Bullish Life: Control Your Thoughts, Defeat Your Enemies Mightily

Jennifer Dziura writes life coaching advice weekly here on TheGloss, and career coaching advice Fridays on TheGrindstone.

I’m enjoying the series by Cathryn Berarovich about being a prostitute

Sure, as forms of employment go, it’s a little … invasive. But most “regular jobs” are pretty invasive of your mental space. We’re always selling something, aren’t we? Isn’t your mind kind of more important than your body?

It’s a tough call.

For some years post-college and after the failure of my dotcom, I was a nude art model. I discuss it in my one-woman show, “What Philosophy Majors Do After College.” While being naked has its challenges (it’s drafty; cellphone cameras) and being still for 20+ minutes at a time also has its challenges (unscratchable itches; multiple limbs falling asleep at the same time), there’s something wonderful and comforting about a form of employment that takes up none of your mental space at all. You can think about anything you want and no one will interrupt you. You can plot and scheme without being expected to respond to your boss’s emails. You don’t have to solve anyone else’s problems. If you take your work home with you, it’s limited to, “This one guy drew me kind of fat, but then this one girl drew me with dragon wings.” Selling your body and keeping your mind for yourself isn’t a bad deal.

Of course, most of the time we have twenty minutes to think about whatever we want without interruptions, we just daydream, or we think about nothing, and lots of things; after, we can’t remember what we thought about. But sometimes, we have revelations, or we prepare for action.

What makes the difference?

In the last two months, I read two articles that struck me because each female protagonist revealed a life marked by extraordinary mental discipline. I first wrote about mental discipline in Bullish Life: Sometime It’s Best Just To Not Think About It and Bullish Life: The Things We Can’t Have Now.

And in Bullish Turns Two! Ballsy Advice on Work, Life, Men, Money, and Unicorns:

“Nothing in life means much if your mental real estate isn’t your own. If you think you can’t control your thoughts, then you are at a serious disadvantage in every area of life. Every one. From running your career to remembering to exercise to not eating entire pints of ice cream and regretting it to not letting an insult, a catcall, or some downright bullying derail your entire day. I’m sure you’ve read somewhere about the marshmallow test; there is nothing more important than mental discipline. It makes you more money and gives you the ability not to do things you know will not be kind to your future self.”

You may also know that I have a little history with boxing (see Bullish Life: What I Learned From Being Captain of My College Debate and Boxing Teams).

Thus, I was doubly interested in this article in The Atlantic about Marlen Esparza, the first American female boxer to qualify for the London Olympics, where women’s boxing will make its debut as an Olympic sport. Here:

Unlike most of the other boxers participating in the trials, Esparza, who is from Houston, had declined the accommodations arranged for her by USA Boxing at the casino resort, and had chosen to stay at another hotel at her own expense. Esparza prepares for her matches psychologically as much as she does physically, and this means maintaining distance from her opponents before fights. “If we stay in the same place, that makes me feel like we’re equal, and I don’t want to feel equal,” Esparza told me. “I want to feel superior.”

I remember much the same feeling about a girl I went to high school with, Blondie McSoftball.

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    • Joyce

      “I nearly punched a guy on a first date who commented, “These days, there’s no excuse for not going to college.”” Hahaha! I love you!

    • Kj

      How timely! Yesterday I was looking at these photos of Angelina Jolie at age 13 and feeling generally bitter about how she looked just as awkward as I did at that age! …but must have had a crapload of wonderful advantages and connections as Jon Voight’s daughter.

      Wasted mental space? Of course.

      Then just now, I was reading this delightful New Yorker article about spoiled children, and thought, first world problems much?

      But your article just now (as well as contrasting my life with the situation of cultivated helplessness described in the New Yorker) has helped me think about how being friggin’ poor has made me one hell of a problem solver. No running water? Better have a jug in the bathroom, or better yet, get a gym membership in order to be able to shower. (True story… comes with bonus fitness!)

      It’s hard, though, because people don’t understand, and they don’t respect the mental discipline it takes not to dwell on your disadvantages sometimes. I’m glad I know Loggins’ name now… she is truly inspiring.

    • Nancy

      Your articles always help me so much! I’m in the place you were just talking about; almost 25, been in my chosen career for 1 year and I feel like my mind is so scattered and drifting…I was great in high school and university, and I’d felt so confident in what I was doing, but I realize I have to change the way I think and work now to excel at work, as well, but I don’t know how. Next week (totally busy this week, suprise, suprise) I’m going to take the time to read a lot more of your articles and work through a new strategy for how I live my life!

    • zanbrody

      This was a GREAT article. I really enjoy the concept of personal emotional accountability. As in: “so-and-so upset me so I tossed and turned all night”. Nope…so-and-so upset you and you CHOSE to toss and turn instead of listening to some relaxing music, drinking some sleepy time tea and turning your brain off!! Or better yet planning out something that is beneficial to your future. This is a life skill that I myself took a long time to get a handle on.

      How we toss around mental energy is not something that is discussed often, so I really appreciate how you weave it into all your articles.

      Also: “But most “regular jobs” are pretty invasive of your mental space…Isn’t your mind kind of more important than your body?”<–Brilliant.

    • Jessica

      “…people whose flabby minds just drift off at all hours of the day generally develop ‘wisdom’ limited to retweeting about loving like you’ve never been hurt and dancing like there’s no one watching. (To such people: You apparently live in a high school yearbook. Please don’t vote.)”

      Thank you! You’ve alleviated a pain I’d just been ignoring since people went flat-out ape-shit with CSS on Myspace (in about 2006 or so.) After all these years, I’m experiencing such relief that someone has finally put into the perfect words the way that those mindless saccharine little quotes make me feel. Bravo.

    • Jacque E

      Thank you!! I feel like this is exactly what I needed to hear tonight! I am in the place where I can almost FEEL my brain getting flabby. I am in that “in-between” place of finally starting to establish my chosen career, but also starting to lose some of the mental acuity of my College self. I just made several life transitions to be able to put me in a better position for my career and finances, but I feel a bit lost on the personal front. I love how you take on false hope and show it the door, but also provide practical solutions (Use your BRAIN!) for those of us just needing a hand in the right direction.