Tag: psychology

Why we fail to reach our goals and what to do about it

If you’ve ever read a personal development book, I’m sure you’ve come across the importance of goal-setting. Everyone and his brother seems to lament the importance of setting big goals, shooting for the moon and going all in.

This might be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.

Not only does this not work, but it is actually counter-productive and demotivating according to this study.

Humans are creatures of habit, and our habits are most often based on what’s easy for us to do. What this means is that if we want to accomplish anything, we need to make sure our goal is something which doesn’t take an enormous amount of effort to do, and that it is mostly within our own control.

For instance – you can’t control whether or not you become the next Jimi Hendrix, but you can control whether you practice playing the guitar for 30 minutes each day. Playing for 30 minutes each day is achievable, within your control, and adds up over time, and those elements are the keys to achieving anything worthwhile, so let me repeat it for good measure.

If your goals are achievable and within your control they will add up to a lot over time. The reason why so many fail to do this, is because we overreach – we want to achieve our goals tomorrow, and become the greatest in the world within an unrealistically short time frame.

This is also the reason why we’re so fascinated by the people who achieve outsized success, because we subconsciously recognize that what they have achieved is super-human, insofar that they have had to circumvent their natural wiring in order to get to where they are today.

While we may not see the thousands of hours in the gym, or the frustrating hours in front of the computer trying to write something worthwhile or excel at making spreadsheets (sorry), we recognize that the people who have truly mastered a given subject have put in an immense amount of effort in order to do so, and the whole point here is that so can we – as long as we take sufficiently small steps, and practice our craft diligently and persistently

You might already be at a point in your career where you are well on your way to mastering a subject and you just need a little nudge to make the final leap to complete mastery. Or maybe you are in the beginning of your journey and you’re feeling all jittery or excited, or maybe you’re in what Seth Godin calls the Dip – the point where you’ve achieved some progress and then stalled, because the effort required to reach the next level is more than you’re able or willing to put in right now.

Whatever your case, keep in mind that making your goal achievable and within your control is the first step to making enormous progress, but it is going to take a long time, and we must realize this if we want to achieve anything worthwhile.

As long as we’re stuck in the mindset that we have to achieve large goals in a short period of time, we will keep falling into the same trap and give up every time we encounter adversity, because we feel like we should be able reach our goal almost effortlessly.

In reality however, overcoming adversity is one of the best indicators for high achievement, but that’s a subject for another post.

For now, suffice it to say that when you know what you want, you have to figure out one action you can repeat day in and day out that will move you closer to your goal.

On What’s Important And How to Say No

The realization that in the history of the human race, no one has ever survived old age is a profound one. Now, this doesn’t mean that we won’t eventually find a cure for ageing, and in my opinion Tim Urban has explained this beautifully. Let’s just for arguments sake however, say that we are not going to live forever, which means that we will someday run out of time in this beautiful world.

That means, that we have to make it very clear to ourselves what’s important to us. What’s going to matter, when we look back on our life? Will it matter what title we have at our company? Or will it matter that we had a lot of fun while we worked, and we got to spend our time with amazing people? Maybe we can do both. But I know which one is more important to me.

When we realize that our time is finite, we also inevitably realize that the extra hour or two we spend working, might not be worth it, if it means missing time with our fiancee, missed snuggles with our cat, a missed workout or whatever might else might be more important to us. Don’t get me wrong – if work is what’s most important to you, then by all means spend all the time you can doing it. I have a close friend who loves his job – and I’m fairly sure he would rather work than not, because it gives him an intense sense of satisfaction, and I still love him all the same.

My point is that our best course of action is to prioritize consciously, so that we don’t end up getting roped into things which we derive no pleasure from. We want to spend our time on the things which brings us the most value. This doesn’t mean skipping out on family get-togethers or only doing things which you want to do, but it does mean that we can say No without feeling bad or guilty. It means that we need to figure out if other people’s opinion are important to us, and if so, why?

Here’s the main point: I can’t decide what’s important for you. I can only decide what I find important and that only applies to me. If I can pass along a single idea from this post it is this:

Decide what is important to you and what is not, and make your best effort to spend your time according to that decision.

The Three Most Powerful Anti-Depressants I Know

Many people in my family suffer from depression. My grandmothers on both sides were severely affected by depression and my father’s mother used to be bedridden for weeks at a time when she was still alive.

My father suffered severely from depression, and would go months where he was unable to function. Throughout his life he’s struggled with a number of mental health issues over the years and sadly it has opened up a gulf between us – and while I forgive him, I do not wish to spend my time with him.

The reason I mention my family-tree is deeply tainted with depression, is to highlight the fact, that luckily I’ve been spared, which is more unlikely than not, given the history in my family.  Now because, I’m an only child, I don’t have any siblings to study as a control group, but I do believe that there are several other reasons which explains my fortunate mental health, because clearly it is not explained by my genetic makeup.

First and foremost I believe that every person has a higher degree of control over their outlook on life, than we give ourselves credit for. I believe that we can choose to view the world in any number of ways, and if we make a conscious effort, we can choose to look for the upside in any given situation and cultivate an overall positive outlook on life as a result.

My personal experience is that it’s highly effective in combating depression and severe mood-swings, simply because it is fairly difficult to focus on what’s good in your life and on what’s bad in your life simultaneously. I realize that there are more nuances to clinical depression than just thinking bad thoughts, but my experience is that if we consciously look for upside in our lives, we are likely to find it.

Thankfully, science has my back – it’s called the Tetris effect.

Another element which contributes significantly to any persons well-being – I’m no exception – is regular exercise. We’re not talking about ultra-runs or Iron Men or bodybuilder physiques – we’re just talking about moving your body a little every day. I’ve found that doing so is incredibly helpful in terms of warding off any negative emotions. On my best days and my worst days, I’ve always found exercise to be an incredible mood-lifter and it doesn’t matter if it’s going for a run, lifting weights, rowing, biking or simply walking – moving my body around lifts my spirits significantly, regardless of how I do it.

The final habit, which I believe is the most powerful one of the three, is the habit of journaling. Specifically the habit of writing down 3-5 things every day, which I’m grateful for. I’m aware that this can come across as cheesy, and overly simplistic, but I dare you to try it, and tell me the results.

In my experience there is nothing more powerful than expressing my gratitude each and every single day.

Not only does this habit make me focus on the positive and so gives me a double-whammy on the Tetris effect, but it also forces me to look for things, for which I am grateful throughout the day, which helps me find them. In my mind, journaling has a number of added benefits on the side as well such as enhanced creativity, better ideas and it makes it easier to connect with others.

The point here is that journaling – and specifically journaling for gratitude – is an insanely powerful tool, and I believe you will find it to work wonders for you if you give it a try.

In summary…

… If you need a mood lift, or if you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, or even if you feel severely depressed – maybe even clinically so try any combination of the following

  • Look for the upside
  • Move your body
  • Express your gratitude

All the best

Nick

Philosophy and The Art of Living Your Best Life

My guess is this post will get very few readers – fewer readers than normal that is – simply because philosophy is a term which invokes such strong associations of people who are too similar to the grad student with the pony tail in Good Will Hunting.

Image result for harvard bar scene

In a word?

Cunt.

Philosophy in its original form has nothing to do with how we’ve come to think of it today – philosophy in its original form has everything to do with the art of living well, the art of living your best life.

Now, there are as many ways to go about living as there are people on this planet – which was about 7.6 billion at the time of this writing – but very few of us give any thought to how we want to live and what constitutes an optimal life.

From an evolutionary standpoint this makes complete and utter sense. Who gives a fuck about how to live? What makes sense to care about is amassing as many resources as possible, so that we can pass our genes on to the next generation as successfully as possible. And this is exactly how most people live.

I do think however, that in order to live our best life, we must consider which principles we want to live according to – and in order to determine which principles are worth adhering to, philosophy comes in handy.

One of the principles I live according to, is that we’re all continually evolving, and I don’t want to set who I am too much in stone, because I believe our minds are too dynamic for that. I believe that in order to be the best we can be, we must be open to new ideas, continually learn and evolve.

Another principle which is important to me, is the idea that time is valuable – not in the sense that time is money – but in the sense that time is the only non-renewable resource in the world, and therefore it makes sense to be careful how we spend it, and with whom.

The final principle I want to mention is that it makes sense for each one of us to think for ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to hold a contrarian opinion, just for the sake of it, but I do want to think independently about the things I choose to think about.

This means that if I either don’t have an opinion on a subject, or I have a strong opinion on a subject, because I’ve considered all the available facts and thought about it deeply. Now there is a natural limit to how much deep thinking any one person can do, so my strong opinions are naturally fairly limited.

This also means however, that my opinions are subject to change, when the facts change, because I don’t want to be married to my opinion. I want to be able to change my opinion, when I see evidence that is contrary to that opinion.

On this topic I agree wholeheartedly with Emerson, when he says that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”.

There are countless other principles to think about and philosophical alleyways to go down, and my aim is to explore a few of them through my writing – and I hope you’ll join me on this journey.

Are you ready to forgive?

I’ve had some weird experiences in my life – I’ve had some ups and some downs, made a few enemies but even more friends. I’ve been an asshole, and I’ve been assholed against.

And you know what? It all passes.

Forgive and forget.

Life goes on.

The quicker we forgive, the quicker we move on. This forgiveness goes for others, but it certainly goes for ourselves. Sometimes it can be hard to forgive ourselves for things we did in the past, but hating ourselves is not going to solve the problem – only diving deeply into the situation with yourself and anyone afflicted will.

Of course there are some wounds which are deeper than others, and they might take longer to forgive, but we must never lose sight of how powerful forgiveness is.

The longer we hold a grudge, the more we suffer – this goes for ourselves as well as for others.

We must ask of ourselves that we forgive. We must demand it.

Do you have the right stuff?

If you’re a millennial like me, you’ve most likely grown up in a world where our basic needs were cared for.

We didn’t have to hunt our food, and we were pretty certain where our next meals were gonna come from. This has left some (most?) of us with a profound sense of longing and wishing for something more.

Many of us wish that there was somehow more to life than going to work and coming home and watching Netflix. This is not a complaint – it’s an outcry against the hollowness that many of us feel from our daily routines.

The words “There has to be something more than this” echoes in the back of my mind like an almost constant choir of haunting voices.

In my brief career I’ve managed to hold more positions than some people do in a lifetime because of this echo, and I know I’m not alone.

I know that many people feel this emptiness in their hearts and minds, and we all attempt to fill it in different ways – some with social media and TV, others with food and wine and some with exercise. There are people who foster children and yet others fill their hours with work to the exclusion of almost everything else.

When our father’s fathers and their fathers were young men, there was something to fight for.

A country, an ideology, an idea, a belief.

I envy the founding fathers, because they had an idea worth fighting for and an ideology worth dying for. They were willing to sacrifice themselves and die for the freedom we now have.

According to legend, John Adams aspired to be a politician, so that his children might be mathematicians, philosophers and poets.

And here we are.

With all the freedom to become anything that our hearts desire, but that very freedom is crippling.

It is suffocating.

It turns into FOMO.

But don’t get me wrong – I’m not an activist.

I’m not a radical.

What I want is for you to fight for what is yours. I want you to find an occasion to rise to. You have to find a challenge you can meet.

Live up to the ideals that made us who we are.

We must all strive to be better humans. To make a difference. To be bigger than just ourselves. To create something meaningful for others, however small.

That is how we move ourselves and each other forward.

That is how we silence the constant inner chatter.

That is how we show that we are made of the right stuff.

Between a rock and a hard place: why you must indulge your jealousy

Whenever something good happens to other people – especially people we have some sort of relationship to – our immediate reaction is to feel a tinge of hotness in our stomach.

The thought that goes along with it, can range from “oh, shucks I wish it was me” to “how on earth could they promote that motherfucker, he is dumb as a doorknob?!?”

The point is, we all feel jealous from time to time – it’s a very human emotion – and it’s very hard to deal with, truth be told. We’re raised to believe that jealousy is a sin, and that we must avoid it at all costs, but avoiding certain emotions because they’re supposedly not good for us, has all sorts of psychological drawbacks in its own right.

So I’m here to tell you to indulge your jealousy, because in all honesty there are very few people who I genuinely want good things to happen to besides myself.

I don’t think as myself as Satan incarnate, but I am very much human and what I’m getting at, is that being un-jealous is incredibly hard – at least for me – and since you’ve read this far, my guess is you feel the same.

What I want to do is to put the shoe on the other foot, and instead of obsessing over ways not to be jealous, or trying to think of how we can all become better people by wishing well for others, I’m going to encourage you to indulge your jealousy.

It’s okay to not want good things to happen to others.

Feel your anger, your spite and your fury in all it’s magnificence.

But here’s the plot twist: who and what you’re jealous of and why tells you a lot about your deepest, hidden motivations.

I am sorely jealous of most talented non-fiction writers. I’d swap lives with Tim Ferriss, Dan Pink and especially Tim Urban in a heartbeat.

I adore these guys, and I want them to be incredibly successful so that I can continue to enjoy their work, but I also want a career like them.

I’m motivated by the freedom they have, by the creative genius they all possess and I’m jealous of their extraordinary gifts.

Who you’re jealous of, tells the story of your deepest desires, so if you really want to find out what motivates you, find out who makes you the most jealous.