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‘Someday means never. If you don’t start today you will never do it.’ Not yet being ready for something is not on nowadays. So we walk around guilty fearing that our dreams are actually pipedreams that will never come to fruition. Of course things are extremely unlikely to happen, if we don’t do something about them. But if we start compiling resources and skills, the way that a squirrel hides nuts for winter, we can eventually grow into our dream. There’s no shame in not yet.
We have a very strange relationship with ease: on the one hand everything is supposed to be convenient, instant and easy. On the other hand the things that come easy to us, the stuff we learn fast and can do well is somehow suspicious. If we see someone working and they finish without breaking a sweat we assume that we have somehow been cheated or that they are not trying hard enough. People who take it easy at work it is assumed, can’t possibly do good or enough work. Exertion and stress are the marks of the good worker. If we believe this story life will be very hard indeed.
Actually ease is also a hallmark of mastery. When Federer plays tennis it looks easy because he has incredible skill. He gets sweaty when he needs to but he doesn’t just run around the court to look busy. Neither should we. The reward for good work can be ease.
One of the drawbacks of engaging with self-development and positive psychology can be that we replace traditional ‘shoulds’ such as climbing the career ladder with different ones like ‘I need to be fulfilled in my job’. This can cause exactly the same kind of anxiety that we were trying to avoid. Strengthening our strengths and emphasizing positive emotions can seem like this huge task but it doesn’t have to be. It’s far less likely to be about making one momentous change such as switching careers and more about making lots of little decisions about what to believe, how to talk to others and to be mindful of the moment. When the ‘shoulds’ are stressing you out take a step back and remind yourself that you are okay right now, you don’t have to be anywhere else or feel differently at all.
Knowledge is only a rumour until it lives in the muscle.
-Asaro Tribe, Indonesia
In other words, before we do something with our knowledge, apply it in any way, shape or form it does not exist.
you have a choice: will you become bitter or better? Will you let that experience not only ruin this moment but all even remotely similar moments or will you become better? Better does not mean that you can decide to instantly make all pain go away. It means that you hurt for as long as you do, but you decide that this hurt will not taint everything in the future that is to come.
Thanks Jennifer Boykin for this great phrase.
Gradual changes for the good can sometimes be hard to spot. Like the fact that if you live in the Northern Hemisphere the days are getting longer and it’s not dark anymore at 5 pm. A month ago that was different. What other gradual changes for the good are happening right now?
It’s something we all know and yet need to be reminded of: when we procrastinate something breaking it down into steps which are so ridiculously small, nobody could possibly come up with an excuse not to do it. And that’s how we inch through paralysis.
It’s a common fear of people that being optimistic makes them miss things that could go wrong and therefore make the ship sink. If you think nothing will ever go wrong you’re not optimistic but delusional. Good strategy means you are prepared for the great to happen as well.
Having said that the opposite is also possible: while most of us have thought lots of times what could go wrong about the various things we do, what if there are unexpected blessings? Could we capitalize on those? Let’s say your website would suddenly get 5 times more traffic or your public speech was so well received that people wanted all kinds of things from you afterwards. Are you prepared for that? Do you have the time if someone suddenly offered to help you make your dream come true?
Who made you smile today and why? What surprised you? When were you truly in the moment?
For me the answers are:
- my friend Alex showing me ‘Honest Trailers’
- how perfectly round and white the moon was (sounds weird but it’s not always the same white)
- when I sneezed 😉
It’s great if someone can laugh about themselves. Yet often self-deprecating humour is mean. Let’s make sure that there are some rules we don’t cross about how we talk about others and ourselves. Let’s make sure that for the price of a few sniggers we undermine our self-respect.
If the real world were a book, it would never find a publisher. Overlong, detailed to the point of distraction-and ultimately, without a major resolution.
― Jasper Fforde,
Nobody wants to lug an overweight suitcase around. Some us search for high-tech gear that will help us save space and travel lighter. Yet we need to take into account the time, energy and attention spent to get there. If we travel lighter weight wise but constantly obsess over our suitcase we have unburdened our hands but burdened our mind.
So let’s remember the suitcase analogy and be sure that when we find solutions, especially those which are not lasting, that we have to take stock of our energy, time and attention balance.
Ancient wisdom and happiness research keep pointing us at the same thing that everybody actually knows: chasing status and numbers doesn’t make you lastingly happy. But while this knowledge is often only theoretically available in our brain (we remember it when we’re reminded but we often don’t actively think about it and implement it) the opposite is reinforced throughout the day at work and elsewhere.
If we want to say goodbye to chasing and hello to living according to our values it’s a bit of an abrupt change. So instead of fighting the belief we are trying to abandon we can hold on to it for a while but expand what we see as markers of success. For example I can still care about how many downloads the podcast gets (a status and number based metric) but include other values such as making sure that I serve my listeners. From comments I get I know this is true even if someone never reaches out. I can be happy about that even when download numbers are down.
If you don’t do your best you might as well go home or good is the enemy of great is something you read in both gyms and self-help articles. If that has worked for you and you find you can always with brute force make yourself give a 110% that’s great. However if that macho-infused combat motto has not done it for you you might consider the opposite. Sometimes if we want to do something daily we have to leave some room to be human. There are going to be sessions which are great and energizing and others where all we can muster is half-assery. Some people succeed if they plead to give 80% effort instead of trying to set a new record every time they practice.
If only the best is good enough it’s a great way to feel superior but not to have a superior life. It doesn’t mean that enjoying nice things or striving for excellence is bad. But it does mean that seeking the best in everything will take a lot of time away from the things which actually make people happy.
Do you have room for a good surprise to happen? Room can mean anything from energy to time.
People opposed to optimism argue that defensive pessimism allows them to deal with inevitable disappointments better. Defensive pessimism prepares you whereas optimism makes you walk into problems smiling but without second thought.
So what are the costs of defensive pessimism? It’s basically relinquishing all the benefits that optimism and the positive emotions it results in have been found to have. Among other things you’re saying no to:
- more positive interactions
- higher satisfaction in marriage and family in general
- success in different domains such as academia, sports or sales
- better ability to cope with the death of someone close
- higher pain tolerance
- smaller likelihood of suffering from disease and depression
That doesn’t mean that defensive pessimism doesn’t have its perks. Negative emotions in general narrow down our focus which can be useful. Furthermore it can help us make more accurate predictions about things like how likely it is that certain bad events happen. However this ability to see problems is absolutely useless if we don’t act on it.
A helpful approach would be to cultivate general optimism but use defensive pessimism as a tool to trigger concrete actions when we suspect, that we haven’t thought risks through or fear that something might disappoint us so much, that we prefer not investing ourselves emotionally.
The soul without imagination is what an observatory would be without a telescope.-Henry Ward Beecher
What draws you so much that you can continuously do it, even without receiving recognition or motivation from other people? What is interesting and fun enough that even if you fail you will at least not have wasted your time?
Our mind goes blank and we have no idea how to proceed. Our impulse is to go deeper and deeper into this nothingness, tuchus on the chair and to really cramp up. We can waste valuable time doing this so let’s instead remember that changing location and doing something different for while might be what we need.