Celebrate Consistency

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Getting a low-key run in on a travel day is a gratifying private victory. Bergen, Norway.

Consistency is underrated. We like the huge paydays and the big public victories. But a life of consistent pay and private victories? Not so much.

But there’s a utility to humble consistency that contributes to big outward victories. As Olympic gold medalist in the marathon Frank Shorter puts it, consistency increases one’s margin of error. And the more consistent you are, the wider your margin of error. And the wider your margin of error, the more diminished the impact of those errors.

Missing a key workout or deadline has an outsized impact for the inconsistent. The consistent, though, know that tomorrow and the next will easily make up for the occasional setback.

Whether it’s fitness of finances, the same principle applies. Who is more impacted by a big, unexpected expense: those who have saved consistently or those who have saved inconsistently? To ask the question is to answer it.

An avid (albeit mediocre) runner myself, I used to get satisfaction only from the completion of a long run or a hard interval workout on the track. Something I could brag about. “These are the workouts” I told myself, “that separate me from the weekend warriors”.

I was wrong. What separates me from the weekend warriors isn’t the killer workouts, it’s getting in some kind of exercise six or seven days a week. For decades. Cheesy as it sounds, this is why I now tend to raise my arms in victory after completing even a 30-minute jog: I did something positive when it would have been easier not to.

Whether it’s exercise or smoking, consistency becomes self-reinforcing. A Navy SEAL doesn’t have to think about doing push-ups right out of bed any more than a smoker must think about having a cigarette: it’s automatic.

So stop thinking in terms of quantity or even quality. Instead, think of one or two things that would positively impact your life and pursue them with consistency.

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Consistency

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-6-39-35-amConsistency, says Olympic gold medalist Frank Shorter, increases your margin of error. By training consistently, he says, he didn’t have to worry about training too hard in a work out or missing a workout altogether. Why? Because there would be another workout the next day during which he could adjust for the previous day.

Another advantage of consistency, he says, is that it allows your intuition to take over. By doing something consistently it becomes automatic. And when a thing becomes automatic, your mind is free to assess, experiment and improvise.

This is why stage actors are in the main superior to film actors. Stage actors, having but one chance to deliver their lines before the audience, must commit them to memory until they can say them without thinking. That accomplished, they are free to be spontaneous,  express authentic joy, anger, etc.

Whether it’s learning a musical instrument, getting fit or writing a blog, it’s tempting to think that consistency will come with progress. This is exactly backward. Consistency allows you to improve at a sometimes-imperceptible rate but more importantly, it provides the wherewithal for your instincts to take over, allowing you to improve at a remarkable rate.

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

 

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.

Two Types Of Competitiveness

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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.

Focus On Your Objective Like A Frickin’ Laser Beam

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What’s that? You can’t seem to focus, Mr. Bigglesworth? Spare me.

If you’ve ever been fooled by a magician or laughed at a comedian’s joke then you are capable of focus. The magician directs – or misdirects – your attention in order to fool and delight you. The comedian keeps you engaged during the set-up so that the punchline pays off. In both instances the artist is relying on your focus to make the art possible.

So important is focus to an artist that it’s practically the benchmark for movies: did your mind wander during the movie? Then the movie is a failure. Did the movie keep you interested in what would happen next? Then it’s a success.

The truth is that for most people the issue isn’t the ability to focus but the ability to focus on the right thing. The truth is we’re always focused on something, as anyone who has ever found meditation to be a waste of time can readily confirm. It might not be what we want or should be focused on or – and this is where little boys in particular tend to excel  – we quickly shift our focus from one thing to another.

It’s practically axiomatic, then: achieving your objective doesn’t depend on whether you are focused but what you are focused on. And what are we focused on? Much of the time, failure. Especially when the stakes are high.

But the elite downhill skier doesn’t focus on the trees: he focuses between the trees. A pilot doesn’t focus on the bodies of water straddling the runway: he focuses on the runway.

Why do you think shooting out a candle in the darkness of night one of the easiest tricks in the marksman’s bag? The answer is simple: because there’s nothing to see but the target.

Return to daviddeeble.com or learn how a head injury that cost me the coordination in my arm instigated my journey from conventional to comedic juggler.

The Folly Of The Prenuptial Approach

There’s a third way.

Benjamin Franklin famously said that “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail”. It’s worth considering, though, the extent to which people don’t succeed not because they fail to prepare but because they prepare to fail.

Among the unpleasantries of being very wealthy, for example, is the perceived necessity of preparing for marriage and divorce at the same time. It’s difficult to imagine focusing on two different things at once, let alone two diametrically-opposed objectives. I’m no financial advisor so I won’t dispute that a prenup may be a fantastic idea for protecting one’s wealth. It’s hard to argue, though, that it’s similarly effective for a fantastic marriage.

Too often we apply this prenuptial approach to achieving our objectives. Simply stated, much of success depends on where your focus is. A pilot tasked with making an emergency landing focuses not on avoiding bodies of water, power lines and other planes but on just one thing: where they aim to land.

Your hands tend to go where your eyes go and your eyes tend to go where your focus is. Keep that in mind the next time you find yourself starring at men and women working along the shoulder of the highway as you drive past.

Did you know that one of the easiest tricks to perform with a shotgun is to shoot out a candle under the darkness of night? The reason is simple: there’s nothing else to see. (This, incidentally, is why it’s so much harder to stay in your lane when driving past highway workers at night: the klieg lights they work under make it very difficult to keep your focus where it should be: on your lane).

The focus necessary to accomplish difficult things is fostered when the stakes are high: when catching a falling baby one generally doesn’t worry about “style points”. Instead, every physiological fiber in your body blocks out that which does not further the task of catching that damn kid. (Keep this in mind when telling a joke).

Basketball (and sport generally) provides numerous examples of how excellence is fostered when your back is to the wall. How many times have you seen someone get off a quick, game-winning 3-pointer while double-teamed? Conversely, it’s the wide-open player who has “time to think about it” who tends to throw up the cover-your-eyes-awful shot that clangs off the side of the backboard.

It’s difficult to imagine applying such a laser-like focus even on something as important as one’s career, and for that we should be grateful: such people are called workaholics. But from time to time it’s worthwhile to consider the extent to which one is assuming a defensive posture, such as taking on a mountain of debt in acquiring an expensive “back-up plan” in the form of a college degree.

When Frank Costanza’s blood pressure was in danger of going up he’d shout “Serenity now!”. When you possess the self-awareness to realize that you’re focused on avoiding failure rather than achieving your objective, step back and consider creating your own mantra to bring back your focus. Mine is “Eyes on the prize”.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or learn how a head injury which cost me the coordination in my right arm instigated my journey from conventional- to comedy juggler.

The Price Of Therapeutic Culture

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The only people who don’t experience a degree of stress on a more-or-less constant basis are babies: no meals to prepare, no bills to pay and they nap whenever they like. They don’t even have to read or wipe their butts: it’s all done for them. Babies are basically VIPs  on a junket in the Caribbean.

So it makes sense that we never tell them “You’ve been under a lot of stress,” or YBUALOS. But why do we feel compelled to tell our fellow adults that they’ve been under a lot of stress? Adults have deadlines to meet, cranky spouses to finesse, demanding bosses and crying babies to deal with. Of course they’ve been under a lot of stress lately. You might as well tell them they’ve been living on dry land a lot lately.

When someone tells you you’ve been under a lot of stress lately you can be sure of one thing: you’ve come up short either professionally or personally. YBUALOS is the English language’s go-to palliative, not meant to point out a redundant fact so much as to soothe a bruised ego or a guilty conscience.

You’ve been under a lot of stress lately is a product of soft America’s therapeutic culture. Imagine the embodiment of results-oriented hard America – a soldier – disobeying an order and then being informed by the officer who issued it “You’ve been under a lot of stress lately”.

Don’t get me wrong: when you fall short in life – as we all do from time to time –  I don’t advocate you don a hair shirt and crawl into a hole. But recognize YBUALOS for what it is: an attempt to rationalize failure rather than to recognize it.

Recognizing that you’ve failed is an essential step to achieving success. Absent that, you’ll have to wait until you’re stress-free to try again.

When might that be?

Return to daviDDeeble.com or learn how a head injury that cost me the coordination in my arm turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me professionally.

Looks Fast, Flies Fast: Motivate Yourself With The Halo Effect

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In the world of aeronautical engineering it’s sometimes said that “If it looks fast, it flies fast”. I know what you’re thinking: “That’s great, Dave. How can this information help me?”

Consider: when it comes to running shoes, my approach has always been to find the best-looking shoes that more-or-less fit. My much more practical running buddy seeks the best-fitting shoes with relative indifference toward how they look. So I wasn’t surprised when he showed up one day wearing clunky, gray things with burgundy trim which looked like something an orthopedic doctor would prescribe.

“I’m not crazy about the look” he shrugged, “but they fit”.

There’s much to be said for my friend’s approach. Running shoes that fit properly, needless to say, are more important than ones that say “I run marathons in under three hours”. But when it comes to motivating ourselves to get our the door each day and actually run, which one of us do you suspect was more likely to be spurred into doing so by merely glancing at our respective shoes in the corner of the room? To ask the question is to answer it.

Another example from the world of fitness: for the longest time I had trouble hydrating sufficiently. “What’s so hard about drinking enough water?” I’d ask myself. No matter how often I reminded myself to drink water throughout the day I’d invariably fail. Then I bought a beautiful, translucent green water bottle. When the sun hits it just right you feel like drinking from it just for the joy of it. Result? I’m one of the best-hydrated people you know.

My love of running is equalled by my aversion to strength training so I’ve started using various 7-minute workout apps to help me get motivated. Too many people are purists when it comes to motivation. Either I motivate myself or I don’t they think, there are no shortcuts.

But there are shortcuts. And very often they’re the only thing separating those who get work done and those who don’t.

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

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.