noun. An American rock band formed in 1973 and known for their stage antics including breathing fire, spitting blood, and breaking guitars.
It was a glorious day in fifth grade when the news reached Lubbock by telegraph, or maybe Pony Express: KISS was coming to town. I rushed home to tell my Mom the great news, after which she proceeded to ask a lot of really pointless questions, and it became abundantly clear she was not really getting it. In fact, she seemed strangely uncertain about an eleven year old attending this amazing, once in a lifetime, must-see event, so I pointed out the obvious: “Everybody’s going,” which led to this insane inquiry: “Like who?”
Really? Seriously? Who asks a question like that? IT. WAS. KISS, and this was the year before the whole Satanism thing, so who cares who everybody was, since they were all going and clearly I should join them. When pressed, I eventually admitted that I only knew of two boys whose parents had actually okayed the outing, including Dan, who had previously boasted at school that his father ran Lubbock’s “only topless, bottomless night club.” Seriously.
I heard later that it was a really good show. KISS, not the night club.
acronym. Short for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”
I am a huge fan of simplicity. As someone with a limited number of words to use each day before I have to shut down, I try to expend as few as possible. I often force my students to respond to essay items “OSOL,” which they can tell you means “One Sentence or Less.” I believe that simple solutions are usually preferable to seemingly superior, but far more complex ones. I like this old adage…
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
…and I have come to love the approach to life that says, “Owning one car (with some occasional inconveniences) is far superior to owning two cars” and “You can travel virtually anywhere on the globe, for almost any length of time, with only one suitcase.”
I think God leans toward simplicity, maybe because he knows we’re not always that sharp, but also since he knows that whatever he gives us, we will feel compelled to complicate and expand on, because we have so much to add to what he says. The Ten Commandments are a great example of simplicity, covering how you treat God and how you live with people, all in a set you can count on two hands. And after that list had been expanded somewhat, a little by God himself and a whole lot more by scholars and teachers, Jesus showed up and reeled it back again to just two: Love God and love other people, and we have been expanding and overcomplicating it ever since.
So here are some insights on how to follow a “simple” strategy to “Win” at the game of life, courtesy of Mark Manson, who writes some cool stuff using some extremely ‘colorful’ language. Probably the kind I could have heard at the KISS concert if I had been allowed to go. Still angry about that. Also I don’t think Mark is related to either Charles Manson or Marilyn Manson, either of whom would have been right at home at that concert that I was unfairly deprived of attending.
Manson sees life as a game, where completing each level lets you move to the next one. The more levels you complete, the nicer your funeral (he says this but I seriously doubt it).
Level 1: food, shelter, etc.
Level 2: safety (no risk of imminent death or dismemberment)
Level 3: connections (people you love and who love you)
Level 4: learn to do something that actually matters to the world beyond just paying your cable bill
Level 5: live so that your life actually matters now, and hopefully matters after you are gone
I’m pretty comfortable paraphrasing his work for you here, because as I read it, I realized I had seen it before. If you took an Intro Psych class, you may remember the third most famous pyramid in history (the first is in Egypt, and the second was a game show hosted by Dick Clark, Bill Cullen, John Davidson, and (amazingly) Donny Osmond). It looks like this:
Maslow famously said that you start at the bottom, meeting needs as you move up, then focusing on the next set, and while Maslow’s specifics may differ slightly toward the top, the concept is identical to Manson’s. Maslow also said that few people actually make it to the top, because they get bogged down during the climb.
Here’s where Manson really makes his contribution: his ‘rules’ for life.
- Life is designed to send unexpected problems your way. He says this is actually good, because problems keep us occupied and give us purpose, and he claims that if we don’t have problems or challenges, we will invent our own. Think ‘first world problems’ here.*
Key quote: “the purpose of life is not to control what happens to you, but rather to control and choose higher level reactions to what happens to you.”
- Every problem can be responded to in two ways: solutions or distractions. Solutions are what they sound like, and distractions are things like Netflix on the night before a critical final exam, or going shopping or watching a game instead of talking to your spouse or house-hunting on Zillow instead of cleaning the house you live in. Distractions dull the distress, but don’t help (and often hurt).
- The more you use one solution, the easier it becomes to use it again. These responses become habitual, and you either strengthen your mental muscles to address issues as they arrive, or you hone your skills at diversion and self-distraction. What you choose to do today impacts what you will choose to do tomorrow. We sometimes call these ‘habits’ and some are good and some are not.
- Solutions move you toward the next level, but distractions bog you down where you are. In other words if you ignore the problems or push them off until tomorrow, guess what you will be doing tomorrow? Odds are you will be looking for a new excuse to ignore the same problems you have today, and so forth, and so forth. Game over.
By the way, those unaddressed issues in your life actually suck energy from you even as they go unaddressed. Your brain has a limited amount of attention and energy to expend each day, and every time you look at that nagging email in your inbox, you expend a little more of it, with nothing to show for your investment. In more concrete terms, every time you pass by the delicious snacks in the break room, you mind has to decide again whether you want one, and the more times you decide, the more likely you become to give in and dig in.
To wrap all this up, excuses are exhausting and distractions are ultimately demoralizing. Habits are formed one decision at a time, and eventually become painfully hard to break. The simplest way to get your life ‘rolling’ again is probably to have a hard conversation with yourself about the issues that you have been ignoring or avoiding. Very few things feel better than finally addressing something that has hounded you for months or years or decades. The bad news is that this kind of change is hard. The good news is that it’s entirely in your hands; you just have to decide whether you are ready to play the game or not. Simple, right?
*Several fine examples of first world problems.
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