I was once criticized by a disgruntled former colleague in grad school for my tendency to take long walks instead of sitting in class. It was a comment I ignored, but I noticed Einstein and many other intellectuals tended to eschew norms and daily routines, preferring to literally run with their thoughts and catch up with them, including how the American Constitution was written during long walks and discussions. The other month, I walked for over 52km around Bangkok on a single day, and that same week, I’ve had plenty of opportunities and inspirations, not unrelated to the post on Art of Manliness relating to the healthy benefits of walking–for your mind and soul, too. You can see more in these Lifehacker articles too.
Recall a video I had posted in one of my tabs before, because it’s good to refresh here too.
Makes you want to travel, eh? Well, at least it made me feel that way.
In any case, for those who didn’t read the Art of Manliness article, the main point is, if you are stuck anywhere, emotionally or mentally, go out and take a walk. Don’t even set it as a mile, but if you do, make it your minimum, and try to do two. Then keep going. During that time, thoughts will inevitably come as you are in motion. You will also notice things you pass by when driving or on the bus. You get a greater feel for the world and distance that is distorted by the speed of how many miles to the gallon you can get in your car, how fast you can peddle your bike, and how shut off you are sleeping on the train.
Welcome to the world: you are no longer insulated. If 90% of life is just showing up, guess what? Walking is having you show up to the event known as life–you know, what people try to escape from through their video games, movies, television, goals to own the entire IKEA catalogue, and all those distractions that prevent them from living.
Walking, a universal hack, or: the Marathon of the Mind
Walking is a form of traveling, emotional and mental re-centering, and physical empowerment. So while I have a pair of legs that can get me around, I make use of them and walk a lot (often too fast for most people).
It’s better expanded upon in the Art of Manliness article I’ve linked, so my focus here is on what I call the Marathon of the Mind.
Here’s a scenario: suppose that the distance from point A and point B is exactly one mile. Normally, it takes about twenty minutes to walk at a casual pace, but if you run with your best effort, you can get down to about five minutes, and that’s not even a full sprint. When running on the track circle, that last lap is a full spring, and often feels like it’s the longest, and hardest, but you’ve already run it three times, so objectively, it’s not any farther.
Expanding on this, let’s say that you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed–and that was me last weekend, and more than a few times in life. Whether you are depressed, bipolar, suicidal, it’s a time in life where some people give you useless platitudes that don’t really get through that thick emotional wall you put up, and very few take the time to listen and stand by your side as they wait for you to stand up and reclaim your life again.
So when you feel down, let’s get back to that scenario of walking a mile: at the start is you at your worst, and at the end of that mile is your return to normal, happy living. When depressed, you feel paralyzed, and feel like your body won’t respond or do anything, and you can’t move. Suddenly, you are facing the worst of the elements: the heat, rain, and snow; your shoes don’t fit, you don’t have the energy to take even one step. A twenty-minute stroll seems impossible, let alone even a few steps. But it doesn’t change the fact that at the end of that mile, your life is waiting for you.
So what would you do? Sit around feeling sorry for yourself and wait until later when you feel ready? When things get better? The heat, rain, or snow aren’t going to go away; in fact, they will get worse because they are all in your head. You’ve got to stand up and keep walking forward. And you can’t drag your feet, you have to move, because the more you drag your feet, the longer it will take to get out of the despair or whatever it is you are holding yourself back with.
Here’s where the mind hack begins: if people tell you that it takes time to heal or recover, would you want to feel happy now, or feel sorry for yourself until you get tired of that negative voice that’s telling you “I can’t”?
Over the years, I’ve done enough self-reflection to know what works for me (and usually for other people too) that has helped me overcome myself and get back to being happy. The last time I had a bout of depression, it took me about two weeks to recover. This time, it took me a day. Don’t believe me? Well, you don’t need to, but let me tell you this: when I had a choice to drag my feet for that mile, I reminded myself of my characteristically stubborn, impatient self and decided to SPRINT not just the mile to get to normal, but to run a marathon to not just feeling better, feeling fine, or feeling good, but feeling GREAT.
I don’t need to wait days, weeks, or months to feel better, I want it NOW. So I sprinted that marathon, and every day, I double my distance. I have all the tools (and so do you), it’s just a matter of using them. Although walking is a great tool in of itself, you can use it and the marathon analogy metaphorically as I am here to help you find what your personal march towards happiness and success is.
The sprint: knowing what you need to go full speed
1) Let go. Obviously, if you had to run with a heavy backpack and suitcase, you won’t get very far, and you’ll be tired fast. It’s especially hard if you’ve got a monkey on your back constantly telling you that you can’t do it, a monkey known as self-doubt, self-hate, and depression, whatever name you call it. The trick to getting around this is to ignore all those voices and feelings that make you feel too tired to run a mile, do twenty pushups, dance, sing, or whatever it is you need to do to physically exert yourself and make one small accomplishment. So ignore the voice of self-doubt and self-hate, and just do it.
2) Find your race and run with it. Whether it’s running a mile, doing twenty pushups, playing guitar, whatever you do, do it. It has to be something you want or have wanted that makes you happy. I personally do pushups and squats, at least 25 each every time the negativity comes, no matter how tired I am. Life will kick your ass, so to be strong enough to win, you need to kick your own ass harder to prove you are worthy of more. A friend makes it a point to play guitar for a half hour every time he feels depressed, and in that effort, forces himself to play happy songs instead of sad ones. So identify what it is that you need and want to help you that is healthy, then use it every time you need to.
3) Train during off-season. One of my martial arts teachers once told me that environment is stronger than willpower. In a tough situation when you are cornered, you will not rise to the occasion, you will sink to the level of your training. Likewise, running the Marathon of the Mind, like an actual marathon, requires training, both mentally and physically. If you haven’t trained, when the day comes you need to run the marathon, you’re going to get left behind and exhausted. So even when you are normal, healthy and happy, keep doing what you do. Often, when depressed, we forget to do what we love, and if we don’t do what makes us happy and continue to do things that make us sad, it’s almost like running in the opposite direction of a marathon. This is why I do my pushups and squats from my workout routine daily, especially when I’m happy. Do what makes you happy when you are normal, and do it some more when you are sad.
4) Give yourself friends, or better: be your own friend. Whenever I have thoughts that say “I’m sad” or “I can’t”, I yell aloud in a drill instructor’s voice “Drop and give me twenty pushups!” and do it. I imagine my other friend, Alex, who doesn’t believe in excuses, he believes in action, saying this to me. Each time I accomplish this, I read aloud one of the affirmations I have written on a paper I hang on my mirror and congratulate myself for my efforts. Some of those are “You are beautiful” or “I love me” and “You’re a winner!” and “Life is beautiful and I’m alive!” and I smile. I say it in the range of 10 or more times, because that adrenaline releases endorphins that mix with the positive thoughts and eventually they become true.
To augment it more, I play happy music, because music that is negative drains me, and if my favorite songs are like old friends who know what you feel and tell you what you want to hear whenever you go to them, I don’t need to hear songs about killing myself or how unworthy I am because of whatever mistake I’ve made. Good songs include Stan Bush’s “Never Hold Back!” because its lyrics remind you that it is always darkest before the light comes, and as the title suggests, you have to keep on fighting.
You’ve got to force yourself to ignore the garbage and listen to the people who care, even if imaginary, so when the voice that says “I can’t do twenty pushups or run a mile, I suck”, yell out loud “YES I CAN!” and do FORTY pushups and run TWO miles. After you do it, congratulate yourself, like you would to another friend you care about.
5) Do it again, as often as you need. Once you’ve picked your race and have trained for it off-season (when happy and normal), do it as often as you need to when sad or lonely, and you will find yourself having run the Marathon of the Mind faster every time. My new record is just over 24 hours, beating the last one of two weeks. You may internalize your emotional problems, you may think you can’t, because you are too busy self-hating. But that’s not you, and you resist doing what you love because you stop appreciating yourself. In fact, it’s precisely the time you should be yourself even more, to the point of pushing an extreme, because you are more important than you realize, and there are people who think you are worth loving and having in their lives even when you don’t see it. It’s also a great time to improve yourself, because the self-hate can be transformed into inspiration to better yourself. Remember what you do, be yourself, then do it and do it often. You are already a winner for doing it.
Johnny C’s Personal Marathon of the Mind
So if you read the previous post, I gave a very brief summary of what I did. It’s a re-hash here, with a few more steps I took and the reasoning behind each one. I’ll give more details on each individual technique in future hack articles. The eclectic mix of techniques comes from Eastern Mysticism, other parts from neuro linguistic programming, physical exercise, social isolation, and method acting.
1) A complete social shutdown I decided to isolate myself from e-mail, social media, phone calls, and human interaction all day when I locked myself in my room and refused to even say one word. By doing this, I stop myself from pulling people away from their lives to listen to my problems. It’s good to have friends who care, but when you vent, in general, it makes the problem worse because you are repeating the same story again and again, and getting depressed over it. So I chose to shut up, let people live their lives (aside from the three close friends I’ve talked to), and stop programming my reality to be negative before it turned me into a host of a pity party. It allowed me the space and time to reprogram myself before I internalized the negativity that was quickly poisoning my mental and emotional health, and before it affected anyone else. Besides: when going out, I was already a bit of a bore and a boor, so it was good to isolate myself purposefully.
2) Water fasting We are what we eat, and for the weekend, I made the mistake of going out and getting drunk (bad way to deal with any emotionally taxing situation) on Friday, then as I aggravated myself, I found it harder to eat because I didn’t care about what happened to myself. Again, I decided if I wasn’t going to eat, I was going to spend the day doing a purposeful fast like old ascetics did for spiritual purposes, allowing my body to cleanse itself of the garbage I did eat just like I was filtering myself from the garbage thoughts and music I had.
3) Cleaning my room As mentioned before, your environment is stronger than your willpower, and by leaving it messy, it makes me feel like an emotional wreck, and when you see a nice, tidy room, you have control and discipline. You can have OCD, you can be going through inner chaos, but the world doesn’t need to be chaotic as a result of your own internal disaster. When I look at a nice, organized room, I automatically feel better inside.
4) Bringing sexy back Hygiene and being presentable aren’t known to be characteristic of people who feel sorry for themselves. I made the conscious effort not only to shower, shave and brush my teeth, but gelled my hair, put on clothes like I was going to an interview for the best job in the world and was going to walk out of the office over to a hot date with the most amazing girl waiting for me. Just like cleaning my environment helps out, simply keeping clean isn’t enough, and being presentable isn’t adequate–I had to be sexy, beautiful, and alpha. And I was fully-aware that NOBODY would see me but me, because it was my time to reset and reprogram myself.
5) Exercising Physical exertion makes you tired. Being emotionally drained makes you tired. Both kinds of fatigue are not the same. Which would you rather be? I chose to be physically drained, so that I would be too tired to let my inaction and emotions suck the life out of me.
6) Neuro linguistic programming Every time I had a thought that was negative, I immediately dropped and did 25 pushups and 25 squats, then told myself as many positive affirmations as possible. The first affirmation comes from the voice that responds when as a personal rule, I verbally out loud yell at myself saying “Do twenty pushups!” every time the negativity came. I did the pushups. Then I congratulated myself and said things while looking in the mirror like “I love me” and “You are beautiful” and “I’m happy” amongst other affirmations. Since working out releases endorphins, and combined with the the positivity, it reinforces everything and I start believing it faster, because when tired and recovering, you take things in and let them sink in to replace the negativity.
7) Method acting: becoming the mask Anybody who says “I’m sad” should instead say “I feel sad” because you should never make it a point to make the emotion you are feeling part of your identity. This is crucial to avoiding becoming an emotional wreck. As the above steps all build on one another with dressing the part, saying positive things to myself, and cleaning up my room, I jumped at the opportunity to not only go back to “normal” but refine the parts of myself that I still felt needed fixing. All actors can say that identity crisis is pretty common once you immerse yourself in the role, and you begin to question who you are in real life when you realize that whomever “Johnny C” is means different things to people watching, including the person playing Johnny C. So do I want to be a mopey guy, or do I want to be a happy and fun person? I’m usually known as the latter.
But let’s say people who don’t know me see me as someone who talks about what he does rather than seeing me do those things. This happens when meeting people because I have very little time to get to know them and want them to know who I am, 100% of me, no more no less. This comes from traveling frequently, so people have a warning of what to walk away from if it doesn’t match their personalities, or can invite themselves into my life if they hear something they like. Here’s the problem: it becomes a learned behavior and I become characterized as an arrogant and boastful person.
Solution: just show them who I am as I have before traveling happened at seven miles a second, and focus more on asking questions rather than warning them about me. I don’t need to tell everyone about my shortcomings, they may not even agree with what I see as my lesser qualities–in fact, they see some of them as strengths. Personality and performance successfully reprogrammed by talking to myself in a mirror and reacting normally, and observing facial expressions and manner of speech.
8) Playing happy music This doesn’t need to be elaborated on–would you rather hear songs about hating yourself or about encouraging yourself to be strong? Needless to say, I deleted all of my old Nine Inch Nails songs.
9) Meditation There’s a load of different techniques and styles out there, but if you aren’t in harmony or balance, you are wasting your time and you instead become locked into your ego and fear. One method I learned was golden flower from Taoist practice, which instead of fighting the ego, uses the ego as a tool to assist it, as the ego eventually tires itself out and harmonizes with the psyche. If following the first seven steps is done to the letter, meditation becomes easier. By the way: all of this is meditation, actually!
10) Gratitude and forgiveness For everyone and everything that upsets me, the easiest way to let go and be happier is to remember that anger is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die. So instead, I thanked people for allowing me the opportunity to recognize my own vulnerabilities and worked towards improving them, because I can either be mad at them for being them and not matching up to me, or I can use it as a way to improve myself. In thanking them, I forgive them, and in forgiving them, one big root of hurt goes away.
11) Writing down all my thoughts and making a plan I wrote down every negative thing I felt, then replaced it with a plan of action to address and improve it. This then led to elaborating on what I want, which in turn leads to a plan to go out and get what I want instead of crying about what I don’t have.
Making a plan gives you purpose–something that eases the hopelessness. Writing out what I had, such as my awesome skills that I used to make this marathon happen to heal myself fast, helps me appreciate who I am and what I have come out of, plus acknowledging that I do have people around me who love me.
So when you know who you are, what makes you awesome, what you have, what you are going to do and how you will do it, you quickly find happiness never left you–you just forgot about it because you were blinded by your emotions.
If you have trouble, at least write down how many pushups you did, how many miles you ran, if you cleaned your room, that you showered, what you ate, and cross it all off as little accomplishments. Build up from there.
Summary I did everything above because these are all things I have done alone or some combination of to help myself. The key here isn’t that they will all solve my problems, it’s about the choice to do even the most basic functions and then to go the extra mile to ensure it’s done more efficiently than I do when normal. It then raises the bar and makes “normal” times a challenge to be better. 🙂
Authorities: parkour and wing chun
Both philosophies of French parkour and Chinese Wing Chun emphasize my very philosophy of hacking: why waste your time when you have a way of getting the ten times the effect you want with minimal effort? Parkour, the philosophy and art of freedom of movement, encourages traceurs to not let their environment be an obstacle, but a series of playthings that only a few techniques can help them turn into stepping stones to get somewhere as fast and efficiently as possible. Wing Chun, similarly, asks why someone should punch another person’s feet when considering how high kicks take too much energy and time when a simple punch to the face (or neck) gives you the desired effect.
So why then do I have to wait to help myself? This is why I’ve made the effort to run the marathon now instead of waiting til I am ready. And it works. The point is, the sooner you make the decision to help yourself is the sooner you run a marathon instead of dragging your feet for a mile and torturing yourself.
Being here now: the professional benefits of walking around
Walking around every city I’ve lived in and being me has gotten me more professional opportunities than networking events where people put on their game face and try to impress others. The problem with that is, almost everyone is not being natural.
As I stated above, when depressed, you end up hating yourself and trying to find ways to stop being you. It’s precisely the time you should be you even more, and then take that to an extreme or improve yourself. You may never be satisfied with who you are, but you will always be improving yourself.
So I have spiky hair, I dance-walk when I really enjoy the music I listen to, I wear bracelets and necklaces, and I eat coconuts a little too often. I talk to strangers because it’s fun to break out of my comfort zone as an introvert and challenge myself to stop being caught in my own world. But that’s me, and there’s no one I’d rather be than me.
When I walk around, people approach me because they feel this energy of being a free spirit, and when they find out what I’m doing away from America and why I’m here, what I want to do–suddenly, I get a job offer because of a variety of reasons, whether it’s that they find my skill set interesting, or my charisma and manners make them feel they can be comfortable around me.
So why be a mask to impress others? Be yourself, and you’ll find people who match you, and you will match them. The strange, wonderful, and beautiful approach me all the time because they see a guy who is sincere and a free spirit. Those are the people I call my friends, my employers, and the adventurers. No need to walk into a dead end with the wrong friends or profession and force yourself to fit if it’s not you. Or, as with the method acting step above I mentioned, you can fundamentally reprogram yourself if that’s what you want–but who wants to change themselves and depend on other people’s approval for their own happiness?
That’s why in the end, running a marathon, including writing this entry, are all part of the process that let me speed ahead in a couple days towards being not just normal, but awesome.
Be awesome and feel great, people.