Dominoes and the Price of Admission

I really wanted to quit my job. I was too afraid of the domino effect to do it though. Quitting my job meant not being able to pay my mortgage and take care of my family.

We get stuck because we start thinking about the domino effect. The fear that the changes we want are going to cause a cascade of changes we don’t want.

The sticking point here is that we spend all this time thinking about the aspects of our lives we want to change, but when we can’t figure out how to change those things without affecting anything else, we give up.

Fuck yeah, fuck my boss! He can take my gray little Dilbert cubicle and shove it right up his ass!” sounds great until your car payment is due.

Leaving your verbally abusive wife sounds good until you think about finding a new place to live, and the reality of your growing waistline in the face of having to go out and date again. You stop thinking about it because it feels too painful.

Don’t do that.

Here’s what you do instead: write down the consequences of the thing you want to do and work backward to eliminate them. Get rid of the bills you’re afraid you can’t pay. While you can still afford to live in the bigger place, move into a smaller place. While you can still afford two cars, sell them and buy two bikes instead, or a clunker. Now you’re free to stay or quit without the fear of the domino effect.

It helps to think like the worst has already happened. Sit and imagine you’ve just been fired. What do you do? Do you start looking for ways to cut back expenses? Do you take some time off to relax? Do you look for a different job? Do those things now, before you leave your job: cut expenses like you’re destitute, take some time off, look for a different job (you really are a masochist, aren’t you?). Now those dominoes have no power over you.

Tah-dah! You’re free to quit your job.

Caveat: Price of Admission

There are circumstances in which you endure one thing in order to hang onto another thing, and that can be okay. I call it the “price of admission.” You might have a boyfriend who you love dearly, and he might drive you up the wall by constantly leaving his clothes on the floor. You pick them up and wash them. Price of admission.

If you’re facing something that you think might be a deal breaker but you’re not sure, then:

  1. Ask yourself: What is causing my pain? I pick up dirty clothes because I want a clean room and my boyfriend leaves his shit everywhere.
  2. Ask yourself: What do I get for my pain? In exchange for cleaning clothes on the floor and a small portion of my sanity, I get an intensely loving, sexy boyfriend.
  3. Is what I get worth my pain? In other words, if someone proposed a deal to me to get the thing from question two in exchange for my pain, would I take the deal? Yes, I would take a kickass boyfriend in exchange for a life of uncertain laundry cleanliness.
  4. No, the upside isn’t worth the downside. Then stop taking the deal: it’s a deal breaker.
  5. Yes, the upside is worth the downside. Then you have two things to do. You must do the first. The second is up to your discretion and creativity:
    1. Become 100% okay with whatever the bad thing is. Even if you wouldn’t generally choose to clean up clothes after a grown-ass man, you have chosen to clean up in this context. That word is important: cleaning the dirty clothes is now a choice that I made, not a situation that I’m victimized by. If you find it impossible to be okay with a situation, then stop kidding yourself: the upside really isn’t worth the downside, stop taking the deal.
    2. Solve the problem in a different way. Hire a housekeeper. Problem solved.

    Don’t let the domino effect stop you from making the changes you know you need to make for a life of passion and fire. Eliminate the power those dominoes have over you, or fully embrace the prices you deliberately choose to pay for the life you truly desire.

Words Have Power

“Tiff’s a chocolate whore.”

Ben is Tiffany’s husband, and he’s a well-meaning guy. He has a bit of a way with words.

The three of us are walking into a Godiva store to pick up a treat for Tiffany. Ben says “Tiff’s a chocolate whore.”

“Aficionado? Chocolate princess, maybe?” I offer.

Ben doesn’t care about word choices, it’s all the same to him, and he’s a person who chooses the wrong words anyway, so there’s no use. What difference does it make anyway?

“Well, one way Tiff’s a skillful, and elegant lover of fine foods. The other way you called your wife a prostitute.”

Facts about Word Choice

Tory Higgins, William Rholes, and Carl Jones wanted to see how impressionable people are.

They asked two groups of people to read about, then pass judgement on fictional test subjects. One group was subconsciously exposed to words designed to “prime,” or influence, their judgement. The researchers flashed words like “hostile” or “persistent” to the participants in the experimental group, then both groups read the description of the fictional subject.

The primed participants were very likely to characterize the subjects according to whatever word they had been exposed to. Perfectly lovely people were painted as hostile and reckless. Cads became persistent.

They published their results in 1997 in the The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

A year earlier The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology had published a similar study in which some participants were shown the word “elderly.” They walked and performed their tasks more slowly than the control group who had not seen “elderly.”

These are just two examples of from a large body of psychological literature that all lend themselves to the same basic conclusion:

Words have power.

Choosing New Words

The point is that when we choose to describe our wives as whores, that affects us. And her. When we choose to call ourselves idiots when we make a mistake, that sinks in. Facts about idiots become facts about us.

This is the “L” in NLP: the language we choose triggers our brains to think in certain patterns, and cast our perceptions in certain light, rosy or shitty.

Choosing positive words will create a positive impact on you and those around you.

It’s just a simple choice to begin saying “princess” instead of “whore,” but you will fail at first. Don’t be discouraged, it’s just a habit, and you need to retrain your mind.

When you catch yourself speaking or thinking in a negative or derogatory way, just consciously choose a better word to replace it. At first you’ll think negatively, and have to constantly correct yourself. Within a few weeks, the positive words will flow naturally.

When it occurs to you after-the-fact that you transformed, you’ll try to think of a negative word or phrase and it’ll hit you like a cat puking. Dirty and wrong. You can barely think it, never mind say it.

Ben’s a good guy, and he can choose better words when he’s ready, with only an ounce of effort. It might make all the difference. Insightful.

(Thanks to Wes Tansey for the help with the psych literature!)

How to Break Your Limits

Gema is 23 years old and might be gay. She’s not sure. (Not news.)

The problem about being maybe-gay is that Gema lives with her hyper-conservative parents, and has no legal rights as an unmarried Muslim woman in Indonesia.

She was in a bind. Her parents expect her to find a nice boy (of their choosing probably), get married, and make lots of babies. At 23, she’s older than any of her sisters or cousins were when they all got married, and the family is starting to look bad to their friends.

But Gema wants to get educated, wants to experiment with girls, wants to be her own person. Then, and only then, she might consider settling down with a nice boy. Or girl, maybe.

But she’s stuck. She must live with her parents until she’s married to a boy. She’s never had sex with a boy, nor will she be able to until marriage. But she’s also never felt attracted to a boy. The couple of times she’s had sex with girls have been fraught with shame and doubt.

Most countries expect immigrants to have a college education, something out of Gema’s reach. Even if that weren’t true, any visa she could get would require parental consent.

She has no options.

You knew there was a punchline…

When Gema told me her story, the first question I asked her was what the age of majority is in Indonesia. She didn’t really know what that meant, but she knew that people were considered adults at 18 in Indonesia.

I told her I had good news for her.

First, I told her, you are a legal adult in your country. I know you think your parents have control over you legally, but they actually don’t. The idea that you stay with your parents and listen to them until you’re married is purely a cultural constraint, not a legal constraint. That means that if you choose to, you may leave your parents’ house whenever you want. You are free.

I also told her that an Indonesian adult does not need parental consent to obtain a visa. Again, she’s free to make her own choices.

Finally I told her, you are not responsible for the choices or feelings of your family members. You cannot make them happy, and you also cannot make them sad. The way they respond to your actions is entirely their choice. If they choose to feel shame as a result of you living the life you want, that is not your fault. It is entirely up to them. You are only responsible for your own choices, not for the choices of your family.

Then, she lived happily ever after.

Just Kidding

Gema politely thanked me, but restated her position:

There’s no law, she said, that specifically prevents me from moving out. But there’s also no law that specifically frees me. She said Indonesia just doesn’t have any law about the parent/child relationship as it relates to the age of the child. She told me that if she said “I’m over 18, so I’m free to decide my own life,” her parents tell her to shut up, they are an Eastern family, and she’s talking nonsense.

So I do what I always do when faced with an inscrutable question: I scrute it. I dug into the Indonesian constitution and law.

I told her that Chapter 10 of the Indonesian constitution guarantees that all citizens (Gema is an adult citizen) have the right to choose education, work, citizenship, and where they live. They also have the right, according to chapter 10, to express their opinion, to have freedom of thought and conscience, religion, and they have the right to not be falsely imprisoned or enslaved.

I explained to her that “age of majority” is the age when children legally cease to be minors and assume control over their persons, actions and decisions, thereby terminating the legal control and legal responsibilities of their parents over and for them.

That hit her like a ton of bricks. I saw the light flash across her face. She looked confused for a moment before widening her eyes. The law is on her side. She is not stuck. She is an autonomous person.

Gema immediately applied and was accepted for a work visa in Singapore. She might even meet a cute girl there.

You Are Gema

Gema had been “stuck” for years, laboring under this false restriction. She had a limiting belief, that her parents could control her every move, and that she was powerless to stop them.

For Gema, freedom was one google search away—just a quick glance through the actual laws she thought chained her down. Just a few minutes and Gema’s old chains were broken. Those chains were in her mind the whole time.

But I didn’t tell you this story because I think you particularly care about an Indonesian woman named Gema. I told you this story because you are Gema. We are all Gema, in our own ways.

Consider your desires, and think about why you haven’t fulfilled them yet. What limitations have you built for yourself that prevent you from being fulfilled?

Make it Obsolete

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” - Buckminster Fuller

Fuller was, among many other interests, a systems theorist. When he said you have to make parts of a system obsolete to change anything he was talking about social change, and perhaps market changes.

You can’t just kill the Big Four record companies by beating them at their own, rigged game. If you want to replace them, you have to invent file sharing.

But this insight doesn’t only apply to society or markets. You are a “system” too.

If you want change, don’t fight yourself.

The parts of you that procrastinate and overeat are part of the system because they serve a useful function. If you want to replace those parts, you have to discover what their purpose is, and deliberately fulfill that purpose in a new and better way.

Once you do that the old part will fall by the wayside effortlessly. You may not even notice it happening because once you’re successful, you’ll be a whole new person; your new way of being will feel perfectly natural.

If procrastination is a defense mechanism against failure, and overeating is a surrogate for self-esteem, then embracing failure and finding a real reason to love yourself will make those symptoms evaporate.

To really change you can’t fight who you are, you just need to replace the old parts by making them obsolete.

Akrasia, or How to Stop Checking E-mail

My calendar says I should write today from 8:00am until noon. I began thinking about possibly writing at 9:28, and I’ve been glancing back and forth between potential titles, hacker news, and my e-mail since then. It’s 10:31.

I like writing. I want to write. The moment I get stuck on a word or I’m not sure how to structure the essay, I “give myself a minute to think” … by checking my e-mail.

The good news is that I only have 10 e-mails left in my normally bulging inbox. I have my inbox configured to show 100 messages per page, and this is the first time I’ve seen a 1 page inbox in about 2 months.

The bad news I’ll never get any writing done at this pace, even though I know I should be writing, and I want to write.

I’m the only person in the world that this happens to. I’m lazy and unfocused, and if I were serious about success like all those serious writers out there, I wouldn’t be going through this.

Akrasia

Ancient Greek ἀκρασία, “lacking command (over oneself)”

The state of acting against one’s better judgment.

Ok, I’m the only one in the world aside from Socrates and Aristotle. And Plato. And sometimes Einstein. And I heard Feynman also. And Twain, and Douglas Adams.

Maybe this actually happens to everyone.

Why Akrasia?

Why do I check my e-mail when I know I should write and when I, in fact, want to write?

I just checked my e-mail again.

Here’s my theory about akrasia.

Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for cognition, voluntary movement, motivation, punishment and reward, lactation, sexual gratification, sleep, mood, attention, working memory, and learning. And some other stuff.

It’s a complex issue, but for our purposes know this: dopamine is a happy chemical, and your brain is a dopamine fiend.

You have receptors hungry for those delicious, microscopic squirts of happy juice, and there’s hardware deep in your brain that’s been there since your mom was a gila monster, that drives you to get more of that succulent dopamine at almost any cost.

But there’s will power right? You can bring to bear the mighty weight of your rational mind to overwhelm your animal urge to fight and fuck and check your e-mail for the 54th time today.

Glucose

It turns out that will power is mediated by another molecule you may have heard of called glucose, which is blood sugar. Glucose is the simplest sugar, and almost everything your cells do require a glucose molecule to make it possible.

Lots of researchers have found that you can’t stop yourself from doing things you kind of want to do if there’s not enough glucose in your brain.

Reptile Brain

The thing you have to understand about your brain is that it’s made of layers that were evolved at different times, and they are stacked one over the other, oldest on the bottom, newest on top.

Basic functions are controlled by the hindbrain, sometimes called the reptilian brain or the lizard brain. Much like Tom Selleck’s mustache, the hindbrain is nearly unstoppable. You can be legally dead, and still that lizard brain will pump your blood, and suck air into your lungs. That’s why it’s nearly impossible to hold your breath until you pass out: your conscious mind (which holds breath) cannot overwhelm the basic urge to breath.

A layer that sits above the hindbrain is the limbic system, sometimes called the Paleomammalian brain. The limbic system that controls emotions and long-term memory.

Remember the time you walked into a Chinese buffet and noticed the fish tank was a little skanky? But you ate the chunky shrimp and crusty rice anyway? Do you remember shitting your guts out and wishing for death a couple hours later?

And now your sphincter quivers a little when you see a Chinese place, even though you know the food probably won’t make you sick?

That’s the limbic system telling you that no, week-old-shimp is not your friend. Even if your conscious mind wants cheese wantons, your limbic system makes you feel like you just ate a dirty sock if you so much as think about going there again.

The final layer I’ll talk about is the frontal lobe, seat of the rational mind. It’s woefully underdeveloped by many, but even in the best case, its ancient cousins easily overwhelm it. It can’t be blamed, it’s only been evolving since a few million years ago, which is when monkeys figured out that lying and cheating was a great way to get laid.

It feels the most real since that’s where our sense of self sits, but it’s actually the least integrated and flimsiest part of the brain.

That’s why starving a child of oxygen at birth will render him unable to speak or do math, while he’s perfectly capable of feeling happy (limbic system) and certainly has no trouble keeping his heart beating (hindbrain).

Hence Akrasia

That anatomy lesson is my geeky way of telling you that even though:

  1. Your sense of self and conscious control of your actions is seated in your forebrain,
  2. and even though you want to write instead of checking your e-mail,
  3. the deeper portion of your brain had a couple billion years extra to make sure it will almost always win.

The end result is rationally wanting to run a mile a day because you know it will make you feel better in the long run, but stuffing your face with greasy potato chips to get that dopamine rush in the short term.

You’re a slob because evolution told you so, and there’s nothing your flimsy upstart forebrain can do about it! Essay over.

How to beat Akrasia

Actually, not so much. Like a woolly mammoth versus a cro-magnon man, the hindbrain will win in a fair fight against the frontal lobe. But mammoths don’t have strategies and sharp spears, and men don’t fight fair.

It’s possible to outsmart a mammoth, and it’s possible to outsmart your hindbrain.

It wants dopamine. You need glucose.

I just checked my e-mail again.

Give your Body Glucose

Glucose is easy: eat. If you’re one of those no breakfast and coke for lunch people, then knock it off.

Keeping your blood sugar up and even will make a huge difference in your ability to control your own behavior.

Pure glucose (called dextrose on food labels) takes 15 minutes to enter your bloodstream. Cheap carbs like white bread will take between 30 minutes and an hour. Better stuff like whole wheat will take between 1 and 2 hours, and up to 3 hours for a food like hard wheat pasta.

The food that takes longer to absorb will also take longer to break down, which means you won’t burn through your energy and feel like you’re starving again 15 minutes after eating (McDonalds).

Eat a solid meal with good, slow release energy about an hour before you plan to work. Don’t stuff your face until your stomach is distended, just eat until you’re not hungry.

The next step is to flood your system with happy juice.

Give Your Brain Dopamine

Much like sexual urges ebb and flow as you satisfy them, your need for dopamine can be stronger or weaker. You can time your productive periods during an ebb in your dopamine cycle.

Aside from vigorous coitus, by far the most effective method of flooding your brain with happy juice is exercise.

A run, a swim, a spin on a bike, anything to get your heart rate up. Keep your heart rate high for 20 minutes and you will feel like a million bucks because of the dopamine and other happy chemicals now swilling around in your brain.

Sweet Productivity

You’ve eaten enough good food to support your exercise and your brain power for the next few hours, and you’ve satiated the inner beast by giving it the dopamine it craves.

Now, sit down and enjoy the clarity of an amazing mood, and the will power to stay laser focused.


Before I let you go, let me also throw in that it’s important to move around and eat light snacks throughout the work day to maintain the effect. I have a system that I use to do exactly this (that I should’ve been using today). When I use it I am a well-oiled machine of productivity. I’ll share the system with you soon!


ps. There is some controversy about the glucose/willpower link. However, even the people who say there’s no link say that eating right and exercising produce marked improvements in willpower, so my advice stands even if my physiology lesson is wrong.

How to Benefit from Your Flaws

Part of the mental baggage I carry from a childhood of disfigurement is a need for affirmation. It’s the consequence of an early life in which I felt acutely deprived respect or consideration. I always wanted to be social, but was ridiculed because I was an easy target. I was always a romantic, falling in love with whatever girl seemed bright and pure, and I was always rejected soundly and sometimes cruelly.

I conquered those mountains in time, but that child is still in my head.

My “terrible secret” is that I do crave encouragement. That I want an audience not only because I want to help and inspire as many people as I can, but also because it scratches my secret itch for “affirmation porn.”

I consider it a flaw: it’s emotional baggage that has the potential for negative consequences. I believe that each of our ideal selves should be self determined and assured to their core about their value and direction in life. In many ways I live up to that ideal, but still, in the back of my fragile mind, there is a child who is absolutely desperate for approval and respect.

I’ve never met any person, including those confident pillars, who is free from a secret demon or two of their own.

Harnessing your Demon for Good

In facing that child of mine, looking him in the disfigured, desperate eyes, I see a broken purpose who can serve a higher good.

It’s a dangerous push toward mediocrity to live my life in service to the whims of an audience, real or imagined. I know this. However, I choose to embrace this weakness that I haven’t shaken out with the rest of the cobwebs. I embrace it because it drives me to work harder and achieve more in areas that the solid, confident, compassionate part of me also wants for the right reasons.

Instead of creating dirty pain surrounding my inability to shake this demon child, I will move forward and embrace him. I will embrace his weakness and transmute it into strength. Engineers repurposed jet engines from military killing machines to humanitarian transports. Physicists repurposed the most terrible weapon in history to create clean energy. I can repurpose the voice in my head that says I’m not good enough in myself by using it as motivation to become better for the people I serve.

You feel addicted, unattractive, unloved, unwanted, unskilled. You feel like a failure, or if not, then a fraud. These are our terrible secrets, and I’ve seen it over and over again: these are everyone’s “terrible secrets.” We all share them, and if we had the courage to share them openly, we’d realize that we’re all in the same situation together.

How to Harness your Flaws

Acknowledge

The first, most important, and most difficult part of repurposing your demon is to simply acknowledge that it exists without judging yourself for it.

You only judge yourself for it because you think everyone else has it together. You only think everyone else has it together because they don’t share their demon child openly, just like you don’t. There’s nothing to beat yourself up about, we’re all in the same position. I crave attention and respect because I felt like I didn’t get enough during a critical developmental stage of my childhood. No one cares if that’s true or if I said it or I hid it. It’s not really a big deal, there’s no sense in hiding it.

On the contrary, the sense is in acknowledging it. By acknowledging it you allow your brain to move to the next step of harnessing it, which is to identify your demon’s motivation.

Identify the Motivation

Whatever your demon is, it can influence your behavior by giving you strange and unhealthy motivations. You might be driven to seek attention or sympathy at all costs. You might be driven to traditional success by a phantom father figure. In my case, I am driven to seek recognition. You could get attention by creating drama and pain in your life, you could drive yourself to the upper echelons of an empty career and sorosis of the liver by feeling the disapproving stare of your father on the back of your head. I could lash out or create bombastic personas to build a reputation—any reputation at all would do for my demon.

If you have a negative behavior, that’s an expression of some underlying motivation that drives you. If you can identify that core motivation, then you can move on to the next step, choosing a new behavior to satiate the motivation.

Choose a New Behavior

You’re a conscious person who wants to reach goals and have experiences that are based on your real principles. They are those goals chosen by the ideal version of yourself.

So your aim then is to choose a new behavior that simutaineously:

  • serves the authentic goal you’ve created and
  • satisfies the demon.

If you can find a behavior that does that, then you’ve repurposed your demon into an angel. You’ve harnessed your flaw for your own benefit. You’ve taken a negative and poorly grounded impulse and put it to work for you. I want to change the world by uplifting people, and my need for recognition has been repurposed to drive that higher good.

I’ve laid myself bare for the world more than once on this blog, and this essay is no exception. What would make me really happy is to see people taking that first step to benefiting from their flaw, by acknowledging it. Please, post a comment in reply, and share your deep shame that you think everyone will judge you for just like you judge yourself for it.

Be prepared to bathe in the support and love that follows.

Life as a Geoboard

Self sabotage is a complicated subject that could fill its own series if not its own blog. Who does it? Why do we do it? What triggers it? How do we do it?

I want to give you an intuitive mental model of one type of sabotage before hitting you with statistics and data from academic literature, so here’s a primer.

Life as a Geoboard

One aspect of self sabotage is that we have competing needs and desires that all interact to create the sensation of wanting one thing, while working away from that thing instead of toward it.

Some of you may be old enough to remember these toys. The idea is simple: you have a board with pegs sticking out, and you have a bunch of rubber bands. You stretch the rubber bands across the pegs to form geometric patterns. It’s like a poor man’s LiteBrite.

Imagine you’re on a giant geoboard. The pegs are a little shorter than you are, and the rubber bands fit easily over your waist with plenty of room to spare. Just like with a real geoboard, you have different bands—some are thin, others thick, some long, others short.

In this thought experiment the pegs are “stuff,” one peg per thing. You are you. The rubber bands are your attachment to “stuff.” You movement across the board represents your decisions.

When you decide that you need or want something you wrap one of your giant rubber bands around your waist and the peg for that thing.

Wrapping the Peg

Everyone puts rubber bands on their basic needs like food and water. If you stray too far from those pegs, the rubber bands on them will snap, and you will die.

It’s not hard to put a band on a peg. There’s no trick, no effort, just a choice. Put the band on the peg or not. The idea is to put rubber bands around everything you want and need. It’s not so easy in practice. You might think you want a band around wealth. Well, far afield from that peg is the peg of leisure time. You are already tethered to leisure.

You set out across the geoboard, intent on wrapping that band around the sweet peg of wealth. As you get closer to it, it becomes more difficult to move because the band you have around leisure time is taut. It’s straining under the pressure of your desire for wealth. What will probably happen is that you’ll give up when it gets too hard to move any farther, and the band will pull you back, sometimes violently.

On the other hand, if you’re determined enough to pull against the band tying you to leisure, the band may snap, propelling you quickly to wealth at leisure’s expense. Ideally, of course, your leisure peg is close enough to your wealth peg so that you can remain tied to both.

The Rubber Web

But we have lots of rubber bands. We lose track on them all. We have rubber bands we don’t even know about. Our parents slipped rubber bands onto pegs for us when we were kids. Many of those are buried under other rubber bands so we’ve never noticed them.

We have pegs for our morality. We have pegs for the house and car we bought, for the job we have. We tether ourselves with each of our friends, who are also wandering around on this giant geoboard.

we’re always busy shuffling bands near the center of our elastic prison

It’s a huge web, and we’re always busy shuffling bands around near the center of our elastic prison, but we rarely make a significant move away from that center because we can’t. We have so many bands on so many pegs, that we’re hopelessly clamped in middle of the bramble of rubber we’ve created for ourselves.

Cutting the Rubber

The first step to untangling the web is already done: realize the web exists. The next is to identify which pegs you actually want to be tethered to. The “2 hours a night of TV” peg is awfully far away from the “fulfilling relationship” peg. Are you sure you can stretch that far?

The more pegs you untether from, the more easily you can move around on the geoboard.

Peg Chaining

Imagine you’re on the board, tethered to, for example, a house. Travel isn’t impossible, but the travel peg is a distance from the house peg, not to mention its companion the mortgage peg. A closer peg might be a “house sitter” peg, which sits between the house and travel pegs. Once you get to the house sitter peg, it’s easier to reach the travel peg because it gives you support—you’re able to relieve some of the pressure from the house peg pulling back by putting that pressure on a house sitter. Now you can finally reach the travel peg. That’s what I call “peg chaining”.

Chain Buddies

Remember, everyone around you is also on this geoboard, and remember also that we can wrap ourselves up with them just like a peg. You’re probably tethered to people who are tethered to similar pegs as you—both of you are held in a certain orbit by the pegs you’ve chosen. If you choose the same pegs, you’ll inevitably be in the same orbit.

The power and pitfall of tethering yourself to people is that they pull you where ever they move. If they move toward TV, you’ll move toward TV. If they move toward wealth, you’ll move toward wealth.

You can use this fact like peg chaining, to pull you to otherwise unreachable peg from your current orbit. Attach to people pulling in the direction you want to go, and you’ll help each other get there with your combined power.

Practical Examples

Falling Short of Success

If you’re not achieving your life goals, then you’re probably tethered to a peg that’s too far away from your goals, and you may be going for the wrong peg altogether. For example, you may want to achieve financial independence. If you’re tethered to a bunch of pegs that drain cash from you—house, car, expensive restaurant habit—those pegs will compete with the wealth peg. If you’re tethered to a person who is tethered to free time and safety, that person is probably holding you back from wealth.

You need to find these contradictory pegs, and cut ties to them.

In my case, I spent years trying to become financially free. The peg I was going for was the “$3 million in the bank so I can live off the interest” peg. I always fell short of that peg because I’m not really built to stick with one project just because it’s “marketable.” I want to work on passion projects, and big winners in the market aren’t usually things that excite or even concern individuals.

So instead I did a series of passion projects that do concern individual people. Those projects now bring in just as much income as investment interest would have, and the numbers grow all the time.

I changed the peg I was headed for because the “build passive income” peg was way closer to the “live passionately” and “be creative” pegs I was tethered to (and unwilling to cut ties with).

Falling Short of Love

Love is something else people pine for and often fall short of. If you’re looking for the perfect someone with no luck, consider:

Are you in the right orbit to attract that someone? You know what you find attractive, but the question is, are you attractive to that type of person? If you like outdoorsy guys with dreadlocks, are you going outdoors, are you connected to that culture? Or are you looking out the window of your 12th story cubical farm at that culture?

Maybe you like fiery, independent women. Are you the kind of passionate, exciting, interesting person that women like that go for? Did you attach your band to Reality TV or to sky diving?

There’s another, perhaps trickier aspect though. This deals with bands we may not be entirely aware of. We want to wrap ourselves up with the romance peg, but that requires we wrap ourselves up with intermediate pegs too. Scary pegs like vulnerability and brutal honesty.

Meanwhile, we’re already tethered to our fear of rejection, our need for emotional safety, our beliefs that we’re somehow incomplete or unworthy.

So you’re pulling with all your might against the combined pressure of your hidden “baggage pegs,” while trying to skip the necessary intermediate pegs that make real romance possible. You have to decide that emotional safety is less important than romance. You have to decide that vulnerability is a price worth paying for love.

Before you can make a decision like that though, you need to be aware there’s a decision to be made. Now you are.

Planning Your Web

Here are some guidelines you can follow to create a healthy web.

  • You should figure out what you’re tethered to. The fewer hidden bands you have, the less unexpected resistance you’ll encounter when you move around the board.
  • You should prefer the fewest bands possible. The fewer bands, the fewer tethers affect your desired orbit. Getting tethered to a peg willy nilly, because it seems easy (maybe since it’s comfortably within your orbit at the time) could prove costly later when you want to leave that orbit. Buying a house is a great idea until you want to live abroad during a real estate slump.
  • Be willing to reevaluate the ties you have to people. Are the people in your orbit pulling you away from or toward the pegs you want? One really common source of tension is your family. You’re probably tied to your parents, and you probably feel like you’re obligated to be. (That feeling stabilizes the structure, it doesn’t serve you. You have my permission to ignore it.)

If this metaphor enables you to cut ties with the pegs that are holding you back, I’d really like to hear from you. What do you think? Helpful insight, or stale tripe?

(Thanks Karilee, for the inspiration and support!)