You get what you settle for.

Fuck Your Comfort Zone

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Yeah, I said it.

FUCK your comfort zone. It does not deserve to exist. Annihilate that mothereffer.

All throughout your life, it’s always been the one thing that stands between who you are, and who you want to become. Every time an opportunity has come up to step out into uncharted territory, to do something that would fulfill your soul, it’s been the invisible hand that squeezes the back of your neck and pulls you back at the very last moment.

The power it holds over us is immense. It can stop us from trying out for something we want. It can make us stand up against the wall at the party instead of shuffling in the middle of a giant circle of people. It can prevent us from telling that stranger in the coffee shop that we want to know their name, and what they’re like. Though it’s invisible, the power it has over us is undeniably real.

But here’s the great thing about having an invisible foe: It’s like the bad guy from The Matrix. He’s all in your head. He does not physically exist in reality. And once you understand that, you can learn how to destroy him.

It’s important to understand that when it comes to overcoming fears, you can choose to live your life in one of two ways:

Either you control them, or they control you.

No matter what fear it is, the willingness to stare it in the face and take action without batting an eye will create a major detour in your life. It will take you off-road; away from the dreaded little cookie-cutter-box-store life that others have tried to squeeze you into, and into the wild and rugged terrain that you’ve always yearned to explore. The rules of the universe begin to bend differently for you, and a radiant and silent power begins building up inside where there was once only a sickening overflow of timidness and regret.

The key: Take baby steps. Achieve small victories.

Make a list of everything that you’ve always wanted to do, but you’ve always let fear hold you back from doing. And one by one, starting with the smallest, do them.

Perhaps you’ve wanted to share your views about something edgy, but are terrified of posting it on the internet to be judged and chewed up by the entire world; who will gather outside of your house and yell on megaphones about how incompetent and worthless your opinions are. Your boss will read it and fire you, your significant other will dump you, and your family will give you up for adoption. You will be an ex-communicated wandering leper, scrounging alone through the deserts, looking for a cactus that hasn’t read your blog yet in order to ask it for a drink of water to survive another day.

Scary, isn’t it?

I remember doing my first creative writing several years ago, on a piece of paper that I kept in my wallet. I was terrified to show anyone. It was a mini-inspirational speech that I would read to myself whenever I felt like giving up in calculus III. One night in college, half-delirious from pulling an all-nighter with a friend, I felt comfortable enough to show it to him. And guess what happened?

HE MADE A COPY FOR HIMSELF, SO THAT HE COULD READ IT WHEN HE WANTED TO GIVE UP ON STUDYING TOO.

I was blown away. I showed a few other friends, and they all told me I should be an inspirational writer or speaker. At the time, I shrugged it off, thinking they were just being polite, and went back to studying the dull principles of civil engineering.

Back then, I never believed that one day I’d have the courage to say things online in front of millions of people that most wouldn’t even discuss with someone until they’ve dated for at least six months.

When I was a kid, I was very quiet and shy. I hated speaking on the phone, and would just give people one word answers. Hi. Good. No. Okay. Bye.

Breaking out of the shell is a process. If you’re scared to take even a small step, find an even smaller one. Post something anonymously, so that it’s not even like people are judging you. Practice your speech in front of two friends before you do it for 20.

Every time there’s something I know I probably should do, but I’m afraid of it, I push myself to do it. I still remember the first time I went up to a stage to ask a question at a conference in front of 300 people — it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. It was scarier than when I jumped out of an airplane. But when it was over, I felt like a different person. Another time, I got on stage at a club and danced in front of 1,000 people as part of a hot body contest. The whole time I thought:

Who the hell are you, and what have you done with the quiet little boy who used to live here?

The best part: After I did that, a friend of mine who was out of shape joined the competition — with six pack abs we drew on with a black sharpie marker. AND HE WON. And it was one of the funniest and greatest things ever.

After something like that, the fear knob gets turned down in every other part of life. You think to yourself: If I can jump out of an airplane at 10,000 feet, if I can dance in front of 1,000 people, if I can move thousands of miles away to a city where I don’t know anyone, after quitting my job without something else lined up — why on earth would I be afraid to write a measly blog post on the internet from behind a computer?

Tell me what scares you in the comments. And tell me what you’re going to do about it.

———————

For a sneak preview of my upcoming book, go here: 

It’s All My Fault: How I Messed Up the World, and Why I Need Your Help to Fix It

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And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.

A Writer’s Journey

Sometime between the years of 1984 through 2004: I become disenchanted with English class, declare it as my least favorite subject, decide that I hate writing, and lean towards math and science as often as possible.

2005: My first creative writing moment occurs as a spontaneous accident, as I write down some thoughts to try and motivate myself to not give up while studying for my calculus final.

2007: The year I decide I am going to write a book, and begin writing.

2008: The year I talk myself out of writing a book.

2011: The year I write several chapters of a separate short book, and leave it sitting unpublished in my email box, because I don’t think it is good enough.

2012: The year I start writing a book, then get sidetracked by the potential to create a tech startup.

2013: The year I crack 1.5M article views, and realize I should never have doubted myself.

April 9, 2014: The day I finish writing the book’s final sentence on page 215, and realize that I am officially an author.

June 4, 2014: The day I release my first book to the entire world.

Uniquely Genuine

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Deep down, the things we all really want most are love and acceptance. That’s it. Strangely, it’s practically universal. We want others to care about our existence. We want people to think: “Hey, they’re not so bad.”

To gain this love and acceptance, we all want to be unique. “After all,” we think, “if someone just like me can be found on any street corner, why would anyone care about who I really am?”

So we create a plan. A unique plan. 

"What can I do to stand out above the rest? What will make others think I’m the coolest?"

"Ah, I know. I’ll make a lot of money and be famous for something. That has to be it. If I show everyone that I can do something they can’t, they will respect me! If the paparazzi follow me around, it must mean that someone thinks my life is significant. Right?"

So, we get really excited about these goals. We start thinking about how we can achieve them. Inevitably, we enter situations where our dream goes up against someone else’s dream. After all, their “unique” plan also coincidentally calls for luxury and fame. We learn the art of stepping over people. Kissing ass. Politics. Manipulation. Getting what we want. We see others that have what we crave, and we become green with envy. We pick at their flaws and talk badly about them with others.

The desire to be superior to others is a losing game. Statistically, in a hypothetical world where 7 billion people strive to be the richest or most famous, 6,999,999,999 people would become cold-hearted, aggressive, rude, egotistical, jealous, phony, backstabbing, overly-competitive narcissists. Ironically, in this quest that began as an attempt to be unique and gain acceptance, each person ends up doing the exact same things as everyone else. And sadly, most of the dominant personality traits that get picked up along the way are repulsive, causing the opposite of love and acceptance. Rather than waking up and seeing reality for what it is, this causes everyone to fall deeper into the slumber. The lack of perceived personal recognition only causes everyone to compete even harder, causing the chaotic stampede to accelerate its pace. Negative thoughts grow into negative self-images, which perpetuate negative personal habits, negative relationships, negative families, negative music, negative news, negative business models, and a negative quality of life for the majority of the citizens of planet earth.

Stop.

Stepping over people to attempt to achieve some form of “success” and be cool can never create true love and acceptance. In fact, it’s the fastest way to be forgotten, because THAT’S WHAT NEARLY EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING. High school was supposed to last for four years, not four plus decades.

Damn it. So the plan didn’t work. I’ll never be as rich as Bill Gates. I’ll never be as famous as Michael Jordan.

Oh, there’s another person walking right next to me. I wasn’t really paying attention. I was too busy in my own head thinking about what a failure my entire life has been. Hmm. They look really stressed out.. 

Maybe… no. 

No way. 

It couldn’t be. 

Is it possible… that their mind is cycling through the same bullshit mine is?

"Hey."

"Um, hey. Do I know you?"

"Nope. Not that I know of."

"Well, what’s up?"

"You look really tense. I’ve been stuck in my head all day in a thought loop about all of the things I don’t have, all the dreams that never worked out the way I wanted them to, about how much further I thought I’d be at this point in my life than I am. About the things I hate about my job. About frivolous things I have to remember to do to keep up this lifestyle that I don’t really enjoy all that much. I’m just really tired of it all. I’m tired of putting up a front and pretending like things are great when I feel like a failure inside. When I saw the look of distress on your face, I was wondering if, by some strange chance, you were thinking about something similar."

"Wow. That was amazing! Are you a psychic or something?"

"Not really. I just snapped out of my thoughts for a brief second and noticed that you looked a little stressed right now. And so am I. So I wanted to share those thoughts and let you know that you’re not alone. And that hopefully tomorrow will be an amazing day for you."

"I don’t know what to say. I definitely needed this. Thank you."

"You’re welcome."

"Hey, let’s hang out sometime. You know. Do something fun. Something where we can just enjoy life and forget about all of these pressures we put on ourselves to be perfect societal specimens."

"Absolutely. That sounds great."

"You know, in the entire time I’ve lived in this city, I’ve noticed that there are a plethora of self aggrandizing big shots, people with fancy titles, flashy items, and overly refined physiques on every corner. This is the first time I’ve met someone genuine, kind, and empathetic. You have no idea how rare that is. I hope you never lose that. More people should be like you."

———————

For a sneak preview of my upcoming book, go here: 

It’s All My Fault: How I Messed Up the World, and Why I Need Your Help to Fix It

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Let go or be dragged.

Do You Really Want To Know What Others Think Of You? Here’s How To Find Out.

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At a personal development retreat I organized several years ago, I created an exercise called “How does the rest of the world perceive you?” that became a big hit.

Here’s how it works:

Some friends and I were camped out in the middle of the wilderness for several days, which I believe is the optimal environment for something like this. Since it was my idea, I chose to be the guinea pig and go first. I walked a few hundred yards away from the group (far away enough to be able to hear yelling, but not able to hear any talking), while they discussed my strengths, my weaknesses, and areas for improvement as a human being. 

There was no time limit. The idea was to create a list comprehensive enough to cover everything, and pull no punches. I was to stay put until they yelled out for me to come back. Needless to say, those 20 minutes or so were as nerve wracking as any I can remember.

One person was in charge of reading the list they created. I cringed the whole time, scared shitless every time they would get to the next item. 

And then, it was over. “That was it?” I thought. That wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined it was going to be. There were two very important areas of focus they told me I needed to improve upon:

1. Not everything in life is so black and white; life is messy, and there can a lot of grey area in between in complex situations. Be willing to see things differently.

2. It’s okay to be open and vulnerable; you don’t always need to portray strength and a sense that you have everything under control.

These were spot on, and becoming aware of these blind spots definitely helped me become a better person.

Each person had their turn to walk away from the group, and then come back to face the uncomfortable truths that everyone knew about but themselves. I believe this was such an important part of it, because in this way, it became acceptable for each person to hear the things they needed to hear without feeling defensive, or as if everyone was ganging up on them, because we were all in it together.

We all have certain flaws; and often times, there are some things we do that bother other people that everyone knows about except us. The only clue we ever get is that people disappear from our lives without warning, and the pattern repeats with every new person we meet, until we become aware of what our blind spots are. I highly recommend rounding up a bunch of friends in order to try something like this. It will pay dividends for the rest of your life.

———————

For a sneak preview of my upcoming book, go here: 

It’s All My Fault: How I Messed Up the World, and Why I Need Your Help to Fix It

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Why Everyone Should Try Meditation

To understand meditation in a nutshell, go get a camera and take two pictures of the same thing.

For the first, hold your camera as still as possible, and take a picture.

For the second, shake your camera back and forth as fast as you can while you snap the photo.

The difference between the clarity in the two pictures is the difference in the clarity of a life with and without meditation.

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If you’ve ever dreamt of becoming superhuman as a child, practicing meditation is probably the closest thing possible to experiencing it as an adult. Developing a regular practice leads to the creation of a virtual bulletproof vest for our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Meditation means different things to different people. There are dozens of types, styles, and schools of thought surrounding it; including Samadhi, Vipassana, and Zazen. My intention for this post is not to compare the pros and cons of the different practices. What I’d like to do is give you a glimpse into what benefits can arise as a result of any method you choose.

One of the most important functions that has evolved for human survival is the ability to adapt and adjust to our surroundings. The brain and body are dealing with an unbelievable amount of stimuli in every single moment of life, and focusing on all of them at once would be impossible. So, the mind tends to shift as many familiarities as possible to the proverbial unconscious back burner. For example, you probably weren’t paying attention to the feel of your shirt on your torso until you read this sentence. Now that I’ve mentioned it, I’ve brought it back into your conscious thoughts, and you do notice it. Somewhere in the next few paragraphs, your mind will place it on the back burner again to be able to focus on understanding this article. Pretty fascinating, no?

Our minds do this to us constantly. We forget about the things and patterns that seem to be the most consistent, in order to focus on something new and unknown. Have you ever been extremely excited by the purchase of a brand new car, only to lose all appreciation for it several days or weeks later? This is the mind at play. This is also one of the many reasons why I don’t ever plan to buy an expensive car. It’s basic human psychology.

No matter what conditions we are thrown into, they eventually become commonplace with time. Our minds have the tendency to take the good things for granted, and focus solely on what we don’t have. To make things even worse, we eventually get used to all of the things we try to use to fill the void. This causes us to desire an even stronger dose. Left unattended, the mind can become a built-in misery creation device; or our own worst enemy. The good news: it can be befriended and tamed with the right amount of discipline.

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For the purpose of simplification, I will describe a very basic type of meditation.

1. Sitting in a comfortable position, breathe in until your stomach and lungs are so far out that you don’t think any more air can fit inside your body. 

2. Then breathe in a little more.

3. Hold this in for a few moments. Exhale slowly.

4. Enjoy a brief pause before inhaling again. 

5. Close your eyes, and repeat this process again 5-10+ times. Don’t worry about keeping count, the number of breaths is unimportant. This will only serve to distract you from the true purpose of the meditation. Focus only on the breath, as if it were the only thing that existed in the universe.

Go ahead and do it now.

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Stop reading and do it! No cheating! :)

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How do you feel now?

Research has shown that deep breathing practices have tremendous benefits for stress reduction, self esteem, and overall health. It increases concentration and memory. If you are a public speaker, you will be more natural and calm in front of crowds. If you play basketball, your shooting percentage will go up. If you write or invent things, meditation is like steroids. It’s almost an unfair advantage.

This is just the beginning.

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When meditating for longer periods of time (say 30-120+ minutes), that’s when truly amazing things begin to happen. In the deep silence, time slows to a halt. It can be seen for what it really is: a man-made invention that we all agree to use to simplify things, but something that doesn’t truly exist in nature. We begin to realize that our constant obedience to the concept of “time” has caused us to rush around through life, without ever taking breaks to be introspective. We end up overlooking important insights like these all of the time. Wisdom arises so much more easily; solutions to recurring problems become so clear that we wonder how we had never seen them before. 

Without the constant judgment and influence of those outside, we are able to reconnect with our very own deepest truths. We remember what it should feel like deep down to live the way we were meant to live, to treat others the way they were meant to be treated. We look ourselves directly in the mirror, see where we are lying to ourselves, and rediscover what we know is right. We regain access to the inner compass that we have been too busy to look at, causing us to veer way off course. We reflect on the decisions and actions we’ve made. We become happy about the ways we’ve grown, and remorseful about the times we’ve stooped below the level of human decency and empathy we know we should be living with every day. 

We unlock the capacity for healing deep scars, and moving forward with life. We experience compassion for others like we’ve never been able to before. A group of loud kids transforms from “a headache” into a group of young human beings playing and creating newfound joy together. A barking dog changes from being a nuisance to a great friend who wants someone to pet her, feed her, or take her for a walk. A homeless person on the street is no longer a worthless beggar, but a person who has faced extreme hardship, and needs care and guidance to find their way back to where they belong. A person ceases to work with the intent of extracting money from people, but instead to gain the satisfaction of knowing that the results of their creative process are truly bringing joy to others’ lives and reconnecting us with our lost humanity.

Meditation creates a greater capacity for empathy. It allows one to become a better friend, a better relationship partner, and a better person overall. It gives a person a silent radiance that draws others in; because we can all sense when someone is connected to something greater than themselves, and know that we could be doing the same.

For a sneak preview of my upcoming book, go here: 

It’s All My Fault: How I Messed Up the World, and Why I Need Your Help to Fix It

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