Please select one of the following and then we’ll move on: Life is hard; life is cruel; life is random; sometimes good people are forced to do bad things; sometimes innocent people die; yes, Myron, you screwed up, but you’ll do better this time; no, Myron, you didn’t screw up, it wasn’t your fault; everyone has a breaking point and now you know yours.
Clichés and platitudes crowd the brain, making genuine thought and authentic emotion harder to access.
Practice:When you’re about to say something hackneyed, don’t. Go silent instead.
Wait for something else to surface. The words that come next may sound awkward or even embarrassing. They will also enliven you in a way that no cliché can.
Advanced practice: When an exchange leaves you feeling dissatisfied, locate where you shorted yourself — either by saying less than you actually meant or by making an all-purpose response when you could have been specific.
Related practices: Fresh Peaches, Fluency
In the intelligence tests given immigrants at Ellis Island, “they were asked how a staircase should be swept: Do you sweep from bottom to top, top to bottom, or toward the sides. A Polish girl answered, “I haven’t come to this country to sweep staircases.”
Kathleen Nestor Owens
You get to decide what you have — and have not — come here to do. Where does skipping breakfast fall? How about running yellow lights. Failing to vote. The list is as personal as you’re willing to make it.
Practice: Chose something you don’t approve of but find yourself doing anyway. Then decide whether it’s something you “came here to do.”
Applying unfamiliar language to a familiar behavior can help you work with it more effectively.
Related practices: Trousers, Author’s Statement, Permission
Never in the history of calming down has anyone calmed down by being told to calm down.
True. But taking slow, deep breaths with long exhales has been known to work. Also effective: going for a walk, loading up on salsa (the capsicum relaxes your airways), helping others.
Practice: Initiate conversations about what helps you calm down. Going public can aerate your relationship to stress.
Related practice: Self-care, Fluency, Anger
There was a rude remark I could have made back to her right then
and I watched it go by like a bright blue sailboat on a long gray river of silence
Such a lush portrait of restraint. To me, Hoagland’s bright blue sailboat is a fitting tribute to his — my, your, our — judicious decision not to add to the world’s distress.
Practice: Observe a conversation that’s going well and notice how many times each participant decides not to say something they were about to say. Skill involves selection.
Related practices: Seek silence, No easy jobs
Sometimes you just need to wear a Viking hat to respond to a difficult email.
Tina Roth Eisenberg, as quoted by Grace Bonney
Or your lucky socks. Your favorite ring. Whatever emboldens you.
Something that works for me is picturing people I admire: Their company helps me live up to my expectations for myself.
The email may remain challenging but seeing Tina in her helmet, you in your special socks and me in good company can transform any of us into especially capable versions of ourselves.
Practice: Take a deep breath and summon your boldest self. Costume optional.
Related practices: Need, Fluency
It was as if I had outgrown a good pair of trousers, my favorite pair of trousers, and I had no others to put on.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Gates goes on to list the tasks he faced:
I wanted to learn how to be a free Negro and to be a man, how to be in the world and with God, how to question values and traditions without being kicked out of the fold, how to value community and order, family and the group, yet not to have to suppress my uncertainties, doubts, ambivalences in order to be accepted.
Practice: Notice which of the daunting tasks on the list has your name on it. (“Community” bears mine.)
Advanced practice: Act on the task you selected. Start small — these are lifelong tasks, after all — but start.
Related practices: Authentic, Fluency, Tuesday Nights
I can’t be everything to everybody. Send me your specs.
Practice: Identify the specs that people need to meet for you to let them into your life.
(If you have none, Ooops. Ditto if you’ve never identified what they are.)
Then consider how close you come to meeting your own specs. You can’t be everything to everybody but you can take steps to meet your own specs.
I write to shine a light on an otherwise dim or even pitch-black corner, to provide relief for myself and others.
Munson says she takes her author’s statement seriously. I suspect we all do — whether or not we know what ours says.
Practice: Come up with a sentence-long statement for yourself. Go broad, defining what you are here to do in general, or get specific by identifying the intentions that underlie something you do regularly.
Advanced practice: Ask a few carefully selected people whether they think the author’s statement you have created accurately reflects choices they see you make.
Related practices: Shrug, Perfect, Play
No matter how nice or intelligent everyone is, I just want to go home, put on my tutu and rollerblade.
Opinions about the right way to behave are a dime a dozen. The trick is identifying your own likes and dislikes, the behaviors you prefer.
Practice: Allow your preferences to surface at their own rate, until one of them makes you chortle. Amusement is an indicator that you’ve found your sweet spot: an action that is neither too risky nor too familiar.
Then give it a try. Rollerblading in a tutu, anyone?
Related practices: Done, The Fun Factor
Life is better than death because it’s less boring and there are fresh peaches.
The mind that links life, death, boredom, and fresh peaches is a free mind.
Everyone’s mind makes all kinds of links, but it takes practice to notice what those links are — we have a tendency to silence our originality lest others find us strange.
Practice: Notice. That’s all, simply notice.
Advanced practice: When you picture yourself playing dominoes with your long-dead grandparents, use a word you’re surprised to find in your vocabulary, or do anything else that lands you in unfamiliar territory, identify the links that led you there.
Related practices: Perfect, Intensify to Identify