Healthy habits harbor happiness.

Zero Dean

Author | Photographer | CG Artist | Filmmaker

Empower yourself

Empower yourself

Yes, there are a lot of problems in the world. And the media is happy to share them with you.

One of the most deceptively easy ways to start feeling bad about things is to start focusing on all these problems — and/or your own — without putting in quality time to focus on solutions and ultimately taking action.

The chances of miraculously solving all of your own or the world’s problems by focusing on how bad they make you feel are next to none.

Casually or subconsciously focusing on problems is one of the quickest ways to feel overwhelmed — and many times you won’t even realize why you suddenly feel miserable, only that you do.

If you’re not willing and/or able to commit to action and taking steps to change something for the better, then simply acknowledge your negative thoughts for the time being and move on to something more productive, more positive, more empowering.

Especially if you’re prone to depression.

It is totally ok not to start a project when you don’t have the strength, focus, or tools necessary to complete it.

Gather your tools and the right mindset, and have a strategy. Then you can tackle your problems with intention.

Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Along those lines, I say we can’t solve life’s toughest problems from a state of mental or emotional weakness. Rather than make things better, attempting to do so often makes things appear worse. That’s when you, instead, focus on something else.

And if you ever find yourself stuck having to take action, and you have neither the tools or the strength necessary to do it, then reach out to someone who at least has the potential to help you.

There are always people out there willing to help you in any way they can. Even when they, too, have their own problems.

One of the greatest ways to feel empowered and valuable is to find a way to help someone else.

And by doing so, you might just find someone willing and able to help you solve your own problems. Or together, problems you weren’t capable of solving alone.

Student says, “I am very discouraged. What should I do?” Master says, “Encourage others.” — Zen Proverb

Synergy is a wonderful thing.

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Energy flows where attention goes.

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If you were to say, “The world is full of cold, self-centered, arrogant people who just don’t care”,  you may be surprised to discover that I agree with you. You’re right. I’ve been out in the world and I’ve seen and experienced these things much more than I care to in life.

It’s one of the reasons why I do what I can to combat such things and, if possible, set the kind of examples I’d like to see more of. And that, in turn, is why most of the stories I share are lighthearted, fun, humorous, or positive.

But having said that, if you were to say, “The world is full of warm, caring, and generous people who go out of their way to make it a better place”, I would also agree with you.

Because I’ve seen these kinds of people, too. In abundance. They’re everywhere. You read that right. They’re everywhere. (And if you’re reading this, I think the chances are very good that you are one of these people).

Agree? Disagree?

The fact is, the truth in either of the above statements depends largely on where you look and what you’re looking for — because in either case, I’m confident you’ll find it.

And the same is true for most places where you direct your attention. And this is an important concept to understand, by and large, we find what we go looking for.

“What you seek is seeking you.” — Rumi

And what we choose to go looking for in life — the good or the bad — can have a dramatic affect on not only our view of the world, but on our sense of well-being as a result of that view.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.” — Fred Rogers

Depending on whether we look for something good or something bad, the results we find often reinforce whatever belief (or value system) we held to be true when we started searching.

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” — Wayne Dyer

When one believes the world is full of cold, self-centered, arrogant people who just don’t care, one’s subconscious mind goes about proving they’re right.

“The primary function of the subconscious mind is to follow the instructions of the conscious mind. It does this by “proving” that whatever the conscious mind believes is true. In other words, the job of the subconscious mind is to prove the conscious mind is always “right.”

So, if you consciously believe that you can’t be, do, or have something, the subconscious will create the circumstances and find the people to prove that you are ‘right’.” — Robert Anthony

When you expect rudeness from people, you are setting yourself up to be more attentive to it, even if it’s something you don’t want. And when you are more attentive to something, you are more likely to find it — at the expense of not being attentive to the things you’re not paying attention to.

For example, if I told you to stop for a minute and look around you for all the things that are the color red, your brain will register all the things around you that are red and, as a result, you would be able to list them with a high degree of accuracy.

But then if I immediately told you to close your eyes and now list all the things that are the color blue in the room you just searched, there is a good chance you would miss several of them — because you weren’t looking for blue, you were looking for red.

Now, I’m talking colors here, but I could easily be talking about the things that irritate or upset you.

If you go looking for irritating things, it will often be at the expense of registering all the things that are pleasant or beautiful around you — because whatever you focus on is at the expense of whatever you don’t focus on.

“Energy flows where attention goes.”

If you want to see more of the things you desire in life, it’s important to make a conscious effort to be grateful for what you already have and always focus on what you want — and what you want to see more of — not on what you don’t want or the lack of something.

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” — Marcus Aurelius

The type of thoughts you hold in your head have a direct impact on the reality you perceive. This includes the severity of aches and pains you experience, as well as how gracefully you age.

“By paying attention to pain on a daily basis, we are wiring ourselves neurologically to develop a more acute awareness of pain perception, because the related brain circuits become more enriched. Your own personal attention has that much of an effect on you. This could be one explanation to how pain, and even memories from our distant past, characterize us. What we repeatedly think about and where we focus our attention is what we neurologically become. Neuroscience finally understands that we can mold and shape the neurological framework of the self by the repeated attention we give to any one thing.” — Joe Dispenza from Evolve Your Brain – The Science of Changing Your Mind

This is why it’s vital to always remember to focus on solutions, not problems, look for the good, and remain conscious of where you choose to focus your attention and how you direct your mental energy.

“Refuse to emotionally succumb to the negative events around you and tap your mental toughness to thrive in any environment. The good guy doesn’t always win and justice doesn’t always prevail, but where you direct your mental energy will always determine your attitude and it will always be controlled by you.” — Steve Siebold

Energy flows where your attention goes — make sure it’s where you truly want it.

Because when you really think about it, this world and everything we call life is amazing. It seems a shame for people to miss out on the good stuff because they’re not paying attention.

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Leveling up in life

It is a fact of life that once we’ve reached a certain level of comfort in nearly any particular skillset, finding the motivation to further improve — or “level up” — one’s abilities in that skillset can be a challenge.

This is because, after a certain point, we reach a plateau and appear to stop getting results. And although we may try for a while, the struggle to further improve upon something is often fraught with failed attempts.

So instead, where we once saw a consistent path of improvement, we fail to get results.

People often assume that, because they stop improving, they have reached the apex of that particular skillset. It often comes with the thought, “Well, I’m no longer getting any better at this, so this must be as good at this as I will ever be” and they leave it at that. Or, because something doesn’t come easy, “I guess I’m just not very good at this particular thing. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

“I will never be a faster typer than this.”
“I will never be able to perform this skateboarding trick.”
“I will never be able to run a 5 minute mile.”
“I will never be able to paint like the pros.”
“I will never be fluent in another language.”
“I will never be able to play the piano well.”

And so on.

And that’s unfortunate because they’ve just fallen victim to a self-limiting belief. It’s not, in most cases, that they truly can’t, it’s that they no longer make any attempts to try.

Others fall into the trap of believing that if they simply continue to use a particular skill that they are comfortable with enough, they’ll get increasingly better at it.

The issue with that is that after you effectively hit a “plateau” with a skill (or a muscle), any further repeating of the same thing you’ve been doing will no longer yield significant gains, changes, or growth.

And that’s because it is the struggling and working hard, not comfortably, at something that causes one to get better at it.

And if you haven’t made the connection as to why this is important, this not only applies to skills, or strength training, but life as well.

If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.”

It’s also why a wise person once said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

Joshua Foer, in his 99U talk (video) suggests that you need to “step outside your comfort zone and study yourself failing”.

From his talk description:

“When most of us learn a new skill, we work to get just “good enough” and then we go on autopilot. We hit what journalist and bestselling author Joshua Foer calls the “OK Plateau,” where we have gained sufficient skills for our needs and we stop pushing ourselves.

But experts do it differently. Looking at the research on everyone from incredible athletes to memory champions, Foer has extracted four principles that describe how to push through the OK Plateau to achieve true greatness.”

So if you want to “level up” your skills & abilities and be outstanding, you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

You need to get back to challenging yourself and failing. And learning from your failures and pushing forward despite them.

And, above all, don’t give up until you begin to see positive results. Results being positive changes in your perspective, approach, style, or abilities.

Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it.” — Andy Rooney

Getting Results:

When you don’t get results: Try something else.
If you don’t get the results you want: Try something else.
And if you stop getting results: Try something else.

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From the comments:

Carl: Great post! I have felt like I was at a plateau in my artwork for some time, and this thinking may have been part of it. One needs to examine their process with an eye towards learning how to work smarter, because just taking the same approach and expecting to get better can be just reinforcing bad (or less than ideal) habits that are holding back progress.

While “just doing more work” can lead to unexpected/accidental discoveries that lead to progress (as well as being important for maintaining current skill levels), intentionally thinking about why one approach or another may be better, and trying different approaches to find out what might work better (or finding out what approaches are used by those who are better than you) is likely to be more effective. I need to remind myself of this, more.

Zero: I agree. You can improve simply by doing more work — and have those serendipitous moments (happy accidents), but those, too, are often caused by making mistakes — or certainly by trying something new.

But if you want to improve faster, make more mistakes faster. :)

And I agree with working smarter, not harder — but, in the case of plateauing, it is often our lack of wanting to work hard that keeps us from improving. We’re not willing to make extra work for ourselves when we know of a “shortcut”. But we also never learn what hidden gems are on those long hard roads we fear to take.

Skip and volume control

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If you’ve ever listened to a song and turned it up because you enjoyed hearing it so much, know that you essentially have (and use) this ability to the experiences that happen in your life.

Your attention is your “volume control”. Whatever you focus on gets louder.

So when something comes on that you don’t like, do you turn it up? No. You skip it.

And this is what you can do with those tired, old, negative thoughts in your head. You skip them.

And you keep skipping until you can settle on something worth listening to — and hopefully, worth turning up.

Skip and volume control. Use as needed.

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Complaining

“Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are good is like expecting the bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian.” — Dennis Wholey

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Complaining about how life isn’t treating you fairly doesn’t make life treat you any more fairly.

Complaining about how something isn’t going your way, doesn’t make it suddenly go your way.

Complaining about how difficult something is doesn’t make it any easier.

While venting can be a way to release frustration, it rarely yields the sort of results that one is potentially hoping for — especially in regard to whatever it is one is expressing frustration about.

If what you’re looking for is a listening ear and a solution to your problems, then there are more effective ways to communicate.

It can be as simple as saying, “I have a problem and I want to fix it.”

And you might even find that those listening, will actively want to help you.

Because you’re not complaining. You’re looking for solutions.

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From the comments:

Scott: Sometimes though, venting just makes you feel better.

Zero: Sure. Venting can release frustration. But so can simply talking to someone about how you want to solve a problem.

And research indicates the same:

“Angry? You could call a friend and vent. You could punch a pillow or break a plate. Or you could even record a rant on a website like RantRampage.com. Unfortunately, you may be doing more harm than good; research has found that venting actually makes your anger worse.” — Fast Company (Article)

Most people don’t like to listen to people vent or complain. But they are much more open to listening when it’s clear someone is working on solving a problem.

As I say, “there are more effective ways to communicate.”

I think it’s often not the actual act of complaining/venting that makes one feel better — it’s the thought that there will be a resolution because one has moved beyond complaining to the point of working on a solution.

Either with a decision that one is either going to accept the state of things or actually take action and change them.

There’s definitely a difference between sharing and talking about one’s problems without any intention of doing anything about them — and sharing and talking about one’s problems in a way that yields a solution — whether that comes from one’s self or the helpful suggestions of others.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to one deciding to finally accept something or take action to change it.

Although I think the manner in which to take action is the hard part (although I suppose acceptance can be difficult, too).

The persistent drip

Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” — Ovid

By focusing your efforts and concentrating on doing what you can with what you have, you can prevail over many of the biggest obstacles standing between you and what you want to accomplish.

Whatever your goals may be, even small actions can make a huge difference when performed with consistency and a persistent focus.

Stop waiting. Start doing.

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Accentuate the positive

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Every day you have the power to bring out the best in people simply by sincerely highlighting those things you appreciate about them the most.

Whatever you focus on grows stronger. When you focus on those things you enjoy most about people (and life in general), you not only encourage more of the types of behaviors you like to see in others, you attract more of these types of things into your life.

The same is true when you look for the negative. Not only will you find it, you’ll magnify it.

This is why it’s important to be very deliberate with what you choose to focus on, because it is extremely easy to leapfrog from one negative thing to another until you suddenly find yourself overwhelmed, depressed, or in despair.

This is not to say we should ignore problems — or those traits in others we don’t like — only that when we direct out attention to these things, we remain solution-oriented, not problem focused.

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Originally published on: Feb 7, 2014 @ 15:41
Republished on: Jun 6, 2015 @ 14:41

There is a lesson in this

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Never forget that whatever you focus on only grows stronger — or that contrast is good.

Because shit happens and life isn’t always easy — and if you focus on it, it may be all you see, but there’s always so much more to the world than that.

And sometimes we need these experiences to help us see — or remind us of — this fact.

When things aren’t going well, it might just mean you’re in the process of learning or being reminded of something important.

Whenever life presents you with a challenge, remind yourself, “There is a lesson in this.” and realize that it will likely not become evident until after the experience has passed. Because most of life’s lessons are not labeled as lessons until one has learned what they’ve had to teach.

Whenever you face something challenging, remind yourself, "There is a lesson in this." -- and realize that it will likely not become evident until after the experience has passed. Because most of life's lessons are not labeled as such until after you've learned what they've had to teach.

2:10 PM
I’ve been sitting in my car in the gym parking lot for over an hour with my laptop plugged in while also listening to the car stereo.

I go to start my car, but the battery is dead. I drained it (as I have been known to do).

2:15 PM
I am standing in the gym parking lot next to my car while holding jumper cables. I feel fortunate this happened in this location because there is a lot of pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

2:30 PM
I have been standing in the parking lot holding jumper cables for over 10 minutes while people drive or walk by without making eye contact. Some pass as close as 10 feet away, but it is obvious people are too busy or too absorbed in their own lives to help.

I’m beginning to wonder how long I will wait. And I admit, I begin to think there is a problem with the people here. I don’t see kindness in the people passing.

In contrast, both times this happened while I was staying somewhere else last year, the first people to see me were also the first to offer to help.

Today, this is far from the case — and, if I’m frank, I’m not only not feeling particularly good about the people in this area, I’m having doubts about the human race.

Me, the optimist, I’ve let this experience get to me.

It happens.

2:35 PM
An older Latina woman walks to her car 3 spaces from mine and gets in — at first I think she’s going to drive away, but she rolls down her window and asks if I could use some help.

Her smile is infectious.

2:40 PM
My car is started.

The whole jump starting process took less than 4 minutes — most of that time taken up explaining how to jumpstart a car, as the woman insisted I teach her.

We part ways smiling.

“THANK YOU.”

2:50 PM
I arrive at the local cafe I like to work at. I grab my laptop bag from my car, but cannot locate my new coffee travel mug. I think I left it here last night.

Oh well. That sucks.

2:52 PM
I walk into the cafe. All the tables near outlets are taken.

I set down my laptop bag at one of the tables that are free.

The kind older couple that I’ve mentioned before see me and wave me over.

Although they are in the middle of drinking their coffee, they insist I take the table they are sitting at — which has an outlet.

“THANK YOU.”

It’s nice there are people like this in the world.

2:53 PM
I’m in the process of setting up my laptop when one of the staff walks over and puts my travel mug down on the table.

“We found this last night.”
“THANK YOU.”

3:00 PM
After cleaning out my travel mug, I walk up to the cashier to get coffee.

“Just the coffee?”
“Yup.”
“You can just go ahead,” he says, pointing at the coffee, “It’s on us today.”
I smile, “THANK YOU.”

And as I take my first sip of coffee, I am reminded that all these acts of kindness just happened in the same place I was ready to give up on minutes earlier.

And I realize there is a lesson in this.

Expiration date

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” — Oscar Wilde

Are there things you want to do in life? Fears you want to overcome?

Would it change your approach knowing you only had a year to live?

We may not ever know our exact expiration date, but we all have one. And for some of us, it’s closer than we think. This isn’t a pessimistic way of looking at things, it’s a fact. But it’s something we often choose to ignore until it’s too late.

If you truly intend to live life to the fullest , I think it’s vitally important to remind yourself every once in a while — if not daily — that you’re dying.

It may not be the sort of thing you generally find yourself wanting to think about, but by refusing to face this fact, we run the risk of wasting enormous amounts of time getting caught up in things that ultimately provide us with very little value or substance in our lives.

There are more things to do and places to see in the world than any single person could possibly do in a lifetime. So already, our lives and what we choose to experience is a compromise.

A typical lifetime may seem like a lot of time, but time passes faster than one thinks. Adding to this is the fact that we are only teenagers briefly. We will only be in our 20’s once. Our 30’s once. Our 40’s and so on, ONCE.

To think you have time to put everything off to see and do and appreciate until later in life is an illusion.

And then there’s the fact that we only get one body. And it has to last a lifetime. If that’s not an incentive to stay healthy and treat your body well, I don’t know what is. But hey, if you’re not fit or healthy, it’s not too late to try to be.

We get a brain, which we can fill with any number of amazing facts and memories of real-life experiences and not just what we watched on TV. But the brain is like a muscle, the less we use it, the less efficient it becomes.

The fact is, every single day that passes is a day of our life we are trading for it. And we’ll never get it back. You can never get more time, you can only manage it more effectively by living with intention.

This is not to suggest that anyone should act irresponsibly, spend money they don’t have, or live with reckless abandon.

Reminding yourself that every day has value and every day that passes is another day closer to your expiration date can provide the perspective & motivation necessary to help you prioritize your life in a way that reflects the kind of person you truly want to be.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” — Steve Jobs

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The power of focus

It’s no secret that whatever one chooses to focus on can not only make a significant impact on one’s own life, but it can have a significant impact on those one connects with as well.

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” — Marcus Aurelius

Focus on what you want to see more of, and you’re more likely to have it show up in your life. Focus on what you don’t want, and you’re more likely to have that show up in your life.

From positive to negative, from solutions to problems, “Energy flows where attention goes.” (Michael Beckwith)

It’s always wise to be mindful of what you choose to focus on.

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