Reframing Envy


Monday, I shared some ideas about searching for the underlying need.

Most of us spin our wheels for YEARS before we wise up, usually after a major crisis, and decide to drop the external BS that rules our lives. A divorce 20 years ago nudged me in a better direction.

Still… my time in finance always left me desiring more – more money, more stuff, more financial success. When I slid over to athletics, those feelings followed me – more victories, more performance, more speed.


Under a constant barrage of “more” – both external and internal – How does one cope with the realties of a more modest existence?


I once got to fly on a private jet, it was wonderful. My host single handedly changed my opinion of the UltraRich => such a great guy.

My advice to “live where you don’t need to leave” is a coping strategy to free myself from a desire to live like Mick Jagger.

Put another way, I looked deeply into a well adjusted billionaire’s life and saw… there is no “more” to be had. Once I sorted my cash flow, I could access the best parts of his life for a fraction of the cost.

COVID drove this lesson home. Live your best life, with your family, under one roof. 11 months and counting!


The last few years, we’ve spent a lot of time in Vail. In a ski town, most everybody likes to know what you do, and where you live.

So Gordo, what else do you do beside ski?

Weights, Paul. If you want to rip the bumps then you gotta hit the weights.

My wife got a huge chuckle with that reply. The possibility of another layer to that question didn’t brush my consciousness.

Coping by redefining the game.


Spending a lot of time in the mountains, brings back the urge to own multiple properties.

When cycling was a central part of my life, I owned property in Arizona. It was my way to hang onto my pre-kids life of switching hemispheres in an endless summer.

Can you see what I was doing? Buying an asset to hold onto an illusion.

The illusion that my life would be better with more assets never leaves. The dream persists alongside the knowledge that the assets will lie idle, cost money and generate admin.


In my first career in finance, our firm had access to money. Lots of money!

When you have access to money people want to be your friend. A favorite quote from my well adjusted buddy with the jet…

I’ve got enough friends.

Related, “When is five “likes” better than five thousand?”

When you deeply understand the nature of external approval. Both what it does to you, and who is doing the approving.


The bold words are reminders to avoid the false gods of financial wealth. Specifically, to be wary of the temptation to follow my greedy impulses for no true benefit.

Get the cash burn down, address the underlying need and let envy float away.

Family Financial Review: Risk, Worry, Ruin


I ended Wednesday by asking, Am I worried about the right things?

It’s easy to get distracted by the noise surrounding our lives.

Do you know your key risks?

It varies between people and over time => focus on habits that might lead to ruin (leverage, lack of impulse control, smoking, substance abuse…).

See also my review from 2019.

Set your financial life up so it runs on autopilot.

Did you read the PDF from yesterday? Good reminders at any age, as well as an embedded reading list.

Things I focus on more than my portfolio…

  • Near-term: keeping up with my teenagers – what is it going to take to share the outdoors with my family when I’m 60?
  • Medium-term: personal engagement when my kids are gone – what will I do with more time, and less energy?
  • Health: poor choices increasing my risk for cancer and other health issues
  • End of Life: my body outlives my brain

My actions today reflect awareness of the real risks in my life.

My portfolio? Good enough is good enough. Avoid unforced errors and keep on keeping on.

Don’t assume these answers.

Do the calculations from Wednesday, reflect on your life, write it down, review annually…

Then get out there and enjoy 2021.

Remember Kindness


A couple weeks ago, I shared that Andy was “everywhere.”

No place is this more true than my home.

My new reality took a little getting used to.

At first, I resented the intrusion. My resentment struck my rational mind as somewhat strange.

Uncharitable feelings, but real.

So I dug a little deeper.

  • Worry. I couldn’t heal my wife.
  • Worry. Andy’s ghost might take my wife away.
  • A general, get-out-of-my-house sentiment.
  • A desire to use avoidance as a coping strategy.

Lots of not terribly useful thoughts.

So I decided to re-frame.

I asked myself:

  • What did Andy do far, far better than me?
  • Why was Andy loved so deeply by our community?

Kindness.

When I think about him, I’m reminded of kindness.

Kindness at a standard that seems far out of my reach.

So I’ve made him a buddha, of sorts.

…and when he’s popping up in my life, I know he’s reminding me to remember kindness.

Searching For My Inner Viking


Placing myself under quasi-house arrest after Andy died proved to be a disaster for my mood management. I find myself short-tempered with frequent unforced errors with my kids.

When it comes to darkness — both inner and outer — my Nordic pals embrace their annual trip to the Dark Side.

Historically, the challenges of the Winter Equinox have proven useful. Somewhere across the winter, I get so pissed off with my funk that I resolve to get-something-done. I’ve written books, started companies and thrown down outstanding base training.

This year, with schools closed, a recurring feeling is “leave me alone and let me do my time”.

  • <100 days away from having our teachers vaccinated
  • <20 weekly house cleanings
  • <5 months before I’m vaccinated

Grinding, the summit slog

There’s a desire to push everything away, seek silence and grind.

When I get pissed off, I think about my Nordic friends. At their best, they laugh at the Dark Side and let the energy build for their return in the Spring. I’ve been trying to follow their example.



Last week, my wife was going through the roughest patch I’d seen since she successfully managed some postpartum depression in 2012, I made a sign…

Don’t Control => Feelings

Do Control => Actions

She bounced back by lunchtime.

I’ll repeat from a few weeks ago. Resiliency is a resolve to carry on, despite how we are feeling.


My son was shocked by the reality of winter hiking, but he stuck with it, to the summit.

The two most resilient people I know are the two kindest.

Rather than seeking to understand the connection between kindness and strength, I’ve started following their lead.

The pictures are from a hike we did on Saturday. My son ticked the box on his goal of a Winter 14er, before winter officially started. If I’m honest then I didn’t enjoy the experience at the time. That said, I’m very happy looking at the pictures, and even happier that I can share them with you.

I couldn’t control my hike feelings (oh so tired), but I overcame my feelings, got out of the house and my son was happy.

Another positive step => Our oldest is an online education master. I let her know it, in front of the rest of the family.

Step by step => controlling my actions, having faith in a better tomorrow.

Sharing positive vibes, patting myself on the back when I carry on (despite my feelings)… those are lessons from my wife and son.

Telling the world about the challenges I face and living an open life, that’s a technique that dates back to the 90s.

I feel better already.


I’m smiling now, probably wasn’t when this picture was taken!

An Education In Crazy

Due to normal teen-anxiety, some of my daughters friends are at the early stages of self-harm.

There’s nothing unusual here, these patterns have been in my family since before I was born.

To help my daughter understand, and navigate, irrational choices, I’ve been introducing her to the neurotic athlete archetype.

Allow me to introduce…

Neurotic means you’re afflicted by neurosis, a word that has been in use since the 1700s to describe mental, emotional, or physical reactions that are drastic and irrational. At its root, a neurotic behavior is an automatic, unconscious effort to manage deep anxiety.

The entire Web-MD entry might sound familiar – it applies to 90% of the champion athletes I know. A constant quest for high performance can be an effective management technique for anxiety, that never quite clears.

Normally, I exit deeply-neurotic people from my life. I do this because I have my hands full dealing with myself!

As an athlete, you need to watch out for three traits: (a) a willingness to hurt one’s self; (b) the desire to chronically under-feed yourself; and (c) an addiction to stress hormones (hooked on breakdown).

If you find yourself in a training group, or alongside a coach, who embraces self-harm for “performance” (or as a path towards his own sexual gratification) then you need to exit ASAP. As a young woman, my wife found herself in that position. It took a shattered wrist for her to listen to an inner voice that was telling her “this situation is not good for you.”

This situation is not good for me.

If you hear that voice then get out.

Get out.


Watch for “development” squads led by sketchy men. Their mode of operation is breaking down healthy people and they need a steady supply of young, healthy athletes to fund their operation.

Sports that embrace the “breakdown” of girls are constantly in the news for long-term sexual abuse of multiple athletes. Steer clear! You can not fix a sport where breakdown is a design feature.

These groups are very dangerous when run by a sexual predator. The leader will seek to isolate anxious, young and inexperienced athletes. For many of these young people, it will be their first time away from home and the leader will be the first authority figure who expresses confidence in them.

You don’t want that type of man to be the first person to believe in your daughters.

I tell my most anxious daughter, frequently, she is a star.

I do this in word, in writing and by reflecting her own good choices back to her.

My message…

You have the capacity for good judgement.

You know what’s good for you.


If you’re dealing with anxiety in yourself, to the point of driving the good out of your life, then get professional help. Get professional help, break the cycle of spin.

Feelings of anxiety are a universal part of human experience. These feelings are useful when successfully managed. A good chunk of my writing is about this topic. I don’t point it out because nobody likes hearing they are are headcase!

Here’s what works for me, the topics link back to the Web-MD article.

If your life is a shambles then I’m willing to bet you’ve inverted much of this advice.

I know I can make myself both irrational and miserable by doing the opposite of what follows:

Self => if you want to teach this to others then sort yourself first. The best education my kids receive is watching me manage myself.

Routine, routine, routine => change slowly, change later => if you are a parent to a highly anxious child (or a neurotic spouse) then do not call a lot of audibles!

Be Open, Connect, Do Not Self-Isolate => anxiety builds when not discussed, make time to let mentally healthy, objective people influence you. On the flip side, secrets are a huge part of the lives of the neurotic. You will not learn that everyone is feeling the same way if you keep everything to yourself.

Exercise every morning => it just seems to work => if you have a neurotic child then set a minimum for them and stick with it. I’m way over the minimum, but I’m a fairly extreme case.

Sleep => the time you get to sleep is just another thing to obsess about. Forget about it. Focus on waking up at the same time, every single day. Same deal for your kids.

If you’re wrecked then you can have a 20-minute nap before noon – that’s all you get. OK to go to bed early but wake up at the same time!

Stop doing too much and making yourself exhausted => wean yourself from chronic fatigue.

Nutrition => know your binge triggers, know the foods (usually highly-processed carbs and refined sugar) that screw up your neurochemistry.

Abstinence does not work for sex education – abstinence also doesn’t work for anyone’s nutrition.

Focus your attention on portion control of triggering foods, boosting the quality of your intake, making veggies easy to eat and getting the timing right on sugar/carbs.

For example, if I eat 3-6 squares of chocolate before a bike ride then I’m far less likely to eat an entire bag of Halloween candy before bed.

Positive Male Attention => call it “essential masculinity” => Fathers, if your kids (and spouse) don’t get it from you then they might get it from some creep.

In yourself, seek approval from individuals who bring out your best, rather than feed your intrinsic rage.


Best tip for the end.

These feelings will be with you for a long while. Make friends with them, they are a very useful aspect of your personality profile.

The most effective management technique is to replace your “worst” triggers with a habit of making better choices.

Transcendence comes but it takes years of persistent work.

Replacement works.

Don’t mess with a streak => be willing to say no (nicely, don’t freak out) to well-meaning people who tempt you away from a life structure that works.


Finally, teach your anxious kids, they are at a very high-risk for getting hooked on socially-acceptable depressants.

There’s a big chunk of our society self-medicating, most days, with wine, sleeping pills or marijuana. Athletes tend to replace the drugs with fatigue, to the point of breakdown.

It works, but only at a superficial level.

I encourage you to look deeper…

When I looked deeply into my own strategies, I realized that being sensible was no worse than being medicated/exhausted.

Being medicated is more pleasurable, I don’t dispute that reality.

Being exhausted also has a form of pleasure associated with it, the pleasure of being able to fall into a deep sleep, for example.

However, being sensible is far more useful, particularly to manage anxiety, get stuff done and avoid the risk of ruin from negative addictions.

If you’re an athlete, who is “hooked on hard”, then making better choices can feed directly into your deep desire to challenge yourself. It’s not easy for me to avoid becoming a headcase! 😉

Choose wisely.


I sincerely hope this helps someone. Winter is a really tough time for the anxious, even more so due to COVID isolation.

As I told my wife this week…

Hey! Pay attention. This is a topic I know well.

Sabotage

Burning off energy in the basement

My son loves to play the superpower game => we each get to choose one power.

As you can guess from the picture above, he’s a fan of super-strength.

I usually go for super-vision. I’m at the point where I need reading glasses and I miss the freedom of great vision.

When I think about improvement, it’s usually in the same mode as my son => Positive Action.

Gain a superpower.

My actual superpower isn’t vision, it’s persistence. Small actions, over long periods of time. For things I care about, it makes me very tough to beat.

However, there’s another way to approach it.

Pay attention to habits of self-sabotage and remove them. This one is a lot tougher because there is usually an unconscious payoff feeding our habits of self-sabotage.


Yesterday’s post about strong emotions was inspired by a moment from the middle of the toughest 24-hour block of last week.

I got so worked up that my best course of action was to stop talking and trust in a better tomorrow. I also reminded myself:

I promise to never knowingly hurt you.

Those seven words were my Friday night mantra and I fell asleep with the phrase silently going through my head.

Winning, even if it felt awful.

Sure enough, 48 hours along, I was feeling much better and there was no “clean up” required from blowing my stack.

Each time I don’t react, my habit of non-action strengthens.


So, if I could give my younger-self a superpower, it would be the ability to not-act, particularly when worked up.

It’s something I both learned from, and seek to pass to, my kids.

I learned non-action when my kids were preschoolers. Dealing with a three-year old requires the ability to constantly look past the moment, towards my ultimate goal (nap time). 🙂

A three-year old is similar to my negative emotions => both struggle to see past the moment.

As the kids grow up, I try to teach them non-action so they can get along better and I’m less stressed living in my own house. From yesterday, when one kids was (correctly) pointing out that the other was WRONG!

Sometimes it’s better to not-disagree so you can get through the moment, back to having fun with each other.

Let it go, let it go.

Tactical silence in situations where the relationship is more important than the issue of the moment.

If someone close to me is truly wrong then the world will do a good job at pointing that out to them => especially if they are heading towards their teen years, or have a lot of “detail-oriented” friends.

Sometimes the best course of action is non-action.

Start small, set a lot bar, practice daily.

Processing Strong Emotions

All the Christmas stuff has been dug out of storage.

Thanksgiving Week was most definitely an up and down experience for me. During the downs, I learned something very useful that I’d like to pass along.

Friday night I was driving my daughter to swimming and she was falling apart – lots of tears, on the verge of hysteria, babbling about some issue (that most definitely wasn’t THE issue).

I didn’t know what to do so I listened until she paused on her own accord.

At that point, I asked… “Tell me a favorite memory of you and me.”

At first that really rattled her – her mind went straight to remembering me when I’m gone. I reassured her with “I’m right here, Sweetie. I just want one example of a nice memory of you and me.”

She said skiing and thought about it a bit more… then she said “driving me to swimming,” which was exactly what we were doing right then.

Now, that was very interesting.

You see, my view of the world is through my own experience. If I was crying on the verge of hysteria, I would be in a very different place than my daughter.

In her own way, she was sharing that it’s possible for her to be both falling apart, and happy, at the same time.

She didn’t perk up on the drive but she did settle enough to get herself into the pool. After swimming, she was as happy as I ever see her. Radiant – I made a mental note.

Kids have a wonderful ability to leave stuff behind.


I’m sharing the story so we remember there are different ways to process strong emotions.

Sometimes there is something “there” with a big emotional response – other times, like with my daughter, she was moving through a situation, in her own way, and didn’t need anything other than someone to bear witness.

Particularly with my kids, I have a desire to cure their pain.

A useful option is to ride it out together.

Bearing witness with quiet presence.

Fill In Your Blank


I’ve been handling my daughter’s swim transport since Andy died.

Being a Swim Dad turned out to be much less of an issue than I expected. I get to chat with my kids and read books.

While my daughter is swimming, I sit in a quiet car, put my phone in airplane mode and embrace the silence.

These are valuable moments.


Last week, between drop off and pick up, I was chilling in a Safeway parking lot.

I was reading the last book in Cixin Liu’s SciFi trilogy, The Three Body Problem was my favorite. Anyhow, I looked up and saw a guy heading back to his car with some beer.

The scene reminded me of something I want to share with you.

There was a period of time where I thought drinking most every night was helping me cope with reality. There was even a bit of fear that I might not be able to handle my reality.

We all have ways of avoiding reality. Thing is, the truth doesn’t care about my feelings.


The holidays can be a challenging time. Shortened days, cold/wet weather, increased interpersonal stress, reminders of childhood emotional injuries…

…throw in a strong dose of COVID-stress and you might find your bad habits knocking on the door of your consciousness.

For example:

1/. When KP died, anger made a strong return in my life. Fortunately, I have enough weightlifting to disperse the feelings that can manifest as anger. So long as I lift, and don’t hold my breath under stress, I’m good.

2/. Following Andy’s death, I’ve been having a desire to drink a beer. Actually, the feeling is a bit stronger than that. Allow me to describe… I would like to take all the alcohol in the world and pour it into a tiny black hole that’s located just above my heart.

It’s a strange sensation to say the least!

How do I deal with something like that? First up, I pay attention to what I’m feeling.

Am I sure? Is that really what I am feeling?

While I’m trying to figure out what’s really going on, I breathe. Breathing into an emotional hole helps, a lot. Laughter helps. Hugs help. Moderate exercise helps.

I know what works and I make time to do it, daily.

Then I start to look deeper, a friend once summed up his escape habit as follows…

When I used to feel like this, I would just XXXXX until I didn’t care anymore.

I’m not going to share my buddy’s “blank.”

Do you know your own blank?

Looking at the guy walking out of Safeway I laughed with a visual image of asking him if it would be OK if I borrowed his case of beer for a while.

I was also laughing because I’ve learned that I have the ability to choose how I fill in my blank.

  • wait, meditate, breathe, pray
  • exercise, persist, assist, clean
  • drink, use, rage, eat, smoke, yell, cry

My feelings come and go. I try not to get wrapped up in whether they are right or wrong. It’s better that way, I generate a lot of bad ideas.

Where I focus is reminding myself that I am free to decide how I’m going to fill my blank.

I also remember there were very good reasons to leave my poor choices behind.

They didn’t work!

Looking Forward

When I wrote Regime Change four years ago, I completed missed how The Trump Administration would tempt me to give into my worst impulses.

I nailed the “rich will feel richer” part but whiffed on the vibe.

Trump’s policies remain popular. I think he blew his re-election. Of course, I thought he blew it in 2016. Life is full of surprises.

Anyhow, time to move on to something more useful.


Everywhere I have lived has a slice of the population that is Permanently P’d Off (PPO).

The slice of the PPO in the US seems to be greater than other places I have lived (Canada, NZ, HK, UK).

If you are a political party, or media outlet, then enraging the PPO is a useful strategy. Useful to meet your goals of raising money, maintaining attention and inspiring action.

I think we can all agree that Trump is, and will remain, world class in this regard => money, attention, action. The man has skills.


Explaining US Federal Politics to my kids

When I come across a member of the PPO, I don’t engage them.

I remember, this is a person who has invested deeply in their belief system (attention, friends, money, tribe, habit, neurochemistry).

I have to be most cautious with the angry. Anger is contagious.

Justified anger is my worst trait – it clouds my judgement, muddies my thinking and hurts my health.

Anger repels the nicest people in my life and poisons my relationship with my kids.

Rather than sing along with the PPO, I go quiet and feel thankful that I can avoid distracting myself from what I need to do => keep on keeping on with my family.

If someone won’t relent then a good phrase is,

If I have to pick one issue then, I guess, I’m most in favor of tax simplification.

I’ve yet to meet anyone who wants to engage me on tax simplification.

🙂


I’m grateful that my job does not require me to encourage conflict.

As a parent, where some conflict is inevitable, I tell my kids… “I love you too much to argue.”

With a view towards high school, college majors and, ultimately, careers… I think to myself, which fields avoid the need to constantly feed conflict?

Education, especially working with kids. Constant deescalation is required, or you’ll burnout very quickly.

Healthcare, I like the vibe from my friends who work in the healing arts.

Mission Focused, fields where getting stuff done is more important than triggering an emotional response.

If you invert then you can rule out a lot of stuff (advertising, media, politics, academics). There’s probably a lot more. I’m a few years away from needing to give it much thought.

For now, I’ve advised my kids…

Try to find out if you’re really good at something difficult.

Let’s refocus on something useful.


PS – paper ballots, mailed to every registered voter, run by the counties, with lots of places to drop. Works great in Colorado. The more you centralize (anything) the easier it is to cheat and the more fragile the system becomes. Just like in finance, when someone seeks complexity, it’s usually to fool you.

Grief


There’s been a lot of death and dying around me lately. I thought I’d share some ideas that you might find useful if you find yourself in a similar position.


First up, for me, grief is better than depression or chronic pain.

Depression is like carrying around a void. The void is always there then, one day, it’s gone. There’s a lot I can do to prevent a downward spiral (into the void) and I’ve gotten better and better at self-management.

Pain: I’ve been fortunate that my longest block of chronic pain was 14 days. It was like carrying a small fire. Over a decade later, I feel gratitude remembering the moment I noticed the pain was gone.


With grief, there is space between the (trembling) waves that arrive, at unpredictable times. I pay attention to the space, it feels great.

At hospice training, they encouraged us to mourn the small losses to prepare ourselves for the inevitable larger ones.

The practice of leaning into small losses will serve you well.


Did you notice the mental setup?

  • Things could be worse
  • I can handle my problems
  • These issues are actually good ones to have – this is a opportunity to practice my coping skills



What I Control

I can’t make myself sleep. I can set an alarm and wake up at the same time, every_single_day.

I don’t control my moment-to-moment neurochemistry. I can exercise in nature and avoid excessive fatigue.

I can’t control my thoughts. I can control:

  • who I spend time with
  • where I spend my time
  • what I say, write and read
  • where I surf on the internet

Control the controllable – accept the rest.


Anger

Grief often manifests as anger.

Anger isn’t all bad – my anger might have nudged me to toss Facebook into the trash and that’s been a plus for 2020. Anger also motivated me to cut my intake of politics, another useful shift.

While I might not control my anger’s arrival, I can influence its departure and notice each time I choose not to act on my anger.

Not acting on anger – there have been some useful wins in that department over the last few months.



The Role of Steady

I went for a long hike on Sunday.

Afterwards, I was looking at the pictures and noticed it was the first time I was smiling, rather than wincing, in a long while. I’m laughing as I type because, all summer long, I couldn’t figure out why my face looked so screwed up in pictures.



Other than walking around in nature, the only other time I’ve noticed feeling really good was after an hour riding easy.

I haven’t done much anaerobic exercise. In the past, I’ve noticed sustained high-intensity exercise isn’t useful for mood management. There’s a brief high followed by a lengthy hangover, when I’m emotionally vulnerable and my will is tapped out.

If you are prone to “euphoria-then-crater” then watch out. I have good systems for keeping myself in check. I never train with faster people when I’m on edge, even a virtual leaderboard can get me into trouble!

How might I know I’m on edge? I could assume it based on the deaths around me.

If external reality doesn’t register then try looking inwards and watch for triggers being triggered…

…anger, sadness, hunger, sugar cravings, sleep pattern changes and/or small cuts that are slow to heal.

The list above is my early-warning system (of impending doom!).



Universal Goods

Keep the good stuff in your life.

  • Shared Experiences
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Nature
  • Music
  • Bright Light
  • Forests
  • Sunrises
  • Connection
  • Stillness

Schedule the good stuff with yourself, your friends and your family.

Focus on doing the good stuff and have faith you will overcome.