Three Reasons You Need to Get Your Hands “Dirty”

When I was in elementary school, my parents insisted that my siblings and I learn to play a musical instrument. Being the scrappy little guy I was, I wanted to play the drums. Like good parents, they said “no” (could you imagine what our little house would sound like with five kids and a little knucklehead banging on drums?!?!?!). But I think my parents knew something (whether intuitively or they read it in a book or magazine haha). They knew that playing instruments helped kids learn better and develop more well-rounded. Long story short, I ended up playing the saxophone, and mostly enjoyed it!

Fast forward to my young adult years…I picked up a few hobbies. I self-taught myself how to play the guitar, I began to become interested in hand-repairing bikes and minor guitar repairs. I never had the exact vocabulary to describe why these things were so rewarding. I think I have found it. Any creative act of your own volition is an inherently rewarding activity. Conversely, any forced act, particularly a non-creative one, is inherently de-motivating (but that’s for another article). I believe there may be a little evolutionary psychology in this phenomenon. For most of human history, creation was synonymous with survival. Creating shelter, weapons, crops and the like determined whether you would survive or not, so it makes sense that these activities are rewarding. Anywho, let’s get into my four reasons why YOU need to get your hands dirty.

You Will Learn How to Concentrate

Opportunities for concentration in modern Western society are becoming fewer and farther in-between. It seems as though our culture, albeit inadvertently, rewards and reinforces multi-tasking and getting “alot” done as opposed to getting things done well. This makes sense, because many production activities can be replaced or augmented with technology.

When you pick up a hobby, you have to reconnect with concentration. Ask any person who has learned to play an instrument how much concentration is needed. Massive amounts! A millimeter in misplacement of a finger is the difference between a beautiful chord and an ear souring mess. When making framing for a wall, or re-wiring a light fixture, your hands are the sole determinant of whether the project is successful.

Having the ability to concentrate enriches every part of your life. Your relationships become imbued with better listening, you are more careful in your work, and (this is my opinion) you may become more physically graceful.

You Will Learn the Principles of Success

There are, in my opinion, too many success books out there. They are kind of redundant. But every success book worth its salt talks about the principle of learning from “failure”. I put failure in quotation marks because failure is a necessary part of success. In essence, every advancement in literature, science, civilization, etc. was created by someone or something failing and then making corrective adjustments.

I would encourage every person out there to take on a semi-difficult home improvement project. I can almost guarantee one thing. It will be much more complicated than you thought it would be. And this is a good thing! Through it you will learn to set your expectations aside and respond to the needs of the situation. This is an invaluable life skill. Any person older than 30 will tell you that life is full of twists and turns and surprises. If that person you talk to is a positive person, they will also say that this is good because through these experiences you will learn to “roll with the punches”.

You Will Learn that Progress is Slow

I want to make an important distinction here. Change can sometimes happen quickly, but progress is always slow. Progress in anything worthwhile such as losing weight, gaining muscle, completing a significant project, learning a new skill, implementing a new habit, etc. usually will take at least weeks, and more likely months to years.

Taking up a hobby you enjoy will teach you to be patient and enjoy the process. You know you have found a hobby when the process is just as rewarding at the product. Progress is slow in every meaningful endeavor in life. This could be something to be upset about, or it could just be something to accept. The sooner you begin, and enjoy the process, the sooner your rewards will come. One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Just begin and the mind grows heated; continue, and the task will be completed!”

If your goal is worthwhile, don’t worry about how long it will take. I promise you it will be worth it! (worthwhile = worth your while/time and energy)

So, there are a few reasons to go out and get your hands dirty. What hobbies are you interested in? Until next time…

Why We Must Create and Embrace Discomfort

Life in the modern western world is good. I would argue too good. We are at the point in technology where almost everyone can take out their phone and enjoy endless streams of entertainment, all while taking a brief break to have food delivered to their front door. Not sure that’s what those Sci-Fi movies had in mind for the year 2020 ūüôā

However, as our lives get easier and easier, something peculiar happens…we get weaker. There are studies showing that grip strength (a major marker of strength and recovery) has been declining over at least the past 30 years.

I am going to make the argument that progress is neutral. Some could make an argument that it is good, and some could make just as convincing an argument that it is bad. But if you really think about it, it’s neither. Let’s look at two very good examples…

Food and Movement

Let’s take a mental trip back in time. Back to, say, 1900. I’m no historian, but I would estimate that the majority of Americans were doing some sort of manual work. We worked outside, we walked, we did laundry by hand, tended our gardens, and built with our own hands.

We were also eating meals at home or at restaurants in our communities, stocked with plant and animal foods that we could all pronounce the names of. I don’t think there were 7-11’s selling sodas and ice cream (not that that would have been a problem as you’ll see).

Fast forward to 2019. We mostly do sedentary work. Innovation, automation, and technology has almost (and will soon) removed the necessity for people to do any manual labor at all. Food is plentiful and readily available. Famine is a relic of our distant past. Life is good! Is that a good thing? Yes. Could it also be a bad thing? Yes.

The Gym and Fasting/Calorie Restriction

Napoleon Hill, a success author, has a very famous quote; “Every adversity contains within it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit”. I would posit that “Every benefit contains within it the seed of an equivalent or greater difficulty”.

What happened to us when we became sedentary and over-fed? Over-fatness and chronic diseases. Heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Now I’m not arguing that these things have a direct one-to-one relationship to our change in lifestyle, but the correlation is rather alarming. When your calorie expenditure goes down (from sedentary living) and your caloric intake goes up (from availability of food), you will begin to gain weight, and with that extra weight comes a greatly increased risk of chronic disease.

But we humans are smart…so we are learning to adapt. Now we interrupt our sedentary lives with trips to the gym and walks on our lunch breaks. We lift weights to make sure we have good bone density and strength. We run 5k’s to keep our hearts healthy and engage in unfortunately fewer opportunities for social interaction. We track what we eat and make sure not to eat too much.

Self-Imposed Discomfort

All of the remedies mentioned above are self-imposed discomfort. It feels better (if only momentarily) to lay around and watch TV than go to the gym. It feels better to eat whatever we want whenever we want than to pay attention to what we eat.

Whenever our lives get better and easier, we have to find ways to induce balance back into our lives, or “too much of a good thing” begins to harm us.

It is a personal prediction of mine that as the need for traditional work dwindles away, we will need to find ways to challenge our minds in productive ways. I think this could take place in the increase of interest in hobbies (learning instruments, crafts, art, any creative endeavor really).

As I have said in other articles, it is all about balance. Whenever our lives get easier, we have to find ways to self-impose discipline and restraint in order to continue leading a happy life.

Until next time…

How Social Media has Changed the Way We Feel (and what to do about it)

I can remember it clear as day. It was around the Spring of 2014. I was teaching in a high school when they suddenly started appearing…everywhere. Instagram and Twitter handles began popping up in the most annoying places (most annoyingly on desks and my class set of whiteboards). Within weeks, students were writing their handles everywhere for all to see. Of course the most popular students’ accounts began blowing up and the main topic of conversation (not math, to my demise) was “How¬†many¬†followers¬†do¬†you¬†have?”

When Change Happens Quickly

Whenever change happens quickly, there are a number of consequences of that change that we cannot (and sometimes do not want to) see. When I reflect upon the massive change that social media has brought into our culture, I think one of the main consequences none of us saw was how it would affect our mental health.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and spout off any statistics, but it has been my experience that since the rise of social media, mental health has been a growing concern for young people (particularly adolescents). I’m not making a scientific case (yes, I know, the nerds will get angry), but it seems that social media has made us slightly more unhappy.

And I have a hypothesis for why…

You (and I) Probably are the 99%

You see, social media gives us eyes into the lives of others. Of course we follow our friends and maybe our Aunt, but the majority of people we follow and look forward to posts from are the 1%. Likely less. Something more along the lines of the 0.001%.

I’m no hater. Success should be celebrated. And any adult knows that any self-made successful person has paid a price to get there. But many young people don’t know that.

Imagine you are 13 (scary right?!?!) and all day you are surrounded by images of people, some who are your age, who by all accounts look like they are living extravagant lives. And of course, all of these glossy celebrities always have a success line a-la-Tony-Robbins about why their life is so glamorous (“Just work hard and be positive. Oh yeah, and buy my stuff!”). What are you going to think about yourself? Your prospects? Your ability to achieve a lifestyle even a fraction of what theirs is?

Adults can see that not only are the lifestyles of the rich and famous unsustainable for everyone to have, but we also see that all of their posts are a clever montage of only the best, most fabulous moments of their life. No celebrities post photos of themselves tripping up the stairs or spilling coffee on themselves on the regular, but we know these are the experiences that make up everyones extravagantly normal lives.

As adults we need to remind children (and ourselves) of what is truly important in life. Young people today are at risk for being swept away by materialism and hedonism (perhaps no more than any other generation). We need to temper these images of excess with a reinforcement of what really makes us happy, and encourage goals that are not only achievable, but healthy and attainable for all people (or at the very least all people in the Western world). In my assessment these goals would be financial independence, positive relationships, good health, and passionate work.

Don’t Forget the Fyre Festival

My wife and I have been glued to the television screen watching the Fyre Festival documentaries. I think this is the perfect example of how social media can damage our ability to stay connected with reality. Thousands of experience-hungry young people see their favorite celebrities and models posting about an amazing experience that turned out to be the exact opposite. In the process not only was a lot of money lost, but a lot of lives were irreparably damaged because a few people got carried away in the glitz and glam (and didn’t have a good accountant?).

It also teaches us another lesson. Glitz and glam are fine. I like to partake in luxury experiences from time to time myself so I am not one to judge. But…most of what makes those experiences awesome are things that we can have without paying thousands of dollars to go to Pablo Escobar’s island to do (good food, good people, music, entertainment, etc.).

In my estimation there is a serious case of cultural lag with regard to social media. I would not be surprised to see (in the near future) a good deal of legislation surrounding social media and its use. But, while we are still in the days of the “wild wild west” of social media, stay aware of how this cultural phenomena can seep deeper and deeper into our lives. Until next time…

Witch Hunts (and why they happen…)

The Era of the “Witch Hunt”

Perhaps to call it an “era” is an overstatement, because this is something we humans have been doing a long time. The idea of a witch hunt seems to have drawn a lot of attention lately because of Donald Trump. Whenever asked to confront a poor decision, provide an explanation of his actions, or admit guilt, he immediately frames the request as a witch hunt (whether overtly or covertly). I would argue that Donald Trump is not totally wrong.

This article isn’t about whether or not Donald Trump is a good person. This article is about why him framing any investigation to him as a witch hunt is a palatable idea for many people. Of course, those who detest him will proclaim that it’s all a front to change the subject (and it might be..), but others see this as a very real phenomena. They see it as the grasping of those who have been defeated. And I would argue that they are right

The Modern Witch Hunt

I would like to make the case that a witch hunt is the result our inability to fully cope with reality.

Let’s take a little trip back in time to the presidency of Barack Obama. For those who saw him as a beacon of light and hope, those eight years were full of smiles and positive growth. But the other half of the story is the story of sore losers.

Let us not forget that while some of America was rejoicing, other parts of America were in mourning. They lost. Bad. Their beliefs and ideas were hit very hard. The world began changing in all the ways they didn’t want it to. For goodness sake, he invited RAPPERS to the White House. He allowed “gay” people to get married. Preposterous!

So how did they react? Witch hunts.

Even with Obama’s eerily squeaky clean record, they found places to strike, “He is a socialist”, “He wasn’t born in America”, “He is a Muslim”. A picture of social panic was painted. Not because any of those things were true, but because the losers didn’t want to accept their fate.

Why Donald Trump is kinda Right

Fast forward to late 2016. The tables have suddenly turned. Those in mourning now rejoice, and those who were rejoicing now mourn. Then things get interesting, there is evidence to show all kinds of corruption in the new administration. And Donald Trump (quite cleverly) frames all of it as a witch hunt.

It sounds like such a good excuse to his supporters. Why? Because they did the same thing when they lost. To reiterate, this is not about Donald Trump. It is about what we do when we “lose”. Perhaps Donald Trump innately understands that if he can frame his opponents as sore losers, he can gain a base of sympathy.

Why Witch Hunts Happen

As I stated earlier, witch hunts happen because we are unable to fully cope with our reality. In our resistance of what is, we need to create an enemy (whether it be a person, philosophy, political party, etc.).

What this does is it partially resolves our conflict. If everything is bad because of something outside of us, it relieves us of some personal responsibility. Now, we can blame everything on the “big bad wolf” instead of 1) accepting our fate, 2) doing something to change it, or 3) finding a better situation.

As I said earlier, this article isn’t about Donald Trump. It is about how alike we are when we lose, and hopefully providing a new vision for coping with the inevitable reality that we will sometimes “lose”. Until next time…

Assertiveness vs. Agressiveness (and why the difference is huge)

So many people in our society are becoming polarized. They either become the classic “nice” person, or they become uncouth and difficult. Very few people find the balance between going after what they want and being respectful to people in the process.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with being “nice”. I suppose by nice I really mean being polite and cordial. Every person deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Being nice goes too far when we allow our fear of disapproval to stand in the way of us pursuing what we want.

Imagine you are at a restaurant and your waiter brings out your food and it’s cold. Many “nice” people might let it go or sheepishly ask if they can have their food reheated. Aggressive people on the other hand will become immediately become offended and address the waiter harshly.

At the root of becoming assertive is realizing that we must advocate for our wants and needs, and we must make them known in a respectful way. If we believe ourselves to be fair and reasonable, other people should be more than willing to meet us half way (and if they don’t, we respond maturely). Going back to the waiter example, an assertive person would politely tell the waiter that the food is cold and they wish for it to be reheated. We don’t speak harshly to them, but we also don’t accept mistreatment.

The lie that many of us are being told is that if we are nice we will get what we want. That is partially true. People and circumstance are much friendlier to you if you have a positive attitude, but we must take it upon ourselves to be our own advocates. “The squeaky wheel gets the oil”.

Assertiveness is soft power. Aggressiveness is hard power. When you are assertive, people will learn to respect you, and more often than not they will like you more. When you are aggressive, people will fear you, but they will not respect you. Assertiveness demands that you have some level of control over your emotions to address people respectfully even in the midst of conflict. There is nothing admirable about someone who loses their temper and uses their verbal, or even worse, physical, power to impose their will.

The next time you face a conflict situation, think about whether you are responding with aggression or with assertion. Until next time…