On “Breaking Bad” and how easy it is to deceive ourselves.

Skyler White: Walt, please, let’s both of us stop trying to justify this whole thing and admit you’re in danger!

Walter White: Who are you talking to right now? Who is it you think you see? Do you know how much I make a year? I mean, even if I told you, you wouldn’t believe it. Do you know what would happen if I suddenly decided to stop going into work? A business big enough that it could be listed on the NASDAQ goes belly up. Disappears! It ceases to exist without me. No, you clearly don’t know who you’re talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Skyler. I AM the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks!

#####

 

Let’s say you wonder why people who voted a particular way have trouble realizing they made a mistake.

 

I remember how aghast I was that the end of “Breaking Bad” was in sight, and people still insisted that Walter White was a victim of circumstances, that he was only doing what he had to do.  I can only think that they are telling you that, in those circumstances, they would do what he did. Or…that they would be willing to accept a murderous bastard as long as he put bread on the table.  Or…I don’t know. But what was glaringly obvious to me: he was a bad man who had the misfortune to discover it (much like my view of Michael Corleone).

 

We are what we are. That ultimate being-ness may be ineffable and beyond ultimate purchase, but the best indicator is WHAT WE DO.

 

The next best is WHAT WE SAY ABOUT WHAT WE DO.  That tells people what you think about yourself…or what you want them to think about you.

 

Start by assuming that the best way to be a human being is the WORST way to write: text and subtext are the same thing.  Walter White is in a life and death struggle with his alter ego, “Heisenberg”, a ruthless gangster.  At the same time he wants to think of himself as a good family man. He continues this self-deception on and off until the very end, when he manages to create utterly ruthless actions that somehow reinforce the notion that, at the core of him, he is “good.”

 

This is one reason why the “Sentence a day” technique works so well.  There is simply no rational reason why someone cannot write ten words in a 24 hour period. If you say you want to write…write.  It really is that simple.  If your focus is on best-selling or prize-winning writing, there are certainly things you can do to optimize your chances…but in most cases what we want is to be the best writers we can be, by our own definitions.

 

What do writers do?  They write. If they don’t write, they are not writers, in the sense of “to do”.  They may well be authors, in the sense of “have done writing in the past”, but you have to decide: which are you more interested in?   Money, fame, awards are for authors. So…you must have written.  But if you love it, do it. There is nothing more miserable than writers who lose their way

  1. Writing for money
  2. Writing for awards
  3. Writing for reviews
  4. Writing to please your fans

 

All of these things are fine IF AND ONLY IF YOU ARE ALSO WRITING TO PLEASE YOURSELF. Otherwise, you are at risk of becoming a hack.  And if you ever had the dream of being a writer for love’s sake, this is a road to hell, and some of the least happy people I’ve ever known traveled that road.

 

The trick to doing both is to look at two circles:

  1. Things you’d want to write
  2. Things you think the market will accept.

 

Where those two circles over lap…there you write.  Heck, when I wrote my first episode of BAYWATCH my question was: what is real about this?  What expresses ME?  Otherwise I get nothing but money.  And ultimately, the “kid” part of me that comes up with the ideas doesn’t give a shit about money.  Little Stevie only cares about cool ideas.  If HE is not happy…I’m in trouble.

 

I have to keep my path to “Little Stevie” open, and I do that by writing EVERY DAY, by clarifying my values and long-term outcomes, writing out my thoughts, and making daily progress on a primary writing project.

 

Today? Exchanging an email with a source of psychological expertise in the arena of serial killers for my new novel “Traveler”.

 

And…working on the proposal for my graphic novel with Charles Johnson. Basically, taking a successful proposal and re-writing it to fit my project.

 

But the trick is to remember that our behaviors lead to our outcomes. Our mental and emotional states drive our behaviors.  And the smallest building blocks, laid one at a time, create the largest and most beautiful edifices which will ultimately be a testimony to the lives we have lived.

 

If you can own every step, be proud of all you have done, make your peace with the reality that not every brick will be laid straight or on a perfect time-table…but continue to lay at least one every day…

 

In time, your palace will be built.  Once upon a time a friend told me that I not only build dream palaces, but I move into them.

 

This is how you do it.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

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“Panic Room” (2002): Jodie Foster, Action Hero

I was asked yesterday to do a book on productivity and keeping a positive mood.    Well, the next course I’m producing, the “Morning M.A.G.I.C. for Writers” is precisely that.   But if you want to know, heck, just watch “PANIC ROOM” the movie that turns Jodie Foster into an action hero.
 

In it, Foster is a recently divorced woman moving into a lavish Soho townhouse equipted with the eponymous hidey-hole. She and her daughter are asleep when a trio of burglars, including an excellent Forest Whittaker, break in in search of hidden money.  She manages to get herself and daughter into the armored room with a split-second to spare, and the next ninety minutes is a cat-and-mouse game of Foster trying to get help, and Whittaker trying to break into a room he designed to be unbreakable.

 

There are of course complications: an emotionally unstable accomplice, a diabetic daughter, unfinished telephone lines, unsecured ventilation ducts.

 

Watching this game is fascinating, and considering how confined the story is, every inch of that townhouse is explored, and endless  variation of possibilities exhausted.

 

What motivates Whittaker?  Money. Lots of it. Which he needs because of a desperate family situation.

 

What motivates Foster?  Her own life, and the life of her daughter.

 

The INSTANT a family is threatened, you no longer have to explain to the audience WHY a character is fighting, working, struggling.   Your life, your mate’s life.    In the natural world, threaten either, and you dial the crazy meter up to ten.  Threaten a child…and it goes up to eleven.

 

I LOVE stories of such struggle, and devour them endlessly, probably feeding something inside me.

 

If you know the WHAT (STAY SAFE/ESCAPE.  Or: GET THE MONEY), and the WHY (personal survival, genetic survival, protecting what we love) then the “HOW” is just the details.

 

When people ask me how I accomplish so much, it is because I have a very specific syntax: I know the ultimate lifetime “What” I am committed to (contribution, growth, family, joy), which leads to understanding the long-term (yearly), medium term (monthly and weekly) and short term (daily) goals, WITH ALL OF THEM LIKE CONCENTRIC RINGS.

 

I know just how this moment leads to a good day, how the day leads to a good week…to a month…to the year…to my lifetime.   EVERY MOMENT.

 

And by asking what the MOST IMPORTANT thing(s) I can accomplish today, using the Pareto principle (20% of your actions leads to 80% of your results) if I just accomplish that (those) most important things, I win.  I’ll refine and refine (the 20% of the 20% of the 20%…) until the critical major piece can be done in less than two hours, it gets easier.

 

But if I refine until that critical piece can be done in less than an hour…better.

 

I have the most important things refined to FIVE MINUTES.

 

Writing: a sentence a day.

Martial Arts: Tai Chi (done quickly)

Mental Focus: Morning Ritual

Emotional focus: Morning Ritual

Family: Five Minutes with Jason

Physical: Three reps of Five Tibetans

Financial: Check “Mint”, transfer 5% of my checking to investment every Friday

 

Other things are in “ZNT” (Zero Net Time) territory:

 

Mental input: listening to a “Teaching Company” MP3 while driving or doing chores.

 

Some is “Five Minute Miracle” territory:

 

60 seconds of Kali drills, five times a day, working the “Be Breathed”

Connecting with the Ancient Child.

 

 

MINIMUMS that get the most done.  If I only have five minutes, I can still kick ass. And you know what happens when you do that?  You lose fear. You know just where you are on the map of your life, and you KNOW that every day you are making progress toward joy.  And when you stop being driven by fear, and start being motivated more by attraction  to joy than repulsion from pain?

 

Life gets magical.

 

That’s it. It really is.  And I can’t wait to share it with you.  Hopefully next week!

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

 

What is your most important outcome this week?

 

Watching 1971’s   ANDROMEDA STRAIN. At the end of this very intellectual, emotionally cool film a doctor must run a gauntlet of ladders and lasers to stop a nuclear weapon from killing him and spreading an extinction-level pathogen around the world.   Seriously tense, exciting stuff.

 

And he barely makes it, combining puzzle-solving, physical courage, physical strength, resistance to pain, focus and clarity of intent into a final climactic action.

 

It’s “wow” stuff.  But LIFEWRITING suggests that we love these scenes because we know, deep inside, that WE could do such heroic things, if we ever had the motivations. If our lives, or the lives of our loved ones where at stake.

 

Well…guess what?  They are.

 

###

 

I was asked what single thing would need most to change for people to live happier healthier lives?  My answer was

  1. Clarity on the fact that it is possible.
  2. Loving themselves enough to be willing to do Whatever It Takes to have that better result.

 

Without the first, CLARITY, it is possible to get lost in delusion, accepting a lack of energy or aliveness without investigating the behaviors and attitudes that produce it.

 

Without the second, you don’t have the DISCIPLINE to move through discomfort, or allot time, to produce those results.

 

We will do “whatever it takes” for our kids, but often won’t get off the couch for ourselves, won’t investigate a choice like Intermittent Fasting.

 

Of course, the same thing is true of improving relationships, creating a writing career, or creating financial stability.

 

You have to know the WHAT.

You have to have the WHY

And only then do you concern yourself with HOW.

 

The “how” is largely: what is the most important thing for you to accomplish today?  This week? This month?

 

And after you identify it, just have one successful day at a time, then a series of successful weeks, and successful months, and you have your life.

 

Of course, the key to a successful day is identifying successful  moments.  And to do that, you can use the “Morning Ritual” concept–just 5-20 minutes a day when you align body, emotions, and focus.

 

That’s all it takes. What is sad is people who will complain about their energy, emotions, financial situation, fitness, or whatever…but won’t discipline themselves for five minutes to find a way out of the maze.

 

Would they do it for their kids?  Hell, yes.

 

So…start with love.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

Sex Robots and “Incel Traps”

“Westworld” and other shows, movies, and prose as well as the headlines speak of sex robots which will become more and more indistinguishable from real human beings.   I suggest that they will become traps for dysfunctional people, and not something that threatens human reproduction as a whole.

 

Because I don’t think healthy relationships are difficult for healthy people to find, I consider them one of the primary maturation points for human beings.   Sex robots would allow people to avoid that step.  It would be like living in a world with tons of free food, and all physical work done by machines: obesity would skyrocket.

 

What you would have is the emotional/spiritual equivalent of that maladaption, and it wouldn’t be pretty.

 

What is necessary to find that real realtionship?

  1. Love yourself, deeply.  If you do, you will be able to be attracted to some of those attracted to you–you will see yourself in them. We are attracted to people at our level of energy and integration…and above. We attract those at our level…and below.
  2. Develop enough power to attract and hold the level of beauty you desire. Or, the level of beauty to attract the level of power you desire.  If your desires don’t match your ability to attract…see step #1.

 

The “how” would be techniques like Heartbeat Meditation, The Ancient Child, and the Morning Ritual.   There are others out there, of course, and if you are alone, I pray you will align your body, mind, emotions, and instincts.   If you are constantly attracted to people you cannot attract, this is a clue that there is work to be done.

 

Those who take the escape hatch of a cybernetic relationship are playing a very different game, and it is a dead end.

Opportunity On The Wings of Danger

I love the James Bond movies, and nothing epitomizes the glorious absurdity of them than the moment in OCTOPUSSY where 007 (Roger Moore) is clinging to the top of a flying plane, sans parachute, messing with the flaps. The villain (Louis Jordan) tells his henchman to “go out there and kill him.”

 

Bond and the villain engage in hand-to hand combat on the roof of the plane, until Bond whacks the guy with an antennae, sending him flying off to his doom. Bond then swings down into the plane, saves the girl, and wins the day.

 

Wow.  So absurd. But…wow.  THAT is grace under pressure. The defining characteristic of that fictional creation, and the reason we’ve loved him for almost seventy years.

 

##

 

A reader said something I hear more and more frequently these days:   “I am afraid for this country and where hatred is carrying us. We cannot continue along this line of unreason, without our country breaking apart.”

 

I guess I’m not afraid for America because I don’t see anything going on that feels new to me.  I’m sorry that so many people had their heads in the sand, but…I told you so.  I was told to have faith before.    And that is the best advice I can offer now.

 

Have faith. But…stay alert.  Sometimes it hurts to wake up…but there we are.  This country was created largely by people who came from a white male heterosexual Christian European perspective.   Let’s call it a fine perspective.  But like all perspectives, it is limited by its filters.  Add enough new people to the equation, carrying different perspectives, and the social contract, the agreed-upon reality, stretches and stretches until it breaks.

 

Remember: IT WAS NOT REALITY.   I am NOT saying that some other country, some other group of people in particular had a better grasp.   I don’t see that.  I DO see that there are groups that seem to ask different questions, leading to different and equally valid answers. And the creators of the major religions and philosophies seem to be on that path: Christ, Buddha, Muhammad.   Religious zealots  will   argue that they have the only answer.  But Awakened souls like Jesus will say pretty clearly that “My father’s house has many mansions.”  I often think there seems a real difference between being “Christlike” and “Christian.”    The creators of these sacred paths had genuine elevated perspectives.  Were ahead of their game.  They were like living trees, providing shelter and food to those fortunate enough to rest in their shade.

 

Once they die, of course, their followers cut them down and make churches out of them.   Not a bad thing–they’re doing the best they can.   But there’s a difference.

 

##

 

 

I say that part of our current political stress is caused by the fact that we are beginning to having deeper, more primal conversations about “Who Am I?” and “What is True?”:   the nature of human beings, the social contract, and the meaning of key concepts.

 

Here are contentious discussions that come to mind.

 

  1. Are the races (roughly) equal in capacity and worth?  This is first not because it is more important than the others, but because I am knowledgeable about how this conversation has evolved in America.   This one I know intimately.   It is a VERY different conversation than what we had previously, which was “should black people be free?” “Should they be equal under the law?” or “Are they equal spiritually, in the eyes of God?”  I’ve known straight-up racists (believing we are inferior intellectually) who believed they were not racists, because they believed we should be “equal under the law.” Different conversation. Why? Because if we are equal, but the results as measured statistically are not…then the territory traversed has been different, and that difference can be measured by the degree of variance.  Then people get to decide if they give a shit. That’s up to them.  But the lie of the level playing field is finally really breaking down.
  2. Are women and men (roughly) equal in capacity and worth?  Trickier, because there are obvious reproductive differences, as well as structural and hormonal.    Makes the conversation more difficult.  But…post birth control, firearms, industrialization, and the need to create as many grandchildren as possible we have erased many of the biological and reproductive reasons for social rules about male and female roles and interactions.   What remains is a conversation humans have never had.  We’re watching it now.  By the way–women are as likely to discount and dismiss male pain as men are to dismiss feminine issues.   Its really simple, once you see it.
  3. What is the limit of the social safety net?  UHC is part of this discussion. As will Universal Basic Income if automation continues to take jobs.  Critical discussion: is it still evil or weak not to work if there are literally no jobs?  So many of our rules and morals about the work ethic and individual responsibility evolved in a different world.  The stress between the Great Individualists and the Great Society folks, with words like “Nazi” and “Communist” thrown around like monkeys slinging poo at the zoo, has grown more intense.  I’d bet the first prokaryotes who didn’t want to combine into Eukaryotes raised hell, too.
  4. Is homosexuality evil?   Not “should homosexuals be jailed” but…are they just people like the rest of us?  This relates to gay marriage, right to adopt, and other things.  Note the relationship between reproductive sex and rules against homosexualiy, masturbation, and oral sex.  In 70k bc the human race was down to just a couple of thousand breeding pairs. It isn’t hard to see that the societies who survived had VERY serious rules encouraging reproductive sex, passing on genes and memes as rapidly as possible. The alternative was extinction.   That simply isn’t true any longer.
  5. Are nations as real as human beings?  Are they just lines on maps?  Do human migratory patterns trump them?  Must America be the most powerful nation in the world, and if so…by how much?  Are we our laws?  Our people?  Nations as geopolitical entities make real sense in a world where the most rapid communication was the Pony Express. But as soon as you have instantaneous communication beyond line of sight, you have something new.  The telegraph was the beginning of the nervous system for the Body Human. Move from there to telephones, and then the internet…and something happens. Some flash point. The entire human race in contact and instant communication for the first time in our history as a species.  THAT IS NEW. And terrifying to some.
  6. Are corporations better than governments?  Confession:  I never saw that one coming in advance. Only when I realized there really were a LOT of people who talked as if they believed that that I saw a need to focus attention there.
  7. Is Anthropogenic Global Warming real? And dangerous?  And if so, what should we do?  To me, considering that human beings use something like 250 times more energy than we did just a few thousand years ago, only someone who believes population should have no limits, and that there is nothing we can do to damage the planet, should doubt that we have a problem.  WHY do we doubt it?  I think that human beings can be defined, from one perspective, as creatures who have used more and more biosphere energetic resources every generation, the only animal that does this.  So much of our culture and civilization is based on this that there is real question about how we would cope without petroleum-based energetic resources.  Or nuclear.    The movement from non-renewable to renewable actually does have issues. Those who cannot SEE the possible answers are afraid of the movement, and when people are under pressure…they often go into denial.  . The rest, of course, is that there are very specific vested interests with trillion-dollar infrastructures who don’t want the change.   https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2017/08/03/humanity-officially-consumed-more-earth-produce-year/#3bd5868a59a4.  “Earth Overshoot Day” is a term I hadn’t heard.   Again, anyone unwilling to make a solid statement on what they think the maximum population of the Earth is should NOT be a part of this discussion.  They are, IMO, simply not engaging logic with the question, and are still driven by memes and instincts sharpened 70k years ago by near-extinction.
  8. Is gender fluid or set?  Another discussion coming out of the shadows.  Its not going away.
  9. When does life begin?  In combination with that fear of extinction thing, this is the source of much emotion under the Abortion debate.

 

 

 

In every one of these, we can see fear.  Of species, racial, tribal, or individual extinction.  Of ego death or real, personal, physical death.  We are dealing with hugely serious questions that have deviled far smarter people than myself, or anyone I know.

 

And…I have total faith that we’ll get through it.  But if you never realized how much we’ve papered over questions like these, talking about the deck chairs rather than that iceberg, pretending to consider each other equal while privately thinking “well, they aren’t REALLY  equal, but its polite to pretend they are…

 

This is all very surprising to you.    Well…waking up is hard to do. But we’re getting there.  What do we do now?   For the thousandth time:

 

  1. Love yourself.  Learn to control and focus your emotions for health and productivity.  If stress doesn’t become strain, IT ONLY MAKES YOU STRONGER.  Your Daily Ritual is your friend.
  2. Love one other person.   Nothing will teach you more about yourself, and humanity, than loving and living with another human being you are committed to.
  3. Understand history without guilt, blame, or shame.  Or…fear.   We’ve been here before.   This is what happens when different tribes, belief systems and ways of life collide. There is stress.   People will die.  Life goes on, at higher levels of connection and communication.
  4. Nurture your tribe.    Don’t fight with trolls.   Know something?  Go deeply enough into this principle and we are ALL part of the same tribe. Focus on our commonalities and fear diminishes. Then, in quiet, calm discussion we can build bridges. But you cannot do this coming from a state of emergency.  We marvel at action heroes who stay calm under stress, understanding that they are the ones who get things done.
  5. Win with integrity.  Work backwards from your goal–joy.  NOT CRUSHING YOUR ENEMIES. That’s hind-brain stuff, the urge for revenge. “Treat ’em rough.”  The desire to torture suspected terrorists, even if it is less effective than “softer” approaches, arises from this.  No.  Crushing your enemies is a MEANS as best, not an end.   “The best battle plan is to win by strategy.  The next is to bend the will of your opponent through the art of diplomacy.  The next is to conquer by the use of force. The worst battle plan is to besiege the enemy’s walled city.”

 

Why so much verbal and actual violence/use of force?   Hatred and Anger.  Why so much hatred and anger?  Fear.  Why so much fear?   We mistake our concepts for reality.   Like Incels crouching in their mothers’ basement terrified that reality doesn’t match their concepts, we all fight to preserve our world, even if our world is shaped by fantasy.

 

Waking up can feel like dying.   .  But remember…no one is saying to drop your guard and let anyone hurt you.  What is the First Principle?   LOVE YOURSELF.   Little I’m saying here makes sense if you are in a state of   emotional emergency, sliding down the stress tunnel toward Fight-Or-Flight.  Or even worse, depression, which in this context is the Fight-Or-Flight instinct with no one to fight, and no where to run.   Might as well just curl up and die.

 

 

No.   Just…no.  We’ve been through worse before, as a species.   Your ancestors survived worse, and sniveling disrespects their sacrifice and struggle.

 

Its up to us now.  The goal posts are actually in sight, for issues that have existed for centuries…or thousands of years…or all our history as a species.

 

I have heard that the story about the Chinese ideogram for “Crisis” being “Opportunity on the wings of danger” is inexact, imprecise, incorrect.

 

But if it isn’t true, it should be…because that’s where we are.

 

 

Be the hero in the adventure of your lifetime…

Steve

www.afrofuturismandhorror.comd

It’s not hard to be King…it’s just every day.

(The title above is a play on a comment someone once made about parentage: it isn’t hard. It’s just daily.)

##

 

Bought the Blu-Ray of Black Panther yesterday (I didn’t know DVD was a dying format.   Couldn’t even find a copy at Best Buy!) and watched it for the sixth time.   Man, that movie holds up.   On a core level, it is about a man learning to be a king, and having to define what that means to him.  To that end, his relationship to the kingdom is essential, and there is a beautiful, wide range of aspects to Wakanda that are shown or discussed.

 

One of my favorite moments is when he visits the Ancestral Plane, and speaks to his father’s spirit.   The situation is that he feels unprepared to be a king, specifically to go forward without the guidance of his father.  He has a Dark Night, related to his sense of guilt at not saving his father’s life in CIVIL WAR.

 

The truth is that life comes at us at Mach speed, and we are seldom ready. But his father, a good man (who made some bad choice…as do we all) reminds him that he prepared to be king EVERY DAY OF HIS LIFE. And that any man who does not prepare his children to go on without him has failed them.

 

“Have I failed you?”

“Never”, T’Challa replies.

 

And he gains the strength to rise and begin his reign as King of Wakanda, the titular Black Panther.

 

##

 

This is what all parents fear at times: that they are not prepared, not ready, not good enough, will fail our children.  And this is true even if you had a great Mom and Dad who were there for you to model every day. Living up to that example can seem daunting.

 

But we must try.  The voices in our head saying “you’re not enough” will always be there.   They may get quieter, but they never completely shut up.  If we are to do what we must for our families, our lives, the “child” dreamer within us, we have to prepare EVERY DAY for the life we desire, both to up our game and gain the ability to act despite the doubting voices.

 

Every day I get notes from people complaining about stress, and lack of focus, or context-based feelings of depression and despair. All I can do is continue to state that our moods are INFLUENCED, but not DETERMINED by what is happening around us.  That our emotions are the result of what we focus on, how we use language, and the way we move our bodies. I rejoice every time someone discovers this and uses it for themselves, but it is so sad when, a week or so later, I see the same person complain about the same stress…and no, they have done nothing I suggested.   It hurts.  But…people have to be who they are. I can only continue to speak, hoping that those who wish to be the kings and queens of their inner kingdoms will hear.

 

Wakanda Forever!

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

www.afrofuturismandhorror.com

Happy Independence Day!

 

 

 

  “Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in this history of mankind.

Mankind — that word should have new meaning for all of us today.

We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore.

We will be united in our common interests.

Perhaps its fate that today is the 4th of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom, not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution — but from annihilation.

We’re fighting for our right to live, to exist.

And should we win the day, the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice:

“We will not go quietly into the night!

We will not vanish without a fight!

We’re going to live on!

We’re going to survive!”

Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!”

###

I flat-out LOVE ID4.  It is the epitome of cheese, but announces its intent when it plays “It’s the end of the world as we know it” over the initial scenes.  In some senses it isn’t a movie as much as a checklist of tropes, a “greatest hits” of all the things we’ve ever loved from alien invasion movies.

 

But…if you think it isn’t SF, I think you’re missing something. One of the most consistent tropes in science fiction is the notion that “If the aliens attacked, all mankind would drop their differences and pull together to defend Earth.” I submit to you that ID4 is the first movie or depiction of this idea that actually believed it.

 

I find that a fine notion. That most of our differences are petty tribal squabbles, only important if there are no higher values on the table.

 

Well…we have higher values on the table. Our survival as a nation, as a planet, as moral and ethical beings capable of rising above basic animal concerns.  Our ability to rise to the heights of possibility, embrace freedom, live up to the dreams our ancestors dared to dream…even though they often could not live up to them themselves.

 

Today, remember the sacrifices of those who came before.

Today, honor the men and women who fought, and loved hard, and prayed their children would enjoy a world in which poverty is measured by obesity rather than starvation.

Today, hold those who are dear to you, and take some time to just…relax. Be.

Grill those burgers, watch those movies, play on that beach, kiss your sweetie, watch the sunset and relish the explosions, the bombs bursting in air that symbolize the destruction we were willing to risk to create a world worth passing to our grandchildren.

 

The struggle is real. And so are the rewards.  Tomorrow, it is back to the fray. Today, relax and renew.

 

“We will not go quietly into the night!

We will not vanish without a fight!

We’re going to live on!

We’re going to survive!”

Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!”

 

Namaste

Steven Barnes

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

“The Martian” and balancing thought and emotion

At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you… everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home. All right, questions?“–Matt Damon as Mark Watney in THE MARTIAN.

 

When your life is on the line, you have to access your problem-solving ability, or you will die. The survival emotions motivate you…but if they overwhelm you you get stupid.  And that means there can be answers right in front of you, and you won’t see them.

 

###

 

 

I keep hearing people begging for help with their stress levels.  These are generally people terrified by the news, and disheartened by the viciousness of internet arguments.

 

In other words…they engage with the world to try to improve their lives, but are overwhelmed by all the ugliness, see nothing they can do to improve the situation, and therefore fight the urge to curl into a ball and cry.

 

The trick is that by the time you feel the stress you are often in a “tunnel” where you can’t do the very things most efficient and effective to deal with it.  What if you can’t do anything directly about a problem?  Then seek peace and joy in your own life, and be a role model for others.  When there IS something you can do…act with power and precision, be effective and efficient.  That’s how it gets done: when you can do something, act. When you cannot…live.  And prepare.

 

The Morning Ritual is a “sigil”, a compression of dozens of different ideas about human performance.  Let’s tease out a few of the most important ideas dealing with stress.

 

  1. Stress creates perceptual “tunnels” in which you cannot see anything but the threat.  In other words, denies you access to the very tools that could solve the problem.
  2. Stress is not the real problem–“STRAIN” is the real problem.  Stress is just the amount of pressure you are under. But if you can handle it, stress actually trigger growth: you NEED it to become strong.  Strain is a negative response, an “overload” situation. THAT is what you must avoid.
  3. External events don’t directly create internal response.  Your perceptual filters, beliefs, values, expectations and so forth will determine how you react to the things that happen in life.
  4. The more important the situation, the more dangerous, the more critical it is that you remain focused and balanced.  Especially if you are a leader of some kind–people look up to you to determine how they should react.
  5. The emotions are controlled by what we focus on, our self-talk, and the way we use our bodies.
  6. The most important aspect of the physical is the breathing, the only process that is both voluntary and autonomic.
  7. Your perfect choice is to integrate proper breathing and motion daily, BEFORE you need stress-relief.  By the time you are panicked, it is often too late.
  8. Tai Chi folks have a good idea: twice a day for 10-20 minutes, morning and night.  You focus, breathe, refine posture, control the internal dialogue. This maps over to life situations beautifully.
  9. IF YOU BREATHE AS IF YOU ARE CALM, YOU WILL FEEL CALM. It really is as simple as that.
  10. So…at a minimum integrate slow, steady, deep, diaphragmatic “belly breathing” into the Morning Ritual.  If you are stressed, do this every three hours for sixty seconds. If you are REALLY stressed, do it at the top of every hour.

 

As simple as that. If you don’t interrupt the cycle of stress with PHYSICAL MOTION, you are pretty much choosing to be unhappy.  Choosing pain. Which is irrational, and contrary to core survival programming.   That implies that some part of you associates more pain to RELIEVING the stress than suffering through it.

 

Why?  Perhaps we believe that fear and   panic are NECESSARY.  I submit to you that they are USEFUL in that they get your attention and begin the “preparation for action” spiral. But necessary?  No.  If you find that your fear turns to anger, and you are using that anger to motivate you to action…GREAT!

 

But if it is chewing you up alive, I suggest that you are pouring too much gasoline on the fire, and cannot control the burn.

 

The more important the situation, the more life-threatening, the more responsible you are for the welfare of others…the more important emotional control is.

 

And this is where a daily, a MORNING ritual of focus, motion and emotion can literally save your life.  You don’t have to be lost on Mars to need every “little gray cell” in your head.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

“The Hunger Games”: Clarity of Purpose

Watching THE HUNGER GAMES yesterday as the result of a little game: we’d seen Donald Sutherland in DISCLOSURE playing a slimy billionaire, and thought we’d follow that thread to another film, where he plays a slimy president.  He does slimy GREAT.

 

At any rate, I remembered enjoying these movies well enough in the theater, although I would have felt just a little silly seeing them without Nicki.  The thing about movies like this is that at the core of them, there is a vast amount of action, explosions, screaming, plotting, and so forth, but at the core is the “young person grows up” notion. The “at the end of this series Katniss Everdeen becomes the hero of her people” notion, with everything else being steps along the way.

 

CONFRONTED WITH CHALLENGE: To embrace her power as a hero.

REJECT THE CHALLENGE: She just wants to be left alone, to hunt and lead a meager life in a dominated township.

ACCEPTS THE CHALLENGE: When her little sister is chosen to compete in a lethal winner-take-all event, Katniss takes her first step along the Hero Path, volunteering to take her place.

 

 

O.K.–that’s the “inciting event”.  After that, Katniss only has to remember her sister, or access her own survival drive, or remember the sacrifices of her friends, or her anger at Southerland’s evil president, or her love of Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of dewy-eyed Actors) or whatever, and she has the motivation to survive, and excel, and triumph.

 

The WHAT is “become the hero”.  The WHY arguably covers EVERY chakra: survival, sex, power, love, communication, learning, spiritual commitment.

 

The “HOW” is four movies that made a combined total of 1.45 BILLION dollars.  Every twist, turn, action, sacrifice, solution, and reward, every setback and loss or victory is a step along the road to becoming her true self, a hero of her people.

 

Katniss woke up every day knowing that if she didn’t move, run, fight, hunt, accomplish and problem-solve…she would DIE.

 

The illusion we have is that we have all the time in the world to accomplish the things we desire.  Heroes are simply people forced by internal or external motivations to ACT.   We watch her, and thrill to her clarity of purpose, thinking on some level “I wonder if I  could rise to that level, if the circumstances demanded.”

 

I choose to believe that I could. That YOU could.   But you would have to have clarity of purpose, have to develop skills IN ADVANCE of the emergency, and grow the emotional sinew capable of getting up again, and again, and again…

 

Not because there are armed enemies coming to kill us, but because we know that without that focus, we lose our way in life, and are forced to “settle” for a fraction of the love, joy, health, success, contribution and growth we could have had.

 

WHAT do you want?

WHY do you want it?

Only then…HOW will you do it?

 

That’s the syntax. And you need to hammer that in every day, at least partially by looking at the lives of people who DON’T know why they are getting out of bed in the morning (other than avoiding the pain of starvation), or even worse…don’t have any specific goals, just drift from action to action, motivated by that fear, or controlled by those who DO have clear goals.

I get emails, PMs and see posts EVERY DAY by people struggling with their lives.  Not ONE of them has the tools I’m discussing. What. Why.  How. The energy to push through barriers. A way to control their emotions.  A way to make THIS DAY a perfect step along the larger, longer life path.

 

This is what the MORNING RITUAL is about: every day, becoming “the hero in the adventure of your lifetime.”

 

You deserve nothing less.   If you have ever thrilled to these stories…it is because there is a part of you that sees itself in those actions.    Make that part happy, and you access a totally new and powerful chamber of your heart, and life will never be the same again.

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

What is the most important thing I can do TODAY?

Morning Ritual starts when you wake up.   People who comment on my personal energy are sometimes amazed that I don’t “wake up” with it every day.  No, I have to work that Chinese Puzzle Ball, find the thing I am most committed to in life, think of the most important thing I have to do TODAY to bring it into existence, and how accomplishing it with style and joy will benefit every aspect of my life.

 

ULTIMATE GOAL: JOY

ULTIMATE OUTCOMES: SUPERB FITNESS, RELATIONSHIPS, FINANCES,   CONTRIBUTION AND GROWTH.

IMMEDIATE OUTCOME TODAY: Major progress on marketing plan, major progress on primary writing project, “Traveler.”

 

What can I do today to  move the marketing of the “Morning Ritual for Writers” program?   I can stay focused on who I was at the age of thirty: unsuccessful writer, unsuccessful martial artist, no relationship.  And…what “message in a bottle” can I send back to him to get him on track in just five minutes a day, and what would I have to say in an ad to attract his attention?

 

What can I do today to move “Traveler” forward?   I need to align the thematics from the different major chunks of the book. A major theme will have to be relationships.  If you handle survival, sex, power, and emotion with grace and balance the rest grows naturally.

 

What is the primary relationship I can look at today?    That would be Gus, the ex-cop hero of the story, a good man who has ruined his life and marriage…and has one last chance at redemption.  And his wife Athena, UCLA lecturer in Abnormal Sociology, a woman who was the light to his darkness, and finally left him to save herself.  Gus’ redemption arc is external (catch the time traveler) and internal (become a better man who can deserve a woman like Athena). Along the way he will have to learn, grow, win, lose, survive despair, heal, and become the hero she always saw in him.  Athena will have her own journey, and her insights into the human mind and the psychology of mass destruction will be central to the story.

 

“Love is not two people looking at each other. It is two people looking in the same direction.”  If true…then I’m saying that they love each other, but were heading in opposite directions. To “save” the marriage one or both of them must change. Gus needs the most change: it is his story, his arc.  Athena will have her own journey, but let’s drill down here.

 

 

Any writing expresses what you think about human beings (“who am I?”) and the ethical structure of the universe (what is true?”).  Where can I find a speck of truth about relationships, people, the world that I can insert into this book?  Use as a reference point in their relationship?  How about the scene where Athena tells him goodbye? That she’s had enough?

 

To get to that moment, I have to ask how we fall in love.   Some combination of hormones, visual anchors, matching of values beliefs and outcomes, smell, touch, and taste. At some point something goes “BANG” and you realize something is happening.

 

With Tananarive I thought she was cute and perky, then I thought she was very intelligent and talented.  The emotions triggered were protectiveness, not romantic interest or lust.   Acknowledgement of her attractiveness was certainly there: when I watched her dance, she moved like a healthy animal, and her body was fit, sinewy and quite…lively.  Ahem.

 

But I really, really didn’t “trigger”.  My only thought was: “here is a young lady with a future.  She has a destiny.  I think I could share what I know with her, and be a mensch.   She could use a big brother.”   The first night at the conference, we watched SEINFELD in her room, sitting on different beds. I was VERY careful with my body language: I wanted her to feel totally comfortable.

 

It wasn’t until the last day of the conference that something “clicked”.  It happened when she described how she got Stephen King to give her a cover blurb. I saw ambition, tactical and strategic thinking, the ability to think laterally, high-level skills in an apparently disassociated arena applied to a new purpose (using musical skills to get into King’s rock band) and more.

 

It hit me like a ton of bricks. I saw someone who had about every human quality I hold most dear, who was moving in my direction, revving up to take the world by the throat, unafraid of risk or rejection, with the self-love and emotional permission to care for her physical body in a way that made me feel “my tribe.”

 

NOTE: Remove any one of those major pieces and that devastating reaction doesn’t happen.  Now…which of those things are necessary for the CONTINUATION and elevation of those emotions?  Well, the things that relate to the basic nature of the person. In other words, if T got hit by a car, even though she can’t take care of her body the same way, she is still the same person. If she changed her values and stopped wanting to write…as long as she had that same intensity about, say, teaching, she is also the same person.

 

But what if you extracted those qualities and began to reverse them, like re-setting dip switches? How many of them could shift without deeply affecting my feeling of connection?

 

Everyone has limits.  Sweetness into meanness? Ambition into “laziness”? Activity into sloth? Discipline into excess?

 

How many?  When I look around at relationships that have gone sour, I’ve seen the following causes:

  1. Infidelity.  Especially serial infidelity.  Different intensities and meanings at different times in the relationship, and interpreted differently by males and females.
  2. Financial instability.  Huge.  More devastating than cheating.
  3. Lack of sexual compatibility
  4. Lying and manipulating
  5. Abuse
  6. Lack of emotional compatibility and empathy
  7. The sexual power polarities can change, creating tension…or boredom.  Seen this happen in “House Husband” relationships, and it wasn’t pretty.

 

The relationship can run out of gas, can become too explosive, or too painful.   I don’t think I want boredom to be a factor in this case.  More likely too much excitement and “drammer.”      Better to have Athena feel that Gus is becoming something dangerous to her psyche and sense of well being.

 

But what?  I have a very good sense of the cluster of negative behaviors and attitudes that Gus could have, that mirror real-world break-ups in a “useful” way. Why useful?  Because they have to be capable of being resolved with a story arc.

 

Ah…in what way?   Well…the perfect character is a window into a situation.  It is through their attitudes, perceptions, and actions that the situation becomes known. Why did I choose THIS character to deal with THIS situation?

 

Ideally…because the arc of external action (resolution of the plot) mirrors the arc of internal change (how they must grow or heal to move to the next level of their lives.)

 

“Die Hard” is about a group of terrorists taking over a building…but it is also about a cop who is losing his wife, and how he comes to realize how much he adores her. And a woman seeking professional self-expression, and how she comes to value the very things that drove her crazy about her husband.

 

Two people who were about to be torn apart by their egos, who come together when the shit gets real.  Defeating the terrorists is healing their marriage!   THAT is a terrific story, one often imitated but never excelled in the genre.   “Traveler” is in that vein, but different in that Gus is more at fault than John McClaine ever was, and he needs to “come correct” in a variety of ways that will require ego death.

 

HIS SELF IMAGE IS SIMPLY…WRONG.    And as  long as he clings to it, his marriage, his career, his life is in peril.  So the story has to be set up so that his inner and outer journeys reflect and amplify each other.

 

So…the scene where Athena tells him she’s leaving has to encapsulate the themes of the entire book, such that on one level the readers will think: “you think you can live without this man?  Just wait. You think you can live without this woman?  Just wait!”  but on another level, they will thrill to wonder just what will happen before that hopeful reunion.  They want the experience of closing the book thinking “Wow!  What a story!  I never saw THAT coming!” but also a sense that, on second reading, all the pieces of the puzzle were there…and that it all makes perfect, human sense.

 

So…what is the most important thing I can do today?  I can look at the structure of the three parts.   Think of the external journey.  And make major progress to make the inner and outer connect.

 

How long will that take?   Well…here’s a secret: REALIZING I NEEDED TO DO THAT WAS THE MAJOR PROGRESS I NEEDED.

 

I’ve already won, don’t you understand? Today is already a success. All I need do is write ONE SENTENCE in the script, a line of dialogue or description or summation that states what is needed.

 

Get it out of my head.  Onto paper.  No, writing it here on my blog, or on Facebook, isn’t enough…unless I drag and drop a relevant sentence into the actual Traveler document (currently at 245 pages on WRITERDUET).   Do that…and I win the game today.

 

Most important thing with Jason?  Just tell him I love him and am proud of his very good week. He did GREAT with his Algebra yesterday, and was rewarded with a theater party with friends to see “Jurassic World.” Blue is so damned cute!

 

Most important thing with T? Pick her up at the airport tonight.  Fetch sushi.

 

Most important thing with my finances?   Check my Mint account.

 

Most important thing with my body?  Yoga and Tai Chi/Morning ritual.

 

Bim, Bam, Boom.  I know what, and why, and the “Morning Ritual” is “how.”

 

Time to get to work!

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com