You Don’t Matter (and Why That’s Great)

Big Andromeda Galaxy by Gianni

Relax. You’re insignificant and no one cares what you do.

Everyone does it. Day in and day out, mostly subconsciously, and it sabotages everything you do. Worst of all it’s so ingrained into our basic natures that you do it all daylong without realizing how you’re shooting yourself in your own foot. You’re probably doing it right now.

No matter what you do you worry about what people think of you.

How do I look? Do they like me? Do they respect me? What do they say about me behind my back? Will they think this is a stupid thing to do? What if they find out about this, or that?

It’s exhausting. It’s crippling. It’s absolutely stupid too.

The fact is you don’t matter – and that’s a great thing.

Understanding Insignificance

At first it might sound depressing or harsh, but in the grand scheme of things you really don’t matter.

It’s difficult for our brains to properly comprehend truly massive quantities of things – they’re just not built well for it – but let’s relate it to water. Imagine your city or town is a swimming pool, now drop a single droplet of water in, that was you.

Comparing yourself to the global population would be like dropping that same droplet into Lake Michigan.

If you zoom out even farther the entire planet Earth would be a droplet of water dropped into the Pacific or Atlantic of the Universe. You’d be smaller than a single molecule of water in that droplet.

Individually you are about as important to the Universe a single bacterium living in a fish at the bottom of the ocean on the other side of the globe is to you.

You don’t matter.

Alright, now that you are hopefully disabused of the notion of any kind of exaggerated importance, where’s the good part?

The good part is once you realize how unimportant you are you can stop worrying so much about what people think about you because they’re probably not even thinking about you in the first place.

Hero of Your Own Story (and No One Else’s)

I can’t remember who said it, but someone once told me one of the most important thing in character development in fiction is to remember that every single character thinks they’re the hero of the story.

In a work like the Harry Potter series each character behaves like the books are named after them. In their mind it’s Neville Longbottom (or whomever) and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry is just a supporting character who gets in a lot trouble.

The reason this is such a vital thing to remember when developing lifelike fictional characters is because that’s how everyone actually thinks.

You don’t consider yourself the sidekick to someone else’s story. You’re Hamlet, not Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. In your head the world revolves around you.

What you have to remember is that everyone else thinks the same way. Even to the people who care about you the most like your friends and family, you’re probably a sidekick at best. That means they aren’t actually thinking about you all that much.

Recent estimates put the average number of thoughts per day for an adult at around 50,000. Breaking that down if we assume most people are awake for about 16 hours that’s 3,125 thoughts per hour and around 52 per second. That’s nearly a different thought every second.

So let’s assume we’re even dealing with someone you’re close to, and they think about you or judge you in some way 50 times per day (likely a higher number than what actually happens).

That’s only 0.1% of their thoughts for the day that are directed at you. That’s less than one minute spent thinking about you.

How stupid is it then to let the fear of what people with think about you determine your actions? How ridiculous is it to abandon your dreams because of what others might think about you when in reality they are barely going to think anything about you at all regardless of what you do?

Add in to that the fact that, like you, everyone is probably spending way too much time worrying about what you and others think of them to actually have critical thoughts of others.

In other words, in a room of ten people all ten are going to be worrying what everyone thinks of them and no one will be thinking anything of anyone else.

Haters Gonna Hate

Clearly worrying about what others think of you is pointless – so stop doing it!

Embrace the fact that you’re a tiny, insignificant piece of carbon on a pale blue dot in a back corner of an indifferent Universe surrounded by people who consider you little more than background scenery in their own personal tale.

It can be good to care (a little) what the people who are truly important to you think – the people who will be with you for the rest of your or their lives – but stop worrying about everyone else.

People are going to be critical of you. Give them the finger and keep doing your thing. Mediocrity never pissed anyone off.

The people who do great, incredible things aren’t the ones paralyzed by the doubt of whether or not their actions ill be accepted or ridiculed. The people who do great things are the ones who don’t give a damn about everyone thinks.

No one cares what you do, and that frees you to do whatever makes you happy.

Get to it.

Photo Credit: Gianni

The Four Stages Between Beginner and Mastery

Untitled by Mariusz Sikorski

Mastery of martial arts makes for a good model of mastery of any skill.

There are a lot of books out there telling you how to become a master at this or that.

Some of them are good, others not so much, but what I’ve found is that so many stop short of where I’d consider actual mastery. On top of that, in the ones I’d consider more helpful anyway, I’ve found there’s a common theme of leading people through four distinct stages.

If you want to learn something from absolute beginner to master level it makes sense then to be as familiar with these stages as possible to not only ensure you’re on the right track, but also to know ahead of time where you’re going.

The Four Stages

Since it’s a field I’m very familiar with and tends to be a process that most consider a journey in and of itself, I’m going to use learning a martial art as our example going through the stages. This applies to every skill though, so feel free to substitute in whatever you’re learning.

  • Pre-contemplation / Unconscious Incompetence – At this stage you’ve not really begun to consider learning the skill. It may have crossed your mind, but you haven’t actually made a firm decision to master it or even necessarily begin learning.

    In general, the majority of people are in this stage of the majority of skills in existence simply by virtue of there being so many things out there you’ve never even thought about learning.

    At this stage you are in a state of unconscious incompetence. That means that not only are you not proficient in the skill, you’re not consciously aware of the things you’re not proficient at. Essentially, you not only don’t know what to do, you don’t even know what it is that you don’t know how to do.

    In our martial arts example, this would be the person who has never seriously considered learning a martial art. They walk by a school teaching Rex Kwon Do and they have no idea what they’ll need to be proficient in to master it – maybe it’s striking, maybe grappling, maybe the buddy system – they don’t know the first thing about it.

    Thankfully this stage is easily surpassed by a quick Google search, watching some YouTube videos or, in the case of our prospective martial arts master, walking in and listening to a pitch on the Rex Kwon Do 8 week mastery course.

    Out of all of the stages, this one is the briefest for things you actually want to learn.

  • Contemplation / Conscious Incompetence – At this stage you’ve done enough learning to leave the unconscious incompetence phase, but still haven’t progressed to anything that could be considered overall competency.

    You’re still incompetent, but now you know what it is you’re not proficient in.

    This is the easiest stage to get into, but a little learning can be a dangerous thing and it’s the stage that requires the most effort on your part to leave. At this stage it’s tempting to lose yourself in the acquisition of knowledge in your chosen field because most people conflate knowledge with skill.

    Knowledge is not skill.

    It’s at this stage that our prospective martial arts master may be tempted to lose himself in books and videos rather than practice.

    Our example student has ditched Rex Kwon Do and decided on a more serious school.

    She’s done extensive Google searching on the style of karate the school teaches. She’s read tons of books and watched YouTube videos and sat in on a bunch of classes. The thing is, that’s not going to help much.

    If you took someone who’s read every self-defense book ever written but never practiced a bit and pitted them against a guy who had only learned one kick but practiced it 10,000 times and pitted them against one another – my money would be on the person who practiced.

    For our student to progress to master, there’s only one thing that’s going to help her (even if she finds a Mr. Miyagi style guru)…

    Practice.

    That’s the main reason moving from this stage to stage three is likely the hardest part, it requires a lot of time and effort in terms of practice to become competent in the things you’re learning once you know what it is you actually need to become competent in.

  • Action / Conscious Competence – This is the stage that most people mistakenly consider to be mastery, the stage where you are competent in the majority if not all of the aspects of the skill in a conscious, thinking way.

    You are proficient in the skill, but it still requires a great deal of concentration and mental effort to display that proficiency.

    Let’s fast forward a bit with our martial artist. She’s put the time in and now she’s a black belt.

    Belt factory schools aside, that’s a huge accomplishment – but any martial artist who’s studied in an art with belt rankings will tell you that’s not the end of the road, it’s the start of a new one.

    Our martial artist is skilled at what she does, but she still has to think about it.

    In martial arts that’s a problem. Thinking is slow and you honestly don’t have much time for it in a fight, even a planned one like a match. Sure it’s excellent that she can punch through concrete now. Sure it’s satisfying that to all her friends and family she looks like a deadly master of the fist. The thing is she really hasn’t mastered things yet.

    Unfortunately this is where most people stop. That satisfaction feels good, so people just accept that as the finish line and leave it at that. To truly master their skill of choice though there’s one more stage they have to reach, and to reach it they’re going to have to keep doing what they did in phase 2 – practice.

    After practicing enough, one day you’ll realize you’ve finally left stage three and are finally in the final stage.

  • Maintenance / Unconscious Competence – This is the true mastery stage. At this stage not only can you display your proficiency in the skill, but you can do it in an autonomic unconscious manner.

    This is the state of a skill where you don’t think about doing it anymore, it just happens. This is essentially wei wu wei. The skill has become second nature to you, and expressing that skill is no more difficult or requires no more conscious direction than breathing.

    Returning to our example, at this stage our martial artist has reached 5th dan (or whatever appropriately high rank in her chosen art). She doesn’t think about what she’s doing anymore, it just happens. She could win fights with her eyes closed. She’s like Ip Man – capable of taking out ten opponents without a second thought.

    The only way to get to this point is to practice and practice and practice until things become so ingrained in your subconscious that they no longer require active thought.

    In my opinion it’s actually easier to get here from stage three than it is to get to stage three from stage two, provided of course you stick it out and don’t quit.

    Obviously depending on the particular skill you’re learning this stages may look a little different.

    That’s ok.

    The important part is that once you can recognize which stage you’re in for each skill you’re actively pursuing mastery in you can better evaluate what’s required of you to progress to the next stage. Equally as important you can avoid the common pitfalls of each stage, like getting stuck in an endless cycle of knowledge gathering without any actual practice.

    Are you learning any skills right now? Where are you at on the four stage model? Tell us in the comments!

    Photo Credit: Mariusz Sikorski

3 Reasons to Experience Hunger

First World Problems by Know Your Meme

All those first world feels.

Of all our most basic, primal urges hunger is probably the most compelling.

Sure there’s practically an entire sub-genre of TV and movies about the crazy (often comedic) things people will do for sex, sure people hallucinate of thirst in the desert, but there is a unique power to hunger. Hunger will make people steal, kill and completely abandon any rationality outside of getting something to eat. Extreme hunger can essentially make you lose control of your actions.

The thing is, most people who I expect to be reading this don’t ever experience real hunger. Most people living in a developed nation are lucky enough to never have to feel real hunger unless they choose to.

I think, at least once, they should choose to.

Finding Hunger

Now that’s not to say people in developed nations have never been hungry.

That would be silly. You may even be hungry as you read this. I’m not talking about the normal, day-to-day, haven’t eaten in a bit hungry though. I mean a hunger with teeth. A hunger that drapes over you and weighs you down like chains. If the hunger most people feel was a mosquito or a pesky fly the hunger we’re looking for is a 400 pound silverback gorilla full of steroids and cocaine.

So how do you find this kind of hunger? Well, don’t eat.

The easiest and safest way is to perform a 72 hour fast. That means nothing with any calories to it for 72 full hours. This is including time spent sleeping, so an example fast would be to eat breakfast at 7 a.m. on a Friday and then ingest nothing but water until eating breakfast at 7 a.m. the following Monday.

A slightly less strict fast could include black coffee which, thought it has no calories to it, is a bit of an appetite suppressant.

Shorter fasts of 24 hours or 48 hours can also be a good experience, and we regularly perform 16 or so hour fasts for health reasons, but I think the 72 hour fast is the pinnacle to shoot for in order to get the full experience.

That being said, please only give it a try if you know you can do it safely. If you have some medical condition that precludes you from this sort of self-imposed asceticism then don’t even try it. Additionally, while there are some apparent health benefits from shorter fasts when done more frequently, anything beyond a 24 hour fast is likely to do more harm than good if performed more than once a week.

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend more than a single 24 hour fast a week and probably wouldn’t perform a fast longer than that but once per year. I don’t know of any health benefits of fasting for greater than 24 hours – the goal here is to trade a little bit of physical detriment once for a lasting bit of mental benefit.

So that’s how you go about becoming hungry, but whats the point of doing it?

Why Intentionally Experience Hunger?

Some of you are probably asking, “Why in the world would I want to purposefully make myself suffer like that if hunger is such a powerful and unpleasant urge?”

That’s a fair question. Here’s why I think it’s worth experiencing at least once in your life.

  • It Builds Gratefulness – I understand that here in the U.S. we have a vernacular penchant for hyperbole.

    Even so, when someone tells me they’re starving because it’s noon and they didn’t have their bagel this morning I want to seize them by the shoulders and shake them.

    You can argue that it’s just an expression but given the emphatic way I’ve heard plenty of people express that sentiment I have to believe there’s more to it than that. I would never think these people really think they are in mortal peril, or minutes away from succumbing to starvation, but they genuinely feel an extreme sense of discomfort and are compelled to complain about it. What’s worse is that it’s often accompanied by a general sense of entitlement – as though they have suffered some great wrong in having to miss breakfast for some reason.

    Feeling real hunger, the kind of hunger that comes from a fast of greater than 24 hours, shows you what it’s like to be less privileged. It reminds you of the kind of things that millions of people around the world have to contend with on a daily basis. It gives you a glimpse, though you have the safety net of a fully stocked refrigerator, of a life where you have no idea where your next meal is coming from (or if it’s coming at all).

    Hopefully, all of that makes you more grateful for what you do have, less entitled feeling and ideally less likely to waste food.

    As a side benefit, the first thing you eat at the end of your fast will almost certainly be the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted.

  • It Builds Toughness – I would say that one of the traits that bothers me most in people is being a complainer, but I fear that would be complaining about complainers and I’d become the very thing I despise. Regardless, if you’re whiny – I don’t like you.

    I think one of the biggest factors in causing someone to become a habitual whiner is being given the gift of a relatively pampered life. As I noted, income inequality and other social problems aside, the majority of people in a developed nation at a socioeconomic level of lower-middle class or higher lead what I would consider a comfortable life on a global scale.

    People who fall into this category never experience the kind of genuine hardship others do, but still find things to complain about. There are even memes built around first world problems.

    Being able to willfully put yourself through that kind of hardship and make it through it will make all the other difficulties you have to face not seem quite so bad. Knowing that you went 72 hours without giving in and eating, no matter how violently your stomach was screaming at you, helps you recognize that the stupid little thing bothering you at work or the annoying person holding up the line at the coffee shop is not that big of a deal.

    It toughens you up a bit and keeps you from complaining about trivial things by showing you there are much, much worse things that you could be experiencing.

  • It Builds Self-Control – Hunger is a seriously powerful urge.

    That can cause serious problems when you’re trying to lose weight and get in shape and you’re tempted by all of those high calorie treats that don’t fit your macros right now. One minute you’re doing fine, then you walk by a Cinnabon and before you know it you wake up caked in the frosted carnage of a 10,000 calorie cinnamon roll rampage.

    Resisting that kind of temptation takes a lot of willpower.

    You can certainly set up barriers, like removing all the tempting foods from your house, but that will only get you so far. You need to build up your willpower.

    One of the best ways to do that is to force yourself to experience the hardship of extreme hunger in a controlled situation and practice fighting it. Your willpower isn’t as limited as you think. They key is to find ways to exercise it.

    Showing the kind of force of will necessary to go 72 hours without food, shackled with the weight of extreme hunger particularly in the presence of temptation, proves you’re strong enough to walk by that box of donuts at the office and leave them be. In my experience once you’ve developed the discipline necessary for a long fast forcing yourself to deny other immediate pleasures in favor of longer term benefits becomes much easier.

These were the main reasons that came to mind to practice a bit of hunger at least once in your life. Can you think of any others? If you’ve tried it out I’d love to hear about how it went.

Photo Credit: Know Your Meme

Progression Vs. Position: How to Balance Happiness and Self-Improvement

Round & Round at the Vatican by Andrew E. Larsen

Life is a lot like a big, endless staircase. Is your happiness based on what stair you’re on, or how fast you’re climbing?

Complacency and a fire for constant self-improvement seem to be diametrically opposed.

The drive for self-improvement spurs us on to always be better than we were yesterday. It pushes us to keep fighting, keep training, keep working for that next goal. People who are particularly driven by a desire for self-improvement tend to be very ambitious and the heart of ambition is a hunger to improve or to succeed. That ambition makes a person work hard, but it also ties their mood to their progress. They always want more and they’re often not happy until they get it.

On the other hand you have people with a high sense of complacency. These people are happy with what they’ve got almost no matter where they’re at in life. Their happiness is tied to appreciating what they’ve got rather than with getting something else. This sounds nice in theory, but complacency encourages stasis – if things are fine how they are why should you work for something better? People who are too complacent run the risk of living a life dictated by others rather than the one they actually want to lead.

So how do you find happiness while still retaining your motivation for self-improvement? By focusing on progress rather than position.

A Change in Viewpoint

The main problem with both of these ways of viewing the world, the ambitious person always improving and never happy with where they are and the complacent people who are happy but never improve, is that both of their senses of happiness are tied to their position.

Both derive their sense of worth from where they currently are in their progress through life. They interpret that information differently, the ambitious person is unhappy with their position and the complacent person is overly happy with their position but for both where they are right now is the main concern.

Imagine some people standing on a stair case. Our ambitious person, Ms. A, sees someone on a higher stair than she is. She looks down at the stair she’s on, lower than where she wants to be, and she gets depressed. She’s motivated to climb those stairs to get where she wants to be, but at each step she judges herself by the step she’s standing on at that moment and as a result is never truly happy until she’s standing on the stair she wants to be on.

On the other hand we have our complacent person, Mr. C, standing on another stair near the bottom. He didn’t really choose to be there, and he thinks it’d be nice to be up there at the top of the staircase, but he’s decided he’s happy with where he’s at. He figures he is where he is and he should just be happy with the stair he’s on. He is genuinely happy, but he’ll die there without ever seeing the top of the stairs.

For both of them their happiness is based off of what stair they’re on at that moment. That’s the problem – it’s often framed as a choice between one or the other, ambition or complacency. There’s another option.

Rather than base your happiness on position, you can base your happiness on progression.

Imagine another person on that staircase of success, we’ll call her Ms. Z. Now Ms. Z looks up the staircase and sees people up at the top and wants to be up there too. Unlike Ms. A and Mr. C though she doesn’t base her happiness on what stair she’s on, she bases it on whether or not she’s moving.

As long as Ms. Z is climbing up those stairs, no matter how slow, she’s happy. Like Ms. A she’s motivated to keep progressing, but she doesn’t have all the unhappiness Ms. A gets from not being on the stair she wants to be on. Ms. Z is progressing so she’s happy. In fact she’s just as happy as Mr. C, but unlike Mr. C who will stay on the stair he was placed on his entire life Ms. Z will end up higher up than where she started.

Embracing Momentum

Ms. Z is an example of someone who bases their happiness on progression.

When you concern yourself primarily with whether or not you’re improving rather than how good you are at that moment you get all the motivation of a strong drive to improve with all the in-the-moment happiness that would get embracing a complacent worldview. By embracing the concept of only caring about maintaining that momentum you can be happy and fulfilled feeling while still possessing the impetus to be better each and every day.

So how do you switch from being position focused to progression focused?

The biggest thing is to stop worrying so much about where you are now or where you want to be. Recognize that the only thing that really matters is the present moment and that the only thing you have control of in the present moment is whether you’re making progress toward something or stagnating.

You need to start to shift your values toward the velocity you have in approaching your goals rather than your current position in relation to them. That means that a millionaire who has stopped improving is less successful than a penniless homeless person who’s actively working toward improving their situation.

Once you shift your thinking to fall more in line with progression based value as a preference over position based value you’ll find that success and failure isn’t such a big deal anymore. You won’t feel worthless when you haven’t made it to your goal as long as you’re still moving toward it. Even better you won’t be left with the boring, unfulfilled feeling of sitting on a plateau for your whole life.

Have you made the shift to a progression based value system? Do you think the position based one is better? Do you see things in a completely different way from both? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Photo Credit: Andrew E. Larsen

No One Cares Who You Are, Only What You Do

Car Flip by Alex Cockroach

The world doesn’t care if you’re a nice guy, can you help these people or not?

Imagine for a moment that you’re walking down a quiet street minding your own business when a car driven by a distracted teenager veers around the corner and up onto the sidewalk and clips you (don’t text and drive kids).

You tumble through the air and hit the ground in a heap a few yards away and the teen speeds off. You’re a bloody mess, and are barely hanging on to consciousness when you see a stranger running towards you. He runs up to you and kneels down.

“Wow, you’re really messed up,” he says. “Your one leg’s popped out of its socket, want me to put it back for you?”

“Are… are you a doctor?” you ask.

“No. But I’m a really nice guy.”

Even with tunnel vision setting in you manage a pretty good ‘What the hell’s wrong with you’ look. “If you’re not a doctor can you at least call an ambulance?” you ask.

He shakes his head. “Nope. Sorry. I’m super honest though, and I have a great sense of humor. Oh! I’m a great father too!”

It’s at this point you use the last of your ebbing strength to grab him by the shirt with both hands and pull your broken husk to his face to scream “I don’t care! Do something to help me!”

Actions Speak Louder

It may seem like an extreme example, but society and everyone you meet is the accident victim bleeding out on the street and you’re the guy running up to help.

Everyone needs something. The question is whether or not you’re able to provide that something. If you are then you’re useful, if not – well then in general no one’s really going to care about you.

If that seems harsh to you it’s for two reasons. The first is that it is harsh. Deal with it. The second is that modern culture as a whole has drifted in the direction of pretending to value states over actions. People tend to judge their value based on what they are rather than what theydo.

Not sure if you do too? Ask yourself really quick what makes you so great, why anyone else should care about you. If you’re like most people you default to states of being over actions. You’ll say things like, “I’m nice, I’m funny, I’m a hard worker, I’m generous” etc. When you should be saying things like, “I tell great jokes, I donate 10% of my income to charity and I make a mind-exploding grilled cheese sandwich”.

Everyone needs something. This doesn’t have to be anything huge – they might just need a hug or a little bit of support. Either way there’s something they need and your value to them hinges entirely on your ability to provide things that they need. It doesn’t matter if these are things they know they need or not, just that you are able to provide something of value via your actions.

Learning to Walk Your Talk

If you realize that you fall into this category of people who emphasize states over actions, if you’re the useless guy running up to the accident victim with nothing at all to offer but assurances you’re a nice person – you need to change the way you approach the world.

After all, what do those states even mean if they’re not backed up by actions?

Are you a nice guy if all you ever do is think nice thoughts? If you had two friends and one of them helped you move, like physically picked up your couch and put it in the truck, and the other one just thought really nice thoughts about helping you move, who would you actually consider to be the nice person?

Before you start insisting that all the good traits about yourself you listed when I asked you why anyone should care you exist are backed up by concrete actions – are they?

As a result of this swing toward the ‘it’s who you are inside that counts’ bullshit a lot of people just go on making reaffirmations to themselves that they’re funny, or a nice person, or whatever. Then when you ask them what they actually do that’s so funny, or nice or anything else all you get back is a blank stare and lots of ‘ums’.

So stop thinking about yourself in those terms. Understand that you are what you do.

You are. I don’t care about your hipster, post-postmodernist, feel-good notions of internally derived self-worth. You are what you do. That doesn’t have to mean you are what you do for a living necessarily, but you are a reflection and direct product of your actions and vice versa. So act like it.

Figure out who you want to be and go out and do the things that the person you want to be would do. Change your identity by changing your actions and your actions will in turn reshape your identity.

If you’re not sure who you want to be, pick a new skill – cooking, parkour, speaking a new language, making toothpick sculptures of ducks – it really doesn’t matter what. Pick something and get really, really good at that thing. Good enough to make people take notice. Good enough that people are impressed.

Once you’ve done that once, make it a habit. Learn something else. You have plenty of lives to do it in, so start shifting your way of thinking from trying to be things to doing things. You’ll lead a much better life that way.

Have anything you’d like to add? Think I’m wrong and it does matter that you’re a super nice guy because it’s what your mom told you growing up? Leave a comment!

Photo Credit: Alex Cockroach

26 Lessons from a Quarter Century of Failures, Successes and Troublemaking

26 by Katherine McAdoo

I’ve certainly more than 26 things in 26 years, but these are some of the more important ones.

I am 26 years old – and it terrifies me.

It terrifies me because I recognize that my life is at least a quarter over. Sure I might get hit by bus tomorrow, but even if I have a good run I can’t reasonably expect to make it much past 100. So I’m a quarter done. I’m a quarter done and that terrifies me because I feel like I should be further along in my goals toward achieving the life I want to live.

I know, I know – people will say to calm down and enjoy my life as it is. To be happy with what I’ve got. I am, to be honest, and this shouldn’t be seen as a complaint. While grateful for everything I’ve got I hate complacency. I’m an ambitious person, whether you apply that word as praise or as an insult, so complacency is anathema to me. You can be simultaneously grateful for what you have yet hungry to accomplish more and that is the terribly uncomfortable place I find myself sitting in now.

So – both to assist those who find themselves younger (or older) than myself and yet to seize their ideal life, and for the entirely more selfish purpose of assuaging my own dread that I’ll find myself twenty-six years hence with my goals still unachieved – I’ve collected a list of 26 lessons I’ve learned over my time spent circling the Sun.

1. Everyone Has an Opinion on What’s Right for You – You Don’t Have to Accept It

Everyone, from your friends and your family to complete strangers and society itself, is going to have a strong opinion on what you should do with your life. In my experience it’s usually a lot of bullshit. That’s not to say in the case of those close to you they don’t have your best interests in mind – when your parents push you toward a certain lifestyle they probably are doing it out of love.

It’s also not to say all opinions or advice are wrong, if you’re a crack addict and people tell you to stop that’s definitely a good (if extreme) example of advice you should take. The problem is when you don’t think about the advice you get and just follow it blindly. You go to college, find a job that you’re complacent with and dig in for an uneventful, unfulfilled life following the script society wrote for you. You spend your whole life fishing only to realize far too late that you never wanted fish in the first place.

Take every bit of advice you get with a healthy dose of skepticism. Judge each on its merits for you and then write your own story. You only get one life, don’t waste it living someone else’s narrative.

2. If You Aren’t Pissing People Off, You’re Not Living Boldly Enough

People who create, people who follow their own path, people who do things on their own terms, they inevitably piss people off. There are lots of reasons for this ranging from people just being upset that you’re challenging their beliefs to being jealous that you’re actually doing what you want while they’re still dancing to the unfulfilling tune everyone else has been following. Great things piss off small people.

That means that if you want to do great things you should expect to piss some people off.

There’s two lessons really from this realization because not only does it mean you shouldn’t let the pissed off people get to you, but it also means if you aren’t pissing people off you’re probably not being loud enough. That’s not to say loud in an obnoxious, in-your-face kind of way, but loud in the sense that you’re doing your own thing proudly and don’t care what anyone thinks. If people aren’t pissed off at you then you might need to find something else even greater to pursue.

3. If You’re Comfortable You Aren’t Moving Fast Enough

This ties strongly into the above point – in general if you’re reasonably comfortable you’re probably not moving fast enough. We just don’t learn well inside our comfort zone.

That’s not to say you should be hurtling through life in a stressed out ball of manic inertia, but you should be just outside your comfort zone. You shouldn’t be ripping your hair out, but there should be that tiny bit of pressure edging you on to do just a little more, to go just a little faster. That tiny bit of stress is what’s going to keep you improving throughout your life and keep you from stagnating.

4. Fear Can Be Healthy, but Don’t Let it Control You

I’m not going to tell you to not be afraid of anything, or to ignore all of your fears – they’re there for a reason in the general sense and definitely do serve a strong purpose in keeping you from doing stupid things and getting hurt.

The problem is most people’s fear is seriously overactive.

People wind up terrified of any sort of loss or temporary discomfort, so they sit in their same place their entire life making excuses and resenting their complacency only to die unfulfilled and secretly miserable. If anything you should be scared of that!

You should always acknowledge your fears, because they may be helping you avoid something stupid, but don’t let them rule you. Look your fears in the eye, judge them, and if it turns out they were less lion and more housecat then give them a pat on the head, step right over them and go do something great. You own your own fears, not the other way around, so act like it damn it.

5. Aim for Big Things

I absolutely hate the saying, “Aim for the Moon because even if you miss you’ll land among the stars”. I’m sorry Mr. Stone, you were a great philanthropist and all but your saying is repeated way too much and it belies an extreme ignorance of astronomy.

That being said, I begrudgingly accept the premise. Your goals should be big enough to scare the hell out of you. Aiming for small, achievable things is a great way to build up to a much bigger goal, but if all you ever go for long term are the little achievable things you’re never going to get anywhere.

Big, ambitious, mildly insane goals are the most motivating and will provide the most inspiration for you to actually get out there and do them. There’s an inherent drive to chasing something that seems impossible not present when you only go for things you think you can do. Besides, that’s kind of self-denigrating isn’t it? Don’t sell yourself short, you can do great things so go out and actually do them.

6. You’ll Become the People Around You, Choose Wisely

No matter how much I tell you to ignore what everyone else tells you about how you should live your life, the fact is you’re going to wind up a lot like the people you hang out with. It’s unavoidable. I’m fairly staunchly anti-conformist but even I’ll start adopting the traits and mannerisms of those I surround myself with.

So what do you do about it?

Rather than fight it (you’ll lose), break out some social Aikido and turn that unavoidable fact into a benefit rather than a pitfall. Instead of worrying about being dragged down by people with habits, goals and lifestyles contrary to your own surround yourself with those living the life you want to live.

If you want to be fit, hang out with fit people. If you want to be an entrepreneur hang out with other entrepreneurs. You don’t necessarily have to ditch your old friends (though if they’re being that big of a drag on your life it might not be such a bad thing), you just have to find other people to be around who act as a positive force in your life.

7. Always Be Looking for Ways to Help People

The best way to find meaning in your own life is to help create meaning in the lives of others. Living a completely free life where you have enough passive income that you barely have to work and essentially have the funds to do whatever you want whenever you want doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be happy. You can have everything you think you want in life and still lack meaning.

So find ways to help people.

Whether that means volunteering somewhere, giving to charity or creating something awesome that helps people finding some way to make other people’s lives better will add a lot to your own. Beyond the general altruism thing, there is a self-centered side of making a rule of helping people – the more you help others the more they’ll be happy to help you.

That’s not to say you should help people just so they’ll owe you a favor, people can usually tell when you’re lending a hand for purely selfish reasons. The point is just that when you try to do a little something everyday to help others just for goodness of helping people out it’ll come back to you one way or another for your own benefit.

8. Things Are Easier the Less You Worry

Spending time worrying is pointless and wasteful. Worrying gives you something to do, but it’ll never actually help you accomplish anything. It consumes your attention and, unlike fear which can sometimes be a positive force, worry only leads to distraction, lack of action and bad decisions.

Stop worrying.

Things can be broken down into two categories, things that are under your control and things that are not under your control. People tend to spend a lot of time worrying about both which is extra pointless. Worrying, on its own, is a waste of your time. Worrying about things that are not in any way under your control, things which you cannot change, means that you are wasting time you could be spending addressing things you can change fretting about something you’re powerless to affect.

Even worrying about things you can affect is a waste because you could be spending that time taking action. If you have an hour to spend doesn’t it make more sense to spend that hour fixing the problem or taking action to avoid or correct something rather than spending an hour wringing your hands and fussing about it.

Spending your time worrying about something you can’t change just distracts you from fixing the things you can change and worrying about things you can change is like standing on train tracks pulling your hair out because you see a train coming – stop worrying and just step off the tracks.

9. Systems Will Always Beat Motivation

I have to give the personal training department head at the gym I’m working at right now some credit for this one, so Chab if you’re reading this – thanks.

It doesn’t matter how motivated you are, it doesn’t matter how diligent you think you are in whatever it is you’re trying to do, if you don’t have systems in place to make sure you’re doing it you’re going to fall short eventually. What do I mean by systems? Systems are things that are external to you that force you to do whatever needs to be done everyday to keep you on track.

Things like to-do lists, Seinfeld chains and daily schedules are all examples of systems that ensure that you’re taking the little steps you need everyday to achieve your bigger goals.

People who are successful inevitably wind up with a ton of things on their plate to juggle, usually on a daily basis. If you don’t have systems in place to keep you in line something somewhere is going to slip. Making sure you have the right systems in place will take a lot of the human error element out of your chances of reaching your goals.

10. Be a Little Better Every Single Day

If there were something of a common theme among all of my lessons or pieces of advice, I’d say it would probably be to never stagnate. I firmly believe that, given the severely limited amount of time we have here, we should do our best to get the most out of it. To that end I think what opens up the most opportunities to get the most out of life is to constantly be improving yourself.

That means that every day you should go to bed just a little better in some way or at some thing than you were when you went to bed the previous evening. This can mean you’re a little better at a skill, a little kinder, a little more relaxed, whatever. The point is to always be improving – that’ll lead to a better life and better experiences. Not to mention self-improvement is fulfilling.

11. Take Time to Play

While I stand by my conviction that you should work to improve yourself every single day, that doesn’t mean you should spend every single day working yourself to the bone. Go out and play. Not only is it good for you mentally and emotionally it’s also good for you physically (provided you go out and move).

Try to always make it some kind of physical play if you can – it’s nice now and again to just chill out and play some video games but physical play, getting up and actually moving, is going to be a lot better for you in every way. Go outside and play a game with friends, or go try some parkour or go hiking or something.

Don’t work so much that you neglect your need to have a little fun.

12. Don’t Settle for a Complacent Life

You might be comfortable. You might have a stable job, no real financial worries, a nice house and a healthy family. You might look around at your life and say, “Yeah, this is good enough I guess.”

But there’s a big difference between ‘good enough’ and ‘absolutely fantastic’.

There’s a difference between waking up each morning, flopping out of bed filled with early morning indifference and thinking to yourself, “Well, it’s time for another day,” and leaping out of bed totally pumped yelling, “Hell yeah it’s another day! Let’s do this!” If you want to crawl back in bed in the morning in dread of the coming day rather than jump out of it in anticipation of what’s to come, something is wrong.

Your life should be so great you wake up before your alarm because you just can’t wait to get the day started. If you’re just trudging along in a fog of complacency because you’re comfortable enough then something needs to change. Don’t settle. Make up your own mind how you want your life to be and then go out and get it.

13. Prioritize

How you prioritize things makes a big, big difference in your overall chance of succeeding. I’ve always liked to follow the 80/20 principle since it seems to hold true the majority of the time.

When you know what you want you can focus on the things that will do the most to get you there and ignore the things that are going to give you minimal returns on your time and energy. The smarter you are about your prioritization the more efficiently you can work and the more progress you can make. This also means recognizing when certain things need to be avoided. Is watching four hours of TV a night really a priority? Cut out the things that aren’t helping you and focus on the ones that are.

14. Embrace Failure, but Don’t Set Yourself Up for It

Failing is by far the best way to succeed.

That may sound crazy, but it’s true. You should love to fail. Everyone who’s ever been successful is successful because they’ve failed again, and again, and again and learned from each and every one of them. They try things, fall down, and then get back up and figure out what went wrong so they can do it better next time.

Take note though that this doesn’t mean you should set yourself specifically to fail. Setting yourself up to fail intentionally or to never try at all makes you worse than a failure. Accept failure and be ready for it, but don’t take a dive on something just because you’re too scared of what might happen.

15. Travel

Travel is one of the best things in life. Particularly travel overseas – the ability to meet a much wider variety of people, experience diverse and varied cultures, broaden your viewpoints and be confronted with ideas and customs you may have never considered is invaluable.

You don’t have to give up everything and become a digital nomad, but I assert that everyone should experience travel to a foreign land at least once during their lifetimes. I guarantee once you’ve gone abroad once you’ll itch to travel more.

16. Read as Much as You Can

Reading is another one of the best things in life, because it affords almost all of the benefits of travel in a much more compact if less grand package. Reading and reading often, both fiction and non-fiction, exposes you to so many opportunities.

Reading not only makes you more intelligent by providing direct information about things but also makes you a better person by exposing you to a wide variety of human experiences. It puts you in the shoes of thousands of characters and makes you examine their decisions, motivations and actions. It leads you to reflect on yourself and your own actions, and to consider that some people might think differently than you do. Best of all it’s just plain fun and relaxing.

If there was one thing out of this whole list I would like every single person younger than me to take to heart, it would be that they should read as often as possible. The world would be a much better place.

17. Don’t Worry so Much About Accumulating Stuff

While it would be hypocritical of me to vociferously inculcate upon you the rule that others’ prescriptions for your happiness should be viewed critically and then turn around and declare a particular path the wrong way to True Happiness ™ I’m essentially about to do just that.

I’ll at least include the caveat that I may be wrong – but I think that trying to find happiness by accumulating a bunch of things is just not going to work. If you’re in the U.S. this is kind of the default modality for how to live a happy life. You have to buy the latest gadgets, own a nice car and a big house. You need to constantly be consuming in order to fill that nebulous void you feel.

It usually doesn’t actually fill that void though, and you just wind up cramming more and more stuff in there until you die without ever finding happiness. That sucks. Stop worrying so much about gathering junk and try to view things a bit more minimalistically. Chase experiences in your pursuit of happiness not objects.

18. Live Right Now, not Yesterday or Tomorrow

Remember what I said about not worrying? That also applies to spending too much time thinking about the past and the future. That’s not to say you should totally abandon all thoughts of anything outside the moment and dive into a wild and self-destructive frenzy of pure hedonism – that won’t end well.

It is to say though that you should think about the past enough to learn from it, think about the future enough to plan for it and then that’s it. Don’t dwell there. If you spend so much time steeped in nostalgia and longing for the way things used to be then you’re going to lose all the time you’ve got right now. If you spend too much time worrying and planning and preparing for the future you also miss out on the time you’ve got now- and that future may never even come.

Be present and mindful and enjoy the moment.

19. Be Social

I grew up as a fat, nerdy, socially awkward introvert.

Don’t do that.

Well, ok, I encourage nerdiness. The rest of it though contributed to a lot of the very worst parts of my adolescence. I understand, as a former victim of extreme social anxiety, that it’s not as easy as just saying, “Go be more social!” I hate that. That’s like telling someone suffering from sever depression that they just need to ‘cheer the hell up’. It displays a lack of understanding so severe as to border on the offensive.

That being said, don’t just accept your social awkwardness. There are steps you can take to gradually dig yourself out from under it, and a lot of it hinges on small, purposeful steps outside of your comfort zone. Put the work in. It’s hard, and it sucks, but believe me when I say that the benefits to working at being more social far outweigh the pain of getting there.

Not only are social interactions inherently fulfilling on a subconscious level a lot of things in life genuinely do come down more to who you know than what you know. That isn’t to say you should approach everyone you meet with the mindset of figuring out what you can gain from them, that won’t end well. You should be social for the emotional benefits, but understand that it’ll help out in a lot of other ways too.

You can still be an introvert – I certainly still need my alone time – but work hard to cultivate a solid social life as well.

20. It’s Never Too Late to Start (or Stop) Something

The Sunk Cost Fallacy is some straight bullshit.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve spent twenty years trudging along in a career you hate – if you hate it trudging along another twenty isn’t going to make it better. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that since you’ve put a lot of time into the wrong thing that you should put even more time into it to make all that wasted time ‘worth it’ somehow. That’s just insane. No matter how long you’ve been doing something, if it’s making you miserable stop doing it.

There’s never any time when it’s too late to start something new either. While it’s often better to get an earlier start there are tons of people who have taken up something new late in life and mastered it. Saying you’re too old to do something is basically just decided to not even try and to go to your grave having not even made an attempt to do what you want. How awful is that? Even if your 99th birthday is tomorrow, if there’s something you really want to do find a way to go out and do it.

21. Don’t Confuse Patience and Inaction

Patience is definitely a virtue. You’ll get no argument from me about that. The problem is I’ve seen a lot of people say they’re just being patient, that good things come to those who wait, when really they’re just sitting around wasting their time because they’re too timid to go get what they want.

Good things come to those who wait when they need to wait and who act when they need to act. Inaction, laziness and indolence are not going to help you reach your goals. Sitting around and waiting to just know a new language one day isn’t going to get you anywhere. You have to work for it. Hard.

The same thing applies to fitness. If you’re overweight do you think you can just sit around and be patient until you’re fit? No. You’ve got to work your ass off for it. Where patience comes in is the understanding of the necessity of delayed gratification – that right now, tomorrow, maybe the next few months, are going to suck. They’re going to be painful. You’re going to have to do a lot of things you don’t want to. In time though, if you’re patient enough to persist and not give up great you’ll reach your goals.

22. Treat Your Body Well

Speaking of fitness, in a lot of ways your body is the only thing that’s really yours. Don’t trash it.

Aside from all the ways being fit opens up countless opportunities for experiences, additional freedom and just general happiness the fact is you are your body. We can argue about identity and mind/body dualism all day long, but everything that makes you you is just the particular combination of chemicals, electrical signals and neurons that make up your brain.

While we may get there eventually, we don’t currently have the technology to separate your mind from your brain. That means that you are essentially your brain. Given that we also don’t have the technology to keep that brain of yours alive without your body in what could generally be called a fully functioning way you basically are your body.

So why let it fall apart? You’re not in your body, your body is you and you are your body. We’ve come a long way medically, but you still basically only get one, so treasure it and keep in good shape.

23. You Don’t Necessarily Need a Degree

I think more and more people are coming to this realization on their own, but you really don’t need a college degree anymore in most cases.

There are certainly fields where you definitely do need one, but when I was going through school it was impressed on us that every single person needed some kind of degree or they would never get beyond the realm of sub-poverty line minimum wage serfdom. To not go off to college was like occupational suicide – you were ruining your chances to amount to anything.

Anymore though it really doesn’t matter so much. You can do plenty of great things without a college degree, and not being yoked with crushing student debt can even give you an advantage over your peers in a lot of respects. I’d never say a higher degree is useless either, the point is just that you should understand it’s not necessarily a requirement. Look at your situation, goals and options and evaluate for yourself whether or not it’d be a good investment to pursue.

24. You Don’t Necessarily Need to Work for Someone Else

This follows the above point. When I was young the sole goal in life as pressed upon me by the educational system was to choose my function in society and find a nice stable job at a good company doing whatever it was I decided to do on a steady 9 to 5 schedule for the rest of my life.

The concept of starting a business, of freelancing, of pursuing something creative, none of that was even considered.

With the Internet it’s easier than ever to find your own work or start your own business, provided you’re tenacious and persistent enough. I’m not going to suggest everyone start a business, because it’s hard, risky and takes a certain type of person to find success. It’s just not for everyone. You shouldn’t feel like you have to work for someone else either though or get some 9 to 5 that you despise just to pay the bills. Find were you work best and are happiest and go with that.

25. Meditate

Modern life is stressful as hell.

Meditation provides one of the best ways to deal with that stress and find some peace and happiness in a chaotic world. Meditation leads to contentedness (not to be confused with complacency) which will make your days much more pleasant overall while you work toward improving yourself and the world around you.

Meditation also leads to introspection and a better understanding and control of yourself – something that is absolutely priceless in the pursuit of self-improvement. There’s nothing spiritual about meditation, and even if you’ve never done it before meditation is easy to start. Even five minutes of quiet reflection every day will make a big difference.

26. Only You Can Define Your Happiness

After everything else, this ought to be self-evident. No one else can decide for you the best way to be happy. Take time and consider it, deciding what makes you most happy is not something to be decided upon in haste lest you come to the end of your life finding you were mistaken. Mull it over and test things out, try a little bit of everything. You’ll know when you really find it, and once you do don’t let anyone stop you from going after it.

There you have it – 26 things I’ve learned in my time here so far. Hopefully reading it has provided as much motivation and catharsis as I’ve found in writing it. Now go out there and do something great.

Do have anything to add? Any lessons you’ve learned in your time here, however long that’s been, that you feel should be included? Leave a comment and share them!

Photo Credit: Katherine McAdoo

Stop Fishing: Overcoming the Drug of Consumerism

Consumerism Explained by Vermin Inc

Is there any more iconic symbol of consumerism?

Henry David Thoreau, one of my favorite authors, once said “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.” (Tweet this.)

I think this is an excellent reflection of the consumerism driven cycle most people get trapped in and then spend their entire lives fulfilling. Consumerism dominates modern life, at least here in the U.S. but I would wager throughout the developed world as well.

It’s a pervasive thing that really saturates our culture. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, except it almost always leads to an artificial and transient state of happiness that leaves people unfulfilled. In other words it tends to make life suck.

So how do we break out of the consumerist cycle?

The First World’s Drug of Choice

To understand how best to escape the cycle it’s important to first have an idea of how it works and why it’s so heinous in the first place.

The consumerist cycle primarily operates by creating a deep sense of loss that leads to a sense of need. When you see someone with something new and cool that seems to make them happy you want to be happy too. Not also having this item that’s making the other person happy makes you feel like you’re missing out which creates a strong internal sense of loss.

Loss, as a motivating factor, is much more powerful to humans than a sense of potential gain. Studies have shown that people who have to do something or lose $5 are much more likely to do it than people who have to do something to earn $5. This sense of loss about missing out on the feeling of having this thing is a powerful motivator that strongly encourages you to buy it.

What does that lead to though? As soon as the next thing comes around that sense of loss returns – possibly stronger if reinforced by being rewarded with a shiny new thing last time it came around.

If you look around at the kind of life most people fall into all of their work tends to amount to fulfilling the next step in that cycle. You work to buy a house, a car, a new phone and then once you have them you work more to get a bigger house, a newer car or a better phone.

Then what? The same thing again.

Over and over you repeat this cycle and eventually you die. If you were successful in the consumerist cycle you leave behind a lot of crap for your kids, if you weren’t successful you don’t.

That’s it.

Do You Really Want Fish?

Shopping - Ecstasy by David Blackwell

If you think every shopping experience should feel like this, you’re probably caught in the cycle.

You’re fishing, like Thoreau said, but have you ever actually asked yourself if it’s fish you want?

When you spend your whole day toiling away in a job you may or may not enjoy casting your nets so can have more money, a better TV, or whatever other thing to cram into the nagging sense of lack instilled in you by advertising and society in general is that really what you want?

Some people might say yes and, while I suspect you’re deluded and just haven’t fully considered the alternative, if you want to follow the same cycle of purchasing new things only to work hard the following year to purchase more of the same things then that’s your choice.

Personally, I find that type of life void of any kind of meaning. I find that type of a life terrifying. To think of going to my grave having done nothing but collect successively newer things is repugnant to me in its wastefulness.

Worst in my opinion is it’s difficult to pull people out of this consumerist cycle because in addition to being socially pervasive it’s a really effective psychological drug. Now I’m not insane enough to think this is some kind of conspiracy or anything – it’s just a reflection of a basic human psychological weakness that’s turned out to be awfully profitable. Regardless that makes it all the more difficult to snap people out of it.

Suggestions for a Life Worth Living

I would feel slightly hypocritical denigrating a particular approach at finding happiness in life through possessions as being followed blindly then declaring that the approach to life I espouse is the true way and you should take my word for it.

So I’m not going to tell you my way is best. It works for me and I do intend to share my own suggestions, but I want you sit down and think for yourself about what you really want in life.

At its root one of the reasons the consumerist cycle is so awful is that its accepted blindly when its pushed onto us by society. We’re all brought up being told we need to fish. We’re inundated by media and a societal model that whispers incessantly in our ears that we would be happier if only we had this fish or that fish and so we start fishing, never asking ourselves if we decided we wanted fish or if it was decided for us. WE wind up press ganged into pescetarianism.

So ask yourself if it’s what you really want and, if it isn’t, do something about it.

When I realized that I had the choice I decided that a life spent devoted to material things was not something that brought me real happiness. (Tweet this.)

I feel that overall the worth of a person is tied most strongly not to what they have, or even what they are, but what they can do and have done. Additionally I’ve learned that experiences bring me much more consistent, lasting and fulfilling happiness than things.

That’s led me to pursue experiences, skills and relationships over things. Finally getting that new super high tech TV is something that, as soon as the next, better TV comes out, I will completely forget about. Getting to have meaningful conversations with someone in another country because I took the time to learn to speak a new language is something that will stick with me forever.

Small Steps to Stop Fishing

So what are some things you can do to break out of the cycle?

  • Give Minimalism a Try – Minimalism doesn’t mean getting rid of everything and living like a hermit. It just means closely examining all the things you have and deciding whether they’re genuinely a benefit or a burden. If you want an easy but effective first step, get rid of your TV. We did a while back and I’m extremely happy about it.

  • Invest in Skills and Experiences – A good rule is to always ask, in making this purchase am I investing money in myself or in something else? Am I going to improve personally or develop as a person having done this? It’s not to say every single thing you do has to be focused on personal development, but making it a priority will go a long way. Take a class, practice a new skill, try out a brand new experience, invest in something you’ll actually remember in ten years.

  • Go Travel – Travel is one of the easiest ways to force yourself to go have new experiences, meet new people and expose yourself to new ideas. Don’t make your trip about souvenirs or you run the risk of kind of missing the whole point. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to be wealthy to travel either. Travelling cheap can be easy and it often leads to more experiences, you just have to be creative.

The most important thing is to constantly check up on yourself to ensure you’re doing what you genuinely want to be doing and aren’t pursuing a goal that you unconsciously assimilated from your environment, friends or family.

Do you have any suggestions for escaping the cycle of consumerism? Do you think I’m completely wrong on the whole thing and consumerism isn’t a big deal? Leave a comment!

Photo Credit: Paul Hocksenar, David Blackwell

Why You Need to Go Out And Fail

Sad by Kate Alexanderson

If you never even try you’re worse than a failure.

I used to have a serious confidence problem.

It shouldn’t really be surprising, I was fat and awkward and nerdy and shy. Alone those attributes tend to not contribute to being bold and self-confident, combined they made for the perfect cocktail of personality traits to absolutely destroy any chance of committing myself to anything.

As a result of that, there were tons of opportunities I missed out on my whole life because I was too scared to fail.

Honestly there are too many to count, but one that comes to mind from when I was really young is Space Camp.

Remember Space Camp? If you grew up in the early 90s and watched TV at all you ought to. As a kid it looked amazing. You got to fly off to this camp to do incredible astronaut stuff and go through all this learning and training. It was like nerdy Disneyland.

I begged my parents to go, but it was really expensive. After a while though they gave in and said if I really wanted to go, they’d save up a bit and send me that next summer. I was ecstatic at first – I’d finally get to go after what was probably months of begging – after a few days though I started to worry.

I’d be surrounded by new people in a completely unfamiliar place thousands of miles from home. What if I did something stupid in front of everyone? What if no one there liked me? What if the training was too hard or the people running the camp were mean?

The day after I realized all that and freaked out I told my parents I’d changed my mind. I didn’t need to go to Space Camp anymore, they shouldn’t bother saving for it. I can’t remember the excuse I made up to explain away their confusion over my sudden 180, but I couldn’t admit to them that I was too much of a coward to even try.

More Despicable Than Failure

Thankfully I’ve gotten over those issues since becoming an adult, but I’ll always regret all the opportunities I let pass by because I was scared of being a failure. The most frustrating part of it is, I was much worse than a failure.

That idea might be a bit strange at first. There’s such an enormous amount of negative stigma attached to the concept of failure that some people consider it to be the very worst thing, or at least consider being a failure the worst thing you can be.

As bad as failure might seem to you, never even trying is far worse.

You can learn from failure. You can’t learn from never doing anything. On top of that when you try seriously, really commit yourself, and still fail then not only do you grow from the experience but that failure will generally come from some factor outside of your control.

In other words if you try your hardest and fail, the blame for the failure (if there even should be any) really shouldn’t fall on you. If you never try you’ve already failed and you’ve failed for a reason that was completely and entirely under your control and of your own volition. It’s your own damn fault.

When ‘I Tried’ Is Bullshit

Not everyone is so brazenly cowardly as I was in my youth. Some people are just as terrified of trying as I was, but are too embarrassed or scared to admit it so they pretend to try.

Imagine someone who wants to be a published author. They have some ideas and they write a couple short stories and maybe even a full novel. They send them all out to a handful of agents or publishers and they all get turned down.

The ‘aspiring author’ says something to the effect of, “Well, I tried. I guess it wasn’t meant to be,” and promptly abandons their path toward author-dom. In my book this basically amounts to mental masturbation – you tell yourself you did the best you could and it feels good that you ‘tried’ and you get a little boost of self-satisfaction and move on.

You feel like you’ve accomplished something when in reality you’re just giving yourself a convenient excuse to give in to your fears while saving face and not looking like a coward to others or, possibly even worse, yourself.

Nine times out of ten, the phrase ‘I tried’ is bullshit.

People who’ve genuinely earned the title of failure, people who have committed themselves fully but couldn’t make it, almost never say ‘I tried’. The reason for that is that ‘I tried’ is what people say when they give up.

When people who commit themselves fully, who really try, fail at something they don’t quit. They learn from that failure and try again.

Why People Choose to Be Worse Than Failures

I’ve found in all the examples I’ve come across of people giving up before they’ve started or half-assing things so they can feel good and say they tried the motivations for such behavior boil down into two categories – fear and laziness.

In my opinion fear is the more common one, though I’ll admit it may just be easier to recognize because it preyed on me for the better part of my life. This can be fear of consequences (not asking out someone you like because they might reject you), fear of uncertainty (not changing careers to one you think you’ll enjoy more) or fear of some other aspect – the uniting thread is that there’s something that scares you and it’s easier just to avoid it.

When it comes to laziness it’s usually tied to a sense of complacency – things are just fine the way they are so why commit to something that’s going to shake everything up? This can also be expressed via a sense of defeatism. If you say to yourself, “Why bother? I’m not going to be able to do it anyway,” then you might as well be honest with yourself and admit you’re just too lazy.

Seeking the Epic Fail

So you recognize some of these things in yourself, maybe in an opportunity you passed up you wish you’d taken or maybe in an endeavor you took a dive on in order to say that you at least tried. Now that you know it’s a problem, what do you do about it?

Learn to chase after the huge, epic failures.

It sounds strange at first, seeing as how we should be chasing success rather than failures, but chasing success is what everyone else does and when you don’t get it encourages you to be depressed and discouraged and quit. Given that we’ve established you’re a quitter, that’s just not going to work.

People who have earned success did it by first earning hundreds and thousands of failures. Sure statistics dictates you’re going to have a few lottery winners, but you shouldn’t base your actions on the anomalies. When you look at the stories of people who have made it starts sounding a bit repetitive after a while. They all fail, adjust, fail some more, keep adjusting and don’t quit until they’ve got it figured out.

If you think Angry Birds was Rovio‘s first game, you are likely extremely deluded as to how the world actually works.

Instead re-frame your approach so you get into things totally expecting some manner of enormous failure. Not in the sense of pretending to try and setting yourself up for failure, but in the sense of going all in knowing that if you fail you’ll have earned that failure and you’ll learn from it.

Understand that when you’ve really thrown everything you have into something failure is a wonderful thing. It’s a badge of honor. It’s something you should be proud of.

When you start to back out of something before you’ve started stop what you’re doing and devote yourself to going all in and failing. When your subconscious says, “Don’t do that, what if it doesn’t work out? What if we fail?” Slap your subconscious across its incorporeal face and shout, “Fuck that. I’m going to go out and fail like a hero. I’m going to earn that failure, and like slain foes I will pile those failures against the wall between me and success until I can march right over and take what I’ve earned.”

Then go forth and be incredible.

Do you have a trick for getting over your fear of even beginning? What are some things you regret never doing because you were too scared to commit? Share them with us in the comments!

Photo Credit: Kate Alexanderson

The Basics of Mindfulness & Moving Meditation

A Crossroads by Ornoth

Mindfulness may have links to Buddhism, but there’s really nothing ‘spiritual’ about it.

Mindfulness has been becoming a bit of a ‘thing’ over the last few years and I think in many ways is becoming one of the next new buzzwords.

I’m conflicted in how I feel about this – on one hand I think mindfulness applied properly is an extremely useful tool in improving people’s lives and is genuinely something I feel everyone should practice, on the other hand I’m concerned about the corruptive process of becoming a fad.

Given the new interest in it, I thought this was as good a time as ever to explore the basics of mindfulness and introduce one of my absolute favorite techniques for cultivating it – moving meditation.

What is ‘Mindfulness’?

Mindfulness, put simply, is a complete and nonjudgmental awareness of your experiences occurring in the moment.

There are at least two key parts to this. We’ll start with the end and work our way back. Mindfulness occurs in the moment. That means that when you’re being mindful you aren’t thinking about things in the past or the future. In fact, true mindfulness means not even recognizing at the time that the past or the future even exist.

This is probably the hardest part for most people to master – the majority of people dwell heavily on the past (regrets, nostalgia, & what-ifs), on the future (hopes, worries, goals & fears) or both that existing completely in the present is a big change. This isn’t to say thinking about the past and the future is inherently destructive, just that most people take it to the extreme.

It is important to learn from your mistakes, but once you’ve learned from them you need to let them go – not chain yourself to regret over something that is long gone and beyond your control. Similarly it is important to plan for the future and to anticipate problems that may lie ahead, but once you’ve planned for them continuing to worry or fear things that haven’t yet and may never happen only wastes your time and makes you miserable.

Regardless to be truly mindful is to recognize that that neither the past, which is gone forever, nor the future, which may never come at all, don’t really exist for you – only the moment you are occupying right now.

The second key part is a complete and nonjudgmental awareness of your experiences. That means not only being completely aware of as much as is occurring to and around you, but also not making any kind of judgement of that experience – simply acknowledging it as it is.

This is not as easy as it sounds either, particularly since we are fairly well wired to make some kind of value judgement of every single experience we have. From an evolutionary perspective this makes a lot of sense, we tend to immediately categorize things at the very least into positive/pleasant or negative/unpleasant stimuli.

Mindfulness lets go of this instinct to judge. When practicing mindfulness you aim to be aware of as much as humanly possible occurring around and within you, but to not categorize anything as positive or negative. When mindful you become aware of something, acknowledge it and move on.

In many ways this makes mindfulness very similar to standard meditation. The main difference being that in standard meditation you want to acknowledge thoughts and feelings then dismiss them until your mind is empty – when practicing mindfulness you want to do the same except to hang on to the thoughts about what’s occurring in the moment and to dismiss thoughts of the past, future, or those straying from what’s around and within you.

The very best example in my opinion of someone who is completely in a state of mindfulness is a pro athlete who is in ‘the zone’. Being ‘in the zone’ or in a state of Mushin means that the person’s mind is not thinking about the past, or the future – they’re really not even thinking too hard about what’s going on around them- they’re simply aware of it and their actions flow freely as a response to stimulus with no decisions or judgment going on.

Imagine a professional boxer in a fight. She isn’t thinking about her next career move, she isn’t wondering if she picked the right coach, and when she sees a punch coming she doesn’t deliberate what would be the best thing to do or think, “Oh man, that’s a good hit, didn’t see that coming,” – the punch comes and she moves. Instantly. Instinctively. There is no decision to move, it just happens. She doesn’t think about striking back, her fist moves of its own will.

That is an expression of mindfulness.

Why Practice Mindfulness

You might be saying to yourself, “Ok, that’s cool and all, but why should I care? This mindfulness stuff seems really hard.”

It Lowers Stress – Practicing mindfulness (and meditation in general, actually) helps reduce stress in a handful of ways. The first is that the clarity of thought existing in the present moment brings helps you think through the things that would normally stress you out and let them go. On top of that, mindfulness practice actually helps you perform better at everything you do – when you aren’t distracted by everything else and can focus on each task as it comes it’s a lot easier to give 100% on each one.

Being able to perform better means less worries, failures and problems to stress you out. On top of all that, you don’t just feel less stressed – mindfulness practice reduces cortisol levels meaning you’re less chemically stressed too. Your hormones, particularly cortisol, can make or break your efforts to change your body composition.

It Rewires Your Brain – In a study by the University of Oregon researchers found that mindfulness practice actually resulted in physical changes in the brain. Not only was axonal density improved meaning there were more signaling connections formed in participants’ brains, but also increased development of myelin sheaths around the axons in certain brain regions.

What does that mean in plain English? It means mindfulness practice physically changes your brain to work more efficiently and be better protected from mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. You think better, more clearly and are at a significantly reduced risk for illness – sounds worth it to me.

It Improves Sleep – How many times have you been stuck tossing and turning because you just can’t shut off your brain? That kind of insomnia can shave more than a few hours off your total sleeping time, which adds up to a lot. In one study as little as two fewer hours of sleep in a night led to an average of a 20% reduction in a maximal bench press test. It also pushes your cortisol up and causes havoc with the rest of your hormones making it extremely difficult to put on muscle, lose fat and recover from exercise. Sleep deprivation is also linked to depression, reduced immune function and lots of other unpleasant things.

Sleep is really important.

Mindfulness training teaches you to master your thoughts and where your attention focuses. Combine that with the reduced stress levels and that means no more monkey mind and a much, much easier time slipping off to sleep when you actually want to.

It Increases Mental Control – The journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience reports that mindfulness training actively increases your conscious control over your mind’s cortical alpha rhythms. The reason this is important is that your alpha rhythms are largely responsible for determining what it is you’re paying attention to.

Increased control over your alpha rhythms means practicing mindfulness brings a heightened ability to ignore or tolerate pain, control emotions and make more rational decisions. It also helps serve as the ‘off switch’ to dismiss any thoughts that might be worrying you, keeping you up at night or making you depressed.

How to Practice Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness is simultaneously easy and difficult. It accomplishes this contradiction by being an extremely simple process that anyone can learn that is so contrary to the standard mindset that almost no one ever actually does it.

Mindfulness can be practiced in a variety of ways. The first that most people think of is zazen, or seated meditation. If you’re a complete beginner to meditation then zazen may be a good place to start if you want to be a bit more traditional or just think it looks cool to sit on a pillow in the middle of a room and burn incense.

Another option though that I honestly find to be a much better expression of applied mindfulness is moving meditation.

Moving meditation, also sometimes called active meditation, entails entering a state of mindfulness while engaged in an action. That means being fully engaged in the present moment with a complete and nonjudgmental awareness of what you’re experiencing as it pertains to the action you’re taking. It means being deliberate and purposeful in everything you’re doing.

A good mental image is to picture a tai chi master flowing through a set of forms or a yogi going through a set of asanas. They aren’t thinking about something that happened yesterday or worrying about what they’re going to do tomorrow, their thoughts are focused entirely on the precision of their actions, the smoothness of their movements, the reaction of their bodies and the tempo of their breathing. They are fully and totally engaged in that single action in that single moment.

The reason this is so difficult for a lot of people is it’s the direct opposite of what I consider to be a standard of distracted half-assery prevalent in modern culture. We multi-task as a rule, we’re constantly distracted by our phones, checking social media, planning for tomorrow, thinking about a thousand other things that we’re rarely completely focused on the thing we’re actually doing.

An easy introduction to active meditation is to practice a little mindfulness with your next meal. This is most easily done when eating alone, you can certainly do it while carrying on a conversation but it will add a bit more difficulty.

Sit down with your meal, with no other distractions, and really focus on eating that food. Do not turn on the TV. Do not touch your phone. Experience your meal. Take the time to smell it, to pick out the different scents of the ingredients. Chew slowly and deliberately. Pay attention to each of the separate flavors and how they combine and contrast with each other. How does it feel to chew it? What’s the temperature of the food like? What are you hearing around you? You get the picture.

In essence, savor your damn meal.

You’ll find that this attention to the task at hand, being fully present in the moment, really enhances your experience of the meal. Even if that meal is cold McDonald’s take out in a back alley.

Once you’ve mastered this process with meals – which I find to be the best way to start for most people – extend that same frame of mind to other tasks. Even if it’s something as mundane as walking out to the car to go to work, be all in about it. Are you stomping out or dragging your feet? How much noise do your footsteps make? How do you feel at that moment? What do you see, and smell and hear?

This type of mindfulness practice can be applied to any action, or even every action throughout your whole day. It makes everything you do feel deliberate and purposeful and, through reflection and refinement, eventually it will make every action better.

Do you practice mindfulness? Have you tried any types of meditation, active or otherwise? What’s been the biggest challenge for you in becoming more mindful? Share it with us in the comments! We love hearing from everyone.

Photo Credit: Ornoth

What’s English Prime and Why Does it Matter?

Optimus Prime by El Dave

No, E Prime doesn’t have anything to do with Transformers.

English Prime, or E Prime, is a constructed variant of standard English developed in the 60s in order to provide a form of English that reduced or eliminated any difficulty of the listener or reader to distinguish between fact and opinion and make the biases of the writer or speaker more evident.

Like most languages created for the purpose of promoting sweeping social and cultural good (cough, Esperanto, cough) it never really took off beyond a small group of hardcore devotees.

While it’s merits as a clearer form of English are debatable, the premise behind it and the form of it can actually teach us a lot about the way we perceive things in the world and help us be more mindful in our thinking.

How Does E Prime Work?

In it’s essence, E Prime works by eliminating all forms of the verb ‘to be’ in English. The idea behind this is that by removing the copula it removes a speakers ability to make value statements about a thing or event as if they were objective facts.

In general, people do tend to abuse the use of ‘to be’ in English. This does cause some faulty reasoning from time to time, so the premise at least has some merit in that regard.

Take for example the assertion, “That movie was good”. We can’t use ‘was’ in E Prime since it’s a form of ‘to be’, so you have to reword that sentence as “I enjoyed that movie,” “That movie made me laugh”, etc. This changes the structure in such a way that you are no longer describing the movie itself but instead are describing your own experience of the movie. It makes clear that you are making a subjective value statement rather than an objective one.

Now I don’t think everyone should actually start speaking like this – there are too many linguistic issues with it in my opinion to make it viable large scale – but I do think we can learn a lot about how we approach things by the way it works.

E Prime and Mindfulness

Even if it isn’t valuable as an actual means of communication E Prime is valuable as a tool for reflection on mindfulness and the way we think about things.

First of all it helps us notice that many times things expressed as absolute facts are really opinions. When you remove the absoluteness of the copula it reveals the fact that everything we express is a reflection of our own experience.

When someone says, “That’s a bad idea,” they may really mean “I dislike that idea,” “That idea won’t work,” or another similar sentiment. Rather than just dismiss it as ‘bad’ they have to elaborate at least a little bit to explain what their problem is. When people make a hard assertion like “[blank] is [blank]” that assertion should always be understood as being colored in some way by their subjective experience.

If you say something like “Earth is the center of the universe,” E Prime makes it clear that what you really mean is “Earth appears to be the center of the universe.” This exposes more clearly that you’re just relating the experience of a fallible observer and not making an absolute, infallible statement.

That’s not to say you can’t make statements like that in E Prime. “The Sun orbits the Earth,” is a good example of an authoritative sounding E Prime compliant sentence that doesn’t really reveal that it is colored by the perceptions of an observer.

That’s fine. The point is really just to recognize that whenever people express a value statement or report actions they are always heavily colored by their own subjectivity.

The reason this is important for increasing our mindfulness is that it reminds us constantly that when you’re talking to people the things they discuss are always filtered through the subjective lens of their world view. Being aware of this in the moment helps us make better judgments based on the reports of others and helps us better understand the thoughts and motivations of those around us.

Similarly it reminds us of our own subjectivity and fallibility in the statements we make. It discourages us from making hard, absolutist statements about things as we recognize that we can only report our own experience. This understanding makes it much easier for us to be open to changing our views on things which is an important part of growing as a person.

If you only think of your statements and opinions in terms of absolutes, it makes them harder to change. Someone who says, “He’s wrong,” is less likely to reconsider than the person who says, “I don’t agree with that.” The second person, in some small way at least, recognizes that their own thinking may be incorrect.

Now a quick note on subjectivity – it’s important to understand that people’s statements are influenced by their own subjective experience, but there are still things that are objectively true. I don’t buy the whole “That’s your Truth but not my Truth,” idea. However, if you think I’m wrong and that there’s no such thing as objective truth, I encourage you to decide gravity is no longer part of your subjective truth and then to step out of a second story window.

E Prime, while not really useful as a communication tool in my opinion, can help us be more mindful about our own thinking and the thinking of others by reminding us that everyone’s statements pass through the filter of their own experience before being expressed into the world. Are there any other lessons you’ve learned from the way E Prime works? Have you actually tried using E Prime on a day to day basis? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Photo Credit: ElDave

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