The “Hi! How are you?” Social Construct

Yesterday, a sweet little lady genuinely asked me how I was, seemingly out of concern. I say “genuinely” because most people ask the question simply trying to be polite, much like I do in my customer service job.

 

In my childhood, I actually hated this construct. I didn’t have many friends, so I mostly watched other people say hi to each other, while I questioned the need for everyone to acknowledge each other’s presence. Admittedly, this was likely also a coping mechanism for dealing with the fact that I did not fit in. It was easier to hate fitting in, than it was to long for it unsuccessfully. If you’ve ever wondered why I’m not a big hello-how-are-you person, I hope you’ve never taken it personally when I haven’t said hi. It’s just that I grew up with very little value on saying hello.

 

My lonely child self questioned something else a lot as well. If someone doesn’t care about a real answer, why are they asking the question? Surely, when most people politely say “Hi! How are you?”, they aren’t prepared to hear an answer like “Well I’m thinking about killing myself…” Not unless they sincerely asked it out of concern because they had a suspicion something was wrong. Because I hold honesty so high in value, I would just try to find something to say that was true, yet a little less morbid than you know, death. The classic “I’m alive” was a go-to.

 

Things have changed a little since then…

 

A genuine and sincere “How are you?” is reasonably rare, and usually comes from concern. Since I could not fully answer it yesterday, I still feel the need to complete what I started.

 

So, how am I? That’s always been a complicated question for me to answer fully and honestly. When I believe someone actually means it to the depth that I might, I consider that not everyone cares to write or hear an entire blog post about it. This is probably much more than that sweet lady bargained for, and I’m not sure she’ll ever see it. It’s just here for anyone who cares to read that much about how I’m doing…

 

On some levels, I am good, really good. On other levels, I am constantly at war, forever unsatisfied. I find myself continually deconstructing and rebuilding my own concepts and principles, attempting to build something that could only be described as some kind of unicorn principle. I tear myself apart, constantly trying to solve an impossible problem, as if there’s some magical, single, universal principle from which all other universal principles are derived and implied. It’s basically like I need that to satisfy my mind’s hunger, so it can shut up and I can be at peace with its silence.

 

There’s a longing to be my greatest self, which points me towards things that I don’t instinctively desire, like meditation, exercise and sobriety. I also wrestle with the fact that the journey to self-mastery seems quite lonely, and loneliness is something I’ve been battling for as long as I can remember. It leaves me perpetually facing forks in the road, where the path to my higher self is treacherous and appears as though it could tear apart my vehicle, inside and out. The other path appears smooth and pleasant on the surface. Somewhere down the smooth path, there is an opening from where you can see the higher path, and what used to be treacherous territory is now the most beautiful, scenic road you could imagine. At this point, I generally feel regret for having taken the easier path, and feel guilty for my weaknesses in face of forky decisions.

 

The solution is obvious to me, much like it is for many people. We know what we should do, we know the treasure lies behind the monster. Our minds dream of conquering our monsters and earning the greatest of treasures, yet our bodies quiver in fear of pain and discomfort. Our very nature is programmed to seek pleasure and/or avoid discomfort. So that’s where I am, standing in the middle of the battlefield between conscious and the unconscious, bullets and explosions all around me, and I’m yelling “Stop! Can’t we all just get along?” And that’s also exactly what my difficulty with meditation looks like in a nutshell.

 

So, on one hand, I am good. I really am. I have some amazing people in my life, I’m having amazing experiences with those people, and there are infinite things I could appreciate about my life. I keep moving forward, even if I’m not happy with my pace, I always get where I am going. But on the other hand, sometimes I’m not sure where I’m going. The war between my conscious and my unconscious desires goes on, more fiercely than ever.

 

I have remained silent for a little while about this war, but I have recently struggled to contain the fires that burn within. It’s understandable that someone expressed genuine concern, because as you can see, my mind is quite the rabbit hole. For the record, my view on the “Hi! How are you?” construct is a little more mature now, than it was at 9 years old. I don’t hate on it like I used to, because I’m not depressed so badly that I lose sight of its politeness. I do, however, recognize the difference between the polite gesture, and the sincere concern. I suppose that’s because I use them both, and that I use politeness less than the average person, and concern more than average.

 

It’s worth stating that I am confident that I will be just fine. I hope I appeased your concern, little one. Don’t worry about me, I just need someone to talk to from time to time, other than my own thoughts. Otherwise I find myself in places like this, talking to the whole world and nobody, all at the same time.

“Higher Concepts” ; )

I’ve been pushing myself to re-examine my concepts and beliefs lately, and in the process, I’ve learnt a few things that have really hit me.

The first I want to mention, is one of rewriting memories. I was listening to a discussion of how when you recall a memory, you rarely recall it exactly the same way you did the time before. You may use different words, different expression, and even different details. It might be because you’re recalling it for a different audience, or a different reason, but either way, it’s coming out different. The argument was that every time you recall a memory, it’s like opening a digital document or image, and rewriting or repainting it, then saving it again. You can repeat this process and wind up with something completely different over time. This is a real form a therapy too, where a therapist asks their patient to recall a traumatizing memory, and then begins to reshape the way they look at it.

For the first time, I considered the very real possibility of rewriting my past… This idea really sits well with my belief that I should choose the beliefs that serve me best. A simple example to sum up that theory: believing that I am awesome serves me better than believing that I suck. Behavior in faith is always better than behavior otherwise. By that logic, it might be worth some effort to start believing my past was better than I currently believe it to be. This concept to me was a little more interesting than it was useful, but if I run into memories I can’t shake, it may come in handy.

The second concept I want to share, I’m still working on incorporating more deeply. For a long time I’ve found myself at war with well, myself, sometimes baffled by my inability to shut down the war in my own mind.

In Ray Dalio’s audiobook “Principles”, he quickly brushes over something he calls “higher-order consequences”, but to me, this may have been the most important concept in this very rich book. To sum it up, an example of what he meant:
If I decide to go to the gym, the first-order consequences would be: it takes effort, it takes time, it hurts, etc. Second-order consequences could be things like: it makes me stronger, it makes me lose weight, etc. Third-order consequences could be: it makes me more confident because I’m stronger, I have to buy new pants because I’m losing weight, etc. Fourth-order consequences could be something like: I’m more successful because of higher energy, strength and confidence. And so on…

He went on to argue that inner wars start between the different levels of a person. When it’s time to go to the gym, lower-level me, the one concerned mostly about first-order consequences, that guy doesn’t want to go. Staying in bed feels way better than the pain of working out. Second level me likes the post-workout feeling, he comes out of the gym ready to go get stuff done, check things off of lists and hit some homeruns. Then the higher levels of me like to dream about the long-term effects…

I don’t know if that hits you the way it rattled my cage, but I was a little shaken. This is a new way of thinking for me, and I’m a little excited to start working with it. I like thinking about higher-order consequences as a path to becoming my higher self. Seeing it this way helps me push past the lower-level hurdles. It also makes me think about happiness a little differently too. Lower level happiness occurs on the couch, higher level happiness occurs when you go “up and at them!” It all makes me ask myself, how high do I want my happiness to be?

Anyhow, that feels like about as concise and thorough as I’m going to be with that. Hope something in there means something to you. Keep moving higher ; )

It’s All the Same

I haven’t written in some time because I’ve been on the learning side more than the teaching side of the journey lately. Though I have realized that most of my attempts to teach, are actually me attempting to teach myself, just in a public way. Or they are a reminder of a principle I have come across, that I may have forgotten.

I’ve walked the past decade holding two completely opposite points of view as potential truths in my life, and found a beautiful dance between the two.

It can be defined by the Einstein quote “There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle.” I walked around seeing it both ways. I began mostly as an atheist, and then eventually held both an atheist and a spiritual view simultaneously.

In short, to evolve my atheist view, I visited beliefs in which a spiritual view made sense and held true. From those beliefs stemmed a perceived relationship between me and the Universe. It always remained possible to me that the connection I sensed with the Universe might actually be just a connection with my own subconscious. What I believed to be a symbol coming from the Universe, could just as easily be a perception I am creating in my mind, sometimes consciously and sometimes not.

Exploring a relationship with the Universe was rather beautiful, and I began to fall in love. The dual view actually served me better than just sticking to one. If only one was true, it meant I was either falling in love with the Universe, or I was falling in love with myself. In a sense, I was doing both. In my theory of everything, it’s all the same anyway.

Butterfly Effect

I found a new addiction that has become a key player in changing my life. I like to write about turning points in my life, because sometimes it’s quite a lengthy butterfly effect that can come from such a small decision.

I have been watching some YouTube videos that get my mind dancing, things that educate and motivate me. I have been listening to Joe Rogan, Gary Vaynerchuk, Simon Sinek, Tom Bilyeu, and Sean Carroll, to name a few. I have been choosing to listen to something “constructive” on my way to work instead of music. I feel I am not reading enough, and that this may be the most efficient way to “read” and improve myself.
The effect of this of starting to snowball a little bit, it’s like I’m reprogramming myself in the ways I want. It’s been happening slowly, slower than I seem to have the emotional patience to tolerate, but it is definitely happening.

There are more reasons why this seems to be the catalyst to some major changes in my life, pieces of the puzzle seem to be coming together, and I’m starting to see the bigger picture. It hasn’t been all that hard to write, but it has been hard to finish something and hit the publish button. Every time I’ve opened up to start, I have found myself diving into the deepest theories I have, and can’t seem to find anything else to talk about other than their practical relationships with my actual life. The only problem with this, is that it should be a book.

Nonetheless, this has been an important new healthy addiction of mine that I thought was worth sharing. It’s always best to surround yourself with people you admire, you will naturally become more like them. In this era, we are fortunate to have the means to surround ourselves with some of the greatest people from all over the world, digitally. The beauty is, the more I watch this kind of stuff on YouTube, or like it on Facebook, the more my feeds are filled with awesome stuff.

I believe this to be a huge step for me, but I feel I must share the step that preceded it. I was asking a wise man for some advice, and his answer was so good that it didn’t even matter what the question was. He said: “You just need to ask yourself, does this action move me forward? Whatever forward is for you. Does eating this cookie move me forward? Does playing video games for 3 hours move me forward? Does this decision move me forward?” It seems to me like a pretty brilliant way to live, so long as you have a healthy mindset to accompany it.

One day, I was about to turn on my radio while driving to work, so I asked myself does this move me forward? And then I drove on, forward.

Now I ask myself, does any of this move you forward? If so, I’d love to hear about it!

Note: No butterfly was harmed in the usage of its effects. He rather liked it.

Who Run the World?

Do you ever find yourself wondering what you would do if you were in position of power? I often wonder how I could make the world a better place if I were in charge.

I find myself believing that the best way to make a change would be through the education system. At first I wondered how to regulate parenthood and make people better parents. No solution that I could imagine really seemed that solid.

As a society, the best way to regulate how children are raised, is through the education system. One of the greatest things my parents ever taught me was the “do unto to others as you would have done to yourself” mindset. The very best people I know, operate from this mindset. It builds empathy, and empathy dissolves hate.

In my life, I have found that when I truly get to know someone, when I know their past and their struggles, it’s generally easy to understand why they are who they are. Even the things I don’t like about someone become much more tolerable when I begin to understand why they behave the way they do. We all have friends who are arguably “screw-ups” or assholes at times, but we tolerate their behaviour and love them anyway, because we feel for them. Empathy is love.

I can’t imagine racism existing if everyone on Earth tried to imagine what it’s like to be the person who’s racially discriminated. If you tried to feel those feelings, you’d probably consider doing your best not to make anyone feel that way. And I think that goes for just about any unwanted feeling. Sadness, anger, depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, etc.

The second thing I’d want to teach at a young age is self-love. I was never really taught to love myself, and that was the cause to many of my problems. If people loved themselves instead of wanting to be someone else, the world would be happier overall. If every single person had such a profound love for themselves and a profound empathy for others, the change would be massive.

I do imagine a world where everyone is happy. Maybe some day… Love!

Judgment, Anxiety and Staying in your Lane

In response to a Facebook post…

Judgment is an interesting fear for me, because it took me so long to overcome it. It took me well into my 20’s to actually get comfortable in my own skin. I had a constant fear of what people thought of me, deeply rooted into a childhood where it felt like my entire, tiny school disliked me. Because my school was so small, I spent every year with the same 30 people in every class who, in my mind, hated me. While I could go over the 20+ year evolution of my coping mechanisms, this is a blog, not a book, so let’s skip a few years.

When it comes to a fear of judgment, it’s important to recognize that the judgments themselves do not matter, we’re talking about how judgments affect our feelings and behaviour. Some of what we think people are judging of us, is simply fabricated in our own minds. And even what is actually communicated judgment, doesn’t matter much if it doesn’t affect you. Unfortunately for me, it took me late into my 20’s to stop caring what people think of me.

Eventually, I had to acknowledge that if I lived my life from a place of love and respect, I could not care what others thought of me and my actions/words/appearance. If I fully approved myself and my actions, it would not phase me if someone else did not approve.

Like many things, the solution to fear of judgment is simple yet difficult. It is simple because you just need to make your judgment of yourself is so good that no other judgment matters. It is difficult because you have to actually face yourself and the parts you don’t like in order to make that happen. Only when you like these parts of yourself, can you stop worrying that others don’t. The hardest yet deepest solution is undoubtedly to face your hatred of yourself, and turn into love. You can run, but you definitely can’t hide from yourself.

The next topic was anxiety. Fortunately, my strategy for anxiety worked quite well for me, and transferred well to coping with many other fears. The most important thing about all fears and negative emotions, is that conscious thought will interrupt the emotion at the time. Let’s say a situation arises that makes you anxious, your breathing gets shallow, your blood vessels tighten, and panic starts to set in. A conscious thought can interrupt the whole process and allow you to analyze it from an outside perspective. If you suddenly recognize your own anxiety, you can look at it objectively and say to yourself “my breathing is quite shallow, I should take a deep breath”. Without a conscious intervention, you can get stuck in the anxiety quite easily and allow the tension to rise.

The second most important part in my dealing with anxiety is associating my fear/anxiety with life/death. Our brains are wired for fear as a way to keep us alive. Reminding myself that “As long as I’m alive when this is over, I’m okay.” That has always been huge for me. It’s actually what allowed me to overcome a lot of obstacles around the ages of 7-8-9. I conquered a fear of spiders, claustrophobia, and developed an endurance for running long distances, all based on this very concept. No matter the obstacle, I knew that if I could keep breathing, I would be fine. And I would often project myself forward into the future, looking back at this moment of struggle, and appreciating that it was over. This became easier over time, because that moment always came, and I made efforts to notice that what I originally struggled with, was now something conquered.

This is all easier said than done, but it all starts with a conscious intervention. Recognize your feeling, recognize it’s not serving you well, and take a deep breath to begin changing it. That’s all I got on this one.

The last one I want to cover was quoted as “Staying in your own lane, and not worrying about fake liars.” Or something along those lines. Years ago, when I first started driving, I found I had trouble driving in a straight line and managing all my micro-steering adjustments. I found that I could drive straighter if I moved my eyes further down the road. I think the same applies to this question, if you can look closer to the finish line, it’s easier to realize the chants on the sidelines really aren’t that important. This doesn’t fall too far from the judgment tree. If you are true to your values, it won’t matter much what lies or opinions cross your path, your eyes are on the prize.

Eyes forward, deep breath, you’re gonna be fine… You always are. Love!

Top 3

#1 – Your decisions.

I’ve already said that I believe you choose your own destiny. You have to find your own way, your own recipe, your own craft, and be proud of your own weirdness through it all. All you got is you and your decisions.

#2 – Your execution.

You’ve committed to something, and now it’s time to execute. Maybe you hit your mark, maybe you don’t. All you got here is your best effort, and your best effort to learn from your best efforts.

#3 – Your grit.

This is a common #1 in my motivational audio lately. I really can’t argue, because it stands by my core principals. Throughout the course of your decisions and their executions, you will be faced with a variety of emotional reactions. How you manage these, and the grit you pull out in face of your darkest emotions will determine your glory. Whether you want success, love, happiness, you’re going to face your own beasts.

I would apologize for bringing any fights to your doorstep, but I think that’s what I’m here to do. At least I can say, I’ve come to fight with you.

Love!

Appsolute Tools

If you’re trying to check some goals off your list, there’s undoubtedly some tools out there to help you. Here’s some of my favourite apps that help me stay on track with my goals:

“Hay House VB” is a vision board app that allows you to make classic peg-board-like collages of your goals. It’s super simple to use, and the backgrounds I have made with these are by far my favourite, keeping my goals in front of me on the regular.

“Google Keep” is my new organizer. I use it to create my checklists, take notes, and to write my blog. I colour the backgrounds red/yellow/green so I know how complete the idea is. The app stays synced across google.keep.com so I can start an idea on my phone and pull out my computer to pick up where I left off.

“Technique” which is formerly “ubersense” is a great video app, for athletes especially. It has frame-by-frame scrolling, side-by-side or overlayed videos for comparison, and the ability to draw lines to check your trajectories.

“MyFitnessPal” is a dietary tracker with a database so big you can scan a barcode and get all the nutritional info loaded instantly. I used it mainly to track sugar, but whatever your fitness goals, this app has its uses.

“Mint.com” is a great financial tracker. You can build a budget and it will automatically categorize your debit expenses based on the location you used it. It can also warn you if you’re approaching or going over budget limits.

And lastly, though it is not an app, I use YouTube-to-mp3 converters to turn all my favourite motivational videos into audio on my phone. Some days I prefer to turn off the radio and listen to something that feeds my soul.

Hope you find something useful. Love!

#1 Lesson Not Taught in School

The most important thing I find nobody ever really talks much about, is the war within, the mind. There’s no doubt our minds have been instrumental in the incredible growth of mankind. But there’s also no doubt that our minds have been instrumental in the growth of suffering. And I don’t even want to start on the industries built on human suffering, so I’ll stick to the brain itself.

Our brains have some very primitive ways of protecting us. Take for example the way pain programs us. When we experience pain, our brains will seek to avoid or be cautious of situations that could cause us that same pain again. This is rather useful of course, because if you lose an arm to an alligator, you probably won’t try to pet the next one. Your brain will tell you “all alligators can bite off your arm” and you will proceed with caution. Unless of course, you’ve really lost your balance since the first alligator, and you want to even things out. 

But if you apply this programming to more complex things, like relationships for instance, your brain can work against you. Let’s say you were cheated on or mistreated in a relationship that has ended, and that it hurt a lot. Your brain is going to apply the same survival instinct, and tell you “all partners can bite off your feelings”. So then maybe, your next relationship, you protect your feelings so they can’t get bitten. But then your relationship can’t be as deep as you want it to be, because you’ve built a vault to keep partners from getting deep. The very idea of opening yourself up to complete vulnerability is like sticking your arm in alligator’s mouth, you need to trust that fucker.

If no one ever tells you to check what your brain is saying, you may just wind up following the primitive program. Sometimes if you protect yourself from harm, you might protect yourself from joy as well. My advice: don’t date alligators, they’re always on their stomach so they never want to cuddle.

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