The Four Basics Needs

Plato said that Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” But in Greek. This is a friend of mine from college’s favorite quote, and I think about it fairly regularly. I’ve become more convinced of it the older I’ve gotten (my friend must have been wise beyond his years). And I hope that if you’re a regular reader, on some level you also agree with the sentiment. Introspection is key to success and happiness.

It sounds so simple, but when we really bring this idea into practice, it can get a bit hairy. Okay, so we’re supposed to examine our lives. Cool. So I guess I’ll just sit down and… think? Maybe. But, think about what? My life? Okay, that’s a lot. Maybe too much.

So how can we think about life in a practical way? What works, and what allows us to understand things in a way that will also allow us to improve them? There are all sorts of great ways to categorize life in this way, including the Life Pie (basically, you rate yourself on six different categories and see how that changes over time. These change depending on who makes the chart, but they are basically: Work, Friends, Love, Health, Spirituality, and Adventure) and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

The four basic needs are even simpler, and focus on our emotions. They were described by Dr. William Glasser, and this is also referred to as “Choice Theory.” These needs are the ones that are beyond our basic survival: they are our most fundamental emotional needs, and a lack of any will disrupt our whole life.

Of course, as with any psychological theory, there are criticisms and whatnot, but for all practical purposes this description is great. Way easier to think about than Maslow. I’ve used it on wilderness trips with youth, and it provides a wonderful platform for learning to talk about and understand our own emotions. In my own life, it has helped me clarify what I’m missing or needing at a certain time.

Love and Belonging

The biggest, most fundamental need we have is for love and belonging. This can include familial love, romantic love, friendships, being part of a community, the whole shebang. Humans are social creatures, and no matter how introverted we may be, we still need relationships in order to feel complete and healthy (okay, maybe excluding a few reclusive monks/hermits/gurus). Whenever we’re feeling bad, this is a great first place to look to see if there’s something we’re missing.

Am I feeling excluded? Am I feeling lonely, or separated from my people/group/family? Have I been isolated by working too much, by skipping social engagements, by being in bed sick, or anything else?

The importance of this basic need is the reason social media is so popular. Facebook, Twitter, etc, all give us a sense of being connected to each other even when, I would argue, most of those connections are superficial and don’t satisfy the true need for love and belonging.

When love and belonging are lacking, we need to make a special point to get out in the world and connect with the people who mean the most to us. This can be hard, as loneliness can create a vicious cycle of not wanting to see people and feeling more isolated.

Power and Self-Control

Power and self-control refers to having agency in one’s life, and being able in some way to direct its flow. It is connected to freedom (which is next), but it is about being empowered to make big decision happen. For most people, having power and self-control correlates to some kind of stability, perhaps through being able to support one’s self financially.

When we become disempowered, we begin to lose faith in ourselves and the systems around us. Our self-worth may be connected to our power and self-control, as society has taught us that having a good paycheck is a sign that we’re good people. This may not be true, but it can certainly feel that way.

We can also become empowered through education, and by feeling validated in the endeavors we take on in life. Much of the intention of this blog is to help us all become more empowered in our lives, and take control over the negative influences that are all around us.


In some ways, freedom can be a manifestation of empowerment, but it does deserve its own category. Someone with a high-paying job who has to work 80 hours a week may be empowered, but lack freedom. Someone who is unemployed may have the freedom to go take off on adventures every week, but lack the power (financially or emotionally) to actually go out and do it.

Freedom is about being able to explore the world and our dreams. This doesn’t necessarily mean we have to go travel abroad every year. It is about being in a place that nurtures our growth, and that allows us to have choices about which direction our lives go.

If we’re lacking freedom, we may lash out at the people or systems we feel are limiting us. Often our perception of what is limiting us is not what is truly responsible. For instance, we may build up resentment toward a partner about something that could be resolved by talking about what our needs are and how they are not being met. Better to express the need for an evening with friends once a week than to feel stifled for years without mentioning it.


This is the best one. What’s the point of life without a little fun now and then? Even with all our other needs are met, if we don’t have some fun once in a while life will seem dry and monotonous. This can take whatever form we like, but it’s important to have enjoyable experiences. Even better if they help create a sense of love and belonging, or take advantage of some freedoms we have.

With an understanding of these four basic needs, we can begin to examine our lives in a useful way. “What is lacking?” “What is strong?” “What can I do to make things better?” By framing these questions around our needs, we can create concrete plans for improving our lives and taking the next step in our own personal development.

Low on love and belonging? We can call up some friends. Lacking power and self-control? It might be a good time to take a look at our job or living routine. Missing freedom? We can create small acts of spontaneity even in a busy schedule. Not having any fun? Let’s go play some games, pick up an old hobby, or try out a new activity. It’s a great way to frame the question, and leaves out the philosophical angst of trying to figure out how to live an examined life.

Getting Into a Rut, and Breaking Out of It

You know the feeling when life is a little bit less exciting than it should be? When everything feels hard to do, and nothing is paying off? When the clouds are extra dark and you can’t quite remember what the sun looks like (this happens a lot in the Northwest)? Do you feel like you might be in, I almost cringe to write it, a rut? Everything is crashing down! Things are all wrong! They will never be right again!

Whoa. We’re okay. It happens all the time. This is totally normal. It sucks, but it’s okay.

I know how it feels to be in a rut. I’ve been there before, a lot. A rut can be especially devastating if we’re working on our own projects and lack external support or structure. It’s a natural part of the growth cycle, and sometimes we just have to accept that things are going to seem shoddy for a bit. Here’s my strategy for dealing with the dreaded “RUT.” 


This can be the hardest part of the whole thing. If we aren’t able to recognize that we’re in a rut, or that we’re sad, it is easy to think that the world really has gone wrong. It is easy to blame our feelings on external circumstances and things that are outside of our control, and to let those feelings wallow and dwell inside us.

The first step is saying to ourselves, “I’m in a rut.” Or, “I’m sad.” By owning our feelings, we can better understand what it is that we’re missing or needing at the moment. As long as we blame the outside world, we’ll never be empowered to make the changes we need.

For example, if everything feels like it is going wrong and I blame it on the economy, then I am completely disempowering myself to make things right or better until the economy improves. Here’s there secret: the economy has no bearing on our present-moment happiness, or on how we interact with the day. It can feel like it does, but that is because we are giving away our power to external influencers.

Accept Our Feelings

Once we recognize how we’re feeling, we need to accept that and remind ourselves that it’s okay. We’re allowed to feel feelings! Even if they are tough ones. There is nothing wrong with feeling sad or in a rut. That is part of being human. Once we tell ourselves “I’m in a rut,” the next things we should say is, “and that’s okay.”

Even when we’re not feeling great, it is important to remember that we are not any less loved or valued. It may feel like the world is against us, but it’s not really. A few negative interactions or hard conversations can bring us way down, but if we can remain compassionate toward ourselves and others, all of that is bound to buoy up again. Which brings us to:

Push Through

Every rut ends. Feelings of sadness pass. Everything changes, the good as well as the bad. It might take a day, or a week, or a month, or even a year, but be certain: it will change. In the Vipassana meditation tradition, the word for this is anicca (from Pali, pronounced a-nee-cha). This is also translated as “impermanence.” Everything, literally everything, changes. Even the laws of physics change, if we look back far enough. Our bodies are constantly changing, our moods and emotions. The economy changes, our social values change, technology changes.

When we’re down low, we can be sure that we will be up high again later. When we’re up high, we also know that there will be times when we’re low again. This is how it works. We will be best off if we do not become attached to either of these feelings, the highs or the lows. For the most part, we cycle around a baseline level of happiness, which is independent of external events (but can be increased by changing our world-view and through meditation). When we’re feeling bad, we lose sight of this and feel like things will never get better. They will.

And so we must try to push through. Things will get better with positivity, but it might take a while. Sometimes an external event will snap us out of a rut, but most often we just kind of get over it. It’s important to continue the projects we’ve decided are important to us, to keep exercising, to keep visiting with people at least somewhat regularly. Those are all things that can be hard to keep up, but that will help us out of the rut, if we let them.

And most importantly, we need to remember that being in a rut is not the end of the world. It’s not a sign that everything we’ve been working on is wrong, or that we should stop creating. We need not cut off ties with the world, or do anything drastic at all.

Instead, finding ourselves in a rut is a sign that we should take care of ourselves, take deep breaths, and go for a run.

We’re okay.

Demystifying Meditation: The Three Basic Types of Meditation

What’s the deal? What is meditation, anyway? I’ve been working on a short E-guide which I’ll be publishing in the next few weeks here called “How to Kickstart Your Personal Meditation Practice.” Writing this has made me realize that there isn’t a wide understanding about what meditation is. Of course, it’s a vast topic, and at the same time it’s supposed to be the simplest thing there is. Just sitting? This should give some basic insight into what’s going on up there when we’re quiet.

Meditation activates (and deactivates) a variety of brain regions, and different kinds of meditation actually do different things. I’m not going to get too deep into the neuroscience, but I want to describe the three main types of meditation. Nearly all styles and traditions of meditation fall into one of these categories, or bridge more than one of them.


Presence meditation is all about developing attention and concentration. It often involves the breath or focus on a single object. It might be called “present-moment awareness,” “anapanasati” or “attention-focusing” meditation. This is a hugely helpful technique to practice, as it brings awareness and concentration to all our actions.

Presence meditation is also the foundation for most other meditation techniques. Before delving into the mind or emotions, we must be able to pay attention to what we’re doing. This doesn’t mean it should be discounted as less advanced than other techniques — some people practice exclusively presence meditation, and it is extremely rewarding. It might be the best tool we have to fight against the attention-drain caused by all our devices and tech.


What is the mind? Perspective meditation includes all techniques that involve observing one’s own mind. This means watching one’s thoughts, cultivating an understanding of how and why they arise and pass away, and beginning to see through the illusions the mind creates around us. This is also called “meta-cognition,” which is an awesome word.

The more perspective we gain on the self, the more we understand that the ego is a construct of the mind, and not something which truly separates us from the rest of the universe. This style of meditation moves us toward an experiential understanding of the oneness and interconnectedness of the universe. It can be a bit heady. With regards to achieving traditional enlightenment, this is probably the fastest route (but don’t expect to get there in this lifetime!).


Affective meditations focus on developing certain positive qualities or thoughts. The most common forms are “loving-kindness” or “compassion” meditations. It is less about achieving a transcendental state and more about cultivating a life that’s worth living while we’re here. It is an extremely effective method for training our emotions and generally feeling good about life.

Affective meditations typically involve some kind of visualization, which allows us to experience certain feelings, such as love and gratitude, and strengthen the neural networks that are responsible for them. This brings those experiences to the fore, integrating them into our lives as a whole. Compassion is the most common elevated experience we practice through affective meditation, as it is universally perhaps the most valuable characteristic we can possess. Theoretically, you could practice any emotion, though.

Each meditation style affects the brain differently, lighting up different brain regions under fMRI. By activating those regions, the neural networks become more dense and used to working together. This brings the lessons we learn while meditating into the rest of our lives. It is a slow process, and the results are often not tangible, but if we are committed to the practice, they are undeniable.

Only with regular practice over a long period of time do we begin to notice that we are less stressed, more open and compassionate, and more understanding of our own thought processes and emotions. Just because meditation is hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it — in fact just the opposite. As any meditator will tell you, a consistent meditation practice is one of the most important things we can do with our time and energy.

If you’d like to get going on your own meditation practice, keep an eye out for the E-guide I’ll be publishing here in a few weeks. Or just take a few minutes to sit quietly and see what happens! It’s amazing what the brain will do.

Small Steps to Big Changes

We live in a world where information is available at the click of a button, where the news cycle is 24/7, and where we can get any kind of entertainment we want at the speed of Comcast. How cool is that? (Except for the Comcast thing, those guys suck.)

The more we experience it, the more instant gratification becomes expected. In 2015, it is the norm. If something doesn’t happen right away, we get pissed. Even the microwave seems to take too long.

Here’s the thing (there’s always a thing): this is all consumption. We are ravenous consumers. We can devour intricately designed movies, glance at a painting in a gallery for a few seconds and think we know what it’s about, eat a fully-prepared meal in five minutes or less.

Creation, as opposed to consumption, works on a completely different time scale. I’ve written this before, but good work takes time. Almost anything worth actually making requires patience and persistence.

That movie you watched for two hours, then forgot about? Look at how many people are in the credits. That thing took forever to make. The painting you glanced at in the gallery? It probably took dozens or hundreds of hours to create. The old masters would spend months perfecting a painting. That meal you scarfed down? It might have shown up quickly on your plate, but it is the product of a long line delicate processes, not to mention having actually grown from the ground (we hope). 

Okay, so we all should appreciate the things around us more. Big deal. What I am trying to point to here is that these things only exist because people are willing to put long hours into making them, and that is a worthy endeavor.

But it can be so daunting to try to create something big. Writing a book? That’s 50,000 words! If you think about how long it takes to write 500 or 1,000 words, you’ll come up with a large number of hours to write the whole thing. That number will stare you in the face, paralyze you, and keep you from even getting started. The medusa of creativity.

Nothing is created overnight, especially not books or paintings or fresh vegetables. They are created over a long period of time through consistent, dedicated effort. There is nothing that requires being a genius or having superhuman traits to make this happen. Sure, maybe being a genius means you can write the book in a medium period of time through consistent, dedicated effort. But still not overnight.

I’ve been experiencing this whole-hog the last few months. I’ve been gradually chipping away at some big projects, with practically nothing tangible to show for it. I was working on my book, which is currently tucked away in my computer. I’m working on my book proposal, which is how you find an agent to sell the book. I’ve been working on my business teaching meditation to offices in Portland. I’ve been building two websites, one for the business, and this one. I’ve been learning how to do all these things, because I’m not an expert in any of them.

And even since finishing the book, I’ve been writing every day. I’ve put up a few new blog posts in the last couple weeks, but mostly I’ve been working on longer pieces to publish on my website as e-guides. None of them are finished. I still don’t have anything tangible to show for it.

But that’s okay. I’m getting close. All these projects are slowly becoming more and more real. They are all a small step closer to completion each day. Each one is a big project on its own, and doing them all together means they all take longer. I’m okay with that. My writing will be on slow burn for the rest of my life. If I continue to write 1,000 words a day, and maybe half of them are usable, that’s the equivalent of writing thirty books in the next ten years. THIRTY BOOKS.

Of course there are reasons I almost definitely won’t have thirty books published in the next ten years, but that’s not the point. I never knew whether I’d be able to write one or two books in my lifetime. Now I know exactly how to write as many as I want.

It doesn’t have to be writing. This can be anything we love. Art, music, fitness, building furniture, reading, knitting, anything. The reason we don’t get really good at things or produce vast quantities of high-quality material is that we don’t stick with them long enough. We get distracted or bored. We find something else to do. Anything we make into a daily practice is something we can perfect and make special in our lives. Here is a guy who played ping-pong every day for a year.

It doesn’t have to be something we’re already good at. It doesn’t have to be something we have already been taught. It can be something we never thought we could do. I never considered myself a writer. I was always into science and math, not English. Now that I’m writing every day, it doesn’t make sense to call myself anything but a writer. If I keep up the practice and continue to strive and improve, eventually I’ll even make a living doing it. But that won’t happen until most of the hard, slow, dedicated work is already done. Until I’ve been writing every day for ages, and it seems like second nature.

What do you dream of accomplishing? What do you wish you could do, but never thought you could? Well, that dream is not going to come true overnight. But it absolutely, one-hundred percent, can come true with slow, consistent practice. The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today. Better get started!

Great housemates!

Six House Rules To Live By

At my old house in Seattle, my roommates and I decided to make some house rules to help us build community and live intentionally. At first, these were straight-forward, kind of silly things. No Facebook. No internet at home (easy, because we didn’t have internet). No drunk texting/emailing exes (we had elaborate rationale about how calling was fine, just not the passive-ness and permanent-ness of texting). Eat a lot of beans. Okay, this might not have been an actual rule, but it was a fundamental principle the house was built on.

Needless to say, we had a good time with it. Breaking a rule meant a dollar in the jar, to be spent at some future date on something fun for the house. We gradually acquired more and more rules, but eventually started to realize that while these highly-specific stipulations were fun and good for building community, they weren’t helping us to do better or live more fully (except No Internet at Home – that rule was the best!). Instead, we decided to set positive intentions for how we ought to live our lives.

Experience New Things

Well, this seems obvious. Except that a lot of the time it’s not. Often when we’re deep in our routine, we need special impetus to go out and experience something new. Whether it’s an art walk, a basketball game, joining a kickball team (this is a popular thing in the Northwest), or just going for a walk in a new neighborhood, we need to keep it fresh. One of the major advantages of living in a city is that there are more new things to do than can be done in a lifetime. Not to mention getting out of the city, which is wonderful. But even in a smaller place, there is always new experience to be had. This goes hand-in-hand with always learning and generally being a curious, creative person.

Meet New People

Along the lines on experiencing new things, we can always be meeting new people. We don’t have to become best friends with everyone we meet, but we need to keep putting ourselves out there and seeing what kinds of connections arise. As we grow and change, we often find that some of the friendships and connections we’ve had have become stale. Sometimes, this is the perfect opportunity to reconnect and reinvigorate those relationships. Other times, we need to recognize that we can’t be friends with everybody all the time, and that people drift apart. This is a natural part of the mobile society we live in. Slowly, we may find our tribe of people who support and inspire us. Even then, that tribe may evolve and shift as we continue to grow and explore.

Be Mobile

Winter in Seattle is dark. Portland, too, although not quite as much. It’s not freezing cold or blustery like the northeast or midwest. But it’s dark. Cool and wet. Getting out into the world can be a serious challenge to even the most optimistic person’s psyche. The other thing about Seattle is that it’s a city of neighborhoods, and while each one contains everything you’d ever need, there are whole parts of town you never go to. The geography of the city makes it tough to go from one to another. Hence our third rule: be mobile. Get out there and do it! Bike around! Get wet! Play sports! Visit people! Try new parts of town! We basically decided that it was not acceptable to decide to skip an event because of its location. This was one of the hardest rules to follow, but it paid off. As a transplant in a city, being mobile is the only way to get to know an area and meet people outside our immediate circle of friends.

Don’t Hold Back

Do you feel like you’re holding back? This could be in any sphere of life: in physicality, in love, in friendship, in work. There is often a nagging feeling of “I could have done more,” or “I could have been more committed, more present.” Don’t hold back! Just don’t do it. We need to put ourselves out there, be vulnerable, make mistakes. This is how we learn. This is how we build up experience and wisdom. Not by reading about it on the web. By actually going out and experiencing it, by giving ourselves completely to our endeavors. Also, it’s a great thing to yell down the stairs when your friend is walking out the door to go on a date.

Be Generous

Generosity is one of the most magical character traits. It is so wonderful to be around generous people. People who are generous with their time, money, and attention are the ones we like the most. The positivity generous people create comes back to reward them, too. Life is all about abundance and sharing, not scarcity or greed. Sharing whatever we can with people close to us (and people not so close to us, but in greater need) is one of the best feelings. We tried to make generosity a built-in practice in our house, usually by sharing food and making an effort to bring people together however our means would allow.

Practice Gratitude

If generosity is the most magical outward-facing trait, gratitude is the most magical inward-facing trait. Developing a deep sense of gratitude fills us with love for life and appreciation for all the people around us, while diminishing any negativity that comes our way. We have so much to be grateful for. Just the fact that we are alive and here on this planet is astounding. That we live in an affluent and free country? Almost unbelievable. Not to mention a good education, our strong networks of friends and family, our clean drinking water, our relative peace and security. Practicing gratitude every day makes us fall in love with the world. It makes us want to give back, and to make it better for everyone else. It makes us calm, kind, and compassionate. It’s the best.

What are your house rules? What do you live by? What do you like to yell down the stairs to your friends to get them excited about life?