My Best Books of the Year: How to Fight

I’m a Christian but I understand that there is a lot of moral wisdom to be gained from nonChristian and non-religious books. I also often think that the Bible may be lacking sometimes in practical guidance. For instance, Jesus instructs us in Matthew 5:22, that even being angry at your brother is a sin. But he doesn’t tell us how to stop being angry. And the church doesn’t usually offer any advice beyond “call on the Holy Spirit to give you [patience, endurance, kindness].”

In Bible study, we are wrestling with the idea of God being our friend, while also being someone who was revered. The group agreed that “Sup, Bro” would be too casual to say to God. But they also agreed that getting angry at God was ok. But I think it’s got to be more reverential to ask “how are you” in vernacular than it is to express anger. Plus, though I realize that God isn’t a human, so we don’t really have to worry about God’s feelings, I think the act of getting angry, even when another person is not the victim, has damaging effects on us.

How to Fight by Thich Nhat Hanh has a really misleading name. It’s really about controlling your anger. Hanh shares my belief in the corrupting force of anger:

When you try to get anger out by hitting something like a pillow, it may seem harmless. But it’s not certain that you can release your anger by hitting the pillow, imagining it to be your enemy, the one who has made you suffer. You may be rehearsing your anger and making it stronger instead of releasing it. . . By rehearsing our anger we are creating a habit of being angry, which can be dangerous and destructive.

So Hanh is saying, the act of getting angry, even when there are no victims, is destructive to oneself. I think we know this instinctively to be true. My favorite passage is called “Killing Anger”:

…he cursed the Buddha to his face. The Buddha only smiled. The cousin became even more incensed and asked, “Why don’t you respond?” The Buddha replied, “If someone refuses a gift, it must be taken back by the one who offered it.” Angry words and actions hurt oneself first and hurt oneself most of all.

This passage reminded me that, many times, you have complete choice in how to respond to people. (It’s also helpful to think of in terms of gifts this holiday season. If someone gives you a malicious gift, you can just give it back. You don’t have to accept everything that is given to you). They may bait you, they may come at you with anger, but you don’t have to return the gift. They can take the anger home with them. You don’t have to take the anger home with you.

It’s funny that when you start reading books, they all start to relate to one another. The Longevity Plan , which I had discussed in another blog post, had also talked about the dangers of anger for the heart and breathing as a means to remove anger.

This book was really helpful to me for understanding my own anger. When I think of getting angry, I think of fighting. I don’t stop to think, did I misunderstand what the other person said or did? Do I need to fight back? If I started fighting, what would “winning” look like?

But when you’re angry and the other person is angry, you feel like you’re the only one suffering but the fact is, you’re both suffering. Hanh compares fighting in this scenario to running after the arsonist when your house is still on fire. By settling the anger within ourselves, we stop both sides from suffering, and we train ourselves not to become angry. This is the only way to truly put out the fire and prevent more fires from spreading.

What are your techniques for defusing anger?

Image via Giphy.

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My Best Books of the Year: How to Have a Good Day

Ok I didn’t finish reading this book. But I skimmed it and there’s an appendix that lists all the best practices as an easy shortcut. Here are the most helpful tips I found.

Before Work

  • Think about something you’re looking forward to.
  • Set your intentions. What matters most today? What does that mean for my attitude, intention, attention and actions? What specific goals should I set for the day? Try to keep these answers in mind.
  • Visualize the most important thing you’re doing today and picture yourself doing your best. Notice what you’re doing and saying.

As you get started.

  • Batch your tasks. Plan a block of uninterrupted working for your most complex tasks. Answer email at specified times.
  • Prime yourself and set the toneDecide what mental attributes you most need to be successful today and cue a song or image to remind you of this attitude.
  • Schedule play/thinking time.
  • Assume good person, bad circumstances.
  • Fake a good mood by smiling.
  • Label any frustrations and write down what the facts are and how they make you feel.
  • Take breaks to stretch.

Lunch

  • Connect with someone.
  • Do some exercise.

For each task

  • Maximize your motivation. Ask yourself: What’s most interesting about this task? What’s the bigger reasonf ro getting this done?
  • Start on a positive note – Ask what’s going well so far.
  • Get unstuck. If something has been on your to-do list for awhile, be honest about what’s getting in the way. If it’s something you still want to do, think about what the smallest first step would be and replace your to-do list item with that step.

At the end of the day

  • Write the 3 best things that happened today.
  • Avoid screens right before bedtime.

My Best Books of the Year: The Broken Ladder

Look – a Republican reading a book about inequality? You all should be so proud of me.

Have you ever played that game where you’re trying to survive as a working poor person? The game keeps giving you terrible options but I’m so much of a stoic that I came out ok. It seemed like a bad exercise. I’m sure others would think I wouldn’t really be able to pass the game in real life.

According to The Broken Ladder┬áby Keith Payne, the latter group may be wrong. The book covers how inequality completely changes the poor’s perspectives, focusing on the now, increasing risky behavior. Because I’m not one of the poor, I may be able to lift myself by my bootstraps but, if I had been born in poverty, I likely couldn’t.

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My Best Books of the Year: The Longevity Plan

The Longevity Plan by Dr. John Day chronicles an American doctor’s journey to a bucolic Chinese village that has one of the highest rates of centenarians in the world (yes, Chinese. Everyone keeps correcting me to say, don’t you mean Okinawa? Nope. China! people). Not only are there plenty of centenarians, but the centenarians are in great health.

The tips described in the book aren’t really earth shattering, but it’s good to be reminded of them and sometimes, a certain way of describing the problem can finally spur action.

1. Eat good food

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On Treating Yo’Self

I had lunch at Popeye’s – 3 piece platter with 2 sides and a biscuit. I had one of those sugarbomb Starbucks Holiday drinks the other day. I also hate a cinnamon bun. I’ve been known to eat whole huge desserts without sharing. I’ve never counted calories and I hate dieting. I hate salads.

Judging from that, it would seem that I’m overweight and pretty gross. Well, maybe the latter but not the former.

How do I do this? Well, what I’ve listed above are all aberrations to my diet. 90% of my meals are home cooked. I rarely eat dessert, sugar, caffeine, snacks, processed or deep fried foods. I also have a very calorie restricted diet. So when I eat my decadent meal, it’s really an outlier to my normal lifestyle. I look the way I do because of my normal lifestyle – not because of my outlier.

I think most people in America eat some sort of quasi-healthy dish most of the time and then they may splurge. A quasi-healthy dish is like a store-bought salad but as the Internet is quick to point out, restaurant salads aren’t necessarily healthy. So if they splurge, and the button pops off their pants, maybe the splurge was the tipping point, but it’s the everyday lifestyle that got them to the tipping point all along.

So people may see me eating unhealthily in one instance and think, “she must have really good genes. There’s no way I could do that.” But they’re seeing a snapshot. They have no idea what the whole story is.

It’s the same with spending money. I spent $200 at Sephora over the past week. That’s crazy money. And I think if someone had seen me do this (I mean I did it online, but let’s say I bought it in a store), one might think “she’s a spendthrift.”

But you have no idea what the other 51 weeks were like.

There are two lessons to learn here. First, don’t hate on people who seem to get away with whatever they eat or buy, thinking they were blessed from birth. I mean, maybe they were, but maybe this is a rare occurrence. Maybe they’ve planned other things in their life so that this is a possibility. Maybe this is their rest day from the gym. Maybe this is their vacation. Don’t let it discourage you.

Second, if you want to splurge guilt-free, or even if you don’t, figure out how to live a baseline lifestyle that allows for some wiggle room. What you do everyday is so much more important to who you become than what you do once in a while.

I think there’s nothing wrong with splurging. It may even be good though I don’t have any research to point that out. The rare splurge is not going to make or break you. But there’s nothing worse than a splurge that you can’t enjoy. And you’ll just feel worse about the splurge if your everyday habits are pushing you to the brink as is.

You won’t fully enjoy the fancy dinner if you’re worrying about all the other small medium dinners weighing on your credit card. You won’t fully enjoy a decadent meal if your current diet is already making you gain weight and become lethargic. When you have everything in order, the splurge just tastes amazing, because you aren’t having it with a side of guilt.

How do you afford your splurges?

How to Deal with Bad Service

I took my mom out to lunch yesterday. Or to be more clear, I intended to pay for her but the meal was comped. A half hour after we ordered, we noticed the cooks were shutting down as the entire dining room had been served, except us (it was an open kitchen).

I caught up with my waiter by the open kitchen and asked about our food. The manager happened to be standing next to him (I didn’t plan this. I was lucky to find our waiter) and he asked if what I said was true. The kitchen expediter seemed to acknowledge the presence of a ticket for our meal and the manager apologized profusely and offered to comp our meal if we stayed. He also sent over some complimentary dip while we waited for our meal. The food was very good and I was impressed with the manager’s handling of the situation. I’ve had some not-so-great service as of late in restaurants and it’s made me less inclined to dine out.

And it got me to thinking, why do I get bad service? Part of it is that I don’t order drinks as often anymore and there is some anecdotal evidence that waiters are more attentive to big-spending parties. We could always go the racist angle. (My mom did, but there were some other minorities that got food). I’m sure this was an isolated incident. I’m sure it had nothing to do with us.

But of course, I’m still digging on the Internet on what to do. On Quora, I liked the following suggestion on “If I receive poor service from a waiter/waitress in a restaurant, what’s the best way to show my displeasure?Quora

If the food was good but the service was atrocious I walk to the host and tell her that I hated the service but loved the food and can’t bear to tip for that piss poor of a performance but want to show my gratitude for good food.

–Mikka Luster

On the other hand, when we have exceptional service I ALWAYS ask to speak with the manager. I have a philosophy that the managers usually hear nothing but complaints all day while excellence is normally taken for granted. So when they have a server that is above and beyond I make sure they know.

–Cleo Mouri

I can definitely think of some fancy schamnce places I’ve been to where the food was divine but the service was lackluster. It doesn’t feel right to cheap on the tip or to give a good tip to such lackluster service. This seems to go well with my idea of right and wrong. That should always be counterbalanced with always praising a waiter/waitress when things are going well.

But overall, I don’t think I’ll do this. Instead I would opt for the following approach:

When your waiter/flight attendant looks gloomy or is not doing his/her job properly, instead of teaching him/her a lesson as many people suggest, ask with a strong interest in your voice: “Are you OK? Are you sure you are OK? Did something happen to you today?” When they start wondering why you are asking (which usually follows your question), tell them your concern and what you are displeased with, but in a very supportive (not aggressive form).

–Slav Bochkarev

Tip extra . . . . Criticizing someone else who is already in a lower position than you (they are serving you) is not an easy thing to do, especially if the goal is to improve the overall experience (as opposed to just making a point). That’s why I suggest , as the person in power, you should have to pay extra for your ability to criticize the waiter. It feels like the modest approach to an already tricky situation.

–Max Siskin

It seems really easy to think just about me, me me. How I’m trying to reward myself for my hard work by going to a nice restaurant and now I’m being ignored and feel like crap.

It shouldn’t be that way. It’s true. But I’m not being served by robots.

The waiters/waitresses have to deal with obnoxious people every day all day all the time. They have their own struggles. It’s probably not easy getting by on their salaries. And sometimes I go to work and have a bad attitude. No one is going to yell at me for that. No one is going to call over my boss and yell at me in front of both of us.

These responses totally got me out of my own bubble. It’s the restaurant’s job to show me a good time. But I can show compassion and understanding to every one with whom I interact. That’s my job.

In the future, if I encounter bad service, I will flag the waiter down away from my table and ask if there’s anything wrong and actually listen. And then I will commiserate because we’ve all been there before. I will also calmly explain how our night is going not so great. I will say we are neither thinking about changing our tip nor calling the manager over. We are not threatening anything at all. We just want to have a nice meal. Then I will ask how we can work together to make that happen.

How do you handle bad service at restaurants?

How Others Perceive Your Status

I confided in my friends that I was afraid of going car-free because I thought it would make people think I was poor. I’d be the weird kid biking everywhere while everyone else showed up in their cars. They all responded the same way: driving my 18-year old Honda made people think I was far poorer than being car-free.

And so, without adding or subtracting a cent, (and actually subtracting one car), I was now wealthier in the eyes of others. But how strange to think that someone who doesn’t have an asset could seem wealthier than someone who has that asset (a car, even if beat up). Wouldn’t one naturally think that the person who has more stuff is wealthier?

It got me to thinking, we buy these markers of success in order for us to look a certain way but sometimes we are completely wrong about how we are being perceived.

I asked my friend, who is a fancy businessman, if he thought I was broke based on how I’ve furnished my apartment (a strong Ikea theme). And he said no, because one’s bank account isn’t reflected in one’s possessions. I think this may be how wealthy people think in general. I mean, when I first met him, he was wearing a NASA shirt that he bragged that he got for $6. Wealthy people appreciate a good deal.

On the other hand, I have a friend who always seems to be going on shopping sprees at expensive stores – Lilly Pulitzer, Kate Spade, Stuart Weitzmann. And then she spends a lot of time selling stuff on consignment. It’s like a rotating door of expensive clothing, kind of like fast fashion with bigger price tags. And honestly, hearing about her expensive clothing habit made her seem poorer because it didn’t seem like she valued money or time, no matter how expensive the tags were.

So really, we may live a certain lifestyle to be perceived a certain way, but we really have very little control over how we are perceived.

What financial habits do you think make a person look wealthy or poor?