Feedback on the Next Right Action worksheet has been very helpful so far, thank you. As a sucker for punishment, I want to test the model at scale, so for the next 1,000 people who send me a problem, I will think it through with the worksheet and send it back to you. This is part of my research on problem solving. A goal of this research is to gather data around common daily problems and the most effective approaches to them. A couple of the hypotheses I am testing include:
Most problems fail the urgency/importance test.
Most acute problems have a systemic root.
Most people never engage System 2 for problem solving.
I will engage my System 2 on your problem. You may get some insights on how to approach your problem, you may think my approach sucks. Either way, we have both taken action and the research will move ahead. Let’s do this!
Ok, so this is not a TED talk, but it is an idea. An idea I have been circling from manydifferentangles. Alan Watts challenges the “journey” metaphor for life here pointing out that a journey presumes a destination, a goal, a finish. I ofter remind myself that to travel is better than to arrive. While life can seem like a journey, what happens along the path IS life, not the destination. Watts encourages us to “Play through life” as if it were music. The point of music is not the end of the music, but the music itself. Feeling its effects and enjoying its melody as it plays. Very well said Alan.
Madison, my 9 year old yelled as she screamed by on her bike. We were on a camping trip and Madison was riding her bike up and down the path in front of our campsite. First time in months (thanks pandemic).
On her next pass by, this happened:
“A mosquito bit me and I crashed!” She managed through tears and trembling lips.
Torrents of crying, shaking and whimpering. I rushed over to pick her up as my wife and Harper (5 year old) hustled down the road to meet us. As I was running a recent Seed Crystal post title entered my consciousness.
“Well, here is the Disaster part.” I thought as I helped Madison up and over to the Airstream. Hello Disaster, welcome to our Journey. I started working the Next Right Action worksheet in my head.
Pause. Take a few breaths. Encourage Madison to take deep breaths. Wait for my wife to get here. Look around for any other dangers. Think.
Clarity: There are two major categories of problems here. First, the acute injuries, how bad are they, get them addressed. Second, any emotional injuries. Her overall motivation to ride bikes could be injured. Her risk tolerance overall may be injured. Separate these two and take one at a time.
Urgency: The acute injuries are immediate. See if serious enough for medical care. The emotional injuries can be addressed after the physical injuries are assessed.
Agency: Neither the physical nor emotional injuries were in my control. Madison’s body and mind must fix themselves. While I have zero direct agency to solve her problems, this is a perfect situation to apply guidance and wisdom to (hopefully) shorten her path to healing. And to reframe the event as an Adventure instead of a Disaster to be avoided in the future at all costs.
I found the first aid kit in the Airstream. Wet a washcloth. Got out the alcohol wipes. Gave Harper a doll to play with. As Jen worked on Madison, we kept finding more scrapes. Right knee (lots of blood and missing skin), left knee (not as bad), right elbow (bad), left elbow (smaller scrapes), forehead just under where the helmet was (very small, no blood). No broken bones, no mental confusion, no poor vision, no need for medivac helicopter. We concluded this was a clean up and patch job.
It became clear that the clean up would require more than a wash cloth though, so Jen took Madison to the shower. More screaming and crying, but we got her clean. I started some popcorn in the microwave. Harper played with her dolls and kept saying “I feel bad that Madison is hurt.” When Madison came out of the shower, Harper went over to hold her hand. I was awed by the instinctual sense of empathy and comfort Harper displayed. Harper had not seen much disaster in her short life, yet she instinctually knew how to comfort her sister. Thanks evolution!
As Madison started to calm down, Jen applied the ointment and bandages. I handed her a bowl of popcorn and sat down next to her. Time to turn this disaster into an Adventure through wisdom, humor and empathy.
“The scratch on your forehead is not so bad. Good thing you were wearing your helmet! Think how bad it could have been.” +1 for helmets.
“See this scar and big bump on my elbow?” my wife said. “It is from a motorcycle crash where I didn’t clean it well and didn’t tell my parents. The scar is much worse because I didn’t take care of it right when it happened.” +1 for cleaning the wounds immediately.
“I have crashed my bike more times than I can remember.” I say to Madison with my hand on her shoulder. “Want to see something?” I show her a dark spot on my right thigh. “I crashed my bike in Venice. There was sand on the path and when I went to turn, the tires slipped out. It was much deeper than your worse one and took about a month to heal. I was riding my bike the next day and while it looks a little funny it doesn’t hurt at all now.” +1 for you will get through this without permanent physical or emotional damage.
“If you have scars, think about the cool story you will have for your friends.” +1 for humor and assumptive close (imagine you are already over it).
“You are lucky walking will be painful. You can spend all day lying on the couch playing video games!” +1 for humor and gratitude for the disaster. Hello silver lining.
“More popcorn.” Madison asked calmly and with a slight grin. On the mend already.
I am happy to say Madison is healing quickly and back to her spunky, smiling self. She has not gotten on the bike but says she wants to.
Unattended Disaster = Trauma. Disaster reframed into Adventure = growth.
Read this interview with the Ranger Up founder today.
“You routinely get fed a shit sandwich and are not only expected to eat it, but eat it using the proper utensils, table manners, and a smile on your face so that the men and women under your command maintain motivation and discipline as you tackle the new surprise mission.”
“After a period of time you stop wishing or hoping or expecting good things to happen. That probably sounds negative, but it isn’t. When you stop counting on an outcome, you tend to start taking things as they come”
“And when you get to that point, nothing can break you. You’ve programmed yourself to deal with the hands you are dealt and not waste unhappy time pining for conditions or an outcome that simply doesn’t exist.”
“Everyone has a breaking point. For most people, that point is very low, which is why many people never push themselves past their comfort zone”
“And the dirty little secret is that everyone has a coward inside them, and if you really want to be tough, and I mean that both physically and mentally, you have to push that coward to the breaking point and then push past it every day. You have to embrace suffering, or in military parlance, embrace the suck.”￼
Remember this Martin. Life is not about avoiding pain. It is about training for it because it will come. The question is what do you do when it comes?”
The more I read the Stoics, the more I agree with the general approach to life. I am also fascinated that, without the aide of much science, they got so many things right. We now know through Quantum Physics that everything is some form of energy wave. We are all made of the same stuff, just vibrating at different frequencies so some appear solid, some fluid, some alive, some dead, etc. Modern quantified spirituality guys like Dr. Joe Dispenza call it the “Universal Field”. I have no idea what it is, but the Stoics, and Marcus, in particular, nailed it. Basically, we are all connected, made of the same stuff. So remember that when you get tilted by someone. A part of them is you and vice versa. Would you be so tilted at yourself?
This morning during Morning Pages, I went on a rant which started from one of my core beliefs: That the only thing which is truly my own is my Reasoned Choice: Prohairesis. The bottom line is that you are the sum of the choices in your life. And everything in life can be taken away except your choice (assuming your brain is still working, if you loose your mind, you may not even have choice left).
The problem of this morning was the flip side of Choice. The consequences. What if you never look authentically at the consequences. I have come to believe that the reality of rational choice also imposes the responsibility of rational contemplation and review of choices and consequences thereof. If you never review your choices and evaluate if they are serving you, then you give up the responsibility for those choices. Choices without reflection are just reactions. They are of the autonomic nervous system. The challenge in this world is to be a better HUMAN, not a better animal. The Human part requires reflection, contemplation, and review of the Choices. That is why I like the morning gratitude journal and the evening Examin prayer (modified). I see I need to write about those. More tomorrow.
At coffee this morning with a buddy of mine, we were discussing his “emotional bank account” with his wife and the balances/imbalance thereof. While many relationship books and advice talk about this “bank account” and the importance of keeping it in “balance”, this has never sat well with me. In my experience, the problem is not the absolute balance in the emotional bank account at any one time, but the degree of AGENCY you allow the balance is this fictitious “account” over your mood and actions at any given point in time. In short over attachment to the emotional account balance is the problem. The solution is to remove the attachment, reduce the agency of the absolute balance at any one time. As with most things, focus on the process, the journey, not one point in time measurement.
By focusing on the “balance” at any one point in time, one can lose focus of the bigger picture: the journey. That is the core problem with allowing a measurement tool like the emotional bank account to determine or influence your reaction to the world or your current mood. Let us consider the three possible states of the account and the natural reactions to each.
Even. You feel like the balance in the account is even between you and your partner. Everything is easy, peasy. In balance. And boring! What happens in this state too long is you get restless. Nothing is happening. There is no drama either way. So you get complacent and bored. And you do something to put it out of balance mostly out of boredom rather than any malice. In my experience, “even” has never been a long-term state of an account like this. While ‘even” may seem like a laudable goal, when I have been in it, it never lasts and never satisfies. Identification with an “even” balance in the account always leads to boredom and an abrupt state change in my experience.
Negative. When my balance is at a deficit somehow. Either I am not getting enough of what I want/need/desire (all problematic words in themselves), or when my partner tells me they are not getting enough (meaning I have not put enough into my side of the equation). However it is calculated, when I feel like I am in a “negative” state, feelings of guilt, shame, unworthiness come up. Also, self-righteousness can rear it’s head “I deserve better than this”, “I am doing all I can and it still isn’t good enough for XXX, why am I bothering?” So I get sensitive and defensive which is never a good state to be in, especially if trying to have a relationship. I have found it is very hard to grow to a positive place when I am focused on how negative the balance in an account is and how much I “deserve” more/better balance. Identification with a “negative ” balance in the account always leads to defensiveness and makes progress out of that state even harder in my experience.
Positive. When my balance is positive in my favor somehow. Either I have put in (in my mind) multiple deposits over and above the average, or in relation to my “other” in the deal, I am somehow “better” than the other at some point in time. This causes feelings of superiority, separation, and more self-righteousness. Identification with a “positive” balance in the account always leads to feelings of superiority/separateness and makes connections even harder in my experience.
In my experience, I am not happy in any “state” of the emotional balance account. Given that no state of the account produces contentment, nor is any state a stable state (they always change), the best way to deal is to transcend the attachment to ANY STATE. This is not the same as ignoring or denying the existence of the emotional balance sheet. It is a real thing. People generally keep the register in their head. The register is not the problem. It is your identification with any particular STATE of the register which is the problem. You are not your emotional balance sheet state. Transcend identification with the state and you are then FREE of that burden. Be aware of the state, make deposits and withdrawals, but do not IDENTIFY with the STATE.
I have been doing Morning Pages for almost a two years now. It seems like every week I meet someone else for whom Morning Pages has earned a place in the morning routine. Here are some of my personal hacks that make Morning Pages even better:
On a desk with pen and paper. The point of morning pages is to focus and get the brain/hand connection working. Get the body and mind in sync. And to provide a distraction-free outlet for thoughts and feelings. I have tried using online applications to do morning pages. Bad idea, too many popups and distractions and too easy to indulge the impulse in checking email or facebook or any of the other shiny things that come up during the sitting. The best way to focus at the appropriate pace is to sit at a technology free desk or table with a pen, and college ruled journal.
No electronics within reach. It is tempting to keep the “productivity” tool close to indulging those inspirations which come. But this is focus time. 15-20 minutes. The point is that you have the rest of the day for technology. Leave it all outside your reach.
Set a timer. I have found that daydreaming is the first distraction during morning pages. If I take away the technology enabler of most distraction, I am left with just staring off into space daydreaming. To combat that, setting a timer has been effective because I know that thing is going go off and I want to be done before it does. I use Google Home to set the timer.
Post-it notes. The most common shiny distraction that my monkey mind wants to indulge and get out of Morning Pages are additional to-do items that come up during the sitting. Since it is a creative time, there are frequently things that come up that I want to follow up on or do later. When I used to have my phone next to me, I would put them on the to-do list right then. But about 70% of the time I would get sucked into a rathole of further investigation or googling to flush out something. That would all be enabling delays in Morning Pages. But I didn’t want to lose those items of inspiration, so I now put a pad of post-it notes next to my journal. Inspirational to-do items go there. After the sitting, I take those things over to the computer, if on second thought they still seem worthy, I add them to the to-do lists then.
Feeling word list. Often when writing, I have to describe a feeling. Before I found Byron Katie’s emotions list, I thought there were about three feelings (angry, happy, sad). Now when faced with describing a feeling I start with I am feeling… then read through the entire list of feelings. I write down every word that seems to fit with the feeling. Typically I come up with 10-20 feeling words. And in this process, I have never had the same set of words for two different events. The subtleties of the feelings come out. You get to understand at a visceral level what is going on inside you and how that situation was different from the one yesterday. While the at the top level both may be “angry,” when you read the longer list and notice the differences, you understand the next level of feelings. Critical hack to get to the real issues.
Something to drink. Always have something to drink. I have two things. Usually coffee and water. Or Tea and water. Make full cups, so you don’t get up in the middle and use getting a drink as an excuse to stop morning pages. Making coffee can be a 5-minute distraction. Don’t let the monkey get the control that long.
List of Journal Prompts. I have not had a problem filling three pages recently, but for the first few months, I did. This list of prompts has helped me break through and get going. Just read the list, and after you read through them, the writing will start. One of them will trigger something, and the pen will start moving. As a stand alone exercise I also sometimes just print out the list of prompts and write a sentence or two about each from top to bottom.
Word of the Day at the top of the Page. Every day should have a primary intention for the day. I usually set this word in my Intention/Decision exercise just before Morning Pages. If you don’t do that, just come up with one word for the day. And write it at the top of the first page. Today my word was “Present.” That one word can start a whole page of dialogue. Why did you choose that word? Why today? What was the word yesterday? Why did it change?
Do decision intention worksheet before. A huge part of waking up for me is being intellectually honest with myself. Am I living in line with my intentions? As a habit to track that congruency or synchronicity, I created the http://wp.me/p6JmUh-5sIntention/Decison exercise. I do it before morning pages every day.
Be authentic. Make sure your Morning Pages work is actually in line with your goal/values. Early on in Morning pages, my monkey mind lets me believe three pages of wide ruled writing (160 words per page) was the same as three pages of college ruled writing (250 words per page). Contemplation and Analysis caught that cognitive disconnect. I fixed it. Make sure you are being authentic and not cheating yourself.
Record emotions by moment to moment sensations. While #5 has been a life-saving hack, what it is getting at is DEPTH. Don’t write in your journal “I was scared”. Using #5, I write the 20 other feeling words that are also there and get a much more rich understanding of the emotion. Another technique I borrowed from this guy, is to reproduce emotions by the moment to moment signal and sensory experiences that you went through. The five ways we feel emotions are:
Signals in the body. Temperature, heartbeat, lungs, muscles, nerves, etc.
Signals outside the body. Gestures, posture, facial expressions, tone of voice, etc.
Flashes from the past. Not analysis but “bursts of waking dream”
Flashes from the future. More dream bursts, but as premonitions of what might happen. Again, not analytical. (not “being scared was bad”)
Sensual selectivity. What we sense from the world around us, filtered by emotions. (like “the sun burned a hole in my heart”)
I have found these hacks to improve morning pages for me. I hope they do for you as well.
I know from personal experience that having a plan and contemplating intentions leads to a more well-lived life. A life lived more in alignment with my values and intentions because I am keeping those plans top of mind and reducing the random walks and drifting in life. It is during the drifts that I get into troubled waters usually (again discerned after much contemplation). So realizing that things go better when my intentions are more often in my conscious mind, I started thinking about what daily habits or exercises I could add to support that behavior. For the last month, I have been doing this Intention/Decision activity, and it has won a spot in my daily routine, so here it is. While related to “How to make decisions” which lays out a set of decision guardrails, this is more of a tactical support habit for planning and cognitive authenticity.
As part of my morning routine, after making coffee, before sitting down for Morning Pages, I sit down with the day’s calendar and my to-do list and fill out an Intention/Decision log. A list of the major decisions I expect to have to make today. Things that are habits are not on the list. There is not a decision to make if it is a habit. Whatever comes to mind. Like where and with who should I have dinner? Or Should I work out or not if it is an off habit day? Or should I accept an invitation to play poker with friends? Should I do this big project today or tomorrow? Here is my Intention/Decision log for today:
Here are the column descriptions:
Filled out in the morning for Today:
Date/name: I put the date and my name there (obviously)
Word of the day: What word do I want to be the foundational intent of the day. Today is “Present.” Often it is one of the four Stoic virtues (Temperance, Wisdom, Justice, Courage). It is the first word that pops into my head when my pen gets to that par of the page.
Cat: What category is the decision in? Of the four big classes of that affect life balance and wellness, Health, Wealth/work, Relationships/Family/Tribe, Soul/Spirituality. Then fill out how many decisions in each category down below. This will give me a cognitive trigger for how the day is going to be balanced. Is it primarily a work day? or relationships? or spirituality? Also, it helps me to make sure (since one of my goals is to have a balanced life) to have a major decision in each of the four categories.
Decision: What is the decision I expect to have to make today?
Intention: What is my intention around that decision? Now, in the morning, with my virtues and goals by my side, before the craziness of the day has taken over. What is my intention?
TWJCI: Does this decision have anything to do with the four major Stoic Virtues or an Indifferent? Temperance, Wisdom, Justice, Courage, or Indifferent? An Indifferent is wealth, status, fame, health, etc. All decisions should have at least one of these. Because if it does not, the decision is likely out of my control and should not be a decision at all. Or it is a habit which is also not a decision.
Then also in the morning, I pick up the Intention/Decision log from yesterday and review my performance yesterday by filling out these columns:
Y/N: Did my actual decision match my intention Yes or No.
Notes: Especially if the decision didn’t match the intention, why? What was the reason for variance?
% I/D sync: How may Y vs N in the Y/N column. Today it was 6/7. That means 6 out of 7 times I ended up making the decision during the day that I intended to in the morning. My goal is 100% synchronization.
Primary Variance Cause: Why did I not follow through on intentions. If it happened a lot, what is the ONE THING that was the biggest cause. This is to raise this leak in my cognitive stack so I am aware of it going forward.
One Change for Tomorrow: What one thing (if anything) should I do going forward to achieve 100% Intention/Decision synchronization?
This exercise has really helped wake me up to the truth of “Am I living life according to my stated values?” Something that can easily get sidetracked without a habit of reflection. I like the exercise and will keep it in my daily routine until further notice. It takes less than 5 minutes a day and is worth the investment for the cognitive authenticity it adds.
I invented this one, but I am sure some part of Cognitive Behavior Therapy agrees with exercises to remind cognitive self about your values and intentions on a regular basis.