The Psychology of Doing the Right Thing

Driving to work this week I was listening to the latest episode of the Bill Simmons podcast, The B.S. Report, and as usual, they were talking basketball. I’m not a huge basketball fan, but I love the commentary they provide. It’s hilarious and brilliant at the same time.

But Bill made a statement while he was talking about Kyrie Irving and his style of basketball. Now, I wasn’t really familiar with his style of play, because I don’t really follow NBA basketball.

However, his statement was this:

“There are two types of people in life: the first person says, ‘what is the best situation for the group I’m in?’ And the second person says, ‘what’s the best for me?'”

That statement really hit home for me. It’s something I wonder about my own actions often. I think maybe I’m working for the betterment of the group I’m a part of, but maybe I’m just spinning it to make it seem that way. What if I’m just working for me?

It’s a hard question to answer. Nobody wants to admit they are only working for themselves, I know I don’t. But it’s necessary to know what the real answer is. It’s the psychology of doing the right thing.

I’ve heard since I was a kid, You should always strive to do the right thing even when no one is looking. And I’ve always believed it. I’ve always tried to live up to it, but at times I wonder if I’m simply tricking myself into believing that’s what I’m doing. When really, I’m disguising selfish desires under the skin of “taking one for the team.”

The next question is natural. Anybody who’s ever reflected for ten seconds and realized they might be committing a selfish act, asks the next question: Am I a terrible person?

I think the simple answer, and the right one, is, no.

But that doesn’t mean you should ignore that voice asking you the question. I believe 99% of people wake up each day and genuinely want to do the right thing. I chose to believe that, and I’ve met people that are a little more leery. The world has given plenty of reason for those who are leery to be so, but it’s a choice.

When you wake up in the morning you have a choice to make each day. Will I do the right thing at all costs today? 

Some days the answer will be yes, and then you’ll make it to lunch and be confronted with something you aren’t sure about. You’ll make a gut decision and feel like it’s the right one, but two hours later you’ll second guess yourself.

So, how do you ensure you’re doing the right thing?

Sometimes you’ll just know. Sometimes you won’t.

Sometimes you’ll only know when you’ve had time to reflect. To look back and see what the second and third order effects were.

Life seems linear, but it’s really not. Everything connects in some form or fashion. Some events connect in bigger ways, but everything connects.

Doing the right thing is a choice you have to make. Each and every day. The choice gets easier to make the more times you make it. That works both ways. The more times you chose to do the right thing, the easier it gets. The more times you chose to be lenient the easier it gets.

Sometimes acting in your own self interest is the right thing to do. Other times altruism would be a more appropriate, and the right choice.

That’s the psychology of doing the right thing. Pretty straight-forward, right?

5 Reasons Writing is My Form of Therapy

The beginning…

When I was in high school I had a humanities teacher, Mrs. Bonds, who was rather eccentric. Often she would walk into the classroom with some ethnic dress on from either an African or European or Native American culture.

At first glance one might think she belonged in an institution. But her enthusiasm for teaching her students the wonders of culture soon overshadowed any doubts of her sanity.

As a typical teenager I didn’t buy into her methods, or really even care about her class at all, until one day.

We had been in the class for about a month and she gave us a photo project. It was due a month later (which was difficult for me at the time because I couldn’t just sit down and crank it out). We were required to pick a subject and take between 20 and 25 photos of this subject with each photo bringing a new perspective—a new purpose.

I chose staircases. 

I had always been fascinated with intricate staircases (I think this stemmed from the first time I saw the grand staircase in Titanic…) and how they served such a clear purpose but were also such a clear part of the design and beauty of any structure.

Along with the photos we had to write a poetic caption bringing out the nature of the photo.

This was my first real experience with writing for a purpose.

Sure, I’d written portfolios and what not, but I never cared about the purpose behind those. These photo captions had to capture the essence behind the photo. I understand it deeper now than I did then, but I still grasped the concept. And it was intriguing.

I took most of my photos in downtown Louisville, Kentucky while I was on a Beta Club trip. They were all taken with a disposable Kodak camera (black and white version for effect) that you had to real after each snap of the plastic button. Next I had the photos developed at a 1-hour photo booth at Walgreens (classic, I know!).

As much as I enjoyed taking the photos, I enjoyed the captions much more. I learned a lot about what it meant to provide insight into an image. And I learned a lot more about the photos after they were developed.

It was the first time I enjoyed writing.

Storyteller

Once the photo project was complete I didn’t think much about it until years later, but there was an exercise we did that I have always kept in the back of my mind.

The exercise I wish I’d have taken to heart much sooner.

We came into class on one of the last days of the school year and Mrs. Bonds had the lights turned off and a few candles lit. (I think I even remember incense burning but that could a self-edited detail.) I noticed a record player at the front of the classroom that hadn’t been there before. We all sat down and the room was oddly quiet compared to usual. Mrs. Bods was no where to be seen.

A couple of minutes pass and she walked into the room dressed as a Cherokee Tribal Leader. Feathers sticking every which way from her head. She didn’t say much, but her instructions were clear.

“I’m going to put on a record. It’s tribal music and we will listen to it one time through. About twenty minutes. I want you to take out five pieces of paper and a pencil. When the music begins I want you to start writing. Don’t think, just write. I don’t care what it’s about, I don’t care if you write the same sentence over and over again, but you will write for the entire song. Any questions?”

For the first time all year nobody said a word.

It was clear.

Just write.

Photo credit - Sarah Reid

Photo credit – Sarah Reid

So we did. I did, at least.

When the music started I closed my eyes and I couldn’t help but see this Cherokee warrior standing next to a fire. And I started writing his story. Or at least, what I thought his story might be.

I have no idea what the end result was as she didn’t give us time to read what we wrote. But I will never forget what she wrote on my paper under the numeral “100”.

You are a natural storyteller. And don’t ever forget it.

I’m not sure if I’ve never forgotten it because she told me not to, or because it’s true. I’d like to think it’s true. But she could be pretty convincing.

Whether I’m a natural storyteller or not, I do know what I got out of that exercise, and especially what I’ve gotten out of writing for the past year—

Writing is therapeutic

There are many reasons why this is true, but I’ve narrowed it down to five for you:

1. It forces you to slow down and focus on one thing.

If you sit down to write and you don’t slow down, get rid of the menial distractions such as email, facebook, texting, snapchat, or whatever, then you won’t put more than a couple sentences together. You learn really quick that writing is not a multitasking activity.

Focusing on one thing can do wonders for your psyche. It will help declutter your thoughts, allowing them to flow more clearly and thereby affording them to make more sense. More ideas and thoughts that make sense equals more ideas, equals better ideas. The best way to have great ideas is to have A LOT of ideas…

2. It allows you to flush out any negativity.

Write anything you’re thinking down on the page and get it off your chest. Hate filled rant? Paragraph full of slander? Get it out and then delete it. This option is much better than doing so face to face with someone you care about, or could impact your life.

Vent on paper, not on Facebook!

Maybe one reason girls mature faster than boys is because they are more likely to keep a diary…just a thought.

If you’ve ever done this and allowed the negativity to just flow onto the page and then discard as you should, then you know number 1 becomes true shortly after.

3. Writing doesn’t have to make sense if it’s a form of therapy.

There are 163 posts on this website, an average of about 750 word each, that’s roughly 122,000 words I’ve published. For each word published I’ve written two that I didn’t publish. This could be for many reasons, but mostly in relation to number one or number two. When you sit down to write because it makes you feel better then you don’t care about what comes out. It’s very similar to talking to yourself on a walk (which is also great) but you have less chance of looking like a crazy person if you write it down.

Sitting down to write without the pressure of having to worry about someone reading it frees you, it’s liberating, because you know that you can write whatever you want. Get it out, however you need to word it, and move on. Then you can take a deep breath, print out what you wrote, fold it up, and burn it. (This symbolizes moving forward and forgetting about your worries…)

4. Writing can transform into a hobby, a craft, an art form, and even a way of life.

It’s hard for me to rationalize that going to a therapist will become my hobby, my craft, an art form, or a way of life (not discounting that it might need to be a part of my life—I do see the benefit of talk therapy from time to time). Though, writing can become all of those things, which will only enrich it’s therapeutic value for you.

Writing is something that can transform your outlook on life. It can change the way you look at how you are living your life.

I’ve been reading Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life; it’s a memoir about how he learned to live a better story. He learned this lesson, in part, because he was asked to help adapt his previous book, Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spiritualityinto a screenplay. He learned how to apply the pieces of a good story to his personal life and not just in his writing. His writing led him to live a better story. How awesome is that?

5. It’s something you can do for the rest of your life.

There will come a time when you can’t play pick-up football. There will come a time when it’s poor judgement to try and free-climb a rock face, or bungee jump, but unless you lose your hands in a tragic accident (at which point you can still dictate your writing—probably to some robot by then—to someone or something), you can write until the day your soul leaves this your body.

Maybe you will never write a bestseller. In fact, 99% of people won’t. But that doesn’t take away the value and impact writing can have on your personal life.

Even if it’s just a one paragraph journal entry per day, I can promise you that you will gain something from developing a daily writing habit. It’s impossible not to get some sort of value out of an intentional writing habit, no matter what stage of life you are in.

So, what are you waiting for? Go write!

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My #1 Tip for Making 2015 the Best Year Ever

Money is a driving force in every person’s life whether they realize it or not. That doesn’t mean it’s the most important. It just means that almost every major decision you make will have a money factor involved.

So the famous question is, what would you do if you didn’t have to worry about money?

I know what I would do.

I’d get up, take my son to school, then write from about 9 am until noon.

Then I’d go to the golf course and play golf the rest of the afternoon.

You may not be able to decide the one thing you’d do the most, but it’s an interesting exercise.

You’re life is important. And you’re choices are important. They should not be constricted by something such as money. But they are—it’s inevitable.

So how do we get past the money factor?

You embrace the present. Carve out time for the things that bring you the most joy and find something to master.

The journey of mastering something is what brings so many people joy. A way to escape the every day hustle and bustle. It’s why there is a store called “Hobby Lobby”.

If there is nothing else you do differently in 2015, then please, find something you have a desire to master.

In 2014 I spent a significant amount of time doing the following things:

  • Woodworking
  • Video Shooting/Editing
  • Running (Marathon Training)
  • Writing
  • Golfing
  • Web Designing (Learning basic HTML)

I don’t provide you those examples because I think you should try them all, though they do all have their own appeal. I just want you to find something in 2015 that really lights your candle.

Find something you want to talk about non-stop. It truly will make 2015 your best year ever, one way or another.

Leave a comment and share what hobby you either tried in 2014 or plan to try in 2015.

 

You’re already living the dream.

Yesterday I came home from work and my wife was sitting on the couch. She looked at me and began to talk about a book discussed on NPR earlier in the day. The book apparently talks about how everyone is obsessed with building a personal brand they forget to be themselves. She couldn’t remember the name of the book.

This story hit home a little bit.

I’ve been consumed with building a brand here, at my site, and at times I’ve forgotten what the purpose is. It also got me thinking about how I have approached the last year. I spent a good amount of time running from reality.

I thought that if I spent enough time, worked hard enough, on something for the future then I would wake up in a year and realize I was on the other side.

It doesn’t work that way. Or maybe it does.

This story didn’t make me feel as if I hadn’t been myself, I feel like I’ve held true to that as much as one can. But it did make me think about life as a whole.

As I was thinking about what she had said, my wife reached into her purse and pulled out another book for me. Donald Miller’s memoir, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. 

I sat down to read it last night before bed and more than an hour passed before I realized my wife was a sleep. The book lassoed me in and didn’t look back. Donald Miller explores his success and his retraction into insecurity after that success.

He wrote a book called Blue Like Jazz and it did well. It even got made into a movie.

A Million Miles… is about his journey to understanding what life is really about, and I think that’s important. Especially at this time of year.

At the beginning of the new year people always want to dream big–I know I do. In fact, my last post was about being bold and dreaming big. Which is still important, but it’s odd how perspective can change in an instant. I guess that’s what this whole blog is about.

Dreaming big is great. Wishing you could skip to the end is not. 

It hit me today that dreaming is living the dream. Living the dream is actually achieving your goals–that’s the result.

The journey of being able to pursue something you desire IS living the dream. It’s not about what you get when you reach the end.

Not about the finish line.

You see, out lives are not about the finish line. They never have been. Our lives are about the journey. The process. The path we take on the way to the end.

Everybody can accept that they begin to die the moment they take their first breath. But yet we still seem so fixated on the end that we miss the journey.

Miller made a statement in his book that stabbed me like a knife. “You can’t remember half of your life. You can’t even remember half of half of your life.”

If we can’t remember even half of our life, then what are we supposed to talk about at the end? What are we supposed to talk about with God?

This is not meant to be a downer, it’s meant to be a shaker. Life is not about the finish line. It’s about the journey.

If your desire is to live your dream. Then open your eyes for a moment. Look around you. Think back to what happened over the last month. Write down as many memories as you can think of–right now–you can come back to this.

Once you have written down your memories think about what your dream is. What it really is. Now compare what your dream really is to the memories you wrote down. If you’re like me you want to achieve your dream so that you can do more of what you are already doing in your spare time.

  • Spend more time with my wife and kids
  • Help people overcome depression and win
  • Go on trips
  • Write because I love it
  • Play golf consistently

I have done every single one of those things in the last month.

You’re living your dream right now. You just have to recognize it. And when you do, embrace the moments where you’re right in the middle of it. It’s okay to dream big–it’s highly encouraged. But don’t mistake the dream for living the dream. If you’re not careful you’ll wake up and realize you’re on the other side.

What do you do next? Be Bold.

I have written at great length about the events of 2014 for me and my family.

Writing

Photo Credit – Denise Krebs

Writing has mostly been a form of therapy for me. A way to clear my head and maybe even help someone along the way.

When I began this journey of blogging I had already written a little over 200,000 words in the form of fiction. Since April I’ve surpassed the 500,000 word mark.

It’s a feat I’m proud of, but mostly because it means I’m over halfway to the million mark. (The point at which the experts claim it’s no longer practice :)).

But most of all I’m proud that I’ve kept it going. That I’ve been consistent with writing and moving forward.

I must take a moment to thank you and acknowledge the fact that this blog wouldn’t exist if you weren’t reading it, right here, right now. Though you are not the reason I started it, per say, YOU are the reason I keep writing. At least in this form.

2014 is a year in which I will always look back and know that my relationships flourished. My wife, most of all, who has been my rock since the day I met her, but most of all in the last year. She is the greatest woman on the planet, and I wouldn’t survive without her.

My parents, all four of them, who have been with us through thick and thin. Not asking questions when they recognized they shouldn’t and asking them when they should.

My in-laws, who have treated me as their own, and gone above and beyond to be there for us when we needed it. Even if we thought we didn’t.

My grandparents, who display more love for the people in their lives than anyone could even think possible.

Brothers, Sisters, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and Friends, you all are the most amazing people humanity has to offer—don’t ever forget it!

My son, Corbin, who is absolutely in love with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, one day I hope you read this and smile. I smile every time I think about you and you Leo mask.

Layla, you will always be the most beautiful girl I’ve ever laid my eyes on. We love you.

What does this mean for 2015?

It means a few things, but most of all that YOU can do anything. I can do anything, and I intend to do a lot.

When I look back at what has happened in 2014 I am amazed because I had very little of a plan, and even less of an idea how I would do any of it.

So for 2015, I’m going to be BOLD. I’m going to set, and have partially, some astronomical goals for this coming year. Goals that I may not reach, but it won’t stop me from doing everything I can to reach them.

Here’s just a few to give you an idea:

 

1. Get a book deal at a top 10 publisher in the country for the novel I wrote while deployed.

2. Publish my first podcast episode on January 7th (have it rise to the top 5 in it’s category—self-help—before the 20th episode).

3. Reach 30,000 monthly readers for this blog.

4. Book 5 different speaking engagements.

5. Run the New York Marathon (which was canceled this year to unforeseen military requirements).

 

Some of those are less bold than others, but you can’t deny the first one is a stretch. But I’m noting it either way.

In order to accomplish what you want you must do a minimum of two things:

1. Write your goals down in a place where you can see them.

2. Write your goals in a manner that allows you to hold yourself accountable—in short—they must be measurable. This is non-negotiable.

If you don’t do those two things it’s much less likely you will reach your goals. That’s not a put down, it’s just the way it is.

Photo Credit - Hartwig HKD

Photo Credit – Hartwig HKD

Though writing down your thoughts and your goals is crucial, there is one thing that can supersede both of my suggestions above: FEAR.

Fear will take you down quicker than anything else in this world. It manifests itself in all areas of your life.

Steven Pressfield calls it The Resistance. Which a very accurate representation.

The Resistance will provide you with every excuse imaginable to no accomplish your goals. And you will justify those excuses.

But when the day comes that you don’t give in to The Resistance—the FEAR—that is the day you will be bold, and accomplish what you want to accomplish.

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