Do what makes you feel proud

It seems that most of us spend our entire lives searching for a framework within which to make decisions. What is my purpose? What is the meaning of life? What are my values? What are my goals? Once we’ve settled on answers to those questions we feel as if we can use those as foundational pillars to make decisions moving forward.

Except most of those things are fluid. Your purpose may change many times as you age. There is no inherent meaning of life, other than the meaning you choose give it. Values will change with time as you gather experience, knowledge, and exposure to outside influences. Goals are ephemeral and come and go as they are met or forgotten. Making decisions with these things as your foundation will always be a moving target. It will cause confusion and anxiety.

I settled on a simple heuristic to solve this problem.

Decision: {insert any decision you need to make}

Thought: if I look back at my life at some point in the future, what decision would make me feel proud of my past self?

Action:  Do that.



Choosing Freedom, Embracing Anxiety

You are trapped between a desire for freedom, independence, and autonomy and the comfort and routine of safety and security. Freedom, by definition, means constant, mindful choosing. Freedom means all your decisions mean something. Freedom comes with responsibility.

The freedom to choose in every moment – how you will react, what you will do, what values you will choose to uphold, how you will think – and the responsibility that entails causes extreme anxiety for most people. When there is no one to blame but yourself…there is no one to blame but yourself. Your mental farm is devoid of scapegoats.

Your alternative is to cede your decision making authority to others. To seek safety and comfort under the veil of someone else’s willingness to embrace freedom. Should they choose incorrectly, it’s not your fault. You can complain and then return safely to the status quo lifestyle you’ve built. You can remain in that job you hate because it’s easier to stick with the same routine, even in misery, than to use your freedom and choose a different path. A path that may come with discomfort and uncertainty. One that could make a meaningful difference in your life or could make it worse. You’d rather not choose and not know than risk anything on the possibility of a brighter future.

In order to truly feel alive you must embrace the anxiety that comes with freedom. Acceptance of the weight of personal responsibility is not easy but, as with exercise, the more you do it, the easier it will become. You will learn to love anxiety because it means you are alive, you are choosing, and you are scared. You will begin to accept the weight of your decisions and lean into them, as a buffalo charges into a storm, rather than run from them and let the world around you decide for you.

In the end, isn’t it better to be alive with anxiety and freedom than to be dead while your alive without them?


I choose to live small

I am not a saint, nor a celebrity, nor an Egyptian pharaoh. I am not a president, nor a professional athlete, nor a musician. There will be no statues built in my honor. I will not be a member of a Hall of Fame. Grand monuments will never be built for my followers. And all of that is okay.

For all the positive benefits technology has brought us, the narrowing of distance between 7 billion people comes with its consequences. Within a matter of seconds we are exposed to the atrocities of the world. We see or hear about everything that goes on.

This exposure causes some base yearning to help, but we cannot help all those people. This exposure gives us ever more opportunities to compare ourselves to others and find fault in our appearance, our beliefs, our values, or our material goods. There is a constant striving for more. Where once we could be unique in the small sphere of our community, now we try to find ways to be unique among a cadre of 7 billion of our “closest” friends.

I choose to live small.

I would like to think I have the courage to be ordinary. Sure, I would like to be seen as unique, mysterious, and original, but it is a fools game to think that I have control over any of that. I can only act in as authentic a manner as I can – the rest of you will decide my place in history, or not. One of man’s worst fears is to die without leaving some legacy. I am trying to get over that fear by realizing that legacy has never been within my control. I can contribute, but I cannot judge.

I choose to live small. I choose to impact those closest to me as best I can – family, friends, coworkers, strangers I run into. I give energy to my immediate physical surroundings – the people, the places, the things. I write. I comment. I help when and where I can. I have to constantly remind myself that if I stretch too far I will break and be no good to anyone. I choose wise and virtuous over rich and famous. I am not perfect, and that is hard to accept.

I am but a tiny speck of stardust in a vast and unforgiving universe but I will do my best to do what makes me proud. That usually starts with focusing on what is around me here and now. Perhaps, if I do that well then my tiny contributions will ripple through space and time, and that is all one could wish for.


On the search for happiness

As you walk the trail of life you will constantly look up to see the next mountaintop to scale, the next river to ford, or the next plain to cross. There is no end to this quest. There will always be another distant thing at which you are grasping, slightly out of your reach.

Happiness is not a destination. Happiness is a byproduct.

Humans evolved to survive and reproduce, not to be constantly happy. Happiness is the drip meted out to you any time you do something your body deems pleasureful. It is the drug used to stimulate you and condition you to keep seeking those things that allow you to survive and reproduce. If happiness were a destination and you could somehow “find” that one thing then you would perish shortly thereafter. If eating chocolate ice cream brought perpetual happiness then those people who found it would simply stop doing anything else. They would die and eventually the gene for the feeling of perpetual happiness would evolve itself out of human biology.

Happiness should never be a goal. You should not expect nor want to experience it all the time. It is a fleeting feeling, transient, and momentary. As soon as it is gone you will wonder what happened to it. If you become addicted to chasing it then not only will you fail in that quest – you’ll spend your few moments of happiness trying to figure out how to hold on to it, not let it go, or prolong it. Those thoughts will destroy your ability to experience that happiness in the moment. You will be doomed to a life of seeking that which you cannot have by virtue of your fear of losing it or your belief that somehow you should own it forever.

No, happiness is a byproduct of living a life based on your values. Living authentically. Making your own meaning. If your self reflection is clear, your intent pure, and your aim is to do rather than to seek then and only then will you be rewarded with moments of pure happiness.

Release the expectation to be happy all the time and it will find you. Release the need to be happy all the time and it will find you.  When it finds you it will be a surprise and one that you will be able to enjoy in the moment. You will allow it to come and go as it pleases without attempting to hold on. That will make it all the sweeter.

There is no happiness to be found at the top of a mountain, or the other side of a river, or the distant side of a plain. Happiness can be found in each footstep between here and there, if only you weren’t looking for it.

This is the first post in a series that I am going to create that is intended to be advice I would offer my twenty-something self were I able to go back in time and have those conversations.

To speak or not to speak?

When you’re in an open space with a group of strangers, a party for instance, and there is a pause in the conversation it is referred to as an “awkward silence.” When you get on an elevator everyone is quiet and usually staring down at the floor (or their phone). Any sound on an elevator is awkward and typically uncomfortable for most people. This dichotomy has always puzzled me. Why is silence preferred in one awkward situation and frowned upon in another?

I am introverted by nature and not usually the boisterous one who will jump into small talk with any old stranger. However, for some reason I find it extremely entertaining to be the one who causes awkward stress on elevators. It’s as if my alter ego knows the pain of speaking out will last only a few minutes – the length of time until everyone on the elevator exits and parts to go their separate ways.

So how does this manifest itself? Most of the time my attempts to discomfort people are humorous in nature. A few examples:

Scene 1
Stranger: “I see you on the elevator almost every day. What do you do for a living?”
Me: “I am a professional clown fighter. I know 43 ways to kill a clown.”

Scene 2
Goofy woman in all yellow dress enters elevator. She “accidentally” hits 4 floors of buttons between us and the lobby.
Goofy Woman: “Oh! I’m so sorry. Please don’t kill me.”
Me: “I only kill people I am going to eat, and I don’t like bananas.”

Scene 3
Woman enters elevator wearing Michigan State T-Shirt. She turns around and the back reads “Today is game day at Michigan State”
Me: “Who are they playing?”
Her: “What?”
Me: “No, who?”
Her: “What?”
Me: “Second Base”

Other times I intentionally try to creep people out by appearing serious.

Scene 4
In a very crowded, full elevator…
Me: “I bet you’re all wondering why I’ve gathered you here today?”

Scene 5
Ever notice how no one wants to make eye contact on the elevator?
When I am the last to get on an elevator and it is packed I like to stand with my back to the doors and look at everyone…and see how many I can make eye contact with. Sometimes, if ones looks up and sees me, I will put my finger to my mouth in the common “shhhhh” motion.

Scene 6
Once again, crowded elevator, everyone looking at ground or staring at phone.
I pickup my phone and act like I am speaking to someone.
Me: “No! The doctor says it’s not contagious unless you are within a couple of feet of me.”

And that, my friends is how an introvert entertains himself. Truth be told, many times we all end up laughing and acknowledging the awkwardness of it all. There are, however, a few folks who will avoid getting on the elevator with me at the office.

If you’re curious and want to hear about more of these always unplanned incidents I share them on my weekly newsletter – under the heading “Jeff’s Fun on Elevators“.


Thinking and Importance

In the words of Nobel Prize winner Danny Kahneman:

“Nothing is quite as important as you think it is while you’re thinking about it, so the mere act of thinking about something makes it more important than it’s going to be. So you’re thinking, “How much happier would I be living in California?” Well no, you won’t be a lot happier. “How much happier would I be if my income increased by 30%,” you think a lot. No, it wouldn’t. So just about everything that people think about, they exaggerate its importance.

Now, Mr. Kahneman made a name for himself in the fields of judgment and decision making and behavioral economics so he knows a thing or two about thinking.

This artificial level of importance placed on something by virtue of thinking about it is one more reason why you should do more and think less. The things you think about are never quite as important as you believe them to be. How many times have you done something that you had anxiety about and said, “ah, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be”? The doing wasn’t the bad part, it was the thinking that created the anxiety.

Related Book: Thinking, Fast and Slow


Talk Less. Do More.

Talking is usually the spewing forth of thoughts. Most of the time when we are talking we are trying to make sense of some thought or idea. Because we’ve been unable to make sense of this inside our own heads we begin pulling other people into the mix by talking about it. While this can be mildly therapeutic if done sensibly it frequently leads to more thinking and “co-rumination”.

Co-rumination is when your thoughts have led to your own personal rumination and you’ve drawn your friends or family into the rumination with you by talking about it incessantly. Now all of you are ruminating and possibly creating a negative feedback loop where negative thoughts lead to more negative thoughts lead to confirmation bias and blah blah blah, more misery.

Many people will probably think I am an idiot for saying not to talk about your problems. After all talking is supposed to make us feel better. The problem is that many times it does not. If you’re going to talk you need to talk to someone who will be forceful with you in getting you out of your head (a good friend) and not someone who will exacerbate the issues by just agreeing with you all the time, “I know right?”

The next time you get the urge to talk to someone about some painful thought of yours just stop, and instead, ask them if they’d like to play a game or take a walk or something else in the physical world. Talk less. Do more.

Think less. Do more.

It’s just that simple. You think too much. You think about thinking, you ruminate, you worry, you obsess, and then you repeat. In it’s lightest form this just results in mild anxiety. For some of us, however, this cycle leads to painful bouts with depression and more serious mental health issues.

You’ve probably found this site because you were thinking. You were asking yourself questions. You were seeking answers. You clicked one link and then another. You typed a question into a Google search box. When it didn’t give you the answers you were looking for you rephrased the question and then submitted it again. You’ve done this over and over and over until you are ridiculously tired of searching. You are now wondering when the searching will stop and the living will start.

Well, I am here to tell you that thinking your way out of a problem you thought your way into is not really the best solution. The best solution is just to DO. Do something, do anything. It’s best to start with smaller things but what you do is really irrelevant. Just the act of doing, of getting out of your head, is more than enough to sweep away your mental demons.

It is my belief, though I am not always capable of following my own advice, that your self help woes can be mostly cured by just doing and doing and more doing. You don’t have to stop thinking (we need to do that after all). You just have to slow down the thinking about thinking and change that to thinking about doing.

Now. I want you to stop reading, turn off your screen, take a few deep breaths, look around the room, bend your knees, stretch your arms, and then come back and read whenever you’ve done that.

Doing is just that easy.