I usually hate Maroon 5. But it’s Saturday night in Little Tokyo and a stranger is absolutely slaying his version of ‘Sunday Morning’. The crowd is feeling it and the next thing I know I’m totally grooving to the only thing crappier than an actual Maroon 5 song - a cover of a Maroon 5 song. But I don’t care that I look like a loser. After all, it’s a karaoke bar.
One of my favorite things about living in a major city like Los Angeles is all of the varying degrees of culture being created in any given neighborhood at any given time. One thing I specifically adore about LA is karaoke. Yes, I’m saying karaoke is a part of culture and no, I’m not sorry about it.
Here’s the thing about karaoke in LA: it’s wildly entertaining. I chalk it up to there being a concentration of people who learned how to sing and perform because they came out here to pursue a career in entertainment.
The thing about these artists, performers and entertainers, whose careers lead them to 3 minutes of glory on a faux stage, with a terrible backing track, is that they aren’t not talented. They are talented people.
But talent isn’t the deciding factor for where you’ll ultimately find yourself. Talent is usually just a baseline requirement for getting a chance to sit at the table. Talent will only get you short-lived-glory at a karaoke bar.
It’s all the other factors that make an impact: hard work, how saturated the market is, natural aptitude, mindset, the competition, your network, your timing, how you approach failure and criticism, what you’re willing to compromise, your standards, your appetitive for risk and your economics, just to name a few things.
Some of these factors are beyond of our control. Some are not.
Having the right mindset is the single greatest thing within a person’s control that has the greatest impact on the overall outcome of a situation. The actual outcome of a situation is ultimately determined by a person’s mindset. A failure can be your greatest lesson or the thing that holds you back forever.
If you’ll allow me to get really weird for a moment, let’s just remember that our entire experience of our entire life is within the confines of our mind. We cannot prove our own existence outside of our mind or our own consciousness. We cannot prove the existence of others outside our mind. It’s actually totally fucking insane and it makes sense why avoid confronting this existential crisis by constantly distracting ourselves with nonsense and cell phones. So my point isn’t to send you into an existential downward spiral, my point is, we’re the masters of our own domains - our minds. And to not put effort into mastering our minds seems like a foolish way to spend some of our human experience.
Practice daily (or near daily) meditation
"You should not be carried away by the dictation of the mind, but the mind should be carried by your dictation." – A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami
I know; recommending this makes me look like a preachy, self-righteous asshole. But here’s the thing - the commitment is minimal relative to the benefit. The commitment is so minute relative to your other options for changing your mindset.
Meditating is so important because it allows you to observe our thoughts. Observing is the first step to self awareness. After you get good at observing your thoughts, you’ll start to feel a sense of detachment from them. Detachment helps reinforce the reality that you are not your thoughts. You are merely the non-judgmental observer of your thoughts. And once you are able to do this Jedi-master mind trick, you can start adding different thoughts. When you change what you’re putting in, you’ll change what comes out.
All you need is to start with 5 minutes a day. You only have 5 minutes to lose and everything to gain. Give yourself the space to do nothing for 5 minutes a day and watch what happens. If you try to say, “Paco, I don’t have 5 minutes,” the following words are for you.
First of all, are you fucking serious that you don’t have 5 minutes of time for the betterment of your mental health and overall well being? No fucking way, I call bullshit. I refuse to believe you can’t find or make 5 minutes.
Second, if it is true, that you are holding down multiple jobs and you have kids, I’m sure you could consider reprioritizing the non-obligatory things in your life to give yourself at least 5 minutes.
And for those of you continuing to give me the excuse of not having time: Meditate on your break at work, wake your ass up 5 minutes earlier every day, use social media less, watch less Netflix/YouTube/Hulu/etc., bend time. And realize that you’re probably just using time as an excuse for what you’re really afraid of: being alone with yourself.
Adversity is a part of life: always look at the other side of the same coin
“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?” ― Rumi
There is always bad in the good and always good in the bad. Once you get good at seeing that, you’ll be better equipped to tackle all of life’s adversities.
For example, if you view money only as a limitation holding you back from what you want, that’s all you’ll see it as. If that’s where you’re at right now, try to open your mind up to the possibility that money is tool and a resource. It allows your life to be expansive. It can be stressful when you don’t have enough, but it can also be stressful when you have more than enough - the bad in the good and the good in the bad.
Remember that adversity is merely a part of our lives. Everyone struggles with something. Creating something requires questioning the status quo and then taking action. Stories require conflict. Comedy requires tension. Sex requires friction. Instead of thinking about facing adversity as a struggle, consider facing it as a chance to practice existing in the natural tension of human life.
Get some global perspective, have some local gratitude
"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” - Epictetus
Although worldwide poverty is on the decline, according to the World Bank’s most recent estimates, close to 46 percent of the world’s population is living on less than $5.50 a day and around 80% lives on less than $10 a day. That figure doesn’t take into account measures beyond poverty like access to adequate, clean water, education, electricity and sanitation.
If you’re reading this, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you are lucky enough not to belong to either of those demographics and that you have a ton of things in your life to be grateful for.
Abundance starts with appreciating what you have. Even if your dining room table is a hand me down and your pea coat has a hole in the pocket. Always be thankful for what you’ve got right now. You’re a creature of habit. So if you aren’t in the habit of being thankful now, why do you think you’ll magically be thankful later?
Often times you’ll hear people say “practice gratitude”. It is a practice. It takes regular and consistent practice.
Interrupt your negative patterns
“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.” - Bruce Lee
There was a time in my life when it was a struggle to afford basic necessities like groceries. So I started a small garden at home to grow vegetables and herbs. Instead of ruminating on the struggle and the lack, I found a way to take action and turn it into something expansive that I still take joy in doing. Instead of feeling negative emotions at the grocery store, I felt gratitude for having the space for a garden and living in a climate where I could grow food all year long.
Try spending a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day writing about what you’re grateful for. You can keep a journal, or have a conversation with your loved ones or you can just think about it. After you’ve built this daily habit, try to catch your negative thoughts throughout the day and replace them with thoughts of gratitude. When your thoughts tell you that you don’t have enough - not enough clothes or not enough material objects - recognize the silliness of the thought you’re having and instead of ruminating on what you don’t have, appreciate what you do have.
Usually you can get to this stage after starting a meditation practice (getting good at observing) and practicing gratitude. See? It’s all coming together.
Inner Inquiry: Ask yourself some hard questions
“If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion.” - Aldos Huxley
Here are some questions that you can ask yourself to help you confront the disconnect between your mindset and your objectives:
What are the things you’ve been tolerating in your life that you no longer want to tolerate? (This one has a lot to unpack and it might be really hard to face some of these things. Some of them will be directly correlated to economics and some of it won’t. Just let the feelings flow.)
What beliefs do you hold and how do they serve those around you?
It’s important to understand that you’ll always be uncovering who you are and what you want. Inner inquiry is a life-long journey of self discovery. You’ll change and what you want will change. Once you accept the instability of change, you can start to enjoy bumpy ride.
Practice staying calm
“The more relaxed you are, the better you are at everything: the better you are with your loved ones, the better you are with your enemies, the better you are at your job, the better you are with yourself.” - Bill Murray
Life will punch you in the face. I promise you that. To be equipped for it, you have to practice staying calm and practice taking it on the chin.
Do things that create adversity in a controlled environment so you’ve had to practice facing it calmly. Creating in any capacity is great for this. Live performance like playing music or acting will also require you to practice this skill. Learning and practicing a sport is a good place to practice staying calm in the face of adversity. Yoga, trail running, or boxing all require a calmness within the storm.
It’s not always easy, but the more you practice, well, the more practice you’ve had.
Takes decisive action to work on your mindset
"I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.” - Muhammad Ali
How to change your mindset? Always take decisive action to work on your mindset. In every moment and with every action, you have a choice.
Show up everyday. Take action everyday. Rinse. Repeat.
Realize your are valuable because you’re a human life
American society values productivity to a fault. We praise people for all they’ve accomplished and what they’ve done. We don’t have enough programs to help people who create value that capitalism deems irrelevant - like care taking or being a caring steward to the world.
We’re products of our environment so it’s easy to internalize and embody the flaws of the system. But try not to get caught up in the value that society assigns in terms of output, productivity, dollars in the bank (or dollars not in the bank), status, etc. I realize me saying this is a lot like a rich person saying, “money doesn’t matter.” Of course, it’s easy to say money doesn’t matter when you already have lots of it. I get it.
Here’s what I’m really trying to say:
You are valuable. If you never produce your magnum opus or you have trouble holding down a job, you’re still valuable because you are a human life. (Robots and cyborgs, I think you’re valuable too). Settle in and start to believe in your value. After all, that’s really all money is - a representation of value.