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.

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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.

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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.