musings

Mental Quicksand

There’s Danger in These Here Parts

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It’s all too common, isn’t it? One moment you’re trouncing about, free of a care in the world, and the next you’re being sucked into the murky depths of a quicksand pit. Never happened, you say? Okay, so maybe you’re not Indiana Jones, swinging through the Amazon on a tireless pursuit of another shameless sequel.  Our minds, on the other hand, perpetually dwell in an ecosystem rife with treacherous obstacles, where the danger of slipping into the proverbial quicksand is all too real.  

“Hey guy, what the hell is proverbial quicksand? I’ve never seen that on Nat Geo…” 

I’m so glad you asked.

No specimen is immune to the plight of the dreaded  ‘bad day’. Much like the clouds, they seem to come and go of their own accord; we simply try to wring the most sunlight possible out of the circumstances the weather presents.  Cloudy days might start out overcast, but most days destined to become ‘bad days’ don’t start out that way.  Sure, a single piece of bad news is capable of bringing us to our knees.  Watching the hockey game on TV last night and saw your spouse in the front row spooning someone that wasn’t you? Sure. That’ll do it. 

In less sensational circumstances, the typical ‘bad day’ starts out as a series of minor frustrations, which begin to careen out of control as the day builds momentum, leaving us exasperated in its wake. When all of life’s irritations hit you at once, either your thetan levels are peaking– yes, that’s a scientology joke– or your mindset has begun to slip into the proverbial quicksand (told you we’d get back to it.)  Until we learn to register when this misstep has taken place, each successive obstacle throughout the day is doomed to provoke further vexation.  Like real quicksand, lacking the requisite knowledge to survive will end in certain death. (Okay, maybe not literally.)  Figuratively, then, there is a specific way to navigate the treacherous waters that ensures safe passage to the opposite shoreline.

Abandon all Hope, if Ye’ Wish to Survive

ending storm

Sinking, or the favorable alternative, swimming, is contingent upon your ability to balance between two extremes, both of which prove fatal in their unmitigated forms.  The greater of the two evils is simply deciding to ignore the problem.  This usually happens when we feel ourselves begin to sink into frustration, but, finding the sensation undesirable, choose to avoid the inevitable in the hopes that it will dissipate of its own volition.  This decision comes with a one-way ticket straight to the bottom of the pit, as one final air bubble rises melodramatically to the surface.  The other extreme, only slightly more favorable, is beginning to flail wildly the moment you realize you’re in trouble.  On happier days, or in a regular swimmin’ hole, this desperate tactic might allow you to stay afloat, despite being inefficient and rather silly to behold.  But this is no happy day or shallow pond; it’s a ‘bad day’, and it’s getting worse– you’re caught in the clutches of the despicable quicksands of frustration.  

As cliche as it may sound, the only way out is to surrender to the quicksand; even Michael Phelps isn’t skilled enough to escape the vacuous mouth of a sandpit free of supplication.  Removing the fear of impending death, this really isn’t such a difficult endeavor.  Quicksand is more buoyant than regular water, allowing a calm swimmer to navigate the surface easily.  The stroke, however, must be far more deliberate, and relegated to a far more modest pace.  Little is needed to accomplish this task aside from self-restraint, yet this desirable attribute is usually most elusive in situations where its presence is deemed most necessary.  In other words, the worst moment to panic is always the exact moment we panic.  Here’s why.

Human minds and bodies are constantly engaged in a feedback loop; when stress and anxiety begin to overcome the mind, it starts transmitting signals to the body forcing it to act out in frenzied desperation.  Behaviors such as this can be seen as the observable result of hectic emotional states.  When the body informs the mind it is experiencing a sinking feeling, it responds with a crude, “OH SHIT!”, and then immediately activates the frantic protocol entitled Try not to Drown.  There is an inherent problem with this protocol– it is merely an exercise in improvisation.  Instead of carrying out a single course of action with diligence and composure, protocol Try not to Drown instructs us to flounder recklessly, directing limbs to twist and turn in a harrowing dance, but void of any precise exit strategy from the pit.  

Just like we will never be rid of the occasional ‘bad day’, our minds will never gain definite freedom from that ‘sinking feeling’, which we recognize as present in our daily lives when we start experiencing thoughts such as, “Why me?”, or “You’ve got to be F-ing kidding me. Again?”  Luckily, it is purely within our control to change how we react when we feel the water rising around our necks.  With some practice, and discipline, we can get rid of protocol Try not to Drown for good, replacing it with the far superior Operation 4C: (Calm, Composed, and Cool as a Cucumber).

Operation 4C

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Concentration is a limited resource, forcing our brain to make momentary decisions on which tasks deserve the greatest share of our attention. Emotionally charged thoughts usually receive priority, so if the brain has to decide between harping on something that pissed you off a few moments ago, and focusing on the current task of pouring a cup of coffee neatly, there’s a good chance you’re ending up drenched in brown sludge.  We’re hopeless to control our thoughts; anyone who claims otherwise is a charlatan, I say!  Thoughts and emotions originate on a sub-conscious level, far below the regions of the mind we exert deliberate control over, but modifying how we react to these thoughts is definitely achievable.

The most essential point to this end?  Negative thoughts, or that ‘sinking feeling,’ don’t always merit a reaction.  Our thoughts will graze whatever pastures they desire, with or without our guidance.  Every time their meandering leads us astray, focus must be redirected to the task at hand, without indulging their vagaries in one direction or the other.  Don’t ignore the beasts, but for god sakes’s don’t feed them either; simply acknowledge them for the capricious creatures they are.  In this way, the successive blunders that usually accumulate into the typical ‘bad day’ will be repulsed back into the forest.  

Danger Has Many Faces

quicksand

Quicksand comes in two main varieties.  First, there’s the gritty type, which licks at our heels when things don’t go the way they’re supposed to.  Humans create rigid ideas of how given endeavors should unfold, and when some inconvenience occurs that violates our preconceptions, we become aggravated.  As this aggravation multiplies, we begin to cling more desperately to these idealistic notions, even a small deviation from the aforementioned sending us into meltdown mode. 

Sensing the quicksand rising, we must refrain from abiding by any preset expectations, either good or bad.  If the last hour has been a train wreck, our perception may persuade us to preemptively brace for more carnage, yet this achieves little more than entrenching us within a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Even forced optimism, mobilized to perpetuate the belief that everything is going to turn around in the next moment, can be dangerous.  This type of behavior establishes unreasonable expectations, leaving no room for deviation from perfection. Then, dejection becomes a near inevitably, condemning us to return to a cycle of helplessness.  Letting go, and letting things unfold as they will, is truly our best shot at survival.  Find comfort in knowing that both a day of triumph, or of abject failure,  resolve shortly after sunset.

Type Two

Another variety of quicksand, the sticky kind, is more selective in its choice of victims. Sticky quicksand latches onto us during those times when an inordinate amount of problems demand our immediate attention.  In these instances, the crippling issue isn’t that things aren’t going the specific way we demand, but that fixing our mistakes, and coping with our impaired state of mind, take copious amounts of time already reserved for meeting all of life’s demands.  This type of quicksand may well be the most treacherous, because, as we know, proper technique depends on focused, deliberate action.  Even the simplest tasks must be performed slowly, for in these moments, they demand far more patience than is typically necessary.  Of course, as tasks pile up, our minds become pre-occupied with moving ever more hastily, and pretty soon, we find ourselves gasping for air.  

There is no shortcut to relaxation.  If an unstable mindset has sufficiently burrowed its way into your psyche, dislodging it is going to take time.  And the less time you have, the more you fight it, the deeper it plunges into your cerebellum.  The only way to salvage your day, when this happens, is to start relegating the least important items from the checklist.  It may feel like a luxury time isn’t affording you, or else that it’s some sort of weakness to allow emotions to limit your success.  Be careful if you’re commonly susceptible to thoughts such as this; they may reveal an underlying impetuousness that rarely pays dividends in the long haul.

Any masochist can push themselves through states of physical weakness or emotional turmoil, convincing themselves it forges resilience.  In reality, these people are adding excessive frustration to their lives that will keep them operating at a sub-optimal state for longer, all the while performing tasks haphazardly and half-assedly.  True strength, and long-term success, come from ‘knowing yourself’, in the truest sense of the hackneyed phrase.  This involves the ability to recognize circumstantial limitations as they arise within the body or mind, and the adaptability to approach goals in a way more suited to the current reality.  After all, being the most adaptable species is what allowed humans to reach the top of the food chain– not being the most obstinate.  Allow yourself some slack, and plan around the irritation, instead of trying to march right through it.  It may be frustrating to allot extra time to mundane activities when you’re already behind, but it’s better to reach the other side of the pond slowly, than to sink just a few precious feet from safety.

Go Forth and Conquer!!!

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The landscape is treacherous my friends– harbor no illusions to this end.  Success and failure, happiness and rejection, lie on either side of a tightrope.  The human constitution is fragile.  A few momentary lapses in attention, combined with a bit of old-fashioned bad luck, can have dire consequences for our happiness in the immediate future.  Quicksand is everywhere, camouflaged perfectly, waiting for its chance to lure us in and swallow us whole.  

But you’re no weekend explorer.  Adventure is your life, conquering new lands your vocation, and you’ve trained to handle every situation with absolute composure.  If danger rears its ugly head, it’s within your abilities to act in a reasoned, intentional way.  Attention is a limited resource you’ve learned not to squander, either fighting negative feelings as they arise, or succumbing to them and fanning the inferno.  A true expert understands that no reaction is often the best course of action. Conquerers take nothing for granted, rid of expectations, thereby prepared for anything that may come.  Most importantly, an explorer trusts his abilities, but retains the wisdom, as well as the discipline, to steer clear of unnecessary risks or insurmountable odds. Encountering these moments, never give in, but take the time to chart a more practical trail to blaze. So live, damn you, live!  But keep an eye peeled for the proverbial quicksand.

Fun-Geography-for-Kids-on-Lewis-and-Clark-image-of-Sacagawea-Joining-Lewis-and-Clark

poetry

TumbleNeeds

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Somber, Sour, Bittersweet
memories tumble down barren streets

Rife with regret, replete with remorse
carefully crafting this current course

Irrigate crops with salty seas? Such
impulsive decisions force gods to their knees

Tumult, Triumph, Turbulence
these teachable failures are heaven-sent

 

musings

Reveal your True Value

Feeling Under-appreciated?

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Modern society undeniably fosters the germination of a few bad seeds, and more than a few seeds that never blossom at all.   On the bright side, most of us don’t fall into either of these categories, and actually have quite a bit to offer the world.   We’re kind, giving, talented (insert any other desirable adjective here).  Yet, for many of us, there is a perceived shortage on the demand for our presence, companionship, or skill sets, whether in a professional setting or a purely social one.  We become discouraged when we see individuals far less talented than us get the jobs we want, date the people we want, and get invited to the events we ourselves would be grateful to attend.  It’s hurtful to be perpetually underpaid, or all dressed up on a Friday night with nowhere to go, knowing all the while that we add value to any situation we have the opportunity to take part in.

If any of these scenarios serve to describe your own life, it’s likely that you are unaware of the concept of lifestyle marketing, and how society deliberately, and successfully, reprograms our minds to make all of our selections, either socially or professionally, in accordance with this concept.  Becoming more intimately acquainted with how this form of marketing operates causes a fundamental shift in our decision-making processes.  With this knowledge, you will be enabled to manipulate the odds in your favor, and in doing so, make it utterly impossible for society at large to overlook you as the precious commodity that you know yourself to be.

Lifestyle Marketing

img_0895Lifestyle marketing is the primary factor guiding a modern-day consumer’s purchasing habits.  When someone goes out and spends $1000 dollars on a handbag, or a smartphone, the intrinsic value of the product itself is insufficient to justify making a financial investment of this size.  So what’s the true reason manufacturers can demand such a premium for these items? 

Elaborate advertising campaigns have programmed us to believe that each product also comes with the promise of a luxurious lifestyle, or at the least the ability to portray ourselves as an individual living a life of luxury; in our minds, this becomes an inseparable component of the physical product.  To put it in a straightforward way, an iPhone has a cool-factor, and most humans are willing to pay more for a product boasting this factor, than they would for the product in isolation.  

Don’t get me wrong– there are plenty of great products sold in conjunction with provocative imagery,  and it’s this synergy between the two that leads us to perceive these products as commodities. If we wish to make ourselves as desirable as some of the hottest products around, we must recognize that the all-pervading presence of lifestyle marketing forces us to do more than simply develop ourselves into a desirable product.  On a planet with 7 billion people, it takes something extra to stand out, even in the places that we frequent, and we must learn to market ourselves effectively to accomplish this. 

(Any sales pitch you have ever been unfortunate enough to endure was backed by extensive scientific research.  This article isn’t meant to give you a lesson in sales techniques [of which there are a staggering number], but if you wish to expand upon the few examples provided here, you can be confident that researching virtually any popular marketing techniques will provide strategies that can be readily adapted to benefit you directly.  My intention here is to provide only a small taste of how you can begin to sell yourself more effectively. I will start with an example in a professional context, as it provides a nice introduction on how to approach the science of lifestyle marketing. I will then move on to a few examples aimed at demonstrating techniques much more broadly within the arena of human socialization.)

Supply and Demanding the Best for Yourself

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Pretend that all of us share the same disdain for job interviews that I do, dreading both the anxiety of the interview itself, as well as the feeling of rejection that comes along with being passed over for the position. An error this anxiety has led me to commit in the past, and that interviewees commit frequently, is appearing too desperate to get the job, and answering the questions in a way that makes it clear they are saying whatever is necessary to gain employment in the relevant position.  If we are to portray ourselves as a commodity, we must generate the appearance that we are trying to determine whether this job, and this company, prove the ideal fit for us, every bit as much as the interviewer is attempting to ascertain whether we are the best fit for the position.  

Internally, we acknowledge we would likely settle for a position far less than ideal for the privilege of a weekly paycheck. Simultaneously, we comprehend that the ability to project an image of ourselves as an individual who could easily obtain employment at a variety of businesses is the strongest weapon we have to convince the interviewer we are a worthwhile prospect to invest his or her time in.  The Apple corporation is eager for your business, but they don’t need it; if you walk by the display without grabbing a copy of their newest development to take with you, they can be confident the person walking in just after you will.  Subconsciously, the knowledge that everyone else wants this product, that an extraordinary demand is placed upon it by society as a whole, contributes significantly to your desire to possess one as well.  

Dress nicely, be courteous, and express gratitude that the interviewer has taken the time to meet with you, but dedicate most of your efforts to making it clear that you are not simply there to obtain employment, but to learn whether this specific employment opportunity is the best of many at your disposal.  This is not accomplished by being cocky, or acting uninterested, but by asking thought-provoking questions of your own, pertaining to the particulars of the position, that demonstrate you are not the only individual in the room that possesses the luxury of demanding the best for yourself.  

Limiting Production

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The image brought to mind when we visualize a modern factory is likely one of an entire building set to overdrive, cranking out the maximum volume of a given product the machinery can handle without bursting into flames.  In reality, companies often limit production as a means to limit access to the product.  The belief that we are privileged to possess a product that is inaccessible to the masses elevates its appeal to us, and this illusion of exclusivity is an indispensable component of lifestyle marketing.  Similarly, when we wish to forge new social alliances, we must manipulate our availability to highlight the fact that our services are in constant demand.  

This cannot be accomplished by repeatedly cancelling plans, or declining invitations, because there are many other wonderful products coming to market every day, and they are waiting eagerly on the shelves to be selected as our replacement.  We must learn to maintain some availability, while prioritizing the existing obligations in our life first.  Rearranging an entire business model to accommodate a single new customer cultivates the impression that sales are dwindling, when the public belief that business is thriving at all times is paramount to actualizing this reality.  People will agree to being put on a waitlist, if they are convinced the product is worth exercising patience in order to attain it.  In return, they must be placed at the top of the waitlist, as a means to prove to them that their business is every bit as important to you as gaining access to your product is to them.  

Packing is the Product

Standing-Out

No product of significant value will be set out where the public can break it, smudge it with fingerprints, or slip into their pocket to take home free of charge.  To safeguard against these contingencies, most commodities are completely enclosed within packaging, often excessively so, long before you are granted access to them. Our first true interaction is not with the product at all, but with the packaging itself.  Likewise, when we meet new people, they lack the background information to help them judge whether we are a worthwhile investment, and must make their initial decisions based solely on the packaging.  (In this case, the concept of ‘packaging’ serves to describe our outward behavior- the ways that we carry ourselves readily observable through social observation. However, it should also be noted that physical appearance significantly affects individuals’ initial determinations of each other, and it’s always a good idea to put time into looking presentable.)

A common mistake individuals make in self-marketing is attempting to garner attention by displaying themselves in the brightest, boldest packaging imaginable; in the  dating world, this is often referred to as peacocking.  Successful products sell themselves, so the packaging should only enhance the overall purchasing experience. When consumers see a marketing campaign that is clearly a desperate plea for attention, they assume the product doesn’t possess enough intrinsic value to warrant being plucked off the shelves by its own merit.  

Efficient packing should be thoughtful and provocative, but the true genius of the presentation lies in the diligent consideration afforded to the smallest details.  Slight behavioral shifts can manifest vast results, especially in a world where most individuals don’t make the time to be courteous to strangers.  Maintaining eye contact slightly longer, smiling a little wider, and asking, “How are you?”, not out of habit, but out of sincere interest, are just a few subtle social cues that humans are programmed to recognize.  Consciously, the potential consumers we engage won’t be cognizant of the effort placed into each detail, but they will notice that on a shelf filled with similarly packaged products, yours is the only one their attention repeatedly returns to.  

Find your Niche

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Even the most successful business ventures acknowledge that their products won’t appeal to everyone.  You won’t find a steakhouse catering to vegans anytime soon, nor vegan products advertised in the latest issue of ‘Guns and Ammunition.’  It is essential to the successful outcome of your marketing campaign that you find your target audience, and then develop strategies that pertain specifically to them.  Discovering your appropriate audience depends upon self-reflection and an honest evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses.  We must remain focused on selling the product we are, and not the one we sometimes desire to be. 

A somewhat quiet, reserved person, such as myself, will not find it in their best interests to pander to a boisterous, aggressive crowd.  The beauty of competing in a saturated marketplace is that it relies on a highly diversified customer base to support it.  For every product susceptible to frequent bouts of shyness, there is a consumer with similar attributes looking to spend money on something that was manufactured with them in mind; closing the sale hinges upon finding a way to break through and appeal to this customer directly. 

For personality types falling at different points on the spectrum, the strategy must be adjusted accordingly.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with harboring an obsessive pre-occupation for fast cars and all things that explode.  Simply recognize these as your preferences, and accept that the cute boy or girl you always cross paths with, endlessly engaged in discussions of Nietzsche or writing sad poetry, might not be the ideal candidate for your sales pitch.  And you know what? That‘s perfectly alright.  Every lucrative business relies on a loyal customer base that returns to their products repeatedly, and concerns itself very little over consumers in the marketplace searching for something drastically different than they have to offer.

Profit and Potential

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Everyone (well, almost everyone) works hard for their money, and no one is going to fork out more at the register than the number you stick on the price tag.  Thanks to lifestyle marketing, perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, the higher the price is, the more favorably a consumer may perceive a product’s intrinsic value.  It is in your best interests to demand a high price for your time, company, and access to your skills, but it equally essential that you have the confidence, as well as the ability, to provide a service that justifies insisting upon such a premium.  If others conduct a cost-benefit analysis on you, and find the cost beginning to exceed the benefit, they will dismiss you as someone with an over-inflated ego, lacking the features to back-up their claims.  Lifestyle marketing is not about crafting an ideal image of yourself in lieu of being an excellent human being; it is about recognizing your own worth, socially and professionally, and then taking advantage of the supreme effectiveness of this marketing strategy to make it obvious to others how much of a commodity you truly are.  

poetry

Wasted Lightyears

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my form did manifest
in the safety of your orbit
I was unhinged chaos 
careening wildly in void
your radiance raged bright
and guided me to temper
this molten core of mine
in spherical tranquility

eclipsed in lunar warnings
too naive to heed in infancy 
I soon found lightyears forfeited
you illuminate new conquests

conviction turned to ice
this elliptical trajectory
was ever something more
than cruel, centrifugal torture
apathetic to escape
kept steadfast in your gravity
for life to dwell and prosper
on the surface of my misery

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