How Shift Happens in Our Lives

There are a lot of us who would like to change something, but find it difficult to make that change. I’m here to share with you the fact that making a shift like this is absolutely possible, and share how that shift might happen.

So let’s start with this: making a shift in our lives is absolutely possible. Not only have I made dozens of changes in my life, I’ve seen hundreds, even thousands of people change in my Sea Change Program and now my Fearless Training Program. It’s not always easy, it’s often very messy, but it’s absolutely possible.

Let’s look at how shift happens most often.

The Phases of How Shift Happens in Our Lives

Here’s how the change often happens, in my experience:

  1. You struggle with the change. This phase might take years — there’s something in your life that’s making you unhappy, unhealthy, or struggle with work or relationships. You want to change it, but either it’s too difficult or you aren’t very motivated to do it. You struggle, you give up, you feel bad about it. Repeat for months or years. This might be thought of as Phase -1.
  2. You are finally ready to change. Something clicks for you — it’s almost like a switch being flipped. You decide it’s finally time to change. For some people, it’s hitting rock bottom — things get so bad that you are finally faced with the fact that you need to change, and you want to change. Other times, it’s getting inspired by something you read or watch, or hearing about someone else’s change. Sometimes it’s just having the courage to really sit and reflect on the change that you want and why it’s so important to you, and then resolving to get serious about it. We’ll call this Phase 0.
  3. You start the shift, probably with some enthusiasm. You might go all in and be incredibly enthusiastic about the change, and get new books and equipment, watch videos, read about it online, download an app or two. The first few days, you might be super motivated and diligent. For some people, this initial surge can fade quickly (in 1-4 days) or last a little longer (5-9 days). It’s a bit rarer for it to last 2 weeks but it can definitely happen. Let’s call this Phase 1.
  4. You find it harder or different than you thought, and struggle a little. Often people find change to be more difficult than they thought, or not meeting the expectations they had. This can bring struggle or even quitting. If you struggle but don’t quit, you can make it into the next phase. The problem is that we have a fantasy of how it will happen, and it rarely goes that well. We think we’ll be in shape to run a 5K after a week of running. We are surprised that working out at the gym is so tough. We are not masters of the French language in 14 days. And so on. It can be discouraging. Sometimes people just lose focus because of too much going on — this is a sign that they aren’t as motivated as they need to be, if busyness can sidetrack them easily. Let’s call this Phase 2.
  5. You stick with it and find some positive change. If you do stick with it through that initial struggle, and keep at it … you’ll find change starting to happen. That will feel good and be encouraging. Most people don’t stick with it long enough for change to happen, even though it can start to happen after a week or two. If you get to this stage, rejoice! You are probably in the top 10% of people who want to make changes. This phase can last for a pretty variable amount of time — a week, a month, maybe two months. This is Phase 3.
  6. You get sidetracked but then come back again (or not). At some point, probably in 2-3 weeks after getting to Phase 3 above (maybe longer), you will get sidetracked. It’s inevitable. No one is completely focused on one thing forever. You travel, you get sick, you have visitors, you get busy at work, you have to move, there’s a crisis in your family, your child or pet gets sick. This is Phase 4, and it’s not necessarily the end of this change — though for many people, it is the end. They get sidetracked and go all the way back to Phase -1 above, when they’re struggling for a long time. But it doesn’t have to be the end — it’s just a brief break of a few days or even a few weeks. You get sidetracked, probably discouraged, and you probably don’t want to think about this change because it makes you feel bad to think about it … but then you decide to face it and start again! You pick the next smallest step and start. Maybe you find ways to motivate yourself that are similar to Phase 0 above. You get started again.
  7. It becomes a part of your life. This Phase 5 is similar to Phase 3, in that you’re chugging along nicely and making the change happen … but in this phase, it gets easier and easier and becomes a part of your lifestyle. Or maybe not, and it’s actually just a repeat of Phase 3 and then you go through Phase 4 and then repeat a few times. But if you reach Phase 5, it can seem really easy and seem like you’ll never have to worry about this again. This is when it’s a good idea to start a new change.
  8. Things start to slip back until you refocus yourself. But at some point, many people slip back into their old habits, despite the change becoming easy. The old habits haven’t always completely died. By the way, this isn’t a universal phase — I’ve never slipped back into smoking, for example. But for me, exercise, diet, and other similar habits have all slipped back from time to time. It might feel discouraging to have to start again. And some people never start again because they’re discouraged. The successful ones just start again and get focused and motivated again. The good news: it’s much easier the 2nd and 3rd time around! It’s not as much of an uphill struggle.

So as you can see, it’s a messy path. There are starts and stops. There’s motivation and then getting discouraged. There’s interruptions and restarting. There’s long-term change and slipping back again (sometimes). Shift happens, but not at the pace we like and not how we’d like it to.

This is the process of human beings shifting habitual patterns.

By the way, to have complete transformation of your life, you’ll need to create several (or many) of these shifts.

Key Skills in Creating Shift

Armed with that information, what do we need to create this kind of shift?

Here are the skills that will make shifts much more likely to happen:

  1. Recognizing what you need to change and then flipping the switch. We can fool ourselves about needing to change, for years. Instead, it’s a powerful skill to take a look at your life and see that you need to make a change. Often it shows up in others — they are constantly reacting negatively to our behavior, but perhaps we rationalize why they’re wrong. Often we know we need to change but don’t want to face it. The skill, then, is to get very honest with yourself and recognize that a change is needed, and then finding a way to flip the switch so that you’re committed and taking action.
  2. Starting and setting yourself up well. When you are ready to take action, get good at actually getting started. It doesn’t matter how you start — don’t get caught up in indecision and research. Instead, take action. But make one of your early actions be setting yourself up for future difficulties: set up accountability, tracking, motivation, so that when you falter, you’re more likely to stay in it or come back to it.
  3. Encouraging yourself when you’re discouraged. You will get discouraged or lose motivation at some point. Get good at encouraging yourself instead of discouraging yourself. This takes practice, but can be as simple as repeating, “You can do this!”
  4. See your rationalizations and get back on track instead. Similarly, there will be times when you’re rationalizing not doing it. You got off track, or there are things getting in the way. Get good at noticing your rationalizations and getting back on track. This is pretty much the same as the first skill at the top of this list, but applying it during the process instead of before the process starts.
  5. Starting again with a small step. Similarly to the above, really — just get started. Find the next small step and take action. Encourage yourself, over and over.

These skills obviously overlap, and you can practice them over and over again as you make a change. In this way, ever time you get sidetracked, demotivated, or struggle, it’s a great opportunity to practice the change.

Ready to make a change? Join my Sea Change Program (free for 7 days, $15/month after) and commit to making a shift in your life.

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The Art and Science of Physical Removal

Part 1: Removing Yourself

I have long been of the opinion, as a Voluntaryist, that there are only two legitimate ways of voting: With your money, in terms what products and services you choose to buy (outside of taxation, of course, where you are effectively given no choice), and with your feet – choosing where you prefer to live, all things and circumstances taken into consideration. It follows, then, that most libertarians of whatever stripe gravitate towards locales where, at least, the politics and general presence of government are not as aggressively antithetical to the basic enjoyment of life as others. For example, at present, I am seriously considering getting out of Vermont sometime during the next few years, and taking up residence in Wyoming – where taxes are both less numerous and lower, the cancerous hysteria of gun control has not yet taken root, and where there is still a rural, low-population environment (not to mention one almost certain to contain a higher percentage of like-minded people). In short, all the things Vermont had once upon a time, and no longer does.

There is certainly nothing wrong or immoral about wishing to improve one’s circumstances by choosing to go and live somewhere else – so long as one has every intention of paying one’s own way rather than leeching from whatever Welfare State may exist in one’s new chosen location. There is nothing wrong with wanting to cohabitate amongst one’s own “tribe,” as it were. Having libertarians (and even a couple of conservatives here and there…maybe) as neighbors is always preferable – to me, at least – than being surrounded by roughly 70% Democratic “progressive” lefties who are almost sexually enthralled by Marxism of every conceivable variant. Surely, the former promises a better life. So, I’ll be investigating that – thoroughly and in full – over the next couple of years. You’ll likely hear from me more on that as things unfold. Stay tuned.

Part 2: Removing Others

So now suppose I’m living my new life happily in the Big Sky Country of Wyoming, enjoying that big boost in freedom that was rapidly dying back over my shoulder there in Vermont…and before too long, the same kind of leftist disease begins to take hold within Wyoming’s Forever West political system.

Hans-Hermann Hoppe has this rather blunt commentary to make about just such a situation: “There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and removed from society.”

Now this is not to say, first off, that Wyoming is a strictly “libertarian social order” to begin with. More accurately, it might be characterized as predominantly conservative Republican in flavor – with some inevitable libertarian blandishments as a consequence. That stated, conservative and libertarian camps both, I would think, have a mutual vested interest in seeing that leftist ideology does not gain serious ground or take root in the Wyoming landscape. Such concern can be quite correctly characterized as nothing more nor less than self-defensive in nature: People who are paying few and low taxes, enjoying virtually unrestrained gun rights, and relishing most or all of the trappings of rural rugged individualism do not want these conditions to be reversed or undone – most especially not at the hands of some Marxist-inspired brigade of self-styled do-gooders who believe with almost religious fervor that they’ve come to the unwashed lands to teach the heathens how to live a better, more civilized life under full-on socialism.

So for the conservatives, the solution to this equation is very easy: Out come the pitchforks, and away we go. For the libertarian camp though, there’s a bit of a problem.

Unlike all forms of statism, libertarian ethics demand tolerance. Unlike libertarianism, however, statism requires force. I think you can see the quandary this seems to present.

And I’ll repeat a line from above: Such concern can be quite correctly characterized as nothing more nor less than self-defensive in nature.

Ever since my awakening as a libertarian some 25 years ago now, I have spoken with probably a couple of thousand leftists – from garden-variety Democrats, to hardcore Marxists. Out of all of them, I have come across maybe two who I sincerely believed when they told me that they did not wish their views or economic system to be imposed on others by force. One of them even used the term “libertarian socialist” – which made me laugh derisively at the time. But I’m older now, and no longer laughing. I think that’s a valid term to describe such a philosophical position. I also think, through experience, that scarcely one in a thousand leftists possess a viewpoint of such benign integrity. The overwhelming majority of them are more than willing to use whatever level of violence and brute force they feel is necessary to bend you to their will – to force you to be subjugated to their ideas whether you agree with them or not.

And I will say unequivocally that these are the leftist elements about whom Hoppe is spot-on correct. Those who would agitate and proselytize for the dismantling of a libertarian socio-economic environment – which, no doubt, would have likely taken tremendous efforts and sacrifice in order to build in the first place – in favor of mandatory economic regulations, taxation, gun control, redistribution of wealth, etc. – such individuals must indeed be “physically separated and removed” from the midst of a region or territory which has managed to construct a libertarian society.

As would, for that matter, anyone from any ideology that sought to reinstitute involuntary political governance in any form.

Legitimate self-defense, after all, should never require apologism.

That said, it is the even smallest potential for “libertarian socialism” that causes me to distance myself somewhat from Hoppe. That one-in-a-thousand leftie who just wants to live peacefully in a commune with his or her buddies down the road – so long as their chosen lifestyle and preferred economic models are kept among themselves and other willing participants who are free to leave at any time – is not and should not be considered a problem. So long as, being the phrase of paramount import here. Hoppe’s absolutism lends itself too readily to a total witch-hunt mentality otherwise. Thus, allow me to offer a revision of his above maxim, more in line with purist libertarian sentiment:

“There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists who agitate for political and economic control over others in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and removed from society.”

Liberty, sovereignty, and autonomy are key elements of my own personal vision. Not living as a slave to a bunch of parasitic politicians and soul-sick bureaucrats, as the Left would have us do – all the better to control, manipulate, and dominate us to death. It is a vision worth both projecting and fighting for, I think, especially in the face of a world bent on ever-increasing authoritarianism and control.

I’m thinking I may be able to do that more effectively by physically removing myself to a different geographical locale, surrounded by a different culture. We’ll see. Life is strange, and can take many unexpected twists and turns.

Should I get there, however, when I do, I’ll then be prepared to defend my place, person, and property in it. Not with indiscriminate prejudice against others whose philosophies I find abhorrent, but with a more finely targeted and focused sense of just what is absolutely necessary in order to do so.

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Trial and Error

Nobody asked but …

Almost two months ago, I wrote a blog article in which I felt gratified that my teen granddaughters were experimenting with civil disobedience.  They participated in the worldwide climate strike.  It is OK if they took the wrong side, because they were right to speak out.  Experimenting is good.  The worst thing that can happen is that they might favor a wrong philosophy, but never re-examine that decision.  People who never re-examine their positions are candidates for the Darwin Awards.

In a more recent blog, I admitted to some egregious naivete, in the past, and I promised to address it directly in a future post.  In retrospect, I have always been an individually conscious voluntaryist, but I admit to the following mistakes along the way:

  • I liked Ike, but was too young to vote,
  • I would have gone all the way with JFK, but was still too young to vote,
  • I was atracted to the non-authoritarian hippy lifestyle, but I was anti-war (for the wrong reasons),
  • I was pro LBJ, before the Gulf of Tonkin incident,
  • I voted for Nixon, in the mistaken hopes that he would quickly end the Vietnam War,
  • I voted for Carter, in hopes of ending White House corruption,
  • Until 2008, I voted, believing in the system, and that the right POTUS would not be incentivized toward war, irrationality, and corruption,
  • Until 2000, I believed that history could show us examples of successful POTUS’es.
  • Now I know, beyond believing, that no human can be a successful master of other human beings.

Each of these mistakes taught me a lesson.  I will continue to try, and err, but I will not forsake my hard-won principles of anarchism.

— Kilgore Forelle

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The Depression Preference

When I describe mental illness as “an extreme, socially disapproved preference,” the most convincing counter-example people offer is depression.  Do I really think people “want to be depressed” or choose depression as a bizarre alternative lifestyle?

My quick answer: These objections confuse preferences with meta-preferences.

No one chooses to have the gene for cilantro aversion.  Yet people with the cilantro aversion gene are perfectly able to eat this vegetable.  They just strongly prefer not to.

Similarly, when I say that alcoholics are people who value heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages more than family harmony, this doesn’t mean that they like having these priorities.  If they could press a button which would eliminate their craving for alcohol, I bet many alcoholics would press it.  But given their actual cravings, they prefer to keep drinking heavily despite the suffering of their families.

The same holds even more strongly for the typical person diagnosed with clinical depression.  Most people with loving families and successful careers are happy.  Clinically depressed people, however, often have both loving families and successful careers, yet still want to kill themselves.  Their preference is so extreme that it confuses the rest of us.  They’d almost surely rather have a different preference.  But it is their preference nonetheless.

Not convinced?  Think back to the early 1970s, when psychiatrists still classified homosexuality as a mental disorder.  I object, “Mental disorder?  No, it’s just an extreme, socially disapproved preference.”  When critics incredulously respond, “Do you really think people choose to be gay?,” I say they’re confusing preferences with meta-preferences.  To be gay is to sexually prefer people of your own gender.  This doesn’t mean that gays want to feel this way.  If a gay-to-straight conversion button existed in the intolerant world of 1960, I bet that most gays would have gladly pushed it for themselves.  Even today, I think many gay teens would press the conversion button to fit in and avoid conflict.  But so what?  Hypothetical buttons can’t transform a preference into a disorder.

Is this all just a word game?  No.  The economic distinction between preferences and constraints that I’m drawing upon has three big substantive implications here.

First, people with extreme preferences could make different choices.  People with cilantro aversion are able to eat cilantro.  Alcoholics are able to stop drinking.  The depressed can refrain from suicide.  And so on.  This is fundamentally different from my inability to bench press 300 pounds – or live to be 150 years old.

Second, as a corollary, people with extreme preferences can – and routinely do – respond to incentives.  People with cilantro aversion are more likely to eat cilantro if other foods are expensive or inconvenient.  Alcoholics respond to alcohol taxes – and family pressure.  Depressed parents may delay suicide until their kids are grown.  Even in a tragic situation, incentives matter.*

Third, as a further corollary, people with extreme preferences can – and routinely do – find better ways to cope.  People reshape their own preferences all the time; perhaps you can do the same.  Failing that, perhaps you can discover more constructive ways to satisfy the preferences that you’re stuck with.  For example, if you’re extremely depressed despite great career success, you really should try some experiments in living.  Perhaps you’ll be miserable whatever you do.  But if you’ve only experienced one narrow lifestyle, how do you know?  Maybe you’d feel better if you tried putting friendship or hobbies above “achievement.”

It’s tempting to insist that there’s something pathological about having conflicting preferences and meta-preferences.  On reflection, however, these conflicts are a ubiquitous feature of human existence.  Almost everyone would like to feel differently in some important dimension.  Almost everyone reading this probably wishes they were less lazy, more patient, more outgoing, more loving, more ambitious, or more persistent.  But you still are the preferences you really have.  There’s plenty of room for improvement, but that doesn’t mean you’re sick.

* I’m well-aware that many physical symptoms also respond to incentives.  You can pressure a diabetic to lose weight, which in turn reverses his diabetes.  But all of these incentive effects require time to work.  The symptoms of mental illness, in contrast, can and often do respond to incentives instantly, because they are choices that are always within your grasp.  “I’m divorcing you unless you stop drinking right now” is a viable threat.  “I’m divorcing you unless you stop being diabetic right now” is silly one.

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“Meatless Mondays” and the Rise of Social-Emotional Learning in Schools

One of our favorite family poems is Shel Silverstein’s “Point Of View.” It’s witty without being preachy yet prompts the listener to more thoughtfully consider the act of meat-eating: “Thanksgiving dinner’s sad and thankless/ Christmas dinner’s dark and blue. /When you stop and try to see it/ From the turkey’s point of view.”

Reading this poem reinforces the idea that eating meat or not eating meat is a personal choice, a lifestyle decision that may be rooted in one’s own sense of right and wrong. There are many social, cultural, and individual reasons why someone might be a carnivore or a vegetarian. It’s a private decision of the home and family.

Private Choice or Public Policy?

Except when it isn’t. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced earlier this month that all New York City public schools would enact “Meatless Mondays,” avoiding any meat offerings during Monday school breakfasts and lunches beginning this fall. “Cutting back on meat a little will improve New Yorkers’ health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” de Blasio said in a statement. “We’re expanding Meatless Mondays to all public schools to keep our lunch and planet green for generations to come.”

The mayor acknowledges that vegetarianism is a personal choice. At a press conference announcing his new vegetarian agenda, he stated: “So, for me, this is very personal, because – and I will say up front, I eat meat and I eat vegetarian dishes and I try and strike a balance between the two. But I have two vegetarians in my home and they feel very strongly about this.”

Mayor de Blasio’s family members apparently feel very strongly about their personal choice to be vegetarians. Good for them. The issue is when someone’s personal preferences become public policy. The mayor explains in his speech that sometimes we need those philosopher-kings to guide the masses: “Sometimes it’s our elected officials who are the trailblazers and the visionaries.”

How about letting individuals and families make their own choices about what to eat? Should government officials really have the power to decide what you put into your own body?

There are, thankfully, ways around the Meatless Monday mandate. New York City parents can pack their own child’s meals, with meat if they choose. As I’ve written previously, these homemade lunches are a much healthier option for children than the USDA-issued variety. Parents can also opt-out of public schooling altogether, something more parents are doing in New York City and elsewhere to regain control over their children’s education.

Government Mandating Subjective Decisions

The Meatless Monday plan is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to government dictates on right and wrong, often using compulsory government schools to influence young people. Comprehensive sex education curriculum mandates in public schools continue to spark controversy, challenging various belief systems and family preferences. And the push to introduce “character education” into schools as a way to boost students’ moral compasses begs the question of whose moral compass will be used.

In a pluralistic society, state mandates on morality are inevitably contentious. A new report by Boston’s Pioneer Institute examines the growing impact of SEL, or the widespread emphasis on “social-emotional learning” in schools over academic content. Through various curricula and teaching methods, SEL initiatives can mold students’ perceptions of themselves and their world in a potentially narrow way.

Jane Robbins co-authored the study, called “Social Emotional Learning: K-12 Education as New-Age Nanny State.” She explains,

It’s one thing to direct your own moral, ethical, and emotional development or that of your children, but having a government vendor or unqualified public school officials implement an SEL curriculum based on coffee-table psychology is quite another.

Individuals and families should be the ones to determine their own values and moral worldviews, not government agents—often working through public schools—dictating good and bad.

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Irresponsibility Is the Youth-Killer

There’s this myth in our culture that youth is a blank check to be irresponsible. “Have fun and cut loose a little,” older folks tell us, not without a little envy.

But being young is not the opposite of being responsible. And to be carefree is not the same as to be irresponsible. In fact, irresponsibility is the youth-killer – the very reason that our older friends and family look and feel the part of the elderly before their time.

The 20 or 30 year-old who eats irresponsibly (“donuts! pizza!” etc.) becomes the overweight and chronically-ill 40 or 50-year old.

The 20 or 30 year-old who manages finances irresponsibly (“let’s go out for margaritas every night!” etc.) becomes the 40 or 50 year-old with no retirement plan and debt which will outlive them.

The 20 or 30-year old who fails to take responsibility in work (“I just want to have a high-status job,” etc. ) becomes the corporate drone, the underachiever, or the sycophantic overachiever at 40 or 50.

The 20 or 30-year old who dates irresponsibly (“I’m just looking for a good time!”) becomes the 40 or 50-year old with one or more divorces.

This should scare you very much.

Time goes quickly (as 20-somethings discover), and action inevitably seeks its consequences. If you would keep your youth, dump this idea that your youth gives you so much margin for error. You can make some mistakes, but you can’t afford to live destructive lifestyles day-in and day-out.

Run like hell from people who want you to squander your youth with them.

Youth is a gift your parents’ responsibility gives you at birth. It’s a gift you only get to keep if you choose the path of responsibility. That path of responsibility is the only thing which maintains the attributes of youth which we (rightly) love: good health, strength, freedom, curiosity of mind, beauty.

These things we value take great work and great care. And they can last for a tremendously long time. There are 70-somethings running long distances and 80-somethings skiing down mountains. And you can be one of them.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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