THE BLOG
01/23/2013 05:01 pm ET | Updated Mar 25, 2013

Target Practice for Idiots: 10 Timely Tips From Grasshopper, Master Po and Master Kan

Who are you using for target practice? And what are your weapons? You know, when you're righteously pissed off, not feeling well or having a moment?

Often, our targets are people with whom we feel safe. They're safe because they (probably) won't leave us forever just because we go off on them once in a while. Or it might be a stranger, the one you'll never see again, so it doesn't matter. Right?

Strangers are easy. Oftentimes, so are the people with whom we work. Especially if the work place is one that has aggression and bullying woven into the fabric of its culture, as many do.

A recent Harvard Business Review article describes the price of incivility at work. It's an enormous issue that goes largely unacknowledged.

Except that many of us walk around feeling crummy a lot of the time. Tragically, we also routinely use ourselves for target practice, a subtle and insidious habit.

Acts of Violence

The list of self-directed acts of violence is infinite. Almost anything can be used as a weapon against ourselves. And many are culturally sanctioned, making it even more challenging to say, "That's enough."

Shopping, gaming, Internet pornography, sexting, cutting, scratching, gouging, head-banging, burning with cigarettes, disordered eating behaviors, drinking and drugging a little or way too much, vicious cycles of depression and/or anxiety, staying in toxic relationships, working toxic jobs, making life decisions aimed at keeping yourself very small... see? Infinite.

I stay very busy as a coach helping people loosen their death grip on themselves. Believe me, I'm good at working with others because I spent decades earning a black belt in target practice. And I can still shoot a very mean arrow when I forget to remember all I've learned in the meantime.

The questions of the day: Who are you using for target practice? What are your weapons?

Who's the Idiot?

All of us are the idiots. Why? Because we're human. Nothing to do about it except take what feels to be an enormous risk and learn to become mindfully aware of when we're doing it, over and over and over again.

Awareness of our foibles truly does open the door to change.

Aha! Here's one of the problems... we don't want to change. Change is hard. Change... gosh, it changes things. We are so often so much more comfortable being idiots than with the very idea of making a change.

And truly, when we are surrounded by other idiots, when everyone in our world is acting as we are -- or worse -- how are we to see that what we're doing may be inappropriate? Harmful, even. Wearing away a little bit at our self-esteem and integrity every day.

Bummer for everyone.

10 Timely Tips From Grasshopper, Master Po and Master Kan

Begin making small simple changes from a place of empowered mindfulness. How? Work with someone who gets it. Be Grasshopper from Kung Fu, the popular '70s TV series. Find a good teacher.

1. What Are You Stepping On? Can you hear the grasshopper at your feet? Besides that grasshopper, what else might we be missing? The next job opportunity? A subtle and very important message from a child or a lover? Listen. Look. See.

2. Tell the Whole Truth. Grasshopper, a man may tell himself many things, but is a man's universe made up only of himself? We can use our mindful awareness practice to observe how we're interpreting what's going on. Many of the things we tell ourselves aren't even actually true. Ever notice that?

3. Stop It. Grasshopper, what troubles you? I am ashamed, the boy replied. Master Po responds: To feel shame for no cause is a waste. To feel shame for a cause is also a waste. Observe, without judging, especially ourselves. For if we keep condemning ourselves, we'll need to engage in even more self- or other-directed acts of violence so we can pretend we don't feel crummy about ourselves.

4. Danger Alert. When you cease to strive to understand, then you will know, without understanding. The danger? Trying to control everything. Just not possible. We can learn to hold on to our crummy behaviors and the underlying emotions that drive them until we have another way of dealing with them. For there is always another way.

5. Strength Training. To suppress a truth is to give it force beyond endurance. Right now, we're working on seeing our truth and developing the strength to hold it without pretending or controlling.

6. Who's the Enemy? Fear is the enemy. Trust is the armor. Wrestling with our internal enemies -- our fear -- is where it all begins. Mindfulness is how we learn to put down our weapons.

7. Where's the Power? To be one with yourself is a power within you. Power is the name of the game, whether that involves wanting it, searching for it, wielding it. How we define power, and the ways in which we use/abuse/ignore our power, can determine the trajectory of our lives.

8. Yes, You Do. We taught you, young man, because you already knew. Mindful awareness is a powerful teacher. As we begin to accept that we have our own answers, stress and anxiety decrease, happiness and rich living increase. The paradox is that having a teacher guide us into ourselves and what we already know can be of great help (and for all of us Type As, can actually accelerate the process).

9. What's Growin' in Your Garden? If you plant rice, rice will grow. If you plant fear, fear will grow. What seeds are you cultivating in your target practice? Why are you cultivating a target practice at all?

10. Chill! Arise calmly, Grasshopper, and wipe the indignity off your trousers. Lighten up, just a little bit.

Want to increase happiness, and reduce stress and anxiety? Start paying attention to your target practice.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

For more by Melanie Harth, Ph.D., LMHC, click here.

For more on wisdom, click here.