Hello good people and welcome to today’s Stuff! I had the pleasure of speaking with Brandon Tumblin of the Strong Stoic podcast a couple weeks ago and that interview just posted. A video clip here. I hope you’ll check it out!
From the Ages
“Come what may, all bad fortune is to be conquered by endurance.”
"As I’ve gotten older—I would say starting in my mid-to-late 20s—I could not help but notice the effect on people of the stories they told about themselves. If you listen to people, if you just sit and listen, you’ll find that there are patterns in the way they talk about themselves.
There’s the kind of person who is always the victim in any story that they tell. Always on the receiving end of some injustice. There's the person who’s always kind of the hero of every story they tell. There's the smart person; they delivered the clever put down there.
There are lots of versions of this, and you’ve got to be very careful about how you tell these stories because it starts to become you. You are—in the way you craft your narrative—kind of crafting your character. And so I did at some point decide, “I am going to adopt self-consciously as my narrative, that I’m the happiest person anybody knows.” And it is amazing how happy-inducing it is."
— Michael Lewis
Source: The Tim Ferriss Show #427
This past December, Justin and his fantastic girlfriend, Marika, visited my family in Texas. For scheduling reasons, I had to drag them out to a Friday afternoon training session I had with my volleyball team. They hung out in my office, which is connected to the weight room at my campus, while I did my thing. Afterward, I was surprised to hear how overwhelmingly cool they thought my gig was.
Here I had been for years, tearing my hair out in frustration with the terrible (and worsening) state of public education. I’d let this poison the way I viewed and talked about my work while rarely stopping to consider how magical my situation is. I have a ton of fun, pushing high school kids in a way most educators can’t, building trust, respect, and relationships with them that most professionals never do, and all the while enjoying tremendous autonomy and flexibility in a beautiful environment that encourages a ton of exercise.
None of this negates my judgement of the trajectory of education at large, nor does it diminish my passion to move education in a better direction. This is to say that I didn’t have to lose my honesty, my purpose, or my edge. But it did give me more perspective. I realized that my day to day life is absolutely superb—few could dream up a cooler schedule—and that, if I were to creatively lean into what is at my fingertips, I have more capacity to make a profound impact on students’ lives than almost anyone else. Seeing Justin and Marika’s earnest reaction was a profound perspective-changer.
One of the great truisms which we all know, yet struggle to apply in any practical way, is that mindset is paramount. Regardless of whether your goal is to be an elite performer or just a happier person, perception largely dictates your results. We all know that (quoting Milton) our mind can “... make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven,” and that, (quoting Shakespeare), “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” These wise truisms have been professed across nearly every time and culture. We get this at a logical level, yet have difficulty figuring out how to apply it.
What is more, the typical responses to such realizations can be more self-destructive than anything. Rather than causing a shift in our mindset and laughing about our own blindness (How could I not see how charmed my work life is?), we have a tendency to berate ourselves (Why am I so ungrateful?). This can spiral into identifying as some mentally imbalanced type of person and incurring the wrath of self-fulfilling thinking…
… I’m just never satisfied. I don’t think I can be happy.
… That may work for them, but I’m just not the kind of person who can be happy in this situation.
… You know why I’m never positive? I’m just a realist.
… I know I should just let this feeling go, but I’m just not built that way.
Most often, we ascribe whatever mental deficiency we detect to genetics (This is how I am.) and in the process we strengthen the mental patterns that first created that self-destructive identity.
Still, some will notice the poor habits of perception that are sabotaging them and they will truly start to see the world differently for a brief period. But, over time, they’ll drift back into the same old mental patterns. The emotive magic of their revelation wears off and they are left where they started.
This is partly the natural cycle of daily life. Motivation and emotion wane. But a larger part is that most of us treat the mind like it is linear and logical—that we can realize something and then, based on that realization, that we will do the logical thing and adapt all future behavior accordingly. This faulty thinking drives most unsuccessful psychiatric relationships—the patient believes they need to just keep pulling back layers until they make the revelation that will change it all.
But this is not how the mind works. Having the revelation is just the signal that change is necessary. It is not the change but the call to make a change.
The average person has a startlingly poor grasp of how the mind works and how to actually change it. We have made the idea of training the mind into some mystical art that is somehow beyond the grasp of the average person. But this is just more unnecessary self-limitation. To be sure, there are many cases where the best way to get at a disorder is to seek real professional help—help which I am not claiming to be able to offer. But understanding and training the mind isn’t so difficult really. In fact, there is no reason that every single person shouldn’t be equipped with a basic toolkit for training the mind.
As was the case with car maintenance generations ago, we should work to cultivate a basic grasp of how the mental machinery works, such that we understand how to operate optimally and so that we can do most of our own maintenance. There might be plenty of benefit to learning from and consulting a professional, but only a major blowout would require this sort of help.
I’ve written often about the principles of mental health—the fundamental core knowledge that I think everyone should learn:
Also, a couple sources I often recommend:
What is CBT and The Coddling of the American Mind, by Bree Emory (excerpts from Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt)
Childhood in an Anxious Age, by Kate Julian
But if you are looking for more actionable advice to start improving your mental health right now, the best places to start are:
Eliminate the mentally destructive patterns in your life. For example, few changes would make as profound a mental difference as:
Taking social media and email off of your phone.
Carrying a book or Kindle with you to fill the gaps that you once shoved your phone into.
Setting your phone aside an hour before bed and in the first hour of each day.
Joining groups (gym, church, etc.) where there are like-valued people—then investing those people.
Actively working to eliminate time with toxic people. (Did you catch yourself just now as you rationalized why you couldn’t eliminate a few people? There is that old self-limiting pattern going again.)
Meditation: You would drastically change your world and learn so much about the mind by doing a daily Headspace session for 3 months. A week will do nothing. The power of consistency is what works on you.
Gratitude practice: Like meditation, if you adopted a once per day Naikan practice you’d notice very little difference each day, but a quantum leap when comparing across a couple months. I shorten my own daily practice into a “prayer” before my first meal each day where I do a mental gratitude inventory (thank you for…), followed by a rehearsal of who I want to be (help me to…).
Feed the right wolf. Commit to a steady dose of the right information.
If you are interested in a program that helps you fit all of these suggested habits into a daily 30-minute package, we offer the 30x30 challenge with an IHD membership. It is a great introduction to everything I’ve been talking about, but with a little guided support.
Thank you for reading and sharing with your kindred spirits! I know this can be an emotional, confusing, and frustrating topic for many, but I’m convinced that everyone can make drastic mental leaps if they just commit to working on their mind. As with any skill, consistency and persistence win in the long haul.
Life is too short to be normal,
Happy New Year, Shane and Justin!
This was a solid newsletter entry. Right after reading this, I thought for a while about in what ways I take my job for granted. True, the facilities are a bit lacking or rustic compared to other gigs, but then I started counting all the things I like about it; how much autonomy and freedom from micromanagement I have, and having enough downtime to read and write and train, and I felt silly for having that negative sentiment.
Gratitude creates abundance.