7 Shitty Things I Will Think Today

Yesterday I pictured I was dead. I was flying from NYC to LA. I don’t like turbulence and there was heavy turbulence mid-day. So I have my anti-turbulence technique. I picture that I am dead. My body, no longer mine. My thoughts, all dispersed into the ether. My emotions, my anxieties, all brief glimpses the Universe had for a second but then vaporized. No longer mattered. An infinitesimally small piece of quantum angst that disappears into a fiery plane crash.

And then I feel relief about the turbulence. Bring it! We’re all very scared of death. Despite the fact that every second we decay further into it, it’s the one thing we deny all day long in order to exist, to feed, to support, to succeed. And we all have great visions of how it could be afterwards: either heaven, or even the atheist heaven of nothing – sounds better than most of daily life. So I picture I am already dead, without thoughts or emotions or worries or happiness. And the turbulence goes away, and I feel as if I’ve woken up from a dark dream while the cabin shakes and my neighbor grips the sides of his seat.

Here’s what I feel every day at some point:

1) The grass is greener on the other side. You give me some grass, I will instantly think there is something greener. Writers want to be Doctors. Doctors want to be Entrepreneurs. Single people want to be Married. Cubicle-sitters will want to be Managers. Renters want to be Owners. Astronauts want to return to their families. Bloggers want to be book writers. Book writers want to be entrepreneurs.

2) Fear. Fear of what? I don’t know. But I’m writing this at 4:37am and at some point in the next 24 hours this body and mind I am in will experience fear of some sort. Maybe direct physical fear (turbulence) or fear of losing some opportunity. Or fear of not being about to write. Or fear of making a fool of myself. That’s my usual arsenal of fears but I have other more obscure ones as well.

3) Regrets about the past. 4:37am and I’ve already been, in my mind, angry at someone I had a relationship with years ago. Maybe that anger lasted a few seconds. But all day long today I am sure I will have flashbacks of other angers. I can’t help it. There’s a big list. Anger might have a half-life (“give it time” people say) but, like the body, it decays forever, with only glimpses of forgiveness masking it in the mind.

4) Worries about the future. It doesn’t matter what is going on, people time travel to the future and fret about the million things we can’t predict. “but”, one might say, “don’t we need to prepare now in order to have a good future. Shouldn’t we have a purpose that drives us through the day.” Yes. But, I can only speak for myself, I should do the right thing right now. And not worry about the results, the things I can’t control, the people who will say what they will. Being a father is a great example of this. If I do the right thing RIGHT NOW, they often won’t like me. But I can’t worry about how they will feel about me in the future. I still have to do the right thing (set a curfew, sew a new boundary, inflict a new consequence).

There’s also always the feeling of “what next?” After this post, what will I do tomorrow? And after the next 500 posts, and 25 investments, and after my kids grow and forget me, and after Claudia loses any passion for me, “what’s next?” But right now, I could die. Or I could live. That’s it.

5) Want to be Loved and Respected. Everytime I hit “Publish” I feel this. Everytime I say something I feel this. But you never know. Nobody ever knows.

6) Judge people. I’m going to be meeting a lot of people today. With every one of them I will form a gut opinion. I hope I can avoid this. For better or worse, my gut opinions are usually wrong. I have to always tell myself I’m not so smart. I need time to form a sense of someone.

Yesterday I was sitting in a restaurant at a table next to a well known actress and a woman I assumed was her mother. The mother was trying to explain that “South Africa is not Africa the same way South America is not North America.” There was a little girl at the table also, about six years old. She was debating changing her name to “Matthew” so she would stand out at auditions (it is LA, after all). I had a gut reflex to hate them all. To make judgments on surgeries. Form an opinion about the sizes of their breasts and lips. And then make a macro judgment on their entire lives, how they’ve lived, how they will die. How this little girl will grow up.

(part of Africa)

7) Misery. At some point each day its hard not to succumb into a feeling of, “what the hell am I doing?” People say “in the grand scheme of things”. But there is no “grand scheme of things”. Even if you define yourself as miniscule or unimportant you are still exaggerating.

This comes across as whining as I reread this. But, let me ask you: how many of the above  things will you do today? Just read through the bolds and go “check”, “check”, “check” on each thing you did yesterday or will do today. How many “checks” did you count?

It doesn’t mean you are depressed. Or feeling entitled. Or a bad person.

This is being human. An animal born 200,000 years ago, descended from a starfish that crept onto the sand and needed to build a bigger brain now that food was no longer simply floating past for the grabbing in the depths of the ocean. Back then, the grass was greener on the other side. And you needed to judge people…or be killed.

Well, I can say, I’m simply not going to do those things. But that won’t work. That’s like saying I don’t need sleep. Or I won’t need to go to the bathroom today. I will do all seven of those items above. These are the defecations of the mind.

The key is simply being aware when you are doing them. Stop unconsciously doing them. Most of my life I’ve walked around asleep, doing these things all day in my head like the same seven songs constantly repeating. It’s not so hard, then, to develop superpowers. To stand out. To evolve: Simply note when you fall into one of the seven. Say, “I’m doing it again”. Notice it. What does it feel like in your body. Why are you doing it?

My only job today then: to wake up from the dull sleep I fell into many years ago. To notice and observe the comings and goings into the port of my mind. To open my eyes and for one more moment at least, to be alive.

 

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  • Brian I

    James,

    I love this post. It calmed me as a started the work day. Here’s another take on the same subject from DFW:

    This Is Water
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5THXa_H_N8

    Enjoy (although I’m sure you’ve already heard this) and thanks for your writing. It’s inspired me a great deal.

    Brian

  • 7tse

    You may think about those 7 shitty things (it’s okay, I do too), but having followed your blog pretty much from inception, I also know you will think about 77 (maybe 777) nice things.

    And as always, thanks for the comforting and inspiring post. Your writings always lift me up and make me smile. Thank you, James ”the Bodhisattva” Altucher. :)

  • http://twitter.com/KittyKilian Kitty Kilian

    5) Want to be Loved and Respected. Everytime I hit “Publish” I feel this.

    Love that you say that out loud.

  • Srirang

    Hey James,

    Awesome post. Really loved it, like all of your posts which carry the theme “It is OK to be human”.

    A follow up question – What is the purpose of trying to be aware of the times when I do these things? Is it followed by an attempt to stop myself from doing these things?

  • murali

    Being aware of these things is the only step we can take. Great post. :)

  • RobG

    I experience the same so, I appreciate your post. It is so easy to look at things from the negative and think everyting sucks when it is just as easy to see the exact same variables in one’s life from the positive. I am usually on the positive side of things, but this week has me chained to the negative. So, thanks. Your points are well-taken.

  • TheOneWhoKnocks

    I really needed to read that. It’s amazing how many of those I experienced by only 9am. I believe we experience those for a reason. The question for me is what am i doing about my anger? My fear and anxiety? By not acting to address it they will only compound like interest. I judge people all the time. Half of the time I’m right the other half im wrong. A famous time I was wrong was when in the 90s I heard the name of a band called Pearl Jam. I thought what a stupid name. Then I heard them by accident on MTV. Changed my perception totally.

  • mikeyhell

    The only thing that kept me from doing all 7 today before 10am was that I woke up and scribbled down a few fears on my expanding list of life fears. Contemplating my biggest fears seems to ground me better than anything else I’ve tried so far. For today, then, I maybe only accomplished 5 or 6 of the shitty things. :)

  • Watoosh

    I judge people constantly. I look at how average (or sub-average) the vast majority of people are, I pay attention to how unattractive most of them are (and in my mind the attractive ones are often vain, dim, rude and/or have shitty attitude) and I think about how many of them must live a supremely unsatisfactory life.

    I’m not really sure why I do this. It’s not like I have it all figured out and I’m living the dream, far from it, but I’ve been paying more and more attention to how I conduct myself, and what the most productive attitude toward life and the universe is, and I guess I’ve gotten the false impression that I’m somehow more enlightened than the hoi polloi. And even if I am, I’m not supposed to think that, right? Kinda defeats the purpose of enlightenment.

    • Watoosh

      I just realized that the vast majority of people can’t be sub-average. Well, at least half of them are. (Judging by how my brain is functioning today, yours truly might be one of them.)

    • Otaddy

      I struggle with the same. I am going to try to notice this and to be more fair in my judgments of others.

  • Michael McLaughlin

    Hi James, This reminds me of the quote… “The identity of purpose and perishment is … the tragic paradox of life. The human being saves itself and carries on. It performs, to extend a settled phrase, a more or less self-conscious repression of its damaging surplus of consciousness. This process is virtually constant during our waking and active hours, and is a requirement of social adaptability and of everything commonly referred to as healthy and normal living. Psychiatry even works on the assumption that the ‘healthy’ and viable is at one with the highest in personal terms. Depression, ‘fear of life’, refusal of nourishment and so on are invariably taken as signs of a pathological state and treated thereafter. Often, however, such phenomena are messages from a deeper, more immediate sense of life, bitter fruits of a geniality of thought or feeling at the root of antibiological tendencies. It is not the soul being sick, but its protection failing, or else being rejected because it is experienced- correctly- as a betrayal of ego’s highest potential. The whole of living that we see before our eyes today is from inmost to outmost enmeshed in repressional mechanisms, social and individual; they can be traced right into the tritest formulas of everyday life. Though they take a vast and multifarious variety of forms, it seems legitimate to at least identify four major kinds, naturally occuring in every possible combination: isolation, anchoring, distraction, and sublimation. ” ~ Zapffe “The Last Messiah”

  • Otaddy

    Wow James, I think you are reading people’s minds with this. I know I struggle with these things daily. Judging and wanting to be loved are connected–you want others to judge you favorably.

    I also know that if I overheard that conversation with the girl saying she wanted to change her name, I would be groaning and judging them unfavorably–but is this justified? And why does it make me feel bad to hear things like this? I guess its because I feel that we focus on trivial and superficial things. But again, should I be thinking this or should I be more apt to give people the benefit of the doubt?

    I am reading Areyeh Kaplan’s book on meditation and Judaism and he brings up the point that one of the purposes of meditation is to bring you closer to and to develop a love for your fellow man. I know I need work on this. Maybe if I am a better judge of people, others will be a better judge of me.

  • Jon May

    One of the most difficult hurdles facing anyone who has been swallowed up by destructive programing is identifying the source of their negative emotions (which might take years of therapy), admitting how false and destructive these sources are, and then dismissing them (which is different from suppressing them). Part of the problem is that people become so adept at suppression that they have no insight into what is making them feel so bad. Another part of the problem is that we all all think that our troubles are unique and see everyone else as happier and more together. What is so great about your blog is that you reveal how common our experience is and how you have dealt with it. Thanks again.

  • kamalravikant

    Such truth. I love this post, James.

  • Jim A.

    I’ve been dealing a lot with (3) lately, after a relationship I was fairly invested in. What have you found helps you move on and stay positive?

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Jim, its really hard. The simple answer is: there’s nothing you can do.

      The good news is: you’re aware you’re dealing with it. That’s really all you can do. It sucks, it feels painful. But “IT” is not “YOU”. And you know that over time you will do well.

      So what we have to figure out is what you can do while you are waiting. Because you don’t want to waste RIGHT NOW even while this pain is happening.

      You tell me: what can you do TODAY that incrementally helps you physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. That’s all you have to do today. And say hello to the pain. Because it’s there.

  • http://twitter.com/mirellatrimboli Mirella Trimboli

    I love how you bare your own “humaness” so that each of us can feel less ashamed or disgusted with our own human behaviour. I particularly like how you framed this all as being completely normal, and as something to observe and let go, rather than try to stop and hide away.
    As an aside, I love the no regrets tattoo, the irony that he has a tattoo with regrets spelt incorrectly! It made me laugh!

  • http://444express.blogspot.com/ the444

    I keep having this problem: Whenever I make money, I feel angry at myself for not making more. I’m less upset about not having money or about losing money than I am about not making more money. I wonder what this means and what I should learn from it. Usually I know what’s going on in my own head, but this time it’s different. Can you help with this, James? Is it that I chose something too stressful, or is stress just what I need and have needed for a long time? Do people get scared when they finally get what they want, sometimes?

  • dz

    I just love the rawness of your instinct. Awesome.

  • Danny

    Damn, you’re cray! :) This reminds me how cray we all are! haha

  • www.unmappedcountry.com

    Very nice post. You’re verging on Stoic there–imagining your death as a strategy for living more fully.

  • JSebastian

    I’ve read lots of Altucher’s posts and have decided that probably his most redeeming quality is that he’s more neurotic than I am. :)

  • APN

    “The more I have the more I think I’m almost where I need to be,if only I had a little more”
    -ill with want-The Avett Brothers

  • Kevin Faul

    Excellent post. You probably don’t have time but if you want a great milkshake, Swingers on Lincoln & Broadway has a big menu of milkshakes, cheap. (it’s also where the diner date scene was shot in “Knocked Up”, so maybe that will make you laugh. Have a good trip.

  • http://twitter.com/umuhammad Usman Muhammad

    Beautiful post.

  • Rogie Ylagan

    I agree that these things are really difficult to avoid. And only by being aware of them that gives us the power to control them. Great advise usual.

  • Taylor Mac

    1) The grass is greener on the other side.
    I saw something the other day that said “The grass is greener where you water it”
    …I kinda like that…

  • liberranter

    Only seven?

    Seriously, though, FEAR is a big one. One of the things that I’ve come to realize is that so much of our contemporary society is based upon and driven by fear. Those who have been entrusted (for lack of a better word) with authority over others exploit fear for their own gain and to enable them to continue lording it over others. Once one realizes this, it becomes easier to adopt the attitude that essentially says

    You’re full of shit. I can see right through you. I’m going to live my life the way I see fit and do what I think is the right thing. Bring on your worst if you want to. I’ll bounce back, in the end, from the worst you can dish out.

    I’ve been adopting this attitude a lot lately and it seems to dissipate a great deal of the instinctive fear that once easily held onto me.

    Or, to quote an old statistic I once read whose origin I can’t remember:

    Seventy-plus percent of what you worry about never happens.

  • Tom

    Such a beautiful post. Thank you.

    “Even if you define yourself as miniscule or unimportant you are still exaggerating.”

    Wonderful!

  • http://twitter.com/charlyRoot Charles E. Root

    Your mind only has one port?! That’s ludicrous. You wouldn’t need to decrease.

  • kcastagnaro

    Not sure how I missed this. Loved every word because it’s true. Wish it weren’t true.

  • bill

    james,publish a list of books you read

  • http://www.winstonkotzan.com/ Winston Kotzan

    Glad to hear I’m not the only one who has those concerning thoughts when flying on a plane!

  • http://www.facebook.com/cory.hanneman Cory Hanneman

    Hey buddy, regarding 5, know there is a legion of guys like me who love and respect you, and get value from your work here, but have don’t have the courage or urgency to respond. I pray great gratitude for you and the others that bring the Truth many nights.