Solve Problems By Fixating On Goals, Not The Problems

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-9-11-00-pmWhy do some people seem perpetually overwhelmed by problems while others appear to manage them quite nicely? One reason is that people with problems tend to accumulate more problems. Every doctor knows that minor infections are no big deal to people who are basically healthy. But if you have a problem that compromises your immune system – like HIV – then even minor problems easily become major ones.

As another example, consider the sad biographies of those who’ve lost their lives to serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer. Were these young men regularly employed, forming meaningful bonds with others, earning and saving money while seeking a lasting, monogamous relationship? No: for the most part they were staying out late having sex with strangers like Dahmer in exchange for $50.

Another reason people become overwhelmed by problems is the tendency to allow problems to crowd-out everything else. We treat problems as deer do headlights: fixating not on our goals but on the headlights until eventually the headlights solve us. Like a hurdler training his vision exclusively on a hurdle, we can’t help but collide with it.

None of this is to say that when problems arise, as they inevitably do, they should be ignored. But it’s wise to keep many problems in the periphery of your vision while you keep your eyes on the prize. Like a great hurdler, you’re more likely to accomplish your goals by focusing on the finish line, not the hurdles.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch me perform the Flaming Marshmallow Balance of Mystery on the Late Late Show with James Corden.

You Think Too Much

A 45-year old woman old looks at a photo of herself at 38 and is astonished at how much younger she looked just seven years prior. At 50 she’s chagrined to see how great she looked at 42. At 60 she’d give anything to look as she did when she was only 50.

A man’s early career success begins to cool and he comes to resent merely having steady work. Then he must begin hustling for the steady work while longing for the day when work came to him.

Miserable one moment, ecstatic the next, we lack the wisdom of King Solomon who knew that this, too, shall pass. .

So what’s going on here? What’s not going on is an objective assessment of one’s beauty or career success. “I am ugly” or “I am a failure” are characterizations, as are “I am beautiful” or “I am a success”. They are attempts at finding meaning through storytelling.

When I won the International Jugglers Association’s junior championships, I told myself a story: “I’m going to become the best juggler in the world.” Eight years later, when a head injury cost me the coordination in my right arm, I told myself a different story: “I’m trapped and there’s no escape”.

I had been telling myself this story for years when a friend handed me the abstract into the FAA’s investigation into the fatal crash of Eastern flight 401. The investigation revealed that while captain, first officer and entire crew distracted themselves with a story about how the need to replace a light fuse in the plane’s control panel, they lost sight of their job: monitoring the plane’s altitude. As a result, the plane crashed shortly before midnight into the inky blackness of the Everglades.

Stop characterizing, look outward and get to work.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch my latest set at the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, California.

Compared To What? Thoughts On Gratitude

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People make mistakes, like the time my wife bought me some home-brew coffee which wasn’t Starbucks French Roast. I was hopeful: given the scale of my coffee career we’d save a lot of money over time with the brand she was steering me toward. I took one sip, sealed the air-tight lid on what remained then scribbled the words “Save for guests” on the front.

Then one 5 a.m. I realized I was out of my French Roast. Wiping the sleep from my eye, I shuffled toward the car keys in a foolish, inchoate attempt to drive to the grocery store. After realizing the insanity of operating heavy equipment without a coffee in me, my forlorn gaze fell upon my wife’s purchase.

With the relief that occasions waking up from a disturbing dream, I put my single-cup Keurig coffee maker to work then continued with my morning routine. The coffee brewed, I took a sip and a noticed something funny: it wasn’t terrible anymore. It wasn’t even bad. It was good.

John Updike once wrote a short story about a man desperately seeking a toilet. Finally finding one, the humble toilet appears to him to be one of the most beautiful things he’s ever seen. In non-fiction, U.S. war hero Louis Zamperini tells the story of waking up one day on his life raft adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to discover a seagull resting on his forehead. He quickly grabbed the bird and devoured it, saying it tasted like a banana split with chocolate syrup, whipped cream and cherry on top.

Why was my wife’s coffee so much better the second time? That’s right: because the first cup was tasted against a backdrop of an ample supply of own coffee. The second time I brewed it, though, it was my only alternative to the unthinkable: going without coffee.

I don’t pretend to know if mothers still say it to their complaining children today, but when I was a kid we were always reminded that “Somewhere in the world somebody has it worse”. Then, as now, it caused me to reflect that at any given moment there’s a child in the world who actually does have it worse than anyone else. (What does his mother tell him? Then again definitionally he doesn’t have a mother.)

It’s said that Olympians who win the bronze medal are often more satisfied with their result than those who win the silver: the latter compares her result to the gold medalist’s while the former compares her result to finishing out of a medal entirely.

What should be the attitude, then, be of those Olympians who actually do finish out of a medal? Should they be grateful merely for the opportunity to compete? Yes. And what of those who fail to qualify for the Olympics altogether? Should they appreciate the opportunity to have given it their best shot? Yes. What about those who will never fulfill their dream of attending the Olympics, let alone compete in them: should they, too, be grateful for the opportunity to watch The Games on tv and online?

You know my answer.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch me roll a honeydew melon down my back and pierce it between my legs with a garden hoe at the Magic Castle.

Time Decides, Not You

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Sometimes what appears to be a fork in the road turns out only to be a bump in the road. Most of us have experienced something which seemed catastrophic at the time – a job loss, a divorce, an entire chocolate cake devoured in a single seating – but with the passing of time one realizes it wasn’t catastrophic after all.

Other times what appears to be catastrophic does turn out to be life-changing but in a positive sense. When a head injury cost me the coordination in my right arm, I largely lost my ability to juggle at a professional level but over time I developed a workaround which ended up taking me places conventional juggling never could.

Then, of course, there are what appear to be incredible blessings which eventually come to haunt us. Think of the countless lottery winners whose lives spin out of control as if on cue or the boffo young actor who falls prey to the trappings of fame and fortune.

So what’s the point? The point is that Much of the pain in life comes not from events but our characterization of events. . And a monomaniacal insistence on finding meaning from events in real time.

This was the view of the stoic philosopher Epictetus. For example, if you drop your favorite coffee mug causing it to shatter into a million shards it’s tempting to think of it as anything from unfortunate to a profound misfortune. According to Epictetus you should not engage in characterization at all, positive (“It’s a growing experience!”) or negative (“Somebody kill me”).

Learn to think of the facts in your life in exactly those terms: facts. “My favorite mug is shattered”. One advantage of this approach is that describing it thus makes you right and being right is an important contributor to happiness, except for pessimists who are happy to be proven wrong.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch my latest set at the Comedy & Magic Club.

Two Types Of Competitiveness

Competetiveness

Most of as are familiar with two types of optimists: let’s call them the Hopeful and the Realists. The Hopeful believe, against all experience, that the best possible thing will happen. They tend to be characterized by childishness, naïveté and an inordinate tendency to be disappointed. Realists, on the other hand, tend to focus on the positive aspects of an outcome regardless of what happens. They tend to be characterized by maturity, calm and cheerfulness.

The Hopeful says “I will win America’s Got Talent!”. The Realist says “No matter what happens, there will be positive aspects.”

Similarly, there are two types of competitiveness: the kind that gnaws at you if you don’t finish first or win the gold medal (Michael Jordan) and the kind that aims to out-perform all the others while maintaining psychological equanimity in the face of catastrophe (Lou Gehrig).

But there is a third category of competitiveness which I’ll call the anti-competitive. You know the type: for example, the comedian who goes over the time allotted to him despite the despite that fact that he’s not getting any laughs.

Ask the funniest comedian on the bill how much material she has and the answer will be “About an hour”. Ask the least-funny comedian on the bill how much material she has and the answer will be closer to two hours.

These anti-competitive types aren’t interested in being the best performer on the bill. Indeed, it’s the furthest thing from their mind. They are “grateful to be there” and more interested in maximizing their potential (whatever that means), rather than maximizing the audience’s enjoyment.

Having been performing a period spanning nearly forty years, there are still very few things which I can proclaim with certainty but one of them is this: my sense of competitiveness is the number one driver of my success.

We live in a profoundly “soft” era: feelings and effort mean more than accomplishment. Winning a marathon means less finishing a marathon which, in turn, matters less than having the courage to start.

“I feel good about what I’m performing”, however, is very different than “I am the greatest ballet dancer in the world”.

Those aspiring to be successful performers should hew to the latter.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch me perform the Flaming Marshmallow Balance on the Late Late Show.