In most fields of endeavor there are no easy jobs; there are only graceful ways of performing difficult ones.
Whether something will be easy or hard is rarely worth considering. Instead, identify what you consider the initial task in the sequence: Sending a one-sentence email. Starting a forty-page report. Calling to apologize. Confronting the contractor.
Practice: Once you have defined the task, picture what executing it gracefully (or forcefully or bravely) would look like. Then let that image lead you. It’s up to you to nudge your behavior toward your ideals — case by case and moment by moment.
“Vicarious” is not a strong enough word to describe the effect of mirror neurons.
Mirror neurons come close to running the show when it comes to empathy and, possibly, to morality as well: We respond to what engages us.
Demagogues dumb us down. People we admire inspire us to try harder. Encouragers rouse us; gloom-and-doomers deplete us.
Practice: Notice which encounters lift you up. Once you tune in, they are easy to identify.
Caution: You may discover you have people in your life you no longer want there.
He’d forgotten just how addictive crime can be. Repeat offenders are motivated more by withdrawal symptoms than necessity.
The Usual Suspects
Withdrawal symptoms are real. Drink less coffee than usual and you are likely to get a headache. Emotional states work the same way: we each have go-to emotions and reactions. Do something different and you are likely to feel “off” for a while.
Practice: Identify an emotion that you find tiresome. Slowly — to avoid withdrawal symptoms — start to distance from it. Different methods work for different people. One that works for me is saying, out loud, “You again?”
Related practices: Feel-good Giving, Play
don’t worry please please how many
times do I have to say it
there’s no way not to be who you are and where.
Ikkya, version by Stephen Berg
Please. How often do you ask yourself politely to do or not do something?
Practice: The way you talk to yourself is the way you talk to yourself. As an experiment, (please) add please.
Give when it feels good, stop giving when it stops feeling good, and find another feel-good way to give.
People wise up and worry their hearts have hardened. People open up and worry they’re no longer discerning.
Instead, notice what feels good to you and what does not – when giving, when taking, when walking down the street.
Practice: Talk with yourself about what feels good. Other people have opinions about you and your gender. You have stereotypes about yourself. Make sure you’re giving what you want to give (and when, and how).
Don’t feel you have to give [the occupying army] the right directions when they ask you the way: these are not your walking companions.
Jean Texcier as quoted by Caroline Morehead
There are people, known and unknown, who are your walking companions: people who show you the way and cheer you on.
Practice: Identify one of your walking companions and think hard about the benefits you derive from knowing that teacher, that painter, that neighbor. That friend.
What do they help you do? How can you use their “company” more effectively ?
I try to create an alert emptyness in myself.
Paul den Hollander
Empty. Alert. Two mind-body states that can be hard to recapture, although both are natural in early childhood.
Practice: Notice whether an activity you chose repeatedly, whether running long distances or listening to Mozart, brings you to “an alert emptiness.” Sometimes identifying a desired state can heighten our experience of it.
Related practices: Loneliness
“Play is not the default mode of life; seriousness is.
It seems to me that some people’s default mode is in fact indifference. Others default to bemusement or to anticipating the next outrage.
Practice: Identify your go-to state, then jazz it up. If you tend toward suspicion, explore paranoia. If your default state is pleasure, try delight.
Play with being more of who you are already.
Related practices: The Fun Factor
“Know thyself?” If I knew myself, I’d run away.
Self-awareness gets good press while checking out — overeating, watching television, lighting up — rarely does. So far as I can tell, both are human appetites.
Practice: Notice what you say to yourself when planning an activity linked to self- awareness or self-improvement. Ditto what you say to yourself before you check out. These “editorials” may or may not represent your conscious beliefs.
Whose beliefs are they, do you suppose?
Cartoonists draw rough draft after rough draft to find an image they want to use. In daily speech, we correct and revise, trying to get to the heart of the matter.
Does the way you speak express what you mean? Are there thoughts and emotions you tend to leave out?
Practice: If you suspect that something you’ve said falls short, it probably does. Keep talking —rough draft after rough draft.