The Blog

How do you focus?
October 5, 2018

People are often astounded by how closely Darrell and I work together all day. Right now he’s approximately eight inches behind me. How do you focus in such tight quarters?

Headphones.

Darrell uses them to edit audio, obviously -- and he also listens to music while he does the bookkeeping or whatever. I listen to music when I write or prep the show or research what else I could and should be doing.

IHObHeadphones are like a “Do Not Disturb” sign minus the bossy overtone. They’re also a good reminder to myself, not to disturb the important work by looking for more of what you see in this photo!

Someone’s honking at me as I run in that oh-so-narrow path between cars parked at the beach and the driving lane. I don’t blame him (or her). There’s a lovely sidewalk next to the water. Why wouldn’t I be running on that? If I was the driver I’d be annoyed, too.

But I’m not the driver. I’m the runner, and I’m trying to avoid a big dog. His handlers are letting him (or her) run loose on the beach. There are plenty of signs that prohibit dogs and cats on the beach, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is this one. You know how dogs are. You’re running, and suddenly it’s on! Even if I wasn’t afraid of dogs it would be stupid to taunt them.

No matter how flat you make a pancake, as the saying goes, it still has two sides. Remembering that makes me suddenly thankful the (justifiably) annoyed driver was honking instead of texting. That would’ve made a run-in with a dog the safer proposition to risk.

Save your story. Especially the good parts. Remembering when you rocked something is a great way to enjoy some downtime, and it lays down new grooves. You’ll start thinking of yourself as someone who makes things happen.

Oh, sure. There’s a tendency to dwell on the opposite -- which is okay, to a point. You mark your lessons, you resolve to do better next time, and you advance a story you’ll someday read only for the fun of having lived it.

That’s what you’re doing here, right? Having fun, and learning a lot.

It takes so little time to save your life, metaphorically speaking. One bonus? Greater odds the story’s worth savoring.

Before the Internet I learned a lot from advice columns in newspapers. One story broke my heart. It was about a woman whose mother and father “came from undemonstrative families with parents who never showed any affection” and never told her she was loved.

When this woman was nine, she stayed overnight at a girlfriend’s house. The girlfriend’s mother kissed them both goodnight as she tucked them in. The gal was so moved by the gesture she couldn’t sleep. “This is the way it is supposed to be,” she thought. She was angry at her own parents for a while. Then she decided to do something about it.

“I began kissing my mother so often,” she wrote, “that I got her to laugh about it. I married at seventeen and had two children before I was twenty. I kissed them until their little cheeks were red. When I talked to my mother on the telephone I would say, ‘I love you, Mom.’ After a while she finally said, ‘I love you, too.’ I’d never heard her say that before. After a few weeks, when I’d go to see Mom, she would say, ‘Where’s my kiss?’ When it was time for me to leave, she’d say, ‘I love you. You know that, don’t you?’”

When the woman’s mother died she had a stash of letters from her professing that love. Can you imagine how much she cherishes it?

It isn’t easy to show affection to someone who’s stingy with it. To force kisses on your mom when you aren’t getting any back? And you’re nine?

How brave.

Katie and MomDo you have a photograph that calls up a memory so perfectly it takes your breath away? I do. It’s this one, from the summer of 2009. That’s me, on the right -- standing next to Katie in the fountain at Washington Square Park in Manhattan.

There’s a name for what you see on my face, and it’s happiness. I was in my favorite city in the world, standing next to my favorite person in the world, looking at my other favorite person in the world -- Darrell, who was taking the photo -- and all was right with the world.

Darrell loves this photo so much it’s the background on his computer, which I mention only to tell you how often he says I look exactly the same to him -- nine years later. Why mention that? Because it illustrates why our marriage, and maybe yours, has endured. It’s a little something called the power of positive illusions.

You don’t have to look very far to find people burning up years of their lives defending their political opinions. Why not spend a fraction of that time dwelling on what you love about the people you love?

It reminds me of a greeting card I saw once, two newlyweds gazing out from the tiny deck off their tiny apartment. I can’t remember how they could see their reflection. The glassy surface of a calm lake, perhaps? But it was the two of them, a prince and a princess, gazing out from their castle.

Life is what you make it.

Twenty-seven minutes. I timed it. That’s how long it took to read Darrell something interesting I’d found online, to listen to him tell me a funny story related to that, to search for and watch a short video related to that, and finally to get back in touch with the friend who’d inspired everything.

Which is no problem at all. Good friends aren’t interruptions. They’re what make work fun.

But it reminded me how finite our time is. A career consultant once quoted research that showed interruptions cost the average worker in the United States between two and three hours a day. Which amounts to almost six hundred billion dollars a year in lost productivity! “Not only that,” the consultant added, “but most managers lose sixty minutes a day to clutter. They can’t find what they’re looking for on that big pile of stuff on their desk.”

“It makes me think we’re very efficient in the time we’re actually working,” I told him. “That’s one way to look at it,” he said.

Here’s another way to look at it, courtesy of Dick Bolles: “Your to-do list is your plan. Interruptions? God’s plan. Always ask, ‘Is it possible God sent this person?’” Or as I would put it: “You’re not the only one writing your life story. And, you know, thank heavens.”

Are you persuasive?
September 25, 2018

I started drinking coffee when I was nineteen. It was something to sip on, to get refills of, and to linger over during those wee-hours-of-the-morning study sessions (dates!) at the Denny’s just off the University of Nebraska campus in Lincoln.

I could have as much (black) coffee as I wanted and not gain weight. It was the perfect treat.

Coffee became my constant companion for decades. I was hooked. Darrell became a fan, as did Katie. None of us could imagine life without it.

When Dr. Jim Hardt invited me to spend a week at his Biocybernaut Institute last winter, I was surprised -- and disheartened -- to learn I’d have to be caffeine-free. Coffee wasn’t allowed on the premises. I hated that. But I wanted the experience, so I tapered down in time to abstain for the week.

I’d bought into the idea that sleep gets more elusive as you age, but this experiment changed all that. I started sleeping so much better. I fell asleep right away and I woke up rested. If I had to get up in the middle of the night I fell back asleep quickly. The joint pain that had nagged me for years was suddenly and most thoroughly gone, so there was none of that tossing and turning in an attempt to get comfortable enough to nod off.

Sold.

Not only that, but Katie -- who initially expressed only dismay at the dismantling of a family tradition -- started cutting back after she realized coffee was affecting her sleep, too. Before long she was off of it entirely. Darrell, who’s never been a great sleeper, was inspired to quit. He’s been caffeine-free for almost a month now. And, yes. He's sleeping much better already.

Me? I miss coffee. I still feel mildly depressed. But the fake high comes at a price I’m no longer willing to pay. Doing without it works.

You know, for us.

Is your soul untethered?
September 24, 2018

The Untethered SoulPicture this. You’ve had a vague awareness of the running commentary inside your head, but you’ve decided to get to know it better -- a lot better. May I suggest a field guide? It’s called The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. In no time at all you’ll be much better acquainted with what Michael calls your inner roommate, and you’ll wonder how you’ve lived with that person your entire life. Your worst enemy won’t seem as inane by comparison.

The Untethered Soul is a game changer. It’s a brain changer.

I’m not saying you should read it. But you could!