Who Are You?

“Know Thyself”
– Temple of Apollo at Delphi

Who are you? Your name was decided by your parents, so you aren’t “Steve”, sorry Steves of the world. Even with having spent potentially many years of schooling and on the job, you aren’t really your career either. Some people change those as late as in their 60s and 70s, so it can’t be that either. You may perhaps have a dozen other titles: father, brother, mother, sister, son, or daughter. You’re likely a different one to different people though, so that alone can’t define you either.

 

Perhaps you define yourself by your qualities. “I’m a reliable person!”. That’s wonderful, though probably not all the time. At best you can try, but sometimes there’s just too many other factors, and to be reliable to one person, you may become unreliable to another. Something that shaky can’t be your identity either.

 

I won’t go down a path like “You’re all of those things!”, though it may be true to some extent. Let’s avoid all this “Just be yourself” nonsense too.

 

Having just crossed the four year mark a month ago since the start of my weight loss journey, I still vividly remember “Who I was”. As a 385 pound man-child, I spent my time in jobs that were frustrating, with plentiful hours of video games, and a ground hog day style cycle of hanging out with the same people and going to the same restaurants. Without the hilarious antics of Bill Murray, or the realization that the cycle was going on, and I’m pretty sure if I died, I wouldn’t have come back either.

 

With the wonderful power of self-awareness and mindfulness, and realizing those pesky habits of ours exist, the answer takes a different form. The answer is…

 

Whoever you choose to be.

 

Don’t worry, I’m not going into a “you can do anything” rant. Though you can, there’s just a caveat, if you want to learn a skill that would change the entire way you interact with the world around you, such as developing charisma, realize it will take time. Take comfort in the idea that you aren’t locked in to your hobbies, social circle, charisma level, or just about anything else. You may be limited in some fashion, financially, geometrically, and a wealth of other possibilities.

 

HOT TIP: Consider any aspect of yourself that you define yourself by, find the source of it. Did you really decide it? Does it really define you? If you learned your kindness from your parents, great, but if circumstances were less lucky, you have have learned resentment from them instead. Drill down deeply and find the source of any label, decide if you want to keep it.

 

Though if you can read this blog, you have access to the internet. You can find ways to take steps towards who you really want to become. It may begin theoretically until you resolve your current situation (i.e. moving out from your parents home or finding employment), but the ground hog day cycle needs to be broken, and what you’ve been doing so far hasn’t done it.

 

Lastly, don’t be concerned whether the “you” that you want to become is radically different from who you currently are. You can’t ‘lose’ who you are, since none of those things you define yourself with (i.e. name, job, personality) are really set in stone. If you lose your friends or if people treat you differently due to some change you made, decide whether your old life without that conflict, means more to you then becoming who you really want to be. How amazing would it feel to know your personal abilities and the way and with whom you spend your time were crafted by you, and that you are growing closer each day towards the person you’ve always wanted to be?

On Doing What You Want

“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
Mark Twain

There’s a lot you can learn from dancing in a public place like a subway station. The first few moments you instantly stop, pondering “What am I doing!? Everyone will think I’m insane!”. Then you realize no one was looking, you start again and go a little bit longer. Now you can feel the eyes on you, as you enter people’s field of view, they look puzzled, not knowing how to respond. It feels terrible. Everyone is judging you. Surely, someone will call the police, you’ll be locked away in a crazy house, never to be in front of your family and friends again. But that isn’t the reality, is it? As you get a minute or two into dancing, you realize nothing is happening, no one is doing anything, and everyone goes back to what they were doing.

So let’s shift the perspective a little. Imagine you saw someone you suspected was homeless and/or crazy in a subway station, and they started to dance. What would you really think? “Ah that’s weird, someone is dancing in the subway station”. Give yourself a gold star, that’s a pretty normal thing to think. Your perception doesn’t really harm them though, are they now more crazy because you suspected they were crazy? No, the reality is, if you’re like most people, you don’t really care.

The shocking reality is, strangers don’t really care about you either. We’re so terrified of what may happen if we do something unpredictable or outside of our comfort zone that we stop ourselves at every turn, for imaginary fears, that disappear as soon as we swap the perspective and see the situation for what it really is.

But let’s say dancing in strange places isn’t you’re thing. Perhaps you’re afraid of judgement in another way. You had a date this evening with a good book, a hot bath, and some good ol’ rest and relaxation, perhaps a glass of wine too? Just as you’re about to enter your blissful evening, your friend calls you. Your friends are heading to a demonstration, it turns out there is some sort of government corruption going on, and blah, blah, blah, you zone your friend out as your heart tears at the wine getting warm next to your tub. You can’t possibly choose to be so selfish as to treat yourself well when so much is going wrong in the world, right?

Wrong. You can choose whatever you want. If your passion for the issue is stronger then your need for taking some time to yourself, then by all means, go and demonstrate. Yet, if you’re doing it to avoid confrontation, and do it out of guilt, you’ll build resentment over time. You don’t need to say “Nah man, screw you, I’m going to take a bath and read stuff”, when it’s easy enough to say “That sounds awesome, I’m sure you guys will really make an impact there! I’ve got some things going on right now, but be sure to tell me how it goes after!”. If you responded with compassion, and your friends did not, then this issue is bigger then the current situation. Chances are, they don’t care about your involvement nearly as much as you think.

HOT TIP: There is no hot tip this week, I hope you don’t judge me too harshly for it.

It’s a subtle form of narcissism to think our choices and actions have such a large and meaningful impact on the lives of all of those around us. Yes, yes, it’s possible to do great things that inspire or change a lot of lives, but whether you decide to dance in a subway station or say no to some altruistic endeavors in favor of something seemingly selfish you would rather do more, no one is going too care much for too long.

Entertain the idea even just a little bit, that strangers and those around you, or even your closest friends, aren’t going to harshly judge you for something you want to do, and see how you feel differently. Imagine that no one really cares about you or what you’re doing, because it’s kind of true, and see how you behave when you’re driven by inspiration rather then a fear of judgement.

A State Of Play: The Lost Art Of Childhood

“Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.”
― Tom Robbins

Whether outrunning a speeding bullet as Superman, shooting the bad guys as a cowboy or merely parading down the street with arms out making jet plane noises, children spend a lot of time playing pretend. Of course this eventually becomes frowned upon as the child becomes older, as it becomes time to get serious, and go to school. School followed by more school, which is eventually followed by work, and eventually retirement.

 

Even by age 8 you may have some children telling you that playing pretend is for babies. A perfectly valid statement to make for someone who is growing up and seeking their own independence to some extent. Teachers and parents stop encouraging it as they direct their children down the more professional path.

 

One universally powerful lesson I learned, was that while the type of play may change, being able to be playful is universally beneficial, in all aspects of life. That isn’t to say you don’t take things seriously, this isn’t about entering the extreme of being a clown. A state of play works as a flow state. The actual playing is the meaningful part, not the result of it. Just as playing a game of soccer or listening to a musical piece, isn’t about the end result, but the activity of doing it.

 

Let’s cut away definitions and techniques, and just look at what playfulness implies. In a relationship, this means you won’t freak out if something unexpected happens, like losing a job, or getting injured. It shows you’re a person in good spirits who is stable and has inner strength. In a workplace, it demonstrates not letting stress get to you, or becoming reactive. It can even shift the power balance and provide you with the dominant frame in a business setting, letting you Pitch Anything.

 

But most importantly, it breaks the expected pattern of life. Whether you’re trying to ask out a cute girl or guy in a coffee shop or pitch a million dollar deal, the awareness of the situation in both settings makes it an uncomfortable atmosphere. It appears as if one person is trying to get something from the other. In a state of play, you are sharing in the experience. You are stepping outside the world as it exists, and enjoying a moment with the other person.

 

Hot Tip: Here’s a really easy way to channel a little playfulness. Simply consider, in any scenario, what’s everyone else doing, and how can I do it differently? You’ll automatically be breaking the pattern of expected behavior, and you can use the reactions you get as feedback. You’ll continually calibrate and grow as you naturally become better at determining how to approach situations. Next time you go to swipe your credit card at a coffee shop, do it in a karate chop motion, and see what happens. 

 

So at this point you may or may not be convinced over the power of play, but what does playfulness look like? If you mean to approach a potential partner, it may mean asking her to run away with you to Paris so you may get married under the moonlit Eiffel Tower, before pulling back and saying you may be getting ahead of yourself, and moving onto introductions. In a business pitch, it may be telling a story of a childhood experience of using the particular product, instead of throwing stats and numbers at potential investors.
 
Children know what they’re doing when they play cops and robbers, they aren’t at any point convinced they may kill someone by firing their finger at them. Awareness of a situation combined with playfulness is an incredibly powerful tool that can immediately shift how others interact with you. It spawns creativity and a general appreciation for the world when you spend more time in a state of play. Why not have a little more fun?

 

Bonus Tip: Not the playful type? Start by not labeling yourself that way. Next, simply observe what brings you some level of joy as you go through your day. Is it the matching hats of a young couple? The funky colors on an exotic bird? Is it the fact that your co-worker has an expensive espresso machine on his desk but you’ve never seen him use it? Awareness of what makes you smile will help build your playfulness muscle until it comes naturally.  

Patterns of Living: The Other Big Secret

“Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.”
― George S. Patton

Once upon a time, around 400-600 BC, in three places around the world, three figures arose, all saying a lot of the same things, even though there was no way for them to meet. Socrates in ancient Greece, Buddha in India, and Confucius in China. There is a lot that was added and changed along the way, and you may find a history lesson in other places, but there is one incredibly crucial and practical lesson found in each of their teachings.

 

There is a rigidity found in religion, as well as later philosophers, as they tackle major life questions like “What does a good life look like?” or “Is it ever okay to lie?” and a slew of other theoretical questions that don’t quite help one live in the real world. For instance there is the famous trolley problem, where a trolley is heading towards five people, you can pull a lever to have it change tracks, but you’ll end up killing one person. If you do nothing, you indirectly killed five people, but if you pull it, you’ll be directly responsible for killing one person. Debates on problems like this do little to assist in living in the real world. You may enjoy armchair debates, but you cannot take your answer away and then incorporate the lessons you learned into your daily life.

 

That’s where the three figures I mentioned earlier differ. What they realized is that the world is actually a very capricious place. The reality is, you chose very little of your circumstances upon birth. Your race, gender, sexuality, family income, safety of neighborhood, among many other elements are outside of your direct control. There are patterns that dictate your behavior that can be led back to your genes and the sociocultural system you grew up in. Perhaps you were born with below average height and looks, in a poor household. The system you live in tells you that all these things are bad, and your behaviors will be born from that.

 

And so you live by these patterns. If you are short, you act distraught each time you’re picked last in school for the basketball team. If you’re average looking, you may settle for a partner that may not be the best fit for you, but hey, you’ve got to settle for what you can get, right? If your family is poor, perhaps you would feel ashamed of making a lot of money or simply feel unable to.

Here is where the greatest lesson comes from these ancient Western and Eastern philosophers. It’s possible to break these patterns and essentially “hack” your beliefs. Socrates walked the streets in unwashed robes and openly questioned everyone’s beliefs until they killed him for it, but he successfully snapped a lot of people out of their patterns and ushered in an era of philosophy. Buddha speaks often of the power of our mind and beliefs, and consciousness of our behaviors. Confucius speaks of the importance of rituals, how consciously deciding to do them allows you to step out of your daily life, or ‘autopilot’ status.

 

Hot Tip: So you want to break a pattern and aren’t sure where to start? Start by dropping your label, like “I am an angry person”. Your quickness to anger comes from your patterns of living thus far, and has nothing to do with your ‘real self’ or anything like that. Next time you feel yourself getting angry, take a pause and see where it’s coming from. Was someone late? Did your partner not understand you? Break it down, and choose to act differently. Each time you catch yourself in anger and act in a different way, you’re developing a new pattern, and soon enough, you’ll no longer be “an angry person”. It won’t happen overnight, but the way you developed it, is the only way to resolve it. 
 
When I was going through my rough times I mentioned in the intro there was a question that popped in my mind which changed everything. “Says who?”. Who determined when we should get married, the types of relationships we should have, the kind of job we should have, the way we should meet friends, and the rest. The answer was, it was simply the pattern of living in the sociocultural system I grew up in. Everyone is doing it, because everyone is doing it. Circular logic doomed to never end.

Thankfully, as the ancient philosophers teach us, we can consciously break these patterns and develop new ones. We are free to act the way Rosa Parks did when she changed history forever by sitting at the front of the bus, we are free to be the one who says ‘Hi’ to people on the street, instead of complaining that everyone is looking down and unfriendly. When we understand everyone is merely following their own patterns, it allows a space for compassion, and inspiration to be a vehicle for change.

Experiment: What I Learned From a 48 Hour Fast

I occasionally read an idea that immediately makes me go ‘I want to try that’, sometimes the results are underwhelming or expected, other times they are eye opening and profound. I figured I may as well write about them as they come up, in case anyone else can get something out of it.

Hungry, irritated and impatient, the first time I ever tried fasting beyond 12 hours during the daytime, I found it to be a powerfully uncomfortable experience. I was determined to do well in the health competition I was in at the time though, and the thought of sweet victory pushed me through the hunger pangs. As time went on though, and 12 hours became 15, then 20, and the next morning came, the effects became very different. Eventually it became easy to do a 24 hour fast. If I drank enough black coffee and water, the worst I got was hungry.

Often I’ve read about people doing intermittent fasting 1-2 days per week, and I had read a post from someone who said they do both their fasting days back to back at the start of the week to get it over with. Complete madness I thought, 48 hours? While I got used to 24 hours, 48 seemed completely unrealistic. So I did my research, found various studies of people who fasted, and felt it was safe enough to try it out myself.

And what I found is… that it was easy. After the first 24 hours, which I never allowed myself to fast for longer then, various other effects arose. I found a whole slew of resources previously left for digestion, now made it to my mental faculties. There was even science to back it up.
The first time I considered fasting for 24 hours some months ago, I didn’t really believe I could do it. But after reaching 48 hours just this morning, and enjoying a meal that was more like an experience then food, I proved myself wrong again.

It’s ideas like this that make me question other aspects of my life. What other false beliefs might I be holding onto? Over the last two years, I’ve had countless experiences where my beliefs have been completely shattered and had to be built anew. Talking to strangers on the street, dancing on subway platforms, even getting up on stage during an improv class. The simple idea of “What would happen if?” makes life a lot more fun. In the past, if an idea like “What would happen if I didn’t eat for 48 hours” popped into my head, I’d think “yeah, that might be cool to try sometime”. Our brain seems to certainly love familiarity, which helps our survival for sure, but it’s not always as much fun is it?

Next time you get an opportunity to try something, even if it sounds a little ridiculous, I’d encourage you to try it. It might end up being a lot easier, or the result may end up being a lot different from what you expected to happen.

Meditation: The Secret to Everything

“Mindful meditation has been discovered to foster the ability to inhibit those very quick emotional impulses.”
– Daniel Goleman

If you’re anything like I used to be, meditation makes you think of prayer beads, chanting, Buddhism, candles, and a slew of other stereotypes. If, also like me, you were raised in a religious household, you may even have further fear of meditation as being something that goes against your beliefs. Let’s pause there for a moment though. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly, let your breath return to normal and simply feel your breathe, closing your eyes if it helps enhance the sensation.

 

If you followed the above, you’ve done it, you’ve meditated. Fortunately you didn’t need to convert to a different religion or sacrilege your existing one. Though in a society that suffers from dozens of sources trying to steal your attention at all times, it can be difficult to take that moment or two and simply breathe. From ads on TV or online, your phone notifications, your family members, everything is in competition, trying to snatch away your attention.

 

Though if I’ve learned anything in the past couple of years, it’s that if you could only do one single thing that could drastically improve each aspect of your life, meditation is it. Not in four hours a day, but even two minutes when you have a moment to yourself. There is a lot meditation can do and even millionaires billionaires do it.

 

You don’t need to believe in any of the religious or spiritual aspects of it, imagine how a calmer mind with less clutter would react in different everyday scenarios. There’s 10 things you need to do today, they would take 6 hours to complete, but you’ve only got 4! You could panic and struggle to decide which to do, wasting the precious little time you have, or simply spend a few minutes sorting it out in your head and simply beginning. If you get through 5 of them, great. I won’t get into the subject of delegating tasks or setting reasonable deadlines for people here, but realize the potential of a calmer and directed mind in a scenario like the one above.

Hot Tip: So you’d like to start meditating, but aren’t quite sure where to incorporate it to have it become a habit in your daily routine? Wake up 10 minutes early, wash your face, have a drink of cold water and a quick stretch, use the last few minutes of your bonus time to meditate. You’ll find starting the day with an emptied mind and not preemptively worrying about all that could go wrong, builds momentum for a great day. 
How about relationships? Could they possibly benefit from a calmer, and less reactive mind? Why, yes dear reader, they would! It doesn’t matter if you’re single and dating, or have been married for 40 years. Having the ability to return to a place of equanimity means not escalating an argument, it means not acting needy or desperate when your partner is in a slump.
 
Meditation was what started my whole transition, it gave me the power to find answers to questions I didn’t even know I had. It allowed me to start building an awareness in terms of how I’m feeling at different times, as well as what’s going on around me. You won’t have to go out and buy any books or prayer beads, the right pillow to sit on isn’t nearly so important. If you’re in a place where you can safely close your eyes for a few minutes and simply breathe, you’ve already got all you need to incorporate this super power into your life.