A Short, Sharp Shock to the Brain and a Year-Long Commitment

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WARNING: brief language.

I’ve been contemplating how to best sit down and write this blog post, how I want to approach it. I finally decided that wading in and going full stream of consciousness is the way to go. This may not flow well, but at least it will get my thoughts down on paper.

Some of you may remember Cracked magazine. It was a humor magazine, very much in the line of Mad magazine and, to a lesser extent, National Lampoon, the people that brought you the Vacation movies and Animal House. Cracked stopped publication in 2007 but lives on in the form of a website, where humor is delivered list style (for example, “6 Lost Works of Genius [Found in the Dumbest Place Possible]” is what’s currently headlining the website). I love lists and Cracked’s style of writing, often NSFW, is satirical and spot on. It’s also a fun way to learn trivia, which I hoard like survivalists hang onto canned food and ammo.

The other day, I was browsing through the website and ran across an article entitled “6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person,” written by Cracked’s executive editor David Wong. I expected humor, which I kinda sorta got. What I mostly got was a short, sharp shock to the brain in the form of one of the best written motivational articles I’ve ever come across.

I highly recommend that you go read the article yourself, especially because there are three videos linked there that are important to the overall message that Wong is conveying, and his writing is absolutely top-notch to boot. To try and summarize what he’s saying wouldn’t do the article justice, but I’m at least going to give you his bullet points so you catch the gist of what he’s talking about. (But seriously, take the time to go read the article. The explanations of the bullet points are so very much more fulfilling and satisfying than just reading the Cliff notes version.)

6. The world only cares about what it can get from you.

5. The hippies were wrong. (For this bullet point alone, you need to go read the article to get the full message. The point is so much more than simply “the hippies were wrong” and the accompanying video is vital to making this point.)

4. What you produce does not have to make money, but it does have to benefit people.

3. You hate yourself because you don’t do anything.

2. What you are inside only matters because of what it makes you do.

1. Everything inside you will fight improvement.

Again, I stress to you – go read the article. I’ll be here when you get back.

You’re back, good. Now here’s where I diverge from this line of thinking.

This article is fantastic from the standpoint of someone that doesn’t actually suffer from mental illness, because the article very much engenders a “get shit done” attitude. Some days, my mental illness won’t even let me get out of bed. In fact, that was the case two weeks ago. If I had read this article then, I think I would have just thrown my hands in the air and given up. Like I keep saying, it’s HARSH.

But the principles that Wong lays out can be tempered somewhat for someone with mental illness or any other limitation (chronic pain, etc.).

Some years ago, Don Miguel Ruiz wrote a bestseller called The Four Agreements. It’s a good book and a short read, and I recommend that you hunt it down, especially if you like me suffer from a limitation because of one passage that I’m going to get to in a moment. To oversimplify Ruiz’s book, here are the Four Agreements.

1. Be impeccable with your word.

2. Don’t take anything personally.

3. Don’t make assumptions.

4. Always do your best.

That’s it. That’s the meat of the book right there. But I want to talk about these four bullet points as they relate to Wong’s article.

The first bullet point, be impeccable with your word, fits in with Wong’s #2, what you are only matters because of what it makes you do. In the article, he discusses the plight of someone who thinks “she/he would love me if she/he only knew what an interesting person I am.” Being an interesting person is all fine and good, but how does that manifest in the outside world? What do you DO that’s interesting? Wong explains it as if there were a camera following you around all day. It can only see what you do. Well, being impeccable with your word not only means saying what you mean and meaning what you say, it means acting on the words that come out of your mouth. When you tell someone you’re going to do something, then commit to doing it. Make your word impeccable by having your actions match.

The second bullet point is imperative. Wong’s article outlines again and again that it’s a harsh world out there, and taking anything anyone says or does personally is a great way to build a shell around yourself to keep out the world. Trust me, I know for a fact. I’ve taken things people have said to me personally and it’s taken me years to get over it. I’m the king of taking it personally. But the point is, if you take everything personally, it will seriously stunt your ability to improve yourself. Again, I’m living proof.

The third bullet point, don’t make assumptions, asks you to find the courage to ask questions and say what you really want. And Wong’s article can be summed up very succinctly by asking yourself what you really, REALLY want and how do you plan to make that happen. Assumptions and taking things personally tend to go hand in hand, so if you can stop making assumptions, it’ll be that much easier not to take anything personally, because you’re not wasting brain space on the what-ifs that come with assumptions and that lead to personalizing.

It’s the fourth bullet point that I want to spend the most time with, though. Always do your best. Ruiz explains thusly: “Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.”

The emphasis above is mine, and it is the point I’ve been getting to.

At its conclusion, Wong’s article asks you to take a year and “pledge to do fucking anything — add any skill, any improvement to your human tool set, and get good enough at it to impress people.” But, he goes on to say, “I want you to purely focus on giving yourself a skill that would make you ever so slightly more interesting and valuable to other people.

Wong’s article is a masterpiece of motivational writing, and at its heart its purpose is to improve the person that you are in the eyes of others. But as he explains in another masterful article (that you should also go read) entitled “5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Own Life (Without Knowing It),” part of knowing what you want to improve about your life is knowing what you’re willing to give up to improve. We’ve only got 24 hours a day, and you can’t just arbitrarily add a new commitment to your life without making time for it, which means something you’re currently doing is going to have to fall by the wayside to make room for the thing you want to do to improve yourself. It’s a necessary attribute of the “get shit done” attitude that Wong espouses.

But getting shit done is not always possible for those with mental illnesses or other limitations.

And that’s where Ruiz’s fourth agreement comes in to temper this gung-ho attitude with the reminder that some days are not going to be gung-ho. Headaches happen, depression sets in, and there’s nothing you can do about it except treat the condition however best you can. On those days, making room for improvement has to be set aside in favor of getting through the day.

BUT!

If you are always doing your best, being impeccable with your word about what your best is, then you’ll be able to face the challenge of improving yourself head on, knowing that you’re making progress when you can and healing when you must.

And THAT, my friends, is my big takeaway from Wong’s and Ruiz’s writing.

For a lot of my life, I haven’t seen the point in even trying because I’m always comparing myself to others, taking their successes personally. Wong says, “I was the world’s shittiest writer when I was an infant. I was only slightly better at 25. But while I was failing miserably at my career, I wrote in my spare time for eight straight years, an article a week, before I ever made real money off it. It took 13 years for me to get good enough to make the New York Times best-seller list. It took me probably 20,000 hours of practice to sand the edges off my sucking.” But then he goes on to say this: “People quit because it takes too long to see results, because they can’t figure out that the process is the result.”

Well, I’m here to tell you, it’s time to improve myself, and I’m going to do it on Wong’s terms.

Today is May 9th. I could choose to make my deadline a year from today, but I suck at remembering arbitrary dates like this (though I can tell you the day that my wife and I met, the day we started dating, and even remember our wedding anniversary). I have a nice, convenient, memorable day next week, and I’m going to use that instead.

So, starting on May 14th, my mumbledy-mumbleth birthday, I am going to develop the skills to write a 50,000 word novel and have it ready for publication by my mumbledy-mumbleth-plus-one birthday next year. I have the concept in mind, and thanks to a friend of mine have worked out the kinks I had in researching my storyline. I’m ready to bring this story to life.

I would appreciate encouragement and feedback along the way.

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