Where to begin – sheesh

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.
– Mark Twain

I’ve wanted to write this blog about masculinity, self-reliance, relationships and parenting for a long time. Starting has not been easy.

There are so many voices in the world talking about these issues that I’ve struggled to believe finding a corner to stand on my soapbox would ever be possible, let alone meaningful to anyone.

You see, I’m a touch anxious that if I start, it will be for nothing. That my words will just fade into the massive quantity of ideas that is the internet. I also struggle not to doubt that my effort won’t be exhausted without any beneficial outcome to myself or others.

Nevertheless, here I am, fighting the fear of my actions becoming insignificant, which is appropriate for my story and I hope, for yours.

And so… I will keep going because I’ve learned that though my actions may at times be or feel insignificant, I am not, and neither are you and that is precisely the crux of my mission in life – to walk a few miles of this journey together with you and share some of the hidden vistas I’ve discovered.

My road has been long and arduous at times, and I’m betting yours has been too.

Paradoxically, the the pain of the journey so far has given me plenty of insights to share with others, and the self-acceptance I’ve learned en route has paved the way for me to admit that maybe, just maybe, others like you can profit from the knowledge and wisdom gained from those experiences.

Perhaps you deeply know and trust your own significance, perhaps you don’t? I hope to experience this journey with one another regardless.

Please sign up for updates and let’s walk together.

– Sven

Do You Do Pseudo Judo? Part One: The Invitation to Grapple

“Never have a battle of wits with an unarmed person.” ― Mark Twain

I’ve often (half) jokingly remarked to Mrs. Masterson – “If you’re going to have a conversation with me, please invite me to participate!”.

As people in relationships often do, we each tend to have imaginary conversations with one another while that other person isn’t there. For me, it always seems to happen in the shower. What is it about showers that bring about imaginary conversations?

It could be pleasant in form, imaging ourselves to be saying virtuous and kind things to the other, or be as benign as “please remember to take out the trash” or “please remember to pickup my dry cleaning!”.

More often than not, it’s much more sinister and angry than that. Something more along the lines of “You never think that I’ll do the right thing” or “you’re always the first one to kick me when I’m down”.

Do you find Always and Never statements in your thoughts often? You might just be encountering “pseudo judo” grapple (I should trademark that, huh?).

That’s when I start grappling with the pseudo version of my wife that I’ve built in my mind. The longer I embrace this pseudo version of her, the more I believe it represents her true self.

Guess what, she’s doing the same thing. We both have been, for a long time.

We started building those pseudo versions of one another before we ever met. They began in the hopes, dreams and expectations formed in each of us as we grew from children to adolescents to adults.

For me, it was the dream of an adoring wife, with flowing long hair who was always eager to see me, always eager for sex, never had a sour look on her face, and always spoke in a melodic mermaid-esque voice. When I found her, I’d always be happy and always able to make her happy. Right?

For her… perhaps it was the dream of the tireless man, always preemptively addressing concerns without being asked with never even a smidgen of an angry look. Perfect in temperament, disposition, and calm. Fit as an ox, thunderous in command, and with a gaze that was unaware of other women on the planet.

When we began our relationship with one another, these thoughts matured and began to amalgamate with our real experiences with one another. They became the personification of all we believe about the other person – the good, the bad, the noble, the ugly.

If these versions of one another were always positive, there would be little reason to write about it, but they’re often negative, taking on a nefarious and damaging role in the relationship as these views of one another replace our understanding of the partners we truly possess. They are false versions of the other and incapable of producing the relationships we’ve dreamt about.

Most conflict in my relationships has been some form of pseudo judo.

Somewhere along the way, we start to respond to a suggestion or invitation about the other.

It often goes like this imaginary thought process below. See if you see the break here between the real and the invitation to believe a low regard idea:

(me, in the garage, ready to go somewhere but waiting for the Mrs.)

“Awww shoot, we’re late.”

Dammit. We’re late… again! “

She’s always late.. What gives?! She never seems to care that I asked her to be ready on time. It’s so annoying. I wish she’d just get it together already, sheesh! Doesn’t she care about what I say? How can she be so rude?”

Sound familiar?

Beyond the first sentence (fact), everything else was an invitation to experience low regard for my wife. Every single line. This is the basis for most pseudo judo – the invitation or suggestion to take a grappling stance.

Why does it happen? Because I didn’t consider if the suggestion behind all the other thoughts was true.

In reality, my wife may have been late because of her own dialog as she’s getting ready. See if you can notice the break between truth and suggestion here:

“Hmmm, I’d really like to look nice tonight. I really like this green dress but I feel like it makes my hips look big. Sigh… my hips always look big. No matter what I do, I just can’t seem to get back to my pre-baby body!”

I guess I’m just getting old. I’ll never be beautiful again. I don’t know why Sven stays with me, I’m not very beautiful. He’s probably just biding his time hoping for someone else. Sigh. I guess I’ll just try another. Arggh! I’m late! He’s going to be so angry with me. He’s always angry with me!”

All the injurious things we’ve hurled at one another have been hurled at the pseudo version of the person we’ve grown to believe the other person is. These suggestions and invitations to believe the worst about one another are insidious and are the basis of low regard which is cancerous to a relationship and to people.

Instead of conflict between two real people, we’ve been mistakingly attacking the imaginary version of one another we’ve formulated based on these suggestions. We believe their intention to be bad when often it’s good!

Once we take that bait, now we’ve provided the basis for confirming the bias of our negative thinking. This is truly a sinister outcome, often giving rise to the person resigning themselves to take on the horrible things others believe about them.

Low regard builds and with it, the likelihood of ending the relationship.

Is there hope? Can anything be done?

Stay tuned for Part 2.

(please share your comments and questions below and be sure to signup for updates!)

South of the Border

If you’ve ever traveled in the Eastern United States, especially on Route 95, south of Washington D.C., you will immediately recognize this image. There are some 250 billboards for South of the Border stretching from New Jersey to Florida. You can’t make that drive without seeing these.

However, if one gives sufficient attention to the sheer number of billboards and considered the effort and expense to erect all the advertising, they’d expect it was the Taj Mahal.

In reality, South of the Border is little more than a faux-Mexican themed rest stop.

Good marketers know how to take advantage of the human mind. Specifically how to activate the “RAS” – the Reticular Activating System. It’s the part of the brain where we notice patterns and frequency. If enough attention is given to a pattern, we dedicate more “brainwidth” to it in our thinking and find more of the pattern.

This is why even 20 miles after passing a South of the Border sign, I’m still cursing them – because I find myself looking for the next billboard.

So… back to south of the border…

In my life, I experience many thoughts in my waking hours – some are helpful, some aren’t. I treat all of them as similar to billboards. Some I don’t even notice. Some I notice briefly. Some interest me, some disgust me, and some are so repetitious they downright anger and annoy me.

If the message on the billboard matches a need or contributes something to my life, I’ll give it more attention. If it doesn’t, I really try to let it disappear in the rearview mirror.

Sometimes some of those thoughts coming at me are akin to South of the Border billboards – loud and full of unhelpful and annoying content – and all at a staggering frequency.

As annoying as those thoughts can be, one thing I’ve learned is that just like I am not obligated to respond and stop in South Carolina at South of the Border, I’m also not obligated to respond or give more attention to the thoughts that enter my mind.

I may have been seeing South of the Border billboards for the last 500 miles but I can choose not to stop there.

Likewise, I am not obligated to accept a thought as true just because it’s passing through my mind quite regularly. It makes it no more true.
One of the most effective ways I’ve found to reduce the annoyance of all this is to simply pick something more exciting to occupy my brain with.
When on 95, that can be striking up a deep conversation with the people around me or losing myself in songs I enjoy.

In my thought life it can be things for which I’m grateful, or building a list of the praiseworthy attributes of others.

Both of these allow these “billboards” to pass by with less notice until I don’t even see them anymore.

It’s up to me. I get to decide what I accept, focus on, believe and act upon.