Jealousy Is Always Premature

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I’ve always been fascinated by endurance events such as the marathon. They demonstrate that one has the ability to inflict discomfort on one’s competitors – physical discomfort – without laying a finger on them. Doing so, however, requires increasing one’s own discomfort level. It’s sort of like holding your hand over a flame: a measure of physical and mental toughness. Tenacity.

(The biggest players in many industries understand this. It’s why Walmart supported the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate: not because Walmart is a glutton for punishment but because it understood that the mandate would have a decimating impact on its smaller competitors – those with employees much closer to 50 employees than Walmart’s more than two million.)

Tour de France riders ask “How much more pain can I tolerate?” In the world of startups one asks “How much more money can I invest in my idea?” The writer asks how many screenplays she’ll peddle before giving up, and so on.

As in life, victory in marathon doesn’t go to the runner who leads most of the race but to the one who leads at the end of the race. Life’s race ends when you’re dead, which is to say it never ends. At least not in this life. The guy who pulls away from the pack right from the start? Sure, he gets his name mentioned on tv but twenty miles later, when the real racing has begun, he’s nowhere to be found. Similarly, the 23-year old A-lister soon finds himself in the Where Are They Now file just as the patient and persistent begin rising to prominence.

So if you’re going to be jealous of anyone, be jealous of the persistent. Or better yet, abjure it altogether. It’s said that jealousy is the only one of the seven deadly sins which does not provide even temporary pleasure. If that’s not enough for you to renounce jealousy whenever it rears its ugly head, then consider this: it’s always premature.

“This sounds well and good,” I hear you say. “But how does one fight a feeling such as jealousy?”

Here are four words which have always helped me : “Too soon to tell.”

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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.

Friendly Relationships Are Not Friendships

IMG_1411The difference between a friendly relationship and a friendship is easily understood. You and your landlord have a friendly relationship. You and Doug have a friendship. For most people, friendly relationships aren’t hard to come by. They’re everywhere: the mailman, the barista at your local Starbucks, the kid at the Apple Store who tries to explain to you the purpose of the cloud, etc.

But would you call any of them friends? For many people in our mindbogglingly fast-paced age of one-day news cycles and social media, the answer is “Yes.” But I want to ask: are they really your friends? Do you have their phone number? Can you name one of their hobbies? Do you open up to them about your marriage or finances, or they you?

Don’t get me wrong: friendly relationships aren’t to be discounted. Nobody gets more satisfaction than me from somebody’s secretary who issues a “Pip, pip cheerio and a top of the day to you, sir!” each morning. But can you count on her taking your call at any hour of the night?

I don’t doubt that Facebook has contributed to the confusion surrounding what constitutes a friendship. But I also believe that to some extent it is a product of it. For some time before Facebook we would casually refer to someone as “my friend” when she is, in fact, she is no such thing.

I get it, “friend” is just easy to say: “This is my friend Gladys.” What else are you going to say, “This is Gladys with whom I have a friendly relationship”? Of course not. Way too suggestive. But what’s wrong with “This is Gladys. She fits me for all my running shoes,”?

I’m as guilty as anyone of blurring the distinction. In truth, owing largely to my family and career, my circle of true-blue friends has become vanishingly small. And I’m not sanguine about it: I don’t think it’s possible to have too many friends. On the other hand, the difference between having one friend and no friends is immeasurably greater than the difference between having one friend or two friends.

But no matter how many friends you have, never forget the difference between friendship and friendliness and that with only latter you’re subsisting on the icing without the cake.

Visit daviDDeeble.com or watch me perform the Flaming Marshmallow Balance of Mystery  on the Late Late Show with James Corden.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Futility of Envy

green eye textLast night I lay in bed with the mellow satisfaction one enjoys at the end of a particularly good day. Then, shortly before calling it a night, I checked-in on Instagram and suddenly found myself feeling jealous toward of a couple of my colleagues.

Instantly my mood had changed from mellow satisfaction to painful dissatisfaction. It was then that I reminded myself of words I had read many years ago by George Will and which have stayed with me ever since: Envy is only one of the seven deadly sins which does not provide the sinner even temporary pleasure.

In the annals of products promising quick relief, few will serve you better than these words have for me over the years. Implicit in shame is the possibility of a new beginning through forgiveness and making amends. Lust has its tantalizing appeal and righteous anger can be exhilarating. Envy, on the other hand, is the emotional equivalent to drinking Drain-O: nothing good comes from it.

When feeling envy, I remind myself of George Will’s words and then of how life is like a movie: it is comprised of countless “frames”: in one frame we’re winning the lottery; in another we’re stubbing our toe. And while it’s tempting to compare our own movie to someone else’s, it’s absolute folly to compare an individual frame to someone else’s, particularly if that frame is an outlier.

Besides, everyone’s “movie” eventually comes to an end. And like movies, the wise admire those lives which tell the best story while fools admire the biggest box-office hits.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or see how a head injury started my journey from a conventional- to comedic juggler.