How to Figure Out the Ideal Distance

Take any one “thing” in your life, whether it be an activity, a person, a place.  And know that there exists an ideal distance between you and that thing.

How to figure out the ideal distance is simple.  Get far away from it, and stay there a while.  Do you miss it?

Or get very close to it, and stay there a while.  Do you feel the need to get away?

The zone where you feel most comfortable exist between those two extremes.  When you are there, you will be at peace with your distance to the thing.

Of course, the ideal distance isn’t a static thing, either.  After being close to something, say a full-time job, and enjoying it for a while, you may find that one day you feel the need to get away.  You go on a vacation and expect to miss your job, but actually you don’t.  Your ideal distance has changed.

There were periods in my life when I attempted to leave my guitar.  I went weeks without touching it.  Not touching it almost became the norm.  Except that every once in a while I would stop and realize that I missed it.  Even though the guitar was frustrating to me.  I couldn’t play very well, I wasn’t anywhere near where I thought I was supposed to be.  I wasn’t having fun, so I would give up.  Maybe I need to find something else, maybe I wasn’t meant to pursue this.  I took vacations from my guitar, to test my relationship to guitar playing.

But I did miss it.  So I went back.  Turns out what I needed to let go was my idea of how good I was supposed to be, not the guitar playing.  When I stopped beating myself up for not being as good as I wanted to be, I started enjoying it again.  I remembered why I wanted to play it to begin with.

Relationships can be tricky, but keep in mind that your heart knows the ideal distance.  You should listen, if it tells you to get away, or get closer.  Sometimes other factors may be interfering with your sense of the ideal distance.  But your heart knows.  I’m learning to trust mine.

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Willpower Is a Rechargeable Battery

Willpower is a finite resource. There are studies that point that way, but it is true in my experience. If you spend it, you have to recharge it before you spend it again.

But what spends or recharges your willpower is completely different from person to person. For example, I need to use willpower to switch gears. If I get immersed in something, anything, even if it’s something I don’t like or enjoy, changing gear from that to anything else, even if it’s something I like better, requires willpower. That doesn’t make any sense, does it?

On the other hand, I once saw my brother stop watching a good movie in order to study. If he used his willpower to do it, it wasn’t much for him. If I was in his shoes such an act would have been a mighty struggle.

What I am learning is that willpower is like a rechargeable battery. You can charge it back up after it’s been drained.

So what charges our rechargeable battery? Sleep and having fun are the two main activities. If you’re short on both you’re having to run on a drained battery. Unlike real electric devices we humans can wring out willpower where there is little reserve, but that takes toll on our system.

Also, it appears that how much charge your battery affects the rate of drain. If I spent a lot of time having raucous fun, for example, I feel more generous with my willpower. In that state, activities that usually take a lot of willpower don’t seem that that daunting.

Then there are some states that drain the charge faster — stress being a big one. In this state I’d have less resolve to fight off temptations. That explains why a stressed person has a harder time sticking to diet than an unstressed person.

Once you understand that your willpower is a rechargeable battery and some acts charge it while others discharge it, you can start to explore how to create a better balance between the draining and the charging in your life.

I used to be very poor at taking care of myself. I am still not great at having fun. But learning this concept has helped a great deal in terms of feeling justified to recharge my battery.

I am also learning that a fine nuance that exists between the charging and draining. Years ago, playing the guitar was a drain, because every time I picked up the guitar I felt frustrated by how poor of a guitarist I was compared to how good I wanted to be. The attitude of glass being half empty turned what I love into a drain. Thankfully I shed that mindset and now playing the guitar is very much a charge.

So it’s not necessarily the act that charges or drains our battery. It’s the experience. Sometimes a supposedly fun activity may not go down as a fun experience for you because there’s something else going on in your mind. So you have to pay careful attention to how your mind is experiencing any given activity.

Life is made up of experiences. All activities require energy, but some give you back more than you expend, while others simply drain. So the key to a well-lived life is to at least balance the two kinds of experiences, so that you’re not constantly running on empty. It’s not a sin to take the time out to recharge your battery. It’s actually quite necessary.

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Life Is an Experience

Life is an experience. That may seem like a “doh” statement, but yet, knowing this can make a huge difference in how you go about your life.

It’s easy to get fixated on things or status. I may say:

  • I want to lose my weight:
    • No, what I really want is the joy of living in a healthy and strong body without illness, and
    • The experience of feeling confident about how I look.
  • I want to be rich:
    • Actually, what I want is the experience of being able to afford things without worrying.
  • I want a better job:
    • What I really want is the experience of creating things that make a difference in people’s lives, using my creativity and collaborating with people I like.

Knowing this is helpful in a few ways. It prevents me from getting attached to particular ideas. Getting fixated on specifics keeps me away from being flexible and being open to opportunities I didn’t consider before.

If I know that what I’m after is an experience, my mind opens up to myriads of ways to create it. I don’t truly need millions to feel like I’m worth millions.  I can create the experience of richness and abundance with just a few bucks, or without money at all.  It’s also possible to have a lot of money and still don’t feel rich. (I know this because I now make the amount of money I previously considered enough but I often don’t feel that way.) Then I will have missed the point.

The experience of living in a healthy body or having a romantic relationship may seem like you actually have to have them in order to experience them. But knowing that it’s the experience you’re after will help you decide how you want to pursue your goals. For example, I used to feel guilty about days when I didn’t exercise. I thought I wasn’t working hard enough, I thought achieving my goals as quickly and efficiently mattered the most. Now I seek out activities that feel enjoyable to me, at a pace that’s challenging enough to be fun but not stressful. I switched from going after a state (weight at ### lbs, waist at ## inches) to enjoying the experience of moving my body. I may not be creating results as fast (or not at all), but the overall life enjoyment increased.

Life is an experience, what matters more to me is not what I accomplish but how much time I spend having good experiences. Or to put it another way, it’s more important to enjoy life than to produce results in the most efficient ways possible. This has been a big paradigm shift for me, I’m still discovering all the places where this concept applies.

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Survival, Redefined

Those of us fortunate enough to live above the poverty level in developed societies are no longer concerned with our physical survival. Most of our basic needs are accounted for.

But what we’re learning is that meeting our basic needs alone doesn’t constitute survival. The other side of that coin is our mind. We learned how to take care of our physical needs. We are still green on how to make our inner being survive.

We humans are animals to begin with, so our mind normally comes pre-loaded with a few basic scripts: desire to live, desire for companionship, desire to explore, and so on. But then life happens. Countless experiences. Myriads of emotions. The mind has to process all these. It takes energy. It takes rest (as in sleeping, among other things).

I don’t mean to glorify the old days, but I imagine we had less information, less sensory overload back then. The world was smaller. Your choices were more limited. Experiences and emotions intertwine a lot with your expectations and pre-conceived beliefs. Even just a few decades ago, those were pretty set in stone. There wasn’t as big a difference between surviving physically vs. mentally. There was a difference, but not as big as there is now.

Today, our world is a lot more overwhelming. More information than any one mind can process. Our bodies are less challenged, even though they are better nourished. Our jobs require specialization in a narrow range of fields. Which can contain a lot of repetitive tasks.

In these environments, it’s easier for our mind to become off-balance, in contrast to how well our bodies are taken care of. Ironically, when your survival is guaranteed your will to live becomes lax. A healthy body may be host to a deeply unwell mind.

It’s not enough to just take care of our physical body. Or rather, there is a component to our being that we aren’t taken care of, while we got busy building cultures, societies and infrastructures optimized to make survival easier for everyone. We are no longer survival-of-the-fittest species, or so we thought. It still may be so, when you consider how many of us in the better-off societies struggle with mental issues.

Our mind and body are not separate, they are one and the same, albeit with two sides. The side you can see and the side you can’t. We learned how to take care of one but now we need to learn how to take care of the whole. If we had known that the objective was to protect the whole to begin with, we may not have allowed mentally-challenging practices like assembly-lines to propagate so much. It’s an efficient approach that maximizes profit but reduces human beings to more inhumane, robot-like roles that perform machinistic, repetitive tasks. Such work can be very taxing to our minds. It is better than starving and dying, sure, but if the mind gets numb from boredom that’ll wreak havoc on your body, too. Not all personalities are suited for that lifestyle. It doesn’t matter that they pay for your food and shelter, if the wrong kind mind gets stuck living a straining lifestyle, stress can build up. And stress can kill a person.

Hind sight is 20/20. We didn’t realize that building efficiencies around our physical bodies would lead to compromising our minds. When we were busy trying to figure out how to ensure our physical survival, our mental survival was rightfully lower in priority.

But the time to learn the lesson is now. We may be living longer but so many of us are still struggling to survive, because we haven’t developed practices for protecting and caring for our minds. Arts, such as music, are like what food is to our stomach. But it’s still considered optional. It isn’t. It is necessary for the well-being of the whole person.

When you realize that survival means meeting the needs of both your mind and body, you’ll start to realize which of our practices help you truly survive, while others take care of the body at the cost of the mind. Now is a good time to start learning, and start changing.

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From Surviving to Thriving

I believe that humanity is evolving.

Throughout the most of human history, we had to focus on surviving.  Surviving is about making sure our basic needs for food and shelter are met.  Different cultures evolved in different ways to ensure maximum chance of surviving.  They were different because their circumstances were different.  Hot and cold climates call for different survival approaches.  In some cultures, men were scarce because they died while hunting and fighting.  So each surviving men had several wives to maximize the chances of the survival and continuance of that family lineage.

Ensuring survival comes from the scarcity mentality.  It’s about making sure you have food and security because the assumption was that if you were negligent in that effort then neither will be there.  And this is still true for the majority of humans.

But those of us fortunate to live in developed countries, we are less concerned with survival.  Once those basic needs are met, we turn our attention to higher needs.  To thrive.  To fully realize our potential.  To live a joyful, fulfilling life.

This is new to us, so we don’t have culture developed to maximize our chance of that, at least not an effective one.  There have been exceptions throughout history, as well, but not best practices that apply to the majority of us.  And cultures are just that, best practices.

The thing is, we don’t realize it when we’re so focused on our basic needs, but such life is often very straining to our minds.  For example, many manufacturing jobs are mind-numbing, back-breaking work, performing repetitive, mechanical jobs.  A lot of our current society is dependent on people performing such work, but as a creative person it’ll be hard for me to do that sort of work.  The freedom we enjoy in the more fortunate societies is about having the freedom to choose your work that’s a good match to who you are.  But if nobody wanted to be a garbage collector then our society won’t function.  So capitalism works by hanging the carrot in front of people so they do work that they would rather not do it they didn’t have to.  It’s a decent system, the best we thought up so far, of making societies work where the constituents have the maximum chance of surviving, collectively and individually (that’s not to say that it works 100%).

But this system is rigged for survival, not thriving.  If people didn’t do some of the less desirable work the society wouldn’t function.  Most of the jobs are designed for maximum profit, maximum efficiency.  They are not designed for maximum fun and joy of the person performing it — it’s not even designed for the long-term physical and mental health of the person.  Otherwise why would we sit in an office all day staring at computers, day in and day out?  That’s a recipe for disaster in the long run, and disaster it is.

That’s not to say we are not doing a good job, we are doing the best we can to explore this relatively new concept of fulfillment, which is the highest state for our body, mind and soul built on the basic and higher needs being met.  I live in a highly developed society and have had some awesome, creative jobs.  I know that many, many people don’t enjoy their work, and their bodies and minds develop issues.  I’ve had my share of them, though I’m proud to say each year I get better at life and fix more of my problems.  Challenges are endless but I’m getting closer to creating a fulfilling life.

Whenever I needed to refuel in my journey, I turned to music.  Music is the most accessible and emotional of arts, and a powerful influence on your mood/emotions.  If you enjoy music, you can use it to enhance your life, from soothing your pain in times of trial to making happy moments even more exhilarating.  Plain, raw foods can sustain us but cooking it the right way make it inviting to eat.  Music is like salt and pepper of life, one of the most basic, most versatile and most useful tools to improve the experience that is our life.

Music helps, really helps.  It’s like a booster for your emotions — if you’re anguished, it can help you be less so, and if you’re happy, it can help you feel more of it.  Good music refuels my life, and making music with such intentions fulfills me.  I am a creative person, and the music is the most awesome thing I can create.  I intend never to have a phase in the rest of my life when I’m not making music.  I hope you discover music that works for you, so you can use it to lift you up.

Humanity still has ways to go, though we can remain hopeful when we consider how far we’ve come.  It’s been a slow and long journey for me but thriving is now within my reach.  I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned along the way. My particular stories may or may not be relevant to you — but I hope they remind you to show up each day, ready and willing to take baby steps forward.

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