Let me tell you what cooking, dating, sports, and study have in common. In two words: moderate extremes.
Chicken noodle soup without salt. Pepper, cumin, and other spices are missing.
That’s not soup. That’s meat with water.
I came over for dinner and that’s the way she cooked it. It was bland.
“Don’t you taste your food while you’re making it?”
“I didn’t know you were supposed to taste it while cooking.” she answered.
How do you not taste something while cooking? Without a pinch of spices, food is bland. If you overdo spices, it’s overpowering. Your mouth wants to feel one and the other at the same time. In between bland and spicy is the comfortable middle ground of good taste.
Noodle chicken soup is one of my favorite dishes. The spices either make or break the soup. The secret is in the punchy spices including oil, salt, pepper, dill weed, and cumin seeds.
I’m on the freeway listening to Omar Khayyam’s poems. He mentions the importance of feeling all kinds of emotions but in moderation. Omar was a polymath who specialized in many fields before he died in 1131. He was a scholar, philosopher, astronomer, mathematician and a poet.
This is not a man sitting in his room bored and complaining.
So how do Omar and our noodle soup connect to healthy emotions?
I notice problems happen when I force myself to hold on to a feeling. Instead of allowing a feeling to come and go, I’ll force it to stay.
That’s not how nature works. Day turns to night. Earth revolves around the sun. Tides go in and go out. Winter is followed by spring. An outdoor plant is way more resilient than the indoor plant as it has to handle sun, wind, and temperature changes. The outdoor plant can’t put on a jacket. Either it’s tempered by changing weather or it dies.
I can’t force myself to hold on to a feeling in a changing world. When I do that, I’m working against nature.
Here’s how I visualize it. You have a baseline where you feel emotionally healthy. You‘re hit with feelings of wins and losses every week. If you’re around that baseline, that first drop won’t feel so bad.
What if you force yourself to hang on to the feeling of winning for a long time and then drop down to the baseline? It hurts. It psychologically hurts like hell.
I’m saying that it’s better to experience loss and gain on a weekly basis so that when either strikes at any point, you’re ready for it psychologically.
Best Date Ever
David lived through a heart bypass surgery, wasn’t in the best shape, but was confident as hell with women over the years. When you see him, you ask how the hell did he land her?
He wasn’t afraid to make moves knowing that out of 10 women, at least one was his.
10% success and 90% failure is better than: “I’m going to stay home and watch TV with a ZERO percent chance”.
He told me something so profound that I didn’t understand it for a couple of years:
After you’re feeling so happy with the person (the 10% success) you just went out with. After you tell yourself that this was the best date you’ve ever had, I want you to kick your own ass. — David
I thought he was spewing random words out of his mouth. Why not stay super happy in the moment? David knew that the euphoria will soon pass and you won’t be prepared to go down to your equilibrium. You’ll be broken for a couple of days.
The man thrived on feeling rejections now and then. They made it easier to return back to baseline.
Sports — Chess
Back in 5th grade, I was learning chess. I got the rules down but I couldn’t SEE the board.
To be good at any sport, you have to SEE the field subconsciously. I wasn’t there yet. I saw figures and different colored squares instead of a battlefield with soldiers.
I’d play with people of the same or lesser skills than I did. I felt great when I won. Then came a time when I’d have to play stronger opponents. First loss, second loss, third loss and a grim reality set in.
My eyes teared up because I wasn’t the king of the hill as I previously imagined. There were other guys that were better. That was a bitter pill to swallow. Dropping down to the baseline was uncomfortable.
I’m not the exception.
Same thing happens to professional sports players. Take a talented player that’s really good at what he does. He’s not used to losing. When a loss happens, it’s a hard path back to baseline because he hasn’t prepared himself for losing WHILE he was winning.
I learned about the idea of preparing yourself for loss from the MMA fighter Fedor Emelianenko.
The fragile straight-A student
I busted my butt back in High School. High School wasn’t easy, and neither was University study. Straight A student? No.
I had my minor share of C’s and even a D (my physics comeback). My baseline was around B’s and the extremes were A’s and C’s.
Joe was in my class and he had a skilled memory. He’d sit in the front row and soaked up the knowledge without writing anything down. The guy had top grades in most of his classes. He was an anomaly. High school was a breeze to him.
“How the hell do you remember all this?” I asked.
“Nikita, you worry too much. How do you remember to put your shoes on in the morning?”
Thanks for the enlightenment, Joe.
Fast forward to my university days at The Colorado School of Mines. This is where I realized the importance of feeling wins and losses.
The first 2 years are weed out years. Long study hours, complicated engineering material, and not enough time to soak it all in. To me, it wasn’t too far from the High School experience. It was tough but doable.
Joe on the other hand and several people like him that breezed through high school on talent were hit hard emotionally. It was inevitable to get lower grades because of time constraints. He hadn’t experienced this yet. He had a long streak of A’s and to suddenly see a C was a slap in the face. It was sitting in the front row of a baseball game and getting hit with a foul ball in the chest. Unexpected.
I knew 3 guys that transferred out of Mines the first year. They were star high school students. It wasn’t their faults except that they didn’t experience academic loss in high school. When loss hit, it was overwhelming. They couldn’t return to their psychological baseline.
Those older folks that kept saying perseverance beats out talent in the long run might have a point. With perseverance, you have the energy to stay in the game. The guy with talent will be better than you but he’ll fold quickly at a loss. You’ll suck more, and just like a casino, you know the odds are in your favor if you’re willing to feel and handle the extremes of highs and lows.
Practice losing weekly
Even though I’d rather feel good all the time, I know that it’s too dangerous. Little things such as putting a stain on your clothes, losing a watch, getting an unexpected bill will feel harsh if you’re trying to ride high on life.
I bet you have a friend that gets worked up with road rage because that Chevy in front is going too slow. What about crawling 5 mph in a jam? The doctor’s appointment was rescheduled?
Thousands of people today will hear their doctor’s tell them “you have cancer”. A mother today will hear the words that he didn’t make it. Some poor guy is run over. All these people won’t give a crap about traffic, nor an expected bill. Their baselines are suddenly much more resilient than yours or mine.
That’s the resilience we have to strive to build without exposing ourselves to serious physical danger.
I take cold showers for this very reason as it exposes me to an uncomfortable feeling. It keeps me closer to equilibrium.
I still don’t enjoy losing, but I make it into a meditative practice. When playing bowling, pool, or soccer, I quietly watch my emotions. I try not to allow winning nor losing take me far away from the baseline. It’s good practice for when real life events hit the fan.