One night I was watching my favorite television show, Modern Family, when I heard a line so funny that I’m still laughing.
The daughter, attending a hi-tech college, said some genius students in a lab taught a monkey to play the saxophone.
She added, “We don’t know if the monkey is any good because all he plays is jazz.”
The joke reminded me of one of the principles in life I live by.
In short, beware of invisible monkeys.
I don’t mean monkeys in the world or in the zoo.
I don’t mean monkeys in science fiction or on television shows.
I mean monkeys in terms of what people try to pass to you when you aren’t alert or looking.
While the phrase “monkey on my back” refers to drug addiction, it’s also relevant in another way.
Let me explain:
Years ago I was reading the book Tell to Win by Peter Guber when he told a story I never forgot.
Guber was working with and for Jack Warner, the legendary founder of Warner Brothers, and complaining to the giant that all people did was bring him problems.
Warner gave him advice neither he or I have ever forgotten:
“You’re the zookeeper, and every single person that comes in the office comes with a monkey. That monkey is their problem. They’re trying to leave it with you. Your job is to discover where the monkey is. They’ll hide it, or dress it up, but remember you’re the zookeeper…Think of that visually. Make them all take their monkey problems away and come back with a solution.”
I love that.
I became more aware of all the people who write, call, email, visit or want to see me – and the invisible “monkeys” they try to leave with me.
They want me to solve their problem, finish their business, handle their challenges, or in some other way do something for them that they themselves can’t or won’t do.
In short, they are trying to pass off a monkey.
It’s the same for you.
People often call you, visit you, ask to meet with you, to do one thing: give their monkey to you.
If it’s your job to accept monkeys, so be it.
But most of the time the “monkeys” we get offered are simply other people’s problems. They are trying to get us to fix them. So they come to us to “drop off” their monkey.
I don’t argue that sometimes people need help. Lord knows I’ve been there.
But way too often people are shirking their own duties and responsibilities and passing their invisible monkey to you, hoping you will deal with it.
You then have the proverbial “monkey on your back.”
The way around this is to be alert.
Watch for the invisible monkey.
It may be disguised as a compliment, or a gift.
It may be called a domesticated monkey who won’t be a real problem and they are asking you to care for it.
It may be presented as something good or good for you.
As long as you can see the monkey, and know it is being offered to you and you don’t have to accept it, then you are at choice.
You are free to accept the monkey or return it to its current owner for them to deal with.
You are then monkey proof.
I wrote a song on my last singer-songwriter album that conveys this message.
“The Hook” is a reminder to not take the “monkey/hook” that is offered to you throughout the day.
Someone says something mean and your tendency will be to “take the hook” and get mad.
Someone pulls out in front of you in traffic and you’ll be tempted to react to “the hook” and do or say something nasty.
But you don’t have to take the hook or the monkey.
As long as you are aware, you can stay neutral.
You can remain at peace.
I love monkeys, I just don’t want one on my back – even if he can play the saxophone.
I’ll be 62 years old (young) at the end of this month.
While that means I’m a member of AARP, I can get discounts at certain stores, and my remaining hair is turning gray, it doesn’t mean that I have stopped growing.
In fact, I’m aging backwards.
In the last year alone I —
— attended a strongman training and bent a horseshoe, a steel bar, and a nail, all with my bare hands, and drove a spike through a board with my fist. I was the oldest person in the room, even older than the instructor, and probably the most inexperienced when it comes to feats of strength. But I attended anyway. I learned a lot, too, including the fact that virtually “Nothing is impossible.”
— attended an advanced guitar camp with legendary player Tommy Emmanuel. I was one of the oldest in the room, was surrounded by players far more advanced than me – including a 14 year old girl who dazzled everyone with her skills – but I attended anyway.
— attended an online class to learn how to play the baritone saxophone, wrote an article about playing for a sax mag, recorded an entire album of saxophone music, hired Grammy nominated sax sensation Mindi Abair to perform for me and tutor me, and more.
— discovered a synthophone — an alto sax turned into a midi instrument — and bought one and learned how to play it, using it to help make another healing music audio with Guitar Monk Mathew Dixon, called The Enlightenment Audio.
– went into the studio with one of my favorite singers in the entire world – Grammy nominated Ruthie Foster – and producer Daniel Barrett and created an album called Stretch! with me writing lyrics, playing baritone saxophone, and singing with Ruthie. Talk about a stretch! But I did it.
— traveled to Kuwait to speak to people interested in self-improvement and curious about positive psychology, but also traveled to numerous domestic spots, as well, including to one where we discussed my having my own television show in 2016.
— despite having written more books than most people read in their entire lifetime, I released several more, including the best selling The Secret Prayer and volume 3 of The Miracles Manual. And I just signed a publishing deal for my next book, coming out April 2016.
— and even though I’m an author of books designed to help people, I’m still buying and reading other people’s self-help books, too. I’m always searching for new authors, new voices, new books, new material, to help me expand my thinking and my life.
Why do I continue to invest in courses, books, audios, coaching, classes and more?
Why am I continuing to do this as I turn 62?
Because I’m still learning, growing, improving, stretching and discovering myself.
Because I don’t know it all and am eager to discover more about myself and life.
Because as long as I keep moving forward, they won’t throw dirt on my face.
I have no idea your age, and it doesn’t really matter.
My father is 90 and still enthusiastic about life.
He gets up earlier than you or me or the sun every morning and wallops a standing dummy five hundred times.
And that’s before he does light weight lifting, walking, and other exercise – with a hernia.
Actor Dick Van Dyke is 90 and still dancing.
Turn on the right music and he’ll start free styling it without a word or a prompt but with a gigantic bright smile on his happy face.
I’m sure you are younger than 90.
I’m reminding you to think big, do big, and move forward in big ways, no matter what your age.
Or, drop the “big” and just think, do, and move.
“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” ― Sophia Loren
It’s the end of this year.
The new one is firing up.
Ready or not, here it comes.
What would you like to accomplish in 2016?
You can begin right now by signing up for a course, or a class, or coaching.
The idea is to joyfully experience life.
It’ll keep you young, bright, happy and healthy.
“You’re never too old to become younger.” – Mae West
And isn’t that what life is all about?
Happy Birthday to me.
Happy New Year to you.
Let’s make this new one rock.
PS — Consider my father. He’s 90 years old. He still gets up every morning and works out for two hours. He also is the primary caregiver of my ailing, bedridden mother. And, at 90, my father became an author. His book, The Most Contented Man, is on Amazon. He’s starting another book. He’s ninety. I’m sixty-two. Do you really have any excuses not to stretch and grow, learn and do?
Well, I did it again.
I wrote about attracting Grammy nominated saxophone sensation Mindi Abair last November.
I attracted her again the other night.
While Mindi performs with the legends – from Aerosmith to Bruce Springsteen – and is a legend herself, she rarely if ever performs private acoustic house concerts.
She’s done it twice now for me and my friends.
And we all love her.
I can’t say enough good things about Mindi.
Not only is she beautiful and mega talented, but a warm, loving, fun, generous person, as well.
Her seventh solo CD, Wild Heart, debuted at #1 on the Billboard Jazz chart and was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Contemporary Instrumental Album category. Featuring special guests such as Gregg Allman, Joe Perry, Max Weinberg, Booker T. Jones and Waddy Wachtel, Wild Heart is my favorite of all her albums (so far).
She played tracks from the recent album: raw, acoustic, and steaming with emotion. And she and her keyboard player, Dave Yaden, a Grammy winning songwriter, hung with us for almost six hours.
They didn’t have to.
They wanted to.
And everyone was amazed, happy and grateful.
A highlight for me was having Mindi teach me how to control my breathing for better saxophone playing.
The basic idea is to make a slip of paper stay stuck to a wall by focusing your breath a few inches away and keeping the air flow out steady, so the paper doesn’t fall. (You can watch that lesson at http://youtu.be/LQDUS9tFbAk)
Another highlight was Mindi sitting on my lap, swooning to the thought of my own saxophone album, Afflatus.
And both Mindi and Dave answered our questions, which was remarkable and educational, as they openly discussed music, improvisation, and breathing, to where to get hot pants and sexy boots. We also learned about hack-sawing a mouthpiece to get it in tune, the musician’s crush, and more.
As in the last private concert, Mindi introduced each song with a story behind it, which brought the songs to life in a more intimate way.
A poignant story was about Mindi’s sax, which was stolen last January.
She had a custom made alto saxophone which was her baby, her pride and joy, and her workhorse. She took it everywhere, used it daily, and relied on it for her income.
It was stolen out of her car.
While she was devastated, it turned into something great, as she attracted a new Yamaha Custom Z alto sax and her own signature Theo Wanne mouthpiece.
While the theft was not perceived as good at the time, she later saw it as the Universe kicking her into her next growth spurt.
As she put it, she was an instant Buddhist – learning non-attachment on the spot.
I love this woman.
To nourish us all, Nerissa made pizza and brownies from the grain-free, gluten-free, all natural recipes in her bestselling cookbook, Bread-Free Bread.
All in all, another unforgettable evening with the astonishing Mindi Abair.
Please go get her albums and enjoy this terrific woman’s gifts.
Her site is right here.
PS – You can see the first private house concert with Mindi Abair (and guitarist Randy Jacobs) online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEZahXwrTeQ
NOTE: Just a friendly reminder: you can still pre-order my fifth singer-songwriter album — the one where the songs are like 3-minute self-help books — and with Grammy nominated singer Ruthie Foster on one steamy track — at a dramatic discount at One More Day: Life Lessons in Hypnotic Song. This will be a limited edition collectible booklet and CD package. You’ll want it. I’m no Mindi Abair, but I also play sax on the album.
Bob Bly inspired me to become a copywriter back in the late 1980s.
His books, such as The Copywriter’s Handbook, always informed me in a practical way. I began my business career as a copywriter in Houston because of him. He occasionally wrote me snail mail letters of encouragement. I stay in touch with him, too.
Today he is the author of 85 books.
I remember he once said he felt like he hadn’t produced much – that was back when he had “only” written fifty books – because he knew Isaac Asimov had written or edited more than five hundred books.
Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?
I’m running as fast as I can to catch up with Bly and Isimov.
Right now I have about fifty books out, am working on two books, editing an autobiography from my father, completing three music albums, working on new presentations for mega-talks I am giving this year around the world, developing a new process for faster attracting, practicing my saxophone, the guitar, and the synthophone, reading more books a week than most people do in a lifetime, and of course still maintaining my fitness program, writing these blog posts, handling social media, promoting my past projects (which is a giant catalog), helping my Miracles Coaches, and more. (And, of course, keeping my relationships alive and well.)
Some say I’m a “force of nature.”
Others say I should switch to decaf. 🙂
Why so much productivity?
What drives a man like Bob Bly or me? What drove Asimov?
An answer is in the new book, Create or Die: A Manifesto for Fearless Creators Everywhere, by Morgan Giddings, PhD.
Her basic premise is that unless you keep creating, you begin to die.
Life is designed to urge you to create, to move forward, to constantly expand, grow, develop, change and challenge.
In fact, challenging yourself is one of the best ways to maintain the exuberance of life.
According to Dr. Giddings, you don’t have a real choice.
Yes, you can decide to “do nothing” but life itself, being the great creative force it is, will move you off your bed if it has to get others to move you and it out the door.
And yes, as Asimov proves, you can create and still die.
But real living comes from persistent creating.
It’s not about the end result – as that will change again in time – but about creating.
There isn’t a “finish line” or even a “perfect” solution.
There will always be something else to create. Another problem to solve.
Life is about creativity. Period.
All of the problems in your personal life – and on the planet – can be resolved with creativity.
Whether oil shortage or climate change or anything else you are worried about, there is an answer, and that answer will come from creativity.
New problems will occur, but that’s just the nature of life’s ever expansion.
And that’s an opportunity for more creativity.
The wise approach is to challenge yourself by choosing your creative projects.
Let your passion lead the way.
Let your enthusiasm for an idea burn bright in your life.
One of my favorite sections in Dr. Giddings’ book is where she reveals the formula for attracting money.
It goes like this:
1. Use your creativity to create something of great value.
2. Use your creativity to effectively communicate the value of your invention, product, or service to others (market it).
She says everything else is just “playing the lottery.”
She also points out that you need a clear idea of what you want money for, and you need to be clear of any limiting beliefs about money, in order to actually have her formula work.
She writes, “Though a surface-level desire for money exists, it gets distorted and watered down by all these other beliefs that are floating around contradicting it. The contradictory beliefs dilute the singular focus that’s necessary for the kind of creative action that leads to results.”
I’m not sure what Bob Bly would say, and the late Asimov is no longer talking or writing, but in my own case, I am driven by the need to communicate what I am excited about.
It’s not about money – it’s about passion.
Money becomes the pleasant side effect of creating value and sharing it with the world in creative ways.
I am driven to create by the impulse of creativity itself.
My hunch is that everyone has this impulse — yes, even you — but most people are pros at rationalizing why they shouldn’t create.
Excuses are easy.
Wimping out is easy.
Just coasting is easy.
The challenge – and the voltage of life itself – comes from creating.
Ray Bradbury, the legendary sci-fi writer who wrote classic books and unforgettable stories – who wrote every day of his life – once said in an interview:
“There’s an Egyptian myth I heard about years ago that when you die as an Egyptian and you go off to visit the gods the first question asked of you at the gates of heaven is ‘Did you have enthusiasm?’ And if you answer negatively you don’t get in. My response to everything in life that I really loved has been enthusiasm.”
You most likely have a desire to create something.
A book, song, movie, business, product.
I have no idea what your secret creative urge might be.
But you do.
Dr. Giddings is giving you a wake up call.
Either create – or die.
And ignore the skeptics, critics, and cynics.
Dr. Giddings writes, “Cynicism is rooted in fear…Worse, it’s toxic to creativity. To be creative, it’s essential to express yourself fully, from your own unique vantage point.”
Critics and the like are living in fear and building themselves up by tearing others down.
Ignore them and pursue your dream.
“Creativity is an inside game,” Dr. Giddings writes. “It’s never about pleasing external critics. It’s about producing something that you feel is great, and then connecting with the right audience who will like whatever it is that you produced.”
I’m sure Bly and Isimov would nod in agreement.
Before I dismiss class today, here’s a final thought to consider:
One of my favorite authors during my development as a writer was Jack London, who once wrote –
“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out
in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom
of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”
Now, don’t you have something to create today?
PS – I didn’t want to write this post. I was tired, my eyes were blurry, I had other things to do. But the creative urge in me pushed from inside and said “Write this.” I obeyed. And guess what? I am not tired, my eyes are not blurry, and the other things I have to do are next. Follow your creativity. Live your dreams. Expect Miracles.
Reading as much as I do, it’s hard to narrow the stacks of great books down to a handful of memorable classics. Here are the top ten books that really stood out and made a difference in my life in 2014:
Best Books 2014
You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero. This may be my favorite book of the year. Yes, there are plenty of self-help books that say virtually the same thing as Sincero’s book, but almost none do it with attitude. I love the humor, honesty, intimacy, personality, and daring of the author. I love the book so much I reached out and interviewed Sincero for my podcast. She’s sincere, funny, open, and a living badass of the polite I-won’t-hurt-you but I’m-going-for-my-dreams-so-stand-back sort. Fun, wise, empowering. Read it.
Spartan Up! by Joe De Sena. This one lit a fire under my butt and made me want to get out and run up steep hills with my shoes on fire. Since I’m already working out intensely, thanks to personally training with Body-for-Life fitness legend Bill Phillips, I didn’t feel compelled to enter a Spartan endurance race. But I found this book inspiring, motivating, and heart pounding. I love his concept of “obstacle immunity,” which means hard core exercise builds inner strength to easily handle the stresses of normal life. He’s right. After intense exercise, traffic is nothing. Great book.
The Science of Living by Emmet Fox. This book clearly explains the teachings of New Thought pioneer Emmet Fox, most famous for his little books, such as The Mental Equivalent and Make Your Life Worthwhile. Though Fox taught and published in the 1930s, The Science of Living is a recent publication based on his private classes with metaphysical students. I love its clarity, plus it made me feel like I was in the room with him. This fully explains what the philosophy of Mind Science is all about. A true gem.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I’ve read this 1937 classic before, of course, but after reading a recent biography of Carnegie (Self-Help Messiah), I decided to read it again. It is a masterpiece. I am in awe of Carnegie’s conversational writing style, powerful stories, and crisp message. I wish just one of my books was this good. The message, while simple, is as relevant today as it was over the last several decades. Priceless.
Making the American Body by Jonathan Black. I found this book hypnotic. It masterfully tells the story of the men and women who shaped fitness in the United States. That may sound boring to you but believe me, the feats, feuds, and fuss of the often egomaniac men and women who urge us to get fit is an entertaining, enlightening, and even appalling read. My only disappointment is the author somehow left out Bill Phillips, who is a living legend in fitness. Otherwise, riveting.
A Moment in Time: The Steve Reeves Story by George Helmer. I’m one of the biggest Reeves collectors in the world. I have the famous body builder/movie star’s gym, car, clothes, trophies, and more. My collection is impressive enough that Lou Ferrigno (The Hulk) came to see it. This long awaited biography, by Reeves’ personal friend and executor of his estate, is mesmerizing. The hundreds of photos are worth the price of admission alone. The stories are alive. It’s a loving tribute to a legend; the definitive biography of the original Hollywood Hercules.
The Devil’s Horn by Michael Segell. As you may know, I’m now a saxophone player. (Afflatus, my baritone sax album, came out last month.) This is the hands-down best book ever written on the dramatic roller-coaster history of the sax, an instrument once considered the “devil’s horn” by some while others swooned to its cool sound. It was once the most popular instrument in the world (until the guitar got plugged in). The man who invented the sax – named (no surprise) Adolphus Sax – went through business failure, ridicule, controversy, political manipulation, envy, and even a death threat. An astonishing book.
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. Nicholas Herman, later known as Brother Lawrence, lived in France in the 1600’s as a kitchen working monk. He dedicated his life to constantly living, working, playing, and praying “as in His presence” at all times. “His” means God. If the God word pushes a button in you, exchange it for Divinity or something else. This little book of conversations with, and letters by, Brother Lawrence has been changing lives for centuries. It did mine, too, and deeply influenced the writing of my forthcoming book, The Secret Prayer. There are numerous editions of this holy work around, many published in English for the first time around 1895. Highly recommended.
Managing Thought: How Do Your Thoughts Rule Your World? by Mary J. Lore. I love the direct simplicity of this well crafted book. It helps you understand what your thoughts are doing, whether you are aware of them or not. Of course, once you are aware of your thoughts, you are now separate from them and more in control. A practical, inspiring guide.
Willpower: The Owner’s Manual by Frank Martela. This brief book surprised me with the 12 tools it describes for “doing the right thing.” I expected fluff, I got wisdom. People often resist will power, thinking it is pure ego or pure pain, when in reality will power is what you often need to align your desires, achieve your intentions, and attract what you want. Great book. Will yourself to read it.
And here’s a bonus title —
You Are the Placebo by Joe Dispenza. I’m not a fan of so-called scientifically based books describing how the world works, mostly because I can’t follow their terminology and the authors often disagree with each other, but this book is easy reading, easy to understand, and truly eye opening. Dispenza explains how it is possible to heal many “incurables” with thought alone, by detailing how the mind influences everything. In a way, this is a manual on how to create the placebo effect as needed. I read every word. Fascinating.
What about you?
What did you read this year that moved you?
Please post your comment below.
PS – My list of best books for 2013 is at http://blog.mrfire.com/best-books-of-2013/