How I Found Clarity and Enthusiasm while Floating in Darkness


I traveled to San Francisco last weekend to begin training to become a certified executive coach. After 30 hours of training in three days, I visited a spa for a massage and for my first experience “floating.”

If you’ve never seen one, a float tank looks like a giant 1970’s-era refrigerator. It’s basically a lightproof, soundproof cube that’s nearly 10 feet to a side, filled with about 18 inches of body-temperature water and nearly 800 pounds of Epsom salt to ensure effortless floatation.

Spending an hour in the float tank was simultaneously one of the strangest, most challenging and enlightening experiences of my life. It’s sort of like forced meditation, but I suspect that if a person wasn’t ready (or willing) to experience it, it could be a form of torture. While inside, there were definitely moments where my mind chewed on itself.

I came away from the experience with a renewed desire to experience a true zero-gravity environment. Also, I’m more committed than ever to avoid any course of action that contains even a tiny chance of me spending any amount of time in solitary confinement.

Each morning and evening I review my goals. I carry a piece of paper with these 13 goals written on it, and I take it with me everywhere I go. I used my time in the float tank to mentally review these goals, to visualize their accomplishment, to think about the next steps  for each one and to imagine how I will feel after they are achieved.

Immediately upon beginning to review my goals, a desire arose within me to invite Infinite Intelligence into the process. Mentally, I said something like, “I’m about to review the things that I’ve devoted my life to becoming and accomplishing. I have made this list of goals in the absence of knowing exactly what I should be doing with my time on Earth. If you want me to devote my life’s energy to anything other than the things on this list, I’m open to that. If so, please let me know.”

The hard part about talking to God (at least for me), is that it can be so hard to know when God’s talking back. I often find myself asking a question hoping for, or even expecting, a certain response, and it can be so challenging to know what the response is, or even if there is one.

As I lay there floating in darkness alone with my thoughts, hoping for some kind of answer, I felt a confirmation that the things on my list were good. I reflected that it’s not necessarily about the specific things we do anyway, it’s about how we do the things we do. That what really matters is that we act from a place of loving kindness, mindfulness, service, humility, integrity, gratitude and generosity.

I thought about the fact that each of us has unique gifts to give, and that one of the best ways to share these with others is by doing work that we truly enjoy. I’ve thought about this many times before, and I’m aware that this can sound simplistic, or even selfish. But as I explored this idea in the float tank, I had an insight that I’d never had before.

It’s that our passion and enthusiasm are gifts we can share with others over and above the objects that we’re passionate about or the results of the work we do. For example, if I love pinball, motorcycles or writing (which I do), and I share my excitement about those things with you, that excitement is distinct from and in addition to any enjoyment you might (or might) not derive from pinball or motorcycles or writing.

And if you love seventeenth century French literature or rock climbing or accounting and you share with me your passion and excitement about those things, your energy and enthusiasm will almost certainly inspire and uplift me, even if I don’t share your love for those things.

Enthusiasm makes us magnetic, especially when it’s derived from a sense of purpose— that’s often what draws us to leaders. If we aspire to lead, we might benefit from H. Jackson Brown’s advice, “Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know.” And to remember Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Finding something we’re enthusiastic about and sharing that enthusiasm blesses and elevates everyone around us. It draws people to us.

As I concluded reviewing my goals and imagining how my life will look once I accomplish them, I felt enthusiasm naturally surge inside me. Jack Canfield once told me that if you don’t wake up every morning excited about the day you’re about to live, you either don’t have enough goals, big enough goals, or the right goals. Simply having the right goals, he says, creates a positive tension within us that pulls us toward the accomplishment of those goals and naturally stimulates enthusiasm.

As I reflected on all this, a thought from the coaching training I had just completed came to mind— the idea that when we set a goal, whatever we set as our goal is not actually our goal. Our true goal is to feel whatever it is we believe we’ll feel when we reach that goal. What we originally thought was our goal is merely our strategy to achieve a feeling.

In other words, if set a goal to become a certified coach because I think it will bring a sense of accomplishment and provide me with the satisfaction that comes from having served others, I would benefit from remembering that those feelings are available to me now. And the more I consciously endeavor to experience those feelings, the more they will show up in my life.

I emerged from the float tank, showered and left the spa, and stepped onto one of San Francisco’s sidewalks. The city’s colors were richer than they’d been just a couple hours before, the air was crisper and the sounds of traffic sound were sharp and clear. I had a deepened appreciation for the privilege that being alive is, and felt a greater purpose and enthusiasm for pursuing my goals while enjoying the journey along the way.

I wished I could hold onto that clarity, but I knew that life’s realities and responsibilities would inevitably wash it away. The struggle to hold onto, or at least periodically regain as much of that clarity as possible, is part of both life’s challenge and reward. I resolved to not allow it to simply float away.


Why Living is Like Falling from an Airplane

I don’t know about you, but when I think about my life’s short remaining years, it sends my mind churning. I recently plugged my 100th birthday into a countdown timer I downloaded from the App Store and discovered that if I live that long, I have only 774 months left on Earth. It doesn’t sound like much when you put it that way.

And to reach that birthday, I’ll have to avoid major crime, accident and disease. The odds are not in my favor— I’ll feel fortunate if I manage to do it.

When I think about my remaining time on Earth, I feel like I’ve fallen from a great height, like I’m plummeting from a plane at cruising altitude. Eventually, of course, I’ll hit the ground, which means the only thing that matters is what happens before I do.

Some days time seems to have its own viscosity, a stickiness and a thickness, almost like it’s a substance that we’re swimming in. On those days, when we have a large number of very important things to accomplish, it’s like we can’t swim fast enough. (Maybe those are the days it’s particularly useful to remember the advice “Go with the flow.”)

Whenever I’m running late, even if it’s only two minutes, I think of something Werner Erhard said: “You need to master time to have any mastery in the world. The basis for mastery in the world is being able to handle time.”

When I reflect on what I want to become, accomplish and acquire with my remaining time, I feel a strong urgency to get clear about what those things are, exactly, then to get to work making those things a reality. It can be crazy difficult to know what we want, but so easy to know what we don’t want. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just try asking your spouse what they want for dinner.

Did I ever tell you about the time it took me nearly eight years to get clear about something I don’t want? I spent those years toiling in Utah’s West Desert to make my dad’s last major project, Miller Motorsports Park, successful.

I stayed for so long for two reasons: 1) My dad wanted me to— he knew it would be a great learning opportunity for me to participate in building a business literally from the ground up, (he was right); and 2) I didn’t know what else to do.

If I’m honest, there was a third reason, and it’s that there were significant aspects of it that I loved. These include working with a fun, talented and dedicated team, and the challenge of learning about every aspect of a very complex business. And I LOVE that the fans and competitors who visit the track LOVE it. After all, Miller Motorsports Park is essentially just a big playground.

Near the end of my time there, however, it became evident to me that motorsports isn’t my passion. I was expending a significant portion of my life’s energy trying to fulfill my dad’s dream. I was investing my priceless, unrecoverable remaining time on Earth doing something that someone else wanted me to. Once this feeling sank in, Tyler Durden’s words echoed in my mind every day: “This is your life, and it’s ending one second at a time.”

Someone once told me, “We wake up when we wake up.”

My awakening relative to how I want to spend my remaining years happened gradually. During my time at Miller Motorsports Park I got clear that I love helping people understand why the work they do is important, how they can have fun doing it, and how they can be the best at it.

I got clear that I love to talk about ideas, that I’m never happier than when I’m growing or serving others, and that I’m passionate about presenting to large groups of people. All of these realizations grew out of my time at the Park, and many of them specifically trace back to my time as the go-to guy who gave tours during the Park’s early years— I gave thousands of facility tours.

From my time at Miller Motorsports Park I also got clear that I want to spend the rest of my life learning, teaching, talking with people, traveling, discussing ideas and talking about the future. This clarity led me to create Miller Inspiration, a company where I am able to combine all of these passions while serving business leaders, entrepreneurs and employees of the Larry H Miller Group.

So, even though I can’t prevent my life from ending or stop my metaphorical fall, I can make the most of my time on the way down. And who knows, maybe somewhere along the way I’ll even discover that I have wings.


The Write Reasons – #01

“A man is a fool not to put everything he has, at any given moment, into what he is creating.” -Frank Herbert

I write in order to develop my powers of concentration.

Of course, each moment we’re alive presents us with an opportunity to practice developing our concentration and our ability to focus— every bite of every meal, every word of every conversation, every motion in every household chore or bit of yard work, every email written and read, every commute. Everything.

So what?

For me, it matters because I’m never happier than when I’m in a state of flow, and writing is one way I’m able to intentionally enter flow. Wikipedia explains flow as “The mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning.”

Wikipedia goes on to say, “In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task. Flow is also described as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a book about the flow state, appropriately titled Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. In it, he writes, “Contrary to what we usually believe … the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.

He goes on to say, “Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.”

Another reason to consciously develop powers of concentration is that the ability to focus is very often foundational to success. Last year I completed a training with Jack Canfield in which he shared with me that during his research for the book The Power of Focus, he and his writing partners interviewed more than 2,000 successful entrepreneurs in order to find out what made them successful.

Almost without exception, Jack and his partners found, every successful entrepreneur possesses three attributes: 1) a high degree of clarity about what they want to accomplish; 2) powerful success habits (in the form of daily routines and disciplines); 3) a high degree of focus, or concentration.

My dad certainly possessed all three of these attributes. If he was in a meeting or on a phone call, especially if he was doing a mathematical calculation in his head, it was nearly impossible to distract him. I do remember him sometimes becoming irritated by background noise, or kids playing loudly outside (of whom I was often one).

If the sound of my playing managed to penetrate his concentration he would tell me to play somewhere else or simply to be quiet, and then he would go back to concentrating. His level of concentration was extraordinary, and it was a big part of what made him successful.

For me, understanding that we can develop our ability to concentrate feels a bit like “cracking the code” of success. I mean, it’s easy to look at people who are extraordinarily successful and simply attribute their success to natural talent, sheer luck or hard work. And in many cases, of course, all three of those things are true, but it’s also true that many of those phenomenally successful people have a great capacity for concentration that they have developed consciously or otherwise. And we can do the same.

But concentration matters for another reason too. The spiritual teacher Yogananda writes, “To be able to concentrate is essential for spiritual progress; without concentration you shall never find God.”

For me, each writing session provides an opportunity to consciously slow down and deliberately attempt to fully experience the present. I endeavor to carry this mindfulness into every aspect of my life, and those ephemeral moments when I succeed in this effort are always gratifying.

It’s not always easy, but it’s a challenge worthy of a lifetime of effort. This, I think, is what author Frank Herbert recognized when he wrote the words I opened with: “A man is a fool not to put everything he has, at any given moment, into what he is creating.”

After all, our only point of power exists in the present.


I Wrote 1,711 Words before I Arrived at these 169 about ADVERSITY and ETERNITY

Overcoming adversity makes us stronger

(For reasons we may never understand in this lifetime) we CHOSE come here (we chose to be earthlings) We CHOSE to suffer

Like a knife, sorrow carves us out (like the guts of a pumpkin) That’s why sorrow often feels like a hollowness, like a cavity in our soul

In actuality, this hollowness is EXPANSION It is GROWTH Ultimately, sorrow expands our capacity to experience JOY

(Someone once told me that high highs make up for low lows)

We exist to experience JOY

And to expand the experience of JOY of others around us

I offer no evidence from my own experience to assert the truth of my words Instead, I encourage you to consider my words in light of your own experience

(I omitted periods to point to the truths: nothing ever truly ends & all we have = NOW)

I invite you to share with me your perspective


The Delicate Balance between Productivity and Play

I can’t remember the last time I read a book for pleasure. Two things have adversely impacted my ability to read strictly for enjoyment: first, earning an English degree (too much required reading to even think about reading anything for fun), and second, growing up as part of a family business where a person’s value often seems to be in direct proportion to the contribution he makes to the bottom line.

Even during my unstructured time (no such thing as “free time,” is there?) I often feel the nagging feeling that I should be doing more. I attribute much of this to growing up with an extraordinarily driven entrepreneur dad. I haven’t yet figured out how to unlearn it.   

Excluding softball, I can’t remember my dad ever playing a single game. For him, softball was much more than simply a game, or even a sport— it was a competition, something at which to win. Games, he said, were not productive.

Reading for pleasure is similarly not productive.

Last year Jack Canfield introduced me to the concept of “Free Days.” Free Days, he says, are days that each of us should take periodically— ideally once or twice a week— where we do absolutely NOTHING work-related.

In a perfect world, Free Days are also free from other responsibilities. This means that during a Free Day one should avoid reading or sending even a single email, checking voicemail, doing any work-related projects or assignments, or even reading an industry-related article, even if we find these things enjoyable.

In addition to getting a bit of distance from our work, essential to Free Days is the full and conscious engagement in things we truly enjoy. These are, of course, different for everyone, but a few of my preferred Free Day activities include getting a massage, watching a matinee, making phone calls with or going to lunch with friends I haven’t seen in a while, or simply going for a walk, making a point to bask in the sunlight.

Although the thought of “catching up” on work during a Free Day can be tempting, keeping our Free Day activities strictly to things that bring us joy ultimately helps us to perform better when we do return to work. Embedded in the word “recreate” is the notion that through this sort of pleasurable activity we re-create ourselves.

When I first began to imagine how I would spend a Free Day I thought through activities I greatly enjoy but haven’t done for a while. For one reason or another (six kids, increased responsibilities at work, duties related to becoming a bonafide adult, etc) I realized that I had stopped doing many of the things that bring me joy.

One of those things was reading for pleasure. Just thinking about spending the better part of a day reading for fun— something I hadn’t done for as long as I could remember, for at least twenty years— made me giddy.

Last week I finally decided to read Dune, the best-selling science fiction novel of all time. The book will be fifty years old next year, but reading it today you’d never know it.

It’s been on my reading list for years, along with Zorba the Greek, A Walk in the Woods, Leadership and Self-Deception and about 300 other titles that have accumulated over the last few years.  

My reading list has grown long by asking people “What’s your favorite book?” and “What are you currently reading?” If I haven’t read a person’s favorite book I’ll almost always pull out my iPhone and add it to my Amazon Wish List on the spot. I have yet to read a book that someone told me was their favorite that I didn’t also love.   

One of the things I love about science fiction is that it gives us a glimpse into the possible futures we are creating.

Frank Herbert, author of Dune, once wrote, “Humans tend not to see over a long range. Now we are required, in these generations, to have a longer range view of what we inflict on the world around us. This is where, I think, science fiction is helping. I don’t think that the mere writing of such a book as Brave New World or 1984 prevents those things which are portrayed in those books from happening. But I do think they alert us to that possibility and make that possibility less likely. They make us aware that we may be going in that direction.”

It’s apparent to me that storytelling is a way that we as human beings attempt to make sense of the universe and our place within it. It’s one way we attempt to predict, and in some cases, avert certain futures, and to preserve and understand the past. Storytelling is as fundamental to being human as is worship, commerce or agriculture.

So, productive or not, reading is essential to what it means to be a human being. Now if only I could build one of those sci-fi machines that will prevent me from aging, or that would somehow manufacture additional time so that I can read for pleasure every day, guiltlessly.


A Question You Can’t Answer

The following statement is true: The preceding statement is false.

Doubt will destroy you if you let it. Trouble is, we all doubt sometimes, and the harder we push against our doubt, the harder it pushes back. We’ve all experienced the truth of Lombardi’s words, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

Believing can be hard work.     

Some people, it seems, never believe anything, while others always believe everything. If there’s a satisfying middle ground between cynicism and blind acceptance, I haven’t found it yet. I have, however, found that doubt and belief are two sides of a coin.

Mormon scripture tells us, “It must needs be that there is an opposition in all things.” And it’s probably just as well, for as Heraclitus points out, “Opposition brings concord. Out of discord comes the fairest harmony.”

I used to keep a giant jar of peanut M&M’s in my office at work. I was drawn to it, occasionally against my will. Sometimes I would eat a handful, then promise myself that I wouldn’t have another M&M that day. Less than an hour later I’d find myself standing by the jar, M&M’s in my mouth.

I could never understand how my words and actions could be so different. I mean, I meant the promise when I made it. But life is full of paradoxes, isn’t it?

One might say that life is nothing but paradoxes, and that human beings are merely walking contradictions. It stands to reason— after all, we are eternal spiritual beings inhabiting temporary physical bodies.

F. Scott Fitzgerald tells us, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” It’s the opposing ideas, beliefs and motives that we hold subconsciously that fascinates me. We live with innumerable contradictions that we’re not often aware of.

To see what I mean, ask someone, “Do you agree that ‘A leopard can’t change its spots?’” Then ask if it’s true that “People change.”

Some of life’s paradoxes are simply amusing, like the page that actually would be empty if it weren’t for the words, “This page intentionally left blank.” Or the statement, “All things in moderation.” I wonder if that includes moderation too.

Other paradoxes are profoundly significant, like capital punishment: We kill people who kill people because killing people is wrong.

Some paradoxes are worthy of a lifetime’s effort to reconcile. I once considered tattooing each of my forearms with opposing advice: Shakespeare’s, “To thine own self be true” and the Latin maxim, “We are not born for ourselves alone.” A life well lived, I figured, must surely balance between these two.  

Other paradoxical challenges include living in the present while preparing for the future, being “In the world but not of the world,” and harmonizing head and heart, intellect and emotion.

Some paradoxes even challenge our understanding of God. For example, “Can an omnipotent being create a rock too heavy to lift?”

Such unanswerable questions resemble Zen Buddhism’s koans, which are impossible questions— almost riddles— used to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.

I attribute my inability to answer such questions largely to the feebleness of my mind, but also to the slipperiness of language and the gaps inherent in it.

Take for example the ancient philosopher Plutarch’s enigma of the Ship of Theseus. Start with a ship. Now replace any component of that ship.

It’s still the same ship, right?

Now replace EVERY component on that ship, one at a time. Once you’re done, do you still have the same ship?

To take it further, now reassemble all the pieces that you took off the original ship to form another ship.

Is that the same ship as the original?

Questions like this reinforce for me the reality that life is not like algebra class— we can’t simply flip to the back of the book and find the correct answer.

My dad used to say, “Life is simple— it’s the good guys versus the bad guys.” I, on the other hand, tend to think that life is seldom so black and white. Good people do bad things. Bad things happen to good people. Etc, etc.

Walt Whitman apparently found peace with his contradictory nature. He writes, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself.”

Another poet, Maria Rainer Rilke, offers the advice, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

I’ve noticed that my life seems to work better when I stop worrying so much about the things I can’t understand, and especially about the things that I can’t change. Particularly when I stop I trying and start allowing.

That’s the challenge I leave you with: try less, allow more. Love what is, and accept yourself, contradictions and all.