Mastering the Art of “Internal Competition”

Coaching Ourselves Out of Frustration So We Can Perform Like Connor McDavid, Kawhi Leonard, Tom Brady, and Tiger Woods

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Read time: 17 minutes (if you read as slow as i do)

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Whatever you’re passionate about, the reality is that the majority of your time is spent practicing. Then there’s a small chunk of time that you LIVE for, when it’s time to perform. If you’re a dancer, it’s the recital. If you’re a musician, the concert. Athletes and gamers have the games themselves. Businessmen have the opening bell of the stock market. Obviously, when it comes time to perform, we’d like to perform at our best. But that doesn’t always happen, does it?

Sometimes our opponent gets the best of us, or we feel off, or we’re cursed with bad luck. During these “shitty” performances, we get frustrated. It makes our heads feel simultaneously red hot and under extreme pressure. Frustration is a very powerful emotion that can spiral out of control and not only affect our current performance, but our future performances as well. And unfortunately for us, it’s not as easy as telling frustration to fuck off.

To some of us, the difference between performing well and performing poorly is the difference between making a living and starving. And it all comes down to how well we perform when the time comes. These performances are what I call “external competition.” We tend to think that winning these external competitions is all it takes to succeed, so we spend hours upon hours practicing our technical skills thinking that it’s all we can do to increase our odds of success. But most of us overlook the other side of competition, the less obvious side, what I call “internal competition.”

Internal competition is the battle we all have with our mindset and emotions during our performances. Whatever your passion is, it’s inevitable that you’re going to have ups and downs. You’re going to have some good days, some bad days, and a lot of average days. The most effective (and legal) performance-enhancing drug that’ll help us win our “external competitions” is understanding how to manage our “internal competitions.” The true masters of sport, the best of the best, Connor McDavid, Tiger Woods, Tom Brady, Kawhi Leonard, all have one thing in common. They’ve mastered the art of “internal competition.”

This frustration we feel when the bounces just aren’t going our way, or when luck isn’t on our side is the “internal competition” we face DURING our “external competitions.” So the way we handle our frustrations will directly affect our performance. There are a couple of roadblocks that we’ll have to navigate around in order to understand fully, but the first step to dealing with frustration is understanding it.

Our first roadblock is that we tend to deal with frustration the wrong way by default. In a way that’s detrimental to our performance. The second roadblock is that we’re trapped into thinking we’re already dealing with it properly.  This makes it difficult to accept criticism and take advice. We don’t easily accept the truth of our these roadblocks, so the rest of this article is my attempt to convince you that both roadblocks are not only true, but possible to navigate around.

More specifically, our Internal Competition is how we try to motivate ourselves, how we talk to ourselves, and how we try to get the best out of ourselves during our external performances. It’s the battle we all have with our emotions. Think of this “internal competition” as a coach you have living inside of your head. A coach who’s job it is to tell you how you’re performing and how to be better. The difference between a top-level performer and a starving performer is not only based on skill, but how “trained” their internal coach is in the art of motivation. 

Unfortunately, most of us start with an asshole of an internal coach who thinks he’s right all the time. It’d be nice if we could just fire him and hire a professional coach that knows what he’s doing… but, we’re stuck with the internal coach we’re born with. So, we’ll need to slowly teach our “asshole internal coach” what he’s doing wrong.

So what exactly is our internal coach doing wrong? And why does he always think he’s right? These are complicated questions, and the answers will make our thinking brains hurt a bit, but consider this the mental training necessary to win whatever external or internal competition comes your way. Look at it as training that your competition isn’t willing to do, or doesn’t even know he or she should be doing.  

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When we’re not performing at our best, our untrained coach makes three crucial mistakes. First, he needs to feel like he’s useful. He needs to prove that he has this job for a reason. He needs to feel in control, so he tries to force something to happen… RIGHT NOW! He gets impatient and jumps to giving us direction without enough information.

I know it sounds counterproductive, but sometimes the best approach is to accept that you’re shitting the bed, and relax. We’re more likely to perform at our best when we’re relaxed. This is when we’re not “over-thinking,” and when everything feels effortless. Leading psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this a “flow-state” and Ryan Holiday in his newest book calls it “stillness.” But how in the FUCK do we relax when we’re frustrated? 

If we’re having an off day, one of the best things we can do is give meaning to the poor performance. Yes, you may be shitting the bed this time, but the ultimate goal isn’t to win the current game, it’s to win the championship. We must keep the bigger picture in mind. If we accept that we can’t be perfect, and we accept that poor performances are inevitable over the long haul, we won’t define ourselves by our current poor performance. When we realize that our current performance doesn’t define our capabilities as a whole, we can relax. And when we relax, we can perform better.

Our more experienced internal coach immediately recognizes our poor performances as “out of the norm,” and he encourages us to find the meaning in our poor performance. It kind of sounds like he’s giving up, but what he’s really doing is encouraging a mindset that will help us get out of the hole. He’s doing more…by doing less. I’ve written extensively on this leadership technique in my previous three part series on leadership.  But to summarize, what he’s REALLY doing is giving up the need for control that our untrained internal coach has. He’s not going to waste his time stressing and trying to control the uncontrollable.

Maybe the meaning in your poor performance is that you’ve identified some aspects of your skill set that genuinely need improvement. Maybe the meaning is simply a well needed reminder that even the best of the best fail to reach their potential sometimes. We don’t love performing because it’s easy and because success is guaranteed, we actually love those parts of competing that we think we hate. We love that it’s challenging, uncertain, and unpredictable. If you want to win ALL the time, go play a video game on the easiest level and pay attention to how fast you get bored. 

The second mistake our untrained coach makes is this: he doesn’t want this poor performance to be his fault so he blames YOU. This is what we call our “negative self-talk.” Remember that our internal coach is how we talk to ourselves and how we try to motivate ourselves. We crave a reason for WHY we’re not performing very well. So we automatically make up stories like “the reason you’re shitting the bed is because you suck at this, you’re not cut out for it, you should give up, you’re too short, too slow, too skinny, I don’t even know why you’re trying.” Sound familiar?

The first thing we need to do is recognize what these automatic negative thoughts are, or recognize what our internal coach is saying. Once we notice what we’re saying to ourselves, we need to imagine a real coach saying those things to real people. If a real coach were speaking to his players the way we speak to ourselves, he’d be fired faster than the average person gives up on something when it gets difficult. Giving up is basically when we listen to our shitty internal coaches advice and BELIEVE IT.

What our “untrained” internal coach doesn’t yet understand is that frustration is temporary, it’s the feeling we get when we focus our efforts on controlling the uncontrollable.

We aren’t in control of our frustration, our emotions are automatic reactions to what’s happening around us. But we CAN control how we respond to frustration. So, when we face some sort of adversity, a pro internal coach would flip frustration upside down and teach us to control the frustration, and not be controlled by it. He does this by replacing all negative self-talk with constructive self-talk.

Only once we notice what our automatic negative thoughts are, and determine how destructive they are, can we start to change the behavior. We can then easily imagine what a calm professional internal coach would say to motivate us in times we need it most. “You’ve been here before, you recognize this spot we’re in, you’ve gotten out of ruts like this before, you’re actually really good at this part, there’s a huge opportunity here, and if it were easy, you’d be bored, remember that video game set to the easiest level?” He’d keep calm and tell us to control what we can control, and not to waste any energy on the uncontrollable things.

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Last but not least, the third mistake our untrained coach makes is a result of the first two mistakes. It’s clear by now that his intentions are in the right place, but his actions are naive and immature. This childish behavior continues when he tries to motivate us out of our current slump. He tells us to use our frustration as fuel, toswear, to curse, to throw the controller, to hit somebody as hard as we can. We feel a sudden surge of energy when we’re frustrated, which could give us more raw power. But it’s almost like we borrow that energy from our brain and we stop thinking clearly. When we stop thinking clearly, we stop caring about the small details, and when we stop caring about the small details, we make mistakes. When we make mistakes, our competition takes advantage of them, which makes our frustration burn even HOTTER.

Usually when we let our EMOTIONS take over, we regret our ACTIONS. This can spiral downwards until we blow up. We make short-term decisions without much thought that can affect our long-term goals. 

Our newly trained internal coach recognizes this pattern all too well. He’s seen it and felt it thousands of times. He knows how tempting it is. He’d remind us that it might feel like we should harness the sudden surge of frustrated energy and let loose, but those were the ways of our old coach. He’d remind us that we know what we need to do. He’d remind us that it’ll be extremely difficult, but we need to resist the urge to let frustration take control of us. We need to control our emotions so we don’t make any more mistakes than necessary. Sacrificing our short-term urges will increase our long-term odds of success. It’s kind of like stopping ourselves from scratching when we’re itchy. We don’t want to spread the itch or break skin and get an infection.

I’m sure you’ve noticed a pattern that seems backwards. We naturally want to try harder when we’re frustrated, but the best thing we can do is to relax. I know that sounds like bad advice and this article might seem like a waste of time right now (maybe that’s just negative self talk,) but remember at the beginning when I mentioned the two roadblocks we’d run into? “We tend to deal with frustration the wrong way by default, We’re trapped into thinking we’re dealing with it the right way and we’re not easily convinced otherwise?” Well its time to navigate around roadblock 2. After everything we’ve talked about so far, we still need to convince ourselves that it’s true if we want to change. Because frustration is THAT powerful.

And this leads to the biggest problem of all. If you’re still with me, I’m sure you have an argument that sounds something like “sometimes when I beat myself up, or when I lose my cool, I perform better the next time.” THAT’S the trap we naturally fall into. Explaining this trap is going to make our heads hurt a little more, so take a break, listen to a calming song, take another sip of coffee, do 10 pushups and then follow me along this important lesson in statistics and economics.

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As we discussed before, even the best of the best have SOME bad days, and SOME great days. When we perform, we tend to only remember these two opposite sides of the spectrum. But what about all of the normal days? The majority of our “normal” performances are easily forgotten, but they’re the key to teaching our internal coach how to chill out for good. 

Let’s say we have “shitty performances” about 10% of the time, and “Perfect performances” just as often at 10%. This means 80% of our performances are “normal” and easily forgotten. It’s way easier to remember when we have a devastating loss, or when we win the championship, than it is remembering a game in the middle of the season that didn’t have much on the line. These peak and valley performances are easier to recall because of the emotions attached, because of how we FELT. 

The reasons our untrained asshole internal coach makes the mistakes he does are hidden in plain sight. He knows how well we CAN perform, he’s seen us in the top 10% and this leads him to be disappointed when the remaining 90% of our performances aren’t as good. If we’re only satisfied after 10% of our “perfect” performances, we’re destined to be unhappy and continually disappointed in ourselves. And if we’re continually unhappy, then more negative thoughts automatically pop up and there’s no way we perform up to our potential. Our internal coach can increase our odds of success by judging our performances based on our “middle 80% forgettable performances.”  This means recognizing that both the “shitty performances” and the “flow states” are abnormal, and realizing that managing our emotions in BOTH situations is crucial. In short, don’t let yourself get too high, so you don’t get too low.

During the bottom 10% of our performances, we tend to think that our negative self-talk ACTUALLY WORKS. We do this because of a concept in statistics and economics called “Regression to the mean.” 

Remember that the MAJORITY of our performances are the “80% normal, forgettable performances.” So, if we find ourselves having one of the “10% shitting the bed” days, and we beat ourselves up for it, the odds are in favor of our next performance being better, REGARDLESS of the “negative self-talk.” We think that the improvement in our next performance was CAUSED by beating ourselves up, when REALLY, it was just coincidence that you were better, because the odds were in favor of your next performance being back in the “80% normal.”

So with an untrained internal coach, we are basically ALLOWING ourselves to be frustrated because we THINK that “negative self-talk” and “blowing up” was the fuel that got us out of the hole last time. This only causes us unnecessary pain and is detrimental to our performance long-term. 

If we look at today’s best athletes, it’s easy to notice a pattern of behavior. Connor McDavid, Kawhi Leonard, and Tom Brady are great current examples of athletes that are in control of their emotions. So much so, that some fans call them “boring.” They’re never too high, and they’re never too low, they don’t “show any emotion.”

Stoic is a word that is often misunderstood. Some believe it to mean “boring” or “uninterested.” But the word originates from the ancient philosophy of “Stoicism.” Stoicism is a philosophical practice in which one notices when events are IN or OUT of their control, and act accordingly. If done properly, a Stoic will avoid any unnecessary suffering. Unnecessary suffering is when we let events that are out of our control cause us stress. Stoicism says, “If an event is out of our control, the only control we have is how we react to the event.

So if Connor McDavid was “shitting the bed” during a game (highly unlikely,) stoic philosophy would tell him not to waste any energy in the events that are out of his control. The lucky bounces and the bad luck don’t matter. What he CAN control is how he reacts to the bad bounces and the bad luck, so he should focus his energy on that.

A Stoic Connor McDavid would first notice the familiar feeling of frustration, and choose to not let frustration control his performance. Basically, he’ll identify frustration as his old untrained internal coach losing his cool, and replace the advice he gets with what his newly trained internal coach has learned works best.

He would see the bigger picture. Stoic Connor McDavid would remain calm, cool and collected and find meaning in his current poor performance. He would focus on HIS game and what HE can do better, and speak to himself in a constructive way. He’d motivate his team to do the same. He would relax and not try too hard. He’d create an internal environment that wins the “internal competition” so he increases his odds of winning the current “external competition.”

When we’re winning, in a “flow-state,” in “stillness” or performing at our best, we use it as evidence that we’re in control of the game. And when things aren’t going our way, we feel like we’re losing control. When we feel like we’re losing control, we tend to over react, panic and try to control EVERYTHING. But if we try to control everything, then by definition, we’re trying to control things that can’t be controlled. So we’re wasting energy. Panic and frustration THRIVE on that wasted energy and try to steal as much of it as they can. So we need to conserve that wasted energy and reallocate it elsewhere. We need to focus our energy with laser precision on what we CAN control. The “winner” in most external competitions is usually the one who’s most efficient with their energy.

Ultimately, what we need to do is train our “internal coach” to be more like a Stoic Connor McDavid. We can learn to use our frustration as a tool. As an indicator that we’re losing our sense of control. We now know that when this frustration indicator is flashing, it’s time to focus on what we can control. And we can control our meaning and our actions, that’s it.

Good luck on winning your next internal battle!

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How to Stop Caring About What Other People Think of Your Art

Lessons Learned From a Self-Conscious Creative

Read time: 10 minutes (its going to feel like forever though)

Art by: Sara-Jane Scholfield

Don’t feel like reading? Listen to the audio!

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I grew up convinced that if I didn’t become a professional athlete, I would die. I then swapped my hockey gloves for a pair of drumsticks and majored in music throughout university. I was then bit by the entrepreneurial bug and I started my own company. Now, the two things consuming my attention most are my passions for psychology and writing. In my last article, I talked about why creativity should be our new definition of success and why it’s the best way to make life more beautiful. But what if the creative projects that we hold so dear are the causes of our mental health problems? What if our worries seem to always come from our craft? 

I’ve “switched” passions too many times to count, and I used to let it get me down. I’d be absorbed in a new subject, and constantly interrupted with worries that if I just stuck to ONE thing, that I surely could have “made it” by now. Looking back on it, I switched away from music because every time I played, I was crippled with fear. I loved the idea of being a great drummer, and had the dedication to make it happen, but every time I played, the only thing I cared about was if people thought I was “good” or not. With every mistake I made, I believed that people now had evidence that I was a horrible drummer. I’ve since realized it wasn’t a lack of passion, dedication, or skill that held me back from achieving my rock star dreams. What held me back was a negative mindset. What held me back was simply that I cared too much about what other people thought of my playing. Maybe, if I practiced my mindset as much as I honed my technical skills, I wouldn’t have ever put the sticks down. I now believe that every artist should learn some basic principles in psychology to improve their art and their lives.

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Before we dive in, I’d like to clarify that a “creative” doesn’t have to be an artist. A creative is anybody who brings new ideas and new ways of thinking to what they’re doing. Entrepreneurs are creatives, the world’s top athletes are creatives, great leaders are creatives, amazing parents are creatives, just as much as artists are creatives. Basically, we’re creating something NEW to solve complicated problems that are circulating our minds. Like how to create a profitable business, how to get around the defensemen, how to motivate a team, or how to express a feeling you have on canvas. These problems are difficult to solve, so difficult that they make us question whether we’re smart enough to solve them. So difficult that sometimes we feel like quitting. Only when we resist this temptation can we truly master our crafts. 

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Every sane creative has experienced the feeling of fear when trying something new, sharing a new idea, or showcasing a fresh new painting. Usually, it’s a fear of what other people think of our art. Sharing our art puts us in a vulnerable position. We pour an insane amount of energy into it, and have no idea if it’s “good” or not. So we use other people’s reactions as measuring sticks for our talent.

Caring what other people think is paralyzing, it makes you hold back from writing a poop joke when you think a poop joke would be the perfect analogy for your article. Some people would definitely hate reading a poop joke in a psychology article, but some would become lifelong fans, because it’s hilarious and fun. There’s a reason Mark Manson sells so many books. Our creative process HAS to be fun for us, or we’ll convince ourselves that the energy we pour into it isn’t worth it, we’ll convince ourselves that our negative thoughts were right.

Now, telling you to “not care what other people think” may sound like shit advice. Because everybody says it, and it’s NOT that easy. Most people who seem to give that advice, aren’t usually able to clearly communicate HOW to stop caring about what people think. I’ve always understood that it’s important, but how do I do it? As a self-conscious creative myself, I’ve found a way. Through the sum of my passions for music, poop jokes, and psychology, I’ve discovered how to not care what others think of my art in a logical way. 

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First off, when a creative person “stops” pursuing one passion and starts exploring a new one, the old passions don’t magically disappear, the knowledge they gained in passion A will help them understand passion B (or passion W in my case.)

Sometimes, we may mistakenly keep “taking a break from” or we “put down” our passions until we learn how to get over the fear that has followed us throughout our lives in general. We think we’ll be a better “fit” for something new, and that we won’t be as self-conscious with a different art form. But getting over self-doubt is a deeper problem than that, and it’s what I wish my music teachers were able to teach a young 18 year Jeremy in university.

I’ve recently had an epiphany that music (my passion B) can actually help creatives understand some complex concepts in psychology (my passion W) which can help them get over the same worries and fears that I’ve experienced as an athlete, musician, entrepreneur and writer. These concepts will help you perform better as a creative and help you extract your best creative ideas. Think of it like sports psychology… but for creatives. 

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We’ve all experienced certain pieces of music that correlate perfectly with the moods we’re in. When you’re asked to be in control of the music on a road trip, your first question is usually  “What are you feeling?” If you’re alone and sad after a breakup, John Mayer has you covered. If you just hit your thumb with a hammer, Metallica will help channel the pain. If you’re on top of the world because you just had the best day, you can enhance this experience with some James Brown

It’s not just the words in these songs that determine the mood. The harmonies behind the words are usually the most important part of the mood or feel. Certain musicians dedicate their lives to making you feel the emotions the director wants you to feel during a movie. Using music to enhance emotion is what the art of film scoring (my passion C) is. When you watch a movie and the bad guy walks up, there is usually some creepy, eerie music playing in the background that makes you not like him. When Orlando Bloom finally kisses Keira Knightley (my passion D) the orchestra plays beautiful music with amazing harmonies to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Without the music, movies would be hard to follow. 

The connection between music and our minds goes a lot deeper than just how we feel. Even a basic understanding of music can help us understand three very important principles in psychology. These three principles are: Chaos, Order, and Entropy. Understanding Chaos, Order, and Entropy is foundational in being able to understand our minds, and being able to make the changes necessary to improve the quality our lives. Especially if you’re searching for more confidence in your creative expression

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Don’t worry, these complex concepts of chaos, order, and entropy don’t need to be fully understood in a detailed textbook type of way in order to help us. They’re better understood “felt,” just like music. A visit to a 100 person classical symphony orchestra will help us “feel” these definitions. 

Imagine you visit an orchestra, and on the program is an intricate piece of music by J.S. Bach. But, it’s being performed by 100 people who just learned their instruments 2 months ago. They would likely be playing the wrong notes, be off-time, and playing at the wrong volume level. The “music” would sound like shit. The only way you wouldn’t want the song to end as soon as possible would be if your kid was playing lead violin. This beginner orchestra would be an example of when things are out of control and disorganized. This disorganization, this shit music is an example of CHAOS.  Chaos in our mental health is associated with anxiety and depression.

If we then visited a professional 100-piece orchestra playing the same beautiful symphony by J.S. Bach, they’d play the piece together in perfect harmony. All of these professional musicians have perfected their instrument over thousands of hours of practice. Every violin, cello, flute and oboe is carefully tuned to the same key, all playing at a predetermined volume level and speed (dynamics and tempo for the musicians reading.) The conductor ties everything together to ensure the most honest interpretation of the piece. This cooperation amongst every single person in the orchestra comes together and provides an experience that makes you feel something. Something that you’d want to last as long as possible. This professional orchestra is an example of things being under control or organized. This organization, is ORDER.  Order in our mental health is associated with feeling good, having high energy levels, and overall happiness.

Being creative, whether you’re a painter, a writer or an entrepreneur, is a process of transforming complicated thoughts and ideas in your head that feel and sound like the beginner orchestra, into organized thoughts and ideas that feel and sound like the professional orchestra. Creativity is taking complex thoughts that are swirling around your head like turds in a toilet bowl into beautiful, fully formed pieces of art like the Mona Lisa. A great piece of art comes from an artist genuinely creating order out of their own internal chaos. Being creative, and being happy, is THE PROCESS of creating order out of chaos. And this process is insanely difficult. This process is difficult because of the almighty power of ENTROPY. 

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Imagine if we took all of the instruments in an orchestra and left them outside for 5 years with no protection from the elements. Would the instruments sound the same after this 5 years of neglect? No. It’s easy to predict that the instruments would deteriorate, fall apart, and no longer produce the beautiful sounds they once did. The reason is because of one of the strongest forces in nature, ENTROPY. Entropy is basically a universal law in physics that without an external energy source, the natural tendency for things is to decay and “fall apart,” or become “less complex.” An egg can only break and rot, or be eaten, it can’t become a better egg.

Things like violins, eggs, animals, and environments need extreme amounts of energy to maintain their “perfect” status, to grow, to get better, or become “more complex.” Without an external energy source, these things would get worse, get less complex, or decay. If you maintain a humid and safe environment for your violin (a case,) your effort would be the external energy source needed for the violin not to decay into a rotten piece of wood. 

If we were in the middle of the biggest and steepest and soapiest Slip N’ Slide in the world on stairs, entropy would be the gravity pulling us down, and chaos would be what would happen if we would slip. Order would be reaching the top of the staircase free of injury and winning the Japanese game show. This slippery, soapy, stairy, Slip N’ Slide is about as accurate as I can describe the struggle of the creative process. This is also about as accurate as I can describe how difficult creating order out of chaos is.

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When we’re worried about what others think of our art and our self-worth depends on it, we’re in a negative, chaotic mindset. When we’re in this chaotic mindset, we’re in “fight or flight,” we’re reactionary, we’re stressed. We’re consumed by the need to end the chaos, we need to make things make sense again, we need order! The easiest way to make it stop would be to quit, which is why it’s so tempting sometimes. But the struggle is what makes the finished product so worth it, so quitting isn’t an option. When we find a way to create order out of this chaos, our mind gives us the ultimate rewards: Relaxation and Happiness. When we put order to the chaos, we’ve achieved something, we won the current battle against entropy, and deserve some positive feelings. 

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When we’re creating, we’re at war with entropy. We may have a lot of confusing thoughts and emotions that we want to express in our project, but entropy is trying to slow down our progress as soon as it can. One of the best strategies entropy uses to slide us back down into chaos is placing the virus of self-doubt in our minds. These are the worries that we’re not good enough, and these worries multiply exponentially when we assume that others are thinking negatively about our art. But when we assume they’re thinking negatively, it’s because WE think negatively. And that’s what we have to change. 

This self-doubt can now be viewed as entropy trying to bring us down that slippery slope of soapy stairs into chaos. If we start to view this struggle as our current battle against entropy, and as an inevitable part of the process, we can start to recognize the struggle, and even ENJOY the struggle. We can embrace the negative thoughts and self-doubt that are inevitable and welcome them as old friends, and politely ask them to leave so we can focus on our art. This is a mindset better suited for our creativity.

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When art truly resonates with somebody, when that John Mayer song is PERFECT for what you’re feeling at the moment, it’s because that’s what John Mayer was feeling during the process of writing it. Your complicated shitstorm feelings aligned with the shitstorm feelings John had while he was writing. John happened to have complex, chaotic thoughts and feelings in his mind, and John put in the work to win the war against entropy and come out with a musical Mona Lisa that put order to the chaos in HIS mind. John spent a lot of energy creating order out of that specific chaos in HIS life. So now, you don’t have to waste energy creating order out of that same chaos in YOUR life. He’s saved you a lot of time and energy by writing that song if you think about it. This song enabled him to relax because he expressed what he was feeling, and he can now move on.

That finished product in form of song is an example of creating order out of chaos in art. When the artist makes sense of something that didn’t make sense to you before, you’ll interpret that art as beautiful. If not, you’ll forever go on thinking that John Mayer’s career was based on luck.  

If your art is a true expression of creating order out of the chaotic thoughts in your head, it’s only going to align and speak to those who have a similar chaos in their minds. If your art misses the mark with a close friend, it’s simply because you have different chaotic thoughts that you both need to solve at that point in time. It’s not because you’re a bad writer, or because you’re lazy and don’t put in the work. It’s because you need a different reader whos chaos is similar to the chaos you experience and wanted resolved. Understanding THIS is how you can eliminate that gut wrenching fear of showing somebody a new piece of art. REALLY understanding this thought will help you perform better not only as a creator, but in life. 

So, if I could speak to 18 year old Jeremy West who was in university for music, I’d tell him that he shouldn’t focus on what people are thinking of his playing. He should focus on being genuine in trying to create the “professional orchestra sounds” in his head out of the “beginner orchestra sounds.” He should focus on just playing the best music he can. He should focus on being better than he was yesterday, he should focus on PROGRESS. Because if he doesn’t, he’ll have that same fear in his relationships, in his next passion, and in his entire life. And it’ll take successfully walking up a lot of steep, slippery, soapy stairs without worrying if people are laughing at him or not, if he wants to “make it” as a creator.  

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How to “Fertilize” Your Mental-Health in COVID Quarantine

Three psychological “nutrients” that keep our minds healthy

Read time: 9 minutes

Don’t feel like reading? Listen to the audio!

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While we’re all currently stuck at home and being bombarded with information on how to protect our physical bodies from harm, I have a growing concern that people aren’t quite equipped with the proper information on how to protect their mental-health during these tough times. Our Instagram stories are filled with simple, helpful, and inspirational advice, like keeping active with home workouts, but you can only workout and read for so long before you get bored. And boredom is what we’re at war with while stuck in isolation.

It’s when we don’t know what to do with our time, that our mental-health starts to deteriorate. It’s when we’re bored, that our mind automatically slips into the depths of worry, panic, anxiety and loneliness. When our minds start slipping into these negative thought patterns, we start to look for short-term solutions, like numbing the pain with alcohol, or a bottomless family pack of mini eggs. These short-term solutions to our boredom may temporarily seem harmless, but can easily get out of hand and create bad habits, which can then spiral downward into some serious long-term problems like addiction. We have no idea how long this isolation may last, so it’s time to be proactive and learn how to kick boredoms ass in Covid quarantine, with some help from a leading psychology theory. 

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Our body clearly has physiological needs, such as water, vitamins and minerals. If we were forced to go without any of these physiological needs, our bodies would start to deteriorate. If we’re consistently deprived of vitamin C, it leads to scurvy. 

Our mental-health has it own needs that parallel our physical-health. Needs that, when deprived, can cause long-term mental-health issues such as anxiety and depression. 

Imagine that your mental-health is kind of like a houseplant. When a healthy houseplant isn’t getting watered enough, it shows symptoms, but not right away. If it’s getting enough water but isn’t ever fertilized, it’ll slowly start to wither and die because it’s not getting the nutrients it needs. BUT, if you do feed that houseplant enough Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium, it will THRIVE. That happy houseplant would be super green, and grow uncontrollably. In short, the plant would be happy 🙂

Ultimately, what we need during these tough times is to create an environment full of nutrients for our mental-health houseplant. We want to create an environment where we grow, where our mental-health is fertilized properly. We want out mental-health houseplant in quarantine to be green, plush and growing rather than allowing it to brown and wither because we don’t pay attention to it. Now, what is the fertilizer, what is the Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium for our mental-health houseplant? 

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In Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s groundbreaking psychology research for “The Self Determination Theory,” they’ve found that our psychological health depends on three things, three nutrients. These three nutrients, when deprived, are what start the slow downward spiral into chaos. These three nutrients are Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness.

So, just add as much of these three nutrients into your daily life as possible while you’re stuck at home and you’re good…

Just kidding… It’s way more complicated than that. So here’s an attempt to explain what these three things are, and how we can implement them into our quarantined lives. 

RELATEDNESS

Being in quarantine, we’re being deprived of relatedness. I recently asked on my Instagram what people missed most about pre-corona virus “normal” life. The majority of answers were “missing family and friends,” and “missing hugs.” When we do things that make us feel more connected with people and more loved, it’s like miracle grow for our mental-health houseplant. 

Top tip for more Relatedness in quarantine: Use social media, but in a healthy way. Don’t just look at people’s stories, interact with their stories. We can use social media as a tool to connect rather than a tool to promote our life’s highlight reel. You followed that person for a reason, so you shouldn’t be worried that you’re not “close enough” to DM them. And let’s be real, we all love seeing an orange dot with big number inside of it on the top right hand corner 😉  

Social distancing’s biggest side effect is that it lowers our Relatedness levels. So we need to go hard on the next two ingredients in order to balance the health of our mental-health houseplant. 

AUTONOMY

I’ve already written quite extensively on the topic of autonomy because it’s a complex topic, so if you want a thorough understanding, go check out this article. But to summarize, autonomy is when we feel like we’re in control. We generally feel like we’re in control when we CHOOSE to do something. As soon as we have no choice in a matter, our psychology feels out of control, and therefore doesn’t receive any of the essential autonomy nutrient.

We’ve all experienced this at work when we’re told what to do, rather than asked to do something nicely. Even if the task is the same in both situations, we’d always rather agree to do something, than be ordered to do something, because we feel like we have a choice when we agree, which makes us feel autonomous.

Top tip for more Autonomy in quarantine: Schedule your time. Scheduling is being in control of your time, it’s choosing what to do with your time, which can kill boredom. If boredom is “not knowing what to do with your time,” then the only way to battle it is to control it, and we can do this by scheduling.

The reason we feel so good completing daily to-do lists is that we have a feeling of control throughout the day when crossing things off. When we feel in control, we feel safe and can relax.

When we’re bored and default to watching TV because we don’t know what else to do, we’re being controlled by the feeling of boredom. We may think that TV watching time is relaxation time, which it can be, but when we watch too much, our darkest thoughts pop up. This triggers worry, anxiety, panic, and buying too much toilet paper.

When you’re being controlled by boredom, you’re missing an opportunity to fertilize your mental-health houseplant. If you simply schedule TV watching time, you’re in control. #mindhack  (If you think you can just schedule TV time all day, read on.)

COMPETENCE

Humans LOVE understanding things. Competence is another form of miracle-grow for our mental-health because when we learn, we generate a feeling that “we’re now more capable of controlling the chaos around us, and are therefore more likely to survive.”

Competence is tight with autonomy, they’re best buds, sort of a 1+1=3 situation. When we build competence, when we get better at something, we create the feeling of autonomy. When we understand things, we feel in control.  #doublewhammy 

Top tip for more Competence in quarantine: Learn something NEW, or practice something DIFFICULT. Building competence is when we meet a challenge with the best of our current skill. Imagine you’re playing a video game. If you’re on the easiest difficulty and win all the time, you’re going to lose interest, you’re going to get bored because you’re not being challenged. On the other hand, if the difficulty is too high, you’re going to quit because it’s too frustrating. You must find the balance where your skill matches the challenge. When you find this balance, you‘re rewarded with the feeling of achievement, which is another form of miracle-grow for our mental-health.

Watching TV is relaxing, but it’s the equivalent of having the difficulty setting on our video games too low. There is no challenge (unless you’re trying to understand “Westworld.”) So we THINK we’re going to relax, but we end up getting bored and the dark worrisome thoughts pop up again. We unknowingly crave challenge, so when Netflix is asking if you’re still watching, maybe it’s time for some fertilizer, time for something challenging instead.   

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Competence building is where I believe we need to spend most of our attention while we’re in quarantine. If social distancing is what we can do to combat the physical spread of the   corona virus, building competence is what we can do to combat the symptoms of loneliness that inevitably come from the lack of Relatedness in our lives right now. We need to recognize when the video game level is too easy, and bump up the difficulty a bit. You can pick up Duo-lingo and learn a language, start writing that book you’ve always planned, or dust off those piano keys and learn a couple Coldplay songs.

Whatever activity you choose is up to you. But, I’ve come up with a “golden rule” that will help us all determine whether our daily activities will make our mental-health houseplant thrive or wither:

Basically, we should do more things that make us forget about checking our phones.

If you’re checking your phone every 5 minutes, you need more challenge, you’re stuck on a level that’s too easy and your mental-health houseplant will soon start to wither. If you “get lost,” and don’t even think about checking your phone, you’re mental-health houseplant is THRIVING.

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If we can all learn this subtle art of fertilizing our mental-health with the three essential nutrients for a happy houseplant, we can come out of these weird times with skills that will increase our happiness well beyond the threat of COVID-19. 

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What creative ways will you increase your Relatedness, Competence, and Autonomy in quarantine? 

The plant analogy, and all of the science behind this article all come from the book “Self-Determination Theory: Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness” by Richard M. Ryan (Author), Edward L. Deci (Author)

11 Weird Ways to Make Life More Beautiful

Life Advice from Kobe Bryant and A Case For Creativity

Read Time: 15 Mintues (6.5 pages on word at 12 point font)

Art by: Falyn Monique @fal_in_muse

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Remember when you were a kid and the most common question was “If you could have any superpower in the world, what would it be?” My imagination would run wild with all of the possibilities, but I decided that the ability to breathe underwater was my #1. I think what I REALLY wanted back then, was the deep feeling of awe and wonder that I’d experience exploring a new underwater world. I’ve since matured and realized that my answer should be something more realistic, something possible. Imagination has it’s limitations in the real world. No matter how hard I try, I’m not going to be able to breathe underwater (without a tank, smartass.) But what I CAN do, is use my imagination to find a way to feel that feeling that I was searching for. Find a way to make life more beautiful. I’ve been pondering this for years: Is there a way to make life more beautiful? More rich? Is there a way to squeeze the more out of life? Wouldn’t that be the coolest superpower? If so, what do I need to do and how do I do it? 

My mom always asked me growing up why I had so many questions. I never knew, I still don’t, but what I do know is that these questions have never stopped. They’ve only gotten deeper and more complicated. For instance, one of the biggest questions for me over the last 10 years has been “how do I become successful?” Success would for sure make life more beautiful, wouldn’t it? 

Turns out, this isn’t a very easy questions to find an answer to. I’ve always wished there was a “Success Doctor” that could write me a prescription with steps to follow that would make me successful. But unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, Success Doctors don’t exist. I needed to find an answer on my own. This lead me on a learning journey of podcasts, books, youtube clips, articles and conversations to try and discover answers to the questions that my mom would answer with “Why do you ask so many questions?” (love you mom.)

I noticed a trend that a lot of “successful” people seemed to talk about: accomplishing the goal isn’t what matters, what matters is enjoying the process. There’s more to life than “achieving.” I was once forwarded Kobe Bryant’s jersey retirement speech. In it he says: “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Was this the answer to making life more beautiful? 

Even though this was common advice amongst the successful, I was confused. It’s like I understood what their words meant, and I believed them to be true, but I just couldn’t FEEL it. I didn’t know how to apply this advice to my life. I hadn’t yet achieved what I wanted… so how could I just “enjoy the process?” A worry would also pop into my mind: “Won’t I be less motivated… if I’m content now?” 

It was only after asking myself all of these questions, experiencing some personal pain and suffering, and a routine trip to the bank that I finally understood what “enjoying the process” REALLY means. My question “How do I become successful?” was the wrong question all along, and these experiences helped me find the right question. The question should have been “How am I successful already?” Finding answers to THIS question may just be the way to make life more beautiful. 

If you’re short on time, or impatient, I’ll list 11 weird ways to make life more beautiful below, but they probably won’t make sense on their own (like the way the Kobe’s video only made sense after personal experience.) You’ll have to sacrifice 12 minutes of your precious time to read the words that follow and put it together yourself. After all, I’m no success doctor. 

11 weird ways to make life more beautiful:

  1. Change your definition of success
  2. Develop a “Gratefulness-Gland”
  3. Learn lessons from suffering before you suffer
  4. Pay attention to your ability to pay attention
  5. Think of your attention like a bank account
  6. Create a financial plan for your attention
  7. Understand your NEEDS
  8. “Attention-Wealth” over “Money-Wealth”
  9. Search for creativity EVERYWHERE
  10. Learn to generate “Attention-Flow”
  11. Enjoy the Process

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A few weeks ago, I deposited all of the spare change I’d gathered over the past year at the bank. I tend to use my “running around time” as thinking time, so as I was lugging around 20 lbs of change, I had a question circulating my mind. The question was “How can I redefine ‘Success’ so I can enjoy the process, rather than be left unhappy until I get what I want, just like the pros recommend?” This trip to the bank with $431 of rolled up change sparked a thought that made me understand what Kobe and the others were saying all along. All of my questions had finally lead to answers. Answers that will slowly reveal themselves over the course of this article, it’s more a series of answers than anything. I’ll continue to use these answers as a tool to remind myself how great my life is TODAY. I’ll use this tool to make my life more beautiful. Please keep in mind that tools don’t automatically fix things forever, they’re used when you need them. They’re used to fix and MAINTAIN. 

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Why is it only when we get a skin condition that invades our whole body and makes us itchy 24/7, that we realize what REALLY matters in life is being healthy? That we should have just been grateful all along for NOT being itchy. Why do we constantly tune out what our parents say, and then wish we’d paid more attention when they’re gone? Why is it that we’re not grateful for our body until it doesn’t work as it “should?” Right now, the odds are that most of us should be grateful for not having a scalp condition that causes us to lose our hair, we should be grateful for not having an eye condition that causes us to feel a constant burning sensation, a nose condition that makes us lose our sense of smell, a migraine, a chronic ear-ache, a gum condition that makes us lose our teeth. We can’t really be grateful for what we have, until we don’t have it.

I’ve realized that there is a deep truth to the simple cliche “You never know what you have until it’s gone.” We only really learn what we NEED when we experience NOT having that need met. Our brain can only pay attention to so many things. If we had a “gratefulness gland” constantly scanning and reminding us when things are going well, it would simply rob us of too much energy. There are just too many things “going right” to keep track of. Our brains instead evolved a more efficient model, we scan and detect for whats wrong, instead of whats right. The side-effect of this is that when things are going well, we’re not aware of it. Things going well fly under the radar, they’re non-existent to our “threat-detecting” senses.

I’ve learned that we can develop a “gratefulness gland,” and developing this gland plays a big part in making life more beautiful. Developing an understanding that we’re tuned to detect threats can calm us when we’re anxious. We can use it to get us through fear, pain and suffering when we’re in the thick of it. This knowledge can calm our nerves to fall back asleep when we’re woken up by creepy noises in our house. But more on that later, first, there are more questions. 

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Why does everybody say we should be more grateful? Why will being grateful help make life more beautiful? Because we usually only learn life lessons when we experience pain and suffering. And being grateful is being proactive and learning the lessons that pain and suffering teach us BEFORE we experience pain and suffering. We can use feeling grateful to potentially squeeze more out of life. This proactive approach is our new “gratefulness-gland.” 

In order to make life feel richer, in order to be more grateful, we need to learn how to do the seemingly impossible. We need to learn how to PAY ATTENTION to what’s NOT THERE. Pay attention to these undetectable things that only when we LOSE THEM, do we realize their value. We must learn to be grateful that we don’t have a tooth-ache, BEFORE we get a tooth-ache.  

It’s like these gratefulness lessons are hidden in a vault that can only be opened by pain and suffering, but we can make our own key and peak inside. We must get creative to make this key. They key to unlocking this vault is complex, weird, and a bit confusing, but we should expect it to be that way if we’re trying to see the invisible, feel the unfeelable, sense the unsensable. The key to this vault is PAYING ATTENTION to our ABILITY TO PAY ATTENTION Daniel J. Levitin in his book “The Organized Mind” states that “attention is the most essential mental resource for any organism.” (pg.7) 

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I realized on my trip to the bank that our attention is very similar to money in a bank account. Maybe there’s an underlying reason our parents and teachers would always use the saying “pay attention.”

Just like a bank account, you can accumulate and save attention. We can do this through rest, sleep, meditation, and letting our minds wander. And we can spend our attention by focusing on something, this is “paying attention.”

If we’re frugal with our attention and don’t spend any of it, it can lead to depression. We build up our attention reserves to the point where we don’t know what to spend it on. In this state, we’re not paying real attention to anything, so nothing matters. We then chase short-term highs, because feeling good matters, and we feel consistently low. This is our unemployed early twenties when we don’t know what to do with our time. We stay up late switching between channel surfing, smoking weed and masturbating, until we fall asleep. Then we wake up and have trouble motivating ourselves to even get out of bed.

We can get out of this by having goals that we work towards and a target to aim for, something more than “feeling good now” that matters. Goals are basically when we decide that something is worth us spending some of our attention on. With goals, we determine that sacrificing NOW, is worth what we might get in return LATER. Goals are switching a “short-term high chasing” mindset for a “long-term fulfilment” mindset. 

We can also spend too much of our attention, and this can lead to “burn-out.”  Our goals can become an obsession. We sometimes think that we’re not “worth anything” until we achieve our goals. If we don’t spend every second of every day doing SOMETHING to get us closer to “success,” the day seems like a waste. When we do this, we can go into “Attention Debt,” and we crash. We must find a balance between spending and saving our attention each day.

We must create a financial plan and budget our attention. Finding this balance is another step to making life more beautiful. The way to budget our attention, as we’ll later develop, is by bringing creativity into our lives any way we can.

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There’s a very interesting thing we have in our subconscious brain called our “Attentional Filter.” (Organized mind- pg.7) Our attentional filter is like an internal financial advisor that slowly spends our attention for us, and it’s on a budget. Our default is to conserve energy, to build up our reserves of attention, just in case we run into danger later. Paying attention takes more energy than letting our minds rest, therefor our attentional filter decides what we pay attention to by constantly scanning for two things, CHANGE and IMPORTANCE

Let’s say you’re exhausted and decide to take an afternoon nap. Your nap is interrupted by a pot falling in the kitchen. Most of us would think that it’s the sheer volume that wakes us up. But it’s actually our attentional filter detecting that there is a CHANGE in noise level, therefore it tells our brain that we should pay attention. This is an important survival mechanism that could potentially detect a threat while we’re unconscious. This is also why white noise machines help us sleep. A constant noise will drown out the noise of construction outside, or of your upstairs neighbour testing to see if their bowling balls are still round every morning at 6AM.

Next time you’re doing the dishes, pay attention to how much more focused you are when cleaning your big chef’s knife. When cleaning forks, pots and pans, your mind can wander, because there is no potential danger. But you subconsciously know when you’re cleaning a knife, that there is potential harm. Our attentional-filter grants us access to more attention when it knows that what we’re doing is IMPORTANT.

Our attention is worth protecting, and that’s why it is hidden in a vault. After all, our attention is what companies are paying millions of dollars in advertising costs for. 

There are situations where the money from our “attention-bank” can be stolen. And this is what we need to be proactive about. Because when your attention is robbed, it’s VERY difficult to build your reserves back up. And it’s only when we have this attention stolen, and we go into “attention bankruptcy” that we realize we should have been more grateful for the attention we already had access to. We don’t NEED to be extremely “attention-wealthy,” we just need to have enough to pay attention to what we want, when we want. The two main things that steal our attention are PAIN and SUFFERING

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When we’re in pain, our brain tells us that we have to do something to relieve that pain. Whether that pain is physical or emotional, it’s important. So our attentional filter tells us it’s time to pay attention. Our problem solving skills come into play and we start to come up with possible solutions to relieve the pain. Do I need Advil? Do I need to go to the doctor? Should I smoke some weed? Should I take a nap?  Should I do some yoga? Should I eat a whole tub of Ben and Jerry’s? We do anything to get rid of the pain, and once we find something that works, we now know how to solve the problem in the future.

There are healthy ways we can proactively prevent pain, which are usually long-term oriented. We can establish healthy habits, spend time with people that care for us, diet, meditate and exercise. But when the pain is immediate, we no longer have the capacity to think in the long-term. We need something RIGHT NOW, something SHORT-TERM. These short term solutions can be unhealthy, but we don’t care. And if we’re not careful, these unhealthy ways can lead to addiction.

 What happens when we can’t find anything that works? This is SUFFERING. Suffering is when you can no longer pay attention to anything else besides the pain you’re facing. When you have nothing to alleviate the pain, your problem solving skills are still active, but to no end. The suffering STEALS your attention until you go “Attention Bankrupt.” It’s only when we go through some sort of suffering that we learn how important the ability to CHOOSE what we pay attention to matters. You may have a project around the house you want to finish, but when you’re suffering, you don’t have any spare attention to complete it and it will remain undone. You may be a painter that all of a sudden has no desire to paint because you don’t have any attention to spend. These tasks cost too much when you’re suffering. Suffering is a nasty thief that steals your attention instead of your money.

I’ve realized through suffering of my own that “success”and “wealth” in our lives should be more about our “Attention-Bank” and less about our “Money-Bank.” 

If attention were a currency, there’d be different “classes of attention,” just like there are different classes of wealth. We can be “attention-wealthy,” or “attention-poor.” Our most important goals in life should be based around our attention-wealth instead of monetary-wealth. Being attention-wealthy is WAY more important to pursue than being money-wealthy, because you can enjoy the benefits of attention-wealth during the process, rather than wait your whole life for it.

Becoming money-wealthy is a trap that we can fall into when we have low self-esteem. When we don’t know what makes our lives worth living, a simple solution pops into mind, we think we’ll be “worthy” if we get rich and have nice things. This is a trick, we think that all of our problems will be solved ONCE WE GET RICH. We’re tricked into thinking “success” is this feeling we get forever when we finish. We think that we’ll be filled up with a huge surge of happiness that lasts a life time once we accomplish our goals. And in the mean time, we don’t feel like we deserve little bits of happiness along the way. This trap makes us feel guilty when we’re happy and makes us not “enjoy the process.” Sounds a bit ridiculous when you look at it that way doesn’t it? 

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To “succeed” means to progressively get better. And because we aren’t born with a “gratefulness gland,” we can ALWAYS get better at being grateful. But it’s difficult, so we must get creative to do so. Creativity is another thing that we can ALWAYS get better at, there is no end. We can always “succeed” at being grateful and being creative. This is what I believe the best “success doctor” would prescribe for success. The biggest success, the best possible superpower, is to make life more beautiful, and we can do this by bringing creativity and gratefulness into our lives anywhere we can.

Creativity is “enjoying the process” at it’s core. Being creative is a skill, and learning skills is extremely difficult. You must enjoy the pain you’ll face when building a skill set if you want to get any good at it. You wouldn’t write if you hated the process of writing, you can only create what you enjoy creating. That’s the beauty of it. Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi says in the forward of his book “The Evolving Self” that “It seemed clear that what was so enthralling about painting was not the anticipation of a beautiful picture, but the process of painting itself.” (pg.xii)

If saving too much of your attention can lead to depression, and spending too much can lead to burn-out, creativity is the perfect balance between the two. When you’re being creative, you’re spending, while your saving. You’re achieving cash-flow, with your attention. Csikzentmihalyi states: “I called it ‘flow,’ because this was a metaphor several respondents gave for how it felt when their experience was most enjoyable- it was like being carried away by a current, everything moving smoothly without effort.” (pg.xiii)

Let’s call our version of the creative state “attention-flow.” Think about it, you can only be creative if you have the ability to pay attention to what you want to pay attention to. When you are being creative, you are by definition, not suffering. I think the “ultimate-success” in life is “continually not-suffering.” So if we ever think we’re suffering, we can attempt to be creative to get out of it. I’ll give an example a little bit later, first we must understand the “classes of attention.” 

To fully understand the different “classes of attention” and why creativity is the “ultimate success,” we must understand Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.

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Abraham Maslow was a ground breaking psychologist. His life’s work was about human motivation and how it’s organized into a hierarchy. We need motivation to get things done, but Maslow realized certain things are more important to us than others, and that certain “needs” disappeared when other, more important, needs weren’t being met. It’s often drawn as a pyramid divided into 5 different building blocks. The bottom block being the most important, the foundation. The foundation is our “Physiological Needs,” which includes our need for food and water. It’s only when this foundational need is met, that we can move on to the next, which would be our need for SAFETY. Once we fulfill a need, we graduate to the next step until we reach the top. If our physiological needs AREN’T being met (i.e. if we’re starving) we’ll be brought back down a step and risk our safety to fulfill our hunger. The 5 needs are as follows:

  • 5- The Need for Self-Actualization
  • 4- The Esteem Needs
  • 3- The Love Needs
  • 2- The Safety Needs
  • 1- The “Physiological” Needs

Money could absolutely buy the first two needs, after all money does buy pizza, fiji water, houses, and alarm systems. But money could definitely not buy the last 3 needs of Love, Esteem, and Self-Actualization. Sometimes we’re tricked into thinking that money will attract love into our lives, and that we’ll feel worthy once we’re rich, but it just doesn’t work that way.

So, the money-wealthy in this world stop at “Need Stage 2,” while the attention-wealthy live in “Need Stage 5.” 

Need Stage 5 is “The Need for Self-Actualization.” Self-Actualization is defined by Maslow in his book “A Theory of Human Motivation” as “A Musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be…This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming. The specific form these needs will take will of course vary greatly from person to person. In one individual it may take form of the desire to be an ideal mother, in another it may be expressed athletically, and in still another it may be expressed in painting pictures or in inventions.” (pg.15)  !!!!!!

You may not consider yourself the “creative type,” but getting creative doesn’t have to be an art form. There is an opportunity to be creative everywhere. We can always find ways to be creative, and my dad happens to naturally be a master at it. He doesn’t paint, he doesn’t write, he doesn’t sing, he’s a hardworking blue collar man with the strongest hands I’ve ever felt. But he is very creative, more so than he even realizes.

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Last year, my Dad and I went grocery shopping on christmas eve. My dad walks really slow because of several long-term injuries, so I jumped ahead an isle to grab the peppers we needed (probably in an attempt to get home quicker.) I looked over and my dad was holding a plastic bag like a basketball net and encouraging me to take the shot over the isle of onions and potatoes. Together, we made the shot. Then once at the checkout, my dad grabs the EGGS and without warning, tosses them my way. More important than making the shot, or catching the eggs, getting creative during something as simple as GROCERY SHOPPING made for a lifetime memory. Now THAT’S creativity. THAT’S finding beauty in life where most wouldn’t see it. 

Yeah, for sure, we could have dropped the peppers and eggs, but creativity always involves some risk. Creativity IS RISK TAKING. If you write, paint, draw, sing, dance, plumb, weld, grocery shop or ski, you’re at risk of being ridiculed by others, at risk of breaking bones, at risk of a freak accident, at risk of your safety and self-esteem needs not being met. On one side of these risks lives beauty, on the other, potential pain. But with this potential pain comes learning. I took a life lesson from this grocery run that the opportunity for creativity is EVERYWHERE, and it can make life feel rich and full. (Thanks Dad.)

80%…

Just like the way we can’t know what we’re grateful for until we don’t have it, I can explain what I mean, by explaining what I don’t mean. I’m NOT saying that if you get a concussion, the way to get rid of the pain is to paint. I’m not saying I’ve reached a point now where I don’t need to achieve my goals because I’m so happy. I’m not saying that every time I sit down and write, or sit down and play my drums that everything is automatically better and my pain disappears. I’m also not saying that becoming wealthy is a bad thing. 

What I’m saying is that because my new definition of “Ultimate Success” is “not suffering,” I notice that I’m not suffering when I’m in a creative headspace and I’m grateful for it. Creativity may not be all that I WANT, but it’s all that I NEED. This is living at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, living in “Need Stage 5.” 

The “Ultimate-Creativity” is finding a way to learn what pain and suffering teaches you, before you experience it. What you have NOW is something you won’t realize you have until you don’t have it. What you have now is the ABILITY to be creative. You have spare attention that you can spend on whatever you like. We can use this “ultimate-creativity” to develop our “gratefulness-gland” and find ways out of pain and suffering.

  • Creativity = Not Suffering
  • Ultimate Success = Not Suffering
  • Ultimate Success = Creativity
  • Ultimate Creativity = Gratefulness Gland
  • Gratefulness Gland + Creativity = Success

90%…

Nothing screams creativity like imagination. And luckily we can use our imagination to create fictitious scenarios that get us through immediate pain. When I find myself in pain, I know it’s time to get creative. I know I need to achieve “attention-flow.” I’ve learned that I can use my imagination to create a “potential future suffering” situation in my head that makes me look at the pain from a different point of view.

Sometimes when I’m on a long run, my legs hurt, I feel like stopping and I wonder why I ever liked running in the first place. In these moments I use these “potential future suffering” situations. I think: “It’s completely possible I end up in a car crash some day like my dad and lose the ability to walk comfortably.” I then think: “How much would I miss this pain, how GRATEFUL would I be for this pain in my legs if I couldn’t feel them anymore?” This flicks a switch that allows me to endure the pain and push even harder. I use my “ultimate-creativity” to find a way to enjoy the pain. During these painful runs, my attention bank is being spent, spent on forcing my body to do something it would rather not. Once I bring my “ultimate-creativity” into this situation, I’m spending and saving my attention at the same time. I achieve “attention-flow” and it allows me to push through.

 This creativity, this risk taking, this new definition of success is what I believe a “success doctor” would prescribe to a young, naive, impatient me who wanted the answer to the question “How do I become successful?” Because creativity is something I can do NOW, and it’s something that reminds me that my attention bank budget is balanced. Now, when I notice myself feeling like I’m not “successful,” I ask myself one question: “Are you able to be creative?” If I’m able to sit down and write, sit down behind my drum kit, have a conversation with a good friend, or throw peppers across isles into shopping bags, I’m reminded that I’m NOT CURRENTLY SUFFERING. I’m reminded that my vault is sealed and my attention bank is safe. I’m reminded that I’m ALREADY successful, that I’m attention-wealthy, that I’m enjoying the process. There is opportunity every day for an attention-bank-robber to open up the vault. But, rather than worry about it, we can use our newly developed “gratefulness-gland” to be grateful that the robber isn’t here today. I think this is what Kobe Bryant was getting at during his jersey retirement, and his tragic death reminds us that these days (the journey) MATTER. Maybe Kobe Bryant was a “Success Doctor” and I’m just realizing it now. Thanks Kobe.

100%…

11 weird ways to make life more beautiful:

  1. Change your definition of success
  2. Develop a “Gratefulness-Gland”
  3. Learn lessons from suffering before you suffer
  4. Pay attention to your ability to pay attention
  5. Think of your attention like a bank account
  6. Create a financial plan for your attention
  7. Understand your NEEDS
  8. “Attention-Wealth” over “Money-Wealth”
  9. Search for creativity EVERYWHERE
  10. Learn to generate “Attention-Flow”
  11. Enjoy the Process

If this article brought you any value, the easiest way to show your appreciation is to share it with a friend. Thank you!

“Autonomy-Supportive Salad” Recipe

How recipes, imagining you’re a chameleon, and a little rocket science are the keys to true leadership.

Read time: 13 minutes (hope you make it)

Art by: Aryn Robidoux @art_by_aryn

10…

I’ve always liked when TV shows give you a quick recap before the new episode. It helps me immerse myself back into the story. If my last article were a TV show, I’d recap it by saying that autonomy is a human need for control. We need it to increase our chances of survival. There is an offence and a defence side to autonomy, the offence side being our desire to feel in control, and the defence side being our desire to not feel controlled. Autonomy is similar to a magnet. It can attract when our sense of control is in line with somebody else’s, or it can repel if the offence and defence sides oppose each other. We learned that the biggest trap that we can fall into as leaders is “sometimes in attempt to feel as though we’re in control of our own lives, we take away the feeling of control from somebody else’s life.” In this article, we’ll be focused on how to align our “autonomy magnets” with others in order to ensure attraction and productivity rather than repulsion and resentment. We all sometimes find “dealing with people” to be difficult. Luckily, we can learn to deal with people in a productive way that makes our lives easier in the long run.

If we all have a deep need for autonomy, it would make sense that in order to get along with people we would need to support their autonomy. You just can’t be the only one in the world feeling as though you’re in control. The reason we’re so far advanced in the animal kingdom is because we cooperate with each other. If rocket ships and the Appollo 11 mission were dreamed up by one man (President Kennedy,) the mission would have failed if he tried to control everything himself. It was only when he let go of complete control, and trusted others to control their own field of expertise, that everybody cooperated and landed that hunk of metal on the moon. If President Kennedy didn’t let go of control, I’m sure he would still be learning the math required to even start the project.

 As leaders, parents, teachers, or coaches, we have our own Apollo mission. Let’s call it “Mission Super-Possible.” A mission to motivate others. Usually, we think that in order to succeed in this mission, we need to tell people what to do. We burn ourselves out attmepting to know EVERYTHING going on at all times. We feel like if something is going on without our knowledge that it won’t be done properly. When really, if we were to have a trusting relationship with our team, we could save ourselves a lot of time, energy, and stress. The purpose of launching “Mission Super-Possible” is to create an atmoshphere for a team to thrive, and in order to do this, we must create an autonomy-supportive environment. But how?

9…

Autonomy-support is basically the opposite of control. It’s letting go of enough control in order to create an environment where the people you’re leading feel as though they’re also in control. Let’s bust out some rocket science that would simplify these dynamics between Boss and Staff.

Boss feeling in control + Staff feeling controlled = Fear, Resentment, Unmotivated 🙁

Boss feeling in control + Staff also feeling in control = Connection, Responsibility, Motivation 🙂

Now these math equations are easy to read and comprehend, but much more difficult to execute. There are a few things we can do to help create an autonomy-supportive environment, but the problem is that it’s a process of growth. Autonomy-support is not something that just magically happens when you understand the concepts. 

The process is kind of like making a garden fresh salad, an “Autonomy-Supportive Salad.” The main ingredient in this nutrient rich salad is TRUST. As with all salads, every ingredient must be present to be well-balanced and complete. A chicken salad isn’t JUST chicken, it’s just the main ingredient. And if you were to forget the salad-dressing on a salad, nobody is going to enjoy eating it.  The delicious ingredients to our “Autonomy-Supportive Salad” would be: 

-1 cup creating TRUST

-14 cups of being EMPATHETIC

-2 TBSP providing CHOICE

-5 grams of providing REASON


All of these organic ingredients must be in balance to create the perfect “Autonomy-Supportive Salad.” and just like real cooking, the ingredients list isn’t enough. Recipes give you the order and timing in which to cook the meal. 

In an actual garden fresh salad, we know where to buy the kale and tomatoes, and we can find recipes online for an “out of this world” raspberry vinaigrette. But how do we grow and cultivate trust, empathy, choice and reason? The only way we can grow the fresh ingredients for our autonomy-supportive salad is through every interaction you have with your team. Every single interaction you have is an opportunity to grow trust, empathy, choice, and reason. These interactions are opportunities to connect and will make your job easier in the future, they’re not speed bumps that slow down the pile of work you need to get done.

 8…

Everybody has what Carrie and Alton Barron in “The Creativity Cure” call a “True Self” and a “False self.” A True Self is when “you have a good sense of your identity and your real feelings…you know who you are and what you feel. Your True Self makes your everyday life enlivened, interesting, and meaningful.” Your False Self is described as inauthentic. “A False Self is a guarded, manufactured, people-pleasing self. A False Self prioritizes acceptance by others at the expense of authenticity.” (55) What we need to do as leaders is create an environment where our staff and children feel as though they can be their True Selves, and let go of their False Selves. We do this by creating trust, we create trust by being empathetic, we’re empathetic by providing choice, and giving reasons for what we’re asking our team to do. In order to succeed in “Mission Super-Possible,” we must first imagine what a trusting environment FEELS like.

 7…

Imagine for a second that you’re a pet chameleon. You live comfortably in your beautiful, warm, transparent tank. This tank is what you know, it’s your home, it’s your “safe zone.” Here, you can be whoever you want to be with no judgement from others. As a chameleon, you have a unique power to control the color of every pore of skin you have. This helps you hide when you don’t feel like being seen, but more importantly this power helps you survive in your natural habitat because you can blend in and escape predators. If somebody had never seen a chameleon before, they would likely grab you out of your tank and put you on different colored objects in order to witness you changing your colors (cool video attached.) This stresses you out, because you want to showcase the beautiful colors you were born with. You don’t want to feel threatened and have to blend into your background. 

People are constantly changing colors in different situations in order to fit in as well. Only we don’t change the colors of our skin, we choose whether to showcase, or hide parts of our identity. If parts of our identity were our “true colors” we have a unique power to showcase and hide them just as a chameleon can change the color of their skin. We do this in order to “fit in.”

Our identity is basically the way we would describe our selves, how others would describe us, and how we want to be seen/potrayed. Our identity is how we know ourselves. It’s how we know what to spend time, effort and energy on. Our Identity is why people love us, and why we love others. It may be parts of ourselves that we’re proud of, it may be parts of ourselves that we’re ashamed of. Our identities are also why people judge us, and why we judge others. Our identity is made up of hundreds of different passions, behaviors, and choices we’ve made. We choose what identifies us based on how we want to be seen by others in order to “fit in.” What’s weird is our identity is formed over our entire lives and we barely stop to think about how or why certain parts developed and certain parts didn’t. I didn’t necessarily choose to be passionate about psychology (that’s why I don’t have a degree,) but over the course of my life, learning about psychology has helped me solve real life problems that I couldn’t solve on my own. Psychology has therefore slowly become an important part of who I am, and a part of my identity.  

I used to be 100% determined to be a proffesional hockey player, and I chose to identify as a hockey player. I would wear clothes that hockey players wore, and listen to music that hockey players would listen to. I slowly matured and realized that this was a “False Jeremy” and that I was identifying as a hockey player in order to fit in with who I thought was cool, and who I thought I needed to be to impress girls (didn’t work.) Now i’m reading and writing everyday about how our minds work and I feel as though this is a genuine “True Jeremy.” Because the people I love most, love this part of me, and there is no attempt to impress. (Hello, ladies…)

 6…

If every part of our identity was a different “color on our skin” we would have VERY colorful skin. If you love the sport of basketball, there’s a section of orange on your skin, if you’re a skiier, some white. If you identify as somebody with a temper, maybe you’d have some red. If you consider yourself passionate about the ocean, maybe some deep blue. If you are very honest, I think the most honest of colors would be yellow (just a feeling.)

If our identity were our colors, every person would look quite unique, BUT ONLY IF they’re in the comfort of their own warm chameleon tank. As soon as we’re taken out of our “safe zone” we tend to change our colors in order to “fit in” in the way that we’re “supposed to.” Sometimes we can actually see peoples colors as the clothing and style that they choose. Based on the way somebody dresses, we think we can imagine what type of music they like, what type of sports they enjoy, if they’re honest or deceitful, happy or unhappy. But what we don’t realize is that they may be hiding some of their true colors. So, sometimes we misrepresent and misjudge them. Making decisions on who somebody is with too little information makes us the predator that the chameleon wants to hide from. 

We have a special power where we can showcase only the colors we want portrayed. With this comes a trap we can fall into. This trap is called EGO. When we use our colors as a tool to measure if we’re “good enough” or not. Maybe we’re unhappy and we think that the only way to be seen as “worthy” is if we’re seen as wealthy by others. In this case, maybe we change our skin to be as gold as possible. If somebody who naturally has MORE gold skin walks by, it makes us feel less gold, and therefore the red frustration, and the blue/purple depressed tones come out in our skin automatically. When you measure your self-worth on something as fragile as wealth, you can be very easily challenged and your happiness and fullfilment will always be at risk by others. We must judge ourselves by the diversity of color on our skin, rather than the one or two colors that predators may judge us on. 

We also have the power to hide colors we don’t want to be seen yet. In certain situations, like a first date, you may hide colors from the beautiful person across the table from you. Maybe you enjoy toy trains so much that you have the biggest collection in North America, but on the past couple of dates, you were ditched when you came forward with this information. So you’ve learned that you must hide the “deep red color of a locamotive” on your first date until the the image they form of you is based on your yellow honesty patch, and your green environmental concern patches of skin.

Hiding your true colors in the short term can be healthy, as long as you’re on a path to showcasing your “True Self.” This is actually our TRUE power: being able to slowly reveal our true colors to those we trust. Because we need people to prove to us that their trustworthy before we reveal the colors that we’ve learned can be misinterpreted. The more trust you feel with the person across the table, the more colors you will slowly reveal. It’s only when we feel like we’re hiding our true colors in the long term that we start to feel repressed. Because we’re constantly hiding from predators. We see no path to showcasing our “True Self” and are caught being inauthentic. We’re exhausting ourselves by manufacturing a “False Self” so the predator approves that we’re worthy of being liked by them.  

If every chameleon chose the same color in order to fit in, the truly unique ones in the comfort of their own homes would be the ones that we’d see as beautiful. The same goes with humans, the more true colors you show, the more unique, happy, healthy and beautiful you are. 


Here lies the secret to true leadership. If we want to build trust, we need people to feel as though they can reveal their hidden true colors to us. We want them to feel as though they won’t be misrepresented, judged or abandoned. We want them to feel like they fit in no matter what. We do this by caring about who they are, how they feel, and immersing ourselves in conversation about topics THEY like. We do this by learning what they have to offer and allowing them to showcase it. Rule #9 in Jordan B. Peterson’s insanely popular book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, is “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.”

5…

Essentially, this is what all people REALLY want and need. We want to be fully understood and accepted for who we are. To be your “True Self.” We want to work towards showing ALL of our colors, ALL of the time. We want to be accepted. Because when we feel accepted, we feel worthy. When we feel worthy, we feel a deep internal happiness (fulfilment.) This is our “self-worth.” The true genuine friendships I have are with people that fully support me when I can’t stop talking about the new psychology studies I’ve read. It’s only when I find myself in a situation where the person I’m talking to consistently loses interest and is quick to change the subject, that I feel they are not a true friend, because I have to change my behavior for them. It may not be true, but I FEEL this way.

It’s not about whether they’re into psychology or not, it’s about there being enough trust in our relationship that I feel like I can express myself and not be judged for it. Now I’m not quite sure what colour a passion for psychology would be, but I’ve learned that this color should always be on my skin. As soon as I attempt to hide it, I feel a deep sense of restraint, discomfort, and frustration. 

4…

As I mentioned earlier, we need to do everything we can to create an open and trusting enough environment where our staff, students, employees feel as though they can show their true colors all of the time. This is the foundation of cooking our “autonomy-supportive salad.” The way to grow trust is to be empathetic. To be empathetic, you must be able to imagine how the person you’re spending time with is feeling. When asking a person to do something, when attempting to motivate them to do something, we must imagine ourselves in their shoes and project how WE would feel if it were happening to US. When we do this well, we will naturally gravitate to giving them reasons as to why we’re asking them to do it, because we don’t want them to interpret our ask the wrong way. And this leads to the two most important ingredients for being empathetic: giving them REASON and giving them CHOICE. Let’s do some more “Mission Super-Possible Rocket Science” to simplify things and then dive a little bit deeper into the definitions.

 Trust = Empathy

Empathy = Imagining how they feel + Giving Choice + Giving Reason

3…

Empathy

When trying to motivate somebody, it’s possible that you’re asking them to complete an undesirable task. In this case it is very important to be proactive and outline that you understand the feelings they may have about the task and provide an alternative way to look at it. If you KNOW or FEEL that the task may be undesirable, it’s time for a conversation. It’d be much easier to “pull rank” and order the task to be done, to avoid all “feelings.” But people see right through that and will think you’re an asshole. Pulling rank will flip your autonomy magnets against your teams and lead to resentment. Your side would be “in control” but your teams would flip to “feeling controlled.” 

Choice

Knowing that we usually try to control situations ourselves and give orders to our people, how do we get tasks done without ripping away their sense of control? How do we ensure our autonomy-magnets are aligned? As soon as you provide any sort of choice in the matter, they are delivered control on a silver platter. They can CHOOSE to do it. You can frame the choice in several diferent ways that you see fit, but involving them in the decision is critical. Even if you feel that the task may be undesirable, a great team member will still choose to do it. The likeliness that they think your an asshole goes WAY down as soon as they agree to do it.  The intention here is not to manipulate and use providing choice as a tactic, it only works if you’re empathetic and they trust you in the first place. Using choice as a tactic to manipulate would be predatory and explode our “Mission Super-Impossible” shuttle before it leaves the atmosphere.

Reason

In order for our team to constantly feel in control, they need to fully understand WHY they are doing something. They are sacrificing their time, energy, and effort to complete the task, so they need a target to aim for, they need purpose. When an undesirable task has meaning behind it, it all of a sudden isn’t the end of the world. Your brain can tolerate the suffering as a part of a bigger picture, it knows there will be an end date. Our job as leaders is to provide a clear sense of what this bigger picture is. The reason we all hated trigonometry and social studies as kids in school is probably because the teachers usually did a poor job explaining why it will eventually be important in our lives. It may only much later become apparent that there is some usefulness to math, science, language and history.

2…

If you were a boss, and asked one of your staff without providing choice or reason to make you a salad, they will likely think you’re an asshole. Imagine what you’d think if your boss just came out and asked “Hey Jeremy, can you make me a salad?” I’d probably initially laugh, then think to myself “Fuck you, man.” But, if you were to approach it like this: “Hey Maynard, I’ve got a super important meeting at 2PM that i’m running behind on preparation for, I know this may seem like a big ask, and a bit ridiculous, but if you have the time, could you grab me some food? Here’s some cash.” The odds of you getting your salad are quite a bit higher. You provided Maynard with a reason for your ask and also gave him a choice of whether he wanted to do it or not. Maynard will likely want to help if it seems genuine, but if there is any hint of manipulation, you’ll be seen as a predator and have to make your own salad, or starve.

 1…

So as leaders, we must learn to whip up the perfect autonomy-supportive salad in order to motivate others. We must understand that motivation is not manipulation. It’s a process of growth, it is not instantaneous, there are no shortcuts. Dealing with people can be difficult, but when we take a step back and understand how people want to feel, we can make dealing with people fun. It’s helpful to look at ourselves and others as chameleons in order to understand empathy and grow the main ingredient to our autonomy-supportive salad: Trust. We must realize that everybody needs to be their True Selves around us before they trust us. We can grow this trust through every interaction we have, especially in critical situations where we need our staff, children, or team to do something undesirable. If we provide choice and reason to our asks, we will ensure that our autonomy magnets are in line with the other people. Choice and reason basically create the perfect salad dressing that ties the whole dish together. When served to the people around us, this autonomy-supportive salad will create the perfect atmosphere for “Mission Super-Possible” to be a success.

 Blastoff!!!

Au·ton·o·my- Definitely Not the Definition In the Dictionary.

Blindfolded race-car rides and the 3 control traps.

Read time: 7 minutes (again)

Art by: Natasha McGillion

As discussed in my last article, there is an extreme importance on autonomy if we want to learn how to better “deal with people.” Whether you’re a coach, a parent, a teacher, or a manager, understanding the power of autonomy and autonomy support can make you and those around you thrive. And when people thrive, they’re naturally motivated.

“Autonomy” is one of those words that I would always glance over in books. I’d just let it pass and try to get the gist of what the author was saying by the surrounding context. It was one of those words that, even though I looked it up in the dictionary several times, the definition didn’t stick. It wasn’t until I read an 800 page psychology textbook that I fully understood what autonomy really is. Now, I’ll attempt to explain it in less than that.

In the dictionary, the definition of autonomy is “the right or condition of self-government.” What does that even mean? What’s a self-government? There are no stupid questions, right dad?

Autonomy is confusing because it has a couple of simultaneous meanings, it basically has an offence and a defence side to it. It is both the feeling that you as a person are in control of whatever circumstance you’re in (offence,) and also the desire to not feel controlled (defence.)

It’s like everybody has an “autonomy magnet” that has two poles, one side attracts and has a strong sense of “pull” (the need for control), and the other side repels (the desire to not feel controlled,) depending on the situation. When these two forces are in balance we feel autonomous, which is a crucial element to positive mental health. But when our magnet comes close to somebody else’s and the “need for control sides” are facing each other, it’s a repulsive force that causes imbalance. This imbalance causes resentment, anger, and frustration.

Feeling like you’re in control is actually a very important survival mechanism, because when you feel like you’re in control of your environment, you can rest, relax and recover. It’s only when you feel like you’re NOT in control, or BEING controlled, that you feel stressed, anxious, fearful, upset, and frustrated. We constantly live in one of these two states, fight or flight, or rest and relaxation. And these two different states determine what mood we’re in and how we act towards people. It’s when we start to sense we’re losing control, that we grasp at any type of control we can, which throws us into fight or flight. So before we can learn how to use the power of autonomy and autonomy support to our advantage, we need to focus on the importance of the “feeling of control.”

Let’s imagine three scenarios in which there are varying levels of control, and try to imagine how we’d feel in all of these situations.

Imagine a friend of yours blindfolds you, puts airpods in your ears and starts blasting Nickelback. He then wraps you up tight in a blanket, tapes it up, and puts you in the passenger seat of a race-car and buckles you up. All you can hear is the glorious voice of Chad Kroeger, all you can see is the static and floaties in your eyes that usually go unnoticed. You can’t move and it’s pretty safe to say you’re uncomfortable. All of a sudden, the race-car starts driving around the track. You’re thrown around every seemlingly endless corner, not even able to brace yourself. Your body senses that it’s moving, but without confirmation from your other senses, your brain can’t process what’s happening and therefore throws you into panic mode. You’re out of control, the only thing you can do is wait for this wild ride to end. (This experience is obviously the only way anybody could end up disliking Nickelback.)

Now imagine what that same race-car experience would feel like if you were just casually wearing a t-shirt and helmet. You’re able to see, you can hear the roar of the engine as it accelerates. There’s a connection between what you can see, hear and feel. You can project what might happen in front of you and therefore prepare and brace yourself. The corners that originally felt like 1260 degree turns were actually only 90 degrees. In this case, you could feel like you’re in control, just enough to know you’re safe. And if your mind determines that you’re safe, it may even let you have some fun. On the other hand, if it’s your first time in such a powerful car, it might just scare the shit out of you.

Now, imagine driving the car yourself. Even with minimal experience, you could take the corners at your own speed, brake a little earlier than you have to, accelerate at your own pace. You’re in complete control. You feel comfortable, even if your time around the track is 10X slower than Lewis Hamilton’s.

Control = Comfort

But, why does being in control make us feel so comfortable?

We don’t only like being in control, we need to feel like we’re in control. As I mentioned earlier, the feeling of control is a survival mechanism. It’s an internal “be more prepared for the future tool.” If you can take control of your environment, you can potentially make it safer and therefore survive longer. It’s the difference between being proactive vs. being unprepared for a potentially dangerous situation.

If you lived in the forest, there would be plenty of things that could harm you. Bugs… predators… weather…. So your internal “be more prepared for the future tool” tries to find anything it can to control in order to give you the best chances at survival.

You can build a shelter, you can keep your area clean in order to spot critters a bit better. You can clear an area of brush so you can hear and spot predators from further away. You can endlessly explore your surroundings and create an escape plan. These are not all 100% effective, but they are definitely more effective that just waiting around and seeing what happens. You have a plan for potential harm, so you can rest a little bit easier.

Comfort = Rest, relaxation, healing.

This need for control creates three main “traps” that we can easily fall victim to.The first being the need for everything to be controlled, right now. There are many more possibilities in the future than you could ever prepare for, therefore you’ll never win that battle. This trap is setting you up for a lot of anxiety, and seems to be the basis for OCD. There are endless modifications you can do to your forest shelter, but it’s better off for us to think of this as a continuous goal, rather than something that needs to happen right now. This is why on the first day of university I was always so overwhelmed, I saw EVERYTHING that had to get done over the year, all at once. What I didn’t see was the curriculum gently falling into place over the course of 8 months.

Second, there are also situations that we care about, where we have absolutely NO CONTROL. Rather than accepting this fact, we attempt to create an illusion of feeling in control. In these cases, we do some pretty weird things. Think of the sports fanatic and his odd pre-game superstitions. Tom Brady and the Patriots didn’t lose today because your mom washed your jersey. Nor did the opposing team score because you didn’t take a sip of your beer during the commercial break.

Last but not least, and I’d say most importantly, sometimes in attempt to feel as though we’re in control of our own lives, we take away the “feeling of control” from somebody else’s life. We unintentionally throw the blindfold on them, airpods in their ears, chuck them into the car that we’re driving and hope that they like Nickelback too. The worst part is that we’re usually unaware that we’re doing this. But, as Robert Greene states in his newest book The Laws of Human Nature, “It is only in our awareness that we can start to think of progress.” (503) The majority of the time that we unintentionally “attempt to control” somebody is when we’re trying to motivate somebody, which happens a lot in a leadership position of any kind.

Maybe you’re an expert drummer, and you’re trying to teach a student the basics. It’s obvious to you that you’ve reached expert level because you practised for at least an hour a day growing up. It’s also obvious to you that your student hasn’t been practising at all, so your job is to motivate them to do so.

You think it’s a good idea to warn them that “If you don’t practise for at least an hour a day, you won’t get any good.” But the simple use of language (using the words HAVE TO) in an ultimatum has been shown to be enough of an attempt at control for the student to lose interest.

Or you may attempt a reward such as “If you practise an hour a day, you’ll win a new pair of drum sticks.” Rewards are a slippery slope, because your student’s brain is wired to take shortcuts, and is going to do anything it takes to get the reward as easily as possible. This unintentionally motivates the child to cheat and lie. What you’re motivating the student to do is get a reward, not enjoy the drums.

Telling your student what to do, or attempting to get a result from them by putting a reward on the line, is an attempt at control in your life… in your car. And as soon as you attempt to control, by consequence, your student will feel controlled and your “autonomy magnets” are now out of sync. When we feel controlled, our autonomy magnet flips to defence mode (the desire to not feel controlled.) This flip causes us to lose interest. Because the one thing we CAN control in that moment is if we enjoy what we’re being told to do or not. And we’re not going to enjoy something that we’re told to enjoy… fuck that! We must find our own path, much like the bull in the last article.

Whether you have staff, sons, daughters, students, or athletes, you must consciously be aware that everyone needs to drive their own car and pick their own music. They have their own environment where they need to use their own “be more prepared for the future tool.” If they don’t, just like you’d probably feel a deep resentment towards Nickelback after the blindfolded race-car ride, they may just resent you and the activity your attempting to teach them.

So what is the proper way to motivate somebody?

The answer to this important question is simple in theory, difficult to explain, and even more difficult to execute properly. The answer is the polar opposite of control, it’s what psychologist Edward L. Deci in his book “Why We Do What We Do” calls autonomy support. It has to do with building trust, and what motivates everybody on an individual level. Basically, you need to make sure your autonomy magnets are in line with those that you try to motivate.

In my next article, I’ll explain the best ways for us to be autonomy supportive leaders. I know we always want all of the answers right away, and I’m quite aware that this article sort of ends on a cliff hanger, but autonomy support is such an important topic that it deserves an article of it’s own. (Hint… that last statement was an attempt to be autonomy supportive to you readers.)

Manager is an Ambiguous Term for “Untrained Psychologist.”

What approaching a horse can teach us about leadership. 

Read Time: 7 minutes (and i’m a slow reader)

If you’re working towards a career in any field, if you want to be a professional of any kind, it’s inevitable that you’re going to be working with people. Whether they work for you or vice versa, “people skills” are critical. I started my professional journey when I was managing a high volume restaurant at 22. What quickly humbled me was the realization that management positions would be much easier if you didn’t have to “deal with people.” Over the next several years, I realized that “dealing with people” is the MAIN responsibility of a good manager, and it can easily go wrong.

What does dealing with people even mean? At the start of my management career, it  meant “I don’t have time to do this, I’m in charge so I’ll get my staff to do it, they have to listen to me,” it also meant “I have to have all of the answers” which only brought on an immense amount of stress. Dealing with people was “I have to call a bunch of people to try and cover this shift because Suzie’s car won’t start.” This lead me to falsely believe that people are annoying. They all have problems and excuses, and it’s my responsibility to figure out their issues. This was NOT in the job description.

There is a certain delicacy to dealing with your staff. You’re constantly on the edge feeling that with every ask, you will either “piss them off and give them a reason to resent you” or “be too lenient and put more work on your plate.” After all, you’re in the management position because of your competence, so you COULD just do it all. Early on in “dealing with people” I was torn because I wanted to keep the relationship intact, but I didn’t want to bury myself in workload just because I “knew” my staff would “hate” doing it. Whether it was true or not this led to another false belief that I was being taken advantage of.

The more I learned about leadership over the years, the more I realized management positions basically expect you to be a psychologist without the years of training. In order to cope with all of this immense responsibility, I’ve done countless hours of psychology research that can be summed up with a few simple analogies. Human motivation is a veeeery deep subject and psychologists have studied it for decades, but some of the concepts can be easily understood.

Imagine you’re on a nostalgic walk where you grew up and notice a beautiful horse that is directly on the other side of a barbwire fence. You feel that feeding and petting this horse would be a beautiful experience. You’ve never dealt with horses in your past, therefore you have no way to predict their temperament accurately. All you have is a subtle understanding that they can be docile creatures, that they love the human touch, but you’re still scared it might bite you. You’ve seen a couple Instagram stories of friends petting horses, but are those just the nice ones? How can you tell if it’s a nice horse or a mean horse? 

Now, if you’re going to feed this horse (let’s give him a racehorse name for fun, let’s name him “The New Guy”) you must approach The New Guy properly. At what speed do you approach him? Really take a second to imagine how you would feel as you get closer. Are you scared, are you excited, are you calm? If you were to run up to it as fast as you could because you couldn’t hold in your excitement, would it spook The New Guy? If you approach too slowly, would he get bored and you miss your opportunity?

You must find the balance between these two extremes, which actually comes more naturally than you’d think. You may pick up the grass in front of you and present it to The New Guy from a few meters away and slowly cross one foot over the other until you’re fairly close. You may use a very calm tone and say something along the lines of “Hello, The New Guy, how are you? You’re very cute. Can I feed you some delicious, organic grass?” You’d attempt anything in your tool belt to showcase that you’re not a threat. The entire time you may feel very cautious, and ready to defend yourself in case the horse reacts opposite to what you hope. Maybe you present the grass in a fist so he can’t bite off your fingers, just in case.

The New Guy’s reaction isn’t 100% in your control. In fact, it’s not in your control at all, no matter how nice you think you are. The interaction is very dependant on the horse’s past. If the horse was raised on an abusive farm, it will very likely react more defensively than if it were raised on a loving farm. All you can do is use your past experience and approach The New Guy in the way that you’ve learned how to show love and trust. Then you just have to hope that The New Guy recognizes your intentions as genuine and reciprocates with love of his own. If he had a terrible experience as a young foal, he will likely not trust your affection as genuine and assume an ulterior motive. Therefore, he will spook.

There is a certain harmony in past experiences that must be present in order to quickly build trust with others. This feeling of approaching an animal with no previous knowledge of its temperament is exactly how we should approach “dealing with people” in our business (or even in relationships for that matter.) Every single person has a different past and has learned how to deal with situations in their own way. Where one interprets a suggestion as “I am in the process of learning and your outside help is welcome and appreciated.” Some interpret the exact same wording and tone as “I’m not good enough, I suck at my job, I suck at everything, I’m in trouble, this manager is a dick.”

In some customer service situations, a customer may lash out at you for a seemingly minor event. If you were in their shoes, you wouldn’t deal with it in the same way because of your past, therefore you automatically think this person is an idiot. There’s no sense taking this lash out to heart and let it affect your day. You could actually feel some empathy towards the customer and hope they resolve their pain. 

The way your staff and customers interpret your attempts to help is based on all of their past life experiences as well. This includes the way their parents treated/ incentivized them and even from the good or bad sports coaches they had growing up. All of these infinite and intricate possibilities are part of the beauty of “dealing with people.”

Your management style will have to be liquid and form-fitting to their needs. If your pasts aren’t in harmony and they react poorly to your attempts, it isn’t necessarily your fault and you’re not a “bad manager.” What would define you as a “bad manager”  would be if you continually tried to motivate and treat everybody the same way, and even though the work gets done, you don’t pay attention and remove yourself from how your decision makes them feel. Some staff may just see the task as a part of the job, some may think you have it out for them. But to the ones who hold the resentment, you’ll be that manager who sits at his desk with his thumb up his ass. But who wants to spend more time on another task at work keeping track of how people feel? The ones who want to get better at their jobs. The ones who want to grow.

To understand how to be a “liquid” or “versatile” manager, you must open up your approach, you must let go of control, you must create trust, which again, is easier said than done. Trust isn’t manufactured, it grows, much like your confidence in assessing the temperament of the horse that you approached earlier, and every horse is different. 

In the afterword of famous author Ryan Holiday’s newest book Stillness Is the Key, he tells a story about his neighbour’s bull that had a tendency to make its way onto his property through a hole in the fence. He found through trial and error that if he attempted to control where the bull would go with brute force, the bull’s temper would flare and it would go anywhere but home. He calls it “a costly reminder of the risks of impatience.” (259) But if he was to patiently wait in his tractor motionless on the opposite side of where he wanted the bull to go, the bull would eventually make his way home on his own will. He states “It’s got to feel like it’s his idea. Otherwise, he’ll panic and get angry. And the problem goes from bad to worse.” (260)

As managers and leaders, we must learn how to patiently sit on our tractor and let our people act out of their own free will. We can nudge behavior through feedback but we can’t force it with control (more on control at a later date.) People taking action on their own is what psychologists call Intrinsic Motivation. If we are to attempt to control their actions, their tempers will likely flare like the bull’s and not act in the way you’d expected or hoped.

What makes this tough is that the first ideas that us managers come up with when trying to motivate people are good enough to convince ourselves that we’re doing a good job, but not good enough to actually work.

Within our jobs, we assume our role to be “getting things done in an efficient manner.” The efficiency part creates a trap where we think we come up with good ideas, but they are very surface level, and very easy ideas to come up with. Ideas that took years of research from leading psychologists to determine don’t really work. We tend to think of rewards, and incentives, and contingencies and punishments. We think that we must do something in order to nudge our staff in the right direction. But, motivation is a subtle art that requires counterintuitively putting more conscious effort into doing less.  To paying attention to the feelings of our staff and letting the bull return home on his own.

The first and most important concept that we must fully understand is going to be the topic of my next article, the concept of autonomy and autonomy support.