Recognizing Your Greatness

For anyone who needs it:

Every time you face a challenge instead of running from it; every time you dance in the crucible instead of sticking to the wall; every time you stare down life and say, “is that all you’ve got?” instead of bemoaning another perceived injustice…is reason to celebrate your warrior spirit. Don’t forget to look in the mirror and smile and give yourself props for not faltering in the face of adversity. There’s no shame in recognizing your own awesomeness.

The Company You Keep: How The Wrong Community Can Hinder Your Success

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

We’ve all seen this one before, right? It’s a popular meme that makes the rounds on the Internet from time to time, usually in the company of another popular term “community.” Community is a constantly touted ideal that promises to help you reach success or feel a sense of companionship or simply feel some level of support for whatever it is you’re going through. Whether it’s fitness: “I do Maxfit and I just love the community of other people who do the workouts with me,” or hobbies, “Did you know that the People Who Write Sumerian Love Sonnets Community now boasts a global membership of 7?” or even our health, “I’m a member of the Ruptured Toe Nail Survivors,” saying we’re a part of a community not only makes us feel better, but also validates us in some powerful ways. When we do things that others do, it reinforces this notion that we’re on the right track. If others are doing it, then there’s approval built in – we find strength in numbers, camaraderie in shared experience, and positive feedback from those within the community we’re a part of.  Community – if the hype is to be believed – is the surest path to all the success and happiness we could ever hope to achieve.

Except it’s not.

I’ve been part of a number of communities over the years. And I’ve seen the difference between “real” communities and the ones that claim to be, but in fact are not. Let’s look at the reason why and then examine why community is often just another marketing ploy.

The biggest difference has to do with how you become a member of a particular community.

In the military, for example, elite special operations units are not open to everyone. There is an intense selection process that candidates must go through where they endure harsh training, serious adversity, and more as they attempt to prove their competency and ability to be part of the special operations community. Selection is a lengthy process where lesser candidates, for one reason or another, are weeded out until only the most suitable are left and selected to join whichever unit they aspire to be part of. Along the way, they have shed gallons of sweat, tears, and often blood to prove their worth. And when they join their particular unit, they are in the company of others who have gone through an almost identical baptismal process. In other words, the company they keep has undergone exactly what they went through. There’s an inherent understanding and bond created in Selection that all members of that particular community share.

I saw this same process when I was aspiring to earn my place in the advanced class at the Ninjutsu dojo I attend. The Friday night advanced training was only open to practitioners of a certain rank and in order to gain entrance, you had to undergo a severe test of endurance, mental fortitude, and physical techniques. In many ways, it was a virtual gauntlet. When you earned your place in the advanced class, you were in the company of others who had been tested in the same crucible. And there is nothing like shared misery to create a true bond.

Contrast this with how most people gain acceptance into a community these days. Let’s take the fitness world as a model. A current popular high intensity interval training (HIIT) fitness craze touts its “community” as one of the most appealing features. The marketing behind it espouses working out with likeminded individuals who help cheer you on to reach your goals and success. Well, I was part of that craze and saw firsthand why their notion of community is mostly a fallacy. The primary reason is that anyone can join it if you have the money to do so.

Buying your way into a community immediately discounts its efficacy at generating success. Primarily because if anyone can join the community, then you are not going to be surrounded by people who operate at the same level you do – they may not “want it” as badly as you do. Worse, your aspirations may cause some other members to resent you.

When I joined the new gym in town, it was wonderful…for a certain period of time. Then, when the novelty wore off and a certain caliber of people started attending, the standards fell into the realm of mediocrity. Workouts became less grueling because people complained that they were too hard (despite the fact that anyone could scale the workouts to suit their individual fitness levels). Exercise standards were revised to accommodate whiny members who couldn’t do basic movements. And a whole new group of toxic personalities started infecting the place. Gradually, anyone who aspired to be better was generally seen as a threat by the growing majority of people who were content with “good enough,” and cheating their way through a workout.

If you are intent on being successful (as opposed to just seeking support, fun, and/or some companionship), joining a community where anyone can be a member is not where you want to be. In fact, being part of such a place can work directly against your stated goals. There will undoubtedly be people there who are intimidated by your drive, or who subtly try to sabotage your success with side-eye comments like, “why would you do that? You’re crazy.” These are usually the people who complain about silly stuff and say dumb things like, “well this is as good as it’s going to get.”

Success is hard enough to achieve without being hated for your aspirations and individuality, envied for your successes to-date, or sabotaged by those who revel in watching your downfall. The notion of community is a dangerous one if you aren’t on your guard for the mediocre masses who inhabit communities that do not have gate keepers built into their model. While it’s a wonderful thing to be all-inclusive, that same model runs counter to being able to achieve all the success you aspire to.

The term “community” has also become a marketing tool (at least in certain fields) used to drive new recruits into the fold. And communities reinforce this notion of people needing a support system because it’s in their own best interests to do so; it furthers that community’s very existence. In effect, they need you more than you need them. As an established member or someone advanced within their ranks, the community can point to you as proof of its own efficacy at producing success.

Another inherent danger of community is rampant group-think. Any community will have a set of standards – vocalized, implied, written down, or not – that members are expected to follow. You may not have given it much thought, you may not even have noticed it much, but they are there. You’ll start to notice if you do anything that runs counter to the majority group-think. In this way, communities have the potential to become excessively cult-like, complete with idol worship, gossip, and a whole series of toxic aspects that can seriously damage your quest for greatness. Of course, members of the community will deny such things until they’re red in the face, but that’s only because they’re too close to see the truth.

And the truth is that a community without gate keepers can produce some measure of success. But it will eventually hinder your progress – especially if it’s populated by people who actually do not want the best for you but are instead wishing for your failure because that is a reinforcement of their own self-imposed limitations. “See? I told you it was crazy to do that.”  In that case, a community that seemed so wonderful, ends up being a virtual prison. Worse, the toxicity will harm your body, mind, and spirit resulting in a failure to achieve your goals and a tendency to question yourself and your motivation – exactly the antithesis of success.

Unless your community has exacting standards and all members are of a similar mindset, your quest for success and excellence will falter. You’ll be better off on your own than you would be in the company of lesser individuals not as focused as yourself. Beware of “communities” that boast they’re the backbone of a movement or location. Outside of the military (and some others with exacting standards imposed prior to admission), the chances of you finding a true success-oriented community of like-minded alphas all on the same trajectory toward greatness are slim. More likely, you may find a few members of that caliber, but they will be greatly outnumbered by those members who have adopted mediocrity, rather than excellence, as the acceptable outcome of their endeavors.

And you are, most definitely, better off without them in your life.

2016 Body Reset for Success

2016Each year, I usually embark on a cleansing/detox program to set myself up for success in the New Year. The fact is, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, I let myself indulge a whole lot. Increased intakes of alcohol, takeout meals, rich foods, and partying tend to wear on me and by the time January 2nd rolls around, I’m craving a return to a healthier lifestyle. I can feel my body becoming more sluggish and slower as the junk piles up. This year, I wrote down my techniques for cleaning myself up and I’m sharing them here for anyone who wants to come along with me.

1. Workout 2x a day 5x a week

If you’re like me, your schedule is crazy. We’re all insanely busy, so this is just an idea. But if you can make it work, it yields some great benefits. The goal is to stoke the furnace that is your metabolism more than once each day in order to keep it constantly burning calories. 2 workouts each day keep that metabolism churning instead of slowing down after your main workout. If you can get to the gym for your regular workout and then do something else at another point in the day, you keep your metabolism cranking at a more constant rate. For example: if you workout in the morning and then again in the late afternoon. Your non-gym workout doesn’t have to be much, just enough to elevate the heart rate for a few minutes. 7 minute AMRAPs of burpees or a similar exercise is a great one. Tabata-style workouts also work wonders.

This program also includes two rest days each week. These are vital to recovery, especially if you are lifting weights. Your workout schedule might look like M-W on, rest Thursday, F-S on, rest Sunday or some combination thereof.

2. Increase Water Intake

Because we will be attempting to flush toxins and due to increased working out, it will be vital to make sure that we keep water intake up. Don’t drink so much that you get sick from it, but make sure you always have a water bottle with you. If it’s in front of you, it’s easier to increase your intake without much thought. How do you know when you’re drinking enough? Check out your urine. If it’s clear, you’re well hydrated. If it’s yellow or darker and starts to smell, you’re not getting nearly enough water.

3. Meal Prep

This can be a real pain-in-the-ass, but it’s incredibly valuable. Set aside a day each week to plan for the meals ahead. I usually only prep my lunches and do it on Sunday. I actually have two lunches each day so I usually make about ten servings of whatever meal I choose for the week. It doesn’t have to get complicated, although you can certainly make it so. I usually pick a dish I like and go with that. Then I portion the amounts into take out containers and stack them in the fridge. Each meal has a good balance of proteins and carbs and some fat. One of my go-to meals is a ground pork stir fry over rice with chopped red peppers, garlic, and ginger. It’s pretty awesome, although I do use some sauces that the Nutrition Nazis might not like. I can put some of the recipes together if anyone is interested in trying them. Cooking time is usually under 30 minutes.

Breakfast for me is pretty much the same thing every day: 3 eggs and some type of starch (Joyce makes a loaf of banana bread and I usually have that with a couple pats of butter for fat).

Dinners we plan out ahead of time, but we try to keep them really simple. Since we usually get home late from the box, they need to be easy and fast and healthy.

4. Reduce Sugar

This is tough for me because I have an enormous sweet tooth. But one thing I did a few years back was to stop drinking soda and replace it with seltzer. I used to hate seltzer, but now it’s my go-to drink. I still enjoy soda occasionally (or, like every damned day over the holidays lol) and there’s nothing like an ice cold soda fountain Coke every now and again. But if you can cut it out and replace it with seltzer, you’ll be so much better off.

I also used to dump tons of sugar into my tea. I stopped that cold turkey, and while I frankly miss it every time I drink tea, it’s been good for me.

Basically, if you can reduce or eliminate adding sugar to anything, you’ll definitely feel the difference. Like I said, this is always difficult for me, so don’t worry if you find it hard. Sugar actually triggers the same neurological pathways as opiates, so it’s not easy. This is just one reason why immediately ceasing sugar intake at all is so insanely hard.

5. Boozing It Up

I’m coming off another two-week bender. Seriously. Joyce has been on vacation and we’ve done some serious damage at the local liquor store. As delightful as it is, I’m cutting way back on the booze fest. No more than 1-2 nights each week while I detox. Again, it’s not necessary to eliminate it altogether (and why the hell would you want to?) but if you can reduce the volume, it’s probably a good thing. Don’t go nuts; if you enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, there’s probably no harm to it.

6. Take Out / Eating Out

I’m cutting way back on this as well. 1-2 times each week. I’ve been so bad lately, but this needs to dwindle because of all the processing that goes into the food you order.

7. Post-WOD Smoothies

The best time to get your body the stuff it needs to heal and replenish its stores is within a small window of about 45 minutes after you workout. This is especially true if you’re lifting heavy weights. My usual post-WOD smoothie is about six ounces of orange juice, one banana, about a cup of frozen strawberries, and a scoop of protein powder and a scoop of creatine. It really helps me feel better after a WOD. There are tons of recipes out there, but I like to keep it simple and since I can’t stand most vegetables, this is the recipe that works for me. I highly recommend adding a smoothie after your workout if you don’t do it already. The carbs in the juice and fruit help make your cells more accommodating to the protein you’re ingesting.

8. Sleep

I try to get 7-8 hours each night. Usually, I’m in bed by 10:30pm and I’m up by 5:30am. Some nights I’ll be in bed earlier and occasionally, I’m up later, but by and large I try to stick to a pretty set schedule. There are always those nights when I can’t get to sleep, however, so I’ll use a variety of techniques to help me fall asleep. Here are a few of them.

  • Lie on your back, close your eyes, and roll your eyes back into your head. This is an old technique that Soviet commandos used to use to fall asleep quickly. I’ve used it to some success over the years, but it’s not a guarantee.
  • Four-count breathing: Again, lie on your back with your hands on your stomach. Inhale deeply through your nose for 4 seconds. Now hold your breath for 4 seconds. Then exhale as much as possible (try to completely empty your lungs) for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 4 seconds. Repeat. This works a lot of the time for me and I’m usually out within about six cycles of this.
  • Breath Counting: basic meditation technique of counting your inhales starting with 1 and going up to 9 before returning to 1 again. Repeat as necessary. Most of the time, I’ll fall asleep from boredom lol.

9. Calorie Tracking & Scales

I think scales are mostly worthless. Mostly. Obviously, if you have a goal to lose weight or gain weight then they certainly have their place, but I think they do more harm than good. I think a more important indicator of your success is how you *feel* rather than what a machine says. That said, a scale will give you an idea of where you’re starting from. If I was using one, I would step one once, make a note of it, and then tuck the scale away for a good couple of months. Body weight fluctuates all the time and stepping on to a scale every day is self-sabotaging.

Calorie tracking, on the other hand, is valuable. I’m not talking about getting the pocket calculator out and adding every single portion, but you should have an idea of how much food you’re taking in each day and make sure it’s consistent with your goals. I tend to treat food like fuel and adjust accordingly. Supposedly if you’re trying to lose weight, you shouldn’t be taking in much more than 1000-1500 calories each day. And if you’re trying to add muscle, then you need more than that. Personally, I think those numbers are kinda BS. They don’t really take in your activity level and CrossFit, etc. That said, the old rule is pretty simple: if you’re trying to lose, you need to be burning more calories than you take in. If you’re trying to gain, you need a lot more calories than what you’re burning through. In the past, when I’ve been tracking this stuff, I would log things for about a week and that gave me a general idea of what I was bringing in. Again, you can drive yourself nuts over this, so take it in stride.

10. Work On A Goat

Pick something you suck at – a totally awful movement you hate and might not be good at – and start working on it every time you go into the gym. Every time. For about 5-10 minutes before or after class. Double-unders, push-ups, pull-ups, snatch, whatever. The goal here is to work on it until it’s not a goat any longer. This doesn’t mean you will be guaranteed success, but it does mean that it will become *less* of a goat. And that’s important because you’re programming yourself for measurable success. The idea being that you turn a weakness into a strength. Every time you do it, you’re getting better and that translates to every other aspect of your life. I’m tackling muscle-ups and kipping handstand push-ups (the kipping movement upside down terrifies me)

11. Have Some Water Immediately Upon Waking

This is a quirky thing, but it’s great. As soon as I wake up, I have a couple sips of water from my bottle that I keep next to the bed. It actually gets things churning again after being dormant over the night. It doesn’t have to replace coffee or anything, but just taking a few sips first thing in the morning is good for you. I forget where I read about it, but I swear it helps me.

12. Ginger Tea & Neti Pots

I hate shots. I hate needles. I blame the military for this: since I had to be “worldwide qualified” and able to be deployed anywhere, they pretty much shot me up with every damned antidote for every damned disease imaginable. Ask me about high-pressure air gun needles that they would stick on my shoulder and go full-auto with. On second thought, don’t. I still have PTSD from those things lol.

Anyway, the point is I don’t much like getting shots or taking pills if I can avoid it. So my frontline defense against getting sick is ginger tea and a neti pot. The ginger tea I drink is by a brand called Pukka and it’s a lot more palatable than most other brands. Ginger tea is awesome and works on head colds, flu, and ginger is also amazing for stomach issues. It’s brilliant stuff.

The neti pot is an old yogi technique for cleaning out your sinus passages, which is typically where a lot of the bad junk likes to set up shop. Basically, you get a small teapot, add a spoonful of salt and then warm water, stir it up until the salt dissolves, and then bend over a sink, tilt your head to one side and stick the spout up your schnoz until the salt water flows up one side and out the other, taking a lot of junk out. The salt stays behind, making your warm nasal passages very inhospitable to germs and crap. I’d never used one until I got a bad sinus infection about six years back. Two courses of antibiotics didn’t help and then my brother-in-law’s mother (a lifelong smoker of all things) told me about it. Cured my infection within days. Using a neti pot takes some getting used to, but it works really well – especially at this time of year. Who do you know if you need to use it? Blow your nose. If the yield is colored, you’ve got some junk that needs flushing. Mucus, like urine, should be clear and normally is if you’re healthy.

13. Warrior Playlist

This is pretty straightforward: make a playlist of songs that get you fired up and feeling like you can break down walls. Think of it as what you would play if you were going into battle – songs that make you feel invincible. Play this whenever you want to get fired up. Play it before a workout. Play it if you’re having a crappy day. Play it if you feel like you need some support.

14. Do Something New

Finally, do something new. Try something you haven’t done before. The idea here is to challenge yourself, keep learning and exploring, and mentally keep your mind curious. You don’t necessarily have to stick with it, nor does it have to be something that takes up a lot of time. But by seeking out something you haven’t done before, you may discover whole new aspects of yourself. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all.

That’s it – this is what I’ll be doing in earnest starting Sunday. Let me know what works for you and any successes you have – it’s always awesome sharing in success!

Happy New Year everyone!

On Death…and Life

I first met Death when I was maybe ten years old.

He showed up when I was delivering newspapers one early sunny morning and found a customer of mine laying face up in a flower bed with a knife jutting out of his chest. It was close to halloween and for a moment, I thought it was someone’s idea of a prop or a prank. But it wasn’t. It was Death.

Cold, unforgiving, brutal, and stark.

Throughout the years, I’ve seen Death an awful lot. There are several distinct occasions in my life when I should have died. And when you come that close to the edge as I have, you tend to develop an odd sort of respect and curiosity for it. I don’t dwell on it, but I certainly am aware of it. In many ways, my own mortal clock hovers about due to the fact that my father passed when he was 48 years old and his father before him at 47. I turn 46 in October and I’d be a lying sack of shit if I claimed that their deaths don’t affect me at all, because they certainly do. Granted, their lifestyles including heavy smoking, which I never took up aside from trying it every now and again with cigars and clove cigarettes (hey, it was the 90s – everything was fucked up then…).

I’ve lost a lot of friends. Brothers. Comrades. People you bleed with, sweat with, cry with, laugh with, and ride with. The kind of close friends that you think you’re gonna rule the world with – or at least kick ass with – and then Death shows up and they’re gone in the blink of an eye.

No doubt my own chronological timeline has factored into why I post as often as I do on Facebook about motivation and living and daring to fully embrace your existence. When you see Death as much as I have, it makes you appreciate everything that much more. Every detail. Every little bit of happiness wrung from a day doing nothing but spending time with your family being goofballs and eating ice cream.

It also makes you keenly aware of how very many people fail to appreciate what they have in front of them. How much people take for granted. How thoughtless they are with their behavior. How little time they take to appreciate a kind turn or a smile or a genuine display of affection. They can’t be bothered. Or they can’t be responsible. Or some other excuse. You’ll hear the phrases like, “I’ll get to it later.” Or “Well, he knows I’m grateful so I don’t have to say thanks,” or any one of a million other terms people use to deflect personal responsibility and keep themselves insulated or protected from showing some sign of emotional vulnerability.

Yeah, you’re out there. Some of you may even be reading this. Who knows? All locked up behind those walls you’ve built thinking you’re being smart when all you’re really doing is depriving yourself of a rich life of experience and wonder. Doesn’t that get old? Don’t you get tired of pretending you’re invincible or immune from pain and hurt? Don’t you wonder what it’s like to really let your spirit soar as high as it can? Or are you truly happy living within the confines of the prison you’ve created for yourself?

You’ll laugh. You’ll blow this off. You’ll insist that you never did anything wrong or ever played a part in some risky gambit. It’s easier, after all, to simply hide in your shell and wait for the storm to pass only to poke your head out afterward and see if the coast is clear.

It’s a cowardly way to live life, though.

So I post things that ask people to examine who they are and then dare to try something different. Maybe I’m hoping that folks will learn from my mistakes.

I spent a lot of my life locked away behind those same walls that I see so many others living behind. I spent a lot of my life convinced that showing vulnerability was akin to being a weakling or a fool or someone that could be taken advantage of. I spent a lot of my life living in fear that I wasn’t man enough according to someone else’s standards of what a man was. I covered that insecurity up by training in martial arts; I covered that insecurity up by entering the military and doing other work that forced me to confront fear on a very primal level. I spent a lot of my youth mostly trying to talk myself into believing that I was a badass. And in many ways, I may have been. I could fight. I could shoot. I could harm people in a whole lot of horrible ways. I knew things that most people don’t even dream about. And that gave me a lot of shell to surround myself with.

But I wasn’t a true badass.

Because it’s only when you have the courage to open yourself up to the world – to show your weaknesses and your vices and your insecurities and the things that make you tick – that you understand what true strength and true character actually is.

Believe me, doing this type of stuff is about as opposite extreme as you can get based on my earlier life. You kept your secrets, you kept everything hidden lest someone be able to use those against you. It’s how I was taught. It’s how I was trained.

But Death…well, Death changes things. Death doesn’t give a shit about your secrets or how macho you look or how many women you’ve slept with or how much money you have. Death is the greatest equal opportunity of all.

Everyone dies.

Not everyone truly lives, however.

This morning, I was eating breakfast and was approached by someone I haven’t seen in a long time. A really nice guy. When I knew him, he weighed about 350 pounds. Today, he stood before me at about half that weight. I wish I could say that he’d taken up working out or dieting or some other good reason for weight loss. The truth is he has cancer. And when he stood before me, I was literally gobsmacked. I barely even recognized him. Only his eyes told me his identity. The rest of him is a shell of the man he once was – loud, boisterous, full of energy, and maybe a bit on the talkative side. But a good man at that.

He’s younger than I am. I won’t elaborate on his prognosis because I don’t believe in broadcasting that type of negative energy out there. I am deeply hopeful he recovers, however, since he has a young daughter of 13 and because he is a good man who deserves a longer life with his loved ones.

The realization that this man has cancer has saddened me more than I expected it too, quite frankly. Perhaps because he’s close to my age. Perhaps because his spirit is one that always brought a smile to my face, even if it came with an annoying amount of talking from time-to-time.

Or maybe it’s because I saw the regret in his eyes this morning. Regrets of what he hasn’t yet done or people he hasn’t yet loved. Regret that he knows his time may be short and there may not be enough left to do everything he suddenly wants to do.

It’s only when you face Death that you realize how little so many bullshit things in life matter. And it’s only then that you see how much strength you have – strength you had all along – but hidden beneath a crushing weight of conforming to societal pressures or rampant insecurities. You realize – often far too late – that your supposed life has been one of near suffocation as you’ve grappled with over-scheduled madness, keeping up with the Joneses, or annoyances that are only just that and not the world-ending drama you’ve made them out to be.

And you regret it.

Death makes you a time traveler. In an instant or over the span of weeks or months, you look back and see where you went wrong. You see the foolish moves you’ve made and you wonder why you chose one path over another. You see the hearts you’ve broken – often without even realizing it – and you see the sadness you’ve wrought as is inevitable in the course of living.

You see the good, too. You see the victories. You see the love realized in the smiles and tears and laughter of those you hold most precious.

You find a measure of yourself. Sometimes, it holds up. Sometimes, it doesn’t.

And when it doesn’t, you regret it.

So I post a lot about life because regret is one of those things that can easily be avoided. And yet so many people run right toward it and it saddens me. I’m not off on some mission to rid the planet of regret (although that would be pretty sweet if we could all make it go away) but more to maybe make people think about how regret is largely self-imposed and how they can avoid it if they choose to.

Seeing my friend today (and probably calling him a friend isn’t appropriate per se, but I’ll do so anyway because it’s my post dammit) made me sad for his family and for him. It made me sad for the people I know who imprison themselves in the rush of everyday life and forget to live. It made me sad that those people will also know the pain of regret if they continue on the path they’re on.

But the future is never set.

And while Death is great at sending you back in time, Life is great at propelling you forward…to all possibilities and potentials.

Stop saying things like, “I shouldn’t.” Or, “I can’t do that.” Or, “What will everyone think?” Stop putting limits on yourself and your life. Embrace risk. Relish in the silliness of getting drunk with friends. Treasure a text or a phone call from a friend. Surprise someone with a hug from behind. Jump on an elevator and say hi to a complete stranger. Compliment someone just because you can. Go into your child’s bedroom and snuggle with them – even if they’re a teenager. Kiss your lover. Never forget to say thank you. And never stop smiling.

Our greatest strength is from not overcoming insurmountable odds. Our greatest strength comes from realizing that we are all – everyone one of us – free to live our lives to the greatest extent we possibly can…once we stop caring what others think. Our paths are our own to walk as individual souls.

We come into this world alone, naked, and afraid. We didn’t have any say in the matter.

How we leave is entirely up to us.

***

This is a long, meandering post. Frankly, I don’t know if it makes all that much sense. But I wrote it and it’s helped me work through some shit, so there’s that at the very least. If you get nothing else from it, remember to be thankful for what you have, the people who are in your life, and the adventures before you. Take a deep breath, say a silent “thank you,” and keep on livin’…

Who Do You Care About?

snoopyQuick question: when is the last time you put others before yourself?

If you’re like most people, it may have been a while. You’re busy, your schedule is packed, you’re stressed out, you’re wearing your “resting bitch” face, people wonder what sort of mood you’re in…that sort of stuff. I get it. We’ve all been there. In our frantic rush to get things done, our interpersonal relationships suffer. You leave people in your wake wondering what they may have done to piss you off. Your energy dips ever closer to the “negative” because it’s actually easier to be that way than to stay positive. As you tackle more things that need doing, you sink lower until it seems that everything and everyone is a pain-in-the-ass.

There’s also another reason why we spend less time doing for others: a lack of appreciation and gratitude on the part of the people we do things for. I read something that said if you truly desire to help, then you shouldn’t expect any thanks at all. That’s a nice pie-in-the-sky concept, but I hardly think it’s realistic. Or natural. If I hold the door for someone, there had better be a “thank you” coming out of their mouth or I keep my body exactly where it is (usually barring their path) stare at them and say, “YOU’RE WELCOME!”

We also, as a society, tend to take people for granted. Especially if we’re at ease around those people. If I know that Marge always has a smile on her face and a kind word to say, then I’m less likely to put much thought into how I treat Marge. “She’s always so happy so there’s no need to see how she’s doing.”

This, of course, is terribly wrong. Marge and people like her – especially people who have gone out of their way to help you or to be a good friend or to be someone you can rely on – are actually the people you should be caring for the most. But we seem to be hardwired to spend more time investing ourselves in people who seem down or bitchy or otherwise stricken in some fashion, even though the promise of reward may not even exist. And even if it does, why are we chasing that instead of people who would genuinely appreciate it?

It seems counter-intuitive to want to be involved with people who do nothing for others, who spend their entire lives self-absorbed and without giving a shit about anyone else. And yet, we routinely do it. Meanwhile, people who actually care about us get taken for granted. We grow complacent with them and as a result, our relationships suffer.

Perhaps we feel like there’s no challenge to keeping a good friend and we grow bored. Or lazy. Or both. Perhaps we want to be rewarded with that ever-elusive thin smile we sometimes see break across the face of the person who never seems to care. Maybe it’s even because we feel like we can be the one to “change” that negative person into a happy one.

Whatever the reasons may be, taking some time to look at yourself and your relationships is never a bad idea. How have you acted this week? What’s weighing on your mind and how is that affecting your mood and the people around you? Are you so caught up in your own world that you fail to see that people are losing the desire to be around you? Are you taking people for granted who have always been there for you? Do people who used to hang on your every word now drift away when you’re around? Are you even paying attention to whether things have changed or not?

Because society rewards mediocrity instead of awesome, we’re used to having that level of behavior be deemed “acceptable.” In other words, our thinking sometimes goes like this: “I only have to exert this much effort in this relationship and it will be fine.”

Well, to quote George Carlin, “Hair is fine.” “Fine” is another one of those dull, boring words that fails to excite. And no relationship should ever be “fine.”

There’s also blowback on you when you try to give more and elevate your relationships. A lot of people resent “awesome” because it spotlights their own failings and insecurities and inabilities. Rather than realize that they too can be awesome, they’d rather remain “fine” and live a life of mediocrity. In their head, you being awesome forces them to realize they aren’t and shame on you for reminding them of that fact. Backwards for sure, but that’s what happens.

The point is this: we can continue to be fine and mediocre and live in a society where everyone gets rewarded for showing up instead of putting out 100% OR you can take some time each day or week and reflect on how you treat others, what you can do for others, and where you put your caring. Remind yourself that your mood and your behavior have a direct and often profound effect on your environment, your friends, and even your health. Examine your actions and see who you’ve mistreated or treated less than they deserve. Resolve to reach out and say hello. Send a text. Send a message and say hi.

We can’t simply roll through this world without giving a damn about others. Like it or not, we do actually rely on other people for more than we sometimes realize. Even the most hardened loner still needs people. Remind yourself to treat others better than you have been. Remember that we’re all on this planet together and we all have the ability to affect those around us.

If you do nothing else today, reach out to someone who has been kind to you in the past and say a simple, “thank you.” You might be surprised how good you feel for doing it and how that goodness becomes contagious.

And couldn’t the world use a lot more of that?