Do they make you better?

I came across this question in the book How To Fall In Love With Anybody. I’d heard it before but I can’t remember where.

It’s the most important thing you can ask about your romantic partner or any relationship really. Does being with this person make you better? Do they bring to your better qualities, do they tacitly or implicitly encourage you to be the person you want to be?

The feeling of ‘love’ can be completely wrong, it can be fooled, it can be created in a lab or by a story, it can be manipulated. People cling to the word love like it answers all questions, like it’s the trump card to all rationality.

This is wrong, and it arouses contempt in the rationalist heart.

People often want an excuse away from being their best self. Because being your best self takes work and they may find the best they can be is not the best they thought. So they hide behind things, things like loving someone they consider inferior and taking silent relief in being dragged down.

Imaging you could do something if you really wanted keeps people from doing so many of their cherished things. And thinking that they gave up some cherished dreams for love let’s them feel that they could have done it and that they’re a noble romantic figure. That’s much better than admitting you got laid and gave up on your dreams for it.

I’ve dated people that didn’t make me better, in the past, before I was the insightful author you see before you, last year. I – briefly, no surprise – dated someone who I thought was so much better than me it brought out my shittiest qualities, qualities so shitty I didn’t even know I had them.

And I just tried to make it work because it had a story book beginning so I thought it had to have the story book ending.

Paradoxically, thinking I’d never be good enough for her, partially because she was a massively judgmental bitch, caused me to get even worse. I was desperate, reaching for rungs on a ladder I felt were too far away. I got more and more needy the more my needs weren’t being met.

In my relationship now though I was loved for all that I am and not in spite of it, and paradoxically that made me want to get better. I felt the safe base from which to go forward and try.

I’m in a relationship where being the best version of myself feels like and act of love for her. She invested in this clunker so let’s fix it up and make it a gem. I’m a thrift store diamond in the rough and I’m proud. And that pride is what makes me able to healthily make improvements for their own sake.

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How to practice in your sleep

There’s a maneuver in nunchucking known as infinites. They look like this. Jay and I had both practiced and we we’re getting sloppy versions of them occasionally just out of luck but something was completely missing.

Then we both had the experience of one day being able to do them perfectly every time. As Tim Ferris often says, it was a not boiling/boiling moment.

It had just happened over night. Not able to able.

I thought back to this moment when I was reading about sleep and dreams. There’s a layer of sleep where your dreams are so boring you typically don’t remember them. You’re brain rehearses skills in it’s down time. The example given was driving. If you look at someone’s brain scans during long section of sleep, you can see they are practicing driving. That’s why you dream about work a lot too. When you kick over into REM sleep and you’re brain starts making wild symbolic connections as subconscious index cards for your memory, that’s when you’re driving a steamroller over tiny buildings or whatever weird thing that you often do remember in the morning out of it’s sheer weirdness.

Now here’s the thing about that practice: It actually works, it actually grows the skill.

There was a study done using basket ball player where group A threw 3 pointers for a an hour a day while group B just concentrated on thinking about throwing from the line for an hour day. Both group’s average number of baskets improved over the week.

I often have dreams about being back is school, as does everyone, and one common feature was that, after being gone so long of course, I couldn’t remember my locker combination. Being in an experimental mindset I thought if I bought a lock and did the combination a few times before bed each night maybe I’d solve the problem in my dream.

It’s bad prioritizing that go to a doctor has been on my to do list for 6 years but having a work around for inconvenient dreams got done in a day but I’m not here to be perfect, just diligent.

Anyway I didn’t even need to buy a lock. Before I got around to it I had a school dream again and just remembering that I had a solution in the works alleviated the worry that the locker wouldn’t open so it did.

Similarly I used to have dreams about being on stage with a suddenly untuned, and untunable, guitar with a band playing a song I didn’t know and as I got better on stage in real life I handled the dream situation with increasing aplomb, with charm and gravatas in fact.

When I started playing squash 3 months ago part of my obsessive plan for improvement was to practice in my sleep. I watched squash videos before bed, I took practice swings in the evening, I kept a racket and ball by my bed, and I thought deliberately about a squash game from a first person point of view as I was falling asleep.

Now the same thing happens with no effort. I went for my first swim in years last Monday and I was terrible. Just zero efficiency or skill, I was essentially treading water three times as hard as need be and leaning forward. Monday evening I picked up some swimming tips from YouTube, Tuesday morning I dreamed I was swimming in a lake with kick from the hip echoing in my ears, and Wednesday I swam light years better than just two days before.

There’s no such thing as down time if you have a unified theory of practice.

Posted in Pragmatism

The opposite of a fair weather friend

I have a lingering reputation for being a downer.

Which I’ve never aspired to be, of course. Very rarely do I want to take away from the achievement of anyone, let alone a friend.

My driving force with people is to make them better. I never want to push anybody down. There are a certain class of people in my life that I think are too dumb to be worth helping up but I’d still never doing anything impede them. Why would I? If they got better there would be one less dumb person in my periphery.

There are a lot of people who just get the meanest version of me because the opportunity cost of giving them constructive feedback is too high. I don’t think that that’s okay but working on it isn’t in my top three priorities.

There there is the class of people I want to see be very happy, people I love, people I want to help get everything they want.

These people use the word negative a lot when talking about me.

Which I think is misguided. Because happiness shouldn’t come from ignoring bad things, it should come from having dealt with bad things so they’re not things anymore.

I’m sort of the opposite of a fair weather friend. A fair weather friend is someone who shows up when everything is fine and isn’t around when there’s work to be done. I show up saying the weather is fair so let’s get to work.

 

So yeah, I prod people when they’re up. What I don’t do is kick someone when they’re down.

That’s the true opposite of a fair weather friend. Someone who always seem to show up when you’re hurting and tell it like is, call it like they see it, dish out the tough love and the I told ya sos.

When you’re confused they’ll tell you what to do, when you’re hurt they’ll tell you to toughen up. They’ll frame it as trying to help but really it’s about being superior. About basking in how glad they are they aren’t you.

When things are good they’ll have little to say except that they’re good too, better in fact, or that they believed in you all along so you’re welcome.

Like everyone there are times when I’m jealous of my friends, when that little alarm goes off that I don’t want them to be doing too much better than me. We all get that way because it’ll change how we evaluate ourselves.

To use Oprah’s inherently negative example – you’re fat friends don’t want to see you lose weight. If you’re all fat together no one has to feel bad about themselves.

I’ve long since stamped out that level of shittiness in myself because I’ve always known that if all your friends are losers, you’re a loser too. No matter how great you think you are, you’re still just king of losers.

Companionship is the greatest driving force in the human psyche and people will drag themselves down, drag their loved one down, drag their estimation of world down, in order to keep it.

This is wrong, it arouses contempt in the ethical heart.

It’s a shitty person who will criticize your rowing when they don’t have a hand on a paddle, no matter the weather. It’s a true friend who will take up the oars, say I’ve got mine and you’ve got yours, now let’s get to work.

Remind me to use that in a song someday.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism

Float

I’m about to go for my third float in a flotation pod at Float Life on Saturday.

I drafted some of a post after I left my first session just to try and capture the feeling. I was overwhelmed at how good I felt and my mind was all over the place. Awe is a challenge to capture with the written word and I was in no objective state to do it.

My second float gave me tremendous insight into the fact that the self is an illusion. I tried to write about that but it came out as me trying not to rewrite Sam Harris.

And now my third float is booked and who knows what awe and revelation await me.

Because of my current obsessive need to be in go mode all the time taking up any other meditative practice didn’t suit me, I would most likely just be waiting to be done pretending to mediate so I could work out again. But closing myself in pitch black tomb of warm salt water is like meditation on steroids and it’s a little bit scary so that suits my nature just fine.

Before I’d recommend floating to someone I’d say they need to have a meditative mindset. They have to want to slow down, they have to like being alone. Really alone, not just by themselves. You can be by yourself in a crowded bookstore, being alone is like being the only person in an empty stadium.

I think they have to like being nervous, as I do.

In my first float I thought a lot about forgiveness, I thought about loving kindness mediation, and I even thought about not being afraid of fear. If something bad happens my fear will be trying to save me, I’m grateful for it. It’s dumb to be afraid of being afraid because that fear won’t save you from anything.

Forgiveness is a funny thing because we want it to be forever but it’s not. We think once you forgive someone you can never be upset or sad or angry about that thing again but in the tank as I felt myself forgiving everyone I knew that someday I’d be at work again and be mad and wouldn’t feel forgiveness and I thought that’s okay. Anger will come and go, forgiveness will come and go. The same way I thought about not being afraid of fear I won’t be angry about anger, it’ll come when it comes and I’ll handle it, knowledge of that doesn’t have to change how I feel now.

It’s important to let thoughts come and go, if you try not to think about something you’re just keeping it on your mind, constantly checking on it to see if you’re thinking about it.

That’s another thing I’d declare a prerequisite for floating, you have to be able to accept your uncontrolled mind. When I was thinking about forgiveness my mind of course tried to find examples of people I couldn’t forgive. And I felt forgiveness for them. When I was scared in there my mind thought of things to be scared of and I just mentally shrugged and accepted that, yes, it would suck to be bitten by a shark, or mauled by a bear, or poisoned by a spider. And I just let the thoughts come, I observed them, and I let them go. I didn’t try to consciously take away their power because you have to give thoughts power first in order to try and take it away, the more power you want to take away from your own thoughts the more power you have to keep giving. It becomes like paying someone to borrow money from you.

Anyway if you’re in an experimental, self-exploratory mindset and want to hardcore relax to the extreme I can be your anecdotal evidence.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism

Separate what was said from how it was said

Let’s say our coworkers are named Fry and Bender.

Bender points out something Fry is doing wrong.

But he points it out like a complete jerk.

So Fry, in surprise and hurt, tries to defend what he’s doing.

This is wrong, and it arouses contempt in Bender’s mechanical heart.

Now we could talk about Bender’s problem of randomly being a jerk but he’s Bender and he feels entitled to act that way, so we have to look at Fry’s, more emotionally mature and nuanced, possible solution. You might think it’s not fair that the careful have to compensate for the careless but it’s unethical if the insightful don’t utilize their insight. And ethical is better than fair, ethical drags everybody up, fair drags everybody down.

So in this situation if you want to drag everybody up, you gotta separate what was said from how it was said.

Fry tried to tackle the situation as if his surprise and hurt were not a part of it. We often factor other people’s feelings into a recounting of situation but we usually only do a postmortem on our own as an excuse.

If Fry had separated what was said from how it was said he’d have seen that what Bender said was technically correct so the reason for the wounded feelings was probably how it was said. Then he’d have said you’re right, where is this hostility coming from, and Bender would have likely said I’m not trying to be hostile, and it could have been solved from there or maybe Bender would have gone on a rant about being sick and tired of this or that and it would become clear to everybody that this issue wasn’t really about Fry’s actions.

Either way Fry will have given Bender potential insight that he was lacking. If people wanted to get in arguments you’d see them enjoy arguing, like bratty teenagers. People lacking insight think arguments just happen because they don’t know their tone (meaning the words choose and how you say them) is misaligned with what they’re trying to communicate, then everyone becomes frustrated as they try to clarify by doubling down, which is like punching a wall harder for hurting you hand the first time.

That’s what an argument is: two people trying harder and harder to communicate using ideas that didn’t work the first time. Trying to push shit through a keyhole and thinking the solution is more shit.

This is why when people are arguing they inevitably claim they aren’t trying to argue. And then they argue about that. Arguers always claim that the other person just isn’t listening when really it’s that the arguer just isn’t communicating.

Communicating means getting an idea from your brain into another person’s brain using the tools of language and insight. If your insight tells you that one tool isn’t working, before you try again harder you need to ask why it didn’t work.

When you’re putting a screw in a board you don’t start by using the screwdriver you feel most like using, you look at which one is going to correspond best with the screw.

Communication is an obstacle course. You can try to bulldoze your way to the finish line but all you’re doing is fucking it up for everyone else.

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It’s one thing

One of my favourite things about my friendship with Jason Connolly is he will quote me back to myself.

I’d casually said It’s One Thing to Connolly when making a point about singing and playing guitar. I’d seen a lot of guys mess up their strumming by trying not to think about it, like rubbing your tummy and patting your head. If you’re trying to do two things at once you’re actually just switching between them and you’re going to pay a penalty for every switch. I think of myself strumming the words and singing the chords. It’s not about singing and also strumming, it’s about playing the song. It’s one thing.

I made this example to him because I was annoyed at the way some people strum, it rose into and fell out of the conversation and my consciousness mind immediately.

Connolly remembered it though and thank me for it a week later when he’d reconciled the two aspects of what he was working on into one thing. Literally it was utilizing two nunchucks instead of one. Rather than focusing on one, trying to pause that focus to kindle a focus on the other, and back again, he learned to focus on his body, switch into glide mode and get the most out of both chucks.

Wanna blow your mind? Think about typing. You don’t consciously switch between hands, or between fingers. You, the central executive in your brain, just type. Ten different digits and dozens of muscles all work to execute the one thing but you don’t micromanage them, you’d never get anything done that way.

Now I think about the phrase It’s One Thing in any context I can.

Like diet and exercise. The defeatist way to think about it is that those are two opposing things. Eating makes you gain weight and exercise makes you lose it, eating is pleasure and exercise is the punishment for it. But for athletes it’s all one thing. It’s training. What you eat, when you eat, why you eat is all part of the work out. Just like rest and recovery is part of the work out, it’s not up time and down time, it’s all one flowing process.

Then you go out from there and acknowledge that sleep is part of training too. Sleep isn’t just the time in-between days, or something you need to fight to get more done, it’s part of the work out. Put equal value and concentration into the quality of your sleep as you do your making hours because it’s one thing, both aspects are parts of one fulfilling life.

You can think about it in personality terms as well. You’ll hear people say he’s a good guy but… what they really mean is he’s a good guy and… the traits of someone’s character are all one thing. Their sense of humor and their fears aren’t opposing forces fighting for control, they are different parts of the melody that is the psyche.

Like I said, this notion all started with music. Singing and strumming are one thing, so is playing and performing. Once you have control of an aspect you look for other aspects. I know a lot of musicians who don’t know they’re talented and boring. A lot of people can play a song quite well but they can’t perform it at all. And that’s part of the one thing, talent and showman ship aren’t two different skills to learn, it’s all one thing. It’s performance.

A false sense of prioritizing is dangerous. Getting really good at one aspect of something doesn’t excuse from getting good at the others, it actually highlights those weaknesses. You might be great at cooking but if you suck at working with other people you aren’t a great cook. You might be able to sing but if you can’t get up on stage and rock a crowd you aren’t a singer.

And if you think one trait of your personality should win you the great game of society then you’re all centers and no goalie.

Posted in Pragmatism

The case against hope

On the album American Slang by Gaslight Anthem, a favourite band of mine for years, there’s a line I quoted to someone who was angrily describing how life should be. “Stop clicking your red heels and wishing for home.”

After that I would often write stop wishing in the margins of my journals and eventually it morphed into never hope.

Hope is viewed as a pretty positive thing in our culture so it might read as strange to never utilize it but really hope and anxiety go hand in hand, as do hope and inaction.

Imagine runners milling around before a race. Only a useless amateur would be thinking I hope I win, imagining winning and how they’ll act when they do, pre-rewarding themselves for nothing. A pro is thinking I have done everything I can to be ready for this, if I don’t win it’s because I made a mistake or because there is someone better, either way I’ll evaluate and come back stronger next time.

To paraphrase Tremors, hope isn’t a plan, hope is what you do when a plan fails.

I don’t leave anything to hope because it keeps you in limbo. Hopers lock themselves into a cycle of imagining they get X and feeling good, then unconsciously imagining they don’t get X, feeling scared, pushing the bad thoughts out, and consciously imagining getting X again.

That’s a terrible way to build a plan. When building a plan you have to consciously imagine every bad thing and push the unconscious idea that everything will work out from your mind.

I’m not advocating pessimism by any means; in fact, I’m advocating a real optimism over a forced, false optimism. It feels unshakeable great when you list all the things that could go wrong and you’re not scared because you have a plan. No need to be scared of hungry tigers if you just feed them first.

Confidence comes from competence. Over-confidence comes from baseless, weak-definition optimism.

The cycle of hope and disappointment takes control out of your hands, it leaves things up to fate, up to what you believe you deserve.

But deserving and earning are two slightly different things. Not getting what you deserve results in feeling angrily sorry for yourself because you’re undervalued or feeling pathetically sorry for yourself because your value is lower than you thought. Not getting what you’ve earned means you double down and earn it again.

Thinking you deserve things in life is just treating hope as fact, thinking you deserve respect you haven’t earned is just intimidation, thinking you deserve recognition for the deep down qualities you talk about but don’t demonstrate is essentially begging.

Don’t hope for your outcomes, earn them.

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