Experiment 2 is a complete failure. I’ll talk more about why soon, just wanted to get a result up here. Consistency is a really big issue for me.

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Experiment No. 3: Feeling Blessed

It has been a while since I’ve written. Rest assured, I’m not giving up, but I did allow circumstance to throw me off-course. The last time I set an experiment, it was to do 100 push-ups every day and study for two hours. Wow, what a huge goal. I don’t want to report on it until I’ve had a week’s success, and my logging has gotten weak. So, starting tomorrow, I will be logging again and will hopefully report good results one Monday from now: on April 4th. In short, I’ve done the push-ups just about half the time – with lightly noticeable results – and I’ve done almost no studying. No good.

I’ve come to a very unhappy place where I feel that I have little to lose. It’s not a good place to be, but it is liberating in many ways. The consistently-strong impulse is go over things and how they should be, how this is unfair, how I could have done something different, something better. I alternate between short bouts of inspiration towards the evening, where there is conveniently little space before the repose of sleep, and this desperate, soul-sucking sense of nothingness. Wanting nothing but… well you know, her. Not feeling up to my dreams at all.

Anyway, there’s no point in elaborating on the self-pity. Instead, I’m going to declare my Experiment #3. Normally, I wouldn’t consider starting a new experiment while the old one is still happening, but this one seems pretty straightforward (hopefully!) and will (hopefully!) help me clear my head a little. I got the link from this Raptitude article, but the actual experiment comes from this great piece by Steve Pavlina on being blessed. In short, Pavlina describes that most of us live our lives in this vicious cycle:

“Think about what you don’t want -> Feel bad -> Comfort yourself”

And, elaborating:

Thinking about what you don’t want is a trap. Such thoughts can keep you stuck for a very long time. You can seriously blow years — even decades — of your life in the following vicious cycle:
1. Look around and observe what you’re experiencing.
2. Notice that you don’t like certain aspects of your life.
3. Feel fear, worry, sadness, disappointment, and/or other negative emotions.
4. Think about what it would take to change what you dislike.
5. Notice that it will probably take a huge amount of time and effort to change — and with no guarantee of success. Consider that you might even make things worse.
6. Feel frustrated, trapped, and/or depressed.
7. Do something that makes you feel better. Watch TV. Eat. Drink. Surf the web. Check email. Maybe do all of the above.
8. Feel some relief and comfort now that you’ve distracted and/or drugged yourself.
9. Allow some time to pass, and eventually repeat from step one.

This is absolutely 100% the case with me right now. And I most certainly do not want to be stuck in this for decades. Last time to a year and a heartbreak to get out of it, and I am most certainly not eager to jump in again. But it’s sucking me in. So, I’m going to try Pavlina’s solution:

“Once you’re feeling relieved and comforted, even if you’ve had to drug yourself with food, wine, and mindless entertainment to reach this point, you’re in a reasonably good place to start thinking about what you want instead of what you don’t want. Don’t worry about practicality. Just fantasize. But fantasize in a specific way. Sit on your couch (or a chair or park bench if people came and took your couch away), and imagine that what you want is actually becoming real. Put yourself in the frame of mind that it’s already happening.
Imagine your ideal physical body. Think about your ideal relationships. Picture your ideal career. Imagine having your finances just the way you want them. Imagine living where and how you want to live. Be specific, and picture as much detail as you can. Don’t worry about getting the details perfect — just imagine details that seem attractive to you. You don’t have to say or affirm anything. But it’s crucial that you feel the feelings. If you feel neutral, you’re not there yet. How would you honestly feel if you were experiencing all of these wonderful things right now? If you’d feel totally neutral to have them right now, it’s safe to say you don’t really want them.
Don’t project your dreams into some distant future. Imagine that whatever you want is happening right now this very moment. Imagine that it’s 100% real.If it takes you 10 or more minutes just to get a clear picture of some small part of your life getting better, then so be it. Put in the time. Deliberately thinking about what you want is a very important activity. This kind of visualization is an outstanding use of your time.”

Well, it certainly is a better way to spend my time than being miserable and wishing for nothing but to go back. So, I’m gonna do it.

Experiment #3: I will imagine my idea future for 20 minutes a day. I will try it before bed or in the morning at first. If it doesn’t work, I’ll pick a different time. But I’ll do 20 minutes a week regardless.

I’ll report on progress with both experiments soon!

P. S. I’ve also been re-reading/listening to Benjamin Zander. Those summaries will be up shortly.

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1. It’s All Invented – Art of Possibility (1)

First, I just today discovered that the domain name for this website is wrong. “possibilitiy” – a simple misspelling gone unnoticed; maybe there’s something about stepping off the beaten path.

Now then – one of the most influential books in my recent life has been Benjamin and Rosamund Zander’s The Art of Possibility. I think I mentioned before that I’ll be reviewing the book chapter by chapter as I go along. I read the book once, and it already had a tremendous impact on me. Now, I’m re-reading it, and I got the audiobook, because I want to make sure I really understand the concepts. I’m generally very skeptical when it comes to new ideas, but the concepts of this book are so clearly laid out and so applicable, it has tremendously impacted the way I see the world. I am posting my summary and commentary for two reasons: one is because I want to make sure I fully understand the concepts the Zanders are presenting, and two: because it may be useful to someone down the road with a book report, or looking for a review. I think it goes without saying that this is no way a product placement (who am I placing it to?)

The book is organized by the concepts and practices it presents. Each chapter describes a way of looking at the world and our actions, and a practice to integrate the concept into our daily lives. Appropriately, I begin with Chapter 1.

* * *

Chapter 1: It’s All Invented.

The concept of this chapter is as simple as it is groundbreaking: we live in a world of assumptions we have created for ourselves, or have been influenced by society to create. “We see a map of the world, not the world itself.” And the way this map is drawn is by our most basic instinct – to survive. Moreover, our mind is programmed to weave events into story-lines, “whether or not there is any connection between the parts.” The catchphrase for the chapter is, of course, “it’s all invented,” meaning that no matter how objective we may try to be, we are still perceiving the world through the structure of the brain – so we might as well invent a better world for ourselves!

The authors make a simple point with the puzzle to the right – one you have probably seen in the past. The picture comes from this article, which I invite you to explore – as soon as you finish reading this one, of course! If you haven’t already seen this, take a minute and try to solve it.

The hidden assumption that almost everyone makes is that the lines have to fit inside of the box. This is, of course, not true; in fact, the solution (found in the article above) involves percisely drawing outside of the box. Hence – think outside the box.

Similarly, our minds create frames “that define – and confine what we perceive to be possible.” An issue only appears a dead-end from a particular point of view. If we consider shifting the framework to shake it of the underlying assumptions, possibilities start to appear.

* * *

Now then, how does this all apply to me? “A simple way to practice it’s all invented,” writes Zander, “is to ask yourself this question:

What assumption am I making,
That I’m not aware I’m making
That gives me what I see?

Good question! Where to begin?

1. I am assuming that love is based on qualities we show and possess – that is, people will love me if I do them well.

2. Because Dan’s last relationship was 5 years and he’s a kind, generous, rightful guy, he and Ayelet are going to be together for a long time.

3.  Ayelet is the girl that’s gonna make me happy. She has led me to learn so much, and we are meant to be, supposed to be, gonna be, any of that – we have a tremendous amount in common.

4. Attention from girls is a big goal and the ultimate sign of approval.

That’s a start, right? Nobody says these assumptions are wrong or right, but they do define my thinking at the moment. Let’s see. Zander then continues:

What might I now invent,
That I haven’t yet invented,
That would give me other choices?”

I guess in order to answer that, I have to define what I think my choices are now. My choices are, as I have been seeing them – (i) to stay her friend through thick and thin until she is her own person again and I am a better man – (ii) to become bitter and resigned, to go out and party and do other dangerous things, blame the world for being unfair, and hate myself for the decisions I did and didn’t make.

Seems kind of loaded, when I think of it that way, but I’ve been doing (ii) for a long time now. I think the biggest assumption that I’ve been making, however, is this:

I can influence the future by the decisions I make today.

That’s kind of hard to argue. Let me examine it more in-depth. “I can influence the future” – as in, what? I can influence the person I’ll be tomorrow, yes. Or a year from now. That’s simple cause and effect: if I play lots of piano, I’ll be a better piano player. If I works out lots, I’ll have a more shaped body. All true. Can I influence how others will act? In a way, perhaps, but only by the person that I am. Not the “manipulation” or pushing, or begging, or convincing, but by being the best person I want to be. I think this is really important. Ultimately, I am responsible only for my decisions, and my decisions are made as a direct result of my character and how I feel about what’s around me. Trying to preempt mistakes has proven to be futile.

As I write, I consider other possible assumptions. How about the present directly influences the future? That may very well not be true. Things change. Ayelet may realize different that things are now. Dan may not be happy with her – though, that would surprise me. On a bigger picture, Ayelet may need to rebuild with him now and then seek something else. Or completely not. But only the future will tell that, not the present. The only thing I can do in the present is be the best person I can be, everyday. I mean, in the end – it’s all invented. I’m weaving them, and myself, a story that isn’t really there.

That doesn’t mean I can’t have hope, right?

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Faith is difficult. The long way is hard.

I’ve been trying to be a good person, be a good listener, be there for people. There are 3 minutes left of battery life, so I’ll make this really fast. It still really hurts, knowing that the two of them are together. I have faith in her and I. I have this belief. But I know actions count, and I’m not sure what to do; I want to be a part of her life and I’m afraid that they’ll get too close I’ll be lost in the torrent of the past. The “right” thing to do is what this blog is about. It is to let go and to move forward, to have faith in the best and to focus on the best me I can be. But, there is no guarantee that we will end up together, and I can’t help but wonder what wrong steps I may be taking by letting things be.

Faith is hard.

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Experiment 1 Results & Push Ups/Studying – Consistency

Experiment 1 Results: While it is unpleasant, I’m able to step into a cold shower. Ultimately, I didn’t feel too much of a difference in my life simply because the showers I’ve been taking have been cold. Certainly no onrush of testosterone. I think I will continue to turn down the temperature towards the end, but stepping into a cold shower is ultimately a miserable, if bearable, experience.

Day 4: “the day has slowly been dawning on me, so I said “f&ck it,” and stepped into the icy-cold water. The initial shock wore off almost instantly at how much better I felt than I expected. Uncomfortable, sure, but fine. I decided to stick it through. The whole shower was cold, and then a little colder. At some points, I almost fell completely fine, at others the prickling reminded me that I wasn’t where I wanted to be. But mostly, I was completely fine.”

Now, the going to bed consistently, that’s been great. I mostly stuck through the going to bed around 1 AM (sometimes a little later.) Waking at 8 became almost a habit. I’ve been sleeping in class a lot less. I feel more refreshed. Definitely something to keep up.

You can find the full Experiment 1 Log here.

So, what about the bigger picture? What about facing my fears head on? I’ve made some progress. I’ve come clean with a few people instead of playing games. I’ve faced on one of my biggest fears. It’s made me miserable. I don’t know how to respond yet. I think it’s completely natural to avoid pain, so I guess I’ll write more on that when progress comes about.

Now then, time to tackle the biggest challenge in my life – my lack of consistency. While I certainly don’t expect it to to change in a week, a solid week is a good start. The three main places where a lack of consistency hurts me the most are academics, music, and working out. I’ll tackle two of them this week, and see if the third weaves itself in.

Experiment 2: I will study for  ay least TWO hours each day, and before every dinner I have, I will do at least 100 pushups. Simple enough? Let’s see if I can keep that up with the consistent sleep pattern and showers with cold endings.

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Cold showers and knowing “why?”

Alright. The first post was a flurry of thoughts, and now we can start to sort things out a bit. First – I have to make sure not to fall into the writing-rather-than-doing trap. At the end of the day, laziness is my biggest foe. It’s too easy to write away about things to do and be without getting off the chair. As someone wiser than I put it: “you don’t go to the gym to watch TV.”

So, I’ll be sure to report on my progress as much as I keep looking forward.

Experiment #1: Cold Showers and Sleeping Patterns. David Cain, the author of the ingenious Raptitude blog (one of the big inspirations for this project of mine,) writes about a great self-discovery he had in the shower. No, not of that sort 🙂 He talks about forgetting to bring a towel to the shower, and describes having to step out completely naked and and very cold:

“Defeated, I stood on the mat and let the cold air flood over me. I watched the ice fog pour over the sill like freezing smoke. I just let it have its way with me. I didn’t get mad at it, I didn’t shiver or scramble to dry off. I just let it feel like whatever it was going to feel like, and noticed something peculiar.
It didn’t hurt me. It wasn’t excruciating, or even unpleasant, just colder than I’d like. My choice to resign to the cold, rather than escape it, robbed it of its power to make me miserable. It was only when I cowered and shivered that it was so awful. I was impervious to it, so long as I didn’t insist it not be cold. Why would I ever resent the cold again?”

[You can read the original here.]

It recently dawned on me that in general, I try to avoid the pain in my life as much as possible. That, in itself, doesn’t sound too odd. However, even when the pain is inevitable, I avoid confrontation, fall into denial I don’t admit to, and try to keep cool by taking the easier road. Instead of ripping the band-aid off in one take, I do it as slowly as possible while convincing myself there is no band-aid there at all. Now, I’m not gonna fix that in one take, but I’ve though of a place to start. The discipline aspect of the military has always attracted me, because it demonstrates exemplary self control. However, one of the simple things that’s always seemed impossible to me were the cold 6:30 (4:30?) AM showers. Stepping into a cold shower first thing in the morning is hard. And it’s scary. But I think that at the end of the day, it’s really not that big a deal.

Moreover, with a little research I’ve found that cold showers are actually a really good idea. Apparently, the Sikh Masters taught the value of ishnaan – or hydrotherapy – as part of the daily practice of Sikh Dharma.

“When you take a cold shower in the morning, it is like the first battle of the day. Shouting Wahe Guru when you are shivering is your battle cry. And when you come out victorious, you are ready to face any challenge come what may.”

Alright, count me in! And if that’s not enough, this article from the Art of Manliness gives a whole range of reasons to take cold showers, from better circulation to higher testosterone production. And at the end of the day, it’s just something I’m afraid to do. So, starting tomorrow morning – Monday – I will take cold showers for a week straight. Now, the getting up part is a serious weakness of mine. So, I’m gonna tackle a whole bunch of issues here. I hope I’m not being overambitious. I sometimes fall asleep in class, often while trying very hard not to. I strongly suspect that it’s because my sleep cycle is all over the place. My classes all start between 9:30 and 11. So, 7:55 is a fine time to get up. Which means I’ve gotta get to bed before 1. That’s just not negotiable.

So, 1 – 8 sleep, 8AM cold showers. On the weekend, I’ll cut myself some slack and get up later, especially since I’ll hopefully be out on Friday night. That’s Experiment # 1.

* * *

Why do certain tasks look so scary? Homework is the classic example. I am taking possibly my hardest college class so far: Econometrics. I know that I’m behind a lot, so I need to sit down and just read the textbook carefully, slowly, until I really understand what’s happening. I spent about half an hour on it today. But I kept getting distracted, kept looking for a way out.

My room is pretty messy. I know I need to clean it. I know “why” – because I’ll feel much better about myself, and because it’ll be easier to get tasks done – tasks like writing music, finishing assignments, tackling all sorts of projects.

At some point, it just becomes about “do it” – you know “why,” you just need some simple effort to accomplish the thing.  Still, I think that sometimes it’s really important to ask “why” are you doing this to begin with? That way, effort is directed and more focused. This is a thought to still contemplate. More on it later. For now, I’m recording a concert, packing up, and then meeting a friend for dinner. Then, a girl for a good conversation, hopefully.

~ M.

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Accountability & Transparency

This blog is a blog of possibility. It has been inspired by various ongoing events in my life that force me to re-examine who I am and what I do on a daily basis.

This blog is for me, but I welcome comments throughout; not, to be honest, that I’m anticipating any. I’m gonna be completely open with you without naming any names. If you follow along, you’ll learn about me little by little as we go.

The premise is very simple: how many of us promise ourselves to wake up tomorrow and start a “new life?” We do it every New Year’s, possibly after every big breakup, and plenty along the way. I do, anyway, and I’m not afraid to own up to it. I’m pretty young – I turned 20 not too long ago – so if I’m seriously gonna change, now’s a good time. I’ve come to a point in my life where my roads are completely open. I’m not gonna say “I have nothing to lose” – because that’s completely not true – but in a sense, I stand on a very secure ground; family that loves me, relative (college) financial security, good health. So, I can make plenty of unrestricted decisions about how I treat people, how I present myself, what I’m doing with my time, and so on.

So, cutting to the chase: my short life was defined in part by a long relationship that ended about a year-and-a-half ago. In the process of getting over the relationship, I redefined myself. I used to be a “nice guy.” By that, I mean I used to be naive. Or, well, more naive than I am now. I stopped trusting people, I stopped going out of my way to be nice to people, and, in short, turned into a dick for a while.

Along came another girl, but I was too wrapped up in misery to begin something new. You might say it was a typical rebound. Yet, somewhere in the midst of our physical relationship, she became attached to me. I became attached to her too, but I wouldn’t admit that to myself. I was too busy licking my wounds.  We were essentially living a relationship without calling it that, with the option of being completely free. So, an open relationship? Yeah, we called it that for a bit. It didn’t work.

Long story short, we had to call difficult shots. I hurt her without meaning too, and in the process realized she meant more to me that I ever anticipated. I also realized that while I thought it was my past relationship that was weighing me down, it was my current mentality. The reason I couldn’t be with her wasn’t that she wasn’t good enough, it was that I wasn’t satisfied with myself.

More on that story sometime later.

The point is, I was craving freedom and now I have it. She’s made me realize and consider a lot about who I am, and in a way, she’s the impetus of this change. I’m in college. I’m twenty. I’m living the best years of my life. I’m healthy, I’m moderately attractive, I have parents that more than reasonably support me, I’m smart enough to BS my way through a double major with a good GPA.  So what’s pulling me down? I continuously feel that I’m not living up to my own standards. I know what I’m capable of, and most of the time I’m giving 60% of that, if even that.

This blog is about me trying to find possibilities in a world I’ve defined for myself. This blog is about me trying to succeed in a way that makes me feel good. I have dreams – why am I not living them? This blog is about me trying to be a good person. I have role models that are living out this combination: they see possibilities in closed rooms, they open doors for others, they are socially successful, intelligent, and they bring happiness to others’ lives. They radiate enthusiasm, happiness, possibility. Not in the “wanna-vomit-happy” kind of way, but in a genuine “I’m satisfied and I want to make others happy” kind of way.

* * *

So, the practical? There are several practical things I need to do/be to move in the right direction.

  • Physical fitness/satisfaction
  • Grades – intelligence
  • Artistic satisfaction
  • Social competence
  • Inspiration to others

January 2010

Perhaps the easiest to grasp is the physical satisfaction. I’m 5’10, 175 lb. I look fairly skinny (see?), but I don’t like what I see in the mirror when I look at my body. I’m not unhappy, but I know I can do so much better. I could care less what the scale says, but love handles and an unshaped chest/abs/shoulders are no good. I’ve been working out on/off since I was maybe… 15? I have the drive to go out and do a 2-3 mile run or drop 120 push-ups (or both.) What I have trouble with, here and in general, is consistency. I’m too on/off. It’s too easy to back down. So, what’s my goal? I don’t want to be ripped. I want to be shaped. I want to be disciplined.

Academic satisfaction is a little harder. I’m at a pretty good school, but all of my friends are at Ivy Leagues. I have a good GPA, but I aspire to be the best, so I need to be better. I have the mentality of a perfectionist, but not the drive of one. This summer, I’m gonna be applying to one of the most prestigious business programs in the world.  To say it’s a dream is an understatement. I have absolutely no previous ground to think I’ll make it, but I think enough is in my control over this semester, to make a significant difference. I can BS my way through my classes well enough to get a GPA above most others’. That’s not good enough. I want to understand what I’m learning. I want to develop the patience to work consistently, day after day, to have a solid ground to stand on. Half the time, I feel like the Wizard of Oz. I can lie just convincingly enough. My classes this semester are hard. I need to pull it together, because as much as I can swim and possibly prove myself, I’m on the path to sinking and taking my chances down with me.

Artistic satisfaction. I compose music. I also play viola. Music is one of the biggest passions in my life. It lights me up. I know a lot more about music than anything else.  I also know I have the talent. I need the patience to write consistently. My dreams lie in film scoring and my background is orchestral, but I’ve been trying to expand into writing all the different styles. Lately, I’ve been working on a lot of chillout/ambient electronica. I want to release an album on iTunes by April, as (in part) support to that business school application. This requires writing consistently – every day. The biggest misconception talented people have is that things will be handed to them on a silver platter. Talent is worth nothing if I keep giving less than what I have. And, of course, like everything else in my life, I’ve been BSing my way through music – handing in composition assignments last-minute, writing in a hurry, sub-par work that is far below what I’m capable of. Once again, consistency is the goal.

Social competence. I want to feel at ease with myself. I’m gonna need to acquire a pretty large skill-set. I want to be able to go out to parties and feel in control of myself. Obviously, this where girls fit in. I’ve been reading a lot about pick-up. Pick-up gets a really bad rep (more on that later,) because it’s misinterpreted as trying to lie your way into a girl’s pants, and because there are guys out there (successfully) doing just that. Again, more on this later, but that’s not what I’m in it for. Pick up is ultimately about social competence, about knowing what makes people tick (in a good way), about understanding psychology, social cues, about being at ease with oneself, about presenting oneself in the best light. I need to learn how to dance. That’s a must. There’s a lot more to that, but more on that later. Most freshmen start out college by getting completely wasted at frat parties. I, being in a relationship my freshman year of college, did nothing of the sort. I’m a junior now, and I’ve only started to (really) go out this year. I’ve definitely drank before, and I’ve been to parties, but I’ve never really had that “typical” frat party experience – the “everybody gets wasted and hooks up” thing.  I want to feel at ease. I want to stand up above the guys hanging out by the walls eyeing all the pretty girls. In a lot of ways,  I have a lot to offer: I deserve to be able to show that. Anyway, this is complicated. More on that later.

Inspiration… This is a tough one. I want to be a good person. I want to share the best of me. I want to do good in others’ lives. After my first relationship broke down, I shut in and did nothing for people. Now I’ve come to a point where I can hold on to the self-appreciation and confidence and respect I’ve gained, and still give people the best of me, like I used to. This is tough. I’ve been reading a few books on the topic, one of which – The Art of Possibility, Rosamund & Benjamin Zander – is the inspiration for this blog. These aren’t self-help books, and if they are, so be it. I’ll be quoting Zander a lot. I’m just about done with the book, and when I finish I’m gonna go back and re-read to make sure I really understand. What little practices of his I’ve taken up so far have made my life significantly better, and (hopefully) helped me positively impact lives of others.

I am at just about 1700 words, and I have to run to rehearsal. This blog is about accountability. I plan to record my progress – and my sure numerous failures – as close as I can to every day. I’m gonna be open with you, and by beng transparent, I make myself accountable.  There is no going back. I’m tired of settling for immediate comfort. I’m better than this.

Let’s start the journey.

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