The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Same Garbage In Different Bags

I have the strong suspicion that VERY similar dysfunctions underlie problems in all three basic arenas.

1) In body, people blame diets that make them hungry and uncomfortable, exercise that is "boring and painful" and the cruelty of people's attitudes. Lack of social support, and early family programming. Genetics.

2) In relationships, people blame lovers who lie and deceive, matchmaking services that don't deliver, bad role models when they were children, a judgmental society.

3) In finance, people blame the economy, dishonest customers or partners, inability to save money, the pull of advertising to buy useless goods, and lack of fulfillment at work. Lack of role models for success.

I'm sure there are others, but are we seeing a pattern here?

Let's try to boil this stuff down to the smallest possible number of excuses/reasons, separate from specific context:

(and by the way, PLEASE remember that the main reason for this blog is reminding MYSELF of the principles I try to live by. I'm talking to myself, not to any of you)

1) Confusing the external and internal worlds. "Society doesn't support me being fit/making money/finding love." That may well be true, but that is a child's excuse. "They don't like me at school. My friends are doing X, why can't I? They won't help." All may be true. Would you accept these reasons from your children? Then why the hell do you accept them from yourself? And if you do, don't you DARE expect to guide your children to maturity, when you won't accept it yourself.

2) Not knowing how to motivate yourself. Boredom is internal, not external. There is nothing intrinsically boring or interesting--it's all our perceptual filters. Children do the "homework is boring!" routine, and we have to tease and cajole them. Adults learn how to pull their own strings, to align their goals, values, and beliefs. To know WHY they are doing things, and attach pain to the negative results, and pleasure to the positive ones. It is boring to pay your bills, study, exercise, help kids with their homework, listen to your spouse's stories of daily trial. Unless it isn't. Would you tell your children that you lost their home because going to work was "boring"? If so, you are a child, and should never have had sex in the first place. Adults don't have that luxury.

3) Mistaking short term for long-term action. Do you know people whose savings plan is buying lottery tickets? I do. And diets, dating services, and get-rich-quick schemes are roughly equivilent--unless they are integrated into a plan designed to last a lifetime.

4) Lying to yourself. Remember Musashi's first principle? "Do not think dishonestly." Let me give you a perfect instance, from my own life. Over my career, I've made a LOT of money. Millions of dollars. Not LOTS of millions, but millions nonetheless. Since childhood, I've known a simple principle about money: Pay Yourself First. 5-10% of everything, right off the top. Goes in a secure savings account, never to be touched. Now, what do I actually do? Spend it almost as fast as it comes in. I take trips. I buy electronics. I have a great time. And when my career has a burp, or I have unexpected expenses, what happens? I suffer, and so does my family. Because I don't have the discipline to do what must be done. And how do I avoid the discipline? By avoiding the personal pain. I blame the economy. I blame the industry. (No, I don't blame racism in the industry for any financial problems I have. I blame that for my inability to meet certain lofty goals, or to express myself at the highest level, or stay on the specific career path I desire. I CHOSE to make a living in the arts, and knew that would be difficult. Racism is just a specific difficulty. Has nothing to do with how I pay my bills.) I put the blame everywhere except where it belongs: on the Adult Steve. Now, I grew up lower-middle class, although we were broke a lot. There are people who are GENUINELY poor, barely enough to eat...but note that in America, a sign of poverty is obesity. That's not poverty the way the rest of the world experiences it.) What I'm saying is that in my entire circle of acquaintances, including inner-city folks, poor-as-churchmice fans, and so forth, a VERY tiny percentage of these people literally have no money for color TVs, entertainment, non-essential calories, etc. In other words, it might be very difficult to save 5-10% of their money, but it would be difficult to pull your daughter out of a burning building, too. The burning building is your finances. Or your relationship. Or your collapsing health.

I have lied to myself, and done it chronically, for years, and am now correcting that. And you know what? As soon as you begin to discipline yourself to live on 90% of what you earn, surprise surprise, you find yourself making more money, and automatically finding other ways to save it. But as long as I lied to myself (as most Americans do) that I HAD to have that toy, or vacation, or whatever, my life conspired to support the notion that I could not save. As soon as I admitted I was lying, and FORCED myself to Pay Myself First...things started moving in the right direction.

People lie about not having enough time to exercise. Or meditate. Or manage their time (!) It's all bullshit. If you have time to watch television, you have time to perfect your life. Period.

A few principles that arise from Musashi's first principle:

1) You should never accept an excuse from yourself that you would not accept from your children.

2) You have no right to expect the world to work better than you do. Can't balance your budget? How dare you complain about the economy. Can't balance your metabolic checkbook in terms of calories in/calories out? Don't act confused by beaurocratic bloat. Can't keep your house clean? Stop complaining about the environment. Can't have an honest, open-hearted conversation with your spouse or lover? Stop wondering why there are wars. It starts with you. And curiously enough, when you DO master these things, you will gain huge compassion for the people around you, and the source of all the world's problems will be revealed. It is us. We are the problem. We are the solution. People who mock "We are the one's we've been waiting for" scare me, just a little. But they don't surprise me.

3) You will never be able to trust other people more than you can trust yourself. Never.

4) You will never know other people better than you know yourself.

5) You cannot lie to others and be honest with yourself.

6) You are as sick as your secrets.

7) A corollary to #6: there really aren't any secrets. We wear our wounds on our sleeves. But for every lie you need the world to believe about you, you must buy into a lie from others. If you didn't need people to buy into your bullshit, you wouldn't buy into theirs. Every single time someone disappointed you in the past, I ask you honestly: weren't there clues? Didn't you feel something wrong? Why didn't you pay attention? Because you twisted "judge not lest ye be judged" to mean "don't pay attention."

8) Your relationships are only as healthy as the flow of information. I don't know a single relationship that went bad where lying, or the withholding of information was not at the core of it. Do you? If you fall out of love with someone, that's sad, but hardly tragic. If you conceal your emotions and cheat, or savage your partner by withholding your beauty or sexuality or power, on the other hand, you can destroy your family.

9) Your relationships with others will NEVER be healthier than your relationship with yourself.

10) Tomorrow doesn't exist. Neither does yesterday. There is only Now. Saying: "I'll wait until I'm healthy" to lose weight, or explore relationships is often just your ego trying to slow you down. It's like saying "I'll wait until I'm making more money to save" NO NO NO!!! You have it EXACTLY backwards. You start saving money while you are poor. The excuses for not saving money loom just as large when you have more money.

11) Operating on theory rather than demonstrated reality. The engagement with the process of health teaches you where you are, and where you are not. Otherwise, you are merely hallucinating, working on theory, practicing A Priori as opposed to A Posteriori philosophy. Hell, any exercise system, relationship theory, diet, economic policy or whatever will work in your mind.

12) Listening to experts who have not themselves accomplished the goal. Would you take economic advice from someone who is broke above someone who is self-made wealthy? Weight-loss advice from someone who yo-yo diets as opposed to people who lost and kept the weight off for a decade? Relationship advice from someone married eight times as opposed to someone who has been married and happy for thirty or forty years? I'll tell you why we do this: we don't want to hear the hard truth.

We are desperate to remain children, to blame the world, genetics, or whatever for our health and happiness. The instant we admit that WE are responsible for our health, wealth, and happiness we have nowhere to hide. Yes, in a bad economy, 20% of people might be unemployed...but why are YOU one of them? If you have a slow metabolism inherited from your parents, how exactly does that stop you from exercising every day that you eat, and learning more efficient techniques? If only 50% of marriages survive, why isn't yours one of them? Where is personal responsibility? Where is the belief in yourself? WOULD YOU ACCEPT THESE EXCUSES FROM YOUR CHILDREN?

If not, how can you call yourself an adult? I have been a child in too many ways, through too much of my life, and will not do it any longer. Nor will I speak less than my truth at any time...anything less than that is dooming my children to repeat my errors, rather than face the future with courage and hope.


Pagan Topologist said...

Out of context here, but several posts back you asked whether there had ever been a superhero movie with a female lead. There was a Supergirl movie in the 1980's. I have a copy on Beta videotape.

Anonymous said...

I think you have #5 backwards: You cannot lie to yourself and be honest with others.

Josh Jasper said...

It's disconcerting to read "people do X" and then hear you say you're talking only about personal principles. Do you really believe everyone is like that, or is it just you? At this point, I can't understand who you're talking about at all.

Adults learn how to pull their own strings, to align their goals, values, and beliefs. To know WHY they are doing things, and attach pain to the negative results, and pleasure to the positive ones.

... which was pretty much the advice I was passing on to Marty - if one form of lifestyle change isn't working, like working out on your own, perhaps you can attach pleasure to working out with someone else, and find a more fun way to do something that's boring in one context.

Food is a fairly easy one. Many people I know of who have bad eating habits don't like cooking. Enjoying cooking is something that I think people can learn to do with the right context, and once they learn how to do that, they'll probably eat healthier.

Unknown said...

love this -

"In other words, it might be very difficult to save 5-10% of their money, but it would be difficult to pull your daughter out of a burning building, too. The burning building is your finances. Or your relationship. Or your collapsing health."

Marty S said...

Josh: I've loved cooking since I was 16. I've done the vast majority of the cooking ever since we've been married. Unfortunately I have a habit of cooking what I like not what's good for me. The problem isn't portions either, Sunday I cooked chicken korma. I cut up two breasts, My wife and I made supper out of it and I had the leftovers for lunch today. Maybe I'm wrong, but three meals out of two chicken breasts doesn't seem like gluttony. However, both meals were accompanied by a portion of rice and therein lies the problem. I like rice, pasta, or potatoes with my meal. I'm not big on green vegetables. So, yes if it was important enough for me I could probably at least slow my weight gain if not lose by getting the pasta, rice, and potatoes out of my life, but it isn't worth it to me. Once upon a time I thought about the purpose of life. I came to the conclusion that purpose of life was to enjoy it, while I was here. So I don't go on diets containing foods I don't like and I got my exercise playing table tennis and basketball, because thats the exercise I enjoyed. Those exercises are in the past however, since I am not up to them now. At this point in my life, I have COPD, am on an inhaler, I failed a stress test two years ago, had a cardiocatherzation , and take blood thinners as well as blood pressure medication etc. So my sports days are pretty much over.

Marty S said...

Steve: I had an experience on my first job that made me realize that people are different that each person has to solve their own problems their own way. I was filling out my w4 form and indicating how much I wanted withheld from my check for taxes each week. I had figured out how much I could owe the government at the end of the year and not have to pay a penalty. This way I knew the minimum amount I could afford to have withheld. From my point of view having any more withheld was giving the government a free loan and I would rather have the money earning interest. This was not a problem for me because I was always a saver. Sitting next to me was a coworker who was going in the other direction and having more than the standard amount withheld. I told him he was giving money away to the government and asked him why he was doing this. His reply was that he and his wife were spenders and if they got an extra fifty dollars a week they would spend it and have no savings. If the fifty dollars a week was taken out of his check and he got it back as one big check at tax time they would be less likely to fritter it away. I always think about this incident when I'm tempted to think my solution is best for everyone.

Anonymous said...

thank you for this one! VERY VERY timely!

Josh, I am struggling to understand what's disconcerting. I'm curious because I had a completely different experience reading the blog...Does it matter who he's talking about? I can speak for myself and say it resonated.

Steven Barnes said...

I think that saving 5-10% is a wonderful idea for almost everyone. HOW one chooses to do it (having the government keep more or not) is just a matter of technique.
Yeah, I am talking to myself, but when I do, I also consider universals and how I see others operate. This is all first draft, not formal essay.
I grasp you think I have #5 backwards, but I meant what I said.
Supergirl! Yes, you're right.
Forgot that one. Actually, I never saw it. Neither did almost anyone else.
No, I don't think everyone is like me. But everyone is like the part of me that is like everyone else, just like all ice cream starts with the same base. I reach for the universals, even if I can't always get them. For instance: no one's body disobeys the laws of physics. The specific WAY I implement that, my specific application of diet and exercise, is my ego-shell manifestation, not my essence.

Anonymous said...

> I grasp you think I have #5 backwards, but I meant what I said.

If that were the case, and if deceit is the foremost skill in warfare (as Sun Tzu and others have said), it would seem to imply that martial artists are incapable of honesty.

Steven Barnes said...

Not at all. There are limits to almost any blanket statement, and you've pointed out one of them. Dishonesty in business or personal relationships is a different thing from deception in war or combat, where the object is to overcome or control. When the object is mutual benefit, different rules apply. Your critique is well chosen.

Unknown said...

Really, really good, Steve. It's that kind of honesty that keeps me reading your blog. As a reader it's hard to take in too many of the points at once; too confronting.

Even reading it I found myself trying to recognize patterns of behavior in others, instead of in me, where it's doing the most harm. At 45, I only just started saving money the way I'm supposed to, and I used to use others as my excuse for not doing so sooner.

So the challenge in recognizing these universal patterns is not turning into an arrogant, preening PITA. I've seen you do it fairly well, but I still think you're an excepion

Steven Barnes said...

What's a PITA?

Mark Jones said...

Pain In The Ass.

Paul Worthington said...

Great post.
Lots to think about.
Thanks for that.
-- Paul

Josh Jasper said...

Marty - yeah, carbs are tough for weight gain, and people do crave them. I'm lucky in that I like vegetables. But then, I'm also of the opinion that, if I train myself, I can eventually get myself to like something. That's how I managed to like beer - I hated it until I was 34.

I'm sure there's a way can get myself to like working out more often, but I've yet to find t, and I'm not going to kid myself into thinking that, if I really don't like it, I can "just do it".

Marty S said...

Steve: I'm not sure complete honesty is always best. Sometimes honesty can be hurtful. One time I was in a mall, and saw something I decided to buy for my wife as a gift. The next day, she told she brought it to work and what a good laugh, she and her girlfriends had over it. It hurt pretty bad. Of course after that I let her pick all her own gifts so maybe it did accomplish something.

Josh Jasper said...

Steve - Dishonesty in business or personal relationships is a different thing from deception in war or combat, where the object is to overcome or control.

Wait... in business, the object is frequently to overcome or control. Business/War analogies are really common.

Steven Barnes said...

Honesty doesn't mean a lack of discretion. If I see an ugly baby, I have no obligation to run up to the parents and say so. I can complement something about the way the baby is dressed, or its smile.
Yes, business analogies with war are often used. And here, I DO believe that you take risks with your personal ethics and clarity when lying is used. Especially if you voluntarily enter into a contract, and then lie about the situation. It's a slippery slope. I do not believe it necessary to lie to succeed in business, although concealing information can be useful--so long as you are not cheating the other person thereby. I know people who disagree with this, think it all a game, and that lying and cheating are perfectly fine. Frankly, I think they are damaging themselves.

Craig B. said...


The overcome/control model is only one model...


Another good, and timely one.

The past couple of years have been major retraining ones for me. I had the experience that once things well and truly fell apart, only then could I see where and what I needed to change. Working on it.

Related to most of the comments that have been posted- we really are (or at least I really am) creatures of habit. One of the greatest freedoms I ever found was that I could choose which habits to develop, which to weed out. We are constrained in many ways, but within those constraints we have many choices.

Josh Jasper said...

Chavo - it's the fastest way to make lots of money. It's also the least stable. Witness the rise and fall of the "Structured Investment Vehicle" that made the housing crash about 500 times more damaging to the world economy than it should have been

Anonymous said...

The easiest way I've found to save money is to find a savings account that is difficult to withdraw from (the one I currently use takes three days to make transfers and withdrawals,) with a higher interest rate and set up an automatic deposit keyed to when your paycheck clears. Once you've got about a month's worth of pay saved up, you'll be surprised at how unwilling you are to part with it. That's usually the point where you'll start actively trying to save as much as you can. Then the question is, "How do I use this money to make more money?"

One thing I disagree with is that it's always a choice. In the sense that the only options available are the ones that you know about. When you're stuck in that hand-to-mouth headspace it's very difficult to see a way out of it just because it's probably all you know. That's why people buy lottery tickets, it's what they know in the sense that it's the only way they can conceive of getting money.

NickolusRodriguez said...

Good read. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been gaining more and more traction as one of the best psychological therapies which seems to be the modern application of Dharma.

Anonymous said...

you sound like a real dick douche

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Madeline Carlisle said...

I like this post, it's almost like an emotional boot camp for personal ambition.

In reference to your question, "Would you accept that excuse from your children?" Sadly, from my experience, many parents DO accept these poor excuses from their children and even help to bully others into accepting these excuses for their child, not allowing their children to "grow up" so to speak, find their own way, etc. If a person is not willing to accept responsibility for their own poor choices and actions why in the world would they allow their child to grow up and become a complete and self-sustaining adult?