What makes me expert enough to dole out advice? Nothing. Not a damn thing. I’ve spent a fat chunk of my life fucking up, fucking around and fucking off. Then one day, I got too damn tired of it; my body got too damn tired. It wasn’t a heroic choice to change, I just started having panic attacks. For most people panic attacks are enough to shock them into re-evaluating their life, but me. To wake me up it took having a panic attack on top of extremely high blood pressure while I was suffering from an excruciating infected tooth.
My blood pressure is now regulated by pills and my tooth pain was taken away with a drill, but I was left with the anxiety. Anyone who has had anxiety knows that it is different then stress. Stress is a reaction to being over-stimulated and over-burdened. Anxiety is an all out war in your body for no discernible reason. Anxiety is shortness of breath, electric shocks in your body, chest pain and utterly uncontrollable terror. Anxiety is a hyper-alert state where you can actually hear your blood pumping and it’s pumping fast—too fast. You begin to feel that the only thing holding that imaginary blood clot or heart attack at bay is moving the right way, sitting, standing, pacing, breathing; that the only thing keeping you alive is the sheer power of your will.
Now, everybody’s experience with anxiety is unique, but I’ve yet to meet a person who said it was fun. It’s monstrous and it doesn’t just go away on its own. You have to deal with it. You have to make changes in your lifestyle. You have to evolve. But, this isn’t an article on how to murder anxiety. There are plenty of great instructions on meditation that will help dramatically, but finding relief is an individual journey, just like the anxiety itself. This is an article about dealing with life after experiencing a very tangible, looming fear of death. This is an article about getting things done before they’re throwing dirt on your face. This is even an article about knowing goals and dedicating yourself to them. This is an article about 8 ideas that I have, that I’ve stolen, that are clichéd; 8 things I’m trying.
This is one that I fought for a long time. I hate doing it. I dread it. It’s just so damn boring, but I do it. I do 30 minutes every morning before I shower or even eat. I avoided exercise for years, and I can tell you that going back to base-line healthy after reaching a certain age is a lot more difficult. You don’t put on muscle nearly as fast, the soreness lasts longer and the fat—well the fat seems to have claws in your bones and just won’t let go.
So here’s the thing, once you start exercising, you don’t need to flaunt it. You don’t need a spandex wardrobe. You need to tweet how far you ran today. Nobody gives a shit. You don’t even need a six pack, just get your heart pumping and sweat.
Someone once told me ‘the more you use your body, the better it works.’ I’ve found that to be true. I have more energy, I’m in a better mood and I’m more productive. For a cantankerous procrastinator like me, that’s a huge improvement. It also turns out that the more you use your body, the better your brain works.
If those aren’t reason enough, then do it for vanity. Do it so that you don’t get fat or flabby or have weird flaps of skin whose origin you can’t place. Do it so you can still have sex later in life. Do so that you can see your genitals. Do it so that you don’t drop dead on the toilet. Do so that you don’t end up looking like some demented cartoon character, dragging a metal cart into McDonald’s for dinner every night.
Read every day. Read for at least an hour. Don’t do anything else for that hour. Put your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb.’ Keep a pen and a piece of paper near you while reading. Every time something occurs to (an idea that the book inspires, the fact that you need milk, a question you have) write it down on that paper and forget it until the hour is up. This allows you to pay attention to the book without forgetting anything.
The most successful people in the world read everyday. It’s not just about knowledge, but the more you stimulate your brain the easier is it get things done. Your focus improves and you’re more equipped to solve problems. It doesn’t matter what you read, but don’t limit yourself to one genre. The more you challenge yourself, the better it is for your brain and the better it is for your self-esteem.
Reading also makes you a better human being, particularly fiction. Fiction puts you in the skin and circumstances of someone other that yourself. It teaches you about different lives and different worlds and different points of view. It kills the self-centered parts of us. Reading teaches empathy. Reading makes you less of a prick.
3. Smash Your Screen
Ok, stop crying. You don’t have to really break your phone, TV or computer. You don’t have to give up your Instagram, or Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn or Google+. Just stop looking at them all day. Stop hunching your shoulders and looking down. That’s the posture of defeat. You’re physically sending depressive signals to your mind and your body. If you have to, look at your social media once a day. Don’t check your email more that twice a day. Limit your TV time to an hour or two. Cutting all this out will give you more time; time for things like reading, laughing, screwing and thinking; time for goals.
The more inane shit that you shovel into your head, the more anxiety that you’ll have. That’s a physiological fact. We become junkies for our phones, sucking up endorphins every time we grab them. Is it any wonder that we are all depressed and dissatisfied? Try being present in your life instead of being absent. Keep your phone in your pocket during dinner and talk to the person across the table from you. Skip the news and let other people tell you about it. Don’t just take photos, learn to be in them.
4. Shun The World
My goal is to write and be successful at it. It’s been my goal since I first read Vonnegut & Kerouac in high school. It’s the kind of image that I spent a lot of time cultivating. I found rough, beligerant blueprints in writers like Bukowksi and I made them part of my persona. I drank heavily, smoked even more heavily and I got into arguments about books when I got drunk. I made sure everybody knew I was a writer…but there was just one thing: I wasn’t a writing. I was a barfly who scribbled a few shitty sentences a few times a year. I’d made the image into the goal, but never the writing. I sat around hoping for inspiration to goose me under the table. I spent most of my time drinking, smoking, socializing and eating the worst food possible. It’s no wonder that exercising is such a bitch now.
Of the four, the hardest to stop was the socializing, because well…socializing isn’t bad for you. Not when you know great people. But writing is hard work and getting good at writing requires a lot of goddamn time and effort. It requires reading, writing, editing and quiet contemplation, all of which are mostly solitary exercises and are in direct conflict with a very active social life. I had to learn to say no, which sounds like a simple thing. It’s not. It’s a bitch. I’m still learning it. People get upset. They take it personally and as flattering as that is, you need to be willing to sacrifice if you want to achieve. Maybe what you want doesn’t require solitude, but something in your life will come up against your goals. You’ve got to be willing to kill it. You got to be willing to slay the dragon. You got to be will to leave the world and freeze in an ice cave. You’ve got to be willing to shun the world.
Learn to talk less. Learn to listen. Learn to accept that you aren’t the center of the universe. I suck at this one. I love talking. I have an opinion on everything. I’ve actually been described that way. I interrupt. I just sit waiting to talk; waiting to topple down the little tower of words you just built. That all just makes me an asshole. Talking and conversing are two different things. Conversation requires more that just you. Conversation requires exchange. So, zip it and try to understand what the other person is saying. You don’t need to believe it but try at least to get what their words mean.
We spend to much time deluding ourselves into thinking of conversation as things that you win. We spend to much time fearing that other people’s opinions will infect us. Don’t get stuck in the cycle of always trying to prove people wrong or top their stories. Listen, particularly to people you disagree with, because it’s important to humble yourself.
The people who speak less are heard more when they do speak. The people who speak less aways seem to know more about their thoughts than the rest of us know about our own. The people who speak less have calmer minds, smile more and they probably get more dinner invitations and hand jobs than the rest of us.
6. Don’t Lie. Don’t Apologize.
Try being honest. Just try it. I dare you. Skip the big lies. Skip the small lies. Skip the itty-bitty white lies. Accept who you are and how you feel and don’t waste time hiding it. Just say it. I’m not advocating radical, brutal honesty because that just makes people into a douchebags who swing the truth through the air like a big, fake cock. Truth can be eloquent. Truth can be sensitive. And if there’s no way to say something true without being cruel then don’t say anything. Go back to idea number five and just shut-up.
We spend to much of our lives lying to ‘spare people’s feelings’, but in reality we’re just being cowards. When we tell people the truth, we open up communication. We open up the possibility for a conversation. Rather that being vulnerable, we chose to lie, because it’s quicker and easier.
On the other side, don’t apologize unless you’re truly sorry. We apologize for little shit everyday. We apologize for things that don’t have anything to do with us. We throw out sorry’s for no damn reason everywhere we go. Our lawns are littered with dried, up apologies. We rarely even feel true regret because we don’t analyze our actions. We simple throw out an “I’m sorry” and move on. What could be a real conversation becomes a practiced ritual that means nothing. We know that ‘I’m sorry’ will induce an ‘It’s ok,’ and then we wash our hands. Only say you’re sorry when you truly feel it, and express it with emotive words. The rest of the time, leave out the apology…or better yet don’t do shit that you need to apologize for.
7. Start a Shit List
Everybody should have two lists: a list of people who support you and a list of people who don’t. This isn’t to be mean or vengeful. This is simply to conserve energy. We only have so much brain juice and we can only maintain so many relationships before the other ones break down from neglect. It’s even been suggested by studies that empathy is not an inexhaustible resource and that it runs dry. So don’t waste time on ingrates and users.
Is someone always asking you favors but never extending any to you? Is there somebody that you text or call, that never replies? Well, fuck em. Chuck em. It’s important to know upon whom to expend your precious energy. Take the energy that you’re wasting on self-centered dickheads and focus into supporting those who have supported you. Foster stronger, more rewarding relationships with people who reciprocate. They’re your real friends and they deserve it.
8. Take a Risk
Take a risk on love. Take a risk on business. Take a risk by writing a blog on life advice. Expose yourself to failure and criticism. There’s nothing specific to learn here, except that you will survive. You can’t live your life in fear because fear chains you. There’s no such thing as security, so take chances. Don’t be afraid of anything and learn to laugh when you fall on your ass.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
— Samuel Beckett