If You Want Clear Thinking, Get Money Involved

I talk to so many young people who cannot think clearly about life decisions.

Most of the time, it’s because they have too little money involved.

I don’t really want to go to college, but maybe I have to?

I’m not sure if I should take this job because it might not be my passion?

Do I really want to move to a new city?

Those questions get a lot clearer when mom and dad aren’t paying tuition, paying for your car and cell phone, or providing a rent-free living space.

College is the easiest and most extreme example. Ask a young person who’s tepid on the idea of attending and they’ll torture themselves trying to work through the pros and cons. Then say, “It will cost you $50,000. You’ve got to come up with that on your own.” All of the sudden, it looks like a ridiculously stupid deal. Because it is.

College savings accounts from mom and dad blind young people to the truth of their situation. Something everyone else says is important, and it’s “free”, becomes too hard to turn down, even though you know it’s not going to move you closer to your goals.

The more skin in the game young people have the sooner, the better they’ll get at self-knowledge, analysis, risk-taking, and decision making.

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Make Something Crappy Today

Steve Jobs said make a dent in the universe.

Lots of people say follow your passion, make a difference, do big things.

I agree with them. But what does that mean I should do today? If my lifelong goal is to do stuff so big it changes the course of history, how do I make progress towards it today?

Lofty goals can make immediate action harder. Whatever you can do today will look like garbage compared to that lofty goal. I like to keep the lofty one in mind, repeat it every so often, write it down somewhere, and then file it away and focus on today.

One of my lofty goals is to make the world a freer place. How’s that supposed to guide daily action? Some days I begin by writing down the phrase, “Today I will live free.” That’s it. Just try to live as free as I can today.

I want to build amazing things too. Another lofty goal. But anything I’m capable of making today is going to fall short. So instead, I command myself to make something crappy today.

Of course it doesn’t have to be half-assed. Hopefully it’s at least sort of good. But the point is, making anything at all is better than dreaming about the perfect thing.

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A Simple Mindful Method to Deal with Tiredness, Loneliness & Stress

“I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment. That joy is in everyone, always.” ~Byron Katie

A loved one has been going through a hard time, dealing with tiredness, stress, and loneliness, and my heart goes out to them as it does anyone going through such struggles.

They can break your heart, these difficult emotions.

But beyond compassion, what I tried to help her with is a fairly simple method for dealing with these difficulties mindfully. I offer it to you all as well, as something to practice and test out.

Here’s the method, to practice if you’re feeling stress, frustration, loneliness, sadness, tiredness:

  1. Notice that you’re feeling this difficult emotion, and notice how it feels in your body. Bring a sense of curiosity to the sensations, just being present with them for a moment.
  2. Notice what thoughts you have in your head that are causing the emotion. For example, you might be thinking, “They shouldn’t treat me like that” or “Why does my job have to be so hard?” or “These people are stressing me out! Things should be more settled and orderly.” Or something like that. Just notice whatever thoughts you have. Maybe write them down.
  3. Notice that the thoughts are causing your difficulty. Not the situation — the thoughts. You might not believe that at first, but see if you can investigate whether that’s true.
  4. Ask yourself, “What would it be like if I didn’t have these thoughts right now? What would my experience be right now?” The simple answer is that you’re just having an experience — you have feelings in your body, but you also are experiencing a moment that has light, colors, sound, touch sensation on your skin, and so on. It’s just an experience, a moment in time, not good or bad.
  5. In fact, while this experience is neither good nor bad, you can start to appreciate it for what it is, without the thoughts. Just seeing it as a fresh experience, maybe even appreciating the beauty of the moment. Maybe even loving the moment just as it is.

Obviously some of these might take some practice. But it’s worth it, because while you might not be able to get rid of tiredness (some rest would help there), you can let go of the thoughts about the tiredness that are causing you to be unhappy. You might not be able to get rid of the loneliness, but you can let go of the downward spiral of thoughts and emotions that make the situation worse.

And just maybe, you can find some incredible love for your experience in this moment. Yes, you feel tired, but you can love the tiredness, and everything else in this moment, without needing anything to change.

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The Missing Planks

Prominent presidential candidates are advancing proposals that frankly horrify me.  Should we dismember big tech firms?  Or just give every American adult $1000 a month?  Rather than critique these awful ideas, I’d rather ponder the Dog that Did Not Bark – moderate, common-sense proposals that no major candidate is likely to advocate.  Just a few that have been on my mind lately…

1. Stop REAL ID before it inconveniences tens of millions of American travelers.  Also, order the TSA to stop asking to see your boarding pass twice just to board a plane.

2. Let students fulfill their foreign language requirement with a computer language.  For both high school graduation and public college admission.

3. Charge higher interest rates on student loans for borrowers who are unlikely to successfully finish their degree.  And tell the borrowers why you’re doing this!

4. When someone applies for a building permit, don’t say Yes or No.  Name a price – and make it public.

5. The same goes for health and safety regulation.  Don’t tell firms how to avoid harm.  Charge them for the harms they cause.  If the downside risk is catastrophic, make them buy insurance or post a bond.

6. While we’re at it, why not sell foreigners portable work visas, with an upcharge for dependents?

7. Electronic road pricing!

8. Means-test Social Security and Medicare.

9. Identify the clearest annual waste of $100B in the federal budget.  Advocate the immediate abolition of this waste, with all savings going toward deficit reduction, not new programs.

10. Loudly and graciously thank taxpayers for their service.

Yes, I know that some of these proposals aren’t even in the hands of the federal government, but the same applies to a great deal of what presidential candidates say.  And on reflection, it’s hardly crazy for candidates to make such proposals.  The bully pulpit aside, they can use federal funding to reward state and local governments that move in welcome directions.

So why are all of these planks likely to remain political orphans?  Half are doomed by demagoguery, and the rest by apathy.  Most people hate ideas like #5, #7, and #8; and if they don’t feel the hate spontaneously, any halfway skilled politician can readily kindle it.  In stark contrast, #1 and #2 are probably already popular.  But they fail to inspire passion, so they’re stillborn.

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Hills Worth Dying On

When I was young, every hill seemed worth dying on. Each step in life there are fewer.

I’ve found that the smaller the number of things I think worth fighting for to the death, the happier I am. This isn’t because I’m less resolved or passionate about my life and goals. It’s the opposite.

When you’re ready to go to battle over every single idea or opinion, you’re in a constant quagmire of squabbles and stalemates. It’s hard to be powerful and impossible to be peaceful.

When you aren’t willing to die on most hills, you get to keep your powder dry for the handful of things that matter to the point of defining you. Those things aren’t to be trifled with. You’re able to abide like The Dude through most of life, and strike like lightning when it matters.

I try to ask myself all the time, “Is this a hill worth dying on?” If the answer is no, I try hard to resist the temptation to get embroiled.

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Vast Mind: 3 Ways to Open Beyond the Self-Concern of Our Small Mind

Most of the time, we are caught up in what can be called “small mind”: the small world of self-concern, of wanting to get what we want and avoid what we don’t want.

This is the cause of our suffering — always running to distraction, procrastinating, caught up in worries and fears, worried about what people think of us, what we’re missing, what someone did to offend us, and so on.

It’s a small world we get trapped in, this worrying about ourselves all the time. And it leads to stress, anger, hurt, worry, fear, anxiety and distraction.

The antidote is Vast Mind — growing bigger than the small mind we have habitually become stuck in.

What is Vast Mind? It’s opening to something bigger than our self-concern, opening to the freshness of the moment.

Let’s imagine that there’s someone whose family member has said something insulting to them. They immediately get caught up in small mind, thinking about how they don’t deserve to be treated this way, that they’re a good person and that this person is always being inconsiderate. They are worried about themselves, and their world is very small and constricted.

What if instead, this person dropped their self-concern, and opened their awareness to something wider than themselves? The experienced the moment as pure experience, and suddenly everything is open and vast. They relax into this openness. They might notice that this other person, whom they love, is suffering in some way. They send this person compassion, and feel love for the person and this moment.

That’s the difference between small, constricted mind that’s full of suffering, and vast mind that’s open, fresh, unbounded, and full of love.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Here are three practices for growing from small mind to vast mind.

Practice 1: Ego-Dropping Meditation

A great place to start is by sitting in meditation and opening your awareness and dropping the boundaries between you and everything else. Here’s a meditation I’ve created for practicing this.

The idea is that we practice dropping into a relaxed, open awareness, and then start to relax any boundaries we have between ourselves and all that surrounds us. We drop the construct we’ve created that we call ourselves, and then there’ just sensation, just pure experience.

It’s a returning to wholeness. It’s a wonderful practice.

Practice 2: Radical Not-Knowing

Most of the time, we act as if we know exactly how things are. We don’t pay too much attention to this moment, because it’s boring to pay attention to the breath, body sensations, the sensations of everything around us, because we already know all about that!

But in fact, every moment is completely fresh, completely open, full of new possibilities to explore.

When we get stuck in small mind, we are in a narrow, constricted view of the world. And it’s a hardened view — I know what I want and I just want to get it. I know what I don’t like and I want to avoid it. It’s the hardened view of fundamentalism.

The practice of radical not-knowing is to act as if you’ve never experienced this before. Everything is completely new to you, with no preconceptions or labels.

You look around at everything as if you’ve never seen anything like this. It’s fresh, wondrous, breathtaking. There are no names for anything, just the pure experience.

Try walking around like that for a few minutes, and see what it’s like. Be open and curious.

What happens is that we become much more open to the vastness of experience. There is no, “I want this” or “I don’t want that.” It’s just, “This is the experience I’m having right now.”

This is pure boundless awareness, and it is vast.

Practice 3: Opening to Devotion to Others

When I notice that I’ve gotten caught up in my small mind, I try to think of people other than myself.

This person is being inconsiderate because they’re suffering.

The people who I love are more important than my discomfort.

The love I have for my family is so much bigger than my small wants.

Opening myself up to the love I have for others gets me past my small mind, and into an openness. What would it be like to be completely devoted to other people? It’s a fresh experience, boundless and vast.

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