Self-Pity, Cigarettes And A Magical Question

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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.

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.

Fun Is Easy, Happiness Is Hard

10443158_788833557827333_4179652623399338578_oExercise is hard. My primary form of exercise – running – is particularly unfathomable to many. Yet when it comes to running long distances, I’m one of those annoying people who “get it”.

You know what I also get? Eating doughnuts. Who doesn’t love doughnuts? Fried dough, delectable vanilla icing, rainbow sprinkles. What’s more, eating doughnuts is a lot more fun than running. No matter how much I engage in both activities, eating doughnuts never fails to out-fun running. But here’s the thing: I eat doughnuts only rarely but I run 30 to 50 miles six or seven days a week. So what gives? Am I preternaturally disciplined? Obsessed with being skinny? Is someone always chasing me?

The answer is that I’m acutely self-aware of what makes me happy as opposed to what merely makes me feel good. Orgasms feel good yet I’ll wager that if I spent my life pursuing them I’d be a less happy person. If engaged in for a prolong period of time, fun things tend to make me miserable. Difficult things, conversely tend to make me happy.

Confusion about the difference between fun and happiness has caused no shortage of pain in people’s lives. A good question to ask yourself before engaging in any activity, from flossing your teeth to going to attending religious services, has been suggested by author Dennis Prager. The question is “How will I feel once I’m done?” Happiness-inducing activities tend to provide good feelings long after the activity has ceased. Merely fun things, however, tend to stop providing pleasure the moment one desists in the activity.

This phenomenon is easy to observe in children. Calling my children inside for dinner, they remain flushed with the joy of having played outside. They exhibit the “glow” I feel after a good run. But if I must inform them that it’s time to stop playing video games or watching Netflix, well, the words “profoundly irritated” best describe them.

We all know that passive entertainment diverts us for a time but leaves us less happy and more irritable. Yet we continue to eat junk food, play video games and watch too much tv instead of doing the hard work of exercising, reaching out to others and creating.

If you want to spend your life having fun then by all means, fill it with fun things. But if you want to spend your life being happy, pursue things that make you happy.

But most importantly, constantly remind yourself of the difference.

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

In Praise Of Checklists

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Work out your principles during moments of calm so you can refer to them quickly during times of panic. .

I keep a checklist for everything I require for a full show, which covers everything from plastic grocery bags to a marshmallow. Because I know my checklist is comprehensive – created as it was during a period of reflection – it frees my mind to focus on more important things before the show like the specific needs of my client.

Consider the amateur actor who invests so much time “identifying with the character” and “investing emotionally” in the script only to walk onstage only to realize that he hasn’t memorized his lines.

Recently I got to thinking about Gene Krantz, the legendary vest-clad flight director of NASA’s Apollo space program. What a high-pressure job I thought. Imagine being the sole person responsible for green lighting a launch of human beings into space.

But then I got to thinking: Wait a minute: this guy has numerous others in charge of every conceivable aspect of the mission. Responsibility is broken down into incredible detail. Krantz’ job was basically ensuring that the vote is unanimous. He’s just a straw counter!

There’s the guy in charge of the rocket’s hydraulics. The mainframe computer. Even the lowly flight surgeon is on hand to monitor the astronauts’ heart rate. What does that leave for Krantz? Nothing other than the awesome responsibility of saying “You’re go for launch, Apollo”. Put me in a vest and I could do that job.

“Ah!” I hear you say. “But what about when something goes wrong like on Apollo 13?” Are you kidding me? That’s the easiest press conference in the world: you simply gesture to the guy in charge of that aspect of the mission that went to pot and say “Look – he said we were good to go. Now you’ll excuse me – I’m going to get quietly hammered.”

Return to daviddeeble.com or learn about my laugh-out-loud corporate presentation Winning With A Bad Hand.

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.

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.