My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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Secret of Adulthood: Do Nothing In Excess, Not Even Moderation.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

DoNothingInExcess_124742

 

Of course, what is excessive, and what is moderation, is not always easy to determine. I wrote about the lure of the idea of “moderation” a few weeks ago.

As an Abstainer and an Upholder, I have to work to ensure that I keep a moderate amount of excess in my life. How about you?

I'm deep in the writing of my next book, Before and After, about making and breaking habits, and there's nothing more satisfying than reading the success stories of people who have changed a habit. If you have a Before-and-After story of a habit you changed, and you're willing to share it here on the blog, please contact me here. Once a week, I'll post a story. We can all learn from each other.

72 Proverbs from Hell. (Not the Usual Hell.)

marriageofheavenandhellEvery Wednesday is Tip Day, or List Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday:  72 Proverbs from Hell, by William Blake.

I love paradoxes, koans, parables, proverbs, Secrets of Adulthood, and aphorisms. So how have I never come across poet William Blake’s Proverbs of Hell before? When I found it the other day, I couldn’t believe I’d never read it before. Several of the proverbs were familiar to me, from other reading, but I didn’t know their origin in his book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Blake’s “Hell,” by the way, is not the traditional Hell, but a place of “unrepressed, somewhat Dionysian energy” (at least that’s what Wikipedia says).

These proverbs are thought-provoking; I don’t agree with all of them, or understand all of them, but I love reading them. I’ve put some of my favorites in bold:

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.

Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.

He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.

The cut worm forgives the plow.

Dip him in the river who loves water.

A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.

He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.

Eternity is in love with the productions of time.

The busy bee has no time for sorrow.

The hours of folly are measur’d by the clock, but of wisdom: no clock can measure.

All wholsom food is caught without a net or a trap.

Bring out number, weight & measure in a year of dearth.

No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.

A dead body, revenges not injuries.

The most sublime act is to set another before you.

If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.

Folly is the cloke of knavery.

Shame is Pride’s cloke.

~

Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.

The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.

The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.

The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God.

The nakedness of woman is the work of God.

Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps.

The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man.

The fox condemns the trap, not himself.

Joys impregnate. Sorrows bring forth.

Let man wear the fell of the lion, woman the fleece of the sheep.

The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.

The selfish smiling fool, & the sullen frowning fool, shall be both thought wise, that they may be a rod.

What is now proved was once, only imagin’d.

The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbit: watch the roots; the lion, the tyger, the horse, the elephant, watch the fruits.

The cistern contains; the fountain overflows.

One thought, fills immensity.

Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.

Every thing possible to be believ’d is an image of truth.

The eagle never lost so much time, as when he submitted to learn of the crow.

~

The fox provides for himself, but God provides for the lion.

Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.

He who has suffer’d you to impose on him knows you.

As the plow follows words, so God rewards prayers.

The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Expect poison from the standing water.

You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.

Listen to the fools reproach! it is a kingly title!

The eyes of fire, the nostrils of air, the mouth of water, the beard of earth.

The weak in courage is strong in cunning.

The apple tree never asks the beech how he shall grow, nor the lion, the horse,  how he shall take his prey.

The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.

If others had not been foolish, we should be so.

The soul of sweet delight, can never be defil’d.

When thou seest an Eagle, thou seest a portion of Genius, lift up thy head!

As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.

To create a little flower is the labour of ages.

Damn, braces: Bless relaxes.

The best wine is the oldest, the best water the newest.

Prayers plow not! Praises reap not!

Joys laugh not! Sorrows weep not!

~

The head Sublime, the heart Pathos, the genitals Beauty, the hands &  feet Proportion.

As the air to a bird of the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible.

The crow wish’d every thing was black, the owl, that every thing was white.

Exuberance is Beauty. [this is my very favorite; I've loved this aphorism for a long time]

If the lion was advised by the fox, he would be cunning.

Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement,  are roads of Genius.

Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.

Where man is not nature is barren.

Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ’d.

Enough! or Too much!

Which are your favorites? Or which do you find objectionable?

Story: What Am I Really Complaining About?

For the weekly videos, I now tell a story. I’ve realized that for me, and I think for many people, a story is what holds my attention and makes a point most powerfully.

This week’s story: What am I really complaining about?

 

This story reminds me of what Mindy Kaling said in her happiness interview (yes, that’s right, I did an interview with Mindy Kaling):

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Mindy: When I was 18 years old, I took a semester off from college and was an intern at Late Night With Conan O’Brien. It was the most glamorous job I ever had, and I idolized the writers there. I remember lying in bed every night telling myself that if I ever got a job as a comedy writer, I would be so happy and all my dreams would have come true. Six years later I got that job, working on The Office. I felt incredibly happy and grateful for a about a week, and then a whole new set of complaints set in. This would’ve shocked and disgusted my 18-year-old self. It’s helpful to remember the younger version of me because it reminds me to feel grateful when I want to be snotty.

How about you? Have you ever been able to stop your complaining, by asking yourself, “What am I really complaining about?”

You can check out the archives of videos here.  More than 1.3 MILLION views. Remember to subscribe to my Channel! (The subscribe button is in the top banner here).

Do You Agree with These Four Levels of Mental Energy?

lightbulbburningpngI love coming up with different schemes–and here’s a new one. I was thinking about the mental energy required by the different tasks of my life, and it struck me that this energy could be divided into four categories, in descending order of mental demand:

1. Contemplative energy—planning, deciding, creating, inhibiting (holding myself back from saying, doing, or thinking something), setting priorities, making transitions

2. Engagement energy—talking to other people, reading or observing with my critical faculties

3. Audience energy—watching or listening passively

4. Habit energy—mindlessly executing a habitual behavior

One conclusion: when I feel too tired to do anything except Level 3, I should probably be in bed.

To be satisfying, watching TV or checking Facebook should feel like Level 2 activities, not Level 3. Watching Homeland is a different experience from flipping through the channels. True, occasionally  Level 3 is just what I’m in the mood for, but I don’t want to make a habit of it, or let myself sink, without realizing it, from Level 2 into Level 3 (which tends to happen within about thirty minutes).

As I wrote about the other day, in Epiphany: It takes a lot of energy to decide to go to bed, weirdly, when I’m very tired, I tend to stay up too late. These four levels help show why. I’m stuck in a Level 3 activity, and don’t have the energy to boost myself into Level 1 activity.

That’s the value of Level 4. If I make bedtime into a habit–”At 10:30, I start getting ready for bed, in the same way, every night”–then I don’t have to use any precious Level 1 mental energy to get myself to turn out the light.

What do you think of these four levels–did I get it right? What activities did I overlook that should be plugged into this framework?

“‘Home,’ By Contrast, Is the Place Where Least Has Happened.”

GeoffDyerIn the introduction to his book Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It, Geoff Dyer writes,

For several years now I’ve been puzzled by some lines of Auden’s–actually, I’ve been puzzled by many of Auden’s lines, but the ones I have in mind are from “Detective Story” (1936), where he talks about

home, the centre where the three or four things

That happen to a man do happen

I think I have trouble getting my head round this idea of home because I can’t refine down the number of things that have happened to me to ‘three or four’–or not yet I can’t anyway. Auden might turn out to be right, but for the moment, there are a lot of things that have happened, and they’ve happened in a lot of different places. “Home,” by contrast, is the place where least has happened. For the last dozen or so years, in fact, the idea of “‘home” has felt peripheral and, as a consequence, more than a little blurred. Or maybe, like Steinbeck, “I have homes everywhere,” many of which “I have not seen yet. That is perhaps why I am restless. I haven’t seen all my homes.”

As someone who has spent so much time thinking about my own experience of home, I found this fascinating.

Do you feel like “home” is the place where the things that matter happen–or that those things happen elsewhere? For me, the things that do happen happen at home.