To improve your outcomes in life, respond to the world as it is, not as you wish it would be.
Many organizations are obsessed with efficiency. They want to be sure every resource is utilized to its fullest capacity and everyone is sprinting around every minute of the day doing something. They hire expert consultants to sniff out the faintest whiff of waste. As individuals, many of us are also obsessed with the mirage of total efficiency. We schedule every minute of our day, pride ourselves on forgoing breaks, and berate ourselves for the slightest moment of distraction. We view sleep, sickness, and burnout as unwelcome weaknesses and idolize those who never seem to succumb to them. This view, however, fails to recognize that efficiency and effectiveness are not the same things.
“As I came down from the mountain, I recalled how, not many years ago, it was access to information and movement that seemed our greatest luxury; nowadays it’s often freedom from information, the chance to sit still, that feels like the ultimate prize. Stillness is not just an indulgence for those with enough resources—it’s a necessity for anyone who wishes to gather less visible resources.”
— Pico Iyer in The Art of Stillness
One of the most valuable skills you can adopt in life is doing things when you don’t feel like doing them.
Design the defaults and don’t negotiate with yourself.
“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” — André Gid
“I’ll do it tomorrow”
The idea we’ll have more time in the future is an illusion. If there isn’t time then it isn’t a priority. It’s a priority problem disguised as a time problem.
“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” — Richard Feynman
Focus on one thing you can do today to make tomorrow easier. Repeat.
If you read or watch TV programs about business or sports, you often see the world framed as place where everyone wants “more more more” for “me me me,” every minute in every way. The old bumper sticker sums it up: “Whoever dies with the most toys wins.” The potent but usually unstated message is that we are all trapped in a life-long contest where people can never get enough money, prestige, victories, cool stuff, beauty, or sex — and that we do want and should want more goodies than everyone else.
This attitude fuels a quest for constant improvement that has a big upside, leading to everything from more beautiful athletic and artistic performances, to more elegant and functional products, to better surgical procedures and medicines, to more effective and humane organizations. Yet when taken too far, this blend of constant dissatisfaction, unquenchable desires, and overbearing competitiveness can damage your mental health. It can lead you to treat those “below” you as inferior creatures who are worthy of your disdain and people “above” you who have more stuff and status as objects of envy and jealousy.
“We are put on this planet only once, and to limit ourselves to the familiar is a crime against our mind.”
- Roger Ebert
“The most practical decision-making is not making better choices, it’s learning to deal with uncertainty. The most common thing holding people back from the right answer is holding on to your previous beliefs. Instead of instinctively rejecting new information, take in what comes your way through a system of evaluating probabilities.”
We often think happiness is about self-care, treating ourselves, and giving ourselves these luxuries. It’s not. In fact, if anything, it’s about doing nice things for others. That gives you more of a happiness bang for your buck than spending time on yourself.
“When life gets scary and difficult, we tend to look for solutions in places where it is easy or at least familiar to do so, and not in the dark, uncomfortable places where real solutions might lie.”
Most people don’t even realize that they’re living someone else’s life. Never stopping to question who they are or what they’re told, they slot right into the happiness they’re told to accept. Then, they wake up 20 years later with a belly full of regret and a future they don’t recognize.
Learn to question every single thing
If you’re not questioning everything constantly, then chances are someone is choosing your life and your emotions for you.
You should always question yourself in life, love, career, relationships, family, and even what you are told by the people around you. Build awareness of self and intention. Why are you making the choices that you make? For you or someone else?
“Are you trying to ‘be right’ or ‘get it right’?”
A simple life gives you plenty of time for the important things.
No one cares what you think or do, it’s just your perspective on what they think of you.
The factors harming our attention are not all immediately obvious. I had been focused on tech at first, but in fact the causes range very widely – from the food we eat to the air we breathe, from the hours we work to the hours we no longer sleep.
You think you can achieve happiness by controlling the external circumstances and satisfying your desires?
An underrated aspect of success is becoming the sort of person that wants to improve.
You’ve been spoon-fed messages from society that tell you what you’re supposed to want, what’s supposed to make you happy, and how you’re supposed to live. This can cause you to feel like you’re ‘behind’ or ‘missing out’ if you don’t check all the boxes of conventional wisdom.
Understand this: The world wants to assign you a role in life. And once you accept that role you are doomed.
“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
… > But the most important thing to remember is not to worship yourself. Not as easy as it sounds.”
–David Foster Wallace
“The road to hell is not paved with good intentions. It is paved with lack of intention.” — Dr. Gabor Maté
Ignorance really is bliss when you’re self-aware enough to know your limitations.
Videos and television and movies are great fun. But don’t spend too much time on them. Leave lots of time for getting smarter by reading. Read widely. Read some books more than once. Write in your books. Don’t finish every book you start. You might be able to read 2500 books in your lifetime. Maybe a few more than that. It’s still a very small number. Choose wisely.
“Whoever has the most toys, wins”. really?
There are many things that are more important than accumulating material well-being, especially when you’re young and a little tougher. Take the job that uses your skills and that enhances those skills over the job that pays more. And take the job that makes you feel good about what you’re accomplishing for others over the one that doesn’t.
A silent retreat isn’t for everyone, but the introspection it encourages is a really good idea. Find a way to see yourself through the eyes of the world. Be grateful for what you have. Strive to improve. Understand the narratives you operate under that unconsciously push your buttons and drive some of your responses. All of this is easier if you are self-aware. So find a way to know yourself — reading, therapy, meditation, religion, all can help. You could almost certainly be more humble. Start there.
Anger is a dangerous emotion unless you are in physical danger and you need the adrenaline to protect yourself. Anger is a form of loss of control. Sometimes, it just feels good. I get it. But it is rarely if ever helpful to others or to myself. Passion is a virtue, not anger. And if you get angry anyway, try to hold it for a day before responding.
Judging has many virtues. It helps us decide who to spend time with, who to work with, who to marry. But it also can be a seductive drug to make us feel important or special. Harsh judgments can be used to justify or excuse rudeness and can allow us to dismiss others as our inferiors. All judgments are incomplete. We never know the full story. So be kind. Cut those around you much slack. It is hard getting through life. Others look like they are skating effortlessly but they, like you and me struggle with all kinds of things that are concealed. So be kind. Don’t bear a grudge. Don’t keep score. Give people around you the benefit of the doubt. Wag more, bark less. You will be happier for it and the people around you will enjoy your company all the more.
“Like what controls your happiness and what controls your joy or pride. And a lot of times when people put it in other people’s hands, that if you like it, if you like you appreciate it, I need your applause. They build less and less substance within themselves because they’re optimizing for somebody else’s metric, not realizing that nobody gives a damn about anybody else, except themselves.”
It almost always seems expensive to act with the long term in mind, which is why so few people do it.