Mornings and nights were the worst. I would wake up thinking about something terrible. And I would stay up for hours running through all the regrets. “I could have said this. I never should have done that in the first place. That was so stupid. I should have just kissed her”.
In my post about meditation, I wrote at length about the importance I find in focus. Disciplining the mind. Meditation is a great way to practice the skill of mental discipline, but of course I am not able to bat away all distracting thoughts with complete ease.
So while I am engaging in the lifelong practice of meditation, I need to also do practical things to reduce the amount of distracting thoughts that ever appear. When I pay attention to my thoughts, my distractions, I notice that most often they were about my emotions and relationships.
These are my emotional goals:
- Reduce feelings of anxiety, anger, regret, frustration
- Increase calm, enthusiasm, love, happiness
There are some things I have discovered to help me. Principles that are in some circles well-known, yet worth repeating.
-You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.
This is a powerful and loaded statement. It means your habits, your interests, your fears, your motivations, are all derived to a significant degree from others. Everything from the time you wake up to the amount of time you spend practicing are affected by others.
“I really don’t want to hear her complain to me. I don’t want to walk with him because I can’t stand his interests. He talks too much. I wish I was friends with her.” Those are some thoughts that used to distract me when I had different friends.
That is true for me. Maybe other people are affected more or less.
I am very happy with my 5 people, even the 20 I spend the most time with. But it took me years to get where I am today.
To understand who I wanted to be closer to, I thought about what I wanted to be. Smarter, funnier, more relaxed, honest, more disciplined, etc. Things I look for change all the time. But I would look for people like that.
I started by being grateful. I told people what I appreciated about them. I told people I loved them. Sometimes it was awkward, but rarely unappreciated.
To move away from certain people, I simply stopped responding. Stopped responding to texts, to Facebook messages, changed the paths I walked daily. Anything I could do without being outright rude or hurtful.
It’s very freeing to interact every daily only with people I love and who love me. This isn’t possible 100% of the time but compared to myself 3 years ago the difference is drastic.
Circles change slowly and overlap frequently. But holding out was the key for me to see great change over time. It wasn’t easy. People would tell me “Hey we haven’t hung out in forever let’s get together this weekend” and I would have to say nothing or “I can’t” over and over.
In short I decided to take control of every aspect of my social life. Improve 1% a day for hundreds of days.
-The Power of “No” (which is a great book by James Altucher)
I also started saying “no” to activities that didn’t interest me. I could have made a list of 1000 things I was doing every day that I thought would have serious consequences. Sending “Happy birthday” on Facebook, smiling to appear friendly, homework, saying “I’m fine”, sometimes I thought if I did something I really wanted (like ask for help) it would be terrible. I started breaking all the rules and nothing was EVER as bad as I thought it would turn out.
In fact, it was almost always improved my whole life.
-Being honest. Doing and saying exactly what I want all the time simplified my life by 1000x. Being around the people I like and saying “no” are forms of honesty. But honesty also means silence. Honesty means saying “I don’t know”. Honesty means saying “I’m sorry”.
Admitting mistakes, admitting ignorance, and embracing my own desires and opinions was scary. Also admitting fear is scary. But it was magic for changing the relationships in my life. People will share things with me that I don’t even ask about because I accept myself and they sense I will accept them too.
And if I am honest by saying “I really don’t know how to use melodic minor scales” then I don’t have to spend emotional energy worrying “can I use melodic minor scales in a solo? Will people find out I can’t do that?” The answer is of course no, I can’t, and yes, they will. Now I can work on solving it rather than lying to myself and feeling anxious about the lie.
Ultimately, it all comes from my understanding of my lifetime as short. I want to wake up every day and do the things I love with the people I love. Life is too short to waste time. For a long time I thought “obviously that’s impossibly idealistic”, but one day I thought “why not try”.
It is much easier to focus when I don’t have to worry about who I will be spending time with. When everything I do is accepted by the people who surround me. When walking out of the practice room is like walking into a paradise instead of a minefield.