One problem that all humans share is of how to face the day. As we awake, before we move any other muscles except those that govern our eyelids, we’re confronted with these questions: “What shall I do today? What MUST I do? What is my attitude toward life? Where is the ‘off’ button on that @#!!% alarm clock?!! Who is John Galt? Who kicked Nelly in the belly in the barn?”
Following are some ideas I have found helpful in meeting each of these 18-hour sessions we call life.
THE ATTACK MODE. Each day, even the best ones, brings duties, questions, dilemmas and deadlines that we must meet. One approach is to get out of bed in a fighting mood. “I will attack every headache I face today. I will demolish, outlast or outwit every enemy, foreign or domestic, that I encounter. Nothing shall daunt me. I am the master of my fate, dadlemmit!” This frame of mind will get you to at least until 10 a.m., most days, unless you have not been fired, arrested or threatened with divorce in the meantime. The attack mode can be tricky.
THE SURRENDER MODE. This is the flip side of the attack mode. All this attitude requires is your simple admission that, “Why fight life? I’m just one person. Fate controls me. I don’t have the brains or backbone to engage in the battle.” Having assumed this attitude toward each day, you just relax and let the avalanche roll over you. You address each problem as best you can, but you don’t try to carry the Atlas-like weight of the world on your back, the way the attack-mode requires.
STAY CALM AND CARRY ON. I’m told this was the motto used by the British people in World War II to buoy their spirits as the Nazis tried to bomb England back into the pre-Stonehenge era. Another version of this is to shout “Serenity now!” just as George Costanza’s father did on the “Seinfeld” show, each time tension threatened. The key to remaining calm is to remember that calmness is fifty-percent fakery. If you can speak and act calmly and quietly, even when you’re falling apart inside, people will be fooled into thinking you’re a cool dude. After an hour of this pretense, you yourself may be conned into believing it. And then you’re on your way.
THE COSMIC VIEW. I’ve never met an astronomer or astrophysicist who has any trouble coming to grips with daily demands. That’s because such people view earth, life and the entire universe from a 13-billion-year point perspective. When you spend your workweek studying a newly discovered galaxy that’s 4 million light-years distant, it’s hard to get upset at your teenaged son or daughter for not completing his/her household chores. Placing any earthly event up there on a cosmic screen tends to shrink its importance.
THE ‘‘LIVE IN THE NOW’’ APPROACH. Most of life’s pressures come from thinking about the past or worrying about the future. As each day begins, we should remind ourselves that the past and the future do not exist. They are not real, except as we allow them to occupy our memories and imagination. Okay, so what then IS real? I’ll tell you. A broken shoelace is real, especially when you’re running for the bus or trying to get your kids off to school. An overdue rent payment is real. A woman’s smile, or a beautiful sunset, is real. These and many other things have “NOW!” stamped on them. They are what we should address, not the remorse of yesterday or the fear of what tomorrow may bring.
INCREMENTAL COPING. This is one of my favorites. I always have a kitchen timer close by.
On a day when I can’t quite decide how to get going, I set the timer for one minute. Then I swing into action. In one lousy minute, I can do anything that life throws at me. When the beeper goes off, I set it to two minutes and resume life’s adventure. By the time I hit the three-minute mark, I’m really rolling. I’m half-dressed and hot coffee is in my hand. After 10 minutes of incremental coping, I no longer need the timer. I’m underway. I’ve already made half a dozen minor decisions and have begun work on several major ones.
None of these foregoing ideas is perfect, and I’m sure you may have approaches of your own that help you launch yourself off the end of your daily diving board. Please feel free to tell me about them.