Avoid Failure By Targeting Success


Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 11.40.11 AMAmong a sharpshooter’s bag of tricks, shooting out a candle’s flame under the darkness of night is one of the easiest. Why? The answer is simple: because there’s nothing else to see but the target.

Imagine the following experiment: two sharpshooters of identical ability – let’s call them Sallie and Sid – are given the task above. Standing directly to one side of the candle, however, and hidden in the darkness, stands an individual. Here is the variable: Sid is informed of the individual’s presence while Sallie is not.

Which shooter do you expect will have more success in accomplishing the objective? My money is on Sallie. Why? The reason is simple: Sid can’t help but balance the objective of shooting out the candle with his strong desire to not kill the individual. Sallie, meanwhile, is free to focus on the only thing she sees: the flame.

But if Sid focuses exclusively on the target, you say, then he doesn’t have to worry about killing the individual. And this, friends, is precisely my point. True, Sid probably can’t help himself. Simply knowing that an individual stands near the target is all that is required to keep him from focusing exclusively on the target. And Sid’s performance is further compromised because of the nature of the distraction: missing the target could mean catastrophe. All of these facts reinforce the why Sallie, facing the identical task, will be more likely to succeed.

When it comes to accomplishing goals, there always seems to be someone standing next to the flame. And if there isn’t, we’ll look for someone or something regardless. It’s our natural inclination is to divide our attention between that which we’re trying to avoid and that which we’re trying to accomplish. But if you want to maximize your chances of success, focus as much as possible on your objective and forget the consequences of failure.

Take a moment to ask yourself what’s standing next to your candle. If you’re like most people, it’s fear of failure that’s distracting you from taking square aim at your goal. If that’s the case, think of it this way: in firing away you may miss your target, but in doing so deliver a lethal bullet to that which is holding you back.

And what do you? Lock, load and take aim again, this time with more focus and less fear.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch me read how a head injury initiated my journey from conventional- to comedy juggler.


The Futility of Envy

green eye textLast night I lay in bed with the mellow satisfaction one enjoys at the end of a particularly good day. Then, shortly before calling it a night, I checked-in on Instagram and suddenly found myself feeling jealous toward of a couple of my colleagues.

Instantly my mood had changed from mellow satisfaction to painful dissatisfaction. It was then that I reminded myself of words I had read many years ago by George Will and which have stayed with me ever since: Envy is only one of the seven deadly sins which does not provide the sinner even temporary pleasure.

In the annals of products promising quick relief, few will serve you better than these words have for me over the years. Implicit in shame is the possibility of a new beginning through forgiveness and making amends. Lust has its tantalizing appeal and righteous anger can be exhilarating. Envy, on the other hand, is the emotional equivalent to drinking Drain-O: nothing good comes from it.

When feeling envy, I remind myself of George Will’s words and then of how life is like a movie: it is comprised of countless “frames”: in one frame we’re winning the lottery; in another we’re stubbing our toe. And while it’s tempting to compare our own movie to someone else’s, it’s absolute folly to compare an individual frame to someone else’s, particularly if that frame is an outlier.

Besides, everyone’s “movie” eventually comes to an end. And like movies, the wise admire those lives which tell the best story while fools admire the biggest box-office hits.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or see how a head injury started my journey from a conventional- to comedic juggler.

“The Courage To Start”: It’s Time We Stopped Celebrating The Mundane

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Watching someone en route to victory at a big-city marathon, you’re liable to hear a tv commentator say “He makes it look so easy”. In fact, it shouldn’t be surprising that the winner makes it look easy. What would be surprising is the guy finishing last making it look easy. Surprising would be a marathon won by someone struggling to maintain form while out-classing other runners exhibiting elegant form and efficient biomechanics.

America is a much softer place than a generation ago. In becoming softer, we’ve gone from lionizing marathon winners to lionizing marathon finishers to where we are today: lionizing those who have the “courage” to start.

Instead of celebrating remarkable athleticism, we reserve our highest praise for the ordinary athlete who shows remarkable effort: he with the tortured expression who stumbles across the finishing line hours after the winners’ press conference – preferably long after the course has been closed.

Don’t get me wrong: I, too, admire mediocre athletes (like me) who demonstrate good, old-fashioned grit. I’ve come to admire consistency even more than grit – particularly among ordinary athletes who have less at stake than their elite counterparts. During the decade or so I lived in Boulder, Colorado, though, I was impressed almost exclusively by the sight of elite runners, most often Kenyan, gliding along the Boulder’s trails with seeming little effort. These days I get pumped when driving past the ubiquitous “weekend warriors” jogging on the sidewalk in the morning chill.

But admiration for ordinary people doing difficult things is quite different from the characteristically Baby Boomer tendency to treat the mundane as remarkable. Committing to a fitness regime isn’t admirable: actually lacing up your trainers day in and day out and heading out the door is.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or see how my journey from conventional- to comedic juggler began with a head injury.

Misdirection: How Magic Can Help You Manage Your Kids

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Recently a man opened up to me. “My 5-year old daughter is preoccupied with my iPhone. She’s constantly nagging me to watch it or play with it. She’ll reach into my pocket and just pilfer it and if I say ‘No’ she has a fit”.

I felt for this man. There was an unmistakable air of desperation in his words.

Children are relentless. They understand that when it comes to getting what they want, that after enough “No’s” they’ll eventually get to “Yes”. And while the technique I’m about to share with you is very effective for getting them to focus on a more worthwhile use of their time, it’s not nearly as effective at getting them to put down the “device” once they’ve started. Electronic entertainment, like so many things our impulses tell us take in, is like toothpaste: once it’s out of the tube it’s very, very difficult to get it back in. Remember that the next time your kid demands to watch Frozen for the thousandth time.

Let’s get to it, then. When I was a kid I was heavily into magic. When learning the secret to a new trick, I would often grow incredulous at its simplicity: “How can this possibly fool anybody?” I’d say. (This is the source of magicians’ self-loathing when around jugglers, but that’s another story). But I learned to take that leap of faith and perform the trick as instructed and I’ll be damned if it didn’t work as advertised.

One of the first thing you learn as a magician is the ability to direct – or misdirect – people’s attention. Get them to focus on something you want to focus on and away from that which you want them to ignore. I have relied on this technique of misdirection throughout my career as a parent – and to great effect. For example, when my 3-year old daughter is whining that she can’t watch the iPad, I muse aloud “I wonder what’s taller, a giraffe or an elephant?” and instantly she is engaged with the question instead of the next episode of Little Einsteins.

Is it really that easy? Of course not. Not always, anyway. Often a follow-up question is required: Which is the one with the long neck again, the giraffe or the elephant? Children are always intrigued by evidence that they are smarter than the grown-ups around them: it confirms their suspicions. Use this knowledge! (Note also the binary nature of the questions: the answers are either this or that. Keep it simple! It’s one of the keys to engagement).

Naturally this example won’t suffice for all kids in all situations. (If it did you wouldn’t be learning it from me – it would be common knowledge!) The point is that, just as fantastic magic tricks can be disappointingly simple to perform successfully, so to is redirecting your kids’ attention. You don’t have to be clever, you have to be engaging.

I can hear you say “But Dave, I don’t have time to be having a Socratic dialogue with my kids all day. I need to get work done”. Fair enough. But before you suture a wound you must first stop the bleeding and that requires misdirection or, in common parlance, changing the subject.

Try this: place two chairs a few feet apart, throw a blanket over them and say “That’s my cave” then walk away. Too many parents make a great show of observing their children to see how they react. In my experience, children become self-conscious when it’s obvious you want to see how they respond. Instead, do what I do: go back into the kitchen and if necessary, talk to the kid through the wall.

Finally, remember that there’s an endless supply of things that fascinate children: utilize this knowledge. Clap your hands and ask if it’s loud or quiet. Then snap your fingers and ask the same question.

Then do what I do with my 3-year old daughter: send the kid off to make you a cup of coffee. How will she do that? Let her figure it out while you get some work done.

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Avoiding Failure vs. Targeting Success

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Shooting out a candle under the darkness of night from a distance of 100 meters sounds impressive. In truth, it’s one of the easiest feats in a sharpshooter’s bag of tricks. Why? Because there are no distractions: the candle’s flame is literally the only thing in view.

Contrast this with a terrorist or bank robber clutching a hostage. Here, the shot is much more difficult: partly because the surface area of the target is greatly diminished owing to the hostage. But this is also true if the target is clutching a bulletproof shield of some type. It is fear of killing the hostage that makes this shot so difficult.

No sniper wants to fire a shot in this latter nightmarish scenario. If required to do so, however, success depends largely on blocking out the hostage and focusing 100% on the target. The instinctual and entirely natural fear of killing the hostage must be run out of town by a laser-like focus on the target.

There’s a difference between avoiding failure and targeting success, both in life-or-death situations and achieving personal goals. A good pilot making an emergency landing doesn’t focus on those things she wishes to avoid, which are numerous: water, trees, power lines, etc. Instead, she focuses on only one thing: the runway.

It’s not just life-or-death situations which illustrate the importance of focusing on success rather than avoiding failure. Prenuptial agreements are an example of how we are not only preoccupied with failure but actually plan for it. This is what’s so great about the blogging medium: there is no cost, if you fail you can begin again immediately and there’s no limit to the number of tries you get. Yet even here there’s a voice inside that gives us pause: “What if it’s terrible?”

Kris Kristofferson penned one of the most famous lyrics in the American songbook: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”. The inversion is this: fear of losing what we have prevents us from accruing even more.

When it comes to achieving goals the numbers of ways to fail are virtually limitless. Planning against them leaves little time for planning for success. If you need a home run, keep it simple: look at ball, hit ball. Will you succeed? I have no idea. But if you’re focussed on what you’re going to do if you fail, I like your chances a little less.

If you have thoughts or comments I invite you to leave them in the section below.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or see how a head injury which cost me the coordination in my arm initiated my journey from conventional- to comedic juggler.

Progressive Peanuts Specials

It’s A Gluten-Free Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown

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The gang has its awareness raised of Woodstock’s dubious gluten allergy while learning that shared sacrifice isn’t always delicious.

It’s A Hetero-Normative Valentine’s Day, Charlie Brown

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Charlie learns that the valentine he receives from a classmate is only the expression of the dominant, heteronormative society in which he lives and that in any event love, unlike tenure, is merely a social construct.

Eat Your Spinach, Charlie Brown

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Charlie Brown learns that in nutrition as in everything else, government scolds know best. (Viewer discretion advised: frank portrayals of gluten.)

Check Your Privilege, Charlie Brown

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Charlie learns that his incredible career success has come at the expense of women, minorities, gays, bisexuals, bigendered, transgendered, cisgendered, queer and other government-favored groups.

It’s An Culturally Sensitive Halloween, Charlie Brown

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 Lucy takes offense at Charlie Brown’s Halloween costume only to learn that he’s not actually wearing one, then flies into a rage over his failure to do so. (Viewer discretion advised: stereotyping).

It’s The Grievance Sweepstakes, Charlie Brown

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Charlie Brown learns that rights inhere in groups and are to be unsheathed and used to hit opposing groups on the head.

Linus Seeks A Safe Space

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Linus’ first day at college goes poorly when he’s informed that entering the nearest safe space requires passing through buildings inspired by Greek and Roman architecture.

Charlie Brown Identifies As Black

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No sooner does Charlie Brown identify as African-American that he begins to feel the oppressive scourge of institutional racism.

You’re Part Of The Problem, Charlie Brown

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Peppermint Patty gets angry when Charlie Brown expresses reluctance to identify as the sister she never had.

Life Is A Trigger Warning, Charlie Brown

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Life for the gang quickly becomes complicated upon learning that everyone is entitled to feel offended at anything and at anytime.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or see how I reinvented myself after a head injury cost me the coordination in my right arm.