Desires and Anxiety

I won't deny that I have desires, but I will deny that I think they're good to have. As Leo Babauta wrote just last week, having outcome-based desires inevitably leads to anxiety. And I'm sick and tired of being anxious.

I used to be okay with being anxious. Other things were more important than peace of mind: getting good grades, being liked by classmates and teachers, pleasing my parents, looking handsome, earning money, outperforming my brother or my best friend. That is, achieving external results was the only way to find peace of mind. Sometimes I succeeded at doing these things, sometimes I didn't. But I lived with the fear of failure most of the time.

Letting Go of Desires

 

What would happen if I stopped wanting to be liked, successful, great, rich, famous, free, happy, beautiful, brilliant, or anything else I currently desire? I think two things would happen. First of all--and this is likely a deal-breaker for some--I probably would not become those things. That's a hard pill to swallow. If I stop wanting to be rich I probably will not pursue high-paying jobs and thus will not become rich. Sure, I might pull a J.K. Rowling and win the international children's fiction lottery, but the truth is the odds would be against me.

The second thing that would happen, however, is that I wouldn't care that I'm not rich. I don't need to be rich. I'm not even sure I want to be rich. Even rich people don't see themselves as rich and endlessly pursue money. So I say fuggit.

Affirming My Lack of Desires

 

It's not easy letting go of my petty wants. It will take time, practice, and effort. But it's a belief that needs to change. So starting now, I'm going to repeat to myself:
  1. I don't want to be rich.
  2. I don't want good grades.
  3. I don't want to be admired.
  4. I don't want to look beautiful.
  5. I don't want to be happy.
  6. I don't want to be free.
  7. I don't want to have a girlfriend.
You know what? I feel better already.

5 Small Reasons to Make Your Bed

My parents never told me to make my bed. I don't think they made their bed. The idea was a foreign concept to me, a dated practice I'd seen only in old books and movies, like having piss-boys. That wasn't even a real practice, just something from History of the World Part I. I assumed actually making your bed was a similar fiction.

I don't think I made my bed once in the first 20 years of my life, although a petty tyrant of a Scoutmaster did force us all to make our frickin' sleeping bags every night at summer camp one year. It was an awful week.

Then, one day last fall I walked into my friend David's room and I realized his bed was made.

"Do you always make your bed?" I asked.
"Haven't you been in my room like a thousand times?" he snorted. He likes to exaggerate, but he's not very good at it. He thinks everyone in the College of Arts and Sciences is by default an English major. I usually can't even tell who he's trying to insult.
"Oh, I wasn't trying to play the question game," I said. He looked at me in confusion for a minute, so I clarified, "Seriously, do you you make your bed every morning?"

He apparently did. I struggled with the idea that someone with such a similar age, upbringing, and mental faculties would put in the effort to make his bed every single morning. It seemed like a waste of time and effort. Nevertheless, the next day I tried it out of curiosity.

And let me tell you: it felt good. It felt good to take care of myself and my belongings. It felt good to plan for the future. I discovered for the first time how much hair, lint, and dirt piles up in my bed since I had changed the sheets.

That night, when it was time to go to bed, I looked forward to getting under the covers. I didn't have to dump laundry, papers, books, garbage, electronics, or anything else off my bed. It was just ready and waiting for me to use it. I didn't get tangled in the sheets. They were smooth, centered, and perfect.

I can't believe I had never done it before. If you're not convinced, here are 5 reasons why you should make your bed. It's not going to change your life, but it will make it appreciably better.

1. To Make Sleep Appealing

Have you ever walked into your bedroom, exhausted and ready to go to bed, to find said bed mercilessly piled with junk: magazines, mail, dirty clothes, cell phone chargers, discarded plastic, etc.? I don't even know where this stuff comes from, but it somehow gets on my bed from the moment I wake up to the moment I come home in the evening. And the sheets are all bunched up, half the blanket's fallen off the bed, one pillow fell off entirely. You have to move all the stuff, find the pillow, and recreate some semblance of order before you have a place to sleep.

I can't tell you how many times I've postponed even going to bed because the prospect of dealing with my bed was so unappealing.

2. To Be Ready for Expected (or Unexpected) Guests

This is pretty self-explanatory. You never want to be in a position where you can't bring someone into your room because you're embarrassed about the state of disarray in which you last left it. Even if you're not embarrassed, well, you should be, and anyways it averts an inevitable and annoying clean-up later.

3. To Be Mindful

Mindfulness as a concept is outside the scope of this article, but all you need to know is that making your bed in the morning keeps you aware of your surroundings and gives you an easy, concrete way to have a beneficial impact on your surroundings. The mindfulness habit is huge for building inter-personal relationships and pursuing self-improvement in general.

4. To Keep Your Bed Clean

Like I mentioned above, I find a load of schmutz in my bed whenever I make it. Making it each morning gives me a chance to pick out any hair, lint, dirt, or anything else I find. I won't tell you what else I've found. OK, I will.

Boogers.

Gross, right?

5. To Help You Sleep Better

I sleep better when my bed is made. No doubt about it. I get less tangled in my sheets, the blanket is less likely to fall off in the middle of the night, etc. It's an empirical fact that I wake up less during the night if I made my bed the morning before.

How to Make Your Bed

This is up to your discretion - it's your bed after all. Part of being mindful is being aware of what your current and future needs are. For my part, I untangle the sheets and blankets and re-lay them over the bed, centering them. I pull the elastic of the bottom sheet down to make sure it won't come off in the middle of the night. I clean up any dirt in the bed. I center my pillows.

That's pretty much it. It takes a little less than a minute. Try it!

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Photo is Moraine Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Credit for this photo goes to Gorgo and Wikimedia. I took a nearly identical photo when I was there last summer, but it got corrupted as it was coming off my camera. I think I need a new camera.

Faking It: A Response

I listened to an old Freakonomics podcast about how most people "fake it," or pretend to themselves and others that they are someone they are not. Stephen Dubner gave the examples of a Jewish woman who keeps kosher but eats bacon when she's not with anyone she knows and a salesman who pretends he is a church-going Baptist when he has business in the South. Dubner begged the question, "Is it OK to act in one way and tell your family, friends, or business contacts that you act in another?"

Dubner seemed to think that "faking it" is neither a recent nor transient phenomenon. Personally, I've accepted both that the only universal constant (and I don't mean the speed of light in a vacuum) is change and that we can choose how we change. I don't disagree with Dubner, but I also don't think that past behaviors are in any way a guarantee of future behaviors.

I'm going to try to answer that bolded question above in the negative. I think it's wrong to make a habit of lying to the people whom you need to trust you most, no matter how innocuous the lie. Lying to your children about keeping kosher is hypocritical and it will come back to bite you in the butt when they inevitably find out. There will be a reckoning when those children find out their parents have raised them to live in a way they themselves could not maintain.

But that's nothing compared to lying to clients. It makes life easier when you get along with your family, but to lie on a regular basis to many clients is to set yourself up to ruin your own reputation. And a reputation is everything for a salesman.

I also think "faking it" is wrong a priori. It keeps society working in the short term, but it's not good for anyone. It rewards mediocrity, undermines trust, encourages cynicism. And it doesn't feel good to do.

How do you fake it in your own life? Does the good outweigh the bad?