The Scurrilous Sin of Soft Hitting

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My beloved and departed sensei Lee Sprague used to say “If you hit a man, kill him.”

If sounds macho, brutal, and unnecessary, but what he always said next demonstrates why he’s right.

“If you have to go hands-on with somebody, fight the best fight you can or he has a better chance of killing you.”

That follows, and it’s tactically sound, but still seems to fall squarely in the macho warrior thug box. But his second insight is what makes this some of the best advice in the world:

“And if you don’t feel comfortable killing the man, you shouldn’t hit him in the first place.

There’s huge wisdom in that, as applied to all endeavors. So much that Our Most Badass President ever said similar words:

The unforgivable sin is soft hitting. Do not hit at all if it can be avoided; but never hit softly.

Apply this to your writing…

If you’re going to bother writing at all, it’s a sin to write soft. Don’t write what comforts you. Don’t write what the market suggests will give you a soft life. Write what scares you, what hurts you. Write the yucky stuff that will help you grow as you pour it out onto the page with a feeling exactly like what you get when you pour alcohol on some road rash.

And don’t write just stuff from that space, but write it hard. If you have to drop an f-bomb to make it real, drop an f-bomb to make it real. If one of your characters is an ignorant hillbilly from Kentucky, don’t you dare not write the word “nigger” for fear of offending some middle-class white book reviewer. If the story calls for ugly, write the ugly and put it boldly on the page. If it calls for beautiful, write a rainbow that leaves people weeping. If it calls for staring at the abyss, stare hard until it blinks and asks you about the weather.

Write hard. Leave your reader feeling like this:

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Apply this to your life…

Same goes for your hopes and dreams. If you want to do something, do it. Don’t halfway do it. Don’t go through the motions while giving most of your attention to safe, familiar other things. Don’t wish and whine and hold back until your time and life and opportunities are all spent. Hit it hard and try to kill everything in your way just as ferociously as you would kill a human attacker that stood between you and seeing your family again.

A close friend of mine recently experienced the importance of this. Last summer, he needed to make a Big Life Change which involved having a very hard conversation with somebody he cared a lot about. He did it exactly wrong, having instead a series of soft conversations that left room for equivocation and negotiating.

Six hard months with lots of tears later, he had to have the very hard conversation anyway. The stuff that happened during those six months irrevocably (probably) destroyed that relationship. They are no longer friends, because he hit soft when hitting was necessary.

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Most of us have been there or seen it from reasonably close up. That hit should be hard, and clean, and decisive. End the fight so everybody can move on with the least amount of damage possible.

The exact same thing applies to the big things you want out of your life. You can say to yourself “I want this thing” and approach it in tiny steps that never amount to anything. Years of frustration later, you will either decide it wasn’t really for you, or decide to finally hit it hard.

Or you can decide to hit it hard from the beginning. Decide nothing in the world will get between you and this accomplishment, then map it out and work the plan you make. Ruthlessly eradicate everything in between you and that goal (including and especially your bad habits, which will amount to 80% of what’s in your way). Fucking commit to it and make it happen.

And if you’re not ready to make that kind of effort and commitment? Just like killing a man, maybe that means you shouldn’t get started on that road in the first place.

Hell Yes or Fuck No

Derek Sivers is a smart guy who recorded a video with the best message about commitments I’ve ever read: Hell Yes or No. You can watch the video, but I’ll explain it in three points.

  • You are overcommitted
  • When asked to commit to something else, check to see if you feel a physical “Hell Yes!” response in your body.
  • If you don’t, the answer is “No.”

I added the “Fuck” because to me just saying “No” to myself is hitting too softly. Whether or not you need the f-bomb in there, the point is easy to understand. Only commit to responsibilities and social engagements you’re actually excited about. The stuff you can go in whole hog on. The stuff you look forward to.

If you say yes to things you’re luke warm about, you hurt yourself by stealing time from what you value. And you hurt the person who asked you by doing something half-assed…or worse, by beginning to resent and ultimately dislike that person because of an unnecessary series of soft hits against you.

To Review

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If you’re going to write something. Write it hard.

If you want to be or do something in your life, attack that goal it with total commitment.

If you’re going to do something or help somebody, do what you can engage with passionately.

Don’t leave life just swaying against the ropes. As they say in a famous video game…finish him!

Austerities and Celebrations

Once upon a time I had an idea. 

When I say “I had an idea,” what I mean is a lot of people had ideas that got into my head and moshed around like the front quarter of the floor crowd at an Anthrax concert. After they’d bumped into each other long enough, those ideas formed a thing that was a little bit original, a lotta bit derivative, but inspiring to me.

maxresdefault (2)I called the idea “austerities and celebrations.”  It owes a lot to Dan Millman, Thich Nhat Hanh, Tom Callos and Ray Bradbury, plus NaNoWriMo and Movember. This will be my fourth year I’ve been doing them. By coincidence, the VOLT planner (called the SPARK planner last year) has a similar idea baked right into its structure and presentation. I want to challenge each of you to try these in the coming year. It works like this

Austerities

Choose a month. This month. Next month. Stop doing something for the whole month. What you stop doing really depends on your goals. You can do it to quit a habit you’ve meant to. Or to experiment with quitting a habit you’re not sure is good or bad for your life. Or to simplify your social calendar. Or anything else. A few of the things I’ve cut out during austerity months includes:

  • Drinking soda
  • Swearing
  • Answering phone calls in real time
  • Using, um, “adult” websites for recreation
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Screen time without somebody else participating with me
  • Arguing on Facebook
  • Eating fast food
  • Spending money on new durable objects

My first austerity in 2017 will be to say “no” to commitments I’m not truly excited about. I get offers literally every day, and I’ve found my family connections and work have been suffering from having too many hands on my time. I’ll be practicing “Hell yeah or no thanks.”

Some of these things I never picked back up. Others I took on because I liked my life better with them in. Others I recommenced just because the habit was stronger than the practice. The point isn’t really successfully eliminating something from your life forever. It’s getting enough distance from that thing to make an intentional, mindful decision about whether or not to welcome it back inside.

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Celebrations

This is the opposite of the austerities. Take a month and every day, do something. This can be a habit you wish you had, or something you really like but don’t usually make happen. It could be daily progress toward a goal that’s really important, or that you just keep putting off. Aim for things that make your life better, or you think might make your life better. Here are a few of the celebrations I’ve commenced over the past years:

  • Repair one small item in my house
  • Play chess with my oldest son every night
  • Write 500 words on a book project
  • Meditate for 10 minutes in the morning
  • Do the physical therapy exercises for a borked up knee
  • Run a kata from kenpo or goju shori
  • Wake up without hitting the snooze button
  • Make an unsolicited FB contact with a distant friend
  • Read a blog article about a topic I wish I knew more about

This month, my celebration is to make one step daily to get my finances in order. I’m not broke by a long stretch, but a combination of things has made my money a tangled rat’s nest. By taking one positive step forward each day, I’ll end the month with things clean and automated and simple like I like them.

As with the austerities, some celebrations became parts of my daily life. Others turned out to be less fun than I thought they would be, and are back to being just a thing I do once in a while. Others still let me cross something off my lifetime to-do list, never to enter my mind again. The point is building discipline with daily reminders to do stuff while improving the quality of my life for a month at a time.

Serenity

We Are the Sum of Our Habits

Tony Robbins says we are the average of our five closest friends. I don’t know if that’s true — the influence of parents, siblings, mentors and personal heroes has a tidal effect even if our peers are the water we swim in. But I do believe that we are the sum of our daily habits.

3f675e5e9a54b2c8846e9dbb84fc7fd7Austerities and Celebrations are a way of looking hard at habits and deciding what to do about them. As Bruce Lee famously said of Jeet Kun Do, keep what serves you and ruthlessly eradicate everything that doesn’t.

Austerities and Celebrations are a way I’ve found to really up my game in carving myself into the person I want to become. I alternate between them: celebration in January, austerity in February, celebration in March, etc.

Maybe they’ll work for you. Maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll inspire you to do something similar to (or wildly different from) what I do and make your life a whole bunch better. But if you’re looking for something to try, why not give them a shot?

Comment here or hit me up on the Facebooks and let me know how it goes.