Main 101 Essays That Will Change the Way You Think
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I just loved how deep and truly realistic this book is. I fell like she wrote all for me. In my mind she is talking with me like a psychologist or like someone that really cares for me. \
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I just loved how deep and truly realistic this book is. I fell like she wrote all for me. In my mind she is talking with me like a psychologist or like someone that really cares for me. \
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101 Essays that will Change the way You Think Brianna Wiest THOUGHT CATALOG BOOKS Copyright © 2016 by Brianna Wiest All rights reserved. Published by Thought Catalog Books, a division of The Thought & Expression Co., Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Art direction and design by KJ Parish. General information and submissions: email@example.com. Founded in 2010, Thought Catalog is a website and imprint dedicated to your ideas and stories. We publish fiction and non-fiction from emerging and established writers across all genres. Printed in Korea by Four Colour Print Group, Louisville, Kentucky. ISBN: 978-1-945796-06-7 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 101 Essays that will Change the way You Think Brianna Wiest Introduction In his book Sapiens, Dr. Yuval Noah Harari explains that at one point, there were more than just Homo sapiens roaming the Earth1. In fact, there were likely as many as six different types of humans in existence: Homo sapiens, Homo neanderthalensis, Homo soloensis, Homo erectus, etc. There’s a reason Homo sapiens still exist today and the others didn’t continue to evolve: a prefrontal cortex, which we can infer from skeletal structures. Essentially, we had the ability to think more complexly, thus were able to organize, cultivate, teach, practice, habituate and pass down a world suited for our survival. Because of our capacity to imagine, we were able to build Earth as it is today out of virtually nothing. In a sense, the notion that thoughts create reality is more than just a nice idea; it’s also a fact of evolution. It was because of language and thought that we could create a world within our minds, and ultimately, it is because of language and thought that we have evolved into the society we have today—for better and for worse. Almost every great master, artist, teacher, innovator, inventor, and generally happy person could attribute some similar understanding to their success. Many of the world; ’s ‘best’ people understood that to change their lives, they had to change their minds. These are the same people who have communicated to us some of the longest-standing conventional wisdom: that to believe is to become, that the mind is to be mastered, that the obstacle is the way2. Often, our most intense discomfort is what precedes and necessitates thinking in a way we have never conceived of before. That new awareness creates possibilities that would never exist had we not been forced to learn something new. Why did our ancestors develop agriculture, society, medicine, and the like? To survive. The elements of our world were once just solutions to fears. In a more cerebral context, if you consciously learn to regard the “problems” in your life as openings for you to adopt a greater understanding and then develop a better way of living, you will step out of the labyrinth of suffering and learn what it means to thrive. I believe that the root of the work of being human is learning how to think. From this, we learn how to love, share, coexist, tolerate, give, create, and so on. I believe the first and most important duty we have is to actualize the potential we were born with—both for ourselves and for the world. The unspoken line of everything I write is: “This idea changed my life.” Because ideas are what change lives—and that was the first idea that changed mine. Brianna Wiest — July 2016 * * * 1 Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. 1st Edition. 2015. Harper. 2 Holiday, Ryan. The Obstacle Is The Way. 2014. Portfolio. 1 Subconscious Behaviors that are Keeping You from Having The Life You Want Every generation has a “monoculture” of sorts, a governing pattern or system of beliefs that people unconsciously accept as “truth.” It’s easy to identify the monoculture of Germany in the 1930s or America in 1776. It’s clear what people at those times, in those places, accepted to be “good” and “true” even when in reality, that was certainly not always the case. The objectivity required to see the effects of present monoculture is very difficult to develop. Once you have so deeply accepted an idea as “truth” it doesn’t register as “cultural” or “subjective” anymore. So much of our inner turmoil is the result of conducting a life we don’t inherently desire, only because we have accepted an inner narrative of “normal” and “ideal” without ever realizing. The fundamentals of any given monoculture tend to surround what we should be living for (nation, religion, self, etc.) and there are a number of ways in which our current system has us shooting ourselves in the feet as we try to step forward. Here, 8 of the most pervasive. You believe that creating your best life is a matter of deciding what you want and then going after it, but in reality, you are psychologically incapable1 of being able to predict what will make you happy. Your brain can only perceive what it’s known, so when you choose what you want for the future, you’re actually just recreating a solution or an ideal of the past. When things don’t work out the way you want them to, you think you’ve failed only because you didn’t re-create something you perceived as desirable. In reality, you likely created something better, but foreign, and your brain misinterpreted it as “bad” because of that. (Moral of the story: Living in the moment isn’t a lofty ideal reserved for the Zen and enlightened; it’s the only way to live a life that isn’t infiltrated with illusions. It’s the only thing your brain can actually comprehend.) You extrapolate the present moment because you believe that success is somewhere you “arrive,” so you are constantly trying to take a snapshot of your life and see if you can be happy yet.You convince yourself that any given moment is representative of your life as a whole. Because we’re wired to believe that success is somewhere we get to—when goals are accomplished and things are completed—we’re constantly measuring our present moments by how “finished” they are, how good the story sounds, how someone else would judge the elevator speech. We find ourselves thinking: “Is this all there is?” because we forget that everything is transitory, and no one single instance can summarize the whole. There is nowhere to “arrive” to. The only thing you’re rushing toward is death. Accomplishing goals is not success. How much you expand in the process is. You assume that when it comes to following your “gut instincts,” happiness is “good” and fear and pain are “bad.” When you consider doing something that you truly love and are invested in, you are going to feel an influx of fear and pain, mostly because it will involve being vulnerable. Bad feelings should not always be interpreted as deterrents. They are also indicators that you are doing something frightening and worthwhile. Not wanting to do something would make you feel indifferent about it. Fear = interest. You needlessly create problems and crises in your life because you’re afraid of actually living it. The pattern of unnecessarily creating crises in your life is actually an avoidance technique. It distracts you from actually having to be vulnerable or held accountable for whatever it is you’re afraid of. You’re never upset for the reason you think you are: At the core of your desire to create a problem is simply the fear of being who you are and living the life you want. You think that to change your beliefs, you have to adopt a new line of thinking, rather than seek experiences that make that thinking self-evident. A belief is what you know to be true because experience has made it evident to you. If you want to change your life, change your beliefs. If you want to change your beliefs, go out and have experiences that make them real to you. Not the opposite way around. You think “problems” are roadblocks to achieving what you want, when in reality they are pathways. Marcus Aurelius sums this up well: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Simply, running into a “problem” forces you to take action to resolve it. That action will inevitably lead you to think differently, behave differently, and choose differently. The “problem” becomes a catalyst for you to actualize the life you always wanted. It pushes you from your comfort zone, that’s all. You think your past defines you, and worse, you think that it is an unchangeable reality, when really, your perception of it changes as you do. Because experience is always multi-dimensional, there are a variety of memories, experiences, feelings, “gists” you can choose to recall…and what you choose is indicative of your present state of mind. So many people get caught up in allowing the past to define them or haunt them simply because they have not evolved to the place of seeing how the past did not prevent them from achieving the life they want, it facilitated it. This doesn’t mean to disregard or gloss over painful or traumatic events, but simply to be able to recall them with acceptance and to be able to place them in the storyline of your personal evolution. You try to change other people, situations, and things (or you just complain/get upset about them) when anger = self-recognition. Most negative emotional reactions are you identifying a disassociated aspect of yourself. Your “shadow selves” are the parts of you that at some point you were conditioned to believe were “not okay,” so you suppressed them and have done everything in your power not to acknowledge them. You don’t actually dislike these parts of yourself, though. So when you see somebody else displaying one of these traits, it’s infuriating, not because you inherently dislike it, but because you have to fight your desire to fully integrate it into your whole consciousness. The things you love about others are the things you love about yourself. The things you hate about others are the things you cannot see in yourself. * * * 1 Gilbert, Daniel. Stumbling on Happiness. 2007. Random House. 2 The Psychology of Daily Routine The most successful people in history—the ones many refer to as “geniuses” in their fields, masters of their crafts—had one thing in common, other than talent: Most adhered to rigid (and specific) routines. Routines seem boring, and the antithesis to what you’re told a “good life” is made of. Happiness, we infer, comes from the perpetual seeking of “more,” regardless what it’s “more” of. Yet what we don’t realize is that having a routine doesn’t mean you sit in the same office every day for the same number of hours. Your routine could be traveling to a different country every month. It could be being routinely un-routine. The point is not what the routine consists of, but how steady and safe your subconscious mind is made through repetitive motions and expected outcomes. Whatever you want your day-to-day life to consist of doesn’t matter, the point is that you decide and then stick to it. In short, routine is important because habitualness creates mood, and mood creates the “nurture” aspect of your personality, not to mention that letting yourself be jerked around by impulsiveness is a breeding ground for everything you essentially do not want. Most things that bring genuine happiness are not just temporary, immediate gratifications, and those things also come with resistance and require sacrifice. Yet there is a way to nullify the feeling of “sacrifice” when you integrate a task into the “norm” or push through resistance with regulation. These, and all the other reasons why routine is so important (and happy people tend to follow them more). Your habits create your mood, and your mood is a filter through which you experience your life. It would make sense to assume that moods are created from thoughts or stressors, things that crop up during the day and knock us off-kilter. This isn’t so. Psychologist Robert Thayer argues that moods are created by our habitualness: how much we sleep, how frequently we move, what we think, how often we think it, and so on. The point is that it’s not one thought that throws us into a tizzy: It’s the pattern of continually experiencing that thought that compounds its effect and makes it seem valid. You must learn to let your conscious decisions dictate your day—not your fears or impulses. An untamed mind is a minefield. With no regulation, focus, base or self-control, anything can persuade you into thinking you want something that you don’t actually. “I want to go out for drinks tonight, not prepare for that presentation tomorrow” seems valid in the short-term, but in the long-term is disastrous. Going out for drinks one night probably isn’t worth bombing a super important meeting. Learning to craft routine is the equivalent of learning to let your conscious choices about what your day will be about guide you, letting all the other, temporary crap fall to the wayside. Happiness is not how many things you do, but how well you do them.More is not better. Happiness is not experiencing something else; it’s continually experiencing what you already have in new and different ways. Unfortunately as we’re taught that passion should drive our every thought move and decision, we’re basically impaled with the fear that we’re unhappy because we’re not doing “enough.” When you regulate your daily actions, you deactivate your “fight or flight” instincts because you’re no longer confronting the unknown.This is why people have such a difficult time with change, and why people who are constant in their habits experience so much joy: simply, their fear instincts are turned off long enough for them to actually enjoy something. As children, routine gives us a feeling of safety. As adults, it gives us a feeling of purpose.Interestingly enough, those two feelings are more similar than you’d think (at least, their origin is the same). It’s the same thing as the fear of the unknown: As children, we don’t know which way is left, let alone why we’re alive or whether or not a particular activity we’ve never done before is going to be scary or harmful. When we’re adults engaging with routine-ness, we can comfort ourselves with the simple idea of “I know how to do this, I’ve done it before.” You feel content because routine consistently reaffirms a decision you already made.If said decision is that you want to write a book—and you commit to doing three pages each night for however long it takes to complete it—you affirm not only your choice to begin, but your ability to do it. It’s honestly the healthiest way to feel validated. As your body self-regulates, routine becomes the pathway to “flow2.”“Flow” (in case you don’t know—you probably do) is essentially what happens when we become so completely engaged with what we’re doing, all ideas or worries dissolve, and we’re just completely present in the task. The more you train your body to respond to different cues: 7 a.m. is when you wake up, 2 p.m. is when you start writing, and so on, you naturally fall into flow with a lot more ease, just out of habit. When we don’t settle into routine, we teach ourselves that “fear” is an indicator that we’re doing the wrong thing, rather than just being very invested in the outcome. A lack of routine is just a breeding ground for perpetual procrastination. It gives us gaps and spaces in which our subconscious minds can say: “well, you can take a break now,” when in fact, you have a deadline. But if you’re used to taking a break at that point in time, you’ll allow it simply because “you always do.” * * * 2 Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. 2008. Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 3 10 Things Emotionally Intelligent People do not Do Emotional intelligence is probably the most powerful yet undervalued trait in our society. We believe in rooting our everyday functions in logic and reason, yet we come to the same conclusions after long periods of contemplation as we do in the blink of an eye3. Our leaders sorely overlook the human element of our sociopolitical issues and I need not cite the divorce rate for you to believe that we’re not choosing the right partners (nor do we have the capacity to sustain intimate relationships for long periods of time). It seems people believe the most intelligent thing to do is not have emotions at all. To be effective is to be a machine, a product of the age. A well-oiled, consumerist-serving, digitally attuned, highly unaware but overtly operational robot. And so we suffer. Here are the habits of the people who have the capacity to be aware of what they feel. Who know how to express, process, dismantle, and adjust their experience as they are their own locus of control. They are the true leaders, they are living the most whole and genuine lives, and it is from them we should be taking a cue. These are the things that emotionally intelligent people do not do. They don’t assume that the way they think and feel about a situation is the way it is in reality, nor how it will turn out in the end. They recognize their emotions as responses, not accurate gauges, of what’s going on. They accept that those responses may have to do with their own issues, rather than the objective situation at hand. Their emotional base points are not external. Their emotions aren’t “somebody else’s doing,” and therefore “somebody else’s problem to resolve.” Understanding that they are the ultimate cause of what they experience keeps them out of falling into the trap of indignant passivity: Where one believes that as the universe has done wrong, the universe will ultimately have to correct it. They don’t assume to know what it is that will make them truly happy. Being that our only frame of reference at any given time is what’s happened in the past, we actually have no means to determine what would make us truly happy, as opposed to just feeling “saved” from whatever we disliked about our past experiences. In understanding this, they open themselves up to any experience that their life evolves toward, knowing there are equal parts good and bad in anything. They don’t think that being fearful is a sign they are on the wrong path. The presence of indifference is a sign you’re on the wrong path. Fear means you’re trying to move toward something you love, but your old beliefs, or unhealed experiences, are getting in the way. (Or, rather, are being called up to be healed.) They know that happiness is a choice, but they don’t feel the need to make it all the time. They are not stuck in the illusion that “happiness” is a sustained state of joy. They allow themselves time to process everything they are experiencing. They allow themselves to exist in their natural state. In that non-resistance, they find contentment. They don’t allow their thoughts to be chosen for them. They recognize that through social conditioning and the eternal human monkey-mind, they can often be swayed by thoughts, beliefs, and mindsets that were never theirs in the first place. To combat this, they take inventory of their beliefs, reflect on their origins, and decide whether or not that frame of reference truly serves them. They recognize that infallible composure is not emotional intelligence. They don’t withhold their feelings or try to temper them so much as to render them almost gone. They do, however, have the capacity to withhold their emotional response until they are in an environment wherein it would be appropriate to express how they are feeling. They don’t suppress it; they manage it effectively. They know that a feeling will not kill them. They’ve developed enough stamina and awareness to know that all things, even the worst, are transitory. They don’t just become close friends with anyone. They recognize true trust and intimacy as something you build, and something you want to be discerning with whom you share. But they’re not guarded or closed as they are simply mindful and aware of who they allow into their lives and hearts. They are kind to all, but truly open to few. They don’t confuse a bad feeling for a bad life. They are aware of, and avoid, extrapolation, which is essentially projecting the present moment into the foreseeable future—believing that the moment at hand constitutes what your entire life amounted to, rather than just being another passing, transitory experience in the whole. Emotionally intelligent people allow themselves their “bad” days. They let themselves be fully human. It’s in this non-resistance that they find the most peace of all. * * * 3 Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. 2007. Back Bay Books. 4 How the People We Once Loved become Strangers Again It’s interesting to think about how we make people who used to be everything into nothing again. How we learn to forget. How we force forgetting. What we put in place of them in the interim. The dynamics afterward always tell you more than what the relationship did—grief is a faster teacher than joy—but what does it mean when you cycle out to being strangers again? You never really stop knowing each other in that way. Maybe there’s no choice but to make them someone different in your mind, not the person who knew your daily anxieties and what you looked like naked and what made you cry and how much you loved them. When our lives revolve around someone, they don’t just stop doing so even if all that’s left is some semblance of their memory. There are always those bits that linger. The memories that are impressed on the places you went and the things you said and the songs you listened to remain. We all eventually find ourselves standing in the checkout line, hearing one of those songs come on and realizing that we’re revolving around them again. And maybe we never stopped. Do you ever really forget your lovers’ birthdays, or all your first times, intimate and not? Do your anniversaries ever become normal days of the year again? Are the things you did and promises you made ever really neutralized? Do they become void now that you’re broken up or do you decidedly ignore them because there’s simply no other choice? The mind tells you to go on and forces your heart to follow suit, I guess. I want to believe that you either love someone, in some way, forever, or you never really loved them at all. That once two reactive chemicals cross, both are changed. That the wounds we leave in people are sometimes too raw to risk falling back into them. I don’t want to believe that we write each other off because we simply don’t matter anymore. I know love isn’t expendable. I wonder, and maybe hope, if we ever just force it to be out of necessity. Maybe it’s just that we’re all at the centers of our own little universes, and sometimes they overlap with other people’s, and that small bit of intersection leaves some part of it changed. The collision can wreck us, change us, shift us. Sometimes we merge into one, and other times we rescind because the comfort of losing what we thought we knew wins out. Either way, it’s inevitable that you expand. That you’re left knowing that much more about love and what it can do, and the pain that only a hole in your heart and space in your bed and emptiness in the next chair over can bring. Whether or not that hole will ever again include the person who made it that way…I don’t know. Whether or not anybody else can match the outline of someone who was so deeply impressed in you…I don’t know that, either. We all start as strangers. The choices we make in terms of love are usually ones that seem inevitable anyway. We find people irrationally compelling. We find souls made of the same stuff ours are. We find classmates and partners and neighbors and family friends and cousins and sisters and our lives intersect in a way that makes them feel like they couldn’t have ever been separate. And this is lovely. But the ease and access isn’t what we crave. It isn’t what I’m writing about right now. It isn’t what we revolve around after it’s gone. We are all just waiting for another universe to collide with ours, to change what we can’t ourselves. It’s interesting how we realize the storm returns to calm, but we see the stars differently now, and we don’t know, and we can’t choose, whose wreckage can do that for us. We all start as strangers, but we forget that we rarely choose who ends up a stranger, too. 5 16 Signs of a Socially Intelligent Person While you may not know what makes someone socially intelligent, you have likely experienced the kind of social tone-deafness that leaves you feeling frustrated at best, and physically uncomfortable at worst. Manners are cultural social intelligence. Yet it seems traditional “politeness” is beginning to lose its appeal—it can conjure images of washing out your personality in favor of more uniform behavior. While we want to be able to engage with people in a mutually comfortable way, we shouldn’t have to sacrifice genuine expression in favor of a polite nod or gracious smile. The two are not mutually exclusive. People who are socially intelligent think and behave in a way that spans beyond what’s culturally acceptable at any given moment in time. They function in such a way that they are able to communicate with others and leave them feeling at ease without sacrificing who they are and what they want to say. This, of course, is the basis of connection, the thing on which our brains are wired to desire, and on which we personally thrive. Here, the core traits of someone who is socially intelligent: They do not try to elicit a strong emotional response from anyone they are holding a conversation with. They don’t communicate in such a way that aggrandizes their accomplishments to incite a response of awe or exaggerates their hardships to incite a response of sympathy. This usually occurs when the topic in question is not actually deserving of such a strong response, and therefore makes others uncomfortable because they feel pressured to fake an emotional reaction. They do not speak in definitives about people, politics, or ideas. The fastest way to sound unintelligent is to say, “This idea is wrong.” (That idea may be wrong for you, but it exists because it is right to someone else.) Intelligent people say, “I don’t personally understand this idea or agree with it.” To speak definitively about any one person or idea is to be blind to the multitude of perspectives that exist on it. It is the definition of closed-minded and short-sightedness. They don’t immediately deny criticism, or have such a strong emotional reaction to it that they become unapproachable or unchangeable. Some of the most difficult people to be in relationships with are those who are so threatened by even the slightest suggestion that their behavior is hurtful that they actually end up getting angry at the person suggesting it, reinforcing the problem altogether. Socially intelligent people listen to criticism before they respond to it—an immediate emotional response without thoughtful consideration is just defensiveness. They do not confuse their opinion of someone for being a fact about them. Socially intelligent people do not say, “He’s a prick” as though it is fact. Instead, they say: “I had a negative experience with him where I felt very uncomfortable.” They never overgeneralize other people through their behaviors. They don’t use “you always” or “you never” to illustrate a point. Likewise, they root their arguments in statements that begin with “I feel” as opposed to “you are.” They do this because choosing language that feels unthreatening to someone is the best way to get them to open up to your perspective and actually create the dialogue that will lead to the change you desire. They speak with precision. They say what they intend to say without skirting around the issue. They speak calmly, simply, concisely, and mindfully. They focus on communicating something, not just receiving a response from others. They know how to practice healthy disassociation. In other words, they know that the world does not revolve around them. They are able to listen to someone without worrying that any given statement they make is actually a slight against them. They are able to disassociate from their own projections and at least try to understand another person’s perspective without assuming it has everything to do with their own. They do not try to inform people of their ignorance. When you accuse someone of being wrong, you close them off to considering another perspective by heightening their defenses. If you first validate their stance (“That’s interesting, I never thought of it that way…”) and then present your own opinion (“Something I recently learned is this…”) and then let them know that they still hold their own power in the conversation by asking their opinion (“What do you think about that?”), you open them up to engaging in a conversation where both of you can learn rather than just defend. They validate other people’s feelings. To validate someone else’s feelings is to accept that they feel the way they do without trying to use logic to dismiss or deny or change their minds. (For example: “I am sad today.” “Well, you shouldn’t be, your life is great!”) The main misunderstanding here is that validating feelings is not the same thing as validating ideas. There are many ideas that do not need or deserve to be validated, but everyone’s feelings deserve to be seen and acknowledged and respected. Validating someone’s emotions is validating who they really are, even if you would respond differently. So in other words, it is validating who someone is, even if they are different than you. They recognize that their “shadow selves” are the traits, behaviors, and patterns that aggravate them about others. One’s hatred of a misinformed politician could be a projection of their fear of being unintelligent or underqualified. One’s intense dislike for a particularly passive friend could be an identification of one’s own inclination to give others power in their life. It is not always an obvious connection, but when there is a strong emotional response involved, it is always there. If you genuinely disliked something, you would simply disengage with it. They do not argue with people who only want to win, not learn. You can identify that this is the case when people start “pulling” for arguments or resorting to shoddy logic only to seem as though they have an upper hand. Socially intelligent people know that not everybody wants to communicate, learn, grow or connect—and so they do not try to force them. They listen to hear, not respond. While listening to other people speak, they focus on what is being said, not how they are going to respond. This is also known as the meta practice of “holding space.” They do not post anything online they would be embarrassed to show to a parent, explain to a child, or have an employer find. Aside from the fact that at some point or another, one if not all of those things will come to pass, posting anything that you are not confident to support means you are not being genuine to yourself (you are behaving on behalf of the part of you that wants other people to validate it). They do not consider themselves a judge of what’s true. They don’t say, “you’re wrong”; they say, “I think you are wrong.” They don’t “poison the well” or fall for ad hominem fallacy to disprove a point. “Poisoning the well” is when someone attacks the character of a person so as to shift the attention away from the (possibly very valid) point being made. For example, if a person who eats three candy bars a day says: “I don’t think kids it’s healthy for children to eat too much candy each day,” a socially intelligent person wouldn’t respond, “Who are you to say?”; they would be able to see the statement objective from the person who is saying it. Usually, it is people who are most inflicted with an issue that are able to speak out on the importance of it (even if it seems hypocritical on the surface). Their primary relationship is to themselves, and they work on it tirelessly. The main thing socially intelligent people understand is that your relationship to everyone else is an extension of your relationship to yourself. 6 Uncomfortable Feelings that actually Indicate you’re on the Right Path Discomfort is what happens when we are on the precipice of change. Unfortunately, we often confuse it for unhappiness and cope with the latter while running from the former. It usually takes a bit of discomfort to break through to a new understanding, to release a limiting belief, to motivate ourselves to create real change. Discomfort is a signal, one that is often very helpful. Here are a few (less than desirable) feelings that may indicate you’re on the right path after all: Feeling as though you are reliving your childhood struggles. You find that you’re seeing issues you struggled with as a kid reappear in your adult life, and while on the surface this may seem like a matter of not having overcome them, it really means you are becoming conscious of why you think and feel so you can change it. Feeling “lost” or directionless. Feeling lost is actually a sign you’re becoming more present in your life—you’re living less within the narratives and ideas that you premeditated and more in the moment at hand. Until you’re used to this, it will feel as though you’re off-track (you aren’t). “Left brain” fogginess. When you’re utilizing the right hemisphere more often (you’re becoming more intuitive, you’re dealing with emotions, you’re creating) sometimes it can seem as though “left brain” functions leave you feeling fuzzy. Things such as focusing, organizing, and remembering small details suddenly become difficult. Having random influxes of irrational anger or sadness that intensify until you can’t ignore them anymore. When emotions erupt it’s usually because they’re “coming up” to be recognized, and our job is to learn to stop grappling with them or resisting them and to simply become fully conscious of them (after that, we control them, not the opposite way around). Experiencing unpredictable and scattered sleeping patterns. You’ll need to sleep a lot more or a lot less, you’ll wake up in the middle of the night because you can’t stop thinking about something, you find yourself full of energy or completely exhausted, and with little in between. A life-changing event is taking place or just has. You suddenly having to move, getting divorced, losing a job, having a car break down, etc. Having an intense need to be alone. You’re suddenly disenchanted with the idea of spending every weekend out socializing, and other people’s problems are draining you more than they are intriguing you. This means you’re recalibrating. Intense, vivid dreaming that you almost always remember in detail. If dreams are how your subconscious mind communicates with you (or projects an image of your experience), then your mind is definitely trying to say something. You’re having dreams at an intensity that you’ve never experienced before. Downsizing your friend group; feeling more and more uncomfortable around negative people. The thing about negative people is that they rarely realize they are negative, and because you feel uncomfortable saying anything (and you’re even more uncomfortable keeping that in your life), you’re ghosting a bit on old friends. Feeling like the dreams you had for your life are collapsing. What you do not realize at this moment is that it is making way for a reality better than you could have thought of, one that’s more aligned with who you are, not who you thought you would be. Feeling as though your worst enemies are your thoughts.You’re beginning to realize that your thoughts create your experience, and it’s often not until we’re pushed to our wits' end that we even try to take control of them—and that’s when we realize that we were in control all along. Feeling unsure of who you really are. Your past illusions about who you “should” be are dissolving. You feel unsure because it is uncertain! You’re in the process of evolving, and we don’t become uncertain when we change for the worse; we become angry and closed off. In other words: If what you’re experiencing is insecurity or uncertainty, it’s usually going to lead to something better. Recognizing how far you still have to go. When you realize this, it’s because you can also see where you’re headed; it means you finally know where and who you want to be. “Knowing” things you don’t want to know, such as what someone is really feeling, or that a relationship isn’t going to last, or that you won’t be at your job much longer. A lot of “irrational” anxiety comes from subconsciously sensing something, yet not taking it seriously because it isn’t logical. Having an intense desire to speak up for yourself. Becoming angry with how much you’ve let yourself be walked on or how much you’ve let other people’s voices get into your head is a sign that you’re finally ready to stop listening and love yourself by respecting yourself first. Realizing you are the only person responsible for your life and your happiness. This kind of emotional autonomy is terrifying, because it means that if you mess up, it’s all on you. At the same time, realizing it is the only way to be truly free. The risk is worth the reward on this one, always. 7 What the Feelings you most Suppress are trying to Tell You Emotional intelligence is not how infrequently you feel anything “bad” because you’ve developed the discipline and wisdom “not to.” It’s not how easily you choose what you think, how you let it affect you, or how placidly you react to any given situation. Real emotional maturity is how thoroughly you let yourself feel anything. Everything. Whatever comes. It is simply the knowing that the worst thing that could ever happen…is just a feeling at the end of the day. That’s it! A feeling. Imagine the very worst, the only thing bad about it is…how you would feel about it. What you would make it out to be, what you’d assume the repercussions mean, and how those would ultimately affect…how you feel. A sense of fear, a pinch or throb or sting. A hunger pang or ego kick. The sense of worthlessness, the idea of not belonging. (Interesting how physical feelings are always quick and transient, but the ideas we hold of pain always seem to stick around…) But we avoid feeling anything because we have more or less been taught that our feelings have lives of their own. That they’ll carry on forever if we give them even a moment of our awareness. Have you ever felt joy for more than a few minutes? What about anger? No? How about tension, depression, and sadness? Those have lasted longer, haven’t they? Weeks and months and years at a time, right? That’s because those aren’t feelings. They are symptoms. But we’ll get to their causes in a minute. What you have to know is that suffering is just the refusal to accept what is. That’s it. Etymologically, it comes from the Latin word to “from below to bear.” Or, to “resist, endure, put under.” So healing is really just letting yourself feel. It is unearthing your traumas and embarrassments and losses and allowing yourself the emotions that you could not have in the moment that you were having those experiences. It’s letting yourself filter and process what you had to suppress at the time to keep going, maybe even to survive. We all fear that our feelings are too big, especially in the moment we’re actually having them. We were taught not be too loving, we’d get hurt; too smart, we’d get bullied; too fearful, we’d be vulnerable. To be compliant with what other people wanted us to feel. As kids we were punished for crying out if our emotional experience wasn’t in accordance with our parents' convenience. (No wonder we still respond the way we do.) The point is that you aren’t the one who is afraid of feeling too much. It’s the people who called you crazy and dramatic and wrong. The people who don’t know how to handle it, who want you to stay where you are. Those are the people who want you to keep not feeling. Not you. You know how I know? Because your numbness isn’t feeling nothing, it’s feeling everything, and never having learned to process anything at all. Numbness is not nothing, neutral is nothing. Numbness is everything at once. Because your sadness is saying, “I am still attached to something being different.” Your guilt is saying, “I fear I have done bad in someone’s eyes,” and your shame, “I fear I am bad in someone’s eyes.” Your anxiety is your resistance to the process, your last grasps at a control you are becoming more and more aware that you do not have. Your tiredness is your resistance to who you really are, the person you actually want to be. Your annoyance is your repressed anger. Your depression, biological factors aside of course, is everything coming to the surface, and you bellowing down to stow it away. And your arrival at the conclusion that you cannot go on like this, that you’re missing out, that you’re off-track and feeling stuck and lost, is you realizing that you need not change your feelings. You just have to learn to lean into them and see what they are trying to tell you. Trying to change how you feel is like finding a road sign that points in the opposite direction of where you had intended to go and getting out to try to turn the sign, rather than your course of action. And what happens when we stow away the emotions that accompany our experiences, never give ourselves time to process, try to force ourselves into feeling any given way at any given time, is we disregard what will give us the ultimate peace: just allowing, without judgment. So it’s not about changing how you feel. It’s about listening. Not accepting what they appear to mean—that’s important—but really following your instincts down to what they are trying to signal. They are how you communicate with yourself. Every feeling is worthwhile. You miss so much by trying to change every one of them away, or thinking there are some that are right or wrong or good or bad or that you should have or shouldn’t, all because you’re afraid that you’ll tell yourself something you don’t want to hear. The feelings you most suppress are the most important ways you guide yourself. Your apprehension to listen is not your own desire. It’s fear of being something more or less or greater or worse or simply different than those around you have implied they will accept. When you choose to value having other people’s acceptance over your own, you accept a fate of battling your instincts to assimilate to the needs of other people’s egos. In the meantime, a world and lifetime of listening, leaning, allowing, following, perceiving, feeling, and experiencing…constantly eludes you. Sadness will not kill you. Depression won’t, either. But fighting it will. Ignoring it will. Trying to escape it rather than confront it will. Denying it will. Suffocating it will. Allowing it no place to go other than your deep subconscious to embed and control you will. Not that you’ll take your life or destroy everything “good” you do receive (though you might). But it will kill you in that it will rob you of every bit of life you do have: You either let yourself feel everything or numb yourself into feeling nothing. You cannot select emotions. You are either in accord with their flow or in resistance to their nature. In the end, the choice is yours. 8 the Parts of you that Aren’t “I” Let’s pretend for a moment that we pulled apart all of your organs and laid them on a table. Feel your heartbeat; imagine it outside of you. You would not look at your heart and think: “That is me.” You think: “That is my heart.” Now feel your breath. Feel it in tandem with your heartbeat, neither of which you are often conscious of, both of which are in constant motion. You do not say, “I am my breath.” You say: “I am breathing.” Think about your liver. And your kidneys. Think about your bones and your blood. Think about your legs and your fingers and your hair and your brain. You see them objectively. They’re just parts. They’re ultimately (mostly) removable and replaceable and they’re all entirely temporary. You don’t think of them and see “I.” You think of them and you see things. If you pulled them apart, they’d just be compilations of cells. You don’t see them and think: “That’s me!” You think: “Those are mine.” Why is it any different when we compile and attach them? There is a concentration of energy, of heavy presentness, in your chest and throat and maybe a little in your head. It is centered. You don’t feel yourself in your legs. You don’t have emotions in your arms. It’s at the core. In that same space coexist the organs we don’t identify with and the energy we do. If we removed the latter, what would be left? What would be there? What exists when you don’t? Have you ever sat in that? Have you ever sat with that? Have you ever felt each part of your body and realized the parts are not “I?” Have you ever felt the presentness that is somehow livened when attached? Have you ever identified the difference between what you call yours and what you call yourself? Knowing who you are is grounding; it gives you a sense of trajectory. But when we assign words and meanings to what we know we like and value and want, we create attachments. We then strive to keep things within the parameters of which we’ve already accepted. Out of that, we create failure. We create suffering over self. We begin to believe that a static idea can represent a dynamic, evolving being. The ways we don’t live up to the ideas in our minds become our greatest grievances. I think sometimes we get attached to the structures because we don’t like the contents. We’re more invested in how we’re perceived than who we are, in the idea of what the title means than the day-to-day work of the job, in the “do you promise to love me forever?” than the actual day-to-day loving. This is to say: We’re more comforted by ideas of what things are as opposed to what they really are. We like to think of ourselves as bodies because that doesn’t leave us with the open-ended “what else.” But what if the “what else” isn’t the end-thought, but the beginning? What if awareness of it frees us of so many things, quells so many thoughts, balms so many aches? What if healing yourself is not fixing an attitude, not changing an opinion, not altering an aesthetic, but shifting a presence, an awareness, an energy? In this case, fixing the parts does not heal the whole. The only thing that changes you and your life is the awareness of the parts that are not “I.” It is the whole, it is where you end up, it is where you began, it is the one thing, the only thing, that shifts, and raises, and facilitates the spark of awareness that made you question the elements of its vessel. I’m not really asking you to consider the theories. I’m just asking whether or not you feel it. 9 20 Signs you’re doing Better than you think You Are You paid the bills this month and maybe even had extra to spend on nonessentials. It doesn’t matter how much you belabored the checks as they went out; the point is that they did, and you figured it out regardless. You question yourself. You doubt your life. You feel miserable some days. This means you’re still open to growth. This means you can be objective and self-aware. The best people go home at the end of the day and think: “or…maybe there’s another way.” You have a job. For however many hours, at whatever rate, you are earning money that helps you eat something, sleep on something, wear something every day. It’s not failure if it doesn’t look the way you thought it would—you’re valuing your independence and taking responsibility for yourself. You have time to do something you enjoy, even if “what you enjoy” is sitting on the couch and ordering dinner and watching Netflix. You are not worried about where your next meal is coming from. There’s food in the fridge or pantry, and you have enough to actually pick and choose what you want to eat. You can eat because you enjoy it. It’s not a matter of sheer survival. You have one or two truly close friends. People worry about the quantity but eventually tend to realize the number of people you can claim to be in your tribe has no bearing on how much you feel intimacy, acceptance, community, or joy. At the end of the day, all we really want are a few close people who know us (and love us) no matter what. You could afford a subway ride, cup of coffee, or the gas in your car this morning. The smallest conveniences (and oftentimes, necessities) are not variables for you. You’re not the same person you were a year ago. You’re learning, and evolving, and can identify the ways in which you’ve changed for better and worse. You have the time and means to do things beyond the bare minimum. You’ve maybe been to a concert in the last few years, you buy books for yourself, you could take a day trip to a neighboring city if you wanted—you don’t have to work all hours of the day to survive. You have a selection of clothing at your disposal. You aren’t worried about having a hat or gloves in a blizzard, you have cool clothes for the summer and something to wear to a wedding. You not only can shield and decorate your body but can do so appropriately for a variety of circumstances. You can sense what isn’t right in your life. The first and most crucial step is simply being aware. Being able to communicate to yourself: “Something is not right, even though I am not yet sure what would feel better.” If you could talk to your younger self, you would be able to say: “We did it, we made it out, we survived that terrible thing.” So often people carry their past traumas into their present lives, and if you want any proof that we carry who we were in who we are, all you need to do is see how you respond to your inner child hearing, "You’re going to be okay" from the person they became. You have a space of your own. It doesn’t even have to be a home or apartment (but that’s great if it is). All you need is a room, a corner, a desk, where you can create or rest at your discretion; where you govern who gets to be part of your weird little world, and to what capacity. It’s one of the few controls we can actually exert. You’ve lost relationships. More important than the fact that you’ve simply had them in the first place is that you or your former partner chose not to settle. You opened yourself to the possibility of something else being out there. You’re interested in something. Whether it’s how to live a happier life, maintain better relationships, reading or movies or sex or society or the axis on which the world spins, something intrigues you to explore it. You know how to take care of yourself. You know how many hours of sleep you need to feel okay the next day, who to turn to when you’re heartbroken, what you have fun doing, what to do when you don’t feel well, etc. You’re working toward a goal. Even if you’re exhausted and it feels miles away, you have a dream for yourself, however vague and malleable. But you’re not uncompromisingly set on anything for your future. Some of the happiest and best-adjusted people are the ones who can make any situation an ideal, who are too immersed in the moment to intricately plan and decidedly commit to any one specific outcome. You’ve been through some crap. You can look at challenges you currently face and compare them to ones you thought you’d never get over. You can reassure yourself through your own experience. Life did not get easier; you got smarter. 10 Breaking your “Upper Limit,” and how People Hold Themselves back from real Happiness Most people don’t want to be happy, which is why they aren’t. They just don’t realize this is the case. People are programmed to chase their foremost desire at almost any cost. (Imagine the adrenaline-fueled superhuman powers people develop in life-or-death emergencies.) It’s just a matter of what that foremost desire is. Often enough, it’s comfort. Or familiarity. There are many reasons people thwart the feeling of happiness, but a lot of them have to do with assuming it means giving up on achieving more. Nobody wants to believe happiness is a choice, because that puts responsibility in their hands. It’s the same reason people self-pity: to delay action, to make an outcry to the universe, as though the more they state how bad things are, the more likely it is that someone else will change them. Happiness is not a rush of positive emotion elicited by random events that affirm the way you think something should go. Not sustainable happiness, anyway. The real stuff is the product of an intentional, mindful, daily practice, and it begins with choosing to commit to it. Everybody has a happiness tolerance—an upper limit—as Gay Hendricks coins it4. It is the capacity for which we allow ourselves to feel good. Other psychologists call it the “baseline,” the amount of happiness we “naturally” feel, and eventually revert back to, even if certain events or circumstances shift us temporarily. The reason we don’t allow those shifts to become baselines is because of the upper limit—as soon as our circumstances extend beyond the amount of happiness we’re accustomed to and comfortable feeling, we unconsciously begin to self-sabotage. We are programmed to seek what we’ve known. So even though we think we’re after happiness, we’re actually trying to find whatever we’re most accustomed to, and we project that on whatever actually exists, over and over again. These are just a few of many psychological impediments that hold us back from the emotional lives we claim to want. Here are a few others: Everybody has a limited tolerance for feeling good.When things go beyond that limit, we sabotage ourselves so we can return to our comfort zones. The tired cliché of stepping outside them serves a crucial purpose: It makes people comfortable with discomfort, which is the gateway to expanding their tolerance for happiness. There is a “likability limit” that people like to remain under: Everybody has a level of “success” that they perceive to be admirable—and unthreatening to others.Most things people do are in an effort to “earn” love. Many desires, dreams, and ambitions are built out of a space of severe lack. It’s for this reason that some of the most emotionally dense people are also the most successful: They use their desire for acceptance, love, wholeness, as fuel—for better and for worse. The point is: Once people surpass the point at which they think people will judge and ridicule them for their success (as opposed to praise them for it), they promptly cut themselves off, or at minimum severely downplay/minimize it so as to keep themselves in good standing with those from whom they desire approval. (It’s ultimately not that people value ego and material over love, but that they think those things will earn them love.) Most prefer the comfort of what they’ve known to the vulnerability of what they don’t.Even when “what they don’t” is, objectively, much better. If we redefine “happiness” in terms of what human beings innately desire (comfort, inclusiveness, a sense of purpose, etc.), we can then make the choice to seek comfort from things that are ultimately aligned with what we want to achieve. Many people are afraid that “being happy” = giving up on achieving more.Happiness is, in an essential form, acceptance. It’s arriving at the end goal, passing the finish line, letting the wave of accomplishment wash over you. Deciding to be that way every day can make it seem as though the race is already over, so we subconsciously associate “happiness” and “acceptance” with “giving up.” But the opposite is true: The path to a greater life is not “suffering until you achieve something,” but letting bits and pieces of joy and gratitude and meaning and purpose gradually build, bit by bit. People delay action once they know truth—and the interim between knowing and doing is the space where suffering thrives.Most of the time, it’s not about not knowing what to do (or not knowing who you are). It’s about the resistance between what’s right and what’s easy, what’s best in the long v. short term. We hear our instincts; we just don’t listen. This is the single most common root of discomfort: the space between knowing and doing. We’re culturally addicted to procrastination, but we’re also just as enamored by deflection. By not acting immediately, we think we’re creating space for the truth to shift, when we’re really only creating discomfort so that we can sense it more completely (though we’re suffering needlessly in the process). People believe that apathy is safety.We’re all afraid of losing the pieces and people that make up our lives. Some people try to cut ahead of the pain-curve and don’t let themselves feel as though they wanted or liked those things in the first place. The undercurrent here is the sense that everything ends and all is impermanent and while those things are more or less true, there is something just slightly truer, and it is that death gives life meaning. It’s the fact that we can lose what we have that makes it sacred and precious and wonderful. It’s not about what pain you suffer; it’s about what you suffer for. You can choose to cut yourself off from feeling good so as to buffer the sense of loss and suffer from numbness, or you can have an incredible life and mourn wildly when it’s over, but at least there was a means to that end. Few know how to practice feeling good (or why it’s necessary).It is almost essential to raising your upper limit, augmenting your baseline, and ultimately assimilating to the new chapter(s) of your life without destroying them out of unfamiliarity. Practicing feeling good is simply taking a moment to literally let yourself feel. Extend that rush just a few seconds longer, meditate on some things you’re grateful for, and let it wash over you as much as possible. Seek what’s positive, and you’ll find that your threshold for feeling it expands as you decide it can. People think happiness is an emotional response facilitated by a set of circumstances, as opposed to a choice and shift of perception/awareness.It seems that the people who are steadfast in their belief that circumstances create happiness are not to be swayed—and that makes sense. It’s for the same reason that we buy into it so much: It’s easier. It’s the way to cut corners on your emotional life. It’s seemingly logical and fairly easy to attain, so why not stand by it fiercely? Because it’s ultimately false. It maintains that you must wait to feel happy, and as we know, unless you are cultivating your baseline to be all-around higher, you’ll spend the rest of your life bopping from one perceived high to another. Some of the statistically happiest countries in the world are nearly impoverished. Some of the most notable and peaceful individuals to grace the Earth died with only a few cents to their name. The commonality is a sense of purpose, belonging, and love: things you can choose to feel and cultivate, regardless of physical/material circumstance. Most people don’t know that it’s possible to shift their baseline, since it’s always framed in a way of being “how one naturally is.”If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times: the woman with anxiety who says, “It’s just the way I am.” The man with a dozen irrational fears who attributes them to “his personality.” The thing is that nothing has to be an essential part of you unless you decide it is—least of all anxiety and fear. In fact, those things are never essentially part of who someone is; they are learned behaviors. They are ego-reactions that go unchecked. They are flashing lights and waving flags from our innermost selves that something is not right, but we’re avoiding making the shift (mostly by deflecting on the circumstance being out of our control). People believe that suffering makes them worthy.To have wonderful things in our lives without having suffered for them somehow translates to us feeling as though we haven’t truly “earned” them and therefore, they are not completely ours. On the flip side: The idea that beautiful, joyous things could simply be ours without any conscious creation of them on our part is terrifying, because the opposite could just as well be true. Many people believe they can beat fear to the finish line.Worry is the Western cultural pastime, and it’s ultimately a deflection from the fact that we buoy between extremes: not caring about anything or caring so much about one thing it could break us altogether. Worrying conditions us to the worst possible outcomes so they don’t cause as much pain if they come to pass. We’re thinking through every irrational possibility so we can account for it, prepare for it, before it surprises us. We try to imagine every “bad” thing a person could say about us so they’re not the first to do it. But this does not change anything. You still won’t expect difficult things to arise. You will never know what people are really thinking, or how often. You will not be able to prepare to cope with your irrational fears, because there’s no basis in a reality you could possibly get ready to deal with. You cannot beat fear to the finish line. You are not cheating your way around pain. You’re actively pursuing more and more of it. Happy people are often perceived as being naive and vulnerable. If nothing else, happy people are stigmatized as being clueless and ill-informed and delusionally positive and disconnected from reality, but the only people who perceive them that way are people who do everything in their power to justify the negativity in their lives they feel they cannot control. It is people who don’t choose a better life that are naive and truly vulnerable, as “happy people” may lose everything they have, but people who never choose to fully step into their lives never have anything at all. * * * 4 Hendricks, Gay. The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level. 2010. HarperOne. 11 the Happiness of Excellence Eric Greitens says that there are three primary forms of happiness: the happiness of pleasure, the happiness of grace, and the happiness of excellence5. He compares them to the primary colors, the basis on which the entire spectrum is created. The happiness of pleasure is largely sensory. It’s a good meal when you’re hungry, the smell of air after it rains, waking up warm and cozy in your bed. The happiness of grace is gratitude. It’s looking over to see the love of your life sleeping next to you and whispering, “thank you.” It’s taking inventory of what you do have. It’s when you speak to something greater than yourself, expressing humility and awe. And then there is the happiness of excellence. The kind of happiness that comes from the pursuit of something great. Not the moment you arrive at the top of the mountain and raise your fists in victory, but the process of falling in love with the hike. It is meaningful work. It is flow. It is the purpose that sears identity and builds character and channels our energy toward something greater than the insatiable, daily pursuit of our fleeting desires. Just as removing one of the primary colors would make many others impossible (without yellow, you could not have any shade of green) without any one of these happinesses, it is almost impossible to thrive. One cannot replace another. They are all necessary. But we try anyway. To drink in excess, for example—the happiness of pleasure—is common when the happiness of excellence isn’t being pursued. But it is not, and will never be, the solution. “Lots and lots of red will never make blue. Pleasures will never make you whole.” The happiness of excellence is the work of emotional resilience. It’s the highest ranking on Maslow’s hierarchy. It is measured, deliberate, and consistent. It is often avoided because the discomfort is palpable, and the reward isn’t instantaneous. There’s no contact high during the first days of marathon training when your lungs are stinting and you want to vomit. But over time, you develop your skill. You begin to imagine what you could accomplish. You fall in love with the process. Though all three of the happinesses are different, they are all shaped by context. Someone who has gone without food for three days is more attuned to the happiness of pleasure than people who consider meals and shelter givens. Likewise, those who have never acquainted themselves with the power and pleasure of working toward something fueled not by the sparks of passion but with the embers of sober, consistent resolve, do not know that on the other side of exerted effort, there is profound reward. Many of us are colorblind to the joys and complexities of our lives, and it is because we are missing a part of the foundation. We want to be authors but have no desire to develop the discipline it takes to sit down and write for four hours a day for years on end. We want to be legends and geniuses and masters, but care little to develop the discipline it would require to log our 10,000 hours—so to say. Happiness is not only how we can astound our senses, but also the peace of mind that comes from knowing we are becoming who we want and need to be. That’s what we receive from pursuing the happiness of excellence: not accomplishment, but identity. A sense of self that we carry into everything else in our lives. A technicolor pigment that makes the entire spectrum come alive. * * * 5 Greitens, Eric. Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom For Living a Better Life. 2016. Mariner Books. 12 the Knowing-Doing Gap: why we Avoid Doing What’s Best For Us, and how to Conquer Resistance For Good The ancient Greeks called it Akrasia, the Zen Buddhists call it resistance, you and I call it procrastination, every productivity guru on the Internet calls it being “stuck.” Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton call it the “knowing-doing gap,” or the experience of knowing the best thing to do, but doing something else anyway6. Common sense tells us that if we put another hour into novel writing each night, ate better, woke earlier, chose affirmative thoughts, spoke honestly and connected more genuinely, we’d live better lives. But the real question, and the real work, is not understanding what’s good for us, but why we choose otherwise. Understanding the fabric of resistance is the only way we can unstitch it. There are many reasons we self-sabotage, and most of them have something to do with comfort. Modern society (innovation, culture, wealth, success) is designed to convince us that a “good life” is one that is most comfortable, or able to provide us with a sense of being pain-free and secure. This is pretty directly related to the fact that human beings are hardwired to seek comfort, which translates to us as survival—we’re physiologically designed that way. It only makes sense that in our more fully actualized intellectual and emotional lives, we’d want the same. Moving yourself past resistance is a matter of shifting your perception of comfort. It’s about considering the alternative. It’s altering your mindset to focus on the discomfort you will face if you don’t do the thing in front of you, as opposed to the discomfort you will face if you do. If left unchecked, the knowing-doing gap will leave you a shell of the person you intended to be. It will wreck your most intimate, passionate relationships, keep you from the kind of daily productivity required to achieve any goal worth working toward. It will keep you in a manic state of indecision (do I, or don’t I? Which feeling do I let guide me?). You have to take control for yourself, and you can do so by considering the big picture. The alternative. The way your life will be if you don’t do this thing. How will you quantifiably measure this year? What will you have done? How many hours will you have wasted? If you had to live today—or any average day—on repeat for the rest of your life, where would you end up? What would you accomplish? How happy would you be? What relationships will you have fostered? Will you be looking back knowing you likely damn well missed out on what could have been the love of your life because you weren’t “ready?” What about the hours you could have been playing music or writing or painting or whatever-ing? Where will those have gone? You will never be ready for the things that matter, and waiting to feel ready before you start acting is how the knowing-doing gap widens. It’s uncomfortable to work, to stretch the capacity of your tolerance, to be vulnerable with someone you care deeply about, but it is never more comfortable than going your whole life without the things you really want. Anxiety builds in our idle hours. Fear and resistance thrive when we’re avoiding the work. Most things aren’t as hard or as trying as we chalk them up to be. They’re ultimately fun and rewarding and expressions of who we really are. That’s why we want them. Taking small steps will remind you that this is true. It will soothe you in a way that just thinking about taking action never will. It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking rather than think your way into a new way of acting, so do one little thing today and let the momentum build. And thank whatever force within you that knows there’s something bigger for you—the one that’s pushing you to be comfortable with less. * * * 6 Pfeffer, Jeffrey. The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge Into Action. 2000. Harvard Business School Press. 13 101 Things more worth Thinking about than Whatever’s Consuming You The way it will feel to have the life you want. The place you’ll live, the clothes you will wear, what you will buy at the supermarket, how much money you’ll save, what work you’ll be most proud to have done. What you’ll do with your weekends, what color your sheets will be, what you’ll take photos of. The parts of yourself you need to work on, not because someone else doesn’t love them, but because you don’t. The fact that sometimes, the ultimate expression of self-love is admitting you don’t like yourself and coming up with steps to change the things that you know you can and will do better. A list of things that turned out to be very right for you, and what similar feeling accompanied each of them. The way you will quantify this year. How many books you want to say you’ve read, how many projects you’ve completed, how many connections with friends and family you fostered or rekindled, how you spent your days. The things in the past that you thought you’d never get over, and how insignificant they seem today. What you will create today, what food you will eat, and who you will connect with. (These are the only things you carry with you.) How you learn best, and how you could possibly integrate that form of comprehension into your life more often (do things that are more visual, or listen better, try to experiment more often, and so on). The fact that you do not need to be exceptionally beautiful or talented or successful to experience the things that make life profound: love, knowledge, connection, community, and so on. The cosmos, and how despite being insignificant specks, we are all essential to the core patchwork that makes up humanity, and that without any single one of us, nothing would exist as it is right now. The proper conjugations for a language you could stand to speak conversationally. The people you smiled at on the street this morning, the people whom you text regularly, the family you could stand to visit more—all the little bits of genuine human connection that you overlook because they’ve become givens. How you will remember this time in your life 20 years from now. What you will wish you had done or stopped doing, what you overlooked, what little things you didn’t realize you should have appreciated. How few of your days you really remember. How you likely won’t remember this particular day 20 years from now. Everything you honestly didn’t like about the person you’re no longer with, now that you’re not emotionally obligated to lie to yourself about them. A list of all the things you’ve done for yourself recently. Little ways you can improve your quality of day-to-day life, such as consolidating debt, or learning to cook an easy signature meal, or cleaning out your closet. The patterns in your failed relationships, and what degree of fault you can rightfully hand yourself. What you subconsciously love about the “problems” you struggle to get over. Nobody holds onto something unless they think it does something for them (usually keeps them “safe”). The idea that perhaps the current problem in your life is not the problem, but that your perception is skewed, or you aren’t thinking of solutions as much as you are focusing on your discomfort. The ways you have sincerely failed, and how you can commit yourself to doing better, not only for yourself but for the people who love and rely on you. The ways in which your current situation—though perhaps unplanned or unwanted—could be the path to the place you’ve actually always wanted to be, if only you’d begin to think of it that way. Your mortality. How you can more actively take advantage and appreciate the things that are in front of you while you still have them. What your life looks like to other people. Not because you should value this more than you value your own feelings, but because perspective is important. What you have already accomplished in your life. What you want to be defined by when all is said and done. What kind of person you want to be known as. (Kind? Intelligent? Giving? Grounded? Helpful?) What you could honestly be defined by at this point, based on your consistent actions and interactions, and whether or not that’s what you really want. How your unconscious assumptions about what’s true and real are shaping the way you think of reality. What other options exist outside of your default way of thinking; what would be true if the things you assumed were not. The details of whatever it is you’re working on right now. How you can possibly put more effort into said work that deserves your time and attention and energy more than whatever you become distracted by does. How you can help other people, even just by sitting down to speak with an old friend, buying someone dinner, sharing an article or a quote that resonated with you. Other people’s motivations and desires. The fact that you do not think the exact way other people think, and that perhaps the issues you have with them are not issues, but lapses in your understanding of them (and theirs of you). The patterns of the people you know, and what they tell you about whom they really are. The fact that we assume people are as we imagine them—a compilation of the emotional experiences we’ve had with them—as opposed to the patterns they reveal to us in their behavior. It’s more accurate to sum people up by what they repeatedly do. What you would say if you could tell every single person in the world just one thing. What you would say if you could tell your younger self just one thing. The years of practice it takes to learn to play each instrument in your favorite song. The power and creativity it takes to simply come up with a melody, forget a piece of music that moves you to your core. Where your food comes from. What your big objective is. If you don’t know what you generally want to do with your precious, limited time here, you’re not going to do much of anything at all. What you’d put in one box if you had to move to the other side of the country and could only bring that. Getting to inbox 0. How much your pet loves you. How you can adequately and healthfully allow yourself to feel and express pain when it comes up (as opposed to just freaking out and trying to get rid of it as fast as possible). Plot twists. The complexities and contradictions of your favorite characters in your favorite books. Who you would be happy to also live for, if your own desires and interests were no longer your sole priority. What your future self would think and say about whatever situation you’re in right now. An upcoming trip, whether it’s booked or not. What you’re going to do, what you’re going to take pictures of, what you can explore, who you’ll be with, who you’ll meet. The hardest nights of your life. What you would have done differently. What you would do if you could re-enter those hours and advise your past self. The best nights of your life. Not only what you were doing and who you were with, but what you were thinking and what you were focusing on. The fact that it is hard to do everything: It’s hard to be in a relationship, it’s hard not to be in one. It’s hard to have to perform at a job you love and are emotionally invested in, it’s hard not to be living your dreams by a certain age. Everything is hard; it’s just a matter of what you think is worth the effort. What you think is worth that effort. What you are willing to suffer for. Aesthetics that you love. The kind of spaces you not only want to live and work in, but which make you feel most like yourself. What actions, choices, and behaviors you think could have saved your parents. Your singular, deepest fear. What your singular, deepest fear tells you about your singular, deepest desire. The little wonders. The smell of rain when the windows are open in the summer, your favorite T-shirt, songs you loved as a kid, your favorite food when you’re hungry. Your stories. The strange and simple and beautiful things you’ve experienced and how you can better share them with other people. What you will be motivated by when fear is no longer an option. What you are motivated to do when fear is no longer an option. What “enough” means to you. What’s enough money, enough love, enough productivity. Fulfillment is a product of knowing what “enough” is—otherwise you will be constantly seeking more. Your dream moments. Having a birthday party in which all the people you love attend, or getting on a plane to Thailand, or losing the weight you’ve always wanted to, or being debt-free, or renovating a house. What you’d do if you had $1,000 of extra disposable income each month. What actions you could take to move yourself in the direction of the life you want—where you could search for networking opportunities, what friends in neighboring cities you could visit and explore, how you could get out more. The feeling of sun on your skin. The smell of spring. What you can do with your minutes, as opposed to your hours, or days. How much of your self-perception is built by culture, or expectations, or other people’s opinions. How much of your self-perception is sustained by culture, or expectations, or other people’s opinions. Who you are when nobody’s around. What you thought you’d be when you were younger. How the elements of that play into your life now. How you’d behave differently if this entire time-space reality were in fact a holographic illusion over which you ultimately have control. How you’d behave differently if your fate were dependent on the thoughts you think and the actions you take in any given moment. The basic premise of various ancient philosophies, and which resonates with you the most soundly. Melodies of songs that haven’t been written yet. The fact that the way to change your life is to change the way you think, and the way to change the way you think is to change what you read. What you’d read if you chose books and articles based on what interested you, not what other people say is “good” literature. What you’d listen to if you chose music based on what interested you, not what other people say is “good” music. What genuinely turns you on. What qualities you admire most in other people. (This is what you most like about yourself.) What qualities you most dislike in other people. (This is what you cannot see, or are resisting, in yourself.) How love would save your life, if it were capable of doing such things. (It is.) How infinite the universe is; how infinitesimal we are; how perhaps each is a reflection, and extension, of the other. How complicated the questions are; how simple the answers turn out to be. What “yes” feels like to you. People very often focus on the warning signs that something is wrong, but not the subtle signals that something is right. How many random, chance occurrences were involved in nearly every important advancement in your life. A mantra, or many mantras, all of which work to support your unwavering conviction that the future will be different, and you will figure out how to make it so. The fact that the kind of love worth choosing and keeping is the kind that ever so slightly tilts the axis on which your world spins, leaving nothing to ever be the same again. How to fight better. How to eloquently communicate your thoughts and feelings without putting people on the defensive, and starting an argument where there should just be a deepening of connection. What you’d live for, if your primary interest was no longer your own wants and needs. The people who depend on you, and how absolutely devastated they would be if you were no longer in their lives. Who and where you will be in five years if you carry on as you are right now. The most important things you’ve learned about life so far. How you came to learn the most important things you’ve learned so far. How many people go to bed at night crying, wishing they had what you have—the job, the love, the apartment, the education, the friends, and so on. How many times in your life you went to bed crying, wishing you could have what you have now—the job, the love, the apartment, the education, the friends, and so on. What you can do to more consistently remind yourself of this. What your most fully realized self is like. How your best self thinks. What they are grateful for, who they love. The first, and most important step, to being the person you were intended to be is to conceive of them. Once you’ve accomplished that, everything else falls in line. 14 Expectations You Must let go of In Your 20s You’re meant to be extraordinary.Extraordinary people are just that—rare. Recognizing this doesn’t mean you’re giving up on your potential, it means you’re dissolving the illusions you have about what it means to be your whole self and live your best life. We tout the “one in a billion” success story as though it’s the natural end goal of working hard and actualizing yourself. It’s not. The real question is what work are you willing to do even if nobody claps? What will be worthwhile if it goes unacknowledged? How will you feel loved by a few people if you aren’t recognized by many? Finding the exceptional in the ordinary is the real extraordinary. You’re at the beginning of your life. Some of you reading this will not make it through your 20s. Others won’t make it past midlife, or even past this year. Keep a skull on your desk if you must—nobody assumes they’ll die young, but that doesn’t mean they don’t. Your faults are more forgivable, and your attributes are more exceptional.Believing that you’re less responsible for your misgivings and that you’re more exceptionally skilled at your strengths is the mindset to which many people default, but it ultimately just keeps you small. If you don’t acknowledge the magnitude of the poor choices you’ve made, you’re bound to justify doing them again; if you live and act as though you can slide by because you’re ever so slightly better than everyone else, you’ll never actually try. You can literally be whatever you want.If you don’t have the IQ of a rocket scientist, you cannot be a rocket scientist. If you don’t have the coordination to be a professional dancer, you won’t be a professional dancer. Wanting something badly enough doesn’t qualify you to have it. You cannot be whatever you want, but if you work hard and don’t give up and happen to be born to circumstances that facilitate it, you can maybe do something that crosses your abilities with your interests. And if you’re really smart, you’ll figure out how to be grateful for it, even on the difficult days. You can outsmart pain.You cannot think your way out of pain. You cannot predict it, or avoid it, or pretend you don’t feel it. Doing so is living a fraction of the life you were meant to, and it will make you a fraction of the person you’re supposed to be. Love is something other people give you.People cannot transmute emotions, which is interesting to consider when you realize how utterly consumed the human race is with the concept of getting other people to love us. This is because when we think other people love us, we give ourselves permission to feel love. It’s a mind game, one in which we rely on everyone but ourselves to allow us to feel what’s already inside us. (If you think love is something that exists anywhere but within your own mind and heart, you will never have it.) Feeling something deeply means it’s “meant to be.” The intensity with which you experience something (or someone) does not equate to how “destined” it is. Many people deeply feel they’re called to be famous in their field, but they do not have the skills or the grit to make it; most people who get married feel deeply they’re in the right relationship, but that doesn’t mean it won’t end in divorce someday. Breakups are meant to be. Job losses and hurt feelings and disappointments are, too. How do we know this? Because they happen often, they are the most pivotal redirects. Forget the final picture you want your life to amount to. It will never exist the way you think it should, and in the meantime, it will only ensure that you waste what you do have in the moment. There’s only one final destination here—the only thing you’re rushing toward is the end of your life. If you work on yourself enough, you won’t struggle anymore.If you work on yourself enough, you’ll understand what the struggle is for. You can control what other people think of you.You can control how you treat people, but you cannot actually control what they think. The idea that behaving a certain way will elicit a certain response is a delusion that will keep you puppeteering through your life. It will distance you from the person you want to be and the life you want to live. And for what? People are going to judge, criticize, condemn, love, admire, envy, and lust based on their own subjective perceptions regardless. Hard work guarantees success.If you’re looking for any one particular outcome as the end goal of your hard work, you’re most likely going to end up disappointed. The point of hard work is to recognize the person it makes you, not what it "gets" you (the former you can control; the latter, you can’t). Your thoughts will change themselves when your circumstances change.Most people assume that when their lives change, their thoughts will change. When they have someone who loves them, they’ll think they’re worthy of love. When they have money, they’ll have a different attitude about it. Unfortunately, the opposite is true—when you adopt a new mindset about money, you’ll start behaving differently, and then you’ll be in a different fiscal position, for example. Your mind creates; it is not created. Other people are responsible for your feelings. The only place you have complete control over what’s said to and around you is in your home. Otherwise, you exist in a diverse world of many people and opinions of which are likely to “offend” you at some point or another. If you want to assume you are the focal point of everyone’s life and ascribe meaning to every passing comment and idea that doesn’t soundly resonate with your own belief system, you’re going to live a very difficult life. Changing how other people think and treat you is not a matter of how outraged you get, but how willing you are to explain, teach, and share. Defensiveness never precedes growth, it stunts it. Emotional intelligence is infallible composure; self-esteem is believing you are supremely, completely “good”; happiness is a product of not having problems. Emotional intelligence is the ability to feel, express, and interpret your feelings productively; self-esteem is believing you’re worthy of loving and being loved despite not being supremely, completely “good” all of the time; happiness is a product of how you cope with your problems and whether or not you see them as the opportunities they are. The right person will come at the right time.You will not be ready when the love of your life comes along. You also probably won’t be ready when you see the listing for your dream job, or to buy a house or maybe have a kid or maybe quit that job and try to write the book you keep thinking about or get sick or lose a relative or die yourself. If you wait on the feeling of “readiness,” you’ll be waiting forever, and worse, you’ll miss the best of what’s in front of you. You can postpone your happiness or save it up like money in a bank. People postpone their happiness to keep themselves safe. They dig for another problem to have to solve, another obstacle to overcome, another passageway until they can feel the happiness they know is in their lives. You cannot save up your happiness; you can either feel it in the moment, or you miss it. It’s that simple. It’s temporary regardless. The only variable is whether or not you ever felt it in the first place. Anxiety and negative thinking are pesky irritants you just have to learn to thwart.Anxiety is one of the main driving forces that has kept you—as well as our entire species—alive. Struggling with a crippling overabundance of it usually means you’re not listening to it, or there’s some major issue in your life you refuse to address or take action on. The power of negative thinking is that it shows us what matters and how we need to respond to our lives. Focusing solely on your own needs will make you happiest. Despite what many corners of the Internet would have you believe, self-sufficiency is just a precursor to happiness. It is the foundation. It is crucial, but it is not the connectedness on which human beings thrive. Committing, sacrificing, trying and trying again for the people you love and the things you believe in are what make a life feel worthwhile. Meeting your own needs is the first step, not the ultimate goal. 15 Read This if you “Don’t Know What You’re Doing” with your Life If you ask any young adult what their primary stressor in life is, it’s likely something that relates to uncertainty. If you were to boil it down to a sentence, it would be something along the lines of: “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.” How many times have you heard someone say that? (How many times have you said that?) Probably a lot. The idea that we should know is a heaping pile of socially crafted bullshit that’s been superimposed on our psyches since kindergarten, and it’s holding us back. Nobody—not one of us—knows “what we’re doing with our lives.” We can’t summarize the big picture, not yet. We don’t know what we’ll be doing in 5 years, and pretending that we can predict that isn’t being responsible or ambitious, it’s cutting ourselves off from living according to our inner navigation systems as opposed to the narrative we once thought would be right. You owe nothing to your younger self. You are not responsible for being the person you once thought you’d be. But you do owe something to the adult you are today. Do you know why you don’t have the things you once thought you wanted? Do you know why you’re not the person you once thought you’d be? Because you don’t want those things anymore. Not badly enough. If you did, you’d have and be them. If you’re wondering “what you should do with your life,” it’s likely that you’re in the limbo between realizing you don’t want what you once did, and giving yourself permission to want what you want now. Thinking you know what you’re “doing with your life” quells your hunger. It soothes your mind with the illusion that your path is laid out before you, and that you no longer have to choose, which is another way to say, you’re no longer responsible for becoming the person you want and need to be. Hunger is important. Complete fulfillment is the fast track to complacency. People don’t thrive when they’re fulfilled. They stagnate. So fuck knowing what you’re “going to do with your life.” What are you doing today? Who do you love? What intrigues you? What would you do today if you could be anyone you wanted? If social media didn’t exist? What do you want to do this weekend? “What do I want?” is a question you need to ask yourself every day. The things that run true will weave through your life, the ones that pop back up again and again are the ones you’ll follow. They’ll become the places you remain, the people you’re drawn to, the choices you make. The core truths will win out, even if other truths are lodged beside them. Listening to it is saying: What do I want now? 16 8 Cognitive Biases that are Creating the way You Experience Your Life The good news is that your life is probably different than how you think it is. Unfortunately, that’s the bad news, too. As Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman says: “The confidence people have in their beliefs is not a measure of the quality of evidence, but of the coherence of the story that the mind has managed to construct.” Yet the tools for that construction are not only our experiences, hopes, desires, and fears. There are psychological biases that prevent us from seeing an objective reality. In a sense, our collective reality is nothing but subjective experience v. subjective experience. The people who do not understand this believe their subjective experience is, in fact, objective. Our inability to coexist is not out of lack or inherent social dysfunction, but simply a lack of understanding of the most fundamental aspects of the bodies we inhabit. This phenomenon has been studied since ancient Greek philosophy, and it’s typically referred to as “naïve realism,” the assumption that we see the world as it actually is, and that our impression is an objective, accurate representation of reality. Psychologist David McRaney summarizes it as follows: “The last one hundred years of research suggest that you, and everyone else, still believe in a form of naïve realism. You still believe that although your inputs may not be perfect, once you get to thinking and feeling, those thoughts and feelings are reliable and predictable. We now know that there is no way you can ever know an “objective” reality, and we know that you can never know how much of subjective reality is a fabrication, because you never experience anything other than the output of your mind. Everything that’s ever happened to you has happened inside your skull.” So what are these biases that affect us so deeply? Well, for starters, while there are many that are identifiable, there’s nothing that says you can’t create your own, unique biases—and in fact, it’s likely that most people do. Yet those are likely derived from some combination of the following. Projection Because our sole experience of the world is only through the apertures of our senses and ultimately, our psyches, we inevitably project our own preferences and consciousness onto what we see, and interpret it accordingly. In other words: The world is not as it is, it is as we are. We overestimate how typical and normal other people are, based on how “odd” or “different” we feel. We assume that people think the way we do—because our internal narrative and process of the world is all we know. ExtrapolationExtrapolation is what happens when we take the current moment we are in and then project those circumstances onto our lives as a whole. We make assumptions based on what our current circumstances “mean” about us, and then also begin to believe that things will always be the way they are—hence why tragedies feel so insurmountable, yet happiness feels so fleeting (in fearing that happiness won’t last forever, we lose it—in fearing that grief will last forever, we create it). AnchoringWe become too influenced by the first piece of information we hear. For example, our world views tend to be the culmination of our parents’, not our most inherent beliefs. During a negotiation, the person who first puts an offer out creates a “range of possibility.” If you’ve heard of three people getting their books published for about the same amount of compensation, you begin to assume what will be possible for you, simply from your first frame of reference. NegativityWe can’t stop watching car crashes and pay more attention to bad news and find ourselves absolutely enthralled by the destruction and drama in people’s lives—and it’s not because we’re morbid or completely masochistic. It’s actually because we only have the capacity to be selectively attentive, and we perceive negative news to be more important and profound, therefore, what our attention should go to first. Part of the reason for this is an essence of mysteriousness (when we don’t know the purpose of negativity in an existential sense, we become fascinated by it). ConservatismThe sister of “anchoring,” conservatism is believing something more only because we believed it first. In other words, it’s an apprehension toward accepting new information, even if that information is more accurate or useful. Clustering illusion“Clustering” is when you begin to see patterns in random events because you have subconsciously decided to. This is what happens when you start seeing the car you want everywhere, or notice everyone wearing red when you’re wearing it. You subconsciously create patterns that, to other people, would be seen as random, simply because you’re seeking a confirmation bias. ConfirmationOne of the most commonly known biases, confirmation is what happens when we selectively listen to information that supports or proves our preconceptions of an idea or issue at hand. It’s how we mentally insulate ourselves and our worldview. It’s also how we self-validate. Choice-supportive When you consciously “choose” something, you tend to see that thing more positively, and actively disregard its flaws, more often than you would of a thing you did not choose for yourself. This is why the idea that we are autonomous in deciding what’s right for us is so crucial—it dictates how we’ll relate to that thing forever. 17 What Emotionally Strong People do not Do They do not believe every feeling they have means something. They don’t assign value to everything they feel. They know that conviction doesn’t make something true. They aren’t threatened by not being right. They understand that having a misinformed belief or incorrect idea does not invalidate them as a person. They do not use logic to deny their emotions. They validate their feelings by acknowledging them; they do not say someone “shouldn’t” feel a particular way if they do. They do not project meaning onto everything they see. Particularly, they do not assume that everything they see or hear has something to do with them. They do not compare themselves to other people, simply because the idea that other people exist in comparison to oneself is mindless at best and selfish at worst. They do not need to prove their power. Rather than embody an inflated image of their invincibility, their disposition is predominantly peaceful and at ease, which is the mark of a truly secure person. They do not avoid pain, even if they are afraid of it. They cope with discomfort in favor of breaking an old habit. They trace the root of a relationship issue rather than deflect from the symptoms. They recognize that the discomfort is in avoiding the pain, not the pain itself. They do not seek out other people’s flaws in an effort to diminish their strengths. They do not respond to someone’s successes with observations about their failures. They don’t complain (t