I think that the current issue we face in society today is the fact that our baseline of comfort is far too high. I am not introducing a new concept but I am introducing what I believe is a unique solution. We do not have to travel far without seeing some comfort of life offered in abundance. One we are able to devour almost immediately. For many of the us the walk to our car in the morning from our house, or into work can be the hardest part of our day. This horror is quickly pacified by the latte from our favorite coffee place, a sugary snack, or an endorphin rush from a scroll through social media.
What’s more is that the more this social media, sugary snack, or favorite coffee place exist in abundance the more we take them for granted. Yet when we are deprived of these same things we begin to appreciate their existence even more. Consider the taste of an average meal when you have been hungry for the entire day. Consider the cloak of warmth your heart feels from a hot shower after a day in the cold. Consider the way your bed swallows you into its arms after you have been sleep deprived for days or weeks. If it has been too long for you to remember any of these feelings than perhaps your baseline of comfort has risen to an extremely high level.
So, how do we drop down the baseline of comfort in order to gain a greater appreciation for those wonderful things that have become so common in everyday life? We do things that make us extremely uncomfortable. We do things that demonstrate our vulnerability to others and most importantly to ourselves. I say this at the risk of sounding like some cheesy inspirational quote on a poster or every self help guru on the internet. Stepping outside of your comfort zone is a necessary part of gaining an appreciation for every day life. It goes hand in hand with practicing gratitude for all of the wonderful things that you do have.
For me, experiencing nature and the elements has always been a way for me to be reminded of the many wonderful things I am afforded in life. Whether it is hiking through the Appalachian Trail, up the side of a mountain, or sleeping in the tree line for a week nature has always done a great job of making me realize two things. The first is how little I actually need to survive. I generally try to go out and survive on only the things I can carry, and I generally want to carry very little. When I return home and see all of the material possessions I have accumulated I am reminded of how many of them are actually a waste. Yet, I appreciate the fact that I am able to have many of these things and I am more likely to get rid of those that I am no longer thankful for.
The second reminder is the fact that I have so many wonderful parts of my life that I generally take for granted. The flavor of food, the hugs I get from my wife (babygurl), the comfort of my couch, and even the job I have are all so much more exciting. The bad parts of life are almost nonexistent at that point because I have experienced far worse from my challenging trip in nature. This was illustrated to me when after an extremely cold (-30 degrees F temperature) trip to Mount Washington I ran past a neighbor of mine in Virginia.
Virginia had recently received a foot of snow and it was about 27 degrees F outside. My neighbor was wearing the same neoprene face-mask my guide forced me to wear on Mount Washington in order to save me from getting frostbite. We walked by each other and I asked him how he was doing. He response was, “horrible … cold” and he kept walking. I couldn’t help myself but laugh in his face after such a response. I felt bad for doing so afterwards, but I realized that his baseline for cold and mine were now extremely different. His perception of 27 degrees F was one of extreme cold and discomfort. I saw that same temperature as a 57 degree F improvement on the temperatures I had just experienced and therefore, tolerable and even welcomed conditions.
This difference in perception of our surrounding environment was due to the fact that I had recently built up my level of comfort with discomfort. I had set a lower baseline that my neighbor. I argue that we all need to endeavor to lower our baseline and grow a greater appreciation for the flavor of life. Only through constant and consistent discomfort can we appreciate our every day comforts. For me it is experiencing the harsh environment our world has to offer. For you it may be taking up a new martial art practice and getting punched in the face. It could be something less harsh like a new workout regiment. Or perhaps it is something as simple as a 30 day no coffee challenge. Whatever it is, play with those comforts you are used to every day and grow comfortable with being uncomfortable.
I heard a quote recently that has stuck with me although I am unsure who to attribute it to. Like many people on the internet I could just throw it up and claim it was said by Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, or Abraham Lincoln. “Comparison is the seed of envy”. I’m sure someone smarter than me will pinpoint its origin, suffice to say I did not come up with it.
Today’s social media filled world forces us to constantly stand at the doorway of comparison prepared to enter the dark caverns of envy. Leaving us left to our own devices we may compare ourselves to every single person we know multiple times a day. A recent study done by the psychology department at the University of Pennsylvania concluded that limiting social media leads to a decrease in loneliness and depression. The study specifically points to the constant comparison we engage in on instagram as one of the causes of increased depression and loneliness due to the use of social media.
Now I love instagram and I am not claiming that we need to swear it off completely. I am all for limiting use of social media, and fortunately the iphone allows us to monitor our screen time very easily now. A little exercise I like to engage in though is what I call Abraham Lincoln’s Instagram.
Let us imagine for a moment that back in the day Abraham Lincoln had an instagram or twitter account. You would probably see a status update or a photo marking the occasion of the following events:
1832– Lincoln is chosen by the members of the Illinois Militia to be their company Captain.
1833– Lincoln is appointed Postmaster of New Salem, Illinois, and appointed to be Deputy Surveyor of Sangamon County.
1834– Lincoln is Elected to the Illinois State Legislature.
1836– Lincoln is reelected to the state Legislature and is granted a license to practice law in Illinois.
1839– Lincoln is nominated for House Speaker by the Whig Party.
Re-elected to Illinois House (running first in his district, Served as Whig floor leader.
1842– Lincoln is admitted to practice law in the U.S. District Court.
1844– Lincoln opens a private Law practice of his own.
1846– Lincoln is elected to congress.
1849– Lincoln is given the opportunity to practice law in the U.S. Supreme Court. He was offered (but declined the opportunity to serve as secretary and later governor of the Oregon Territory.)
1854– Lincoln is elected to the Illinois State Legislature but denies because he is running for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
1860– Lincoln is elected to the office of the President of the United States.
An extremely impressive list of accomplishments. That list even removes a lot of the things that are listed on all of his greatest successes. Watching this series of events unfold from behind the lens of our own social media profiles would make many of us feel as though we were massive failures in comparison. Lincoln too was a massive failure at many things. Below are all the events Lincoln would not have tweeted about or posted to his instagram.
1816– Lincoln and his family do not possess the money to establish clear title to their farm land in Kentucky. Which forces them to leave the land behind and move to Illinois.
1818– Lincoln’s Mother dies of milk sickness when he is just 9 years old.
1831– Lincoln leaves home for a job at a general store with a man named Denton Offutt. Offutt promised to make Lincoln the manager of the store but over extended his budget and had to close up shop. Leaving Lincoln unemployed.
1832– Lincoln ran for State Legislature and lost.
1833– Lincoln takes out a loan to purchase a General Store with his parnter William F. Berry. The store does not fair well against more established competition and they have to close. Lincoln spends several years paying off his debt.
1835– Lincoln’s sweetheart Ann Rutledge dies.
1838– Lincoln is defeated in his attempt to become Speaker of the State Legislature.
1843– Lincoln seeks a nomination from the Whig Party to run for Congress and is rejected.
1854– Lincoln seeks a seat as a U.S. Senator for Illinois. He is unable to obtain the majority vote required.
1856– Lincoln fails to obtain the nomination for Vice President of the United States. Of note: he did not seek this nomination, he was considered as a potential candidate by the Whig party and could only obtain 100 votes of the require 363.
If you look at his successes and failures in sequential order it is almost as though each major accomplishment is followed by a failure. We can make the assumption that if Lincoln were alive today, we probably would only hear about the success list through his Instagram or Twitter. Granted, Lincoln’s humility was extremely noteworthy and it is possible Ole Honest Abe would have shared his failures too. Regardless, it demonstrates the point that many times in life we only see one side of a person’s story. It is more likely than not that they are facing the same trials and tribulations that you and I both are. The only difference we can make is the way in which we respond to setbacks.
I argue that one of the first ways to make a more positive response to setbacks is to limit comparison of ourselves to the one-sided stories displayed by the rest of world on social media. We have a hard enough time attempting to pick ourselves back up by our boot straps after adversity hits. Comparing ourselves to the rest of the world only amplifies those difficulties. Lincoln responded to the countless setbacks life threw at him with malice toward none. A lesson in resilience and perseverance for us all.
Big thanks to Snopes for ensuring that my post was based on fact-checked information and not “fake-news”.
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New Years Resolutions are Wonderful, breaking bad habits even better; consistency is what really moves the needle.-Postmodernpatriot.blog
I am all for people setting tangible realistic goals and setting out to achieve them. Even if that means failing and learning a lot about yourself. I think the setting of goals is what sets doers apart from watchers. If you are reading this blog and following this site you are probably a doer. The proverbial Man in the Arena Theodore Roosevelt speaks of. Many of us set goals in the hopes of starting a new habit or breaking an old habit.
If I can commend any book about understanding the psychology of habit it is “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. I recommend picking up this book, reading the first chapters and maybe one or two case studies. Otherwise it does become repetitive, or you can read below for the cliff notes version.
Every habit, good or bad, begins with a Cue, followed by a routine, ending with a reward. Breaking bad habits is all about identifying cues. For many smokers this means something like coffee. If you wake up every day and you get a craving for coffee this cues the routine of making coffee and drinking it. Which is then followed by the reward of that first cigarette. For some the cue can be alcohol. Others use certain drugs to cope with negative feelings, meaning their cue may be feeling down. We can have multiple cues. Breaking a bad habit is all about avoiding cues and interrupting routines.
There are many ways to avoid cues. This is the strategy of removing junk food from the house or refusing to walk by the vending machine at work in order to avoid temptation. We can use replacement strategies like snacking on trail mix with a little bit of candy mixed in, instead of straight candy. Finally we can look to interrupt the routine that leads to the reward or bad habit. This is the act of popping a piece of gum in your mouth the minute you crave something bad for you. Or you can really elevate your routine by replacing your bad reward with a good reward. I once had a Marine who did 10 push ups every time a craving arose while he was quitting chewing-tobacco.
Regardless of all of the information provided on how to develop a habit or shed an old one there is one factor that truly matters. That is consistency. Smoking is our example for this post so I researched the average number of times it takes for a person to quit smoking. The general rule of thumb is 5-7 times. However, a recent study by the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, claimed their survey concluded 30 to be the average number of attempts to quit a bad habit like cigarettes.
You can drop 20 pounds this year, and put it right back on in less than a month if you are not consistent in following your goals. The consistent and endless pursuit of a goal is what results in the majority of the learning. Talk to any life long martial artist. We must improve every day. Failure to improve upon yourself leads to perished skills, and allows the mind and body to grow soft.
“With the advancement of the information age, the commodity of experience is overvalued.”
The reason for this post and my decision to bring back the blog from retirement came from a discussion I had at a wedding this past weekend with friends. A close friend of mine and his wife were discussing the fact that my friend’s wife was beginning to teach a class at the college we all attended. My friend mentioned that his wife was nervous because she was only 28 and preparing to step up in front of a classroom of students not much younger than her (she had nothing to be nervous about because she is extremely intelligent and hard working). Never the less, it is a natural and humble thing to be nervous.
I immediately responded with an anecdote of some of my experiences as a platoon commander. I stepped up in front of a platoon of Marines at the age of 26 and many of them were between the age of 18-22. Some of them were far older than me. Some of them were combat hardened veterans who had been a part of some very serious conflict far off lands. Stepping up in front of them and giving orders can be a nerve wracking task. Many of these young men were total alpha types who were willing to tactfully challenge anyone, especially their new green eyed lieutenant.
If anyone ever asked me how much combat I had been to, in a manner that accused me of lacking experience, my response was always as follows. Napoleon had a mule with him that he brought to every battle he ever went to. That mule has been to more combat than both of us, but he doesn’t know more about tactics than I do. I don’t bring this story up to beat my chest or to claim that I am some tactical genius who knows more about battle than anyone else on the planet. To claim this would demonstrate my naïveté. Ironically enough I never ended up going to combat which I do consider a blessing although some of my peers disagree.
I bring this up to demonstrate the point that I always found to be extremely helpful in life. With the advancement of the information age, the commodity of experience is overvalued. We live in an era where the information released by experts is at our fingertips at almost every moment of the day. Name a skill you desire to obtain or develop and the odds are someone is in the middle of developing a course to teach it to you. This instant access to information undervalues the expertise of the very individuals providing instruction on said skill-set Additionally we have learned that data can provide the majority of information we need and many times the self proclaimed experiential guru’s are incorrect in comparison (Read “The Undoing Project” to learn about exceptions to this rule). Experience is a benefit and a privilege; and every guru started out as a novice. Yet, they had the basic skill set and work ethic to hone their craft. The information era shortens the distance in the transition between novice and guru.
Everything mentioned above is the reason for bringing back the blog and all of the other exciting things we have lined up for this website. I have been fortunate enough in my experiences as Marine Infantry Officer to grow and develop certain skills that some people have not had the privilege to develop yet. It would be a disservice for me to keep those experiences to myself. Some people will benefit from the experiences and skills that I share. Others won’t learn anything new and realize this site isn’t for them. If this site can be the vehicle I use to empower my audience to put an extremely high value on developing into better humans than I have accomplished my goals.
I would like to close by humbly adding, there are many men who know far more than I do about combat. It is my experience that those who have seen the worst of it, generally don’t accuse those who haven’t been there of lacking the skill set to succeed when they arrive.
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