Self-Pity, Cigarettes And A Magical Question

Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 2.01.50 PM

Feeling sorry yourself is powerfully addicting.

Once upon a time I had an on-again-off-again relationship with cigarettes. At no point during this time did I think of myself as “a smoker”, as such. Instead, I saw myself as one of those lucky few capable of smoking at infrequent-but-regular intervals without thinking, let alone fixating, about my next pack.

Still, I never seemed to stop entirely. It was sort of like being single while thinking of myself as ultimately married, yet making no effort to quit being single. Then one morning I woke up, as I often did, with the unmistakable signs of a cigarette hangover. I cast a clear-eyed gaze at the sad, crumpled pack of Marlboro Lights on my dresser and asked myself what turned out to be a magical question that would serve me very well in the future.

The question was this: “How long is this going to last?” The question is magical because the answer is the same for everyone, namely, “As long as I decide it does”. When feeling self-pity or, for that matter jealousy, ask yourself “How long is this going to last?” and see if the the truth of “It’s up to me” hits you with the full force it hit me.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or see the teaser for my talk Winning With A Bad Hand.

Time Decides, Not You

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-05-32-pm

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.

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.

Avoiding Failure vs. Targeting Success

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 9.47.40 AM

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.

If Life Was Fair You Wouldn’t Have It So Good

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 9.31.25 AM You’re walking down the street and find a $100 dollar bill on the sidewalk. Do you ask yourself “What did I do to deserve this?” What about when you receive a good diagnosis from your doctor?

I didn’t think so.

Why, then, do you do so when your car gets a flat en route to an important meeting or you wake up with sore throat?

Is misfortune to befall only the unjust? Are good people to go from success to success? Why must so many decent people walk miles for clean drinking water? Why is Donald Trump so successful?

The ability to rise above life’s vagaries – it’s thrills, disappointments, satisfactions and savage unfairnesses – affect every single one of us on a daily basis. A certain degree of calm is required to be effective, not to mention to remain sane. And calm isn’t possible if you don’t appreciate that truth we constantly remind our children: that life isn’t fair. If it was you’d be subsisting on tree bark like North Koreans or have a life expectancy of 46, as in Sierra Leone.

If it was, you wouldn’t have it so good.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or learn how a head injury instigated my transition from a conventional- to comedic juggler.

The Virtue of Mixed Emotions

Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 12.31.02 PM

In a recent episode of The Libertarian podcast, Professor Richard Epstein was asked if he had mixed emotions about a particular issue. He began his answer with an aside: “First of all, I have mixed emotions about everything”. This philosophy is a good one and is best embodied by the words engraved upon the ring given to that famously wise King David: “This too shall pass”.

Good times don’t last – nor do bad ones. The best course – the course which leads to the most calm and contentment – is the mindset which prevents the emotions from becoming too strong in either direction.

“But my smartphone is an unqualified good” you say. “It allows me access a myriad wonderful things instantly and at the tip of my fingertips.” This is true. It also makes it much easier to waste time. What about the birth of a child, you ask? That child will cause you no end of trouble and worry, I can assure you.

On the other (very far) end of the spectrum, there are things like the Holocaust. Think the Holocaust did not result in anything good? Tell that the state of Israel, which wouldn’t exist were it not for it.

If these examples demonstrate how how virtually everything has an upside and a downside, how much more so do more commonplace events such as losing a job or winning the lottery? (Winning a huge sum in the lottery is one of the worst things that can happen to you).

This is not meant to downplay the devastating effects of losing a job but merely to point out that it’s precisely during difficult times that one should seek out the good.

Appreciating both the good and the bad of any situation doesn’t come naturally but learning to do so has a profoundly calming effect: your highs aren’t as high and your lows aren’t as low.

Return to daviDDeeble.com.

Indifference: The Cruelest Criticism Of All

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 2.27.56 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are two types of critics: those who wish to help you improve  and those who wish to discourage you from improving. It’s difficult to generalize about the former: these generous critics may or may not have not have experienced the trial-and-error process necessary to achieve success.

The latter, however – the cynical, petty critics – have little or no personal experience with success or, for that matter, even failure. If they did, they’d know that criticism – even unfair criticism – has no discernible effect on those who see failure as a speed bump and nothing more.

Those who criticize in order to discourage are engaged in projection: why else do they do so unless criticism had a discouraging effect on them?

So don’t waste time wondering if criticism comes from “a good place”: the critic knows where it comes from and all that matters. Your job is to be thankful that you even merited their attention, indifference being the cruelest criticism of all.

Thoughts? Leave them in the comment section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me perform live at the Nerdmelt Theater in Hollywood.

Achieving Goals and the Magic Question “What should I be doing right now?”

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 10.18.38 PM

We’ve seen it so often it’s practically a ritual: an athlete who just lost the SuperBowl or the Wimbledon final is asked what it’s like to come so far only to fall just short.

“It is what it is” the athlete replies.

The following day the athlete is chided in the media for the banality of his comment.

I don’t doubt for a moment that many of those who utter this phrase are simply parroting what they’ve heard others say in similar circumstance. But wisdom is never banal, no matter how often it is uttered.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus advised that one say precisely those words when, for example, you break your favorite mug. “It is what it is” is a magical phrase which reminds us that most of what we think of as tragedy is really just that: thoughts.

Instead of thinking “I got turned down from the prom – I’m a loser”, tell yourself “I got turned down from the prom”. Facts aren’t nearly as scary until we begin characterizing them.

One book that made a very strong impression on me is Bunkhouse Logic by Ben Stein. Bunkhouses are the humble structures in the middle of nowhere which cowboys stayed in while transporting cattle from one part of the vast western frontier to another. Successfully delivering the cattle to their destination on time is the cowboys job: if he doesn’t succeed he doesn’t get paid.

Stein describes a scene in which a cowboy brakes his leg while goofing around or otherwise doing something he probably shouldn’t have been doing. Being a cowboy, he sets the broken bone straight, creates a splint and then repairs to the bunkhouse, starring up at the stars against the jet-black sky between the cracks in the ceiling.

His thoughts naturally turn to the fix he’s in. “Well, this is just typical”, the cowboy thinks. “When will I ever learn? I’m a fool. This is hard enough work when I’m able-bodied. What am I going to do now?”

Sound familiar? If you’re like me, you probably have a similar sequence of thoughts yourself on a daily basis. But only one of those thoughts is free of characterization. Re-read the paragraph and see if you can guess which one it is.

“This is too hard” or “I’m a loser” are characterizations. “What am I going to do now?” is the question asked by those who get things done 

We can hem and haw all day about how it’s too late to save for retirement or get married. About how we seem to be on a treadmill while others go from success to success. But success begins with a radically pragmatic question: “What should I being doing right now to accomplish my goal?”

When you find the answer that question, the next question is exactly the same ad nauseum, until you accomplish your goal.

When you become familiar with this tendency to characterize events, it’s not uncommon to vilify yourself for for doing so. But remember: doing so is just another form of characterization. Simply follow-up such thoughts with the “magic” (read: pragmatic) words “What should I be doing right now?”

For more about the philosphy of Epictetus, I recommend The Art of Living translated by Sharon Lebell. Another excellent book on the importance replacing characterization with action is the the incredibly simple (not simplistic) Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D.

Do you have thoughts on accomplishing goals? Leave them in the comment section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch something go horribly wrong for me at private party performance.