3 Second Rule Your Life

Back in the day, days long before co-sleeping and proudly showing off pictures of my son’s teeth, I dabbled in the dark arts of Pick Up Artistry (PUA), a strange subculture made famous by Neill Strauss’ book “The Game.” For those unitiated, “The Game” showed Strauss’s evolution–or  devolution depending on your perspective–from interested journalist to fully certified pick-up master–from gameless tool to lothario extraordinaire.

The book was filled with specific and effective tactics for meeting women, something I desperately needed at the time. I was pretty lousy at meeting women, and the ones I was meeting were pretty lousy. The book and some subsequent study provided a much-needed lesson plan for my theretofore elementary understanding of the courting process.

I never incorporated most of the tactics because they were so certifiably sleazy: Carrying bags filled with magic tricks to entertain women (aka “Demonstrating High Value” DHV), wearing outrageous clothes (“Peacocking”), etc. But there was one tactic that could have easily been taught by a Zen master as some guy with a feather boa teaching dorks how to pick up drunk coeds. It was the 3 second rule.

The 3 second rule says that if there is a girl that you are attracted to, and assuming there are no boulders or other legitimate obstacles in your way, you should approach that girl within 3 seconds. The reasoning is that the longer you think about doing something, the less likely you are to do it. Don’t think, act.

I met my wife using the 3 second rule, though I didn’t know it at the time. After giving her a protracted stare on the L-train, I started to talk to her. For whatever reason (I probably didn’t want her to think I was a perv), I did not think about talking to her. I talked to her. Had I rehearsed what I was going to say, had I thought about what could have happened if she was unwilling to speak to me, had I thought about anything, I probably would have not talked to her. No wife, no proud papa.

This act, like many throughout my life, demonstrates the counterintuitive phenomenon that action, often with little or no thought, is the gas in our lives’ motors.

Most of us overestimate the merits of thinking. We believe that if something is subjected to enough mental scrutiny and rigorous argument, we will somehow arrive at the right answer.

Let’s not confuse thinking with meditation. Thinking is not getting quiet enough so a natural answer can arrive. Thinking is usually a bunch of words constructed in such a way as to provide reasons why not to do something or why something can’t be done. By the time the analysis is over, minutes, hours, days, often years, have elapsed. Good thinking!

What many of us thinkers tend to miss is that real knowledge is acquired in the doing, not the thinking. For example, we can think that touching an open flame is dangerous, but taking the action of touching a flame will teach us forever (lots of flame references here).

Today, consider using the 3 second rule. Whether you want to talk to that girl or guy, try something new, take a risk at work, try to do the thing within 3 seconds, before thought sabotages forward progress. 

Letting Out a #2

There are two main urges that drive the need to create and share what we create:

  1. We are driven by muses whispering or shouting in our ears, urging us to craft our crafts. To not create, write, paint, cook, to not fill-in-the-blank is a treasonable act to whoever our Divine intervener may be.
  2. We are driven by the need to be paid attention to.

Taking a #1 out is a noble act. We stand with dignity because we are performing humble service to greater gods. If anyone charges us with vainglorious motivations, we can say “Don’t blame me…twas the muses that made me do it.” Taking a #1 is the right reason to create.

But for many of us it’s not the truth. Sure, the muses speak to us, but that’s certainly not the only reason we create. We create because we want people to notice us for our special snowflakeness. We want to lather ourselves with the warm bubbles of attention. We are driven by the need to take a #2.

#2 is not noble. Rather than standing with dignity, we squat with our asses out. The main god involved is us–we pay homage to our own (usually mistaken) godliness.

Many people have no compunction about their #2’s, as any reality TV show will attest. Like the boy who hits his brother to direct his parents’ gaze toward him, any attention is the right attention.

But there are those of us who feel shame about our #2’s. We don’t think we should want attention. People driven by #2 are not expressing a very human desire–they are broken, desperate and pathetic. They are the Kardashians and Honey Boo Boos of the world. That’s not me, we say.

We deny our #2. We pretend it’s just #1. We invoke faux-muses and throw around words without action.

Rather than confessing our desires, we cling to the delusion that the urge is just a #1. But the urge is inauthentic, or at least incomplete, and as a result we end up moving slowly or, more often, doing nothing at all. We keep quiet. We don’t write or paint or cook or sing or dance or…you get the idea.

What I propose today is that creativity is not motivated by #1 or #2–that most creative expression starts with a trickle of #1, but is then followed by a big #2. Whether this okay or not is irrelevant. It just is. And the more we deny our need to let out our #2, the more uncomfortable we become.

If you’re concerned about becoming a Kardashian, remember the words of WB Yeats: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” The Kardashians, teeming with passionate intensity, are popular because they are unencumbered by #2 shame. Attention is not a problem for them so far as we can tell. What if we exhibited a little more of that freedom, mixed with a little more #1? Might the world be a slightly better place?

Today, do not deny your #2 urge. Welcome attention.

4 Steps in Perfecting the Art of Being Wrong

The other day, my wife asked for some bandaids to put on some blisters she got from her flipflops. I keep a private stash of super-adhesive bandaids for my frequent run-ins with the ground and other unforgiving surfaces. I got them from one of my drawers. I gave her the bandaids and told her to keep them, because I knew the blisters wouldn’t go away in a day.

The next day, she asked me where the bandaids were.

“I gave them to you,” I replied.

“Well, I don’t have them.”

“I distinctly remember giving them to you yesterday. I knew you’d need them, so I didn’t put them back.”

“Whatever…I don’t have them.” She ended up putting some major-surgery-sized bandaids over her tiny cuts.

I was slightly annoyed.  I vividly remember giving her the bandaids. I remember saying, “you take them.” I remember not taking them back. I remember the logic of not taking them back.

I am not a flake. I have a great memory. I remember peoples’ names at parties. I was not mistaken: I had given her the bandaids.

The next day I was looking through one of my drawers. I found the bandaids. I had not given them to her. I had not said “you take them”–or if I did, I had not given them to her. My memory had failed me. I was mistaken about what I was so certain about.

With this in mind:

  1. What are you so certain about? This could be any belief: that something is not going to work out, perhaps it’s something that caused an argument, where you placed the bandaids?
  2. Is it possible you are mistaken? Is it possible you memory, feelings, intuition, knowledge about this situation, might be failing you?
  3. How might you act if you weren’t so certain? Might you listen a bit closer to the other person? Might you entertain other possible outcomes to a situation? Might you ask for help should that be the case?
  4. Allow for the possibility of being wrong. If you find yourself getting defensive of defeated, ask yourself throughout the day, “What if I were wrong about this situation?”

You’re not a Champion Because You’re Unwilling to Suck

I am not seduced by learning curves. I want to be good at everything–immediately. When I play golf, I should swing like Tiger Woods. When I do public speaking, I should orate like Honest Abe. When I meditate, I should focus like the Dalai Lama. It’s a phenomenon I call the “instant expert.”

Oftentimes, experience supports my delusion. For example, as someone who has never played gold, I imagine I would demonstrate exponential growth my first time out–mainly because I would go from zero skill to some.

This growth might continue for a few outings. I’d feel pretty good about myself. I’d buy a punch-card at a country club (or whatever golfers do).

Then my learning curve would start to plateau. Gains would come with great difficulty. I’d start thinking, “Golf is lame. All the resources used for maintaining a patch of land for the 1% to tread upon…I’m too disgusted to play.” The punch-card would expire and I’d return to the things I do with a semblance of competency, like flossing my teeth.

Most of us make poor skill mean we aren’t good at something. Quitting means that we have determined that we will never be good, like it’s an immutable law.

More pernicious is this: we conflate what we do with who we are. If I suck at something, it means I suck as a person. If this is true, we must find things we are good at and avoid those we are not. This is why TV and the internet are so popular: they allow us to be instant experts. I was good at watching TV almost from the first time I watched it.

Like many people, there are things I want to do beside web-surf, watch TV and floss. Of those thing, I suck at many, if not most of them. Or I am transitioning from suckiness to passable competency.

I write, but my words are often meandering and vague. I ain’t got a book deal. I am an employee, but sometimes I can be a dunce at work. I am a husband, but I can sometimes be a total dick (sorry babe). I am going to be a father, and though I’ve pre-ordered my “Dad of the Year” t-shirt, there may be a period where I am not the most expert father.

Of this situation, I think of an Ira Glass quote:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners…For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good….A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. [Full quote here].

The gap between what we know we can do and what we’re doing can be frustrating. But we’ve got to know it’s an intrinsic part of the process. There was a time when we all of us sucked at walking. Now we’ve attained some level of mastery. It’s not magic. It’s a function taking consistent action (i.e. walking).

What if sucking at something didn’t mean that we, as people, sucked? What if it just meant we lacked a particular skill-set–one we could learn? What would that make possible?

The Bouncer at the Gates of Heaven

On this site, I talk about how to handle relationships, overcome challenges, fears and the like. I tell stories about how I deal and have dealt with these various situations. I paint the picture that I have prevailed and am prevailing in the face of it all. And if I can do it, you can too! I even give instructions how.

There are many peddlers of personal empowerment like me. We are not sages, just guys and girls who’ve discovered a modicum of personal freedom and want to share our experiences with the world. Our central tenants are overcoming fear, explosive self-expression and abundant living.

But there’s a trap with producing and consuming personal empowerment: it’s that freedom isn’t an end in and of itself, it’s a means.  We overcome fear, explosively express ourselves and start living abundantly so we can get lots of dates, be famous and make lots of money.

This is a sort of spiritual Chinese handcuffs: the more we focus on becoming free so we can achieve the goals that elude us, the more we substantiate our lack of freedom. We perpetuate the notion that free people don’t get nervous, they aren’t obsequious and they certainly aren’t broke. Until we are those things, freedom will be out of our grasp. Freedom and happiness forever remain something out there, in the future, when; not something here, now.

What if freedom became our ends, not our means? What if freedom looked a lot different than what we thought it did? What if it happened in a cubicle or looking at your flabby body? What if all our indicators of freedom were false? What if we could be free now with our never-going-to-be-famous, inhibited, broke-ass selves? How might that change our day? What excuses would that take away?

Monday Morning Coffee

Monday mornings are not typically my strongest time. Rather than the week occurring as a vast ocean of possibility, it occurs as a barren creek, whose scant water is suffused with obligation and pains-in-the-ass. This perspective usually changes by Tuesday, when I see that no one is forcing me to do anything; that I signed up for all of my supposed burdens; that they’re not in fact burdens at all, but actions inside of a greater commitment; that I do and have created my life. But not Monday. And particularly not Monday morning. That time is reserved for doom.

Rather than jumping into action, I become overwhelmed and jump to have a second cup of coffee, which sends me into a state where I simultaneously do nothing while my caffeine-addled mind scorns my inaction with improved efficiency.

This disempowered state relies on a particular conceit: that who I am is a function of what I do. If I don’t do, I am not (worthy, powerful…alive).

But what if this is a mistaken conceit? What if there were nothing to prove? What if we were inherently valuable–that our existence didn’t hinge our abilities to check items off our Google Tasks widget? How would that free us?

This is not to say things don’t need to get done. When I finish writing this, I have a shitload of things to do. The question is how will we do? Will we do under the lash of obligation, maxing out our willpower to make things happen, doing to prove we are good enough, that we matter, that we exist? Or will action flow from our inherent worth and power–from a place of nowhere to go, nothing to prove? Both work in their own way–one just sounds a bit more enjoyable.





Resistance for Breakfast

It’s 6:58am. The sky is turning a lighter shade of gray. My coffee is drained. I’ve made a few trips to my Facebook Comment App page (still haven’t figured out how to properly integrate it). Despite a LinkedIn update being the most interesting thing in my inbox, I’ve checked my email a few times. I’ve stared at my computer screen for an hour. I’ve written almost nothing.

Why can’t this be easier? Didn’t I read my previous posts? There is no time but now. Start living. Share yourself. Inspire people into action. Write.

Then I ask, “What if it’s okay that it’s not easy?” What if the struggle–the blank looks at an empty page, the seeming desert of inspiration, the useless byways to far-flung websites, the accusations that my hyper-affectionate cats are preventing my literary greatness–were, if not essential, not abnormal. What would be possible if resistance wasn’t a problem?

Most of spend our lives looking for the easy way–for the path of no resistance. Perhaps this path exists. I’ve waited 35 years looking for it…maybe 36 will be the easy year. Or maybe if I spent a thousandth of the time acting with resistance as I did looking for ways around it, I’d get done what needed to get done. Maybe working with resistance is the easy way.

What Do You Think of Me?

Self promotion is a funny thing. While most of us are dying for attention and recognition for who we are and what we do, when it comes time to actually show who we are and what we do, we demure. We don’t want to be thought boastful or self-important. We want to wait until our work is ready to put ourselves out there.

The truth is we don’t share ourselves because we don’t want to be judged. We don’t want anyone to question our awesomeness, so we keep it to ourselves, pets and small children. We value maintaining a fragile sense of self–one that cannot withstand scrutiny and judgment–more than contributing something meaningful to the world.

In December, my wife and I got married. We had a novel approach to having a wedding and we wanted to share it. The NY Times covered it and it eventually made its way to Huffington Post and Gawker. The latter website deemed it, “The Most Obnoxious, Do-Good Wedding Ever.”  One Huffpo commenter remarked of the wedding,

It was grotesquely obnoxious. It was taking people who feel socially obliged to attend and shoving your pet ideology down their throats. If you think it was affirming, substitute right-wing fanaticism for this left-wing fanaticism.

You know what? Despite this vitriol, my wife and I are okay. We still got married. The people at the wedding still had a great time. We still believe we helped people rethink weddings and marriage.

Our time on earth is too short to withhold ourselves, guarding ourselves from judgment and scrutiny. The world is going to judge you no matter what. Neither you, nor your work are ready for public display. Fuck it. Show us anyway.

It’s Okay, Put it Off till Tomorrow

Statistically speaking, you will probably waste your day today. You will not work on that book or painting or business. You will not go to the gym. You will be rude and impatient with strangers. You will get furious at someone on the sidewalk or highway. You will stress about money. You will spend a lot of time in front of a glowing screen. You won’t take that walk in the park. You’ll get takeout for dinner. You won’t call that friend back. You won’t take chances.

It’s okay. You’ll do it tomorrow. You’re working on it.

I’m flying out Saturday to be with my father who has lung cancer. My stepmother, wife, brother and his family will be there. It’s one of those trips.

Tomorrow is not a certainty. Stop trying to live.

Maybe Someday, Somehow, Someone Will Find Your Treasure

I am at the library, finishing a paper on my laptop when a routine Windows Update pops onto my screen. I am hungry, so I decided to load the update, let it install and reboot while I grab something to eat. I get lunch and when I return the screen is blue–known by many as the “blue screen of death.” Everything was gone: my photos, my paper, my music.

The most devastating thing lost was my creative writing. There was some pretty hot shit on that hard-drive: short stories, personal essays and poems that were very well received on the university workshop circuit. I would submit them one day. Maybe a literary journal would publish them. Collectors would find these early works and see them as the harbingers of literary genius that they were.

But they were never submitted. They were never read outside a classroom. They died a quiet death that day, only the embers of my professors’ praise to indicate their existence.

Some things survived the crash. I had published some stuff for the school’s literary journal and some freelancing jobs. These were the lone records that I had ever written anything. All of my someday-fantasies of being published in the Paris Review were contrasted with the reality of articles published in Exhibit City News, a rag for the trade show industry that my mom had set me up with. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was something.

I learned several lessons out of this incident:

  1. Back up. Duh.
  2. There is no right time or opportunity to put yourself out there. Many of the things I wanted to submit were waiting for me to revise or make them just right. They were ready. I was just scared that no one outside the workshop table would like them. I regret not sharing. Also, while Exhibit City News an the Columbia Observer aren’t the New Yorker, they were something. They were what was available at the time and they were fine. If I had taken more such opportunities, perhaps my writing would have developed faster and been read more widely. Sometimes we forsake many small opportunities laid at our feet for big ones that never comes.
  3. If something is precious, we must give it away. The only things I wrote that survived were the things that were published. The only surviving photos were the ones I gave to others. Giving things away extends their lives. Holding onto things results in atrophy and decay.
  4. Use a Mac.