Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Despair Is Not An Option

So here it is, nearly a week since I performed my personal despair-ectomy, and things are continuing to change in interesting ways.

I'm no longer quite as euphoric when my negative thoughts don't result in feelings of depression.  In fact, I sometimes get a little annoyed.  What's the point of having negative thoughts if you don't get to feel bad, anyway?  I mean, I feel a little bad for wasting my time on having the negative thoughts in the first place, but it's just a minor annoyance, really.  It's not nearly as satisfying as sinking into some nice comfortable self-pity!

I guess it's one of those things like the sensation of effort: you don't notice the way your whole life is built around it until it's gone.  In fact, I think that perhaps there's a bigger lesson in this, that self-improvement is not a process of adding organization to your life, but rather one of discovering the forms of organization that are already running your life, and getting rid of them!

Case in point: I'm finding that I'm dramatically less resistant to trying new experiments in how I get things done.  I find myself wanting to consult my massive self-help library for ideas on goal setting and progress tracking and whatnot -- and doing so with an optimism and enthusiasm that I haven't had in many years.

Despair Is Contagious

It seems that the conditioned feeling of despair is something that spreads little by little throughout your life, like some kind of festering disease.  Even when you don't actually feel it, your brain subtly guides your thoughts away from the things it thinks will lead to it.  Pessimism takes over (disguised as "realism"), with cynicism not far behind.

So, it's interesting to watch what happens with the disease gone.  Having cut it out at the roots, the limbs and tendrils that ensnared every aspect of my life are dying off.  And new life begins to spring up to take its place.

Another example: blogging.  This is my third post in the last week: the most often I've posted in a week since You, Version 2.0 came out.  I find that I'm not nearly as resistant to just opening up a window and writing, not nearly as worried about what this group or that group will think of what I write.  All of those worries were just masking the single fear of failure.

You see, as my blog got more popular and the book came out and people started buying it, I began to worry.  I kept reading all these articles on-line about how blog articles should be short, they should be lists, they should have catchy titles with "How To" in them, and all sorts of other semi-conflicting advice.  I talked to other self-publishers who advised against actually teaching anything useful in my posts, so as not to give away free what I could sell in books.

So I worried I was doing the wrong things, and I also worried about what might happen if I changed anything.  When I had things I really wanted to post about, I was worried they were too "off topic" to post.  And when I had ideas I felt I should post about, I worried that I was getting too repetitive and not nearly personal enough.  Were people here to read "how-to" articles, or were they here to hear my stories?

Ask the Wrong Questions, Get the Wrong Answers

And so, writing here became a chore, instead of the thing that I loved doing.  Somewhere along the line, my idea of eventually being able to make a living at this had made the blog into a second job, instead of a passionate non-job-to-be.

So I'm really glad that I've finally got that nonsense over with.  It's no longer possible for me to take my own fears seriously, because they're not backed by the emotional charge that made them feel "real".  And now it's easy for me to see that I had the question wrong, too.

That is, it's not an either-or question between "how-to" and "my stories".  It's both.  And it's neither.  Because really, it's still my blog, and my choice.  Anything that turns one person away is just as likely to bring someone else in.

This just goes to show you that brains are not rational by default.  More often than not, our reasoning is employed mainly to rationalize whatever it is we're already feeling.  A feeling engages our brains to search for cues that justify the feeling, so I was always looking for the paths that led to failure.  And of course, I could always find some.

Other Applications?

In some ways, my "despair-ectomy" has been the single most powerful mind hack I've done since the one that turned my personality upside down.  It's even freakier, however, in that it all it changed is a single feeling.  Yet, the impacts are almost as far-reaching.  Unlike that other change, I don't feel any different.  I seem like exactly the same person I was a week ago -- except that I'm oddly more optimistic and resilient against negative occurrences.  And a feeling that used to be part of my life is now beyond my reach.

I'm kind of wondering if it wouldn't be a good idea to create some kind of short course in this "five minute miracle" technique, so that other people can take advantage of it.  I'm especially wondering how useful it might be to apply the same technique to specific fears, like if somebody has a fear of say, approaching the opposite sex, or if they have stage fright or a performance anxiety of some other kind.  If you have an interest in being a "test subject" for something like this (or for a "despair-ectomy"), please let me know using the comments link below.

And don't forget; if you haven't gotten yourself a copy of You, Version 2.0 yet, now is an excellent time to do so!  I just shipped book #62 of 150, so almost half of the stock is already gone.  Remember: just reading about self-help ideas is not going to change you.  You have to actually do something, and that sometimes means you have to keep reading the same idea over and over until it sticks enough for you to do it.

So get the book, and then you can start re-reading and highlighting and putting sticky notes on the parts you want to review.  Put the book in the bathroom if you have to, or wherever it will remind you of your intentions.  But do something.  Your life is every moment, so don't wait for another one!