Why “I’m More Broken than You” isn’t a Fun Game

There is an enormously popular game that folks play in American culture. You’ve probably played it at some point in your life without even realizing it. In fact, I’d argue that it’s the single most popular game out there. Not soccer, not football, not basketball…

It’s the “I’m More Broken than You” game.

Never heard of it? Well, tell me if these sound familiar…

“Wow, I’m so achy after practice yesterday…”
“That’s nothing, I worked out afterwards, I can barely pick up my phone!”


“Ugh, I went to bed so late last night; I’m exhausted…”
“That’s okay, I only got three hours of sleep trying to finish that report. Sucks.”

As you can see, the “I’m More Broken than You” game (hereafter referred to as IMBtY) is a strange sort of one-upmanship that focuses on comparing negative situations. The ‘winner’ is the one who’s the worst off. IMBtY can manifest in situations outside of bodily complaints. I’ve witnessed people playing IMBtY with who’s more overworked, who has a shittier past, who struggles more to fit in—I just recently caught myself playing IMBtY over who had more debt!

So what’s going on here? Isn’t this just general bonding over complaints, misery loves company sort of stuff?

I argue that IMBtY is actually a fairly harmful habit, for the following reasons:

  • It encourages people to focus on the negative in their lives. Most of us have been heavily conditioned to avoid any behaviour that could seem like bragging. However, ‘bragging’ about how terrible something was slips under that radar.
  • It invalidates people’s experiences. If you were stuck in the ER waiting room for an hour, and someone plays ‘being stuck in the waiting room for four hours with a screaming baby, chances are you’re going to tell yourself to hush up because clearly your situation wasn’t that bad. Bad is relative, and your experience is still valid.
  • It can be used as a tool for shutting people out. If you’re not as broken as me, you can’t be in the club, or you’re somehow not really xyz. I’ve seen this in discussions about chronic illnesses, sexual orientation, gender, race—you name it.
  • It can encourage people to desire or seek out negative experiences. If someone belongs to a group, or feels they do, the sensation that they ‘don’t have it bad enough to actually be xyz’ can lead them to seek out bad situations, doubt themselves, or even commit self-sabotage. If you must be this broken to ride, some people are going to try and get there.
  • It can discourage people from seeking needed support/help. If some combination of the above two risks happen, that person is much less likely to seek the support/help they could legitimately benefit from, because of their impression that they ‘don’t have it bad enough’.

You’ll notice the strong connections to imposter syndrome and social comparison, and lesser ties to group dynamics and perfectionism.

These are serious ramifications for a speech habit so quickly taught by our culture. And it’s so easy to fall into, and hard to recognize as damaging in the first place.

If IMBtY is easy to fall into, it’s that much harder to climb out of. It’s a continual process—I’ve been working at it for over a year now, and still catch myself doing it sometimes.

If you want to get out of the game, here’s my two-cents:

Try to notice when you start playing IMBtY. Often times there’s a phrase that crops up that tends to signal your entry into the game. For me, it was “that’s okay”, as in, “that’s okay, I xyz other situation that can be seen as worse comparatively.” Once I made the connection and started cutting down on that phrase, it was both easier to notice when I was playing and easier to resist the impulse to play.

Let your friends know. Explain to your friends that you’re trying to break the IMBtY habit. Accountability can work wonders. If you’re comfortable with it, enlist their help to (kindly) point out when they notice you straying into IMBtY territory. (My partner is very good at spotting IMBtY language and has helped me become much more aware of it myself.)

Call yourself on it. Once you begin to recognize when you’re playing, understand that you won’t catch yourself 100% of the time. (That’s not how breaking habits work.) When you do notice a slip, don’t beat yourself up over it. (Easier said than done, I know.) Instead, acknowledge that you noticed the IMBtY territory and that you’re actively trying to lessen how often you go there.

With time and practice, we can knock IMBtY from its place as most commonly played game in America. And perhaps if we work really hard, we can replace it with hockey. Definitely hockey.

In Which I Owe My Brain an Apology

Dear Brain,

I owe you an apology. I misled you for several months while operating on inaccurate data. As I’ve started my own business, you’ve been fantastic at working with me to push through resistance and get the work done. You’ve raised important points to consider and stuck by me. It’s only fair that I address my accidental misleading, why it happened, and what things’ll be like moving forward.

Remember a few months ago, when we started doing that really hard step in the business? The one that caused physical anxiety, that we worked so hard on the soft aspects so we could even do it in the first place. The one that I promised you wouldn’t have to do anymore once we got our first client?

… Yeah, I was wrong. Turns out we have to do that step for a little while longer still.

I know that totally wasn’t the deal. I know that you didn’t sign up to do the hard thing ad nauseum, and I want you to know that you most definitely do not have to do the hard thing forever. But we do have to do it for a bit longer.

Why? Well frankly I fucked up the math. I miscalculated how much we’d need to set aside for the winter. One client leaves us with a much tighter budget than I thought we’d have. Also, I was wrong to set a time-bound deadline for this that was dependent on other people’s actions.

(That same reason is why the goal to get two clients a month was a terrible goal—because I can’t control other people. Victory conditions that require someone else to say yes are a recipe for disaster. See also, the February breakdown.)

So what does that mean for you now? Well, in brief, you gotta do the hard thing for a bit more. Why? Because that path is closest to survival right now. Because we want to move forward, not go back to where we were.

Yeah, I know it sucks. For how long? I know saying ‘for as long as it takes’ would be super unhelpful, so I won’t. As far as I can currently tell—and I’m giving the warning now that this might change as more information comes in—the victory conditions are as follows:

  • $7k in savings
  • while paying all bills out of checking

Other important pieces of data:

  • We have begun taking steps towards overhauling the entire system so that eventually the hard thing can be dropped completely
  • If the system overhaul isn’t functional when we achieve victory conditions, then we hire someone to do the hard thing
  • Even after full-time work ends in August, you only have to do the hard thing twice a week
  • Starting in August, completing an assigned hard thing earns a reward (to be determined in August. Probably involves a book and a café.)

So that’s where we stand. I know having to do the hard thing is rough. I also know that you’ve done the hard thing while sleep dep’d. Or feeling down. Or anxious to the point of trembling. Long story short, I know you can do this under worse conditions, and I know you can do it now.

Seriously, the faster we do this the faster we hit victory conditions and you can stop.

Come on, my gorgeous workhorse of a brain, let’s rock the shit outta this. If only because I know you can <3

Your eternal full-bodied lover,


A Gifted Fairytale / Een Begaafd Sprookje

This story was written in Dutch and translated to English.

English version:

One day I was informed that my IQ was not just above average, as I had always assumed for the sake of convenience. The life-long struggle between inferiority and pure megalomania was settled in favor of the me-ga-lo-ma-nia. Ha! I’m gifted. The doctor told me so. Ha!

But the insidious Inferiority summoned the much loved Logic and Reason. In all likelihood, most people around me were somewhere in the top 20% in terms of IQ. A little juggling with some numbers, and instantly I was a whole lot dumber again. Of course such and such and such were much smarter than me. Before Megalomania could even recover a little bit from this attack, nearly all friends and relatives, acquaintances and colleagues were on a list of suspects. If I was gifted, then surely they were too! Megalomania made one last, feeble, attempt at negotiating for control by promising false modesty. But to no avail…

Luckily Logic and Reason had always remained impartial and saw no problem in helping Megalomania as well. Google gave explanations of why giftedness might not have always manifested itself. Researching the difficulties of giftedness, Depression relished. All that untapped potential was nipped in the bud by itself. A snake that eats its own tail. Nothing could be done about it! “Sit back and pity yourself…”

The alliance between Inferiority and Depression! Megalomania had completely forgotten about that and therefore had just helped Depression in taking control. But Megalomania would not be megalomania if it would give up because of that: tired of the struggle, but still willing to fight back on the road to ruin. Help was called for, once again.

The version of Help that Inferiority had selected, was replaced by a version that Megalomania had carefully chosen. This version of Help specialized in giftedness. Help had to sort it out by itself, because Megalomania was dying.

Help tried by by telling stories about giftedness. That soon woke up Enthusiasm and Passion. Because of all the noise they were making Intuition was also awoken. Enthusiasm, Passion and Intuition were extremely happy to see each other again. How long had they been asleep? The last thing they remembered was an argument between Insecurity and Enthusiasm. To settle the argument Insecurity had called for Logic and Reason. They had decided that love and approval had to continue to pour in, for the good of everyone. Therefore some of them had to stay quiet for a while. Enthusiasm, Passion and certainly Intuition did not agree, but Logic and Reason were so strong together that perhaps only Self-confidence would be able to stay upright. But only if it pimped itself a bit.

While Enthusiasm, Passion and Intuition were trying to reconstruct how the situation was before they fell asleep, Self-confidence crawled from the remains of Megalomania with difficulty: “I’m so happy to see you all again. It’s been such a struggle the last 30 years!” Self-confidence started looking around: “If I’m not mistaken, the only ones that are still missing are Creativity and Courage…” Could they still be asleep?

Dutch version:

Op een dag werd mij meegedeeld dat mijn IQ niet gewoon boven het gemiddelde lag, zoals ik gemakshalve altijd had aangenomen. De levenslange strijd tussen een inferioriteits complex en de pure megalomanie was beslecht ten voordele van de me-ga-lo-ma-nie. Ha! Ik ben hoogbegaafd. De dokter heeft het gezegd. Ha!

Maar de geniepige Inferioriteit riep de zeer geliefde Logica en Ratio bij zich. Naar alle waarschijnlijkheid zaten de meeste mensen uit mijn omgeving wel ergens in de bovenste 20% qua IQ. Even goochelen met wat cijfertjes en ik was meteen alweer een heel stuk dommer. Het kon toch ook niet anders of die en die en die waren veel slimmer dan mij. Voor de Megalomanie nog maar een beetje kon recupereren van deze mep, stonden bijna alle vrienden en familieleden, kennissen en collega’s al op een verdachtenlijst. Als ik hoogbegaafd was, dan waren zij dat allicht ook! Megalomanie deed nog een slappe poging in onderhandelen met Inferioriteit door valse bescheidenheid te beloven. Het mocht niet baten…

Gelukkig waren Logica en Ratio altijd onpartijdig gebleven. Ze wilden ook Megalomanie gerust wel een handje helpen. Google bracht verklaringen van waarom de hoogbegaafdheid zich niet altijd had kunnen manifesteren. Depressie kon haar hartje ophalen. Al dat onbenut potentieel werd door zichzelf in de kiem gesmoord. Een slang die haar eigen staart opeet. Er was niets aan te doen! “Ga lekker zitten en beklaag uzelf…”

De alliantie tussen Inferioriteit en Depressie! Megalomanie was ze helemaal uit het oog verloren. Ze had Depressie in de kaarten gespeeld. Maar ze zou geen Megalomanie zijn als ze zich daar zomaar bij zou neerleggen: moegestreden, maar bereid om nog enkele rake klappen uit te delen op weg naar de ondergang. Er werd Hulp ingeroepen, voor de zoveelste keer.

De versie van Hulp die Inferioriteit had geselecteerd, werd vervangen door een versie die Megalomanie zorgvuldig had uitgezocht. Deze versie van Hulp was gespecialiseerd in hoogbegaafdheid. Hulp moest het verder zelf maar uitzoeken, want Megalomanie was op sterven na dood.

Hulp probeerde, door verhalen over hoogbegaafdheid te vertellen. Enthousiasme en Gedrevenheid werden hier algauw door gewekt. Ze maakten zoveel lawaai dat ook Intuïtie wakker werd. Enthousiasme, Gedrevenheid en Intuïtie waren extreem blij elkaar terug te zien. Hoe lang hadden ze wel niet geslapen? Het laatste dat ze zich herinnerden was een ruzie tussen Onzekerheid en Enthousiasme. Onzekerheid had er Logica en Ratio bijgehaald. Deze twee beslisten dat liefde en goedkeuring moesten blijven binnenstromen, dit voor het welzijn van iedereen. Daartoe moest een aantal onder hen zich een tijdje gedeisd houden. Enthousiasme, Gedrevenheid en zeker Intuïtie waren niet akkoord, maar Logica en Ratio waren samen zo sterk dat misschien alleen Zelfzekerheid zich zou kunnen rechthouden. Als hij zichzelf wat oppompte dan toch.

Terwijl Enthousiasme, Gedrevenheid en Intuïtie de situatie van voor ze sliepen probeerden te reconstrueren, kwam Zelfzekerheid een beetje verder moeizaam uit de resten van Megalomanie gekropen: “Ik ben zo blij jullie allemaal terug te zien. Het is wat geweest de laatste 30 jaar!” Zelfzekerheid keek eens goed rond: “Als ik me niet vergis ontbreken enkel Creativiteit en Durf nog…” Zouden die nog slapen?

Sensitivity, Awakening of the Healer, Rituals, and Mindfulness

Alternate title: Let’s talk about how feeling like you are losing your mind may be totally not death in the medium run especially if you are brave enough to want to help people. Also, some observations about the awesomeness of quietly staring at a wall.

Disclaimer: I have such mixed feeling about this. Totally not on board with the spiritual realm stuff and kinda loving the rest. Especially the positive interpretation of sensitivity and the need for rituals (or patterns or systems or habits).

Inspired by: The Shamanic View of Mental Illness

Favorite quote: “Those who develop so-called mental disorders are those who are sensitive, which is viewed in Western culture as oversensitivity. Indigenous cultures don’t see it that way and, as a result, sensitive people don’t experience themselves as overly sensitive.”

Also ties into: Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration and Overexcitabilities, and Josh’s take on it.

What are your favorite positive interpretation of sensitivity and emotional intensity?

So, while we are on rituals, I am really excited about doing mindfulness again after a five year gap.

My nascent mindfulness ritual:

I noticed a couple of month ago that coaching was going great with existing tribe and people I talk with on the internet, but new people were really scary and I could manage about 1 or 2 calls a week before it took most of my attention for that span of days.  So in the interest of not running away from my coaching adventure, I started looking at ways to better manage my reactions to new things and uncertainty.

For me, 4-8 minutes of meditation every morning has been doing A LOT to curb anxiety and stay grounded.

Since the book I originally picked up said to do 5 minutes longer than you are comfortable with, I started at 5 minutes in May, and am now at 10 minutes.  Pema Chodron is quickly becoming a favorite and I am enjoying her books on “Living with Uncertainty,” and “Start Where You Are.”  She also has Audible books.

A few observations on starting to meditate daily:

I am at a month and a half of doing this, and it still always feels like I am thinking, and it still helps me with staying centered that day even though it feels like I am doing it wrong.  If I check my email first, I usually miss that day.

Journaling is optional except to record that I meditated.  Some days I write, and sometimes I have 7 minutes flat before my first client or class call.  If you want to try this and are really pressed for time, you can start with a minute a day.

Right now starting a practice of sitting daily feels like the best self care choice I made in a very long time and it is adding to both available spoons and baseline cope!

What rituals (or patterns or systems or habits) help you smooth-out your experience of reality?

What rituals or systems are you curious about trying in the future?

Learning to Play at Nerd Camp

At my first Beyond IQ, one of the other adults commented to me, that when you put a group of socially-awkward gifted kids in a room together, they will socialize and play, with few signs of awkwardness.  That struck a cord with me, because I remember my own difficulties integrating into my school playground.  It seemed like most of the other kids formed social groups and played well together effortlessly.  Not without friction or conflict, but the basic process seemed organic.  For me it wasn’t — I felt like socially, I had two left feet.  Some kids played soccer… I didn’t know the rules, and I didn’t like to run, but I knew that the game was missing one thing that I always saw in adult sporting events: a commentator!  You can imagine how things went, when I tried to join the game in that capacity.  Not well.  I remember pacing the perimeter of the playground, hoping to be “beamed up” to a starship, or someplace that made more sense.  While other kids played, I had to learn how to play… [Read more...]

Dark intense nights of numbness, pain, and isolation.

Everything below comes with a trigger warning.  It has strong currents of isolation, depression and anxiety.  I am both talking about raw painful things and poking rather hard at those who are reading.

The theme is pushing through trauma, pain, and uncertainty using a thought experiment to bring home how finite life is and sharpen the choices we make with an artificial time constraint.  The goal is to figure out what matters and what we would do with our time if it did not feel like there was time. (Hopefully without just having a panicked meltdown.)

I am trying to break through the protective numbness…

Through the lies about safety in hiding…

For all of us…

[Read more...]

Not Everyone is Gifted, Says Math (Ethics Agrees)

Written by Jay (Jade) Piltser.  Edited by Andy Cowan.

This is a response to the ongoing argument that springs up around the claim that “everyone is gifted,” as well as a follow up to last week’s guest post Claiming My Gifted Identity.

This discussion about giftedness is fueled by observations gathered around coordinating the young adult program at Beyond IQ for the third year running, as well as personal experience growing up gifted and asynchronous (what I call “highly variable”) without a community or friends with similar characteristics.  For reference, Beyond IQ is a conference series which is a multifaceted experience including workshops, keynotes, activities, networking, and community-building for and about highly and profoundly gifted children, their families, and the professionals who work with them.

We have a fair amount of topics here, and a rather wide range of terminology and experiences.   For context, the article, Giftedness: The view from within, gives an illustrative depiction of the way that the gifted experience the world differently.  Specifically, it talks about asynchronous development, sensitivity, and qualitatively different cataloging of events being crucial components of giftedness.  From the article:

Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally. (The Columbus Group, 1991).

[Read more...]

Claiming My Gifted Identity

I had never thought of myself as “gifted”.  It felt strange to find myself attending a conference for highly gifted individuals.  I’ve known people who go around claiming to be smarter than everyone else, but who didn’t seem worth the oxygen they consume; those are the people I had always associated with the label “gifted.”

I had also never considered myself to be all that smart.  After all, I did not spend my childhood developing new mathematical models, composing breathtaking symphonies, or advancing medical research.  Like most other children, I loved to play, and hated school. I really hated school!  During class, I would read novels, draw, daydream, or write stories instead of taking notes. When a teacher would admonish me for my lack of attentiveness, I would simply devise more surreptitious ways to continue doing as I pleased.  I never actually studied or put much effort into my schoolwork, and I derived precious little enjoyment from it.

I could never quite figure out how to relate to my classmates either.  I wanted to make friends; but for some reason other kids consistently rejected or ignored me.  School, as far as I was concerned, was something to be endured until it was over.  Yet had you asked my teachers or parents about how school was for me, they would have said that everything was great — couldn’t be better!  The other students, while rejecting me, also envied me.  My report cards said: A+, A+, A+, A+, A+.  By all the available measures I excelled in all subjects, and I was a model student.  Most of my classmates had a very different experience of school; it was difficult for me to grasp that, yes, there were kids who were giving their absolute best effort in school and yet struggling to comprehend the material.

I suspect that most people assume that their mental landscape is essentially similar to everyone else’s, and it is only when reality smacks them in the face that they can possibly consider otherwise.  Realizing exactly how different I was from the general population has been a gradual process. My life as an adult began as a quest to find relevance and meaning in a world that seemed to have neither.  The lives of my parents or any of the other adults around me had never appealed to me.  Seeing the rest of my life as something to be endured, as they had done, salved by drugging themselves with television and church, was inconceivable to me.  I was driven by the need to understand everything, and most importantly needing to understand myself.  I exhaustively examined every aspect of my life as I became aware of it, and wondered how I fit into a universe that seemed entirely alien. [Read more...]

Procrastination 2.0: Structuring Productivity Shortcuts

This article is intended to be the core of Procrastination 2.0 presentation on hacking productivity shortcuts for your brain.  It largely consists of what we learned or (re-learned) in the first year of running solo-practices.

Our brains are capable of burning tremendous amounts of energy to force through things that are difficult, but once we learn how to do something a particular way, it becomes much easier and faster for the brain to follow that path again.  This is true for physical skills like riding a bicycle, but also for the mental discipline needed to focus and be productive.

What follows are a few structures that are conceptually relatively easy to set up in your life to help get things done (but take time and practice to get used to).  The point is not to put out a Herculean effort, but to adjust your environment in a way that makes it easier for your brain to learn when it needs to be in productivity or creativity mode.

[Read more...]