Tuesday, February 9, 2010

More Doing, Less Thinking

If you're someone who's struggled for years with the same challenges, then this one's for you. We're going to get over it once and for all.

Running with Iris
As Iris strolled into the house yesterday morning, she proudly announced that she had run four miles. In January, Iris decided to make 2010 really special by doing something she had never done, never would have done and never would have believed she could do. So she decided to sign up for the New York City Marathon in November. Yesterday, after just three weeks of running she reached the four mile mark.

As we talked about her running last night at dinner, Iris pointed out that there were times during her run where she started to feel tired. Her mind would immediately flood with all sorts of thoughts designed to get her to stop: you need to be careful about not getting cramps; you're pushing yourself too hard; you need to save something for tomorrow, and so on.

However, as Iris has been training, she's been paying particular attention to the thought flood phenomenon, and having read a bit about it, she's acquired the habit of simply saying to herself, "Oh, I'm doing it again. I'm just going to get present, focus on my breathing and my running, and not think about anything else."

As we finished our conversation, in summary Iris said, "Yeah, less thinking, more doing!"

Do You Want to Be Happy?
As we've been playing with the question, "What exactly is the philosophy of happiness, and what exactly isn't?", one of the concepts that has really caught the attention of many is that, within the framework, unhappiness is an involuntary experience that results from beliefs, not a voluntary action. In short, you can be unhappy and not want to be unhappy; happiness is not a choice.

For many of you, this has been a bit of a breakthrough allowing you to get out of the cycle of questioning why you're choosing unhappiness, and get you into the cycle of focusing on the beliefs that are causing your unhappiness. However, I wanted to point out (with far too many negatives) that happiness not being a choice doesn't mean that unhappiness is not a choice.

So, not to mess wif ya, happiness is not a choice, except when it is a choice. In other words, just because you can experience unhappiness for reasons you don't understand doesn't mean that you can't also simply decide to be unhappy.

So, if you're unhappy about something, it may be simply because you want to be. If you're stuck in a cycle or in a specific custom version of unhappiness, the first question would be, "Do you want to be happy?"

Really Bad at Getting Happy?
If in fact, you really do want to be happy, then the next thing to figure out is how to go about it.

If you're someone who uses the Option Method (created by Bruce DiMarsico) and you've spent more than a month (let alone months or years) on the same issue, I would suggest that whatever you're doing ain't working. So, drop the metaphors of the same foot in the same river and notions of incremental growth and change and say it out loud, "I suck at this!"

Think about it; If you really want to be happy and have access to all these great tools that can help you to become happy instantly, then there's only one viable conclusion, you're really bad at using the tools.

Alternatively, you could say, "It's not me, it's these damned tools!" in which case, I would go with Iris' "less thinking, more doing" or alternatives to the philosophy of happiness such as "choosing happiness" or "just stop it!

Applied Philosophy
OK, if you've got this far then:
1. You really do want to be happy
2. You really do buy into the philosophy as a way to get happy
3. You therefore agree that you're not very good at it

The above being the case makes everything else pretty easy. The trick is to distinguish the theoretical underpinnings of the philosophy from the practical application of the method.

As I listen to many theoretical philosophers talk about their own cycles of unhappiness or listen to them explaining the philosophy to others, it's kind of like listening to people discussing history, not like people discussing math or music. It comes from the perspective of someone who's memorized a set of rules and looks to experts to tell them which rules are correct and how and when they should be applied. Helping others and themselves often turns into a debate over what is the correct way to do thus and such. It's all academic.

This being the case, it's no wonder that people can spend years taking personal growth programs cycling on the same unhappiness or its variant strains.

So, the key is to get your head out of the books and into the lab. Forget about the theory and get into the application.

Starting Small
Let's say that you were teaching a child to play the piano. Would you start with the Chopin Etudes (where the metronome is clicking along at 180 beats per minute and the page is black with notes), or would you start with Mary Had a Little Lamb? If you wanted to run a marathon, would you start with running a marathon, or would you start with a walking a mile? If you were teaching a teenager to drive, would you throw him into the middle of the Indy 500, or would you take him out to an empty parking lot? (BTW, these aren't really questions.)

Of course, we'd always advise people to start small and develop their skills. Yet, if you look at how people apply the philosophy, they typically aim it at their biggest unhappiness, the one that is most pervasive and long lived, the one that is most stubborn and difficult to deal with. And then they wonder why the philosophy isn't working. Well, to put it simply, duh!

The method is something to be learned, practiced and developed. It's not like taking a pill or applying a patch or putting your leg in a cast, it's a skill. If you think of the philosophy in this light, then you would want to start out with something a bit less challenging than the biggest unhappiness in your life. Don't worry about having enough material. If you've got something that big in your life, then you no doubt have many smaller things as well.

As you apply the philosophy to smaller bits unhappiness, you get better at the process. As you get better at the process, you can take on larger bits of unhappiness. And so on.

There is No Big Unhappiness
The final bit here is that there actually is no big unhappiness. If you're struggling with a pervasive and persistent unhappiness that you really want to change, in addition to your being really bad at applied happiness, it's likely that the big unhappiness is a side effect of other smaller bits of unhappiness. As you take care of those, the bigger one will dissipate.

So, before taking on why you hate your mother, you might want to start with something simpler like why you don't like broccoli. Before you take one why you can't lose all that weight, you may want to start with why you get bored with conversations that aren't focused on you. Before you take on why you could never finish a marathon, you may want to work on why you always take the elevator even if it's just one or two flights up.

So, enough thinking, it's time to start doing. Start small and make it big!


Quantum MechanicPS If you're looking for a training partner or coach, I would suggest that you not take advice from theoreticians (people who know the philosophy still cycle in their own unhappiness). One of the great things about the mentor certification program is that the mentors are required to put their theory into practice oftentimes being asked to completely resolve in one night an unhappiness that has plagued them for years. If you're going to train and grow with someone, you want to do it with someone who has this level of skill, not simply knowledge.Auto Mechanic

BTW, this needn't be someone whose done even more than a week or day of training in the philosophy. Iris and I have friends who as soon as they got it, everything clicked and they were on their way without ever needing another ounce of instruction. Lose the theoreticians and find the practitioners.


  1. Tef: you say "...there actually is no big unhappiness...it's likely that the big unhappiness is a side effect of other smaller bits of unhappiness". Pray tell us more about this one...it seems to stand all by itself.

  2. Sree: Excellent point, more for tomorrow. Tef

  3. Thank you, Teflon. I enjoy your insightful posts. I came to OI in 2005, took 6+ courses since and I SUCK at it! Obviously I am doing that for a reason, but I don't love myself through that. "Doing the best I can" feels shitty (also intentional according to the OI).

    I must be waiting for:
    - the time I hit the bottom and start going back up
    - I do manage to find that magic wand
    - I find "an instructor" who's been through what I am going through

    As I read your comment on selecting "the right partner/coach", I chuckled. The same selection approach was recommended to me for selecting my MS doctor.

    Today, I will take breaks at work, go downstairs and practice diary specificity and affirmations to counteract my negative self-talk.


  4. Thank you Zhenya and thank you Sree... I ended up skipping today but will respond tomorrow morning with a blog I'm calling, "But the Light is Better Over Here!"

  5. Tef, I like your next blog already!

  6. And I am looking forward to it too. I love the small, specific and practical step ideas w/o the Option cliche on them. I am planning my days' mind exercises now.

  7. I disagree with "starting small" concept. For me "starting small" is to leave you a "backdoor" to unhappiness. I am not judging unhappiness. However, if you decide to walk another path why walk in circles and waist your time. Why not decide that you are already totally and completely HAPPY! Right now! Then, be a student of yourself and notice any reactions of yours, which are not aligned with being happy condition and dialog them.

    I have heard many times from different people that Option does not work or some other system does not work and noticed that the main (and in many cases the ONLY) showstopper is the not-set-goal. It's either not set or it is a kind of a "maybe-goal".

    I believe that we are missing very important piece in a formula of S+B=R. I would add a Goal (S+B=R-->Goal). And a Goal... Sorry! THE GOAL must become something ‘written in stone’, not-changing, not-for-dispute. Unless The Goal is chosen and became a life priority, no system, including Option will work.

  8. Uri, I agree with you that if you're going to choose happiness, then just CHOOSE happiness and choose it BIG. That would be my preferred MO. However, if you're not up for choosing happiness, then there's Option. I imagine there are lots of showstoppers, not just one. However, my most frequent encounters with people who have experienced Option "not working" is simply due them not actually "doing" Option or not doing it well.

    I guess it all depends on whether you consider Option a skill that can be developed or not. If it's a skill that can be developed, then there's a lot that would suggest starting small and working your way up. If it's simply something that you apply and voila you're done or something that completely depends on sheer will power, then I would agree with you, pick what you want to hit and shoot for it.

    I would probably disagree with you on the concept THE (definite article) goal as the thing that seems to be most malleable is us humans is goals. Not sure I would not what THE goal is. Also, not sure about what a backdoor to unhappiness looks like, sounds a bit anthropomorphic regarding unhappiness as thought it had a life of its own.

    Love your comments! Teflon


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