a little while, stop filling your head with information. Chances are, you already have the information you need.
WHAT WOULD WILLIAM OF OCKHAM DO?
William of Ockham was an English Franciscan philosopher and theologian, generally considered one of the major figures of medieval scholastic thought. He died around 800 years ago, but one of his most important ideas lives on.
Occam’s razor (or Ockham’s razor) is a basic problem-solving principle which states that the simplest solution is usually the correct one. In science, Occam’s razor is used as a heuristic to guide researchers in eliminating unnecessary assumptions while developing theoretical models. Of course, we’re not talking about science here. We’re talking about some of the most common parts of life that we humans tend to overthink, overcomplicate, and overanalyze.
Much like this essay, a great deal of self-help material includes notoriously vague directives: Start moving. Take action. Do something! This leaves us scratching our heads, wondering what the fuck the something is that we’re supposed to do. So we revisit the self-help aisle, hoping to find the answer. Rarely, though, do we stop to acknowledge that we probably already have the answer. We almost always know what we need to do. We just don’t do it.
Doing something usually means doing something different. It means stepping outside your comfort zone, venturing into the unknown, and facing some of your fears. And, because this is emotionally daunting, we assume that it must also be complicated. It isn’t complicated. The simplest solution is usually the correct one.
Wondering how you can get a date with that sexy barista? Ask her out. Wish you could get that cute guy to notice you? Walk up and introduce yourself. Sitting in an office is crushing your soul? Quit and find something else to do. Worried your business idea won’t pan out? Try it and see. Desperate to make new friends? Get the fuck out of the house and go talk to people.
As Amelia Earhart once said, “the most effective way to do it is to do it.” So, stop thinking and start doing. You never know; you might just fulfill your overwhelming desire to create miracles.
On a Saturday afternoon, not long after I moved to New Orleans, I watched a small, rectangular package slide through my mail slot and tumble down to the floor. The package was from my mother and contained one pair of multi-colored, cushioned, low-cut, athletic training socks. I wasn’t expecting the package, nor did I need another pair of socks. My mother just thought I would like them, as demonstrated by the accompanying handwritten note that read: I just thought you would like them.
I’d be lying if I said the package didn’t make me chuckle, but I can’t say that it surprised me.
My mother is constantly thinking of my well-being, and if there’s some way that she can make my life just a little bit better. And, even though I now live more than a thousand miles from home, hardly a week goes by where my mother doesn’t call to let me know that she’s at Costco, wondering if I could use a new pair of khakis or some boxer shorts or maybe a few sticks of deodorant. Plus, on her way home, she’ll totally stop at Kohl’s because she got a thing in the mail that says they’re having a really great sale on men’s wrinkle-free dress shirts. After all, it’s no big whoop to ship a few things from Omaha to New Orleans.
Of course, I’m not the only beneficiary of my mother’s big-heartedness.
My mother frequently asks my older sister to leave her front door ajar, so she can drop off some new clothes for the grandkids or some gluten-free brownies or a vat of homemade chicken salad. She leaves coupons in my sister’s mailbox, pitches in during spring cleaning, and gets down on all fours to plant herbs in my sister’s garden. She cuts out articles my sister might like, offers to run my sister’s errands, and gladly agrees to babysit at a moment’s notice. Sometimes, she’ll stop by just because she was in the neighborhood and thought my sister might need help folding laundry.
I know what you might be thinking: that my mother is just being a mother, that any decent mother likes to care for her children, that your mother is just as nice as my mother, and that maybe I should just shut the fuck up about my mother. And that’s fair enough. But, I think it bears mentioning that my mother’s generosity extends far beyond my sister and me.
My mother regularly checks in on her older brother, who lives comfortably in Scottsdale, but sometimes forgets to take his cholesterol medication.
Every week, she visits her mother-in-law in a nearby nursing home – a place that, incidentally, never fails to give me the motherfucking heebie-jeebies.
She reaches out to our cousins and other ancillary relatives just to see how they’re doing, and if there’s anything they need from our side of the tribe.
And, on Mother’s Day, she insists on having everyone for brunch, instead of letting us do something for her.
I know what you might be thinking: that there’s nothing all that special about my mother, that mothers are wired to look after their loved ones, that your mother is just as thoughtful as my mother, and that it’s really not a big fucking deal. And that’s fair enough. But, I think it bears mentioning that my mother’s generosity extends far beyond family.
Take a look at the desk in my mother’s office, and you’ll find a sizable stack of envelopes, sealed, stamped, and ready to be delivered. Each envelope contains a birthday card – or maybe an anniversary card – personalized with a thoughtfully crafted, hand-scribbled message. Its recipient could be anybody: a dear friend, a former colleague, a casual acquaintance, or just someone my mother thinks is “a first-rate jackass.” Yes, even if my mother doesn’t like you, there’s a good chance she’ll send you some love at least once during the year.
Of course, my mother’s generosity extends far beyond friends and acquaintances.
My mother volunteers at a world-renowned cancer center, where she mans the hospitality cart, visiting waiting rooms to see if patients need games, magazines, refreshments, or just someone to keep them company.
She serves on the caring committee at a synagogue, cooking meals and delivering them to those in need.
She’s part of a women’s group that is dedicated to social action.
She sits on the board of a local community center.
She donates to the Anti-Defamation League, and assists them in putting together their annual training event.
She holds seminars for other women whose spouses have died, ensuring that they have the support they need to move forward.
She does all of this, and yet, she really doesn’t do as much as she should. I presume that’s what she’d tell you, anyway. Because, when I asked my mother about her generosity, she began by saying, “I really don’t do as much as I should.”
The fact is, my mother gives away her time and money, but does so judiciously – and genuinely – to the right people, for the right reasons. She doesn’t over-give. She maintains healthy boundaries. She always makes time for herself. And, when she gives, she never expects anything in return.
I guess what I’m trying to say is: my mother is the most generous person I’ve ever met. Maybe she was born with such a spirit. Or, maybe, as she grew older, she learned the importance of giving. Either way, my mother is a true altruist, who strives to make generosity a daily practice. And, I can’t help but wonder if maybe that’s why she’s so goddamn happy all the time.
THE SCIENCE OF GENEROSITY
It’s no secret that generosity has long been acknowledged as a way to increase happiness and improve emotional well-being. Even Gandhi said that “the path to happiness lies in not being a stingy dick.”
Actually, Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
The Tao Te Ching teaches that “the heart that gives, gathers.”
And, Seneca the Younger said, “We should give as we would receive, cheerfully, quickly, and without hesitation; for there is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers.”
Certainly, being generous doesn’t guarantee a rich and problem-free life. But, modern research has proven what some of the world’s greatest thinkers have been telling us for thousands of years: Give away some of your time and money, and you’ll be happier for it.
In a 2016 study, for example, researchers from the University of Zurich in Switzerland gave 50 people around $100 over the course of a few weeks. Half of those people were asked to spend the money on themselves, and the remaining half were asked to spend the money on someone they knew. But, the researchers wanted to see if merely pledging to be generous would make people happier. So before handing out the money, they brought the participants into a lab and asked them to think about who they might spend it on.
Functional MRI scans showed that participants’ brain activity depended on how they pledged to spend the money. Those who agreed to spend it on others showed more interaction between the parts of the brain associated with happiness and altruism. Not to mention that they reported significantly higher levels of happiness after the experiment was over.
Furthermore, pledging to give away a little money yielded the same effects as giving away a lot. “At least in our study, the amount spent did not matter,” shared Philippe Tobler, lead researcher and associate professor of neuroeconomics and social neuroscience. “It is worth keeping in mind that even little things have a beneficial effect – like bringing coffee to one’s office mates in the morning.”
Tobler also confirmed that, according to research, older people who practice generosity tend to have better health. Studies have shown that spending money on others can have the same effect on blood pressure as meditation or exercise. “Moreover, there is a positive association between helping others and life expectancy,” said Tobler. “Perhaps because helping others reduces stress.”
Of course, Tobler isn’t the only one who’s explored the science behind generosity. Just read The Paradox of Generosity, a 2014 book by sociologists Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson. In the book, Smith and Davidson present their findings from the Science of Generosity Initiative at Notre Dame, which was established in 2009 and grew out of Smith’s work on Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money.
Researchers for the initiative surveyed 2,000 people over the course of five years. They tracked the lifestyles and spending habits of 40 families, all from different classes and races across 12 different states. They even accompanied some to the supermarket. It is widely known as one of the most groundbreaking and comprehensive studies ever done on the link between generosity and emotional well-being.
In The Paradox of Generosity, Smith and Davidson share that Americans who describe themselves as “very happy” volunteer an average of nearly six hours per month, while those who describe themselves as “unhappy” volunteer just 0.6 hours. Additionally, Smith and Davidson found significantly lower depression rates among Americans who donate at least 10 percent of their incomes. But, these statistics raise an important question, likely to be asked by those of us who think more cynically: Does being generous really lead to happiness or does already being happy lead to generosity?
“It may be, some skeptics will suspect, that generosity does not itself enhance well-being,” wrote Smith and Davidson.” Rather, they might believe, happier, healthier, and more purposeful people simply tend to behave more generously, because those kinds of people have more energy, vision, and physical capacity to be generous than unhappy, unhealthy, purposeless people…Greater well-being indeed often facilitates generosity. But, at the same time, generosity also enhances well-being. It does so through specific causal mechanisms that we can understand, explain, and test.”
Smith and Davidson also show that one can’t simply go out into the world, do something nice, and expect to be happier upon returning home. Random acts of kindness aren’t enough to achieve a better life. Much like my mother, one must strive to make generosity a regular practice.
“We have to learn just to be generous people,” said Smith, in an interview with The New Republic.
“One-off things just don’t affect us that much, whereas things that we repeat, things that are sustained in our bodily behaviors and in our minds, have tremendous effects on us. The empirical evidence was very clear. Nothing we tested where you just do it one time has an effect. But all the things that you have to sustain over time have that effect.”
A BETTER PLACE
If practicing generosity has such remarkable benefits, why aren’t more people generous? Americans in particular are relatively wealthier than almost everyone else on Earth. And, yet, many admit to going embarrassingly long periods of time without giving a dollar to anything or anyone. Why is this? Smith believes that it boils down to fear.
“Most people could be more generous,” said Smith. “They think they don’t have the money or the time but they could be more generous. I think people are afraid. They don’t realize that it’s good for them, that it could benefit them and not just other people. They’re afraid that it would be a loss. That if they gave money away or devoted their time, they would be losing something…One of the points of publishing [The Paradox of Generosity] is to help people step out of the fear and step into a better place.”
But, how do you step into a better place? Well, as Tobler put it after conducting his research, “You don’t need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier. Just being a little more generous will suffice.”
So, when you’re checking out at Walgreen’s, tap the button to give a dollar to the Red Cross.
Pay for someone’s Frappucino.
Sign up to volunteer at your local food bank.
Buy your stoner friend a bag of weed.
Join a group in your community.
Cook a pork butt for your neighbors.
Strive to make generosity a regular practice.
“Generosity is paradoxical,” wrote Smith and Davidson. “Those who give, receive back in turn. By spending ourselves for others’ well-being, we enhance our own.”
Oh, and the next time you’re in Costco, think about who could use some boxer shorts or maybe a few sticks of deodorant.
I was the biggest fucking downer on the planet. At least, that’s what my friend Kevin told me. Specifically, he said, “Dude, you’re the biggest fucking downer on the planet.”
And Kevin isn’t the only one who expressed this sentiment.
Andrew, my former roommate, told me that I was “a total bummer to be around.” Then, he broke our lease so he could move in with his brother.
Tanya, a woman I dated for several months, suggested that I “should put on some big-boy pants and stop with the goddamn pity-party.” Then, she dumped me for someone who was “refreshingly less miserable.”
Geoffrey, a former boss of mine, told me that I “lack enthusiasm,” and “don’t seem to give a shit about much of anything.” Politely, I explained that “the reason I don’t seemto give a shit is because I don’t.” Then, for some reason, he fired me.
That’s not all, of course.
My friend Lauren described me as “what would happen if Negative Nancy and Pessimistic Patty somehow had a baby.”
My friend John proclaimed that I was “the world’s tallest party pooper.”
My friend Mike insisted that I was a “mental midget.”
And, my friend Nick, who is hardly a beaming ray of sunshine, regularly complained that I was “just like that dreary-ass donkey from Winnie the Pooh.
Hearing these things wasn’t fun, but I can’t fault those who said them. The truth is, they were right. And, they simply didn’t know.
They didn’t know that, almost every morning, I waged a battle inside my own mind. They didn’t know that I struggled just to get out of bed. They didn’t know that I could go days without eating, or speaking, or seeing another human being. They didn’t know that, far too often, I wondered if life was worth living. They didn’t know that I had chronic major depression. And, I was sure that if I told them, they wouldn’t understand.
It’s impossible to explain depression to those who’ve never had it. It’s impossible to describe what it’s like to be in a psychological prison, aching for a way out, if even just for a day. It’s impossible to express how it feels to lose the desire to participate in life. It’s impossible to articulate what it’s like to feel numb inside, to be void of all positivity and joy, to feel utterly hopeless and worthless, to think the universe has conspired against you, to feel vastly alone, even in the presence of others.
It’s impossible to fully convey this kind of darkness to the uninitiated. And, should you try, there’s a good chance you’ll receive classically banal advice, like: cheer up or just think positive or choose happy! Of course, these are merely things that happy people say.
Those who believe that happiness is a choice have never been on the whirling rollercoaster through emotional hell, fueled uncontrollably by a depressive episode. They’ve never been tortured by the insidious monster that feeds mercilessly on the human spirit. They’ve never stood at the bottom of the abyss, gazing upward through a smothering fog, wondering if they’ll ever see beauty again. They’ve never woken up in the morning and wished they hadn’t.
When you’re living with depression, happiness is not something you can flick on, like the dangling light in an old, abandoned saloon. Nor is depression something you can flick off. When you’re living with depression, happiness is not a choice. If it were, millions of suffering people would have chosen it long ago. I certainly would have. Because, when you’re living with depression, you’re not really living at all.
My depression surfaced when I was in college, though I never considered that I might have a lifelong affliction. I thought of it just as a passing phase – a common case of the blues, brought on by my waning days at the University of Wisconsin. After all, the party was ending, and soon I’d be thrust headlong into real world. I’d have to get a job and pay bills and buy a dust ruffle and kitchenware. I’d have to take on all the responsibilities of a fully functioning adult, the mere thought of which left me paralyzed with dread.
After graduating, I moved with some friends to Chicago, still fearful of what was to come. My friends adjusted quickly, finding well-paying roles in finance or real estate or pharmaceutical sales. They bought condos, threw parties, joined gyms, and got girlfriends. They went to networking events and nightclubs and the nicest new restaurants. They all seemed to thrive in post-college life. But, for me, things only got worse.
I spiraled further into depression, gripped and suffocated by panic and angst. I spent much of my time in bed, listening to the ambient sounds of a world passing me by. I yearned to be in a different time or a different space, anywhere but here. I thought this feeling might ebb, but instead it persisted, for days, weeks, and months, until one morning – and for the first time in my life – I woke up wanting to kill myself. And, when you wake up wanting to kill yourself, something is horribly wrong.
Over the next several years, I consistently sought treatment, in almost all its various forms. The results, however, were disappointing at best. I sat on the couches of psychiatrists and counselors, wondering why I was paying them. I took a dozen different antidepressants, and not one provided relief. I tried hypnosis, acupuncture, and light therapy – and, while these things surely work for some people, to me, they all seemed like practical jokes. By the time I turned 30, I began to lose hope. I considered myself a lost cause, predestined to live out my days with irremediable depression.
Then, I decided I’d had enough.
I decided I was going to change.
I decided that, come hell or high water, I was going to figure out how to not be the biggest fucking downer on the planet.
I immersed myself in scientific research, self-help, and philosophy. I made phone calls to teachers and mentors. I went to workshops, retreats, and seminars. I became dedicated to learning how to live with joy. And, after a great deal of experimentation, I came up with a regimen that worked for me – and still works, as long as I stick to it.
I can’t guarantee that it’ll work for you, but I do know that it won’t hurt. And, should you choose to give it a try, you’ll need to do the following:
Someone once said that “the first step toward getting somewhere is to decide that you’re not going to stay where you are.” And, I couldn’t agree more.
This is truly where the work begins.
I began to experience a shift only after I made the decision – no, the unbreakable promise to myself – that I would no longer succumb to the ravages of depression. And, no matter how much you’re suffering, you can make yourself the same promise. Do it today, and expect a better tomorrow.
Stop the search for happiness.
There’s a funny thing with us humans. We spend our lives trying desperately to find happiness, and yet, we don’t even know what it is. We can’t explain, describe, or define it; we just know that we want it, because it’ll make everything peachy. Time and time again, though, studies have shown that our never-ending quest for happiness is quite often the very thing that fucks us up.
Trying to find happiness is a futile effort, likely to exacerbate your depression. Stop the search for happiness, and start taking action steps toward creating the life that you want. When you do, you won’t need to find happiness. Eventually, happiness will find you.
Forgive me for the Stuart Smalley reference, but have you ever thought that maybe you really are good enough and smart enough, and that, doggone it, people like you?
The language that we use with ourselves has great power, and negative self-talk is a hallmark of depression. If you’ve been telling yourself the story that you aren’t good enough, chances are you’ve come to believe it, even though it isn’t true. Thankfully, you can use affirmations to start telling yourself a different story. And, you can start today.
You may think they’re cornier than a stack of shit-pies (I did), but the fact is, affirmations work. And, they’re not to be mistaken with positive thinking. Positive thinking – like the kind described in The Secret – is really just wishful thinking, and can often lead to avoidance. Affirmations, however, are a form of proactive thinking, and can lead to deep, personal transformation.
Kamal Ravikant, the author of Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on it, pulled himself out of the depths of depression by repeating the phrase, I love myself.
Tony Robbins used to say I am fucking unstoppable to himself, over and over, until he believed it, and became who he is today.
One of my mentors suggested that I repeatedly tell myself I’ll handle it, and it’s significantly reduced my anxiety.
Choose an affirmation that makes sense for you, and repeat it to yourself. Whenever you have negative thoughts, catch yourself, and shift those thoughts to your affirmation. As you do this, you’ll begin to form new neural pathways that condition you to think differently. Yes, it ispossible to rewire your brain. All you need to do is change your story.
Change your story, change your life.
One year at sleepaway camp, I took an afternoon walk through the woods, only to discover my bunkmate, Jared, sitting cross-legged under a tree, eyes closed and palms facing the sky. When I asked him what he was doing, he moved not a muscle and whispered, “Shhhh. I’m meditating.” Looking back, I wish I’d had a more open mind, and asked Jared to teach me his ways. Instead, I called him a weirdo, and refused to talk to him for the rest of the summer.
What I used to dismiss as new age nonsense has positively changed my life in more ways than I thought possible. Meditation has been proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve focus and concentration, increase self-awareness, and promote better physical health. And, for me, it’s the only activity that effectively tames my “monkey mind,” or what neuroscientists have recently named the default mode network (DMN).
Your DMN is most active when you aren’t focused on anything in particular, and your mind is wandering from thought to thought. At best, these thoughts can be inspired and entertaining. But, when you’re depressed, these thoughts can be morbid and destructive. Meditation has a quieting effect and significantly decreases activity in the DMN. And, when the mind does start to wander, those who regularly meditate are much better at snapping out of it.
Of all the strategies I use to mitigate my depression, abundance thinking was the most difficult for me to adopt. It’s also been the most beneficial. And it required me to change some of my core beliefs.
For years, I operated from a scarcity mindset, angry that all the world’s goodies seemed to go to everyone else. I wondered why those around me were getting recognized, getting rich, and getting laid, and I wasn’t. Maybe, I thought, there’s just not enough to go around. Of course, this kind of thinking isn’t just debilitating; it’s downright inaccurate.
The world, in fact, is a place of abundance, with limitless opportunities. Remind yourself of this every day. Open yourself up to all that the world has to offer. As Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote in his book, Real Magic, “try to imagine a state of unlimited possibilities as being possible for you.” When you do, you won’t be depressed by what starts to unfold.
Practicing gratitude has long been touted as a remedy for depression. But, sometimes it’s hard to be grateful, especially when you feel like jumping off the nearest overpass. Luckily, you can start by practicing “gratitude lite,” a term coined by Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor at UC Davis and the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude.
In his pioneering experiments, Emmons has found that a remarkably simple gratitude practice can have a profound effect on one’s mental state. And, for what it’s worth, I concur. “At the dispositional level,” explains Emmons, “grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, and optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.”
Before you go to bed at night, think of five things for which you are grateful. Better yet, write them down. These can be common, everyday occurences, like seeing a beautiful sunset or learning something new or hearing your favorite song on the radio. As Dr. Emmons once wrote, “Gratitude is, first and foremost, a way of seeing that alters our gaze.”
Spend time with friends.
When you’re in the throes of depression, the thought of seeing other people can be painfully nauseating. But, isolation fosters depression, and countless studies have shown that social connection improves both psychological well-being and physical health.
Brene Brown may have summed it up best when she said, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”
At least once a week, make a point to spend time with friends. Plan dinner, grab coffee, or meet for happy hour. Get it on your calendar, and take a few extra minutes to appreciate that these people are in your life.
When necessary, say Fuck You.
When I think of the people who have sent me hurtling toward depression, I cringe with shame and indignity. It’s a pathetically long list, filled from top to bottom with the names of liars, cheaters, manipulators and just plain dickheads. But, the old saying is true: People will only treat you one way: the way you allow them. That’s why you must be able to say Fuck You.
Fuck You, by the way, is more than just two little words that help us deal with society’s most trivial nuisances. Fuck You is a mindset. Fuck You is knowing that, until the day you die, you will stand up for your values, make your own needs a priority, and never let anyone treat you badly.
When you’re able to say Fuck You, you’ll maintain strong personal boundaries and rid your life of toxic people. And, subsequently, you’ll be happier. After all, it is our inability or unwillingness to say Fuck You that typically keeps us in bad jobs, bad relationships, and bad situations.
I can’t help but feel a tinge of regret when I think of the years during which I never pursued my passions. Certainly, depression makes it hard to feel passionate about anything. But you can reinvigorate your spirit with a remarkably simple activity.
Think about what you love doing, or what you loved doing when you were a kid. Think about how you might spend your time, if you had the financial abundance to do anything. Think about those you admire, those whose careers you wish you had. Think about what makes the hours fly by like seconds.
Whatever your passions are, pursue them wholeheartedly. As Hunter S. Thompson once said, “Anything that gets your blood racing is probably worth doing.”
If you’re not sure what your passion is, this shouldn’t depress you further. Research shows that simply trying new things can increase dopamine levels in the brain, contributing to sustained levels of contentment. So, get out of the house and try new things. Eventually, you’ll find one that lights you up inside.
Set weekly goals.
Just hearing the word “goals” used to depress me. I couldn’t help but think of corporate plodders, wielding dry-erase pens and scribbling inconsequential to-dos on an office whiteboard. But, the fact is, setting weekly goals has become vital to my well-being. And, it’s done wonders for my depression.
Of course, when you have depression, setting goals is only half the battle. Actually doing what it takes to achieve them can be a laborious, uphill slog. You’ll almost certainly fall victim to procrastination – because, procrastination is one of depression’s hideous relatives. That’s why I suggest the Two-Minute Rule.
Look over your list of goals. If there’s a task you’ve been putting off, try doing just two minutes of it. Write for just two minutes. Paint for just minutes. Clean for just two minutes. If you do it for just two minutes, chances are you’ll end up doing it for much longer.
One of my least favorite places to go is the gym. And, one of my least favorite things to do is, well, go to the gym. Of course, exercise is, by far, the most widely recommended way to stave off depression. I don’t know why, but it took me a while to realize that you don’t need to go to the gym to get exercise.
You can do yoga, play badminton, or jump on a trampoline. You can go swimming or dancing or hiking or biking. You can hula hoop with your kids or practice Kung Fu. You can clean your garage or pull weeds in your garden. Or, you can take a brisk walk around the neighborhood. Just do something physical. And, you only need to do it for 20 minutes.
Stay off social media.
I can’t think of anything worse for a fragile human psyche than social media. It’s no secret that using social media can lead to depression, anxiety, envy, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, and all kinds of other problems. It’s also a colossal waste of time. Imagine what you could accomplish in your own life during the hours you spend scrolling through the highlight reels from the lives of others.
If you think you’ll be missing out on something by staying off social media, I assure you that you won’t be. In fact, you’re already missing out by staying onsocial media. You’re missing out on real life. You’re missing out on genuine, face-to-face interaction. You’re missing out on the beauty that might be unfolding just outside your window.
Stay the fuck off social media. Either that, or limit yourself to 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening. If you must use social media for business purposes or otherwise, consider adjusting your newsfeed. You might be surprised by how much better you feel.
Laugh as much as humanly possible.
Whoever coined the phrase, laughter is the best medicine, was really onto something. Studies show that laughter releases endorphins, activates neurotransmitter serotonin, relieves physical tension and stress, boosts the immune system, and protects the heart. But, depression can make you wonder if you’ll ever experience laughter again. That’s why you need to seek it out.
Instead of watching the morning news, which is nothing if not depressing, I watch the previous night’s episode of The Tonight Show or The Late Show. For every hour that I’m working, I take five minutes to watch reliably funny clips on YouTube. Before I go to bed, I watch ten minutes of stand-up comedy. I read funny books, see funny movies, and spend as much time as I can with ridiculously funny people – including my next-door neighbor, Etta, who happens to be four years old.
Depression is no joke. Make a conscious effort to integrate laughter into your daily routine. You’ll be tickled you did.
Remember three things.
For every ten or so people who have never experienced depression, there’s someone who has. Remember that you’re not alone, even if it feels like you are. Know that there are people to talk to, people who will listen, people who will understand. This should give you at least some measure of comfort.
Life is not a smooth ride. But, it is a wondrous one. If you make the decision – no, the unbreakable promise to yourself – to do this work, and depression creeps in, remember that it’s okay. It’s okay to feel bad. Give yourself a day – or even a few days – to fully experience your emotions. Curl up and cry, sit solemnly in blackness, and scream obscenities into your pillow. Let these feelings move through you.
Then, wake up in the morning, and remember the promise you made.
For nearly three years, I worked part-time as a bartender at one of the most popular restaurants in Omaha. The restaurant is a trendy, two-story sushi and sake bar that sits prominently in the heart of the city’s famed Old Market District, and just a block away from the apartment building I once called home. I worked there not because I needed to, but because I wanted to, as it brought a much-desired shot of excitement to my otherwise humdrum existence.
The truth is: I’d always envied the life of a bartender. And, during my first night on the job, everyone could clearly see why. I was so entranced by the big-breasted blonde who offered to blow me for a martini, that I carelessly ignored the ever-flowing stream of drink tickets I needed to make for the wait staff. After a manager lambasted me for losing focus, it took me the better part of an hour just to catch up.
Within a few weeks, though, I’d sharpened my skills as a mixologist and learned to keep my libido in check. I even gained a loyal customer base, made up mostly of fun-loving lesbians who liked to tell me the latest in puerile penis jokes.
Still, I wasn’t part of the seemingly impenetrable clique that included the servers and other bartenders. They shared an unspoken kinship, one that proves common amongst those that dwell in the service industry. They were quirky and cool, with varied perspectives on responsibility. They had sleeve tattoos and body piercings and impressively active sex lives. I wanted in. But, I spent my days in a cubicle, wearing pleated pants and compiling spreadsheets for old, humorless squares. I sensed that I didn’t quite belong.
Thankfully, I had an idea.
If my coworkers weren’t going to let me into their world, then I could wholeheartedly invite them into mine. So, with fierce determination, I began to transform my sweeping, fifth-floor loft apartment into the greatest after-party space that downtown Omaha would ever see.
I discarded half of my furniture, hung up a dartboard and upgraded my stereo system. I put an antique home bar in the corner of my living room and replaced my kitchen island with a portable, handcrafted Beer Pong table. I filled my gumball machine with candy and condoms, and lined my bookshelf with the finest in adult party games. I reconfigured the lighting, placed a coat tree near the door, and put down a welcome mat that read: I Like it Dirty. I stocked my freezer with ice, my cupboards with cups, and my bathroom with ultra-soft toilet paper. Then, I used my mother’s Costco card to buy as many bottles of booze as I could fit in my car.
When I arrived for my shift on Friday evening, I told every bartender, busboy, chef, server and floor manager that I was having an epic, not-to-be-forgotten, come-one-come-all after-party, starting promptly at 2:15 a.m. I gave customers my phone number and address, insisting that they experience some real-deal, late-night fun. I’d even slipped handwritten invitations under the doors of everyone who lived on my floor, just so they’d know that once the bars closed, apartment 505 would be open for motherfucking business.
After my shift, I quickly fulfilled my closing duties, collected my tips and scurried home, eagerly anticipating a parade of revelers to march through my door. I changed my clothes and cracked open a beer. I dimmed the lights, filled the ice bucket, and set out snacks. I unlocked the door and turned on the music. Then, I sat down on the couch to momentarily bask in the glory of becoming my neighborhood’s new king of after-hours.
Shortly thereafter, I fell soundly asleep with my hand in a bowl of salsa. Not one person came to the party.
There are few things in life as humiliating as throwing a party that nobody attends. But, to let this dampen my spirit would have only exhibited weakness. So, I pretended it never happened, and arrived for work the next night with the same impassioned announcement.
I told everyone that I was having an after-party for the ages, and they’d be foolish to miss it. I told them that there would be laughter and games and food and an abundance of free alcohol. I told them that they had an open invitation, and there was plenty of room for all. But, none of this seemed to resonate. Because, just like the previous night, not one person came.
I persisted for weeks, preparing to host parties that never transpired. I thought about changing my approach, offering an incentive, or just giving up. I wondered if I was destined for a life of solitude, woefully eating Triscuits on the couch until the day I die. Maybe, I simply hadn’t evolved to be a social butterfly.
Then, in the wee small hours of a Saturday in winter, I heard a succession of knocks on my door.
I gleefully swung the door open, only to discover five of my coworkers, desperate to let off some steam after a long, frenzied shift. I welcomed them in, offered them drinks, and insisted they make themselves comfortable. We sat around, smoking weed and swapping stories until sunrise. And, once they were gone, I couldn’t wait for them to come back.
My first few parties were similar – small and intimate, with great conversation. But, gradually, they grew, as more and more people caught on.
By springtime, my apartment became a raucous, unregulated, jam-packed, anything-goes drug den and fuck palace.
There were frat boys and freaks and drifters and drag queens. There were geeks and goths and hipsters and hooligans. There were copulating couples, coke-snorting cooks, and beer-guzzling busboys. The drag queens did X and the drifters dropped acid. My landlord showed up with a bag of kazoos. Suzy the sous chef took off her shirt. Derek the dishwasher puked out the window. And, no matter what, Bobby the bartender pissed in my sink.
Each party was more debaucherous than the last, and I never showed anyone the door. I let everyone run wild, damage my things, and exploit my hospitality. I failed to set rules or exercise authority. And, when the smoke finally cleared, I was the only one left to clear the debris.
I’d wake up in mid-afternoon to find cigarette burns on the couch, salsa stains on the carpet, and cups and cans in every crevasse. I’d pick up the trash and scrub the floors and clean the counters until the place was spick and span. Then, I’d have everyone back so they could party again. And I did this every weekend for more than a year, before closing the door on my parties for good.
THINK OF YOUR LIFE AS A PARTY
The fact that you’re alive isn’t just cause for celebration, it’s a goddamn miracle – so improbable that, if you try to comprehend it, your mind will almost certainly turn to mush.
Dr. Ali Binazir, a wicked smart Harvard grad and the author of The Tao of Dating actually crunched the numbers, demonstrating that the probability of your dad meeting your mom was one in 20,000, the probability of your dad knocking up your mom was one in 2,000, and the probability of the right sperm meeting the right egg was one in 400 quadrillion.
And, that’s just the beginning.
Your grandparents, great grandparents and everyone before them – going back millions of years to the first Homo sapiens – had to meet, fuck, and have children. In the end, explains Binazir, the probability of your being born was one in 10, followed by 2,685,000 zeroes.
I’ll give you a moment to unboggle your brain.
Tragically, so many of us tend to slog through each day, never truly appreciating what it means to be alive. We succumb to our fears, give up on our dreams, and tolerate the intolerable. We get into bad jobs, bad relationships, and bad situations, allowing others to treat us poorly. We do this for years, decades, or a lifetime. Then, of course, we die.
Think of your life as a party, and you’ll never forget that life is meant to be enjoyed, not endured. And, just as crucially, you’ll begin to live under the principle that people will only treat you the way that you let them.
I look back on my after-parties with fondness, knowing they led to lifelong friendships, lasting memories, and the occasional sexual escapade. But, they serve as a glaring reminder – a reminder that the quality of our lives is greatly affected by the quality of the people with whom we surround ourselves. Not to mention our ability to set boundaries and rules.
Think of your life as a party. Every party has rules, if even just a few. No stealing, no yelling, no running, no double-dipping. What are your rules? What kind of behavior do you expect from the people in your life? What are your benchmarks for honesty, kindness, and dependability?
The next time you’re befuddled by a new friend or lover, ask yourself: Is this the kind of person I’d want at my party? If the answer is no, don’t be afraid to show them the door.
Your life is a party, and you choose the guest list.
Who’s on your list? Who are you going to invite to your party?
Are you going to invite liars? Cheaters? Narcissists and psychopaths? People who are abusive?
What about thieves? What about drug addicts?
What about people whose actions don’t match their words?
Are you going to invite people who don’t return calls? Or people who don’t value your time?
What about bigots? Or sexists? Or just plain assholes?
Your life is a party.
Are you going to invite someone who will piss in your sink? If you do, just know that anyone who will piss in your sink is likely to poop on your party.
Some years ago, on a delightful June morning, I sat comfortably in the Omaha airport, waiting to board a plane to New York City. I couldn’t help but admire Mary, who was sprawled out on the floor, thumbing through magazines, as the bright summer sun illuminated the left side of her face. I loved the way she scrunched up her nose when something perturbed her. And the way she compulsively twirled her hair around her index finger. And the way she could drift off into her own little world, even amongst clutter and chaos. She was cute and quirky and weird, with a kind of small-town innocence that I couldn’t resist.
We’d been planning this trip for weeks, enlivened by our recent and seemingly perfect transition from good friends to passionate lovers. I’d booked a hotel room in SoHo, reserved a table at one of the best restaurants in Greenwich Village and bought tickets to see one of our favorite musicians at a small club in Williamsburg. For three days, we could be together, just the two of us, blissfully celebrating our union in the City of Dreams.
We could get lost in Times Square and sip wine in The Bowery. We could soak up the view from the top of The Met. We could have fiery sex in Romanesque places, hearts racing wildly with the thrill of being seen. We could toddle through Central Park and take the train up to Harlem and watch the sun go down on the Hudson. Mary had never been to New York, and I couldn’t wait to show it to her.
For the first time in my life, I’d found someone to love. And, someone who loved me, with all of my flaws and idiosyncrasies. I was her rock, her best friend, and her muse. I was her favorite soul in this vast, beautiful universe. I was her everything. And I knew this because she told me, nearly each day, with fervent and penetrating sincerity.
So, I guess it struck me as odd when, somewhere over Pennsylvania, Mary divulged that she’d been fucking my neighbor – and, as I’d later discover, a startling number of other guys in the Greater Omaha Area.
If nothing else, Mary had impeccable timing. News like this tends to ruin your morning, particularly when you’re on a plane to New York, eagerly anticipating a romantic weekend getaway.
My heart plummeted to the floor; then panic and anger swept in. I vividly pictured Mary, just steps down my corridor, rolling around in the sheets with that spikey-haired little dipshit. I questioned my judgment, wondering if Mary was the person I’d believed her to be. And, suppressing the urge to disrupt the flight, I gazed out the window, knowing that the next three days would make for a spectacular waste of money and a special brand of hell.
Indeed, a vacation can be rather disappointing when the person you’re with makes you sick. I found myself unable to smile or eat or sleep, endlessly wishing I were alone. Occasionally, I’d ask Mary questions, hoping for practical answers. Instead, I’d get typical Mary-like ramblings, filled with cosmological nonsense and existential psychobabble.
Trying to understand Mary was a singularly pointless activity. So, I largely stayed quiet, biding the time until we arrived back in Omaha. And, as soon as we did, my heart dropped again, as I calmly told Mary that I needed to think about things.
Of course, a wiser, more self-assured man would’ve had nothing to think about. He’d have simply walked away, recognizing his worth as he searched for something better.
But not me.
I had dozens of long-winded conversations, exchanged hundreds of texts and took two more trips with Mary, trying to win her undying affection. But, all of my efforts proved futile, leaving me hopelessly drained and dejected. When we finally parted ways, I spiraled further into despair, paralyzed by the thought of a permanently lost love.
The truth is, nobody showed me the blueprint for a fulfilling relationship. I never learned to stand up for my values, make my own needs a priority and walk away from bad situations. I never learned what it means to have a healthy, supportive partner. I never learned that love isn’t something you win.
My relationship with Mary was only the first in a series of turbulent, short-lived and heartbreaking affairs. But, that’s okay. Because, if you’re going to learn, sometimes it’s best to do so the hard way.
Still, I wish someone had told me that, if you’re on a quest for love, it’s essential to not just walk away, but run like hell from these kinds of people:
If the television show House taught us anything, it’s that everybody lies. In nearly every episode, Dr. House operated under this guiding principle, probing his patients for secrets so he could accurately diagnose them. A fictional character, yes. But, Dr. House was right. Everybody does lie. And, in the case of the show, lying frequently meant the difference between life and death.
In the real world, though, most of the lies that we tell are harmless. Like telling your grandma she makes the best mashed potatoes when they actually taste like wallpaper glue. Or pretending to admire your neighbor’s newborn, even though it’s the ugliest goddamn baby you’ve ever seen. These are little white lies, and they’re a natural part of the human instinct. As Pamela Meyer, the author of Liespotting, points out, “White lies keep social dignity intact and are far more prevalent than most people realize.”
Unfortunately, the dating pool is littered with people who lie in far more destructive ways, often to manipulate, deceive or hide information.
Does something seem off about the person you’re with? Do they tell you stories that don’t add up? Do they leave out details and talk in circles? More importantly, do their actions fail to match their words? If so, congratulations. You found a big, fat, fucking liar. Do yourself a favor and run like hell. You deserve someone who is honest.
Incidentally, if someone tells you they’re honest, don’t believe them. An honest person doesn’t need to tell you they’re honest. They will simply speak the truth, and act in congruence with what they’ve said.
In a marriage, cheating is the ultimate transgression. Yet, research shows that physical or emotional infidelity occurs in over 40% of marriages. Not to mention that 74% of men and 68% of women admit that they would cheat on their spouse if they knew they would never get caught.
Spouses cheat for a variety of reasons, including lack of sexual satisfaction, anger, the need for emotional validation and just plain boredom. One could also argue that, from an evolutionary standpoint, human beings simply aren’t wired to be monogamous. Nevertheless, many of us are searching for a loving, devoted partner with whom we can spend a lifetime. And, upon finding such a partner, it stands to reason that we’d prefer not to be cheated on.
Long married couples can – and occasionally do – overcome infidelity, usually with a shitload of counseling and hard work. The purpose of dating, however, is to discover another person’s nature. If somebody cheats on you in the early part of a relationship, don’t assume it’s an isolated fuck-up and stick around. More than likely, they’ll do it again.
As Ayn Rand said, “you can ignore reality, but you cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.”
Once a cheater, always a cheater. You deserve better. Run like hell, and find someone who values loyalty.
Hear the word addict, and it’s hard not to think of drugs or alcohol. But, people can be addicted to all sorts of things, from lesbian porn to Pokemon Go. Are addicts bad people? Of course not. But, this isn’t about them. This is about you. And if you’re looking for a satisfying relationship, you’re not going to find one with an addict.
Addiction is a disease, and addicts do not make healthy partners. An addict will always place more importance on their drug than on your relationship. And if you try to control their addiction, they’ll resent you (or worse), regardless of your intentions.
Certainly, if someone close to you is an addict, you can lovingly confront them. But, if you’ve just started dating an addict, you’d be wise to run like hell. It’s not your job to fix or save or take care of someone with an active addiction. Perhaps they’ll get help and reappear in your life. But, until that day comes, your only job is to take care of yourself.
Let someone take you through their relationship history, and there’s a good chance they’ll describe at least one of their exes as a narcissist. This is a term that we tend to hurl around, especially in the throes of heartbreak. Even a detailed psychological workup can’t prove that someone is truly a narcissist. Theoretically, they could have histrionic or borderline personality disorder. Or they could be a sociopath. But, the fact remains: these people exist in droves. And, in the end, they will cause you nothing but excruciating pain.
Narcissists will chew up your lunch and spit it right in your face, without a hint of remorse. First, they’ll idealize you, setting the stage for the passion to come. They’ll love-bomb you with flattery, praise, and promises of a future together. They’ll tell you that you’re the most amazing person they’ve ever met. You’ll think you’ve hit the relationship jackpot, wondering how in the hell you got so lucky. That is, until they begin to devalue you.
Yes, just when you think your relationship is progressing, narcissists will turn on you in strange and twisted ways.
The very traits that they said they loved about you will become your biggest flaws. They’ll be distant and cold and inattentive. They’ll gaslight you with lies and insults. They’ll trivialize your feelings, vehemently denying their own behavior. They’ll tell you that you’re crazy or that you have it all wrong or that you’re too sensitive. They’ll make you second-guess yourself, as you scramble to get back to the way things were.
You may have moments of clarity, but the fact is: you’re hooked, just as the narcissist wanted.
Then, without a moment’s hesitation, they’ll discard you, like yesterday’s trash, leaving you with a spinning head and a shattered heart. And, while you’re trying to figure out what the fuck just happened, they’ve already moved on to their next source of supply.
It’s happened to me and it can happen to you. Educate yourself on the stages of narcissistic abuse. Look out for yellow and red flags, and be mindful at all times. If you think you’re involved with a narcissist, don’t waste another day. Immediately cease contact, run like hell, and then run like hell some more. You’ll be grateful you did.
THE EMOTIONALLY UNAVAILABLE
If you were to make a list – and you should – of the traits you want in a partner, you might not think to put AVAILABLE on the list. Why would you? It’s a fucking no-brainer. Except that it’s not. And, I’m willing to bet that, at some point in your life, you’ve pursued a relationship with an unavailable person. I know I have.
Maybe you met someone whose job takes full precedence in their life. Maybe you met someone who is fused with their kids, their friends or their extended family. Or, maybe you met someone who isn’t quite over an ex. People can be unavailable for many reasons, even if they’re dating. You may think you can win them over, but you can’t. And, the harder you try, the more they’ll use their defense mechanisms to push you aside – often in shockingly unkind ways.
You have no control over someone’s emotional availability. If you don’t seem like a priority or your relationship never seems to move forward, it’s in your best interest to run like hell. If you don’t, you’re venturing down a slippery slope towards heartbreak.
THE BIG QUESTION
It’s hard to imagine why those of us looking for a fulfilling relationship would get involved with a liar, a cheater, an addict, a narcissist or someone who is simply unavailable. Yet, we do. And, in many cases, we do it over and over again.
The big question, of course, is: Why? Why do we consistently fall for the wrong people? Why do we love those who don’t love us back? And, why is it so goddamn hard to remove ourselves from these situations?
Well, it’s complicated.
It’s complicated because we’re all a bit different. Some of us recreate our earliest relationship experiences, and it feels normal to us in adulthood. Some of us are caretakers or codependents, and feel responsible for the needs of others. Some of us operate from a scarcity mindset, fearing we may not meet anyone else. And, some of us simply have low self-esteem.
At the end of the day, however, we all share one common thread: somewhere along the line, we internalized the belief that we need to put up with shit to be loved. And, in case you didn’t know, this is not how love works.
So, the other big question is: What can we do about it?
This, too, can be complicated. To truly make a change, you may need to dig deep in your past. You may need to educate yourself on toxic shame, relationship patterns, or attachment theory. You may need to work with a therapist to overcome any childhood trauma. And, you may need to reshape your beliefs.
But, you can get a massive head start by making a very simple promise to yourself. You can promise yourself that, on your quest for love, you will never let anyone treat you badly. And, if someone does, you will run like motherfucking hell and never look back.
My friend Jerry owns an historic bar in the Uptown section of New Orleans, and occasionally, I’ll stop by during off hours to see him. Jerry is around 60 years old, with a pudgy build, a kind face, and a long, silvery ponytail. More often than not, I’ll find Jerry in his office, accessible only by a rickety, wooden staircase that could very well collapse at any moment. The office is small, and usually a mess, with invoices, books and bar paraphernalia strewn about chaotically. Jerry sits behind a makeshift desk, adorned with a nameplate that reads: Mr. Head Honcho. He shares the office with his dog, Biscuit, an excitable Boston Terrier who spends most of the time on a pee pad, furiously licking his own balls.
Whenever I visit Jerry, I like to prepare an exit strategy, knowing I could be there for hours, while he fills my head with stories that can range from wildly amusing to maddeningly stupid. But, every once in a while, he’ll offer a nugget of wisdom – so wise, in fact, that it could only come from an aging man who has been through radically challenging times. I was hoping for one such nugget when, during a particular exchange, I decided to tell Jerry about my broken heart in spectacularly honest fashion.
I told Jerry that I was dating a woman for the better part of a year, and that I cared for her deeply. I told him that she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen – that she has caramel-colored skin, a flawless figure and a devastating smile. I told him that she is smart and funny and successful, and that, when I met her, I couldn’t believe my luck.
I told him about her words – that she said I held a special place in her heart, that she wanted me in her life, that she wanted to make more time for us and that she never wanted to lose me. I told him that her actions never seemed to match those words.
I told Jerry that she withheld sex, that she refused to integrate me into her life, that she could be needlessly scornful and cold. I told him that she would pull me in and then push me away and then pull me in again, causing me a tremendous amount of anxiety and confusion. I told him that I constantly found myself apologizing, though I was never completely sure why.
I told him that she had permeated every part of my psyche – that she was all I could think about, from morning until night. I told him that when I finally expressed my discontent, she threw me away like garbage, without remorse and by way of a text message. I told him about the text message – how it was so brutally unkind that it rattled me to my core. I told him that I’ve never been treated this poorly by another human being.
I told Jerry that the whole thing was sad and embarrassing, and sent me down a path of self-exploration. I told him that I repeatedly fall for the wrong women, try desperately to make it work and then end up with a shattered heart. I told him that I started doing research and consulting a new therapist to figure out what the hell might be wrong with me.
I told Jerry everything.
To which he responded: “Well…sometimes you just need to say fuck you.”
“That’s all you’ve got?” I asked, with great disappointment. “For a guy who never shuts the fuck up, you sure don’t have a lot to say on this matter.”
“That’s all I’ve got,” he confirmed. “And, fuck you if you don’t like it. Maybe you should go home and think about it.”
So that’s what I did.
I went home and thought about it, suppressing the urge to call Jerry so I could tell him to go fuck himself. And Biscuit. But, knowing Jerry, there had to be a deeper meaning behind his vexingly terse response.
I contemplated it further, framing it in a way that made sense to me. I turned it into an affirmation, letting it penetrate my subconscious. I put it into practice, in the areas where I needed to most. Then, I applied it to every aspect of my life. Then, I embodied it. And, while I may never fully master it, I’ll be damned if it didn’t turn out to be the most brilliant piece of advice I’ve ever received.
THE FUCK YOU WAY
Let it be known that I have studied the tenets of Stoicism, set forth by Zeno of Citium, Seneca and Epictetus. I have immersed myself in the teachings of Buddha: the noble truths, the eightfold path and the five precepts. I’ve explored Confucianism, Taoism and the universal flow of Chi. But, nothing has awakened my spirit more than the wonderfully simple, life-changing philosophy of Fuck You.
I know what you might be thinking: that you’re already one step ahead of me, that you already say the words “fuck you,” and that you’ve been saying them every day since you were in the seventh grade. You scream these words in your car, cursing the careless jackass who cut you off on the freeway. You mutter them in the supermarket, as the woman in front of you fumbles around in her change purse. You shout them at your television when your beloved sports team fucks itself out of a win. Thank god for “fuck you.” How else are you supposed to blow off steam?
Just for a moment, though, consider Fuck You in a wholly different light, and not as the two little words that help you deal with society’s most trivial nuisances.
More specifically, consider this:
Fuck You is a mindset. It knows no gender, no race, no class, no creed.
Fuck You is knowing that the world is a place of abundance.
Fuck You is the belief that you can create the life you deserve.
Fuck You is the unbreakable promise to yourself that, until the day you die, you will stand up for your values, make your own needs a priority and never let anyone treat you like you are beneath them.
Embrace the Fuck You way, and magical things will happen.
YOU’LL DEVELOP STRONG PERSONAL BOUNDARIES
The world can be a cruel and unpredictable place, mostly because it’s filled with other people. This is an unfortunate truth that we all must acknowledge. Because, while people are generally good, there will always be those who try to use or abuse you, with complete disregard for the sanctity of your well-being. This is why you need strong personal boundaries. And, when you abide by the guiding principles of Fuck You, you’ll develop your boundaries naturally, becoming an even better, more resilient and more confident version of you.
Boundaries are vital to ensuring that all of your relationships are mutually respectful. They set limits for the behavior of those around you. And, they’re a defining hallmark of high self-esteem.
The old saying is true: People will only treat you one way: the way you allow them. Embrace the Fuck You way, and your boundaries will never be compromised.
YOU’LL RID YOUR LIFE OF TOXIC PEOPLE
When I think of the people who have made my life hell, I cringe with shame and indignity. It’s a pathetically long list, filled from top to bottom with the names of liars, cheaters, manipulators and just plain dickheads. A particular woman comes to mind. So does an old college roommate. As does a former boss – a racist, sexist, belligerent imbecile who stole money from clients and bugged the entire building so he could watch and listen to us at all times.
Each day for nearly a year, I walked into that office with a pit in my stomach and a breach in my soul. I’d yearn for a job offer to fall from the sky, for a winning lotto ticket, or for my boss to get hit by a speeding city bus. And, when the clock struck five, I’d walk out with dread, knowing I’d have to come back tomorrow. It’s a year of my life that I wish I had back, all because I couldn’t muster the nerve to say Fuck You and take matters into my own hands.
If you have a boss like I had, now is the time to say Fuck You, vacate the premises and never look back. Believe in yourself. There’s a better opportunity just around the corner.
If one of your friends is the turd in your punch bowl, constantly mocking your dreams and desires; it’s time to say Fuck You, and continue wholeheartedly down your chosen path. When you do, you’ll find mentors and new friends at every turn.
If the person you’re dating brings you more pain than joy, for the love of god, just say Fuck You before things get worse. Protect your heart, and find someone who truly appreciates you. There are millions of sexy motherfuckers just waiting for you to say hi.
Toxic assholes should have no place in your life. Over time, they will steal your energy, dampen your spirit and drag you down into the deep, dark, shit-laden holes that they live in. Don’t let this happen. And, don’t wait for them to change. Embrace the Fuck You way, and you’ll effortlessly attract only positive, supportive and like-minded people.
YOU’LL BE HAPPIER
Saying Fuck You is not always easy, especially if it leads to the unknown. You may have to overcome obstacles, take a few chances and reshape your identity. But, this is where you’ll find beauty. So, give a hearty Fuck You to your fears and excuses, and propel yourself forward, knowing that you – and you alone – are in charge of your life.
After all, it is our inability or unwillingness to say Fuck You that typically keeps us in bad jobs, bad relationships and bad situations.
There’s a funny thing with us humans. We spend our lives trying desperately to find happiness, and yet, we don’t even know what it is. We can’t explain, describe or define it; we just know that we want it, because it’ll make everything peachy. Time and time again, though, studies have shown that our never-ending quest for happiness is quite often the very thing that tends to fuck us up. So, instead of trying to find happiness, maybe – just maybe – you could take a look around, and say Fuck You to the people, places and things that are making you miserable. Trying to find happiness is a futile effort. Embrace the Fuck You way, and happiness may very well find you.
NOW, GO FORTH, BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE
Many of our greatest leaders have spoken profoundly on the subjects of happiness, dignity and self-respect.
Tony Robbins said that “you get what you tolerate.”
Eleanor Roosevelt said that “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Malala said that “there’s a moment when you have to choose to be silent or to stand up.”
And, Ghandi said that “they cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them.”
Remember these things as you go forth in love and in life. But, also remember what Jerry the bar owner said: that sometimes you just need to say Fuck You.
When the most beautiful woman I’ve ever dated abruptly – and unapologetically – discarded me from her life like a baggie full of dog turds, I was crippled by unremitting heartache and dizzying confusion. Desperate for answers, I called my friend Ann, who happens to be a relationship coach, and asked her to help me make sense of it all.
“How could someone do this to another human being?” I asked Ann, after recounting the details of the relationship. “She told me how much she cared about me, that she wanted me in her life, that she didn’t want to lose me. Then, she threw me away like it was nothing. Like I’m fucking garbage. And she did it in a text message. Who does that? She’s 40 years old for fuck sake. And a psychologist! And honestly, Ann…she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever dated.”
“Is she really the most beautiful woman you’ve ever dated?” asked Ann. “Because, she seems ugly. We’ve gone over this before. She is not a kind and compassionate human being, and she jerked you around repeatedly. Don’t forget, I told you to get out of it months ago when we talked about all the red flags. You should be glad she ended it. She did you a motherfucking favor.”
I thanked Ann for her insight and hung up the phone, relieved that I had someone like her in my corner. Maybe Ann was right. After all, she’s helped dozens of individuals and couples work out their relationship problems. And, she certainly made some good points.
But, that didn’t stop me from calling my friend Leah to get her take on the situation.
“How could someone do this to another human being?” I asked Leah, after recounting the details of the relationship. “She told me how much she cared about me, that she wanted me in her life, that she didn’t want to lose me. Then, she threw me away like it was nothing. Like I’m fucking garbage. And she did it in a text message. Who does that? She’s 40 years old for fuck sake. And a psychologist! And honestly, Leah…she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever dated.”
“Um, she sounds like a fucking butthole,” Leah said, which reminded me why I love Leah so much in the first place. “And, yeah, maybe you acted a little needy or something. But, so what? If she was a halfway decent person, she would’ve called you or met you for coffee and told you that it wasn’t really working for her. That’s the mature thing to do. Instead, all she did was fuck with your head and treat you like a second-class citizen. Then, she freaked out when you said you were hurt. She might be a little cuckoo, man. Plus, she has kids. No thank you. Fuck that shit. You’re an amazing person and you deserve better.”
I thanked Leah for sharing her perspective and hung up the phone, relieved that I had someone like her in my corner. Maybe Leah was right. After all, she knows a thing or two about heartbreak, considering that her long-time, live-in boyfriend dumped her shamelessly, and then stole her dog to boot. Leah’s an incredibly grounded woman; it’s no wonder she made some excellent points.
But, that didn’t stop me from calling my friend Kevin to get his take on the situation.
“How could someone do this to another human being?” I asked Kevin, after recounting the details of the relationship. “She told me how much she cared about me, that she wanted me in her life, that she didn’t want to lose me. Then, she threw me away like it was nothing. Like I’m fucking garbage. And she did it in a text message. Who does that? She’s 40 years old for fuck sake. And a psychologist! And honestly, Kevin…she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever dated.”
“Dude, you’re a classic codependent,” said Kevin, in a very matter-of-fact, Kevin-like way. “And you fell for a classic narcissist, like I bet you always do. She fucked with you, and you let her. And, anyway, have you ever thought about the fact that like attracts like? Your life isn’t so great right now, you’re not happy at all and you’re just going to attract people who aren’t happy either. You need to focus on yourself, dude. This woman sucks, and this is the best thing that ever happened to you. Man up, and get the fuck back on track. I mean, look around. You live in party town U.S.A. Go stick your penis in someone.”
I thanked Kevin for his honesty and hung up the phone, relieved that I had someone like him in my corner. Maybe Kevin was right. After all, he’s been around the block, having lived the quintessential Rock and Roll lifestyle before getting sober, starting his own business and finding a great relationship. Given Kevin’s experience, I wasn’t surprised that he made some truly great points.
But, that didn’t stop me from calling my friend Jason to get his take on the situation.
Nor did it stop me from calling my friend Lindsay. Or, my friend Laura. Or Brian. Or Sean. Or Ashley.
And, it definitely didn’t stop me from calling Ann and Leah again.
Admittedly, I did this every day for weeks: calling anyone who might listen – who might have advice – because I wanted to feel better. But, there was a problem. After dozens of conversations with some of my closest, wisest and most obliging friends, I didn’t feel any better. Not in the slightest. In fact, I felt worse, pining even more for the woman who treated me so poorly.
Then, I came to an important realization: maybe you shouldn’t talk to your friends about your broken heart. Maybe, despite what common wisdom suggests, it’s actually kind of a dumb idea.
And, here’s why:
YOUR FRIENDS CAN ONLY TAKE SO MUCH
Your friends are the best, aren’t they? They lift you up when you’re down on the ground. They make you laugh when you need to the most. They meet you for happy hour and play all your favorite shit on the jukebox. They might even pick you up at the airport. Collectively, they’re the Vince Vaughn to your Jon Favreau.
But, your friends can only take so much. And, if you do what I did, you’re almost certainly going to annoy the fuck out of them.
Trust me on this one. I lost a potential client, embarrassed my neighbors at a party and ruined a perfectly good road trip to Austin, all because I couldn’t stop talking about my broken heart. Even my mom told me to “shut the fuck up about it already.”
Your friends are there for you, and the best ones always will be. But, they aren’t your caretakers. Don’t make them clean up your emotional vomit. It’s not their job and, eventually, they’re going to let you know it.
YOUR FRIENDS DON’T HAVE THE ANSWERS
I know what you’re going through. You devoted your time to someone who didn’t reciprocate. You loved someone who decided you weren’t worth loving back. You gave someone your heart and they tossed it right in the dumpster, without remorse. Words can’t possibly describe this kind of pain.
And, you’re a rational person. You believe you deserve closure and resolution and some kind of logical explanation for why this happened. You would do anything to solve this twisted, infuriating mindfuck of a mystery. You just want answers. But, your friends don’t have the answers. And not because they’re misguided or misinformed. Your friends don’t have the answers because there simply are no answers.
You can never know for sure what’s swirling around in somebody else’s head. You can never know for sure why somebody said what they said or did what they did or behaved so despicably cruel. And, the more you look to your friends for answers, the more confused you’re going to be.
As Buddha may or may not have once said, “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”
YOU’RE PREVENTING YOURSELF FROM HEALING
For who knows how long, we’ve been advised that talking about our heartbreak will help us heal, and that revisiting our relationships will allow us to place them firmly in the past so we can move on. But, this may not be the case. And, don’t just take it from me. Take it from Walter Mischel, one of the most widely cited psychologists of the 20th century.
Mischel, incidentally, first rose to prominence in the 1960s for The Marshmallow Test, a series of landmark studies on delayed gratification at Stanford University. Mischel’s team gave preschoolers the choice of having one marshmallow immediately, or two if they waited for 15 minutes. Mischel observed that the children who waited would develop coping strategies, like covering their eyes with their hands or stroking the marshmallow “as if it were a tiny stuffed animal.”
More recently, though, Mischel has been studying trauma, finding that “ruminating on bad experiences could send people into a downwards spiral.”
“Each time they recount the experience to themselves, their friends or their therapist,” says Mischel, “they only become more depressed.”
So, maybe – just maybe – you shouldn’t talk to your friends about your broken heart. Because, as British author and therapist, Phillippa Perry wrote: “This is the psychological equivalent of scratching a mosquito bite. If you don’t stop scratching it, it is going to continue to itch and may become infected.”
BUT, I STILL HAVE A BROKEN HEART. SO, WHAT CAN I DO?
When you got a headache, A headache powder soothe the pain When you try to rest Lord, you feel alright again
When you got a backache A little rubbin’ will see you through But when you got a heartache There ain’t nothin’ you can do
Unfortunately, for us humans, ol’ Bobby had it right. When you got a heartache, there ain’t nothin’ you can do. Only the passage of time can fully heal a broken heart. But, if you wish to heal faster, there are some things you can do.
You can cease all contact with the person who mistreated you. No phone calls, no text messages, no emails, no Facebook. No excuses.
Then, you can give yourself one week – and one week only – to truly feel your emotions. You can let them engulf you like an old, heavy blanket. You can lock yourself in your bedroom and cry in the fetal position and punch your Tempur-pedic pillow and scream obscenities at your cat. You can do this because you need to. Because you have every right to. Because somebody robbed you of your spirit, and you’re merely doing what’s necessary to take it back.
Then, you can thoughtfully reflect on your relationship, reminding yourself that you can’t control the actions of another. You can examine your own behavior, and embrace this as an opportunity to grow. If you think you need to, you can work with a therapist – a good therapist – to overcome any childhood traumas that may be causing you to consistently fall for the wrong people. You can educate yourself on toxic shame and attachment theory and love addiction and relationship patterns. You can take everything you’ve learned, and use it to become an even better, more attractive and more confident version of you.
Then, you can rise up, knowing that you’re a remarkable catch, and the person who cast you aside is an incurable idiot. You can write this person a letter – a letter that you will not send, but you will burn to ashes. You can get back to work, pursuing your mission and creating the life you deserve. You can replenish your soul by immersing yourself in the things that bring you joy and excitement. And, while you’re at it, you can define your boundaries, vowing to never let anyone mistreat you, ever again, for the rest of your life.
Then, you can call your friends. You can call all of them. You can call them and tell them that it’s happy hour, you’ve got money for the jukebox and you’re ready to fucking party.
When I decided to move from my hometown of Omaha to New Orleans, I wish I could say that it was one of those gloriously spontaneous movie moments, where I threw some tee shirts, my guitars and a typewriter in the back of a convertible and drove off into the sunset, guiding the steering wheel with one hand and fist-pumping the sky with the other.
In reality, I wasted far too much time making excuses.
I’d been living in the same apartment in downtown Omaha for nearly a decade, the last few years of which were particularly depressing. In addition to suddenly losing my father, I detested my low-paying 9 to 5 job, published a book that didn’t sell, started a company that failed, ruined a number of friendships and had far less sex than I’d like to admit. If someone had come by to check on me, there’s a good chance they’d have found me sprawled out in the bathtub, man-crying and smoking cigarettes.
I just didn’t get it. I’d watch others form relationships, blossom in their careers, achieve their goals and find happiness, while the Universe seemed to get a kick out of repeatedly leaving me with my dick in the dirt. Of course, when I’d explain this to a trusting friend or therapist, they’d merely point out my accomplishments, remind me of my talents and say “be grateful for what you do have.” Indeed, practicing gratitude can have enormous benefits. And, yes, there are starving children in Africa. But, sometimes, it’s hard to be grateful – especially when you’re trying to decide if you should stick your head in the microwave or jump in front of an oncoming dump truck.
The fact is, love and riches and happiness were not going to appear from the ether. And, I doubted I’d have some inexplicable Eckhart Tolle-like transformation, where I’d wake up in a state of bliss and then spend two years on a park bench, fiddling mindlessly with my lip. After all that time I spent wishing and hoping and man-crying in the bathtub, I became absolutely certain of one thing: it was all up to me. Change wasn’t just going to happen. I needed to sack up, get moving and make it happen.
According to Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), real change begins at the easiest and outermost level: your environment. Of course, when it comes to making this change, conventional wisdom often points to a familiar old chestnut: wherever you go, there you are. Cheesy as it may be, it’s an adage that has merit. If you’re not at peace with yourself, you’ll be unhappy no matter your physical location. But, if you’re committed to deep, personal transformation, changing your environment is a pretty decent start.
I’d become stagnant and bored and reclusive, and I wanted to move to New Orleans. I’d fallen madly in love with the city – as many do – and pictured having a life there, in great, hedonistic detail. There was just something about it – or perhaps many things – pulling me in with irresistible force. The colorful, shotgun-style houses, the rolling streetcars, the decorated oak trees, the fresh-off-the-boat seafood, the second line parades and 24-hour-a-day parties – New Orleans is a powerful hypnotic that can leave you joyfully stupefied well after you’re gone. And, yet, I conjured up every dumbass reason not to make the move.
For one thing, it seemed like a hell of a lot of work. I’d have to find an apartment and get a new job and pack up my belongings and rent a U-Haul and change my address and cancel my DIRECTV. God knows what a pain in the ass those things can be, especially that last one.
It’s not even worth it, I thought.
Should I really uproot my life? I’ll have to get rid of my couch, and I love my couch. Is New Orleans even the right place for me? It’s too far from home. What if my mom needs me? I won’t know anyone. The homicide rate is too high. It’s too fucking humid. I’ll have to start wearing pastel-colored shorts. Climate change is real, and there’s going to be another hurricane. My car can’t handle the potholes. I might drink too much. There are too many bugs. I don’t like bugs. There are cockroaches. There are little lizards everywhere. I don’t like lizards. Everyone has an accent. And believes in voodoo. Now that I think of it, New Orleans is fucking weird.
I spent months trying to talk myself out of action, stuck in a whirling spiral of stupidity and self-doubt. Each one of my excuses was more ridiculous than the last – it was kind of impressive, actually. And, the longer I made excuses, the more disgruntled I became. Until, finally, I was out. I had scraped every crack and corner and crevasse of my brain, and there were no more excuses to make. It was time to decide: take the first step towards change or sit in my apartment and rot.
Brian Tracy, once wrote, “You can make excuses or you can make progress. You choose.” And, so I did. I chose progress. I chose to stop making excuses. Because, excuses prolong inertia. And, inertia is death.
WE ALL MAKE EXCUSES. BUT, WHY?
If dreadfully lame excuses are what stand in the way of our progress, why do we make them? Why do we consistently talk ourselves out of changing our lives for the better? Why do we figure out what we need to do, and then…you know…never actually do it?
Well, the short answer is fear. The same kind of fear I experienced when contemplating a cross-country move. Or, the same kind of fear you felt last week at the supermarket, when you saw that devastatingly gorgeous guy or girl and all you wanted to do was say something but you couldn’t think of what to say and you didn’t want them to think you were a weirdo and the thought of humiliating yourself made you throw up a little and they were probably spoken for anyway so you just stood there and stared for a minute and then grabbed some frozen burritos and got the fuck out of there. Yeah, that kind of fear.
“We create excuses or justifications to either procrastinate or utterly avoid the discomfort of new thinking and new behavior. So, thought mightily protects its sovereignty by proclaiming the danger of new thinking and new terrain. We become very adroit at justifying why we ought not venture into this new territory, ranging from a simple “it’s too scary” or “it makes me uncomfortable” all intended to defend against the new movement.“ – Mel Schwartz
Fear is what traps you inside your comfort zone, and whenever you do something outside your comfort zone – whether it’s moving to a new city or approaching a sexpot in the supermarket – you’re hurling yourself into the unknown. And, once you’re there, you might come face to face with failure and rejection and distress and embarrassment. You might have to take on new challenges and new responsibilities. You might slip and fall and break something of value and look like a total putz. Or, you might do something remarkable. There’s really no way of knowing. That’s why it’s called the unknown. And, yes, the unknown can be a pretty scary place, in that oh fuck-what was I thinking-shit your pants kind of way.
But, why are we so scared of the unknown? If we are to believe all of those horribly platitudinous quotes about comfort zones, shouldn’t we be more inclined to explore new ground? For most of us, the answer is one big, pathetic NO.
Fear of the unknown is an unavoidable part of the human condition. As human beings, we have an inherent, psychological need for certainty – for comfort – because it makes us feel like we’re in control. And, funny enough, we also have the need for uncertainty – for variety – because it reminds us that we’re alive. But, as Tony Robbins often points out, “most people value certainty a lot more, and that’s why their lives are so boring.”
THE HARMFUL EFFECT OF EXCUSES
Maybe you think your excuses aren’t excuses, but totally rational explanations for the choices you’re making. Maybe you think you need to stay in your unhealthy relationship because you may not find love again. Maybe you think you need to stay at your soul-crushing 9 to 5 job because it pays the rent. Maybe you think you don’t need to change anything because life is just fine and you piss excellence and you’re totally happy. Maybe you’re right. But, maybe – just maybe – you should ask yourself an important question: are you really happy, or just comfortable?
There is, in fact, a stark difference between being happy and being comfortable – and, if you’re merely comfortable, it means you’ve settled. It means you’ve settled into life like it’s a weathered, old bean bag chair and you refuse to chuck it in the dumpster even though it’s ugly and exacerbates your lower back pain and makes your balls itch. It means you’ve opted for what clinical psychologists often refer to as “comfortable misery.” It means, as Dr. Daniel Johnston wrote in his book Lessons for Living, that “you’re miserable but you are used to it.”
If being comfortably miserable doesn’t strike you as all that horrifying, then consider the host of other damaging consequences that can come from repeatedly making excuses. Not only will you fail to achieve your goals, there’s a good chance you’ll develop limiting beliefs, stifle your creativity, experience massive regret, even suffer from paranoia.
Let’s face it: you only get one life. You can create a life you deserve, or you can settle for a life of excuses.
SO, WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO ABOUT IT?
To stop making excuses, you’ll need to admit that you’re making them in the first place. Seriously, just admit it. Acknowledge that you’re a walking, talking, capable human being with 100 billion neurons in your brain and potential oozing out of every hole. Then, say this out loud: I’m making excuses and I’m being an idiot.
Not sure if you’re making excuses? They aren’t hard to recognize. Most of yours probably start with the words “I don’t.” I don’t have the time. I don’t have the money. I don’t know how. I don’t think it’ll work. I don’t think I’m ready. These are excuses. All of them.
Once you’ve acknowledged that you’re being a fucking idiot, you’ll feel a lot better. But, there’s still a hurdle to overcome. You still have to do something. You still have to take action. And, taking action, as we know, can be scary. So, we spend our time in fear, vomiting out excuses and spinning our wheels and obsessing over the consequences of taking action.
Instead, think about the consequences of inaction.
What’ll happen if you do nothing? It should come as no surprise that if you do nothing…nothing will happen.
If I hadn’t moved to New Orleans, I’d still be in my apartment in Omaha, sprawled out in the bathtub and yearning for something more. I’d still be somewhere far worse than the state of Nebraska. I’d still be in a state of inertia. And, inertia is death.
What if you don’t approach that stranger in the supermarket? That could be your future spouse or your new best friend or your next business partner or the drummer in that band you love. But, you’ll never know. Unless you stop making excuses. What if you don’t get out of your unhealthy relationship? You’ll continue to come home feeling bitter and resentful, wondering if things will ever improve. And, they won’t. Unless you stop making excuses. What if you don’t quit your soul-crushing 9 to 5 job? You’ll sit in a cubicle and stare at a computer screen and take orders from an imbecilic dickhead for the next 40 years. And, that’ll be your life. Unless you stop making excuses.
So, what if you don’t stop making excuses? Well, you’ll stay right where you are. In comfortable misery. In a state of inertia. And, all you’ll have to show for yourself is a head full of regret and a hand full of frozen burritos.
If, for some reason, you ever decide to drive through the state of Iowa, you might want to consider making a stop in Fairfield, on Route 34, about two hours southeast of Des Moines. At first glance, Fairfield might seem like any other quaint, Midwestern town – surrounded by rolling corn fields and home to a few thousand working-class white people. You’ll happily get out of your car and pump gas and eat some chicken fingers and maybe inquire about the clock museum; but you’ll wonder how someone could possibly live here without going batshit from sheer, irremediable boredom.
Pick up a pamphlet from the Visitors Bureau, however, and you’ll quickly discover that there’s more to Fairfield than meets the eye.
With an eclectic arts and entertainment scene, Fairfield has been called one of Iowa’s “Great Places,” named by Smithsonian Magazine as one of “The 20 Best Small Towns to Visit” and recognized as one of the “12 Great Places You’ve Never Heard Of” by everyone’s favorite publication, Mother Earth News. Even Oprah Winfrey herself dubbed it “America’s Most Unusual Town” on a 2012 episode of her show, Oprah’s Next Chapter. And, while these designations might strike you as completely arbitrary, there is something else you should know:
Fairfield was once home to Parsons College, a private liberal arts school founded in 1875 with one building and 34 students. Parsons operated in virtual anonymity for 80 years, until the school appointed flamboyant football player-turned-Presbyterian minister, Millard G. Roberts, as its president.
When Roberts took over in 1955, Parsons had just 350 students and an administration plagued by financial hardship. But, Roberts had grand plans to promote the college, raise money from donors and substantially increase enrollment – all of which he achieved. By 1965, the student population had surged to 5,000, while faculty salaries were some of the highest in the nation.
The problem: Roberts pooh-poohed the idea that colleges should only admit well-performing students and turned Parsons into a “second chance” school, letting in everyone from draft-dodgers and delinquents to just plain idiots. In a 1966 article, LIFE Magazine called Roberts “The Wizard of Flunk-Out U” and described Parsons as a “college for students who can’t get into any other – or have been thrown out of another college.” The article went on to explain that, “nobody on campus feels slandered when Parsons is called Flunk-Out U” and “nobody resents the description of Parsons as a college for rich dumb kids.”
Not long after LIFE published its article, Parsons lost its accreditation and Roberts was – unsurprisingly – asked to resign as president. Enrollment soon plummeted, leaving Parsons with insurmountable debt and no choice but to close its doors under bankruptcy in 1973. Less than a year later, however, one man bought the entire campus for just $2.5 million, hoping to turn the defunct college into a thriving institution once more. That man’s name was Mahesh Prasad Varma, otherwise known as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, spiritual guru to The Beatles and the founder of Transcendental Meditation [TM].
Yes, Parsons College – once known as a refuge for dummies and drunks – is now the Maharishi University of Management, which features “consciousness-based education” and aims to “engage students in a personal journey of evolution and growth.” Subsequently, little old Fairfield, Iowa has become known as a “national magnet” and “the world’s largest training center” for practitioners of TM. Twice a day, in fact, thousands of residents stop what they’re doing and make their way to one of the university’s two giant golden domes – the first structures ever built specifically for group meditation.
Walk leisurely around Fairfield, and the first thing you’ll notice – aside from the massive twin domes – is an eerie stillness to the air, a subtle indication, perhaps, of TM’s various cult-like qualities. Many of Fairfield’s residents moved there specifically to participate in the group practice of TM, while pursuing Maharishi’s vision of bliss and enlightenment. Some have even advanced to the TM-Sidhi Program, the central aspect of which is Yogic Flying, a “mental-physical exercise of hopping while cross-legged” that ultimately results in the ability to levitate. Around campus, TM practitioners are often called “roos” (slang for gurus), while Yogic Flyers who aren’t part of the university are identified as members of the “Town Super Radiance.
Oprah was right. Fairfield might just be America’s most unusual town. And, just the conversations you’ll overhear make it worth a visit.
Yogic Flying - YouTube
Of course, TM’s reach now extends far beyond southeastern Iowa, with training centers popping up in cities all over the country. The TM technique is taught in four sessions over consecutive days, and can be learned only from a certified TM instructor. When you enroll in the TM program, you’re asked to bring to your first class a white handkerchief, a sweet fruit and some flowers – all of which play a role in your initiation, or your “trance induction ceremony.” The ceremony takes place in a small, dimly lit room and in front of an altar, at the center of which is a shiny brass tray and a picture of the Maharishi’s long-dead teacher in a yellow robe. During the ceremony, your instructor places your flowers, fruit and handkerchief on one side of the altar, lights a stick of incense, recites something in Sanskrit and then assigns you your secret mantra – which you are to never share with anyone under any circumstances. And, by the way, all of this will set you back about a thousand dollars.
Despite its hefty price tag, the required four-day commitment and a slightly creepy vibe, the TM program continues to attract droves of eager new students looking to master meditation, achieve inner peace and find some version of enlightenment. Undeniably, TM has become something of a national phenomenon over the last several years – due in part, perhaps, to its seemingly endless string of celebrity endorsements.
Touted by everyone from Cameron Diaz and Katy Perry to Hugh Jackman and Jerry Seinfeld as a completely transformative and life-changing habit, TM has infiltrated the homes of many of Hollywood’s elite. Howard Stern, in fact, was the one who convinced me to give it a try, after discussing TM with great candor on both his own show and the Late Show with David Letterman. But, nobody advocates for TM more than eccentric filmmaker, David Lynch, whose namesake Foundation hopes to “prevent and eradicate the all-pervasive epidemic of trauma and toxic stress among at-risk populations through promoting widespread implementation of the evidence-based TM program in order to improve their health, cognitive capabilities and performance in life.”
In an interview with the New York Post, Lynch explained that students who meditate will “start shining like a bright, shiny penny and their anxieties will go away. By diving within, they will attain a field of pure consciousness, pure bliss, creativity, intelligence, dynamic peace.”
With his foundation, Lynch also intends to create super groups of 8,000 meditators across the globe, who will chant simultaneously for peace and harmony. Each group must have 8,000 participants because “it’s the size of the square root of one percent of the world’s population.” Furthermore – and this should come as no surprise – Lynch himself is a yogic flier and believes that, one day, he’ll be able to levitate.
If this all sounds a little bizarre, well…that’s because it is. And the more you explore the world of TM, the more bizarre it seems to get. You may even find yourself disturbed at times, like when you discover that TM-specific research is often tied to TM employees or that the TM organization has been accused of using brainwashing techniques or that Fairfield has an alarmingly high suicide rate. And, should you choose to venture down the TM rabbit hole, you’ll probably stumble across a remarkably dense website with the title, “Falling Down the TM Rabbit Hole.”
At this point, you might be wondering: what does all of this mean? Do these people truly believe they’ll levitate, completely defying Newton’s law of universal gravitation? Is TM a cult? Is David Lynch just a straight-up wackjob? Well, you’ll just have to figure that shit out on your own. But, nothing should deter you from integrating TM or another meditation practice into your daily routine. I’ve been meditating every day for several years now, and it has positively changed my life in more ways than one.
WHY YOU SHOULD MEDITATE
One year at sleepaway camp, I took an afternoon walk through the woods, only to discover my bunkmate, Jared, sitting cross-legged under a tree, eyes closed and palms facing the sky. When I asked him what the hell he was doing, he moved not a muscle and whispered, “Shhhh. I’m meditating.” Looking back, I wish I’d had a more open mind, and asked Jared to teach me his ways. Instead, I called him a weirdo, and refused to talk to him for the rest of the summer.
Had I started meditating as a teenager like Jared did, I may not have spent most of my 20s plagued by anxiety and negative thought patterns. Of course, meditation is, by no means, a panacea for life’s woes. But, meditating regularly can have tremendous benefits, and there’s a shitload of pretty cool research to back this up.
Here are just a few of the reasons I meditate, and why you should too:
Tames Your “Monkey Mind” Like it or not, friend, you’ve got a “monkey mind.” You know, the seemingly endless stream of mental chatter and varied thoughts swirling around in your head every goddamn day. At best, these thoughts can be inspired and entertaining. At worst, they can be morbid and destructive. Most of the time, they’re just pesky and inconsequential. Either way, this is your “monkey mind,” which is a Buddhist term meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable.” In recent years, however, neuroscientists have officially named it the default mode network (DMN).
Your DMN is active when you’re not really focused on anything in particular, and your mind is wandering from thought to thought. Unfortunately, a wandering mind is often an unhappy mind, and a lot of us wish we could just fucking turn it down a smidge. Several studies, including one from Yale University, have shown that meditation has a quieting effect and decreases activity in the DMN. Plus, when the mind does start to drift, those who regularly meditate are much better at snapping out of it.
Reduces Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety Countless studies have shown that meditation can boost neurotransmitters, increase serotonin levels, fortify the hippocampus, build up prefrontal cortex gray matter and create alpha and theta waves. I know that sounds like a bunch of neuro-scientific mumbo jumbo, so, to put it more simply: meditation does some really good shit to your brain that can help fight depression and anxiety. In fact, a study conducted at Johns Hopkins by researcher, Madhav Goyal, found that the effect size of meditation is the same as the effect size for antidepressants. “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,” says Goyal. “But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”
Improves Focus and Concentration Hey. You. Yes, you. I know you probably have ADD or ADHD or at least think you do because you live in the age of technology and you can’t sit still or go 12 seconds without checking your Instagram feed or swiping on Tinder or sending a text to your bestie because if you don’t you might totally miss something and your head will explode. I mean, for fuck sake, you probably won’t make it to the end of this article without opening a new window in your browser so you can see if you have any Facebook alerts. Thankfully, there’s help for you yet; and it doesn’t come in the form of a pill.
Research shows that one of the primary benefits of meditation is that it improves focus and concentration. In fact, one particular study found that just a few weeks of meditation helped people in a big way during the verbal reasoning section of the GRE – the score increase was equivalent to 16 percentile points.
Promotes Better Physical Health Several studies have highlighted that meditation can have significant effects on physical health, linking regular meditative practice to changes in immune and cardiovascular functioning, as well as pain perception. In fact, meditation has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of diabetes, increase life span, reduce the risk of heart failure, improve sleep, lower heart rates, relieve tension headaches and even help manage the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Makes You More Self-Aware: Because meditation requires an exploration of your subconscious mind, it’s probably the single best way to connect with your true self. And, research suggests that, with a greater self-awareness, you’ll develop a superb intuition, become a better listener, act more compassionately towards others and adopt a more positive attitude.
It’s true. Meditation is a wonderfully simple activity that makes life just a little bit better. Perhaps it bears repeating, though, that meditation is not a panacea for all of life’s woes. But, practice it daily, and you’ll reap the rewards.
TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION VS. MINDFULNESS MEDITATION
If you’re even remotely familiar with TM, then you’ve most certainly heard of Mindfulness. Because, much like TM, Mindfulness is seriously hot right now. It’s nearly impossible to visit your favorite online news magazine without seeing a listicle about Mindfulness. And, meditation apps like Headspace are raising tens of millions of dollars in funding. There’s no denying that Mindfulness is a worldwide trend and many are cashing in on it. The New York Times even ran a piece called “The Hidden Price of Mindfulness, Inc.,” describing how, “these days it seems as if everyone is peddling mindfulness.” But, as ABC news anchor and author of 10% Happier, Dan Harris, was quoted as saying, “It’s not enough to purchase the right product to be mindful. Mindfulness is a practice, and it’s worth doing.”
So, what’s the difference between TM and Mindfulness? Is one better than the other? And, why do the TM people seem to sneer at the Mindfulness people while the Mindfulness people seem to sneer at the TM people? It’s all a bit silly, and there’s no reason to think that one form of meditation is superior to another. As someone who has practiced both TM and Mindfulness, I can assure you that they both provide the same positive benefits. But, if you’re interested in the technical differences between TM and Mindfulness, here’s a handy little chart:
HOW TO MEDITATE
This may surprise you, but you don’t need to pay $1000 to the TM organization or read books on Mindfulness or hire a spiritual guru to learn how to properly meditate. You don’t need to be a hippie or become a monk or believe in a higher power. You don’t need a spirit animal or magic crystals or chakra beads or a Pure Moods CD. You don’t even need to put on pants. In fact, if you’re new to meditating, all you really need to do is follow the steps below:
STEP ONE:Stop making bullshit excuses. If you’re interested in meditation and you’ve been thinking about giving it a whirl, then just start. I once gave a presentation on TM to a group of about 40 people, and almost all of them had one of two excuses: I don’t have time or I can’t sit still for that long. Both are ridiculous, and I’m going to tackle them here:
I don’t have time. Seriously, if you can’t carve out 15 minutes, then something is wrong. And, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got pets or kids. Your pets will be fine, and you can tell your kids to watch cartoons and shut the fuck up for a little bit.
I can’t sit still for that long. Seriously, if you can’t sit still for 15 minutes, then something is wrong. Plus, how would you know this if you haven’t tried? And, furthermore, the whole point is to train yourself to sit still for that long.
STEP TWO: Decide what you’re going to focus on. You’ve basically got two options: a mantra or your breath, and both work just fine. The most commonly known mantra is oooooooommmmmmmmm. But, you can choose anything that tickles your fancy. Positive affirmations are good, because they seep into your subconscious. Tony Robbins used to say I am fucking unstoppable to himself over and over again until he truly believed it. Either way, you do need a focal point. But, don’t overthink it. Just pick something.
STEP THREE: Find a quiet space, preferably in your home.
STEP FOUR: Sit comfortably. You don’t need to sit Indian style with your palms facing up. Just make yourself comfortable. You can even lie down, although this might result in an accidental nap.
STEP FIVE: Close your eyes. Take a few seconds to get settled and then begin focusing on your mantra or your breath. If you’ve decided to use your breath as a focal point, you can even say to yourself: I am breathing in, I am breathing out.
STEP SIX: At this point, your mind is is going to go bonkers. You will start thinking about how hungry you are or how you should have asked out that cute barista or how your boss is a douche or how this meditation shit is stupid and it’s not working. Once you realize that your mind has drifted, bring your focus back to your mantra or your breath.
Now is a good time to point out two common misconceptions about meditation. The first is that meditation requires thinking about absolutely nothing. The truth is, it’s damn near impossible to go more than a few seconds without some thoughts arising. Meditation is more like exercise for your brain, and the goal is to learn how to simply quiet your thinking. The second misconception is that during meditation you’ll feel indescribably good and reach some higher level of consciousness. In my experience, it’s not about how you feel while you’re meditating, but how meditating makes you feel while you go about the rest of your day.
STEP SEVEN: Continue meditating for 15 or 20 minutes. Whenever you catch your mind drifting, bring your focus back to your mantra or breath. And, by the way, don’t set an alarm. If you’re in deep meditation, the sudden sound of a squawking alarm can be jarring. If you feel like you need to check the time, gently open your eyes, peek at the clock and then resume meditating.
STEP EIGHT: When your time is up, stop focusing on your mantra or breath. Keep your eyes closed for just a few extra seconds so you can ease out of your meditative state. Then, get up and continue your life as normal.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go find my happy place.