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June 2013

Post image for 5 steps to stop worrying what people think of you

On my seventh night in New York City I ended up, almost accidentally, living out a fantasy of mine — mingling with writers and photographers, in an expensive Upper West Side apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows, drinking a hundred-dollar bottle of wine.

Some details were different, however. A rainbow of throw pillows covered half the main room and the woman I was talking to was naked and I was in my underwear.

It was my first, and so far only, naked party, and it was the beginning of the end of a thirty-year era of rather severe self-consciousness. I’d always had a burning fear of the judgments of others. In particular, I couldn’t bear the thought of someone else seeing me as bad or wrong. I just couldn’t let it happen, and unconsciously designed a life that minimized that risk, which means it minimized interactions with other people.

This self consciousness declined very slowly throughout my late twenties, and after my trip to New York it began to fall away in large chunks and now I feel very little self-consciousness. In the big picture, I know that my relatively sudden shedding of self-worry has come from a gradual accumulation of insights. By the time of the trip, I had learned a little too much about the world and myself to continue to be so afraid of both.

But insight alone is often not enough. Life has to make its principles clear by demonstrating them to you in real time. An unfamiliar experience must act as a catalyst, illuminating your accumulated insights and leaving you with a new and unfamiliar sense of yourself. When you notice that the feeling of being you is an easier and more natural feeling than it used to be, you know you have grown.

In the case of my graduation from self-consciousness I know that the catalyst for the final untangling began at the naked party in Manhattan.  Read More

Post image for What do you do now that you should have always done?

About six months after I got my first guitar, I had reached a stage where I knew a lot of chords and I could play recognizable bits of songs, but I couldn’t play even the simplest song (Wild Thing?) without flubbing chord changes all the way through. It felt like I hadn’t actually begun to learn at all.

I found some comfort in online guitar forums for beginners. Hundreds of others shared my frustration, believing that they were every bit as bad as they were the first day they picked up the instrument.

One day, a slightly more experienced player thaught us a trick that makes it 100% clear how far you’ve come since you started. You rotate the guitar so that your fret hand becomes your picking hand and vice-versa. Then you attempt to play anything you know.

This puts you exactly where you were when you started — your fingers have to find entirely new positions and make entirely new motions, and you recognize how much skill and nuance you’ve gained since that first day, which is the last time the guitar felt that unfamiliar and awkward to you.

When I have discouraging moments other areas of life, I use a similar trick to remind myself how much more capable a person I’ve become.

I think about where I was exactly a year ago, or two years ago, or five years ago today — what was going on in my life and what my biggest dilemmas were. I then imagine being given a chance to deal with those issues knowing what I know now, today, as 2013 David. A lot of the time today’s Me would make short work of those problems, even if today’s Me isn’t on top of all of today’s problems.

This exercise reveals real growth, and that kind of personal growth tends to come in little breakthroughs. These little breakthroughs have two ingredients: 1) you learn something you didn’t know, and 2) as a result, you try doing something differently than you used to do it.  Read More

Post image for Why the minimalists do what they do

I was 31 when I figured out breakfast, and after that life’s overall difficulty level declined a bit.

Every month I buy a bag of bulk steel-cut oats, a bag of trail mix and a six-pound bag of Royal Gala apples. Every morning I make a heaping half-cup of the oats and cut an apple into slices. About six months ago I added a cup of Ceylon tea to that.

That’s breakfast every day now. I used to keep my options open, figuring that going with what I “feel like” in the moment is going to naturally lead to a more appropriate, fulfilling breakfast experience.

After years of being confronted with a decision shortly after waking, I decided to be done with deciding what was for breakfast. My usual is now the only thing on the menu, and since I stopped deciding what’s for breakfast, mornings have had a significantly different feel. They are clearer and more spacious.

I thought my newfound clarity was a byproduct of having more whole grains in my diet, or the self-satisfaction of finding a breakfast that costs 11 cents. I now believe it has nothing to do with oatmeal at all, but rather with the fact that I have much more than 11 cents to spend on breakfast, and in today’s global food system that gives me way too many options.

As affluent Westerners we’re fortunate to have so many choices, but according to psychologist Barry Schwartz, having too many possibilities — which we do in almost every area: breakfast, clothing, careers, lifestyles and creative pursuits to name some major ones — makes it consistently harder to be happy with the options we choose. In his TED talk he identifies the ways too many choices erode personal welfare instead of serving it.

When we’re faced with a number of options, we’re always going to assume that one of them is better than all the rest. This means the more options there are, the more likely we are to choose one that isn’t the best one. We also presume it would take more homework to choose the right one. In other words, as options increase every decision becomes bigger, and so the more likely we are to delay our decisionmaking.

Facing any decision is to some degree stressful, whether it’s picking a menu item, or picking an investment vehicle for your retirement. Delaying decisions because you don’t want to make the wrong decision only compounds this stress. This trepidation is a fear of future regret, and the resulting paralysis can lead to procrastination, which in turn leads to self-esteem issues, which only compounds indecisiveness further.

Even once you make a decision, the more options you turned down the more likely you have lingering doubts that you missed the boat — or at least, some boat. Even if you make the best choice, you never really know that, and you’re likely to wonder what you’re missing.

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