Right or wrong, good or not-so-good, sane or mad, making a choice and then committing ourselves to it can be considered the most valuable practice in life. To set out on a course of action and eliminate any route of escape reduces the chance of compromise.

The expression “Burn one’s bridge” comes from the very act of burning down a wooden crossing after marching over it during a military campaign, leaving no choice but to continue moving forward while making it more difficult for your enemies to follow.* When there’s no turning back to the cushy existence you enjoyed before rowing away from shore, you have only your goal to go.

When it comes to his goal, the captain is “all in.”

Think of Ahab and his pursuit of the great white whale. He could have cut bait, steered the boat back to harbor, propped up his feet and puffed on a fat cigar. Instead, nothing would deter him from that final face-off with the great Moby D.

Of course, things didn’t turn out pleasantly for the captain. But there’s no arguing that it made for a more striking obituary.  And herein lies the point. It’s the story you wind up with that’s important.  Lashed to a monstrous mammal with your own rope? Now that’s the way to go!

Joe Heller wasn’t a whale hunter, but he did warrant a memorable send-off.

Who wants to die sitting in an easy chair trying to digest another big meal? Achieving a goal requires a climb up a steep, steep mountain, even at the risk of leaving behind a job, a relationship or a soft, comfortable couch that beckons to you when the pursuit becomes difficult in the extreme.

*Of course, you can also use the expression “break the kettles and sink the boats,” an ancient Chinese saying that refers to Xiang Yu’s order at the Battle of Julu in 207 BC.  

While it seems like a contradiction in terms, it takes a lot of hard work to achieve nothingness, as any zen master will attest.

But now it’s not only wise Buddhists who value the art of doing nothing. The University of Fine Arts in Hamburg is offering you the opportunity to turn your back on productivity — and be rewarded for it.

Here’s the application. Get to work!

According to Friedrich von Borries, professor of design theory and creator of the scholarship project, our rabid belief in success, growth and money has led us to the precipice, both environmentally and socially. “We wanted to turn that upside down — giving a grant not for the ‘best’ and for ‘doing a project,’ but for doing nothing,” von Borries told CNN.

It’s what zen practitioners have long espoused: when one refrains from doing something, it will benefit others who would otherwise be impacted by the negative consequences of our actions.

But if you feel you lack the skillset needed to do nothing well, you might want to bone up on the practice before trying to convince the profs in Hamburg that you have what it takes.

There’s a book for everything today.

From now until September 15th, you can apply for the scholarship designed to promote “active inactivity.”  It may be the last actual effort you make for quite a while.*

*Naturally, there’s a catch. In order to claim the scholarship money, you’ll need to write an analysis of what it was like to try to do nothing. And since the audience for your paper are a bunch of academics, be prepared to sweat your tuchus off trying to win their approval.

 

 

 

Recently, a friend of the SuperOptimist expressed concern that their memory was heading south. “I just finished this great book about New York last week. It’s called…uh…oh, my god, what’s the name of it…this is frightening…I can’t remember anything anymore!”

We’re not sure if it’s this one but it sure looks good.

They proceeded to recount how they had been forgetting the names of movies they’d recently watched, restaurants where they’d just scored takeout, even a good friend’s name who was standing right in front of them. “I keep calling you Nancy when your name is Nicole! Is this what age is doing to me?”

Here’s another good book, though nothing to do with memory.

None of us is immune to the effects of getting older, especially on memory. As SuperOptimists, we forget stuff all the time (and are constantly being reminded of it by our well-meaning friends and spouses). But rather than freak out when we call Dave “Don”, or think Millard Fillmore was the 14th president of the United States,* we give ourselves credit for forgetting. Why? Because it’s a sure sign that we are highly intelligent!

Scientists at the University of Toronto have published a study that suggests that the struggle to find the right word, whiff on a name, and blank on a fact are all signs you’re super smart. They posit that forgetfulness is important, as it’s merely the brain making space to take in more crucial information, the kind that helps you make better decisions going forward. Will knowing that Jason Bateman starred as the Mutant in “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” help you survive another day on planet earth? Probably not. ** So forget it!

But you still might enjoy this Jason Bateman keepsake.

So the next time you have a memory lapse, don’t think you’re “losing it.”  Instead, know that you’re simply taking the time to empty out your overloaded brain tank. Besides, worrying about losing one’s memory will only serve to further clog your pipes and have you flailing about for your next sentence.

To help you, we’ve created this list of the things really worth remembering:

1. Date of birth.

2. Credit card number/expiration date/four digit code.

3. Name of spouse or significant other.

4. Which local pizza establishment serves the best garlic knots.

5. Cleanup hitter for your hometown baseball team.

6. Company you work for and immediate superior at work.

All other information is fine to forget. Of course, if you’re dead set on trying to retain every last detail you’ve ever absorbed, there are certain mind tricks that can make you seem sharp at parties. Why not start with the names of the hosts and their street address?

We remember enjoying this book a while back.

It’s a great feeling to create more space inside your cranium. So go ahead, enjoy a little memory loss. And remember, you’re all the smarter for it!

*Fillmore was actually the 13th president. Speaking of chief executives, do you know the names of all 46?  (Hint: that’s a trick question.)

**However, remembering that a donkey will sink in quicksand but a mule won’t could very well help save your life one day.

In the past six months, we’ve gone from world leaders saying there was no major threat from Wuhan to a rip-roaring pandemic. We’ve seen medical experts say that only the elderly and the immune-compromised were at risk, to learning of perfectly healthy people dying from the disease. We’ve been told that wearing a mask is unimportant, to wearing a mask is very, very, very important.

Now we’re seeing various governors arbitrarily decide to keep their states open in the face of increased outbreaks (but maybe they’ll close their states in a week or two, depending), while Wall Street shouts that the worst is over as 20 million people remain unemployed.

If ever there was a time to question authority, this is it.

Looking back, mass confusion is not a new phenomenon; it breeds a group of so-called “experts” who take to the airwaves to tell you what to do next.  From politicians to religious leaders, opinion columnists, business gurus, life coaches, self-help authors, movie critics: Here’s a set of professional guidance counselors that outwardly preach the ability to “live your best life” by following their expert tips.  Yet when in their homes with the shades drawn, they are just as confused, foul-mouthed, and imperfect as you are. 

Perhaps more so.  Scratching their backsides, yelling at their kids, sneaking glances at pornography, greedy for more wealth and power — just like everybody! Remember, despite their confident, toothy grins, these “experts” are not their book jacket photos.

So what is the “truth”?* Which facts do we embrace? Or is life just a lucky guess after all?

What they (and you) can learn from current events is to laugh at the human condition, chortle at our constant foibles, and re-think what makes you happy in the first place.

One way to start? Ignore everything an “expert” says on a cable news show. As Philip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, put it: “Let it be your maxim through life, to know all you can know yourself, and never to trust implicitly the information of others.”

NOTE: The only advice you should follow is your own personal truth.  With just this secret alone, you are nine times more likely to find it! (Oh, and wear a mask. That should go without saying, but we’re saying it anyway.)

Modern homo sapiens first walked the Earth about 50,000 years ago. Since then, more than 108 billion members of our species have been born. Which means 101 billion have already croaked, kicked the bucket, or bitten the dust.* You will too. Does that scare you? It shouldn’t.

Why do we fear death? Mainly for selfish reasons. “I need more time to finish my masterpiece!” “I’ve never visited Nome or Kiev!” “I was promised a cushy retirement if I played by the rules for 40 years!” “I am an important __________(your professional status here) and the world needs me to continue!”

Except the universe doesn’t care about your family, your goals, your summer trip to the Cape. If it’s time for a flood (or earthquake, or pandemic, or meteor) to hit, then that takes center stage — and you’re reduced to an insignificant carbon-based life form who may not survive.

How curious! How mysterious! How perfect!

The truth is, most of us quarantine ourselves each day from the realities of nature. We’ve been socialized to embrace the sweeter things in life (corn syrup, air conditioning, leather recliners), and shy away from the dark, unruly forces we can’t control.  But that negates a huge part of existence.

That’s why now is a swell time to spend some quality hours embracing the source of your deepest anxiety. Invite it to tea, and offer it a finger sandwich. The more you embrace it as a part of you, and give it respect, the less it will snarl and bite and render you helpless.

Once you and your fear are on speaking terms, you’ll realize that your anxiety may be unfounded. Are you really in mortal danger at this very moment? And if so, what’s wrong with that?

Let’s take a lesson from Mexico’s “Dia de Muertos.” Rather than fearing the reaper, why not joyfully celebrate this natural part of the human cycle, and toast the memories of departed ancestors. May fear take a backseat to fiesta!

*According to the primary texts on Buddhist psychology, fear is not even inherent in what is known as basic mind. What is inherent? Clear seeing, spaciousness, pure awareness. Of course, it takes practice to think this way. Or not think, as the case may be.

 

 

Note: Over the next few weeks, The SuperOptimist will be providing a series of experiments one can conduct on themselves at home. They are designed for the curious, the seekers of experience, and those who wish to pass the time in novel and thought-provoking ways. 

A great way to escape the constant onslaught of news and information, especially in times of crisis, is by turning away from media altogether. But as human beings, we like to be kept company by voices other than the ones inside our heads.

That’s why the SuperOptimist recommends listening to the latest programming in a foreign language that you can’t comprehend. * When you remove the brain’s desire to process and understand each word, you can relax and appreciate the sounds on their own. In another world, these sounds could be coming from aliens. In the spirit world, they could be shamans speaking in tongues. It’s akin to experimental music, or abstract painting.

Let your imagination conjure its own story about what these French folks are talking about.  Being stuck in an elevator? Champions League Football? Cooking pastry?

To pick up the signal, we recommend a nice shortwave radio; one that also doubles as an emergency transponder should the need arise. Hand-cranked and solar powered, it never needs batteries or electricity and can receive signals from as far away as Siberia.

As you begin your new listening experience, here’s a station to get you started. Should you prefer a different language, you’ll find plenty in Spanish, along with Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Polish — even Creole.

*It’s conceivable that after listening for a month or two, you may pick up enough meaning in the words to consider yourself bilingual.

One could argue that Martin Luther King was the most important political activist in modern American history.

He was certainly the most hated man in America during the 1960s, for railing against the inequities suffered by African-Americans at the hands of whites, advocating for a guaranteed basic income for all people (60 years before Andrew Yang) and stumping for a redistribution of wealth (beating Bernie Sanders and Liz Warren to the punch).

In other words, the guy was a stone-cold radical who shook up a country coming out of the “Happy Days” of the 1950s.

So you might think that Martin was a dour sort. After all, when he wasn’t exhorting millions to rise up and claim their share of the American Dream, he was busy protesting the Vietnam War and fighting consumer exploitation by industry.

But did you know, five minutes before James Earl Ray gunned him down, Dr. King was busy having a pillow fight? This according to Andrew Young, who was with him that day in Memphis.

As all SuperOptimists know, it’s important to let off steam by hitting one of your trusted personal advisors with a hammer blow of feathers when they least expect it.

King was also known for laughing at his posse for jumping in front of him in crowds, ostensibly to protect him but, in King’s eyes, more likely trying to get their pictures in the paper.

May we continue to humanize the people we venerate as saints, while not judging their mirthful side as being at odds with the seriousness of their purpose.

 

 

Quit vaping. Start making big money in the stock market. Quit dating losers. Start learning how to code.
2020 is here, and with it the pressure to halt all our bad habits, right all our wrongs, improve our posture and lose 15 pounds.
But is attempting the impossible the best way to start the day, much less the decade? And what’s wrong with eating gourmet chocolate while watching reruns of “30 Rock” anyhow?
Here’s the resolution the SuperOptimist always adopts, whether it’s New Year’s Day, Arbor Day, All Saint’s Day, or just another Wednesday: “All is well, life is swell, and I’m good just the way I am.”
By starting the new year accepting every screw-up, flaw, and mistake as the price of being human, you have a 130% better chance of enjoying the first days of the new year.  So ignore all those life coaches with their exhortations to improve everything about yourself.  If they want to drink celery juice and get on the scale five times a day, that’s their problem, not yours!
Remember, the definition of resolution is “the firm decision to do or not do something.” Why not make a firm decision to make no decisions about your future, and enjoy the first month of the year without putting undo pressure on yourself?
By starting 2020 this way, you might find this turns out to be “your year” after all.*
*If you are compelled to figure out how to improve your life in 2020, we suggest looking back on what worked in 2019.  Here’s a short quiz to separate the pluses from the minuses. By doubling down on the good stuff, you’ll assure yourself of more personal victories in the coming year.
MY PERFORMANCE REVIEW 2019 
 What was the best thing I experienced in 2019?
 What was a huge waste of my energy?
 What activity gave me the most pleasure?
 What was my bravest failure?
 What can I try that I haven’t?
 What error can I avoid now that I see it?
 What did I fear in 2019 that I survived?
 Did I handle the bad shit well?
 How many times did I feel joy?
 Who did I like hanging out with?
 Who would I prefer never seeing again?

In America, we’ve been socialized to believe that a “hearty breakfast” consists of eggs, flapjacks, cereal, juice, and the like.

Yet according to food historians, the concept of breakfast food didn’t exist in the U.S. until the mid-1800s. Before that, breakfast was a meal of leftovers, like cheese and bread. If you had a few bucks in the bank, you added meat and fish to your morning plate.

Then the families of Post and Kellogg toasted some grains, and later an egg lobbyist convinced Congress to put scrambled, fried and hard boiled at the top of their food pyramid. You could keep this American breakfast routine going. But why be trapped in the usual food patterns? Could there be a more exciting way to “break fast” that’s just even better than what’s on the menu at your local coffee shop?

One suggestion is adding some inner heat to your morning meal. It’s a sure-fire way to wake up, since hot spices release endorphins in your system, similar to a runner’s high.

While we’re deviating from local custom, why not tour more of the world when it comes to your a.m. cuisine?

In Pakistan, it’s Siri Paya in the a.m., a soup made from slowly cooking the head and feet of a cow, a lamb, or a goat, then adding tomatoes, onions, and spices.

Mexicans like huitlacoche with their eggs. Technically speaking, this is diseased corn, sporting a fungus that’s considered a delicacy in Mexico. The spores that infect the corn turn it black and give it a mushroom-like flavor.

And in Pennsylvania Dutch country (near where the first SuperOptimists were born), scrapple (leftover scraps from the pig, like the eyeballs, tail and snout) are ground into a patty and fried, much to the horror of those thinking sausage is the worst thing that can be done with a sow’s innards.

Hopefully these suggestions have whetted your appetite to try something new. But even if you decide to stick with a bowl of Cheerios, whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast. Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that men who did had a 27% higher risk of heart attack or death from heart disease.*

So here’s to having your cake and eating it for breakfast too, if you so choose.

*The researchers think that the no-breakfast brigade makes up for skipping the morning meal by stuffing themselves at night. This is neither good for their slumber, nor their metabolic rate.

One SuperOptimist practice we never get tired of? Adding the phrase “And isn’t that great!” to any thoughts we may be having.  A recent example can be illustrated by the following:

“Goddamn, I’ve just broken a tooth on a macadamia nut. Now I’ll have to see a dentist.”

Simply add our four magic words, and you can turn this bummer into a blessing: “Goddamn, I’ve just broken a molar on a macadamia nut. Now I’ll have to see a dentist. And isn’t that great!”

Here you’ve taken a rather pedestrian situation in which pain, expense, and inconvenience are the assumed outcomes, and reframed it into something that may have positive consequences.  After all, with the proper attitude, who knows what might happen at the dentist? You could meet a new lover in the waiting room! Your dentist might be experimenting with laughing gas and offer you some! You could decide to spring for an additional ultra-whitening session and walk out of there looking like Hollywood royalty!  Your dentist might accidentally find you have a serious lesion in your mouth that was going to kill you if you hadn’t seen him in time!

Here’s another one:

“Christ, where did summer go? It’s back to cold again.”

Again, add the phrase that pays.

“Christ, where did summer go? It’s back to cold again. And isn’t that great!”

Why is it great? It’s great because the cold helps you burn body fat, leading to a slimmer figure. It’s great because the cold keeps away invasive insects, like the Asian Tiger Mosquito. Most of all, you can take comfort in the fact that you’re not stuck in these temperatures for long, and there’s a cup of hot cocoa waiting for you at the end of your journey.

Here’s another: “Donald Trump is still president. And isn’t that great!”

On the surface, this seems like a nonstarter if you’re not a MAGA-hat wearing racist. But give it a moment to sink in. Instead of wanting to hide under the covers at the thought, you can feel good that nuclear missiles remain in their silos and Ivanka hasn’t been named Secretary of Defense. (Not yet, anyway.)

And one more: “With my mediocre attempts at art, I’m never going to be the next Van Gogh. And isn’t that great!”

So your work isn’t on display in MOMA’s permanent collection.  Instead, you’re making a living selling commercial real estate, or working as an attorney, or driving an Uber. Why is that great? The pressure on you to be the next artistic success has been lifted, freeing you up to do more experimental work that may one day be celebrated after your death.*

*Also, your day job affords you a few niceties, like food and shelter, so you don’t have to ask a family member to support you like Vincent did. And while we can’t be sure, your psychotic episodes probably won’t lead you to sever your own appendage, unlike the struggling post-impressionist.