Becoming A Morning Person

Good morning. Guess what? You can’t control most of the shit around you. Even if I’m not explicitly thinking that, the minute I wake up the sense of it comes forcefully to the front of my mind. I used to hate this feeling. I’ve spent years of my life trying to escape it. Some tactics have been healthier than others, but none of them have worked.

Most people, at that point, do one of two things: (1) hate life and people and even baby animals until coffee OR (2) decide they’re not a morning person and give up on it. I’m not so satisfied with status quo. What goes along with being a control freak is the deep desire to understand, tinker, and improve, even especially if it’s something about me.

Sure, I’m human. I’m going to fuck up. Havoc abounds. I’m not going to let that stop me. I’m not going to let me stop me. It’s scary to confront the chaos. It’s hard to make change. Even if you know it will be good for you. It feels easier to stay entrenched in a bad habit. It’s ass-backwards, but it’s true.

The willingness to change is brutally challenged by the fear of the unknown.

Mornings are a bitch. That doesn’t change. No amount of magic will move that fact. Some are better than others, but there’s always a regression to the mean. This is really good to remember when you’re having a particularly shit morning, and really hard to remember when you’re having a great one. The morning after our wedding, my husband and I woke up at 6AM without an alarm, full of positivity and vigor. Our love certainly hasn’t diminished in the months since then, but I can’t tell you we do that every day.

Another myth: there is no magic number to forming new habits. Trust me. I quit smoking cigarettes, and it took longer than 21 days to feel good about it. Tons of factors go into how long it will take you to make change. Most of the time you have no idea how long it takes, because it seems like you either do or you don’t. I’m not getting down on counting days. Making the daily habit of reflecting on your motivation to change continues to shape your meaning of success.

There’s a reason why mornings are tough. You’re vulnerable. Emotions pour in and you’re not in fighting stance. Remember that even the most organized and successful person in your life has that same fuzzy moment as they coax themselves to get up and face the day. The thing that sets them apart–makes them morning people–is how they work with it.

Primed with the knowledge that mornings are like constantly getting caught off-guard, I’ve choreographed a morning routine to combat the uncontrollable. It’s like a dance. I incorporate movement with mindfulness, ensuring redundancy because I know, no matter how hard I try, shit will shift at that moment when I’m not quite awake, and I might not be ready for it.

If this sounds rigid, you’ve got the wrong idea. There exists a space between “hyper-scheduled automaton” and “hot mess, fly by the seat of your pants,” both Jon Westenberg-isms. There’s a bunch to learn from his morning routine, and he’s always a good, quick read. He cooly slides into the space of the stumbled into success, “you do you,” and that works for him. But what about when “doing you” is chronically staying in bed too late and getting fired because you’re not on time for work?

I get that you have to do what works for you. I get up and immediately do sun salutations, but you might not like yoga. That’s cool, but don’t let that stop you from finding out what gets you going. Live life on your own terms, but know your blind spots. If you’re unclear where the boundaries of your better nature lie, don’t wait for it to fail you. Failure will happen, but if you make map what works and what doesn’t, you’ll never be completely lost.

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Getting Married Is An Accomplishment

I disagree with Natalie Brooke’s recent piece in the Huffington Post. Beyond the hallucious writing style, I think she embodies exactly what makes most women feel horrible about themselves vis-à-vis romantic relationships, whether they’re in one or not. Let me start from the beginning. Brooke recently got engaged, and it’s clear that her views on marriage and her upcoming wedding is quite conventional in that she states although she does not think getting married is an accomplishment, it “is absolutely a huge event, and it’s so very exciting to find your ‘other half'” (just add a PSL).

What’s more, Brooke gets on her soap box and says that now she’s got the ring — lest she be called embittered — she feels at liberty to speak the gospel that “getting married should never be put in a higher regard than the academic and professional successes that women work hard to attain.” 

I think that getting married is an accomplishment. 

You win the game of life. The way I see it, I was going to succeed on my own, even if I died alone. What marriage means to me is that I get to build the world the way I want it to be by furthering my genes, propagating my values, and propelling them into the future long after I’m gone. I think that’s a hugely important responsibility that one should be proud of and that others should revere.

More importantly for this argument, getting married doesn’t have to not be an accomplishment. Even in the face of any academic or professional triumphs. The fact of the matter is, I’d like to say that there’s a lot more to me than either a ring or a brain. I’ve got both. Deal with it. I’m proud of each and I’m not going to apologize for any of it. I’m certainly not going to put anyone down for it. 

This is where Brooke really gets me. She’s made it clear that she finally “has it all” and considers getting engaged as an anointing of power and insight to dole out advice. “The built-in vapidity, the vagueness with which ‘having it all’ specifies everything and therefore nothing,” (Szalai, 2015, The New York Times) leaves just enough room for everyone to hate themselves, no matter what they actually have or where they actually stand. 

To me, getting married is a serious project, not a piece of jewelry and bragging rights. I treated my engagement like I do when I consult for early-stage startups and our wedding as our launch party. I continue to run my household accordingly with budgets, goal setting, and follow-up discussions. This might sound joyless to someone who mindlessly goes into a marriage and blithely believes it’s what they deserve, but I think that’s the most dangerous place to be and the reason why there are so many divorces. The notion that we’re just supposed to be happy, that life is meant to be fun, can be very disappointing and at least, much less rewarding. 

New Year’s Resolutions

Ok, it seems I’m a little late to start talking about New Year’s resolutions. But right now–the third week in January–is when people most likely fall off the wagon, especially for fitness goals. The resolutioners in my apartment building didn’t even make it this far. The gym downstairs has thinned out, thankfully, and my favorite treadmill is always free again.

I sound cynical. I really like the idea of New Year’s resolutions. Everyone, together, looks back and then reaches for better. It’s cool to put yourself out there, share an area of your life that you’d like to improve upon, and hopefully have your friends and family for accountability and support. This all sounds good and set up for success. Why does it fall apart for so many people? Or, better yet, how best can we keep going?

Last year, Mark Zuckerberg started a book club. I didn’t follow along, but it seemed to work out pretty well. I’m guessing that Mark already read a book per month, though I’m not trying to discredit the cause. For some, reading a book per month is a stretch and he created a community to support success for those who joined. The feeling of belonging and accountability to a community can be a solid foundation for making change.

I grant, there are also some goals on a more personal level that aren’t meant to be shared with other people, or that aren’t always practical to be done as a group. Beyond that, there is something potent to keeping a promise to yourself and developing your own process. An important lesson that I’ve learned is that success is not solely based on “strength.” The problem with this model is: most people make mistakes. If you didn’t make it through, does this mean you’re “weak”? In a black and white world, a fuck up can lead quickly to a free fall.

When I’m going it alone with a goal, I have found that it’s good to start small and attach an action to an already established ritual. As part of a larger lifestyle overhaul to be healthier, I started taking vitamins at the same time as I make my coffee in the morning. It’s kind of weird to have my vitamins in the cabinet next to my coffee, but I do it every day. Now that I’m comfortable and confident in that coupling, I am working on adding a sun salutation.

蝸牛そろそろ登れ富士の山


Check out the app, Tiny Habits, for some small change inspiration.

 

On Being a “Writer” (part 14: Fucking Up & Flying)

So…I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing daily. Actually, I’m going to put it this way: I’ve made the habit of doing other things instead of writing. As an artist, entrepreneur, or person on this planet (well, I recently read The Martian, so perhaps not only this planet), these occasional, intentional drifts are good–if not necessary–for your creative development. You need to have a life in order to appreciate your success as much as you need success to support your life.

At the beginning of this month my fiancé and I moved into a new apartment. We will be married in two short weeks. Amidst the miraculous madness, I have learned to drive stick shift and have begun to fly planes. This doesn’t sound like fucking up, to me. True, I haven’t been focused on writing, but the other parts of life have won my time and have been worthy of it.

I’ve learned an incredible amount of new things in a short amount of time. A major takeaway from this experience is: when the going gets tough, I continue to challenge myself. I can see how it’s difficult to imagine how that makes sense. It might feel more comfortable to take it easy when things seem stressful, but that’s a surefire way to shortchange yourself.

This is what I mean when I say some healthy distractions are important to success. Yes, it’s been tough for me to write lately. Instead of getting wound up about it and hiding under the bedcovers, I got up, switched gears, and put in a few hours learning to fly. If you go back to my original goal of writing every day, that seems like a major distraction, but the experience of tackling new skills and challenging myself in other, exhilarating ways brought me back to writing today.

On Being a “Writer” (part 10: Working With Emotion, Happiness)

A few weeks ago, I tore through a post with hate on my heels. Now, I am experiencing a seemingly opposite emotion, but there is a similar lesson. “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around for a while, you could miss it,” Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Ok, cliché, but it rings true. What’s funny is that, from the last post on Emotion (the Anger Chapter), I knew how to fail forward. I broke through my clouds of frustration and tasted the blissful sunlight of success. This was not an easy thing for me to do, but I have thoroughly planned ahead for these moments–the times when I’m feeling a typically negative emotion and how to work through that to remain effective.

What I don’t have as much experience with is planning for similar issues, but opposite emotions. When things are good, we usually don’t feel like we need to reach into the personal work tool belt. I picked the Ferris Bueller quote for a few reasons: (1) It’s true: life can change in an instant. Mere days ago, I was very angry, and today I am “completely, and perfectly, and incandescently happy” (please pardon the schmaltz); and (2) I actually took the day off yesterday to “stop and look around,” which wasn’t a seriously bad thing that caused dire consequence (it might have actually been good for me because I’m a workaholic and need to slow it down every once in a while), but the point is that I didn’t work and I consider that a failure of sorts.

I consider the fact that I didn’t work a failure because I didn’t try to regulate my emotion to remain effective. I got a case of the “fuck its,” and spent a lovely afternoon catching up with a close friend and girlavanting downtown. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this. I did not have a looming deadline nor did I lose any money, respect, or real time. I had weighed the tangible costs of forgoing a workday and determined them minimal.

As I’ve discussed, it’s not necessarily about the individual decision, but also about the practice and discipline. I could have tried to push through, but it was tough for me to even name the action as “perseverance” because I don’t usually associate something as being difficult if it feels so darn good. So, today, I’m trying to use this as an opportunity to pump the brain iron and build this mental muscle. Instead of running around tending to the garden that is my Instagram account, I’m going to work as if I were angry, and smile because I most certainly am not.

On Being a “Writer” (part 9: Commitment)

I’ve heard all the excuses before. I know them because I used to be great at making excuses seem like explanations. What have I learned (besides that I needed a huge kick the in rear)? Discipline conquers most of the BS we tell ourselves and others in order to mitigate the fear factor I spoke of in my last post. We all get up in the morning and arm ourselves against Resistance. The more successful people I know, instead of wielding excuses in the arena, buffer themselves with discipline.

A major component of this discipline is Commitment. Bel Pesce, a brilliant Brazilian entrepreneur and writer gave a Ted Talk entitled, “5 Ways to Kill Your Dream” (also featured below). Here they are:

1) Believe in overnight success.

2) Believe someone else has the answers for you.

3) Decide to settle when growth is guaranteed.

4) Believe the fault is someone else’s.

5) Believe that the only things that matter are the dreams themselves.

Great. This was a cute talk and it’s undeniable that Pesce is bright, certainly charming, and poses good points, fundamentally. However, I’d like to challenge her on two things: (1) What is the core of all of this advice and (2) rhetorically speaking, how effective is it to hear what you’re not supposed to do?

I believe strongly that the element that ties all of Pesce’s points together is commitment. Commitment to the Self comes first. Who are you? What is it that you truly desire? I can’t stress this more: be brutally honest with yourself. Only then can you answer the question: How are you going to see your dreams/projects through? I think about it this way: if you were sat down in an room of mirrors for the rest of infinity, what would you see? Could you live with that? If not, I suggest you figure out what you need to change and then put a lot of your energy into doing so, immediately. Honestly, no book will be written, nor venture launched, effectively and successfully if you don’t tack this down.

Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Mirrored Room’ at David Zwirner Gallery

Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Mirrored Room’ at David Zwirner Gallery (click through image for NYTimes review)

Now, if you have that settled with yourself, I won’t lie and say the rest is easy, but at least you have built a solid foundation so that, if something doesn’t go as planned, you’ve got a suitable safety net. Additionally, I most certainly don’t claim that anybody in this world feels this confident every day (if you meet someone who does, please introduce me). But, again, the more successful people I know, in any industry, value commitment first over confidence. Commitment, actually, is what produces true confidence.

This commitment also drives that hard work factor, the nose to the grindstone attitude that most successful people possess. Hard work in it of itself isn’t enough, though. There are people who put in 15 hours a day, 365 days a year, and don’t see results. Another soapbox on which I stand is that of maximizing your time. I could preach this all day. This is where commitment is a compass. When you really know yourself–when commitment is reflex and your soul schedule is relatively set–you do better by yourself by not wasting your time or anyone else’s.

This brings me to my second point. I’m a student of Positive Communication. Don’t get me wrong, I am not always “nice.” I certainly don’t coddle anyone; to the contrary, I can sometimes be ruthless and unrelenting. However, I believe strongly in the power of communicating positivity, whether you are having an argument with a friend or acting as the CEO of a company.

I don’t mean, by the way, that Pesce was any less than lovely in delivering her talk. What I mean by negative communication is the presence of “don’t” rather than “do.” Instinctively, people brace when they hear “don’t.” Psychological studies have shown that in the presence of negative communication, we are more likely to feel immediately and reflexively defensive. When we are defensive, we are not as effective. We cannot receive or put out information or work as successfully.

All in all, the talk is still worth the 6-minutes, and Pesce’s body of work is quite interesting. I salute her for pioneering the young generation of #womenintech.

On Being a “Writer” (part 8: Fear and Loathing in NYC…Well, Anywhere I Am, Actually)

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ever scared. I meet discouragement almost every day. Sometimes those moments are small: I choose to snooze, I don’t get to the coffee shop and sit in bed on my personal Twitter for an hour longer than I scheduled for myself, I don’t make it to an art exhibition that I wanted to review, etc. However, there are important things that I do to stop it at discouragement before ranging on despair and derailment.

I mentioned Steven Pressfield‘s “The War of Art” in an earlier post in this series. One of his central concepts is that of Resistance. He writes, “Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance.” This Resistance at its most evil, is the anvil over your head manifesting as writer’s block. Yet, it can also act as an indication of your interests in and passions for your project. “[T]he more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul.”

There is an important lesson here. I have learned the dual nature of fear, which I can easily turn into self-loathing and self-doubt, if I’m not careful. A practice I’ve attempted to master is mapping my degrees of fear and how they each show themselves to me. For instance, I’ve already indicated a certain degree of difference between discouragement and despair. Truly know your degrees of difference. Track what actions and emotions are triggered by these feelings. Once you can really own these parts of yourself and how you are, you can work to reel yourself in and get back to a more effective and productive state of mind.

The fear can also be the voice of self-doubt and the root of the negative self-talk that tells us we won’t succeed. Nobody will like what you write. Nobody will even read what you write. This is all going to shit. Why bother? As an example, I’ve often referenced myself as “obstinate and oppositional.” Well, maybe those are the emotions/states I tend toward. However, the first step to making change is knowing where you can improve. Forget the how, for now at least. Don’t think too far ahead or the whole thing will seem too daunting to touch. Start small, go slowly, and feel for your fear like you’re fumbling in the dark drying to get dressed.

Pressfield also writes, “Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some idea we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” My advice is to study yourself and be brutally honest (because who else really will for you?). Own that fear, bridle it, and then ride it like a white horse to your destination: Success.