Having the Time

I was reading a true story about a Norwegian soldier who had been put out of action by frostbite and was confined to a small sled in the middle of the Arctic wilderness. Some friends were hiding him from the German soldiers who were occupying Norway. He was alone for twenty-seven days except for a short visit by someone about every three or four days. He had a book with him, but he didn’t read much of it during those twenty-seven days. He “never seemed to have the time.”

When I read that last line, it jolted me awake and has been bugging me ever since. Do you understand why? Here was a man who couldn’t walk, who was confined to a sleeping bag in the middle of a silent, snow-covered, completely uninhabited area in the Arctic, and he was too busy to read. What’s wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong is the same thing that’s wrong with you and me. We’re too busy. You are, aren’t you? Yeah, so am I. Short of time. More things to do than you have time to do. Always trying to catch up.

But what has been dawning on me with a certain degree of irony and ridiculousness is that my lack of time is completely created by me.

There is no shortage of time. There is only the greedy effort to get more from our days than we can, while at the same time greedily wanting to also spend some of that time in leisure.

It’s silly. And it’s tragic. It costs us the experience of living. Time seems to fly by. Wow, where did those last ten years go? Were we so busy getting things done we forgot to enjoy our own lives?

Let’s just relax, shall we? Let’s quit trying to do so much. We don’t have to get all that stuff done. We don’t have to be perfect parents — kids have been raised by imperfect parents for a long time and still turned out okay. We don’t have to be perfect at anything. We don’t have to do it all. And we don’t have to be happier. But when we realize we don’t have to cram so much into our days, we will be.

Excerpted from the book, Principles For Personal Growth.

Necessary Conflict (Between Parents and Their Children)

Children try to train their parents as much as parents try to train their children. Children want their parents to wait on them hand and foot, to buy them whatever they want, to grant them freedom and privilege, and to think everything they do is wonderful.

If you have children, you know this is true. They want a lot from you. And they use whatever tools they can to attain it: throwing a fit, being cute, whining, wearing down resistance with persistence, lying, trying to use your own rules against you, pitting Mom against Dad, pretending to go along with you in order to gain favor, being “good,” trying to make you feel guilty, etc. You’re familiar with the techniques. Every kid invents them anew and uses whichever techniques he can get away with.

I’ve seen parents counter their children’s strategies with “That makes Mommy unhappy,” as if Mom’s happiness is on the child’s top-priority list. I’d hate to break the news to a mom who says this, but her happiness is way down there, below cookies and cotton candy. The motivation a child has to please a parent is weak compared to the motivation to gain resources and privilege.

Therefore, if you have a child, you must arrange it so there is a strong motivation to do what you want — something more powerful than “It makes me happy.” It’s not that your child doesn’t care about you. It’s that the self-discipline it takes to be fair and sacrifice one’s own wishes for the good of someone else and for the long term is learned. It’s not inborn. So while your child does want to please you, he also wants cookies and if he can get them by being nice, he will. If he can get them by screaming, he will.

Now that you’re an adult, you know it’s important to delay gratification. You know vegetables are better for you than cookies. And you have enough appreciation for long-term consequences that you’re willing to sacrifice pleasure in the moment. But your child isn’t. So the two of you are going to conflict.

In any conflict, failure to be aware of the goals of the other person puts you at a disadvantage in gaining your own goals. You want to buy them a book. They want more junk (toys). You want them to eat vegetables and protein. They want cookies and ice cream. You want to teach them manners and morals. They want you to go pester someone else. By and large, they are not the slightest bit interested in what you really want to give them.

Your goals are in conflict. That is the way it is. You cannot make your goals align without compromising your integrity, so you must be the one who sets the standards and you must deal out consequences when the standards are violated. Reasoning won’t work with someone who hasn’t had enough experience to appreciate long-term consequences. So you have to create immediate consequences. And the consequences have to be more of a deterrent than the pleasure your child gets from violating the standard. Knowing you’re disappointed usually won’t do it. “A good talking to” won’t either. You need something sufficiently difficult, inconvenient, or painful to make a child choose wisely: a week without dessert, no TV for three days, extra chores. And it only works when you make sure you follow through and enforce the consequences.

This is an important conflict. The way it turns out makes a difference. It’s your adult standards against your child’s whims. It’s conscience against genetically driven impulse. It’s experience against ignorance. Who will win? For your sake and for your child’s sake, I hope it’s you.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

Imagine a Single Celebration That Includes Everybody

In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice marks the longest day of the year and on that day until the winter solstice, the days get progressively shorter. The winter solstice is the moment when the days begin to get longer again. Just the reverse is true in the southern hemisphere, but the two solstices themselves occur at exactly the same moment for everyone on earth.

The origin of the word "solstice" is the Latin solstitium from "sol" meaning sun and "-stitium" meaning a stoppage. Observing the sun over time, you can see the sun rising further and further to the south until the winter solstice, when it slows and stops and then reverses.

The winter solstice in the northern hemisphere is close to the same time as Christmas, and many of our Christmas traditions originated from the days before Christianity, when the solstice was celebrated. Traditions for celebrating the end of shorter days and the beginning of longer days (winter solstice) have been practiced around the world for many thousands of years.

At Stonehenge on the British Isles, for example, the huge stones are arranged in such a way that they frame the setting sun on the day of winter solstice. The ancient Brits had a tradition of tying apples to the branches of oak trees in the dead of winter to affirm that summer would come again. The Celts put mistletoe on their altars.

The ancient Romans celebrated the winter solstice by giving gifts. And they feasted for a week. Servants traded places with their masters — the masters serving their servants during the feast. They also had a tradition during winter solstice of bringing evergreens indoors.

In Scandinavian countries, the sun disappears in the dead of winter. In the far north, it disappears for as long as 35 days. The ancient people of the far north had a tradition of feasting when the dark days were over and the sun once again shone on the horizon. They celebrated with what they called a Yuletide festival. They feasted in a long hall while a Yule log burned in the fireplace. They thought of mistletoe as sacred. Kissing under mistletoe was a fertility ritual. Holly berries were considered to be the food of the gods.

The solstice celebrations were officially replaced with Christian ceremonies during Roman times as a way of overtaking the ancient traditions, even though Jesus probably wasn't born in December. December 25th used to be the solstice with the old calendar. It usually happens on December 21st with the modern calendar.

But the Christian usurping of the celebration was a long time ago. It's water under the bridge and really at this point, who cares? We could start fresh and celebrate the solstice instead of (or in addition to) our other celebrations. We could celebrate the turning of the season. We could celebrate longer and warmer days ahead.

We could keep our celebrations, but change the date, and that way more people could celebrate together. In other words, if you normally drink eggnog and trim a tree and open presents for Christmas, you could do exactly the same things, except do them on the Solstice. Or people with different customs could celebrate their customs and traditions (for Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.) on their designated days, but also celebrate the solstice with everyone.

The solstice has nothing to do with religion, race, or nationality. Every one of us relies on the sun for our warmth, our sunlight, and our food. We rely on the sun for life. The time and date of the solstice can be accurately determined and it occurs at the same moment everywhere on earth.

The solstice might some day become an international holiday. This could be the beginning of something wonderful — a point of unification, a place of agreement, a universal tradition.

You can begin this year by celebrating the solstice in even a small way. Take any of the traditions normally associated with the holiday season and do some part of it on the solstice. Give a gift. Eat a feast. Be kinder to your fellow human beings. Invite people of all faiths to your home to celebrate the end of the longest night and the beginning of longer days. The celebration of the solstice in your own home could actually and concretely work for peace on earth and goodwill toward all women and men.

I wish you a Merry Solstice.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Reliance, Translated, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Women and Men

Earnest people throughout history have expressed the goal of attaining peace on earth. Many methods have been proposed and tried, but not many of those ideas have been practical. But in an interview with Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door, I heard her say something that made me think of one possible way to make some actual headway toward the goal of "peace on earth."

She said if more people knew about sociopaths, there would be less war in the world.

She was dead serious, and I think she may be right. We could bring about a more peaceful world by making an understanding of sociopaths widespread. Consider these facts:

1. According to the famous Milgram experiments, 65 percent of people follow the orders of an authority.

2. Sociopaths want to win. They seek control. They are excellent manipulators. They don't care who gets hurt. They don't care who lives or dies.

3. They sometimes make it to positions of power, sometimes even becoming the leader of a country. And they do what sociopaths do: They take advantage, they get away with whatever they can, and when they are in a position of strength, they sometimes invade or threaten other countries, causing war.

If more people knew the characteristics of a sociopath, more people would identify them for what they are before they gain too much authority and power. Fewer sociopaths would make it to positions of authority.

Result: Fewer wars.

There would be less horror and misery in the world.

The truth is, even though it is a common belief that "man is a violent species," we are not. But when sociopaths gain positions of supreme authority and start wars, 65 percent will obey authority, and most of the rest will be fooled and manipulated into supporting the cause (or locked up or executed).

The result is war. Most people who actually fight in wars feel terrible about what they experience. They don't want to kill or hurt other human beings. They feel they have to (to save their country, to save the people they love, to stop a dictator from taking over the world, to save their fellow soldiers in the battle, etc.).

But the point is, the only reason sociopaths are able to get away with as much as they do is because most people are so ignorant about sociopaths. Not very many people know about the existence of such a thing as "common, everyday sociopaths." And even if they do, they don't know the easily-identifiable characteristics of a sociopath. They don't know how to spot them.

If you do, you can share your knowledge with others. If you don't, you can learn about it here. Then you can share what you've learned far and wide and in every way you can. And urge everyone you know to help you spread the knowledge.

Ask people, "Did you know there are sociopaths among us?" Ask people of they know what a sociopath is. Ask people, "Did you know one in fifty people is a sociopath?" Ask these questions with people you know and talk about it. Most people don't know, and at the very least, it makes for interesting conversation. Ask people, "Did you know there is no known therapy for sociopaths? And in fact, therapy usually makes them worse because it helps them get better at manipulating people?" Ask people if they know how to spot a sociopath.

Learn about sociopaths and teach the others in your life about it. This will give you a long-range sense of purpose, which will raise your mood. But this simple thing could also change the course of history. You could help bring the cherished dream of humanity closer to reality.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot

How to Create Clarity and Calm

This article is about something so obvious and so simple, I ought to be embarrassed to tell you about it. But I'm not. I'm embarrassed to tell you that as obvious and simple as it is, I don't use this method nearly as much as I could. But when I do, I am always amazed at the calm it produces.

The method is simply to take time to think (T4). You can T4 while walking, which is my favorite way to do it. Go for a walk where you won't be disturbed too much and bring along a little writing pad and a pen (you'll get ideas sometimes you'll want to remember, and instead of using your mind to try to remember, you can write it down and free your mind for more thinking). Walk at an easy, comfortable pace.

Another way to T4 is sitting and thinking, again with paper and pen handy (for jotting brief notes).

Do you want peace of mind? Clarity? A feeling of being grounded and centered? A feeling of certainty about what you're doing? A clear sense of direction? All you have to do is take time to think.

The reason I tend to avoid T4 is that it basically involves doing nothing — not watching TV, not reading, not working. Nothing. Just sit there. Don't even try to think. After awhile, your mind will begin to think about things. Let it think.

the contentment of childhood

Time with nothing to do is natural and necessary for good mental health. Do you have a lot of great childhood memories? Does it seem like you had a lot of fun back then? Have you ever wondered what you had then that you don't have now?

Think about it. What do you think you had then that you don't have now that would contribute to having more fun?

You know what I think it is? You had time with nothing to do. And you know what? You didn't want it or like it, even though it contributed to your happiness.

Just as we have more carbohydrates available to us than is natural, constantly tempting us with foods we aren't supposed to eat, our visual and auditory world constantly tempts us with more stimulation than we have evolved to handle. Quiet time with nothing happening is the remedy. Whenever I have spent an hour or more doing this, I have always ended feeling profoundly calm and relaxed. My mind feels uncluttered and at peace.

It takes a little while. At least it does for me. For fifteen minutes, sometimes twenty, my mind is restless. I feel bored. I want to do something. But then my mind starts to relax and sort things out, all by itself.

If you find that after a half hour you are simply obsessing about a worry and getting nowhere, you can switch to a writing exercise: problem solving or arguing with yourself or making a list, etc. (see list below).

I've sometimes felt as if I've found what everyone is searching for — a path to peace of mind. In the aftermath of my newfound clarity and peace, I want to tell everyone about this great invention of mine. But of course, it isn't my invention. It is probably the oldest self-help method there is.

Take time to think. There's nothing to it. Your mind will naturally do it. The only hard part is making yourself take the time. And you do have to make yourself. There is always some work to do, or something you feel you ought to be doing, or some show you want to watch, or any of a hundred other interesting, appealing, diversionary things you want to do besides just sitting there. Just as we are naturally drawn to eating sweets, we are naturally drawn to filling our attention with stimulation. But it is calming to spend some time when your thoughts aren't being continuously interrupted.

interruptions

You know how difficult it is to get anywhere in a conversation when you are constantly interrupted. Can you imagine having a serious conversation about an important topic with someone bursting into the room every two minutes to give you important news? It would be very difficult to enjoy it or get anywhere in your conversation.

The same is true for dialog with yourself. There are some things you need to think through, but your thoughts are so continuously interrupted, you're accumulating a backlog of unresolved issues in the back of your mind. I think this leads to extra stress hormones. That's probably why you will always feel so much calmer after taking time to think.

I once believed that the feeling of being grounded and unfrantic must come from a religious experience. But T4 produces it.

Gandhi, Lincoln, Emerson — and many other (maybe all) great leaders spent an unusual amount of time doing nothing but thinking.

Decide ahead of time how long you will think, and stick to it. I suggest an hour. Do nothing. Don't knit or whittle or floss your teeth. Make brief notes, and nothing more.

When should you T4? Whenever you feel unmotivated about your goal. When you don't know what to do next. When you feel confused, anxious, depressed, frustrated, or unclear.

variations on the theme

As I have described it, T4 is a very natural process. Sit still and do nothing, and your mind will sort things out on its own. The basic method is to simply take the time to think. However, you can think in particular ways for specific purposes. It still involves taking time to think, but it is more directed. Here are nine specific ways to use T4:

1. UNDEMORALIZE YOURSELF

When you feel upset or bothered by something, taking time to think about it can make all the difference. Especially when you specifically aim to root out the negative thoughts you think automatically, and argue with them. For more on this, see the article, Undemoralize Yourself.

2. SELF-COACHING

Although it can be done while actively involved in a task, self-coaching is especially effective when you take the time to do it and concentrate on it. 

3. INCREASING MOTIVATION

Use T4 to intensify your desire for a goal. Ponder these questions: In what way will my life change when I achieve my goal? Think of all the wonderful consequences. What would happen if I failed? Think of all the terrible consequences. Clearly imagine what it will be like when your goal is achieved. Daydream about it.

4. DESIGNING SLOGANS

When you decide on a change you want to make, think about the change and the insights that led up to it and distill your self-generated wisdom into a very short phrase. Keep playing with the wording until it is just right. Read more about that: Slotralogy 101.

5. PLANNING 

Which would be better? To run around frantically getting as much done as you can without ever really thinking about what you're doing, or doing lots of thinking and less doing, but making sure the things you do are the best things to do, and doing them with peace and calm and doing them well because you have thought it through? Which is better? Hmmm...gee...let me think...

Strike a balance between flexibility (easily changing plans) and holding to the plans you have already created. Being rigid will impair your ability, but coming up with too many ideas will bog you down and prevent achievement. Creating new ideas is fun, so it is something that needs to be curbed or contained. Make to-do lists. Ask a question and generate a list of answers. Look into the consequences of each answer and try to think of how to avoid the bad consequences of good ideas. This is all part of planning.

6. COMING UP WITH IDEAS

Here's how to generate ideas to solve a problem or accomplish a purpose: Make a list on paper. Set a goal ahead of time for how many ideas you'll come up with, and don't stop until you hit that target. This will prevent you from stopping with the first good idea. Always try to think of something better. Try alternatives in your head to see how they'd work. A hard-thinking session that didn't produce a single good idea was still worthwhile. It planted the question deep in your mind. Coming up with ideas primarily consists of asking a question over and over no matter how many good answers you've already gotten.

This is a lot like meditation: Your mind drifts away and you keep coming back to the question. One of the most practical, universally applicable principles I've ever used is accumulate quantity and then sort.

7. PONDERING QUESTIONS 

If you ever feel stumped when you're thinking, or you feel that your thinking has become stagnant, look at the following list of questions and find one you'd like to ponder, or come up with one of your own. Asking one of the questions below is a fruitful exercise. Spend an hour pondering the question, returning to it as you do to a mantra when meditating. When you ask a question and keep coming back to it, your mind has no problem producing answers. I recommend an hour because it will get you past the superficial thinking, the get-it-over-with-as-fast-as-I-can kind of thinking, and allows you to "go deep." Here are the questions:

a. What is the most important thing for me to do this week?

b. Take any list of principles — Think and Grow Rich, Character Strengths and Virtues, Self-Help Stuff That Works, How to Win Friends and Influence People — and go through the list and ask, "What principle should I be applying that I am not applying?" Write the most glaring on a card and concentrate on applying it over the next week or so.

c. What am I grateful for? Make a list.

d. Is my integrity compromised in any way? What would I need to do to set things right?

e. What have I done right in the last week? Make as long a list as you can.

8. SOLVING PROBLEMS

First, clarify a problem. Take time on this first step. Try to define a problem clearly and be very specific and as accurate as you can. Then generate a list of possible solutions. Strain your brain on this one. Don't settle for the few obvious answers that come to mind easily. Dig. Then pick the best solution. Keep in mind that creativity and selection are two different functions and need to be separated.

9. MANAGING PURPOSES

Being unhurried and unstressed is a function of the simplification of purposes. T4 needs to be done often to clarify goals and refine plans. T4 is for thinking up ideas, and it is also for sifting purposes. You need to keep paring purposes down to what really counts, what will really be effective, what you really want, what you really feel is right, good, honorable.

It is worth taking the time to reboot: Think again about what you want — especially if you're not feeling motivated. Chances are, when you try to determine what you really want, it'll be the goals you've already set, but by creating them freshly, you stop merely going through the motions doing what you "have to." You will know you want to.

T4 is a tool with which integrity can be attained and maintained.

T4 is really a core activity, the key, the secret.

Purposefulness is clarified by thinking. Optimism is attained in thought. And the retraining of your mind occurs in T4. You can have what you want in life (peace of mind, successful accomplishment, great relationships) if you take time to think often enough.

Adam Khan is the author of Slotralogy, Direct Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of What Difference Does It Make?: How the Sexes Differ and What You Can Do About It. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.