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.

Strong Body, Focused Mind

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I was in great shape last January. For some reason I decided to into great shape for an engagement on my calendar – something I had never even considered doing before.

Why did I do so this time? One reason that it was a weeklong run at the Magic Castle and after all, one does not simply walk into Mordor.

By the end of the week I learned some interesting things. For one thing, the strength I’d built up from moderate, consistent distance running running and working out with babies effectively reduced the physical workload of performing. More pertinent, onstage it freed my min  to focus on more pertinent things, like what am I doing with my life?

Was is it worth it? This Magic Castle bootleg nicely conveys the incredible reserves of energy my act requires.

In 24 days I’ll need to again be physically strong for my mind’s sake. I’ll make it – but it starts today.

Thoughts? Comments? Leave them in the section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com.

Happiness Is Hard

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In my home there lives a baby who loves taking a bath but who often must be dragged kicking and screaming to take one. There’s also a boy who eagerly anticipates his reward for completing his homework yet must be goaded into actually doing it. There’s a woman whose mood is boosted by exercise yet sometimes goes days without it. Finally, there’s a man who finds sharing ideas with others enormously gratifying yet often lacks the wherewithal to do just that.

What’s wrong with us?

Our problem  – most people’s problem – is that we think in terms of ease and comfort rather than happiness. Happiness takes an energized body and an engaged mind. Comfort requires only a decent-size sofa.

I know that preparing a new dish for my family will greatly increase my happiness. I know that shopping for the ingredients and working in the kitchen will increase my happiness. But I also know that there’s a yet another frozen pizza in the freezer which can be rendered delicious in less than 20 minutes. And that I can check out my latest Facebook post while I wait.

The next time you consider engaging in any activity, ask yourself “Will it make me happy or will it make me comfortable?”

Comments? Leave them in the section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch a me attempt to juggle while wearing a volunteer’s glasses.

3 Steps To Defeating Your Inner Defeatist

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Even if you’re fortunate enough to have grown up before the unhappy advent of helicopter parenting you know that when it comes to creating something new and sending it out into the world, most of us have our own internal helicopter parent sitting on our shoulder, telling us to go only so far and no further.

Like its real-life counterpart, your internal voice’s raison d’être seems to be to cage you. Not in a cocoon of physical safety but a cocoon of convention, imagination and self-limiting preconceptions. Failure is The Voice’s kryptonite and it will say anything to prevent you from risking failure.

And it never rests.

These three straightforward steps will go a long way to helping you adopt the mindset required to push back against The Voice and enjoy the ineffable feeling of having winds to your back while you work.

Step 1: Acknowledge It

Given that you’ve made it this far, I assume you’ve already got this step down pat: acknowledging that you have such a voice inside you. As taught in 12-step programs, you can’t lick it until you acknowledge it.

2: Hear It In Order To Ignore It

The first step is acknowledging that you have such a voice manipulating you. The second step is familiarizing yourself with it.

By familiarizing yourself with it you are well on your way to ignoring it and doing remarkable work thereby. For too many people, this voice is so familiar as to be virtually undetectable: they aren’t even aware of it. Such people require that the voice shout in order to hear it. Alas, for these poor souls the voice needn’t ever shout because they immediately cave to its every whim.

Fat, drunk and stupid may be no way to go through life, but neither is being in thrall to a self-limiting, self-defeating demon of which you aren’t even aware.

Step 3: See How Loud And Irrational You Can Make The Voice

When threatened, the voice tends to produce more heat than light. Realizing this enables you to use the voice as a map to help you determine if you’re on the right track. When you begin flirting with leaving your comfort zone, the voice speaks in the well-modulated voice of a true-blue expert who only has your best interests at heart. “What a cadence! How self-assured!” you think. It’s hard not to be impressed.

The more you ignore it and push back against it, however, the more the voice reveals itself to be a poseur – and a cynical, infantile one at that. Over time you’ll learn to plow right ahead while disregarding the voice altogether. But if you’re new following your own lights instead of your inner defeatist, make a game of seeing how much you can exasperate it.

Ignoring The Voice will not inoculate you from failure. On the contrary – when you learn to ignore it you’ll find that you begin failing thick and fast. This often causes The Voice to take on a less paternal and more self-righteous tone: “See what happens when you ignore me?” At this point you’re at a vital crossroads: resume caving to it or seamlessly transition to work on your next project for the world to consider.

The Voice feels threatened by those who start and finish things but it’s terrified by those who serially repeat the process.

Thoughts? Comments? Leave them in the section below.

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

Outwitting Your Inner Perfectionist

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If you have children you know that they can sometimes be unflattering reflections of yourself.

“Put your pants on, Luke”, I often tell my 6-year old son, adding “Put down your Transformer and put your pants on”.

“Put your shoes on, Luke”, then “Set down your biscotti and put your shoes on.”

Oftentimes I have to explain to myself what I explain to Lucas: you save time by doing one thing at a time.

For children, of course, saving time isn’t a priority because it’s one thing they have in abundance. For adults, though, this tendency to do more than one thing at a time is a result of run-of-the-mill perfectionism.

I call it “run-of-the-mill” perfectionism because many of us think perfectionism is an attribute solely of artists or surgeons. Worse, many of us think of perfectionism as a positive thing, spurring us to higher and higher levels of achievement.

Real perfectionists know that the most-common side-effect is difficulty getting anything done. Those truly in thrall to perfectionism try to do everything at once because, well, what’s the point of trying to do one thing at a time when perfection is always beyond reach?

Blogs, as a medium, have helped me to see that if you take something seriously, doing it consistently is infinitely more important than doing it perfectly. But only by doing it consistently was I able to learn this.

Even on the most popular blogs, after all, it isn’t unusual to find misspellings, grammatical mistakes, etc. We readers don’t interpret such mistakes as failures as such. Blogging has evolved into a conversational medium, where the most successful ones tend to be personal, helpful and free, none of which requires that every i be dotted and every crossed.

What does this mean for you? It means that people – readers, audiences, bosses – respond to openness and authenticity more than to perfection and panache. (I learned this the hard way).

It means that if you’re intimidated by the prospect of writing book, commit to writing three books. Instead of updating your resumè, consider replacing altogether with your story. What do you wish to accomplish? What have you started? Captaining your high school chess club is pretty cool.. Founding your high school chess club is even cooler and tells us something about you. (This is great advice to give your children, by the way. If your child’s school has no German club, encourage him to start one and help him every step of the way. Imagine how transformative it is to be reminded of your power – even as a child – to start things).

So take a chance and start something, finish it and send out it out into the world. If you can do that, you’re ahead of the vast majority of others who wish they had the courage to do the same but substitute it with the unfulfilling rewards of anonymity. 

Will your thing fail to set the world on fire? Probably. But you’ll learn firsthand that you had much less to fear than you thought.

But what if everyone hates it? That’s the perfectionist in you again, telling you, in effect, that you’ve got one shot and that it has to be perfect. But you don’t have one shot: you have a new shot everyday. In fact, each moment provides you with an endless supply of new opportunities to say “Let’s see what happens”.

When you fail, tell yourself “Well, at least I got that out of the way”. You’ll find that your inner-perfectionist, for once, has nothing to say.

So use both your hands, pull up your pants and see what happens.

Did this blog suck? Let me know in the comment section below and I promise you, there will be a lot more.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me fail on stage in front of hundreds of people.

Eyes On The Prize: How Best To Avoid Distractions

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Many years ago a head injury caused neurological damage to my right arm, costing me my ability to juggle. This would have been hilarious to me, too, were I not a professional juggler at the time. Instead, I became preoccupied with regaining my lost ability.

Years passed with no progress. I tried everything: doctors, strength training, a makeshift rubber sling. Toward the end I was attempting to juggle by simultaneously pinching a throw pillow under my armpit.

It was then that my friend stepped in.

An accomplished performer and also a trained pilot, my friend printed out for me the transcript of the last conversation between the doomed pilot and co-pilot of Eastern Airlines flight 401. Like me with my arm issue, these pilots had allowed themselves to become distracted with something which ultimately had no bearing on their objective (the bulb of the landing-gear indicator had burned out).

If the pilots had focused on the task at hand – landing the aircraft safely – they would have noticed that the autopilot had been disengaged and that the plane was losing altitude.

My friend had taught me a profound lesson which has served well me ever since: by thinking of myself as a juggler, I had lost sight of the fact that I still had every tool necessary to do my real job, which is to entertain.

Similarly, if Smith Corona had realized in the 1980s that it was in the word processing business rather than the typewriter business, they may not be making thermal barcode labels today.

It was this realization that allowed me to greatly expand my skill set to include stand-up comedy, catching olives on toothpicks and even slow-motion juggling with plastic grocery sacks, to name three things which turned out to be more hilarious than anything I had dreamt up before my injury.

Sometimes keeping your eyes on the prize is simple. Shooting out a flaming candle with a gun at night is impressive to the layman, but an experienced shooter knows it’s actually quite easy because the flame is the only thing there is to see.

Oftentimes, however, distractions abound. And the best way to ignore them is by focusing on your objective. This sounds axiomatic, but too often we fixate on distractions in our attempts to avoid them. During an emergency landing it’s tempting for a pilot to focus on the myriad things she must avoid: water, telephone wires, mountains, other planes. But experienced pilots are always focused on one thing: the runway.

What is your runway? Focus on it incessantly and don’t let distractions like fear of failure cause you to come up short.

Do you have thoughts on avoiding distractions and achieving goals? Leave the in the comment section below.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch me kick a coin into my eye socket.

There’s One In Every Crowd – So Why Fret?

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When it comes to distractions while performing, entertainers tend to feel the pea beneath the mattress. I wish I had a nickel for each time I directed my attention the one person in the audience who doesn’t seem to “get” it. One of the most-challenging aspects of live performance is learning not to focus on the disinterested man, the disengaged woman and distracting 3-year old heckler.

Every speaker and entertainer need to decide who in the audience they want to win over. One has a choice: to direct your attention to the gal in the front row who’s clearly not “rolling with it” or to the vast majority of the audience who is.

When you “have the floor”, it’s natural to be hypersensitive to the least little distraction. One example from memory: I was performing in a cavernous theater before a large audience when a woman in the front row began crinkling the plastic wrapper of the lozenge she had just placed in her mouth. It was barely audible to me, let alone the rest of the audience. I decided, however, that it was important to make her (and therefore the rest of the audience) aware of it and that would she kindly refrain from it?

The audience’s reaction: What the hell is this guy referring to? The fact is, no one in the audience was paying any attention to it because they were paying attention to me. I had earned their attention by being interesting – and I threw it away when I drew their attention to the busy fingers of the woman in the front row.

There will always be distractions from time to time – a glass will shatter on the floor, for example – which would be awkward to let pass without any comment. But unless you’re absolutely certain that something which occurs “outside the lines” requires commentary from you, nine times out of ten you won’t regret ignoring it.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me juggle (now-banned) plastic grocery bags on The Tonight Show.

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

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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.

There’s Nothing Like Telling A Joke For The Second Time

How I work is I write down my thoughts, edit them down to size and then tell them to audiences as if they had just occurred to me. It’s sort of like acting in a play which you also wrote.

One of the challenges of performing new material is maintaining the same demeanor (i.e., feigning the same confidence) as those jokes which are time-tested. It’s like suddenly bluffing in poker after a long series of hot hands.

It’s very gratifying to try new material which receives the desired response. But in stand-up comedy the real rush comes from a new joke’s second telling because you know the audience will place a coda of laughter at the end. As a result, my anxiety is replaced with anticipation, uncertainty with confidence. Instead of anticipating and observing the audience reaction my mind is free focus on my delivery, which enhances my confidence, which increases the audience’s enjoyment, and so on.

It’s a virtuous cycle.

Thoughts, comments or angry retorts? Leave them in the comment section below.

Return to daviDDeeble.com.

 

Simplicity

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One of the ancient Greek philosophers advises keeping your principles few and simple so that you may refer to them quickly in an emergency. This advice was very useful to me when I lost the coordination in my right arm after a head injury. One moment I could juggle five balls behind my back. The next? I’m unable to juggle even two with my right hand without getting big laughs.

But just as rain falls on both the righteous and the wicked, I also had my share of good luck. Good luck to grow up down the street from the Long Beach Mystics clubhouse, for example. Ostensibly a place for magicians to help each other hone their craft, the principles I learned are applicable to all the performing arts.

It was really about KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Beginning at around age 8, being in the Mystics inculcated in me the importance of presentation. I learned that those things performed on the stage which most move audiences are ultimately those things which move people in every day life: Generosity. Mastery. Spontaneity.

Most of us are not fortunate to have grown up surrounded by such practical wisdom in the performing arts. But the truth is, most aspiring performers have more to unlearn than to learn. Simplify. Ask yourself: Am I rambling? Is there a more-straightforward way to present this idea or ask for this raise? Is this joke too wordy? Am I beating around the bush?

The other advantage of keeping things simple is that it’s fun. Of course it can be taken too far and one should guard against doing so. Just as a cigar is sometimes just a cigar, sometimes  a painting or sculpture is complete.

Similarly, making something more complex has its allures and naturally is often appropriate. But it’s accompanied by the nagging sensation that you should be streamlining rather than adding, chances are that nagging sensation is right.