28-34: Try interactive listening, Embrace your willpower, Find a place to come from, Be your own disciple, Turn into a word processor & Program your biocomputer
28. Try interactive listening
The principle of using interactivity as a creativity-builder is not restricted to computer games or chat rooms. Once we become fully conscious of this principle, we can find ways to become more interactive everywhere. We can even make conversations with our family and friends more interactive than they once were.
We all have certain business associates or family members that we think of as we do television sets. As they speak to us, we have a feeling that we already know what they're going to say. This lowers our own consciousness level, and a form of mental laziness sets in.
Whereas in the past we might have just passively suffered through other people's monologues, we can now begin introducing more interactivity. In the past we might have punctuated our sleepy listening with meaningless words and phrases, such as "exactly" and "there you go," but we weren't truly listening. But that passive approach shortchanges ourselves and the people we are listening to.
"When we are listened to," wrote Brenda Ueland, "it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life."
The more thoughtful our questions get to be, the more interactive the conversations. Look for opportunities for interactivity to motivate yourself to higher levels of experience.
29. Embrace your willpower
I can't tell you how many people have told me that they have no willpower. Do you think the same thing? If you think you have no willpower, you are undermining your own success. Everyone has willpower. To be reading this sentence, you must have willpower. The first step in developing your willpower, therefore, is to accept its existence. You have willpower just as surely as you have life. If someone were to put a large barbell weight on the floor in front of you and ask you to lift it and you knew you could not, you would not say "I have no strength." You'd say, "I'm not strong enough." Not strong "enough" is more truthful language, because it implies that you could be strong enough if you worked at it. It also implies that you do have strength.
It is the same with willpower. Of course you have willpower. When you accept that little piece of chocolate cake, it is not because you have no willpower. It is only because you choose not to exercise it in that instance.
The first step toward building willpower is to celebrate the fact that you've got it. You've got willpower, just like that muscle in your arm. It might not be a very strong muscle, but you do have that muscle. The second step is to know that your willpower, like a muscle in your arm, is yours to develop. You are in charge of making it strong or letting it atrophy. It is not grown by random external circumstances. Willpower is a deliberate volitional process.
When I left college to join the army, one of the reasons I decided to sign up was because I thought it might help teach me to develop my self-discipline. But somehow I had not been aware of the "self" in self-discipline. I wanted discipline to be given to me by someone else. I found out in boot camp that others do not give willpower and self-discipline. The drill sergeant might have been persuasive and inspiring (or at times terrifying), but he couldn't make me do anything until I decided to do it. Nothing happened until I generated the will to make it happen.
Make a promise to yourself to be clear and truthful about your own willpower. It is always there.
30. Perform your little rituals
See yourself as a shaman or medicine man who needs to dance and sing to get the healing started.
Make up a ritual that is yours and yours alone—a ritual that will be your own shortcut to self-motivation.
As you read through these various ways to motivate yourself, you might have noticed that action is often the key. Doing something is what leads to doing something. It's a law of the universe: An object in motion stays in motion.
The great basketball player Jack Twyman used to begin each practice session by getting to the court early and taking 200 shots at the basket. It always had to be 200 shots, which he counted out, and it didn't matter if he already felt tuned up after 20 or 30 shots. He had to shoot 200. It was his ritual, and it always got him into a state of self-motivation for the rest of the practice session or game.
My friend Fred Knipe, now an Emmy award-winning television writer and comedian, does something he calls "driving for ideas." When he has a major creative project to accomplish, he gets in his car and drives around the desert near Tucson until ideas begin to come to him. His theory is that the act of driving gives the anxious, logical left side of his brain something to do so the right side of his brain can be freed up to suggest ideas. It's like giving your child some toys to play with so you can read the evening e-mail on your computer.
In his book about songwriting, Write from the Heart, John Stewart writes about composer and arranger Glenn Gould, who had a ritual for finding a new melody or musical idea when he seemed to be stuck and nothing was coming. He'd turn on two or three radios at the same time, all to different stations. He'd sit and compose his own music while listening to music on the three radios. This would short-circuit his conscious mind and free up the creative subconscious. It would overload the left side of his brain so the right could open up and create without judgment.
My own ritual for jump-starting self-motivation is walking. Many times in my life I have had a problem that seemed too overwhelming to do anything about, and my ritual is to take the problem out for a long, long walk. Sometimes I won't come back for hours. But time and again during the course of my walks something comes out of nowhere—some idea for an action that will quickly solve the problem.
One of the reasons I think this ritual works for me is that a ritual is action. Starting a ritual is taking an action that leads toward finding the solution. The dancing medicine man is already doing something. Make up little rituals for yourself that will act as self-starters. They will have you in action before you "feel like" getting into action. Rituals always override your built-in hesitation so that you can get yourself motivated in a predictable, controllable way.
If you are not a writer or painter or poet, you might be thinking right now that this does not apply to you. But that's what I would call the creative fallacy. In fact, your entire life is yours to create. There are no "creative" professions that stand apart from others, like an exclusive club.
Martin Luther King Jr. used to say, "Be an artist at whatever you do. Even if you are a street sweeper, be the Michelangelo of street sweepers!"
31. Find a place to come from
Most people think they'll feel good once they reach some goal. They think happiness is out there somewhere, perhaps not even too far away, but out there all the same.
The problem with putting off feeling good about yourself until you hit a certain goal is that it may never happen. And you know all the time you're striving for it that it may never happen. So, by linking your happiness to something you don't have yet, you're denying your power to create happiness for yourself.
A lot of people use personal unhappiness as a tool, as proof of their own sincerity and compassion. Yet, as Barry Kaufman points out eloquently in To Love Is to Be Happy With, being unhappy is not necessary. You can be happy and also be sincere. You can be happy and also be compassionate. In fact, loving someone while you are unhappy does not show up like love at all.
"Love," says the great American spiritual teacher, Emmet Fox, "acts the part."
Songwriter Fred Knipe talked to me recently about how we human beings have learned to use and abuse unhappiness—he said he had made a list for me of the secret reasons why people think they should feel bad.
"If I feel bad, then that proves I am a good person," he said. "Or, if I feel bad, I am responsible. If I feel bad, I'm not hurting anybody. If I feel bad, it means that I care. Maybe if I feel bad, it proves I'm being realistic and aware. If I feel bad, it means I'm working on something." That list gives us powerful motivation to be unhappy. But as Werner Erhard (personal transformation pioneer) has always taught in his well-known est seminars, happiness is a place to come from, not to try to go to.
I once saw Larry King interviewing Werner Erhard by satellite from
Russia, where Erhard was living and working. Erhard had mentioned that he might be moving back to the United States soon, and Larry King asked him if coming home would make him happy.
Erhard paused uncomfortably, because in his view of life nothing makes us happy. He finally said, "Larry, I am already happy. That wouldn't make me happy, because I come from happiness to whatever I do." Your happiness is your birthright. It shouldn't depend on your achieving something. Start by claiming it and using it to make your self-motivation fun all the way and not just fun at the end.
32. Be your own disciple
So, why do I claim we have no willpower? Is it a misguided desire to protect myself? Is there a secret payoff in saying I have no willpower? Maybe if I absolutely deny the existence of willpower, I am no longer responsible for developing it. It's out of my life! What a relief! But, here's the final tragedy: The development and use of willpower is the most direct access to happiness and motivation that I'll ever have. In short, by denying its existence, I'm shutting my spirit down.
Many people think of willpower and self-discipline as something akin to self-punishment. By giving it that negative connotation, they never get enthused about developing it. But author William Bennett gives us a different way to think of it. Self-discipline, he notes in The Book of Virtues, comes from the word "disciple." When you are self-disciplined, you have simply decided—in matters of the will—to become your own disciple.
Once you make that decision, your life's adventure gets more interesting. You start to see yourself as a stronger person. You gain self-respect.
American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson used to talk about the Sandwich Island warriors who believed that when they killed an enemy tribesman, the courage of that dead enemy passed into the warrior's living body. Emerson said that the same thing happens to us when we say no to a temptation. The power of that dead temptation passes into us. It strengthens our will.
When we resist a small temptation, we take on a small power. When we resist a huge temptation, we take on huge power.
William James recommended that we do at least two things every day that we don't want to do—for the very reason that we don't want to do them—just to keep will-power alive. By doing this, we maintain our awareness of our own will. 33. Turn into a word processor
If you associate the word "willpower" with negative things, such as harsh self-denial and punishment, you will weaken your resolve to build it. To increase your resolve, it's often useful to think of new word associations.
To weight lifters, failure is success. Unless they lift a weight to the point of "failure," their muscles aren't growing. So they have programmed themselves, through repetition, to use the word "failure" in a positive sense.
They also call what we would call "pain" something positive: "the burn." Getting to "the burn" is the goal! You'll hear bodybuilders call out to each other: "Roast 'em!" By consciously using motivated language, they acquire access to inner power through the use of the human will.
Zen philosopher and scholar Alan Watts also used to hate the word "discipline" because it had so many negative connotations. Yet he knew that the key to enjoying any activity was in the discipline. So he would substitute the word "skill" for "discipline" and when he did that he was able to develop his own self-discipline.
Language leads to power, so be conscious of the creative potential of the language you use, and guide it in the direction of more personal power.
34. Program your biocomputer
If you're a regular consumer of the major news programs, you belong to a very persuasive and hypnotic cult. You need to be de-"programmed." Start by altering how you listen to electronic radio gossip, the news, and shock and schlock TV shows. Program out all the negative, cynical, and skeptical thoughts that you now allow to flow into your mind unchecked when you hear the news.
"Headless Woman Found in Topless Bar!"
That was an actual headline in a daily New York City newspaper. I used to work for a city newspaper, and I remember how hard the editors in the newsroom would search for the most shocking stories they could find.
The news is not the news. It is the bad news. It is deliberate shock. The more you accept it as the news, the more you believe that "that's the way it is," and the more fearful and cynical you will become.
If we realized exactly how much vulgar, pessimistic, and manipulative negativity was deliberately packed into every daily newspaper and most television shows and Hollywood movies, we would resist the temptation to flood our brains with their garbage. Most of us are more particular about what we put in our automobile's gas tank than we are about what we put in our own brain every night. We passively feed ourselves with stories about serial killers and violent crime without any conscious awareness of the choice we're making.
How do we change it? By worrying about it? No. Rather than fretting about crime and apathy and whatever you wish would change in the world, it's often very motivational to heed the words of Gandhi, who said, "You must be the change you wish to see."
San Francisco writer and musician Gary Lachman wrote a captivating essay called "World Rejection and Criminal Romantics" in which he observed, "It's the Ted Bundys that get television coverage, not the thousands of self-actualizers who work away at self-transformation quietly and anonymously. And it's their influence, not that of the Ted
Bundys, that will shape the face of the coming century."
Often we don't have an opportunity to skip the media reports of crime and scandal, so it's important that we listen in a way that always programs out the effect. We are pretty good at doing this when we pass the tabloids in the grocery store checkout line. We smile at them even before reading that aliens are living in the White House. We need to take that same attitude toward what passes as "serious" media. Once you've gotten good at factoring out the negative aspects of the media today, take it a step further: Make your own news. Be your own breaking story. Don't look to the media to tell you what's happening in your life. Be what's happening.