Walk into any Barnes & Noble and you'll find stacks of flowery self-help books that promise to help you achieve some sort of elusive personal fulfillment or grand enlightenment. Many of these books lay out thoughtful methods and techniques for self-reflection and mental clarity. Cro-Mags and Bloodclot frontman John Joseph is all about philosophy and betterment — but like any good New Yorker he's also all about getting into action.
"See that's the thing: You get knowledge and if you don't apply it, then you're nothing but an armchair philosopher. Anybody can read a book," says Joseph, who's also an author, Ironman triathlete and proponent of a vegan, clean-living lifestyle.
Joseph lays out his personal plan for self-improvement in his new, and third, book, The PMA Effect, which explains — in straight talk and clear action points — how cultivating a positive metal attitude (PMA) will result in a healthy, happier productive life.
Joseph's current philosophy is all the more poignant when you consider the winding, rocky road that led him to become who he is today. Joseph grew up in an abusive foster home, lived homeless on the streets of New York City as a drug dealer, went to prison, joined the Navy and got addicted to drugs. Then one night in 1980 near Norfolk, Virginia he dropped in at a local club's "punk night" and witnessed a Bad Brains performance. The band's music and message hit him hard, especially the rousing lyrics of "Attitude": "Don't care what they may say / We got that attitude! / Don't care what you may do / We got that attitude! / Hey, we got that PMA!"
After the show he cornered Bad Brains singer H.R. to find out what the song was all about. H.R. obliged the young man with a breakdown of PMA ideals and from that day forward Joseph has been committed to living the philosophy of positivity — an approach that has dramatically transformed his life.
We caught up with Joseph to talk about the practical ways positivity impacts his life, and why PMA can help anyone become, as the tagline of The PMA Effect promises, "the badass you were born to be."
YOUR MISSION STATEMENT IN THE PMA EFFECT IS: EVERYONE FACES CHALLENGES IN LIFE, BUT IT COMES DOWN TO HOW YOU DEAL WITH THEM. AND THESE CHALLENGES ARE THE FIRE THAT FIRE FORGE OUR TRUE CHARACTER. WHY DO YOU BELIEVE THAT?
JOHN JOSEPH There was a saying on the streets of New York and that was, "Don't talk about it, be about it." In other words, people could talk a whole game of how together they are or whatever, but that really doesn't matter. What matters is, like it says, what people do under pressure is the determination of who their true character is.
Since the Eighties, [there was] a lot more positivity and people doing positive things. I was always looking at them to see what example they set. My teacher, my guru, Prabhupada, said example is better than precept. The example that they set, whether it was Prabhupada, or H.R. from the Bad Brains, [is that] talk is cheap. I just got to see that over the years — sometimes we take things at face value, the simplest thing you could not see the depth of it. For instance, The Four Agreements, which I quote a lot in the book by Don Miguel Ruiz: Don't take things personal, be impeccable with your word, always do your best and don't make assumptions.
Now, at face value, you could look at that and say, "Oh, that's easy." But then when you actually apply all four of those principles into your life and live by it, then you start to see the depth of what he's talking about and how difficult it actually is. So, the attitude we walk around with really determines how we're going to react on situations.
WE ALL KNOW PEOPLE WHO ARE JUST NEGATIVE. SURE, YOU COULD CUT THEM OUT OF YOUR LIFE, BUT IF YOU CAN'T HOW DO YOU HANDLE IT AS A POSITIVE PERSON?
That comes back to not taking things personally. It's their hell that they're trying to project onto you. I've met people that positivity is dripping out of every cell in their body and then vice versa — people that are very negative and I've dealt with them, especially in the musical career that I've had with the Cro-Mags.
For the most part, if it's anywhere in your ability to sever ties with an extremely negative person, or persons, then you should do it. Negativity and a negative lifestyle is another thing. You know, you can tell a person by the company they keep because those qualities will rub off on you.
The bottom line is, you ultimately have to make a choice. Like I try to take the association of positive people, and I'll hope some of what they have can rub off on me and I can learn lessons from them. That's why these days I'm really, really, very careful about who I associate with. The more we associate with negativity, those qualities are going to rub off on us and it can ruin your day real easy.
But just words, stupid shit, you gotta learn to let things go. That being said, my advice is, I just reduce my interaction with those people. Then if they're like, "Hey, how come we don't hangout anymore?" I'm like, "Well, you want me to be fucking honest with you, or you want me to bullshit?" "Well, I want you to be honest." "Well, OK, here's why." That's another one of the Agreements, is to be impeccable with your word. You gotta speak the truth.
YOU SAY TIME IS OUR GREATEST COMMODITY AND I AGREE. HOWEVER, MOST OF THE TIME PEOPLE DON'T REALIZE THAT UNTIL LIKE IT'S TOO LATE. HOW CAN PEOPLE BETTER INCORPORATE THAT OUTLOOK INTO THEIR DAILY LIFE?
Attitude. Seeing things positive and stacking your plate with positive things to do every day. One of the things I do every day is make a list of everything that I gotta accomplish the next day. That shit is pinned up to my corkboard. I'm like, "I gotta train, I gotta write, I gotta do this." You start to see the value of wasting time. I think the more proactive we become in trying to do something — whether it's writing music or a book, training, trying to lose weight or getting on a better diet, you start to see that there's just not enough hours in the day to get your stuff done.
I try to also be reflective because I'm turning 57 this year. I mean, people always say shit like, "Yo, where do the years go!?" I just posted something today and it was like a gig in fucking '86 at the Ritz in New York and I'm like, "Holy shit that was like 33 fucking years ago." It just seems like a flash in the pan. I'm pushing 60. I'm trying to get so much done and that's how I know the value of time.
The idle mind is the devil's workshop, man. I know that better than anybody. Especially the Enemy Mind, which I refer to a lot in the book, is going to try to take you off course and steer you in the wrong direction. So that's a constant battle. It's so important to have a schedule, not just float through life and have goals, and know what those goals are. You have to take the actions every day to do that and don't let anything get in your way that's going to prevent you from that, and wasting time is one of those things.
AS YOU MENTIONED, YOU CALL THAT INNER VOICE THAT DECEIVES YOU "THE ENEMY MIND." WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE WHO STRUGGLE FROM THE ENEMY MIND BOTH MEDICALLY AND OTHERWISE? HOW DO THEY BEAT IT?
There's clinical depression and I'm not talking about people who have to take medication. I don't anywhere try to convince or even try to think that I'm an expert in that field.
What I have seen is people that, something goes down and you don't find a way out of it, you get the blues. Then it's resistance, which is the Enemy. Then it's like the next thing leads to, "I'm not gonna get this shit done, I'm gonna go have a few drinks." That kind of depression comes in stages, it doesn't just come all at once. That's why you have to nip it in the bud.
People ask me, do I ever get depressed? Absolutely not and the reason is because even if I'm feeling fucked up, I know the way to cure that. It's by taking actions that are going to change the energy to a different direction. Just like Napoleon Hill says, "There's very little difference between people, the difference is attitude." Whether it's negative or positive, that's the big difference.
You're either going to come out of this shit and deal with it, and find a positive way to try to cure what it is you're doing by action, or you're just going to spiral into hell. Just yesterday, my brother's girlfriend died in his arms. It's like, they're using pain pills and all this shit. Both of them have severe medical problems, and she had a seizure and died in his arms. I've been trying to help them and offer the good advice … but when people don't want to take action, there's nothing.
I didn't live a sheltered life. You know, and I've seen people just spiral down, man, and unfortunately not survive it. So if you are a fighter, you have to fight like hell. You have to be a fighter and you can't give up.
I get messages all the time. I put my email right in the book. I'm like, "Listen, if you've got shit and you need to get off your chest, write me." I write back every one of those fucking people. [One said], when they got this book, "I was so depressed for months, and I just started digging my way out of it by applying." That was one of the deals that I made in the first part of the book. I said, "You have to make a deal with me right now that you're going to take action on this shit." Having hypothetical knowledge is not gonna do it for you.
It's actual application of the knowledge that's in this book and it's not just coming from me, it's coming from yoga masters thousands of years ago, from people that overcame tremendous shit, Special Forces, MMA world class fighters. I picked the brains of some of the males and females on this planet who just get their shit done under any and all circumstances.
SPEAKING OF COMMITMENT, YOU WROTE ABOUT HOW IF YOU NEVER FULLY COMMIT 100 PERCENT, YOU NEVER WIN. AND YOU BRING UP NEW YORK CITY IN THIS CONNECTION. PEOPLE HAVE TOLD ME THEY COULD NEVER DO IT OR MOVE THERE. HAVING BEEN ALL OVER THE WORLD, IS NEW YORK CITY'S WAY OF BEING MORE DIFFICULT THAN MOST PLACES, OR IS THAT A MYTH?
I mean it's a grind, no doubt. A lot of people come to New York to fulfill their dreams, this is that type of place. People don't go to Biloxi, Mississippi, necessarily.
There's no other city on the face of the earth that has the energy that New York has. It's intense, it's the mode of passion. Why do you think they call it the city that never sleeps? It's like people are just fucking on their hustle nonstop.
But it's a very easy city to get distracted and the analogy that I gave is it's like being attracted to jewels on the head of a poisonous serpent. You're attracted to that and then the next thing you know, boop, you get bit. You get caught up in the drugs, partying, in the wrong crowd, get murdered, hooked on drugs ... and then it's like they pack up and run.
Again, it always comes back to how you're utilizing your time. Who're you hanging out with? Are you really passionate? Do you really have that obsession? I talk about that in the book, too, how people always attach a negative connotation to obsession — but you have to be obsessed. Like when I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is I touch my head to the floor, I say my mantras, and it's off — boom, boom, boom.
It's a great city but you have to be so diligent. You have to be so focused. If you are, it's an amazing place to get your shit done. I always say native New Yorkers that grew up here, you could go anywhere on this planet and fucking survive. There's a lot of people that came out here that became very successful too, and it's because they stayed very focused.