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.

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.

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.

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.