Sometimes good sense comes to us from the unlikeliest places. Like this new sitcom, Life In Pieces. In episode 17, the mom is freaking out because her daughter Sofia is not practicing for her piano recital. Mom is reliving all the bad memories from her own childhood recital, so she talks with her daughter to spare her the humiliation she endured as a child.
Mom: “Your dad and I are concerned that you’re not practicing. I used to play piano when I was your age but I don’t anymore because nobody made me practice and I wish that they had.”
Sofia: “Well, no one’s stopping you now, go ahead.”
Mom: “I had a recital when I was your age, it did not go well. And I regret that.”
Sofia: “Mom, don’t worry so much. It’ll be fine, I promise.”
So the family assembles in the audience, prepared for humiliation and tears. Sofia delivers a cringe worthy performance, but the moment passes when the boy after her wets his pants and leaves the stage in shame.
We have a popular tradition in our family called the Money Dance. Whenever we get a windfall, like a tax refund or a bonus, we deposit the funds in the bank, withdraw a representative amount in small bills, take it home, toss it up in the air of the living room and dance around like idiots as the bills float to the ground around us.
Silly, right? But important. Here’s why:
Too often we get caught up in the drudgery of daily life. It’s hard to feel like we’re making progress in life when there’s an endless amount of mundane tasks just to keep things going. If we don’t keep up, we’re soon overwhelmed by Summary of Benefits statements, broken knobs and switches, and the never-ending list of tasks we must attend to just to keep our households running.
Celebrating the wins, no matter how small, is crucial to our motivation. At every turn, there is a mountain of paperwork and drudgery between us and happiness. Because, as The Eagles say in their song New York Minute, “the wolf is always at the door.” Continue reading Celebrating Your Wins→
You sign the forms because you have to. If you don’t, the surgery doesn’t happen and your weakness and pain never go away. You gulp and sign your name saying, “sure, I’m aware that the things you plan to do to me are inherently risky and could all go terribly wrong”.
Then they inform you, quite specifically, of all those things that could go wrong- infection, brain damage, death – and that you’re not to sue them if they do. Of course you’d be brain-damaged or dead, so it would be your heirs doing the suing (hey that rhymed, I’m keeping it in!). Nevertheless, it is you that must sign.
So you do what they say and wait. There have been no fluids or solids since before midnight, there is no jewelry on your person, and you’ve shown up on time – 6:30 am on a Tuesday morning. You’ve resigned yourself to the risk and you’re plunging ahead, even though your spouse can’t stand the stress of waiting with you and dropped you off in the parking lot and sped away. You wait alone.
Intellectually you know that this is no big deal, they perform thousands of these procedures and they’re good at it. But you take comfort in your indulgences from the day before, because, hey, who knows, you may not be walking out of here alive. Continue reading Fear & Bravado→
Nancy Reagan passed away recently after a 94 year run. An actress in 11 feature films for MGM, Nancy married a fellow actor, then took on her most visible role as First Lady of the United States when that actor became president. All told, a long, successful life, and the 2nd longest lifespan of an American First Lady.
As most First Ladys do during their time in the White House, Nancy chose a cause to promote. While Michelle Obama’s cause was Childhood Obesity and Laura Bush’s was Child Literacy, Nancy chose to address teenage drug abuse with a campaign she called, “Just Say No.”
Nancy Reagan became synonymous with “Just Say No”, and her efforts led to a nationwide campaign of anti-drug use training for school kids. Backed by two billion dollars of government spending (that’s billion) and her husband’s minimum drug sentencing legislation, “Just Say No” became one of the largest initiatives of its kind anywhere.
But critics argued that it was an overly simplistic, expensive and ineffective approach to a complex problem. Abbie Hoffman, noted 70’s radical activist, declared that it was akin to “telling a manic-depressive to just cheer up” (that’s manic-depressive, BTW notManic Impressive).
Their concerns were bolstered by two studies in 1988 that showed no lasting positive effect of the effort. Just the opposite, in fact, as rates of marijuana, cocaine, and L.S.D. use among 8th graders actually increased after they had been in decline for many years.
When I was little, TV cowboys were all the rage. There was Gene Autry The Singing Cowboy, The Lone Ranger and his horse Silver, and the most beloved of them all, Roy Rogers. Roy and his partner Dale Evans were huge celebrities, as was Dale’s horse Buttermilk, and Roy’s horse Trigger.
Trigger was so famous that his hoof prints are in Hollywood’s Walk of Fame next to Roy’s (no, not Roy’s hoof prints, his footprints, wiseguy). He even had his own comic book series, and millions of Trigger action figures were packaged and sold to little kids all over the world.
So famous, that when he died in 1965, Roy had him stuffed and mounted. 45 years later Trigger was sold at auction for over a quarter million dollars (or buckaroos for you cowpokes out there).
Now I bring this up, not to reminisce about mangy old horse carcasses, but to talk about the triggers that all of us own. The deep-rooted things in all of us that trigger our behaviors. In the Behavioral Science world we call them Antecedents, the situations and things that come before we act. The Triggers that cause our behavior.
Triggers can lead to good or bad behavior. Triggers like praise, applause or blue ribbons can cause us to practice more, study harder or challenge ourselves to do more. But often our triggers initiate poor performance, like anger, substance abuse, or worse, giving up.
In the recovery movement triggers are usually the things that set off our mental health issues, and cause people to act out, veg out, or stress eat pints of ice cream or Costco-sized bags of cheesy poofs. Bad triggers.
So I ask you, what are your triggers? What situations or actions cause you to lose your composure, break your promises, or devolve into self-harm of some sort? Are there certain people in your life that know where your buttons are and push them to get you out of control, or away from your goals? I know I have them, plenty of them.
But if we’re going to break out of our present circumstances and achieve the things we desire, we need to get real clear on what these triggers are, in order to (again, in cowboy parlance) head them off at the pass before they manifest themselves into negative behaviors.
Sound easy? Hell no, we’ve all been there and know how hard it is. But if we identify our triggers and plan in advance to instead, deploy productive healthy behaviors, we’ll be able to stay on targetand make progress when we would otherwise give up, go off our diets or go off on other people.
The key is to look at our behaviors and figure what happens right before we act. When we do well, let’s figure out what triggered the positive behavior that led to the good work, and replicate those conditions. When we fail, we need to find what happened right before we f!#*ed up, and try to prevent those conditions from triggering our epic fail responses.
So when you hit the end of your dusty trail, when you ride off into the sunset, we want them all singing Happy Trails, not Another One Bites the Dust. And maybe, just maybe, someone will want to drop a quarter mill on your taxidermied remains…
This is Maze, the devil’s protector, from the new TV show Lucifer. She’s a demon in the form of a very hot, dangerous woman. She’s stuck in Los Angeles watching Lucifer’s back while he’s on vacation from Hell sorting out some personal issues. At one point Maze takes Lucifer’s brother to a coffee shop called Beelzebeans, and explains why she loves it.
“This is my favorite place in the city. Look at them on their laptops, writing the next great screenplay, torturing themselves with the dreams, they know, deep down, they will never achieve. Reminds me of home.”
Home for Maze is Hell, a place souls go to be tortured. At least here on Earth, tortured souls have a chance at redemption and the ability to achieve their dreams. No, it’s not easy, and there is plenty of struggle in store for those of us who listen to the Muse and pursue our dreams of writing, performing, and being more than we are.
But in Hell there is no Muse. Only Maze, the demon who loves to see the suffering that comes from self-doubt. As long as we mortals listen to the Muse and chase our dreams, we are safe. But in the quiet moments when we are not striving, we are vulnerable. That’s when self-doubt can creep in and whittle away at us. Continue reading Self-Doubt→
Over the years I’ve learned a few things about myself and how to get things done. This has been a slow, evolutionary process. Oddly enough, what got me going on this was something I learned from Star Wars. Remember the final battle sequence in the first Star Wars movie? Luke Skywalker had to drop a shot down an intake valve on his final desperate approach over the Death Star to win the battle and save the Rebellion. His wing commander was shouting through his headset these powerful words:
Remember this guy? This is Predator, star of the 1987 movie named, aptly enough, Predator. It was a bit of a cult hit, and spawned two sequels, two spinoffs, and another film currently in the works.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers and Jesse “The Body” Ventura head up a team of mercenary badasses hired by the CIA to head into a steamy jungle to snuff out some bad guys. They hunt and kill the bad guys, only to find they are being hunted themselves. By this weird Predator thing that can turn itself invisible and likes to hunt and kill humans for sport.
There’s only one Predator against six heavily armed, Special Forces-trained killers. But soon the commandos are hunkered down, scared out of their wits, and getting picked off one-by-one to their gruesome, gory deaths. Finally it all comes down to Arnold and Predator, and well, you can’t have a movie franchise if you kill off the star, so Arnold finds a way to kill Predator and save himself.
Ever have a bunch of ideas come flooding into your brain? I do. But not in any steady, consistent way. They seem to come in waves and at very unpredictable times. But when they do come, they just tumble on in, one after the other, connected by thin strands of logic.
I’ve learned over the years to try to catch these waves when they happen. Write them down, record them in some way, then try to take action on them. But sometimes I don’t pay enough attention to the storm that’s coming, and when it makes landfall in my head, I get overwhelmed, and lose a lot of potential brilliance.
During a recent brainstorm, as I marveled at the speed and strength of the ideas coming to me, I thought of the cycle and how and when it happens. Suddenly, my vast knowledge of TV weather reporting came to mind, and a metaphor for creativity emerged. Continue reading BrainStorm→
There are times when even the most confident among us begin to doubt ourselves. Times when we can’t see our way through the tangle of mortgages, bills and day jobs. Times when we can’t imagine our dreams coming true because we have to live in the real world.
In 1990 Joy Mangano was a 32 year old divorced mother of three, scraping by as an airline reservationist while supporting her kids, her ex-husband, both of her divorced parents and her grandmother, all under the same roof of a broken down old house. That alone would be enough to crush the spirit of most of us. But Joy had several things going for her:
A creative and an inventive mind
An insatiable desire to better herself
A stubborn streak of resilience and grit
A grandmother who nurtured her talent and told her she would become a strong, successful woman who would create things
So what did Joy do? She used her creativity to solve a common household cleaning problem. Then she went out, got a patent, built a prototype and tried to sell her new product to anyone who would listen.
But nothing came easily. Stores wouldn’t stock her product, she didn’t have the money for a production run, and both her business partners and her family blatantly sabotaged her efforts.
This woman struggled through things that would stop most of us in our tracks. Yet she persisted, and during one of her darkest times, when it looked like her fledgling business was about to crash and burn, she got some powerful advice: Continue reading Don’t Let The Practical Hold You Down→