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.

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.

Indifference: The Cruelest Criticism Of All

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There are two types of critics: those who wish to help you improve  and those who wish to discourage you from improving. It’s difficult to generalize about the former: these generous critics may or may not have not have experienced the trial-and-error process necessary to achieve success.

The latter, however – the cynical, petty critics – have little or no personal experience with success or, for that matter, even failure. If they did, they’d know that criticism – even unfair criticism – has no discernible effect on those who see failure as a speed bump and nothing more.

Those who criticize in order to discourage are engaged in projection: why else do they do so unless criticism had a discouraging effect on them?

So don’t waste time wondering if criticism comes from “a good place”: the critic knows where it comes from and all that matters. Your job is to be thankful that you even merited their attention, indifference being the cruelest criticism of all.

Thoughts? Leave them in the comment section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me perform live at the Nerdmelt Theater in Hollywood.

Difficult Things Make You Happy

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My son loves watching videos and playing games on our iPad. He become giddy with excitement when I allow him to do so. The problem is that when it’s time to stop, he invariably becomes sullen and moody.

I point out to him the transformative effect the iPad or – more precisely – turning off the iPad – has on him. In response, he promises he’ll be more self-aware (my words, not his) when his time is up. And when his time is up, I’ll be damned if he doesn’t slide right back into grumpiness. It’s as if we had never had our conversation.

Conversely, homework is something which he does not look forward to. He’ll do it, to be sure, but he does so grudgingly. And when he’s done? He’s happy.

In short, the iPad makes him unhappy and homework makes him happy. Why then does he not plea for more homework and less time on the iPad? Because he, like most of us, lacks self-awareness. He thinks the iPad makes him happy because it’s fun. He thinks homework makes him unhappy because it’s boring.

Like many others, I have struggled with cultivating the self-awareness to do those things which make me happy. One area where I have largely succeeded is exercise. For example, I’m an avid runner, putting in anywhere between 20 to 50 miles week. My primary motivator is knowing that getting my run in – even if it’s only a relaxed 30-minute jog, makes me happier, not to mention more pleasant to be around. (“I owe it to others!”).

Would I characterize running long distances as fun? Not really. Do I wake up each morning aching to find time to put my tired legs to the test? No. Do I ever put up a big, fat zero in my running long because I just can’t bring myself to lace up and head out the door? All the time. But in general, it because I have enough self-awareness regarding the effects of exercise on my mood to get some in each day.

Notice the parallel: exercising is for me what homework is for my son: not something I particularly want to do but something I have to do because not doing it will make me irritable. Which, funnily enough, makes me want to do it.

If you’re a responsible person, the vast majority of your days are spent doing things you’d rather not be doing. At this very moment I can think of many things I’d rather be doing than sitting in Minneapolis airport writing this blog. So why am I doing it? Because I know that having written it and sent it out into the world I will have accomplished something and accomplishment is one of the greatest sources of happiness.

There’s part of us that wishes we could enjoy a sense of accomplishment without doing the hard work it necessitates. Call it the path of least resistance, the death wish or just plain laziness. The point is that if you think of those things you have to do as essential for happiness, you’d do them more gladly.

Comments? Leave them in the section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me roll a billiard ball around my head.

Outwitting Your Inner Perfectionist

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If you have children you know that they can sometimes be unflattering reflections of yourself.

“Put your pants on, Luke”, I often tell my 6-year old son, adding “Put down your Transformer and put your pants on”.

“Put your shoes on, Luke”, then “Set down your biscotti and put your shoes on.”

Oftentimes I have to explain to myself what I explain to Lucas: you save time by doing one thing at a time.

For children, of course, saving time isn’t a priority because it’s one thing they have in abundance. For adults, though, this tendency to do more than one thing at a time is a result of run-of-the-mill perfectionism.

I call it “run-of-the-mill” perfectionism because many of us think perfectionism is an attribute solely of artists or surgeons. Worse, many of us think of perfectionism as a positive thing, spurring us to higher and higher levels of achievement.

Real perfectionists know that the most-common side-effect is difficulty getting anything done. Those truly in thrall to perfectionism try to do everything at once because, well, what’s the point of trying to do one thing at a time when perfection is always beyond reach?

Blogs, as a medium, have helped me to see that if you take something seriously, doing it consistently is infinitely more important than doing it perfectly. But only by doing it consistently was I able to learn this.

Even on the most popular blogs, after all, it isn’t unusual to find misspellings, grammatical mistakes, etc. We readers don’t interpret such mistakes as failures as such. Blogging has evolved into a conversational medium, where the most successful ones tend to be personal, helpful and free, none of which requires that every i be dotted and every crossed.

What does this mean for you? It means that people – readers, audiences, bosses – respond to openness and authenticity more than to perfection and panache. (I learned this the hard way).

It means that if you’re intimidated by the prospect of writing book, commit to writing three books. Instead of updating your resumè, consider replacing altogether with your story. What do you wish to accomplish? What have you started? Captaining your high school chess club is pretty cool.. Founding your high school chess club is even cooler and tells us something about you. (This is great advice to give your children, by the way. If your child’s school has no German club, encourage him to start one and help him every step of the way. Imagine how transformative it is to be reminded of your power – even as a child – to start things).

So take a chance and start something, finish it and send out it out into the world. If you can do that, you’re ahead of the vast majority of others who wish they had the courage to do the same but substitute it with the unfulfilling rewards of anonymity. 

Will your thing fail to set the world on fire? Probably. But you’ll learn firsthand that you had much less to fear than you thought.

But what if everyone hates it? That’s the perfectionist in you again, telling you, in effect, that you’ve got one shot and that it has to be perfect. But you don’t have one shot: you have a new shot everyday. In fact, each moment provides you with an endless supply of new opportunities to say “Let’s see what happens”.

When you fail, tell yourself “Well, at least I got that out of the way”. You’ll find that your inner-perfectionist, for once, has nothing to say.

So use both your hands, pull up your pants and see what happens.

Did this blog suck? Let me know in the comment section below and I promise you, there will be a lot more.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me fail on stage in front of hundreds of people.