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1. Travel to your local library.

2. Closing your eyes, walk down an aisle.

3. Pull a volume chosen at random from the stacks.

4. Without looking at the book, turn to a random page.

5. Now open your eyes and read the right-hand page.

6. Whatever is on the page, allow it to inspire an action corresponding to its contents.

They say “when you look good, you feel good.” So what change can you make to improve how you feel?

According to scientists from Harvard and Boston University, applying bright color to the lips not only makes the wearer feel more confident, others will perceive you to be more reliable and competent than those going without.

Researchers also discovered that students who wear makeup actually score better on tests. Wearing cosmetics apparently leads to overall enhancement in self-esteem, attitude, and personality that carries over to the exam room.

Now while these studies were conducted on women, we’re confident in this age of experimentation and fluid gender roles, men can also benefit from a bold choice of color.* After all, guys weren’t shy about applying foundation a few hundred years ago. An 18th century gentleman usually owned a dressing-box that held his razor cases, scissors, combs, curling irons, oil and scent bottles, rouge and powder. Even  soldiers wore wigs throughout the 18th century.

A hundred or so years later, androgenous rock stars of the 1970s (and 80s and 90s…) weren’t shy about accentuating their attitude with makeup. The New York Dolls made red lipstick the cornerstone of their first album cover.

So if you want to give your day a boost, score better on multiple choice tests, and provoke discussion on that next zoom call, you may just find dabbing on some Tom Ford Scarlet Rouge provides the spark you’re looking for. **

*The market for men’s cosmetics is predicted to grow $49 billion this decade.

**Of course, if you prefer using your natural gifts to win friends and attract people, remember the words of Dale Carnegie: “A smile costs nothing, but creates much. It enriches those who receive, without impoverishing those who give.”

 

In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd. — Miguel de Cervantes

That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in another. — Adlai E. Stevenson

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.  — Steve Jobs

When someone calls you a fool, do you take offense? Or thank them for their perspicacity?

The wise among us realize that our foolish nature is something to be embraced — and as often as possible. The godmother of show business reinvention, Cher, says, “Unless you’re ready to look foolish, you’ll never have the possibility of being great.”

Elon Musk was thought to be a fool to the 10th power when he began an electric car company from scratch, and a reusable rocket ship company after that. Both agree that you must free the wild child inside you rather than timidly hide beneath a veneer of “respectability” if you want to make your mark.

So the question is, how will you embrace foolishness today? What pranks are you planning to shake up the status quo? What could you do tomorrow, next week, or next month that will have the office, locker room, or family den buzzing with conversation (after the shock wears off)? And is one day really enough to play the fool card, or should we advocate for more time to really explore this vitally important side of life?

At the very least, the United States could follow the example set by the city of Odessa in Ukraine.  Here, the first of April is a holiday, complete with a festival that includes a large parade, free concerts, street fairs and performances. Festival participants dress up in a variety of costumes and walk around the city playing pranks with passersby.*

Based on the ideas generated by the fools among us, one could argue that businesses giving their employees the day off to act foolishly could wind up generating the brainstorms that lead to a better planet for all. (Or a 22% boost in productivity, one of the two.) Let’s try it and see what happens.

*In 18th Century Scotland, they did Odessa one better, as the April Fools tradition was a two-day celebration, starting with “hunting the gowk” in which people were sent on phony errands (gowk is a word for cuckoo bird, a symbol for fool) and followed by “Tailie Day,” which involved pranks played on people’s backsides, such as pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on them. Not that we want to give you any ideas.

 

Do you ever feel like you’re being held captive by societal norms?  (You know, all the nonsense you’ve absorbed over the course of your life from well-meaning parents, teachers and authority types.) It’s as if you were Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver, tethered by ropes. Except yours are internal and prevent you from unleashing the full power of your imagination on the universe.

So what’s a simple way to unglue yourself  and experience blue skies again?

At SuperOptimist headquarters, when the walls start closing in, we turn to artists of the Dada period for inspiration.  Emerging from the ashes of World War I, Dadaists saw society’s view of “normality” as irrational and created art that completely challenged traditional views of class, religion, politics, technology and morals.

Their reactions to society’s hollow constraints are just as valid in 2021 as they were a century ago, when Tristan Tzara published a short poem on how to free yourself from rigid thought with an act of anti-authoritarian aplomb.

Découpé (or cut-up) is performed by taking any piece of linear writing — say, a newspaper article, a page from a book, or the instruction sheet for plugging in a wifi router — and remodeling it in a spontaneous and uncontrolled way. By doing so, you will bypass the inner critic who demands that things be neat, ordered, and understandable.  Here are Tzara’s instructions, slightly modified.

Take some scissors.

Cut out each of the words that makes up the piece of writing.

Put the words in a bag, a hat, or shoebox.

Shake gently.

Remove one word at a time from the bag.

Copy the words in the order in which they left the bag.

According to Tzara, the poem that you construct will resemble you.

While a newspaper article is a perfectly good material for your initial foray (after all, they’re basically publishings the same stories now that they were in Tzara’s time), we prefer taking an expensive book that society has deemed important and valuable, and cutting up a page to prove that even “great art” should not be held in such high regard. This is a good step to freeing yourself completely from the social construct, and letting your superego know who’s boss!

As you contemplate your next act of non-compliance, enjoy this short film that brings Dada into the present, and see if that doesn’t shake you loose from whatever’s holding you back. Better to embrace nonsense like this than the nonsense we call “success.”

 

Having a special number that has sacred meaning for you is something that’s simple to do, but offers invaluable strength when facing daily challenges like deciding what PIN number to program into your ATM card.

One case in point: the number four (“4”) is sacred to the Zia Indians, as this digit embodies the powers of nature – the four directions of east, west, north, and south, the seasons, and the ages of man. 4 was also Babe Ruth’s number, a fortunate choice as he powered the Yankees to 7 world championships and hit 714 homers aided only by hotdogs, not steroids.

Of course, the Chinese would disagree. 4 is a dreaded number in their view. This is because it sounds similar to the Chinese word ‘si’ which means ‘death’.  The Sultan of Swat died at age 53, so they might have a point.

For your number, you may want to reflect on the best year of your life thus far. Then again, you could just pick a number out of a hat and immediately tattoo it on your chest in a sign of “letting go.” Whatever you decide, choose a number that means something to you.* Write it down and place it in your wallet for easy referral.

Use your new number as often as you can. If you’re drafted by a professional sports team, request the number on your jersey. When asked how many silver dollar flapjacks you want at breakfast, request this number.  If you customize your license plate, use it after your nickname, or “go big” and legally change your name to a number as our extremely successful friend 834,216 did.

May your number prove to be a winner in all areas of life. Good luck to you!

*If want to get esoteric about it, you could ask a numerologist to “do your numbers” for you. Among them are your life path, your destiny, your soul urge, and your inner dream.  Some swear by it. Some swear at it. It’s entertaining, whatever your view.

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.)

Whether you’ve got a cold, or Covid, or melancholia, or something that’s not yet in the medical textbooks, take comfort in the fact that many have been in worse shape — and even survived to become president.

Before George Washington concerned himself with the health of our nation, America’s first commander-in-chief had to contend with an amazing array of personal afflictions. During the course of his life, he dealt with smallpox, malaria (six times), diphtheria, anthrax, dysentery, tuberculosis (twice), quinsy, carbuncle and pneumonia, to say nothing of losing all his teeth.* It’s only fitting that there’s a hospital in D.C. named after him.

While George needed some luck to make it through these gauntlets (not to mention a brutal war with the British), it’s important to recognize the capacity of the human organism to fight sickness. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to take care of your body along the way. To this end, George exercised faithfully, supped and grogged in moderation, tried to get the proper sleep, and avoided tobacco.

He also believed in balms and nostrums to keep the grim reaper at bay. According to records from his presidential library, among the items he ordered from an English apothecary in 1759 were the following:

6 Bottles Turlingtons Balsam
8 Oz. Spirit of Lavender
1/2 lb. Ipecacuane powderd
1/2 lb. Jallop powderd
12 Oz. Venice Treacle
4 Oz. best Rhubarb
12 Oz. Diascordium
4 lb. Pearle Barley
4 Oz. Balsam Capevi
5 Oz. Liquod Laudanum
5 Oz. Spirits Hartshorn
4 Oz. Spanish Flies
3 lb. Bird Lyme
6 lb. Oyl Turpentine
2 lb. Linseed Oyl—cold drawn
4 lb. Allam
1 lb. Spirma Citi
4 Oz. Tincture of Myrrh
4 Oz. Balsum Sulpher
4 Oz. Pulvus Basilic
2 Oz. Mer. Dulcis
4 Oz. Salvolatile
10 lb. Hartshorne Shaving
2 Quarts strong Cinamon Water
While many of these treatments are no longer popular, rhubarb has plenty of antioxidants and lavender is used for insomnia, acne and hair loss. But please take it easy with the laudanum. That’s a very powerful concoction.**
For more on this amazing survival story, try the  Washington Post,  the Library at Mount Vernon, or Doctor Zebra.

*Yes, George ultimately died of epiglottitis at age 67, but that may be because they practiced blood-letting back then and removed 35% of his plasma. And besides, 67 was elderly for the early 1800s. Men like Washington were lucky to survive into their late forties or early fifties. Women had it even tougher.

**Laudanum was considered a cure-all in Washington’s day, and why not? It contains a mixture of opium, alcohol, morphine and codeine. It’s doubtful a doctor would prescribe this today, but you can ask.

Here we are in the middle of February, with skies of grey and more snow in the forecast. Fatigue from lack of warmth and reduced daylight hours is only natural. So what’s a northerner to do? Here at SuperOptimist headquarters, in addition to a hearty mug of hot cocoa, we find there’s nothing like a short winter’s nap to reinvigorate the senses. (Unless, of course, it’s a long winter’s nap.  Both rate high in our book.)

That’s why we’re pleased to report that the nation’s military leaders are also proponents of sleeping on the job. According to the recently issued Army Field Manual, the armed forces have officially embraced an afternoon snooze for sleep-deprived soldiers.

“When regular nighttime sleep is not possible due to mission requirements, soldiers can use short, infrequent naps to restore wakefulness and promote performance,” according to the manual. “When routinely available sleep time is difficult to predict, soldiers might take the longest nap possible as frequently as time is available.”

Like civilians, soldiers cannot be trained to perform better on less sleep.  That’s where officially authorized naps fit in. A stage 2 power nap, encompassing 15 to 20 minutes of snooze time, helps reset the system and produces a burst of alertness and increased motor performance.  The slow-wave nap lasting 30 to 60 minutes is good for decision-making skills, such as memorizing vocabulary or recalling directions. Going for 60 to 90 minutes of napping, complete with REM activity, plays a role in solving creative problems.

Then there’s the hypnagogic. The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that true inspiration could be found in the the state of half-wake, half-sleep when the brain slips into an impressionistic state, untethered from a rational framework.  Pushing that idea farther, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Salvador Dali would take micro-naps in order to stay in stage one of sleep, that taps into vivid imagery and sensation.

In Dali’s case, his naps lasted less than 1 second at a time.  How is this possible? By holding a key or spoon between his fingers so when he nodded off, the clang of dropped metal would awaken him. Dali claimed that “slumber with a key” revivified both mind and body, and generated powerful visual ideas. Of course, being Salvador Dali probably helped.

Want to read more about the positivity of nap time? Here’s what the brainiacs at Harvard have to say about it. The Mayo Clinic weighs in here. And let’s not forget the wags at McSweeney’s, who uncovered this list of quotes that take naps.

*We’re writing this on President’s Day, as it’s no secret that the occupants of the White House have always taken naps behind the curtains of the oval office, from LBJ to Reagan to Clinton to…well, we assume 78-year-old Joe Biden likes his daily refresher as well.

Many centuries ago, zen monks of the Rinzai school disavowed the notion of man’s superiority to animals, plants, water, fire, or even the earth itself. These monks spent years communing with nature, never seeing another person as they retreated to the mountainous caves to meditate. They reached out their hands to the universe and became one with it. Their meditative skills equipped them with the skills to handle both the isolation and the elements in good health.

Zen Teachings of the Rinzai

Later, 19th Century naturalist Henry Thoreau wrote of his fondness for solitude, wandering alone through the forests, beaches and back roads of Massachusetts. In fact, he gave himself a position which demanded he strike out from his one-room cabin no matter what the weather.  “For many years I was self-appointed inspector of snow-storms and rain-storms, and did my duty faithfully…”

Today, we find ourselves in the crux of winter, amidst a pandemic, with more snow forecast in the coming days. What would Henry do? He’d bundle up, head outside and lose himself in the day. Not content to simply traipse through the cold, he would pause to listen to a storm and it’s special characteristics.  He’d look closely at the snowflake, marveling at the amazing symmetry of each hexagonal formation. He might measure the accumulation.  (And if he had a smartphone, he might take some pictures.

So the next time you see the flakes start to fall, why not go inspect them yourself. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to cozy up to a tree and offer your hand. Give a plant a warm greeting. Say hello to a small pile of dirt, or a nice fat rock, or a bird that has seen fit to remain near rather than flying south. All of a sudden, you have an infinite number of new friends* who remain constantly by your side, in “good” weather and “bad.”

*But take care with the snakes, you never know if they are poisonous.

Whether it’s a stalled career, the end of a relationship, or recurring doubt raised in one’s spiritual practice, people consider having to start over to be a truly crummy experience.  Going back to the beginning is considered the mark of failure in a world that celebrates winning, victory, and happy endings.

But we’re here to tell you that square one is a super place to be!   For that square is your square. And your square, by definition, is perfect, with each side equal to the other 3 sides.

Some of the most noble professionals in their fields are constantly scrapping their work in order to begin anew. Scientists are always having to confront their failure to prove a theory and start afresh. Buddhist masters talk about starting over with every breath, to be in the moment with each exhalation and inhalation. For them, square one is actually the enlightened place to be. And let’s not forget all the wonderful artists who have spent a career working with, around, and into squares. Mr. Albers among them.

Besides, if being at square one was so bad, why would Square One Parachutes use the name for their business? If ever there was a pursuit you want to feel positive about, it’s leaping out of plane at 12,000 feet.  If this skydiving accessories manufacturer can proudly announce their comfort with being at square one, surely you can!

So the next time you curse the gods for hitting a dead end, frustrated at having to reinvent the wheel yet again, remember that starting from scratch is something to embrace and celebrate. Congratulations and welcome back to square one!

back to square one t-shirt

*The origin of the phrase “square one” originates from radio broadcasts of European football games. To help the listener visualize the action, the field was divided up into a grid of imaginary squares, with square one centering on the goalmouth. Interesting that square one is actually closest to the goal.

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