Good Habits Require Achieving Escape Velocity

One of the under appreciated aspects of persistence is the way it leads, over time, to habit. I realized this recently when, looking back on my day before bedtime, I grew disappointed in myself for not having gotten my run in. I then grew astonished to realize that I had, in fact, run: I’d simply forgotten that I had done so. How could I so easily forget something like that? Because running has become automatic for me.

Lacing up my trainers and going on a run doesn’t generally require great determination on my part. It’s more like drinking coffee in the morning: a daily ritual requiring little or no self-motivation on my part.

Seen in this context, one needn’t marvel at people who are able to pick up new languages for the simple reason that it’s not work for them. Immersing themselves in languages, having conversations with foreign speakers, outgrowing the fear of making mistakes becomes perfectly natural. Were such things natural from the start? I doubt it. More likely, by regularly throwing themselves into situations which many people find uncomfortable, they learn to ignore their initial discomfort and get used to making mistakes. And each time they do, they encounter less internal resistance the next time.

Whether it’s saving money, learning a musical instrument or writing a novel, with persistence one gradually achieves a kind of escape velocity: what at first seems to require an inconceivable effort gradually becomes… effortless.

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The Tree Of Knowledge Of Happiness And Pleasure

Tree Good Evil 5And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.  – Genesis 3:22

If there were a secular Bible, it might speak of the Tree of Knowledge of Happiness and Pleasure. Clearly, eating from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was a game changer. Growing aware of the difference between pleasure and happiness is similarly transformative in our personal lives. Sure, good and evil are diametrically opposed. But for most practical purposes, so are pleasure and happiness. Want to be happy? Keep your job. Want pleasure? Nuzzle up to Greta’s breasts over at Human Resources.

Kids exhibit this phenomenon even more clearly than adults. Take my children (please!). My kids are happiest in the bathtub. Whether put in there together or separately, one never fails to hear the sounds of unadulterated joy coming from the bathroom: uproarious laughter, wonder, pleasure and amazement.

Plopped in front of the tv, however, one the sounds of silence. Their faces take on a vacant gaze and they grow glum and irritable. The commercials are too long. They want to watch something else. And most of all, they don’t want to stop watching tv. Indeed, the prospect of turning off the tv brings out the worst in them. They protest, they hem and they haw, they negotiate and grow desperate.

And how do you think they respond to the question “What do you prefer, kids, a bath or television?”

To ask the question is to answer it. Of course they’d prefer to watch tv. They hate the prospect of a bath. That is to say, they’d rather do that which makes less happy. Pleasure does not equal happiness, and much unhappiness is the result of confusion between the two.

You think adults are any wiser than children? Look around. The 40-year old guy unwilling to give up the single life for the commitment required of marriage. The alcoholic who refuses to give up the pleasure of drinking for the joys of a manageable existence. The overweight woman who drowns her sorrow in ice cream rather than the ineffable satisfaction of physical exertion.

So what’s going on here? Why would anyone choose something which they know leads to less happiness? The answer is simple: people generally prefer pleasure to happiness. To put things more simply, if you want pleasure, pursue that which brings you pleasure. If you want happiness, pursue that which brings you happiness. This pleasure/happiness dynamic is a rare exception to the way the world works in that you generally do get what you want – and you get it good and hard.

I have this crazy notion that most people are just like me or, perhaps more aptly put, that most people are just like me. Over time I have taught myself that virtually every decision on makes during the course of a day involves a trade-off between pleasure and happiness. Do I always make the decision favoring happiness? Of course not. Do I like to think that I’m aware that even the most mundane decisions I make, from what to order from the restaurant menu to whether I get in some exercise, has a very real impact on my mood, let alone my personal happiness? Absolutely.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch the sizzle reel of my talk Winning With A Bad Hand.

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.

Visit daviDDeeble.com or see my presentation 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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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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.