Why is it that the girl or boy of our dreams almost never materializes, yet we can always attract somebody who we’re not the slightest bit interested in? Why is it when we’re in a real rush, there’s never a parking spot, but when we’ve got all the time in the world, somebody pulls out right in front of us?

A lesson here? Remove the word “need” from your vocabulary. If you don’t give a monkey’s toss what happens at any given moment, the universe will expand in direct proportion to your disinterest.

Here’s Christopher Walken, admirably demonstrating offhanded insouciance:

EXERCISE: Act completely aloof at your next job interview. Chances are, they’ll make you an offer. Refuse — and they’ll up it to a management position. Shake your head no, and boom! Senior vice presidency. Move towards the door waving goodbye, and they’ll drop to their knees and plead with you to take a seat on the board. Walk out the door without agreeing to their terms and you’ll be 5 times closer to your real goal!

Why are we writing about snow days in August? Because they are one of the great spontaneous joys of life. There should be more of them, and they shouldn’t be relegated to bleak days of winter. And they’re especially important when the heat index reaches 105.

With the right attitude, you can experience a snow day any day of the year. One way we like to get started is by placing a snow globe on the nightstand. When you wake up, give that snow globe a good shake and watch the flakes dance merrily in the glycerin contained within. You can even create your own personalized snow globe for added merriment. 

Now decide whether this day should be a “regular day” or a “snow day”. If it’s the latter, go back to sleep for as long as you like. (Naturally, it helps if your snow day falls on a “summer Friday” or you are self-employed, but this shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. A veteran snow-day conjurer can always create an excuse that passes mustard with the powers that be.)

Granted, it’s a bit harder to conjure a snow day when the heat index creeps up to 105. The higher the temperature, the more you’ll need to visualize the snowflakes dancing down from the sky and piling up on your windowsill, with the news declaring your school or business shuttered for the day.

And like an India yogi, you can learn to cool your body through simple exercises and meditation.

Yes, a snow day just might be the best feeling in the world. And with a box of cocoa mix and some comfortable pajamas, there’s no reason why you can’t declare a snow day any day of the year. Here’s School Superintendent Rydell singing its praises. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Life throwing you curveballs? Sometimes it’s best to sit back and let Jianzhi Sengcan, the Third Patriarch of Zen, remind you that you needn’t be troubled by slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Here are the first stanzas of Sengcan’s “Hsin Hsin Ming,”* containing all the instructions you need for avoiding suffering and removing every obstacle to enlightenment. (And all in just 151 words.)

The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.

If you wish to see the truth
then hold no opinions for or against anything.
To set up what you like against what you dislike
is the disease of the mind.
When the deep meaning of things is not understood,
the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail.

The Way is perfect like vast space
where nothing is lacking and nothing in excess.
Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject
that we do not see the true nature of things.

Live neither in the entanglements of outer things,
nor in inner feelings of emptiness.
Be serene in the oneness of things and such
erroneous views will disappear by themselves.

While this might sound easy, it takes practice to step away from what society labels “reality” and march to the beat of the one universal drummer.  To remind ourselves to practice at every opportunity, we’ve boiled “the Ming” down to it’s key component and wear it close to our hearts. (Four words even harder to forget!)

*Perhaps you’re wondering what “Hsin Hsin Ming” actually means. Different translators have rendered the title in different ways. Here’s a few to ponder:

  1. On Believing in Mind (Daisetsu Teitarõ Suzuki)
  2. On Faith in Mind (Dusan Pajin)
  3. Trusting In Mind (Hae Kwang)
  4. Trust in the Heart (Thomas Cleary)
  5. The Perfect Way (translator unknown)

**When it comes to t-shirts, you could always wear one of these. (Although we have no preference either way.)

Unless you are an anthropoid or alien, sometime in the last 24 hours you had a moment of doubt, worry or alarm.

It might have been fear of losing your job. Or possibly you distrusted a friend or partner’s feelings for you. Maybe you worried that fire or storms would destroy your home. Or had a nagging feeling that getting older might actually kill you. Why, with Halloween almost upon us, you might even have a fear of All Hallow’s Eve itself. (This is termed Samhainophobia, and originates from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to usher in the darker time of year — and ward off ghosts.)

Whatever your trepidation, how do you get rid of gnawing anxiety, creepy shivers, or full blown panic?

Start by thinking of one scary thing that’s on your mind right now. Something you tend to avoid, but that sparks fear in you.  Whatever your boogeyman is, say the word out loud. Be it “sharks” or “elevators” or “corporate administrators” or “trapped on a Boeing 737 Max.” Giving voice to your fear can make you realize that what spooks you is mostly living in a dark corner of your mind, and is not an imminent threat. If sharks scare you and you live in Kansas, the worry is not a real threat. If you work on Wall Street and have a fear of farm threshers, you’re good for now. 

Now take it a step further: Think about the worst thing that could happen if your fear actually materialized. What if that shark found its way to Kansas and bit your leg clean off?  It’s true your professional tap-dancing career could be over, but you might still go on to win a gold medal in the Paralympics. If you lost your business, lost your faithful dog, lost your spouse or lost your mind, it can be the start of a bold new chapter in your life adventure.

The point is, when your worst fears happen, it is never game over. You will always have the power to change your attitude, even in the worst of situations.  What about death, you ask? On the plus side, you finally get a good night’s sleep!

But this doesn’t mean you should walk around completely unprepared for the worst.  Excrement does hit the fan, so what is the simplest solution to overcoming the fear you may be avoiding? After all, the only thing worse than our fear becoming manifest is being caught with our pants down, when we always knew better.

While we can’t list them all, here are a few suggestions to place in your fear-dispelling toolkit. Good luck, and may you vanquish your fear once and for all!

83-function swiss army knife, should you find yourself abandoned in deep forest.

 

Tactical pro flashlight to shine a light on burglars, predators and small rodents.

Roadside assistance kit when there’s no cell service to call Triple A.

 

Bear attack deterrent, for bear attacks.

Book to read before asking for a raise.

 

What do you mean, you don’t know who Charli D’Amelio is? She’s only the most popular personality on TikTok, with 76 million followers and counting! (The number changes constantly, there’s a live feed of the count here.) So what does Charli do to earn these followers? Dispense sound financial advice? Speak out against racial injustice? No. She dances to pop music, mostly around her parents’ house in Norwalk, Connecticut.  And she’s damn good at it too. Why, she’s become so popular that she even has a line of official sportswear, in case you need a new hoodie:

Charli D'Amelio hoodie

You may not have 76 million viewers on TikTok, but you can wear her sweatshirt.

Now it’s easy to look at Charli dancing in her bedroom, decide that it would be great to become a big star by dancing in our bedroom, and make a few 6 second videos in a quick quest for fame and fortune.  The reality? Though it sounds like a fairy tale, 17-year-old Charli didn’t just switch on her iPhone camera and become an overnight sensation. She’s been a competitive dancer since she was 3, was raised by a fitness enthusiast mom and a businessman dad who sweated over her career, and spent years working on choreography and routines away from the limelight.  She’s also an optimist, gazing out at the world and not being intimidated by other dancers, celebrities, and cat video uploaders all jockeying for our somewhat divided attention.

So how can you follow in Charli’s dance shoes? There’s a common saying in many professions that you should “fake it until you make it.” This applies to jobs from fashion modeling to selling used cars to pursuing social media likes. When you are new in a job you don’t have the confidence and skills, but you can develop some aspects of competence by mimicking those who do.

This notion is popularized in treatises expounding laws-of-attraction thinking, like that of Rhonda Byrne in her book “The Secret” and its subsequent cottage industry of conferences, coffee mugs and a current spin-off movie on Netflix.

As Byrne preached to her acolytes: “How do you get yourself to a point of believing? Start make-believing. Be like a child, and make-believe. Act as if you have it already. As you make-believe, you will begin to believe you have received.” But this is nothing new, as Madame Blavatsky, Norman Vincent Peale and Zig Ziglar attested before her.

Today this idea is the go-to trope of countless parents, personal coaches, and positivity gurus. Unfortunately, “Fake it till you make it” also has a negative side — while the make-believe approach may enable .01% of the people to rise above, it can’t work for everyone. That’s why every handshake artist in a business suit doesn’t become a CEO, why 99.5% of writers never have a bestseller, and why every teenager dancing on TikTok won’t get their own reality tv series.

The essential problem that blocks “success through a positive attitude” is a little thing called reality. Yep, reality is a real cock-blocker of make-believe. It’s amusing that Americans, once among the most practical people in the world, have become “reality deniers.” Whether it’s living our lives through the lens of social media or questioning medical science during a pandemic, we think we are are able to bend reality like magicians or morph into an image of perfection for our “followers.”

As the current Covid count is proving, reality ultimately triumphs over delusion.* The SuperOptimist encourages you to embrace the truth about yourself, both the good points and the not-so-good. If you get comfortable with reality now, it will serve you well in the future. Once you have a firm grasp on the facts (“I’m lousy at math. I’m good at crosswords. I enjoy frozen desserts. I’m a developing a slight paunch due to frozen desserts.”) then you can face the world with the determination to overcome your weaknesses while playing to your strengths.

And if you do want to get famous on social media like Charli, then embrace what it takes to succeed: talent, luck, timing, and consistency.  Good luck!

*Only the President of the United States and his apologists are not convinced of this.

 

 

 

 

We could all use more luck in our lives, especially given the extreme events of the moment. So how do you persuade fortune to shine it’s toothy grin upon you going forward?

Richard Wiseman, a British psychology professor at the University of Hartfordshire, examined the difference between self-professed lucky and unlucky people. He found that lucky people those open to new experiences. They’re more willing to talk to new people and try new things.  Even should their life take a turn for the worse, they can still find the positive in the situation. (Yes, even in a pandemic.)

Of course, it never hurts to carry a special charm, or talisman, to improve your luck while you’re going about meeting new people and doing new things. This object may not actually hold any special powers or magical conductivity, but the important thing is that you believe it gives you an edge. With that belief comes better juju. You know, juju, like in Silver Linings Playbook.

While Eagles fans favor green sweaters, white jerseys, and Carson Wentz prayer candles, we’re partial to evil eye keychains, a counterintuitive way to keep luck on your side. The evil eye is a curse believed to be cast by a jealous glare or other negative energy, which is usually directed towards a person who is unaware. By carrying an evil eye keychain, you’ll be protected from evil spirits and bad luck. Add an owl to signify wisdom, and you’ll gain an edge there too!

It can’t hurt to keep some Chinese Emperor coins in your car, kitchen, backpack and valise. Round with a square-shaped hole in the center, they are said to be a representation of earth surrounded by heaven. A handful ought to do the trick.
Of course, you could always wear your luck on your sleeve. Or better yet, on you feet. A pair of blackjack cowboy boots lets everyone know that you’ve got prosperity on your side.

Now if all this isn’t enough for you, why not go full Wiccan and cast some good luck spells for prosperity, love, and health. Naturally, we advise reading up on this before you start your “abra cadabras.” *

And to augment the spells, don’t forget to sprinkle a little voodoo oil on yourself. Here’s a formula that bills itself as “a powerful blend that helps remove obstacles and clears a path for you to accomplish your goals.”

And with that, we wish you good luck, especially if your name is Shirley.

*Errant invocations can have unwanted side effects. You don’t want to turn anyone into a frog by mistake. Although if you do, please take it to a local nature preserve so it can live in peace.

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.

 

Another day, another set of absolute miracles taking place. And in every direction!

Wait, you didn’t see them?

Perhaps you have become inured to such marvels. You are not alone. Since humanity started about 6 million years ago with primates known as the Ardipithecus, miracles have become so plentiful in life, we take them for granted.

Yet all it takes to reignite the senses to the incredible phenomena that surround us is to pause and consider that it wasn’t very long ago that humans walked on all fours and had body hair they could neither groom nor shampoo. And today? In haircare alone, you have your choice of hundreds of fabulous shampoo brands! (Here are the statistics on the favorites from 2018.)

See how everyday occurrences we take for granted can become jaw-dropping revelations, just by reframing your perspective? Here are a few more examples that we’ve recently found deserving of deeper appreciation.

DAILY COMMUTE: We take a “train” pulled by a “diesel engine” that runs on “steel tracks” from one “state” to another. That’s amazing!

PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT: We work in a “building” that’s 52 stories tall, has 21 “elevators” and 189 “water fountains”. That’s amazing!

LUNCHTIME IN THE CITY: We eat a “pulled pork sandwich” from a “food truck” one block away, and they give us an “extra side of coleslaw” because it’s almost closing time. That’s amazing!

CHANCE AT GREAT FORTUNE: Twice a week we buy a “ticket” that qualifies us to win hundreds of millions of “dollars” if our numbers are chosen. That’s amazing!

MOBILE PHONE: We all stare at a “computer” the size of a human hand that offers endless news, games, televisions shows, weather, and “shopping opportunities”. That’s amazing!

STREET BUSKER: Every morning there’s a man near the 42nd St. “shuttle” who wears a “paper crown” on his head and plays “House of the Rising Sun” on a red Telecaster “guitar”. That’s amazing!

We could keep going like this all day. And you can too!  Any time you feel the heavy burden of routine starting to drag you into the darkness, close your eyes, click your heels, and remember that you have eyes and heels to close and click.  Then open your eyes, point at the nearest object, and marvel at it out loud.

“Wow, that’s a ‘metal file cabinet’ that contains sheets of ‘paper’ with words and pictures on it.  That’s amazing!”*

*Note: You may need to explain to onlookers why you are behaving like this, as they probably aren’t as attuned to the miracles of everyday existence as you are.

They who dream by day are more cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only at night. E.A. Poe*

We have written about dreams before, and for good reason. What else in life can offer so much pleasure and escape from the confines of reality, yet not cost a dime or leave a scar (assuming you don’t identify as a somnambulist.)

In addition to imaginative conjuring during the witching hours, it’s high time to celebrate the brain activity that occurs when eyes are open, yet focus on the external world is relaxed.  We may think daydreaming is a small part of our cognitive motoring, but it actually accounts for up to half of all our waking thoughts.

So rather than spend half your life with your mind-wandering in a state of semi-conscious incapacitation, exercising a bit of discipline on your flights of fancy can  prove most rewarding. “Deliberate daydreaming” is both good fun and 132% necessary to generate ideas that can propel the world forward. Especially as we enter a crucial period where our very lives depend upon solving big issues like economic inequality, climate change and how brick and mortar stores can overcome the amazon death grip.

Constructive daydreaming involves an intentional shift in focus away from whatever is in front of you (computer monitor, packed subway train, half-eaten fruit salad) to the “default mode network” of the brain, which can spark better ways of problem-solving. Pre-loading an area of interest before taking off for la-la land can focus one’s dreaming, making for time spent (somewhat more) wisely.

Of course, some people view daydreaming as a form of procrastination and insist that it’s bad for business.  The suits in corporate are apt to chastise an employee with their feet up, pencil slack, and a thousand mile stare on their face. But don’t let the nabobs of negativism get you down. Instead, hand them this article from a Harvard-branded “strategic facilitator” and tell them to leave you alone for the next several days.

And if you want to increase your Autopilot Cogitation Potential® a hundred fold, we suggest you pack your thoughts and fly to Daydream Island Resort, reopening this month after being whacked by Cyclone Debbie two years ago.

Finally, a word of caution: if you find it difficult to emerge from the spaced-out state once you enter it, you may have developed a condition known as “Maladaptive Daydreaming.” If you’re finding yourself drooling onto your desk, or idling at a green light until the driver behind you knocks on your windshield with a crowbar, there’s help for you here.**

*While some might question the benefits of daydreaming like Mr. Poe, his work was certainly the better for it. 

**Like all addictions, compulsive fantasizing must be self-diagnosed.

 

 

If ever there was a day to consider your quirks, ticks, neuroses, body dysmorphia and secret thoughts to be your most valuable assets, it’s Friday.  So let us help you disengage from the race of the rats for a few moments and celebrate all that is freaky, beginning with the first true oddballs who paved the way for the iconoclasts we rally around today.

While today it can refer to anyone who chooses to take the road least traveled in search of new experiences, ideas or behaviors, the term “freak” originally referred to those with physically deformities or strange diseases. Superstition lead the masses to label these creatures as bad omens up until the 16th Century, when they were brought out of the closet  during the reign of England’s Elizabeth I. Public curiosity led to the development of the “sideshow,” with many of the genetically-challenged agreeing to be publicly displayed in return for a cut of the profits.

Over the centuries, people with physical abnormalities grew into a highly profitable market, specifically in England and the United States, with P.T. Barnum and the Clyde Beatty Cole Bros. popularizing the circus sideshow to the delight of ticket-buyers.  In turn, performers of all stripes took this as a cue to develop more outlandish acts in order to shock and titillate audiences who had “seen everything.”

So where do we acquire our current understanding of what “getting your freak on” means? During the early 1960s, former marathon dancing champion Vito Paulekas and his wife Szou established an art studio and boutique in Hollywood that become the epicenter of a new movement combining semi-communal living with free-form dancing. Along with their friends and fellow artists, they called themselves “freaks” or “freakers” and became well known in the area for their unconventional behavior.  Among the musicians and performers of the day who congregated at Paulekas’ place were Frank Zappa, David Crosby, Don Van Vliet, and The GTOs.

It was Zappa, leader of the seminal ‘60s group The Mothers of Invention, who attempted to distance the freaks from being narrowly defined, preferring to champion an aesthetic that eschewed fashion or political leanings in favor of independent thought. He described their behavior like so: “Freaking out is a process whereby an individual casts off outmoded and restricted standards of thinking, dress and social etiquette in order to express creatively his relationship to his environment and the social structure as a whole.”  It’s no surprise that Zappa’s first album with the Mothers was entitled “Freak Out.”  Also noteworthy is that it was the first double album debut in history, which was a freaky thing to do.

At the Mothers’ first concerts, audience members were invited to express themselves however they wished, whether shouting, dancing, playing kazoo, or letting a band member spray them with a foreign substance.  Unlike the hippies with their emphasis on drug-taking and socialized protests, a freak could behave in whatever way they deemed creatively satisfying.

Naturally, being freaky and letting one’s freak flag fly was taken up by popular culture to mean any sort of fun, mischief or invention that could be had at the expense of normality. One way Zappa defied even the normality of being a freak was to make friends with the television avatars of pop music, The Monkees.  According to ’60s historian Barry Miles, Zappa was a fan of The Monkees, and actually invited Micky Dolenz to join his band.*  While that didn’t happen, The Monkees got Zappa to appear on their TV show and in their subsequent feature film,  “Head.”  Co-written by Jack Nicholson, Zappa plays “The Critic,” who commandeers a talking bull on a leash.  In his scene, Zappa tells Davy Jones he needs to work on his music because the youth of America is depending on him.

Today, letting your freak flag fly is something anyone can do, even if you spend most of your time behind a computer, inputting code for a social network.  We invite you to get up from your desk, walk into the hallway, and express yourself however you please.  Just make sure no one from Human Resources is nearby; they don’t let their freak flags fly until no one is around.  Then you should see what they’re up to!

*Shown above: Frank Zappa and Mickey Dolenz, both freaks of nature.