Coping With Quarantine: Be Happy Now

Being stuck inside during this quarantine has been trying on my patience because I’m so used to getting out and working at the restaurant, speaking, and doing comedy, I’m ready to pull out the few hairs I have left on my head… but I’m not going to do that – it’s going to be awhile before I can get a haircut.

Being cooped up at home, I decided, “Why not do something to help others who are cooped up?” so I decided to go through some old notebooks and I found notes from the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. It’s an easy and interesting read about positive psychology – the science of happiness – and it’s the book that got me interested in becoming a speaker in the first place. (For a general idea of the topic of the book, check out Achor’s 12-minute TED Talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXy__kBVq1M)

The book begins by talking about how most people follow a formula that we learn when we’re kids, and we keep learning it in school, the media, and our workplaces.

That formula: if we work hard, we’ll become successful, and when we become successful, then we can be happy.

This formula is broken.

If you say, “If I’m successful, then I’ll be happy,” that keeps pushing our happiness further and further out when happiness and optimism actually fuel our performance and achievement. Think about it: do you do better when you’re feeling good, or when you’re stressed out, pissed off, or have coronavirus?

The formula we’re conditioned to believe is actually backwards because, it turns out, it’s happiness that leads to success. If we keep telling ourselves “I’ll be happy when…” then our happiness will always lie in the future because our brains only understand right now, which is why it’s so important to ask ourselves, “How can I be happy now?”

When I first read this, it blew my mind because it made too much sense.

What is positive psychology?

Positive psychology breaks from traditional psychology’s focus on what makes people unhappy and returning them to “normal,” while positive psychology focuses on what makes people thrive and excel. Achor refers to this as “escaping the cult of the average” because typical psychology sees average as the goal for those who fall below that curve instead of looking at those above the curve and asking:

  • “How can we raise the average?”
  • “What makes those above the average so happy and how can more people achieve    that?”
  • “How do their brains work? How do they talk to themselves?”

This spoke to me, man.

Okay, so what are the benefits?

In one study, doctors that were put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis showed almost three times more intelligence and almost three times more creativity than doctors in a neutral state. The positive doctors even made accurate diagnoses 19% faster. Who needs coronavirus tests when you have happy doctors?

Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56% – that’s pretty good.

Our brains are hardwired to perform at their best when they’re positive, and that’s because of the dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins that counteract the cortisol (the stress chemical) that limits our perspective.

The moral of the story

“Once I get out of the house, I’ll be happy.”

“When I get back to work, I’ll be happy.”

Cool, but right now, you’re not out of the house. You’re not working. Saying the above is going to make this quarantine feel like forever. Instead, move that happiness into the present and start looking for even just one thing that makes you happy right now. For example, I have food in my refrigerator, I’m grateful for that, and that gratitude makes me feel good. Saying, “I’ll be happy when…” is like saying, “I’ll be full once I eat,” when you have food right in front of you.

Take a few minutes a day and make a list of things that make you happy, so that when you do get back to work, you’ve got a mental edge and you can help bring others into that frame of mind.

Choose to be happy NOW, so start by finding things that make you happy NOW.

Comment, reach out if you have questions, and share with people you think may benefit from a happiness injection.

When It Comes to Work, Act Like a Kid

Many of my posts begin with anecdotes about how I once was reprimanded for “acting out.” Admittedly, it’s a great starting point because through this discipline, I realized many of the absurd, stuffy, and unnatural standards humans are meant to abide by. Society states that we must behave a certain way, or else we’ll be treated differently, and God forbid we let down other people’s expectations of us (insert eye roll emoji). Remember being told to “ACT YOUR AGE” as a kid? What I wouldn’t give up to be told to “ACT LIKE A KID” again. Why? Human beings have an innate desire to explore, try new things, and make discoveries, and there is no better time in our lives to do this than when we’re children. Our curiosity peaks when we’re young because the older we get, the more we are told by adults to “stop acting so childish.” The unintended result of this is that we lose our biological desire to explore for fear of consequence. This creates a pattern of stagnation that stifles our childlike wonder to a place that makes us uncomfortable with new ideas.

Regaining this quality is vital in the workplace today. With so many jobs being outsourced to machines, simply working to color inside the lines and meet quotas is becoming an outdated way to work. Modern companies need their teams to think outside of the box, but our childhood conditioning taps us on the shoulder to tell us not to rock the boat for fear of consequence, and too many people listen.

It’s up to you to make the conscious decision to revisit what makes you human. There’s a reason when you would fall as a kid, you would get back up and get right back to what you were doing – it’s our natural instinct. Now, with fear of failure instilled into our psyches by our parents, teachers, and bosses, we’re far less likely to try that new way of doing things that may be the solution to whatever challenges we’re facing. One strategy I use as a comedian to add depth to a joke is to ask myself:

  • “What would a child think about this?”
  • “What would a child do in this situation?”

I’m not advocating you act with reckless abandon and use the airplane seat in front of you as a punching bag, but I am advocating you:

  • Try one new way of doing a rote task at work this week
  • If it doesn’t work, take stock of what worked and what didn’t
  • Adapt your gameplan
  • Try the updated way of doing things

In hindsight, one of the worst things you can do is “act your age.” Because deep down, no matter how old you are, you are a child that needs to explore your world and find new ways to do things that are exciting, interesting, and fun. How can you use this natural curiosity to make your workday better?

 

Why Are We Teaching Cursive?: School Shootings and Education Overhaul

The other night, I sat down to take care of my 2019 taxes. Armed with my 2018 tax forms and an IRS-sponsored how-to as a reference, I was fairly confident I’d finish up within an hour. Four hours of frustration and stress later, I leaned back in my chair, signed the final dotted line, and sighed, “I wish we learned how to do this in school,” out loud.

Whodathunk that teaching a useful tool for adulthood at some point during elementary, middle, and high school might be a good way to spend some of that 13 years?

Filing taxes isn’t the only skill our education system can teach that would make the world a better place. Sift through Twitter, Facebook, or the comments on YouTube videos for a few minutes. Turn on the news and watch talking heads argue with one another about one person sitting in a certain white house for hours on end.

Perhaps teaching our fragile-minded youth a thing or two about skills they’ll use EVERY DAY like empathy, communication, collaboration, emotional intelligence, and creativity would do them better than learning how to classify species of primates, a skill they’ll never use… unless they become a biologist.

Imagine students graduating college and entering the workforce with the abilities to diffuse conflicts before they even start, to turn disagreement into collaboration, to share the talents they’ve been honing for over a decade in a way that contributes to society.

Or we could keep teaching them cursive.

Kids need to engage their brains, explore, and discover what they’re passionate about, and how to work with other people to share their passions. It’s silly that the system forces children to work alone on tests, projects, and various busy work, while ranking them individually. Then, once they graduate, they have to suddenly work together in groups with others who don’t think like them, and no one has the skillset to collaborate efficiently.

HOW IS NO ONE TALKING ABOUT THIS!?

In episode five of the You Can’t Laugh at That podcast, the topic of discussion is school shootings. As comedians, one of our jobs is to point out absurdities and injustices in ways that make people laugh. The fact that younger generations have to go to school worried about a potential shooting is absurd. Yet, nothing is being done about it. Sure, lawmakers are attempting to pass legislation to restrict the purchase of firearms, but an overhaul of our massively outdated education system – a system that was created to control the population during the Industrial Revolution – reaches the core (not Common Core) of the problem.

Shootings are the symptoms of a much larger problem:

  • Kids aren’t being taught actual life skills like how to get along with others who aren’t like them. They’re taught how to fall in line and fit within a societal construct.
  • Children need to collaborate, explore, and be creative, and that need is being stifled in favor of robotic, state-mandated curriculum and standardized tests.
  • Children are punished for their eccentricities and displaying their talents in ways that don’t fit an outdated system.

Do you think there’d be a school shooting problem if students actually looked forward to going to school? No one has ever said, “I love going to school!” Then proceeded to go on a shooting rampage.

What can we do? It’s not like our education system is going to be overhauled overnight. We can:

  • Push our school districts to put more money into art and mental health programs
  • Lobby for schools to push more collaborative classroom learning experiences
  • Vote the legislators out of office who support standardized testing
  • If you have children, support their creative exploration and let them make mistakes. Besides, you’ve made mistakes too. It’s okay to not know all the answers all the time, and your children need you to support them as they search for the answers to their questions. That’s the real education
  • START A CLASS THAT TEACHES KIDS HOW TO DO THEIR TAXES

It takes several small changes, starting in your home and in your community, for any real and lasting change to occur. After a quick glance at our world today, there is a deep need for growth in how we condition our children, and rather than just alleviating the symptoms, it’s time to get to the root of it all.

Also, WHY ARE WE EVEN TEACHING CURSIVE!?

You Can’t Laugh at That episode 4: School Shootings

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-4-school-shootings/id1495600197?i=1000465863089

When it Comes to Jokes, How Soon is Too Soon?

Life is full of ups and downs. Without the ebbs, we wouldn’t appreciate when things seem to be in a state of flow, and when things are down, they seem really down. In the face of tragedy and trauma, sometimes the last thing we want to do is laugh, but sometimes, that’s the jolt we need to shake ourselves out of a slump. At the end of the opening monologue for the first episode of Saturday Night Live after 9/11, executive producer Lorne Michaels asked Rudy Giuliani, “Can we be funny?” Giuliani quipped back, “Why start now?” which immediately broke the tension and heaviness that hung in the air. Collectively, it seemed as though Americans breathed a sigh of relief.

In the age of social media and constant content, when tragedy strikes, comedians, personalities, and basically anyone with access to a smart phone take to Twitter to joke about the tragedy. Many are in poor taste, many are cringeworthy, and very few actually do what the Giuliani did on that night in 2001. As he was flanked by first responders, he cut the tension with one punch line.

Which begs the question: how soon is too soon to joke about something?

The answer to this question has been debated for forever, and it can’t measured in days, months, or years. Whether a joke is too soon is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Too soon can be better measured by combination of the teller’s intent, the target audience, the trust built with that audience, the framing of the joke, and the target of the punch line. Whether you’re a comedian on stage, a random person tweeting about a tragedy, or searching for a way to console a friend or coworker, these are the question you should ask yourself:

What is the intent of your joke?

A comedian’s job is to make people laugh. Even though sometimes it may seem to be to shock, offend, or gross out an audience, the goal of these jokes is always laughter, and through a trial and error process at open mics and bar shows with very few laughs, the goal of funny is either reached, or the joke is abandoned. For me, the biggest reward of getting a laugh is the fact that I have succeeded in making a connection with others. I’ve shown them that funny does exist, even in the darkest corners of life, and that from that darkness can come release. If the goal is simply to offend, shock, or disgust, think twice about opening your mouth or hitting “send.”

Who is the audience?

If you want to make your audience laugh, you first have to know who your audience is.

One of my first speaking gigs was for a group in Richmond, Indiana. In that presentation, I had a joke about the negative spirals our brains can take us down when we’re stressed, and the joke ends with me joining a cult because “I can never turn down free Kool Aid,” which almost always gets a laugh. In this case, the audience stared back with nary a smile, and I had no idea why until we reached the Q&A portion of the program. A woman’s hand shot up in the air, and with anger in her voice, she scolded me, “Jim Jones is from Richmond. Some of us in this room lost loved ones in the Jonestown Massacre.” My face turned fruit punch red; I had no idea.

“Maybe you should do some research on your audience before making insensitive jokes.” And since then, you better believe I read the room and adjust my material accordingly before I get on stage. A few weeks ago, I spoke at a luncheon, and as the meeting was about to start, the meeting planner made me aware of a table of nuns seated in the front of the room. Instead of powering through the program, I switched out a few of the more PG-13 punchlines and had a great presentation without alienating anyone. I even snuck in a double entendre at the end that made the table of nuns double over in laughter. Why? Because before I told the joke, I asked the question:

Have you built trust with the audience?

I could spend 1000 words talking about how building trust with someone is more important than the content of your funny line, but I’ll boil it down to just a couple of points.

  • Communicate that you empathize with your audience. See where they’re coming from before you share where you’re coming from. This is vital whether you’re performing at a comedy show, or just having a 1-on-1 interaction.
  • Be sure to approach them from equal footing – if you make it seem like you’re preaching or talking down, it makes it harder for the two of you to see from the same angle.
  • Do they know you’re funny? If I’m in front of an audience, I never start with the edgy material until we’ve all shared a laugh at my own expense or at the absurdity of everyday life, so we’re now on the same page. If you barely know someone and you find out they’re going through a rough patch, even if you want to make them laugh, it’s abrasive to just introduce yourself, then go right into your jokes.

How are you framing the joke?

Again, your goal is to make your audience laugh, but the tragedy or trauma in itself isn’t funny. It rarely is, even if there is humor to be found. For example, Giuliani’s joke wouldn’t have worked if it weren’t for such a heavy tragedy. Without explicitly mentioning 9/11 in the setup or punchline, though it was implied, that way, when the punch came at the expense of Michaels and SNL, everyone exhaled deeply. More recently, Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash along with eight others. Since then, I’ve been using that tragedy as the vehicle of a joke about my mom always calling me to deliver bad news. The joke isn’t framed to make light of the tragedy, the tragedy is framed to make light of my experience of it.

Who is the target of the punchline?

The intent of the above Kobe joke is to make people laugh, I perform it in front of audiences who want to laugh, I place the joke at the end of my set so that the audience trusts that I’m funny, I use the tragedy as a vehicle to get to the punchline, and the punchline never comes at the expense of the victim. It takes the tension and releases it in a way that makes the audience feel better for having laughed. After my Aunt Kristie was killed in 2009, I was able to make light of the situation, not by making light of the tragedy or by poking fun at her, but by making light of the weird ceremonies we have to mourn the dead, by making light of the idiocy of her murderers, and about how I don’t have the tact to make people laugh in the face of tough times.

You don’t have to be a comedian to practice these tips. The next time you want to break the tension after a tough meeting, someone’s hard day, or after a tragedy, ask yourself the above questions and help make the world a better place by making one person smile at a time.

Hear more on the topic and listen to the above Kobe joke in this bonus episode of “You Can’t Laugh At That” on Spotify. If you enjoy, follow the podcast on Spotify – we post new episodes every Monday.

Thanks for reading and enjoy!

You Can’t Laugh at That Recap: Comedy and the Power of Words

Episode 2 of You Can’t Laugh at That was released yesterday, and it’s a topic that has both inspired and infuriated me for years: the power of words. Growing up, I was confused by the fact that certain words hurt others, but didn’t hurt me, and that other words have hurt me, but didn’t hurt others. Comedy legend George Carlin said it best when communicating his confusion with an arbitrary list of “bad” words: You never know what’s on the list because it’s always somebody else’s list… People’s lists even change day-to-day. 

I’ll never forget discovering my first swear words as I marched into my parents’ kitchen after a rigorous day in kindergarten. They had some friends over and I wanted to share my new vocabulary with an audience, so I put my bag on the floor, proudly proclaimed, “Fart penis!” and was whisked into the bathroom to learn what soap tasted like. Though those words aren’t considered bad by most people, that was the day I discovered there are “curse words” that you can get in trouble for saying, but also that these words aren’t cursed by everyone.

In this episode, fellow comedian Steve Mers and I invite the outspoken Dave Flynt onto the show to ask and answer the questions:

  • What even are words?
  • Why are some words offensive to some and not to others?
  • As artists and entertainers with the ability to influence, do we have a responsibility to avoid offending others?
  • How can we lessen the power of these words so that they don’t hurt anymore?

Words are…

  • Literally just noises out of your mouth that creates emotions and actions in others through their subjective understandings and interpretations of them.  Because the interpretations are subjective, a word doesn’t have the same effect on one person as it would another person hearing or seeing that word. Society is based on shared stories that bring people together, and we’re a social species, so we needed a shared method of communication, so we decided certain sounds would mean certain things, and language was formed. This caused the exponential growth of the human race, but the subjectivity of meanings can also cause disagreements and conflict.
  • Tools you can use to do whatever you want, from asking someone to grab you a beer from the fridge, to starting a movement, it all depends on who’s using the tools and what their intention is.

Some words are offensive to some and not to others because…

  • When it comes to the words we use, we have to remember that others have different life experiences, and that certain words will cause them pain when they mean nothing to the person who uses them. To paraphrase the eloquence of Flynt:”Some people have emotional stuff that makes them feel a certain way. You could be listening to a rap song called “I Fucked Your Bitch,” and if your girl cheated on you 2 weeks ago, that hurts. If you could be the dude who fucked his bitch and you listen to that song, you’re like, “I feel good.”
  • When we have a conversation, tell a joke, or write a tweet, we have to remember that other people’s feelings are at play and that we don’t share the same experiences and aren’t riding the same emotional wave they are.

As artists and entertainers with the ability to influence…

  • We have to realize that a comedy set is a roller coaster ride for the audience. If each line has the audience in stitches, those laughs will diminish as the set progresses – there has to be a natural ebb and flow.
  • We have to realize that the show can be an emotional experience for some. I once did five minutes of funeral jokes and was approached after the show by the woman who booked me that I wasn’t welcome back to present to the group because they had recently lost a member to cancer. At another presentation, I did the funeral bit with rewritten material, and afterwards, an older man who had just lost his wife to cancer shook my hand and thanked me for making it okay for him to laugh. Being wary of the potential sensitivity of the audience pushed me to be more creative in expressing myself.

We can lessen the power of words by…

  • Realizing that much of the offense comes from societal inequalities. Steve hypothesizes that if we treated everyone equally, there’s less of a reason to feel offended about something because they don’t feel like they’re being subjugated.
  • Changing the narrative behind the words to dilute their power. Since language is a manmade concept, changing language to move us forward is also a manmade process. If there’s a word that brings people pain, the question isn’t, “How can we stop using the word?” It’s going to be difficult to convince ignorant people to stop using “retarded” negatively, so changing the meaning of the word or creating a new word to describe someone who is developmentally disabled may be a better option.
  • Stopping the prohibition of certain words. Steve asks an incredibly intriguing question: “Are words like drugs where if you make them legal, they lose their power?” When we dwell on something “offensive,” we give the culprit power over our emotions. It’s not the words that cause the emotion from the listener, it’s the listener’s thoughts about what is said. In eighth grade English class, I used the word “dingus” in a sentence and the teacher and I got two completely meanings out of the word. The word “dingus” is used to refer to something whose name the speaker cannot remember, is unsure of, or is humorously or euphemistically omitting. Even after showing her this definition, she was still furious because she assumed I was referring to a penis and I was given two detentions.
  • I was totally referring to a penis.

As a comedian, your sole job above all else is to make people laugh. If you’re trying to shock, offend, or subjugate, you’re not doing your job. Remember that certain words trigger certain people, and that you can still make your point – and probably in a much more creative way – if you find a better way to communicate your ideas and what’s funny to you. As Steve puts it, “If you’re not an asshole, convince people you’re not an asshole before you say something that makes people think you’re an asshole.”

This goes for comedy and everyday life.

Listen, comment, follow, and share on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0uivwpcpfokYkTBsOKepz5?si=8CA86iyAST6Nj86Whc5T1g

or Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-2-the-power-of-words/id1495600197?i=1000463781993

You CAN Laugh At That

My last name is Horning.

That’s where it started.

With a last name like that, you naturally get picked on when you’re a kid, and I learned at a young age that because my last name was Horning, therefore, I must be “horny.”

I didn’t know what that meant.

I was in kindergarten, so there was no context for “horny.”

You don’t experience “horny” when you’re six, so I imagined a Viking helmet, a bull, or a trumpet, and I was none of those things, so I resisted the name-calling.

And instead of solving the problem, it made it worse.

And the more I resisted, the more I became an easy target.

Until one day, I decided that enough was enough.

I decided to lean into the bullies and it flipped the script completely.

They were like, “Your last name’s Horning, you must be horny,” and I was like, “I am.”

And it worked.

Because no one wants to pick on the horny kid.

The horny kid is unpredictable.

The moment I start dry humping pillows at your birthday, is the moment you stop calling me “Horny Dave.”

It solved my bullying problem.

Because if we get into a fight, I’ll defend myself, but if I get a boner and you win the fight, I win the fight.

That’s a risky proposition.

This taught me that when shit hits the fan, instead of resisting, lean into it.

Once you do that, you realize that even though you may be struggling at any given moment, there are an infinite number of other ways to examine the situation, discover new information, try something new, and overcome it.

This realization has the power to flip your mental script, not only making the shit more bearable, but making it exciting.

You can power through to the other side and do something about it because now, you see that another side exists.

When I leaned into my last name, I learned that leaning into the situation instead of pushing back took away the power that other people had over my happiness.

Leaning in and rolling with the punches life throws has gotten me through bad days, stress, anxiety, failure, heartbreak, loss, and even death (not mine).

The wave of relief that comes with the realization that there’s another side to any situation is a gift that laughing gives, and that’s why I do comedy.

It makes me feel good and I want to share that with you.

It’s why I speak.

It’s why I started a podcast.

It’s why I’m writing this.

No matter where you are and no matter what’s going on, know that somewhere, somehow, there’s something funny, and as soon as you’re ready, give yourself permission to find it and laugh.

Remember that you can laugh at that, and when you do, it makes you stronger and happier… even if you are a trumpet.

*Below is the first episode of my podcast “You Can’t Laugh at That” with fellow comedian Steve Mers. If you’re a comedian, a fan of comedy, or you’re looking for fresh perspectives on controversial or overplayed topics, there’s something for you in every episode. New episodes drop every Monday, and we dive in headfirst with our first where Steve and I break down transgender jokes, exploring what’s funny, what’s not, why, and how to find fresh angles that prove you CAN laugh at that.*

Listen here:
If you enjoy, follow on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Libsyn.
Like it on Facebook:
Follow on Twitter:
Share with your friends.
And most importantly, enjoy!

Thank you!

3 Reasons Why Leaders Should Use Humor To Unlock The Potential Of Others

Another sideways glance and furrowed brow from a presentation attendee around 25 years my senior after another presentation about how humor makes better leaders: “I get where you’re coming from, but I don’t see why I should change what I’ve always done.” I’m used to this response by now, but at first, it was hard not to snap back, “WERE YOU LISTENING AT ALL!?” Then came the realization that I was tucking a fake mustache and a papal mitre into a suitcase while this sharply dressed, more-successful-than-me executive questioned my credibility. I get it. When you picture a successful business executive, what do you see? How do they carry themselves? Dignified? With importance? Are they stern? Some Mad Men-esque Don Draper figure pops into many minds, but with a little bit of humor and a loosening of the tie, leaders can take an already successful enterprise away from renting a Bentley from Enterprise to blasting off into the cosmos on the Starship Enterprise. A little bit of humor coming from the top can unlock maximum potential in your people, and here are three reasons why:

1. Makes you more approachable

A warm smile and a hearty laugh go a long way to make you appear approachable to the people who call you “boss.” When we’re able to laugh, especially at our own mistakes, it makes you more human, thus more relatable, by communicating to those who may be too shy to come to you with ideas. I hear the platitude, “My office is always open,” from many managers, but just because it’s open, doesn’t mean people feel comfortable coming in. By having the vulnerability to be able to laugh and be open to others laughing at you it makes others actually want to see you succeed as a leader, as long as you’re open to their ideas.

2. Sparks creativity and trust

When people genuinely laugh, it’s when they’re at their most authentic, and seeing someone in a leadership position so open to being real creates a natural sense of trust.  When we trust our leaders are authentic, it gives us an intrinsic motivation to want to help them overcome challenges and difficulties or come up with new ideas. If you’ve ever had a boss you’ve loved, you know that feeling of wanting to overdeliver for them. By laughing and being real about your own mistakes, it communicates that your employees don’t have to be perfect. Think about it, would you rather be around someone minding their Ps and Qs and calculating what they’re saying or someone who is real?

3. Reduces sick days

What? How do you reduce sick days by laughing? I don’t want to dive too deep into the biology of what happens when we laugh, but at the very least, it increases blood flow, reduces muscle tension, and massages internal organs. That’s not something a chair at Brookstone or a masseuse at your local strip mall can do. All of these unintended results of laughter being a core part of work allow your employees’ blood pressure to go down so they’re feeling better, taking less time off, and working with a renewed energy.

If what you’ve been doing as a leader all of these years is working, by all means, stick with it! I’m not saying you should overhaul the way you run manage, but you should definitely find more reasons to laugh, especially if it’s at your own mistakes. We’re all human; communicate that it’s okay to be more human to your team and you’ll unlock even more of their potential than you even dreamed.

If You Have Writer’s Block, Just Start Writing

If you write creatively, you’ve experienced writer’s block.

About a week ago, I sat down to write new stand-up material and drew an absolute abyss of a blank. It got to the point where I was referring to my tweets from three years ago for new ideas. A gem like “When it comes to wearing a black belt, black shoes matter,” is NOT making into one of my sets today.

When we get writer’s block, all we tend to think about is the fact that you have writer’s block, so no wonder writing is hard.

Then comes the brilliant thought of, “I need to write something brilliant and hilarious.”

No pressure, David.

One of the biggest obstacles to writing something creative and funny is the thought, “I need to write something creative and funny,” because the first thing that we type out is going to be weighed against those lofty expectations. For this reason, the creative process is stifled, and you’ve created an uphill battle for yourself.

The last couple of months have been a bit of a letdown on what I’ve written based on my own standards, and the longer I go without writing something that gets my creative juices flowing, the higher I set my expectations. Because I’m overthinking everything so much, instead of just writing, I look at the pen and paper in front of me as an enemy, as something that has to be overcome, rather than embracing the moment and running with it.

Three nights ago, I sat down with a basic idea I’ve been kicking around in my head for a good two months, and instead of overthinking what I would write, I just started typing.

I didn’t write an outline, I didn’t demand myself to “write something hilarious,” I just started writing. At first, the act of typing inspired a starting point, but the more and more I began to give into my thoughts without judging them as good or bad, the clearer I could see the direction I was heading. Once I made it from the starting point to the conclusion of the bit, I read through what I had written, deleted what wasn’t truthful to me in the moment, rewrote some sentences that would disappoint my high school English teacher, and re-read it out loud. I had to stop a couple of times to laugh.

Success!

For two months, I had refused to elaborate on an initial idea because it wasn’t perfect, but all it took was three hours of just writing without judgment, refining what I had written, rehearsing the bit, and making final adjustments, I had a working bit.

Get out of your own head and just write. That’s it.

The only secret is to just keep writing, whether it’s a comedy bit, a blog post, a journal entry, a policy proposal, a product or marketing idea, a poem, a research paper, or a script – IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT IT IS. JUST START WRITING AND SEE WHERE IT TAKES YOU.

Creativity is messy. To strive for perfection means to judge, but judgment and creativity don’t work well together.

Remember: you can’t be creative by telling yourself to be creative. Just start writing and allow your creativity to flourish.

We’re All Irrational. Here’s Why (And How We Can Fix It):

Humans believe they are rational, when in reality, we act based off of our emotions and then rationalize our actions in hindsight.

Then we claim we’re rational.

We don’t like to “look bad” in front of other people, so we rationalize our behavior when we act in a way that may go against our beliefs, when we belittle another person, or when we get into trouble.

“I fell behind at work because my girlfriend is stressing me out.”

“I was speeding because everyone else was speeding. Besides, the police are preying on people to meet quotas. I’M THE REAL VICTIM HERE!”

“That audience wasn’t there to think, which is why they didn’t laugh. No wonder no one is happy at work, they’re all stuck in the old way of thinking.”

We’ve all looked back at something and thought along the lines of “It couldn’t have been me” or “Something else has to be at work here,” when really, we don’t want to admit that we’ve allowed our emotions to overtake us, and that’s why we acted how we did.

That’s okay! It’s human nature.

It has been wired into our brains since animals have had brains in the first place.

Fight or flight was vital for our survival, but now that we live in safe and abundant environments, our brains have kept this old technology and there’s a disconnect between our emotions and cognitive thought.

The rationalization of emotion-based irrational behavior does three things:

  1. Makes us veer toward ideas that soothe our ego
  2. Makes us look for evidence that confirms what we already want to believe
  3. Makes us see what we want to see, depending on our mood

IT MADE SENSE FOR ME TO PUNCH THAT WALL, WALK OUT OF MY JOB, AND GET IN AN ARGUMENT ABOUT THE PRESIDENT ALL WITHIN 5 MINUTES.

The key to avoid giving into the emotions that lead to doing things we regret is to take a moment and ask ourselves the question “What is objectively true?” Answer with no emotional keywords and no rationalization, just objective facts.

I had a recent presentation not go well, and at first, I rationalized why it didn’t seem to have the impact I wanted. For instance, the audience had just sat down with their lunches the moment I was getting introduced, so it was hard to connect with them since most of their focus was on their food. All of the participation bits and my jokes fell flat because of this… at least that’s what I told myself. Then I watched video of the presentation and realized that the story I was telling myself soothed my ego, was focused on evidence that confirmed my beliefs, and made me see what I wanted to see. None of this helped me other than making me feel temporarily better. However, here are the facts:

  • I gave a presentation in front of an audience of 100.
  • It was my first time giving this particular presentation.
  • I had been up until 3 AM the night before, making changes.
  • I only ran through the presentation once before actually giving it.
  • The audience didn’t laugh at my jokes or give me energy.
  • I stumbled over middle parts of my presentation, had to refer to my notes multiple times, and forgot some important points
  • The feedback I received reflected these objective facts

Allowing my emotions to dictate my perspective to make me feel better about myself made it impossible to do anything about what had happened. But looking at those objective facts showed me a clear course of action in order to continue to grow as a speaker.

With this knowledge, I gave the same presentation a month ago and have received positive feedback and inquiries about follow-up speaking gigs.

All because I chose to take a step back, admit my irrationality, and look at things as objectively as possible, I improved my long-term situation. We can use our emotions as a tool to ask ourselves “What else could be true?” and “What can I do about it?” That’s how we can bridge the gap between our lizard brain and cognitive thought.

What are the objective facts of a situation in your life that didn’t go your way? How are you rationalizing what happened? What can you do about the new facts you have in front of you?

Taking Short-Term Risks for Long-Term Reward

When competing in a comedy competition, it’s wise to use safe material, that is, material that you KNOW works with crowds of all shapes and sizes. But as a performer, sometimes hitting the same laugh lines over and over can get exhausting and feel less rewarding.

I was in a comedy competition in New York City last week, and the rules stated that if you advance to the next round, you can’t use any of the material you had already used. I have three ten-minute sets that have historically held up in front of all kinds of crowds, so I initially planned on using these three sets. But once I moved on from the first round to the semifinals and was prepared to use my second killer set, I called an audible at the last second.

I had thought of some new jokes a few days prior and was itching to try them out in front of a live audience. Sure, I knew set number two was going to work, but I had been milking that set for so long (see what I did there?), my itch to be creative won out.

I tried an entire new set in the semifinals and failed to move on to the finals.

You’re probably thinking, “What’s the point of writing a post about taking risks when the risk you took didn’t pay off?”

The point is that, sure, I suffered a short-term setback.

Sure, after opening up my set strong, the next two minutes fell painfully flat, with little to no laughter from the audience. But after lightheartedly drawing attention to this elephant in the room, the rest of the set concluded strong.

The moment I got off stage, I knew I wasn’t moving on in the contest, but it felt liberating to try out something new.

The next day, I listened back to my set, took notes, made adjustments, then worked out the material at three open mics. By the time the third one rolled around, I had a fully functional, laugh-worthy set ready to go.

It killed.

Even though I fell flat during the second round of the competition, I now have a brand new ten minute set that I can confidently take to the stage, knowing I can get laughs.

When we play it safe, eventually it becomes rote, routine, and incredibly boring, even if at one point it was rewarding. When we take risks, life becomes much more exciting, it’s just important to remember that when we fall short of our goals the first time, it isn’t the end of the world. There’s always a chance to learn, improve, and achieve that internal (and external) reward by adjusting and adapting. Don’t let taking a risk stop you when the reward can be that much greater.

What’s one risk you can take that makes you feel uncomfortable? What’s the potential long-term reward if you see it through?