Self-kindness and Floor Cushions: Exploring Alternate Realities

Each of us inherit ourselves from the world around us. How we speak, what we speak about, how we move, where we go, which products we use, which music we appreciate, which food we like. They all come from influences without and become integrated within. We receive these traits, behaviors, and preferences as gifts from our surroundings, mostly when we’re kids. It’s like Christmas everyday. This Christmas analogy is pretty accurate when we consider that sometimes these gifts that the world gives us kind of suck, or end up not being good for us. I’d probably be better off had a family member not put those edibles in my stocking a few years back. And I’d probably also feel better had I never grown up learning to be so hard on myself.

We’re built for this type of learning and integration, where we take inputs from the world, process them over time, and gradually build an internal tree of knowledge about the world, and how we fit within it. Our predisposition for this intrinsic ability to learn is why babies do so much looking around at things and faces, and why kids love to play. Put generally, we’re learning about the world, what we value, and how we relate to things and people. 

So it bears repeating: we inherit almost everything we are and do from outside ourselves, and then crystallize this into who we ‘are’. These forces that push us toward an identity can be placed into two general categories. These forces are: 1) the people proximal to us and; 2) our larger culture. 

As we grow older, our preferences and behaviors begin to crystallize around the specific forces (people and environments) that we’ve been exposed to. At this point though, something is different. You’ve learned enough about the world that you have the mental function and information at hand to be able to exercise your own judgment. This is exciting news if you let it be. It means you own the tools to negotiate with the world about how you want to speak, act, look, work, consume, and so on. But unfortunately many of us don’t get this far. We’ve accepted the lifestyle and behavior patterns that our family, peers and culture gave us, and there’s nothing left but to live in that reality.

There are some big reasons why this is a tragedy:

  1. You are not your culture. You really are unlike any other person, so it’s important that you identify and exploit the things that you’re good at and enjoy. And you’re definitely not your culture. If you tried to be (many people do), you’d end up a boring, homogeneous mixture of unoriginality and dullness. It’s also self-evident that much of our culture is sick right now, so why would you want to emulate that?
  2. The Times They Are A-Changin’. Our culture is changing rapidly. Consider that before 2007, the iPhone did not exist. In March 2019, a survey of 2,000 respondents estimated that on average, Americans spend 5.4 hours a day on their smartphone. This is a massive shift in the average person’s lifestyle that requires a proportional shift in what each of us value. For example, for decades the Western world has placed an emphasis on the importance of leisure and relaxation time. With smartphones dominating most of our free time today, is leisure and relaxation still a value we should hold dear? A little nuance might be in order. Maybe, for example, we should reconsider how we define leisure and relaxation. A walk around the block is much different than a spin through the Instagram explore page. You’ve received a set of preferences and values from a generation before you that need some updating to the present day. 
  3. Technology advances within lifetimes. The corollary to the point above is not only that you should be updating your preferences to the present day, but that technology is now moving so fast that you’ll need to do it again and again throughout your lifetime. So, using your judgment to question the behaviors and lifestyle patterns that you’ve received from others and the culture at large is not only good, but it’s a skill worth cultivating so that you can continue to adapt over the long term. Yes, this is hard. Our brains aren’t wired for it. Our ancestors never faced this challenge because technology 1.5 million years ago was only marginally different than it was 500,000 years ago. Consider that we cooked exclusively with fire for hundreds of thousands of years. Then came pressure cooking roughly 3500 years ago. Then stoves, ovens, toasters, and industrial deep fryers all within a single lifetime. The same theme follows for computation, transportation, medicine, and manufacturing. Of course being adaptable to these rapid changes is good so that we can keep up in a work context - people already talk about this all the time. But it’s not just about keeping up in a context of earning potential. The subtler point is that it’s also about your health and your happiness.

These are really serious reasons to update our ways of being, or what I’m calling our accepted realities. Our own well-being depends on our ability to be ourselves, distinct from our peers and our culture in personally meaningful ways. Being successful in our relationships, work, and overall health hinges on whether we can update our mode of being to the existing reality, and not the myth of a previous reality that continues to be upheld. And doing this over the long term depends on our ability to develop this skill of adaptability, of questioning our received picture of reality and updating it over time.

So let’s practice updating it.

I’ll share two personal examples that clearly show what I mean by exploring alternate realities and determining whether they could be a better fit. My intention in sharing these examples is to begin to sketch out a blueprint for how you can do the same in your own life. 

Example 1: 

A while ago I was feeling pretty bad about myself. Things were going wrong in business. I made a series of mistakes. I then dug myself into a rut brewing on these mistakes, wondering how I could be so absentminded. This weighed down both my productivity and happiness. A couple days into being hard on myself, I eventually decided to stop feeling miserable, lazy, and stupid. I got back to work, back to the gym, back to eating good food and planning for my future. As I was coming out of the haze of self-hatred, I began to wonder why I never feel equally good about myself. That is, if I’m so bad to myself when things go bad, why is my self-talk not overwhelmingly self-loving and optimistic when I’m doing well?

The simple answer is that it’s not a habit that I ever cultivated. Growing up, I often heard that being humble was an admirable quality, and that one should never brag. While probably true, I received this wisdom as something else. That I shouldn’t talk proud or complimentary toward myself. While I probably just misinterpreted good advice, it’s jarring that this habit of negative self-talk rings true for so many people. 

How often do you hear someone describe themselves or their life as impeccable, worthy, energized, confident, immaculate, or magnificent? My guess is rarely. These words sound over the top, but how often do you hear someone describe themselves as flawed, unworthy, tired, lacking confidence, dull, or insignificant? This is much more common, and these words are the exact antonyms to each of the positive ones above them.

What’s my point? For one reason or another, we have a culture of talking down on ourselves. It’s usually acceptable to say self-deprecating things, but equal and oppositely positive self-talk raises internal concerns about being perceived as arrogant, overconfident, or self absorbed. 

It’s self-evident that this is not the reality you want to live in. What would your life be like if you started thinking good about yourself? What if you did the same through your speech? You’d probably be way happier. People would probably respect you more. You would probably be more confident in pursuing what’s important to you.

For me, the prevailing reality was that it’s normal and habitual to speak down to yourself. The alternate reality that I explored and ultimately have accepted is to speak positively about myself, and build myself up through my speech. 

Note that the prevailing reality probably existed for a reason. In a corporate setting, it really doesn’t pay well to be vocally positive about yourself. It can threaten a boss’s sense of authority over you and make other coworkers jealous. So, one plausible theory for why we tell young people to be humble is that it really can be a bad strategy to speak positively about yourself. This rings true for many decades of the 20th century when average company size was at its peak, and politics dominated competence as an effective strategy for upward mobility. But since the seventies, firm size has been decreasing due to rapid technological advancement. And in recent years, the pursuit of entrepreneurship, start-ups, and small business ownership has surged. All of these represent a shift toward smaller, more autonomous firm size, where the political wisdom of the 20th century need not apply to the same extent. So nowadays maybe you won’t get punished for talking about yourself positively to others. Maybe you’ll be rewarded for it when clients and small business partners perceive you as more confident and competent. This is why we question our reality accepted from previous generations for alternate, up-to-date ways of living.

Example 2: 

It wouldn’t be a true solum article if I didn’t talk about floor seating. Fortunately, we talk about it because it’s important to us. It’s a shift to an alternate reality that we think everyone would benefit from.

The prevailing reality that we’ve all bought into is that we sit in seats that are somewhere around knee height. Chairs, recliners, and couches. This has its benefits for sure. Most notably, it allows us to sit at standard height desks and tables, where many people have been completing their education for centuries and work for the past half century or so. It’s also just comfortable. 

But traditional seating suffers from several problems. We won’t belabor this point because we’ve already gone over it in the following articles:

Couches: the Worst Seat in the History of Seats?

What's the Big Deal About Floor Cushions?

Floor seating, on the other hand, is an alternate reality that few people have cared to explore, despite presenting solutions to the problems posed by chairs. If you try out this alternate reality, you’ll find that your posture feels more aligned, your body feels more limber, and that your seating is actually an adaptable compliment to your space. 

Perhaps floor seating isn’t a good fit for your workday. Maybe you like to be able to stand and move around while you work, or perhaps you feel more productive and less restless on a standard chair. That makes sense to me. Though I would encourage you to not knock it until you try it, if you explored the alternate reality of a floor cushion and decided it didn’t work for you, then great. That might mean you’re already living in a way that’s optimal to you. 

There is one place though that I urge you to seriously explore floor seating: the living room. For work, people often need desks. For dining, people need a table for their food. But for a living room, the mecca of straight chillin, it’s hard for floor seating to not make sense. This is where we discover that the seating we’re currently using, the way of doing things that we’ve just bought into, actually makes no sense. 

For decades, couches and recliners have been a staple of the living room. We used to place them facing straight onto and surrounding our fireplaces. This positioned users to enjoy the warmth of the fire. Then the TV came around. Like the fireplace, TVs became the centerpiece upon which we fixed our couches and seats around. Like some strange modern day place of worship where the shrine isn’t a Jesus figure, but instead a flat digital screen. Notice also that TVs usually hang above the mantle, or in front of the fireplace? This is a massive cultural change that has happened within a generation.

Where the TV used to be one of our only sources of news (alongside the newspaper), having couches and seats facing them made some sense. It was the place where you came to be informed, and it mattered that you came together with family or friends to tune in. 

But now your news comes at you relentlessly and from all angles. Your Twitter feed, Facebook feed, Google News, Apple News, your watch, podcasts, your passionate uncle who is all jacked up on Alex Jones. It’s an unending milieu of content. Do you really need to come home to sit down and watch the TV, so that more content can crowd up your dining time, your family time, and the rest of your free time? It usually feels inappropriate to make value judgments for other people, but in this case, I will emphatically argue that the answer is no. And I’m not just talking about cable news. Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime video, Youtube, Streamers. Unless you’re off social media, and aren’t addicted to your phone and the internet like most of us, I can confidently say that you don’t need more content at home.

After all, social technology is waging a war on your mind, and when you come home, what probably is best for you is one of the following: 

  • Family time
  • Friends time
  • Journaling time
  • Exercise time 
  • Guitar time
  • Painting time
  • Nap time
  • Yoga time
  • Karate time
  • Side-hustle time
  • Origami time

You get the point. Something for yourself. Create something, whether it’s a conversation, a piece of art, a business, or a workout. 

Bringing it all back, when you come home, a couch invites you to sit or lay out on it. And since it faces the TV, it invites you to settle in and consume some more stuff. This represents an outdated reality of confined and single-dose media consumption that was passed down to you from a previous generation. More content, at least that of the mindless kind, really isn’t that good for you anymore. You need some mindful leisure, and that’s where the floor cushion comes in.

If you agree with me that your leisure time should be more mindful in this day and age, then there are two immediate benefits to a floor cushion. First, it’s impossible to lay out on. It nudges you into an active, upright posture that makes you more alert and less lethargic. This is a better alternative to the couch, which encourages a mild state of fatigue that isn’t awake but isn’t asleep either. Some people call it tired and wired. So the floor cushion will keep you more alert, which makes you more likely to engage in more mindful leisure time that requires a bit more alertness than you’re accustomed to.

The second immediate benefit is that a floor cushion is completely non-directional. Because it’s round, you can sit on it in any direction. And because it’s portable, you can literally throw it to another room if the activity you’d like to do is better performed in that environment. So not only are you no longer plopped in front of a TV screen the moment you sit in it, but it also gives you the choice to optimize where you sit for the activity at hand.

There are several other benefits to floor seating, but for the purpose of showing that they represent an alternate, more optimal reality compared to the couches that we’ve received from our culture, I think the point has been made clear. We used to value some news when we got home, because we were occupied with other things during other times of day. Now the last thing we need is more content. What’s needed is more time for ourselves, and we do this by accepting a new reality for seating that turns a cold shoulder to the TV.

You’re early to this trend of floor seating. And you’re uncommon if you cultivate the skill of exploring alternate realities. Our technology is outpacing our cultural norms that tell us how to talk to ourselves and others, what to value, what to consume, and what products to use. We explored two personal examples that examined a reality we’ve accepted from a prior generation, why they aren’t serving us anymore, and what a more optimal alternate reality might look like. Each of the received realities weren’t serving me because they weren’t me, and they were built for a previous generation. Not speaking positively about myself might have made sense for employees before me where office politics prevailed, but it actually made no sense for my lifestyle as a business owner. And sitting on the couch might have made sense if I needed more entertainment or news at home, but I actually need more of the opposite: solitude. Notice that these two examples are completely different domains: one deals with self-talk and the other with the choice of what style of product to use. You can examine any reality you like, just by beginning to observe your habits, states of mind, and how you speak to others.

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